The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear catches up again. This time he takes in a terrific evening sampler of Edvard Grieg at Taliesin in Spring Green. Plus, here is more news from Day 3 of WYSO’s tour in Argentina.

July 27, 2014
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Here is the daily alert for the tour though Aug. 3 by Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) in Argentina. Here is a link to the latest news from Day 3: www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

As I said yesterday, The Ear is finally getting a chance to catch up on some old business, now that live concerts have quieted down a bit for a while.

I have another short review for today.

THE EAR HEARS A GREAT GRIEG SAMPLER AT TALIESIN

Earlier this month, The Ear found himself wondering: Why don’t we hear more music by Edvard Grieg?

Well, we know that famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright -– better known to his cult-like following as Mr. Wright –- much preferred the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Wright1

Beethoven big

Makes sense. One big and difficult ego attracted to another big and difficult ego. One would-be artistic titan wanting to cloak himself in the mantle of another.

But nevertheless on July 14 -– forget Bastille Day — the Hillside Theater (below) at Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green saw an evening sampler of the 19th-century Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, and some other Scandinavian composers, performed, thanks to the Rural Musicians Forum and its director Kent Mayfield.

taliesin_hillside2

Called “Songs of Norway,” the program featured the kind of variety that The Ear would like to see in more concert programming: a dozen or so songs; 10 solo piano pieces from the “Lyric Pieces”; and the Sonata No. 2 in G Major, Op. 13, for violin and piano.

I found the music somewhat uneven, but never bad. And all the performances, turned in by three outstanding musicians (below), proved quite satisfying.

3 Grieg musicians

University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music soprano Mimmi Fulmer (below) showed fine control and tone while singing songs both a cappella and with the piano. Moreover, her Norwegian diction and pronunciation were quite good, or so I was told by a native Norwegian speaker.

Mimmi Fulmer at Taliesin 2014

Pianist Michael Keller, a retired professor from UW-Stevens Point, performed admirably both as soloist and accompanist or collaborator. He excelled at conveying the quickly changing moods of miniature Lyric Pieces, of which he played 10 contrasting ones.

Michael Keller playing

And violinist Stephen Bjella, an artist-in-residence at the UW-Stevens Point, played the more ambitious violin sonata with conviction and aplomb.

steven bjella norway

Now truth be told, Edvard Grieg’s music is no match for the achievement of Bach. Or Beethoven. Or Mozart. Or Haydn, Or Schubert. Or Schumann. Or Brahms. Or Mahler. And so on and so on. But The Ear thinks of Grieg as The Dvorak of the North. I think Claude Debussy once said his works were bonbons filled with snow.

That doesn’t mean his music is without value. His “salon”-like music certainly is enjoyable and worth hearing more often. Major artists like pianists Arthur Rubinstein, Emil Gilels and Stephen Hough play his Lyric Pieces and included several in their active repertoire. I think the violinist Jascha Heifetz also liked his three violin sonatas. And his songs are too rarely heard, perhaps because of the difficulty of singing Norwegian instead of German and French, Italian and English. Plus, the Emerson Quartet won a Grammy with his one string quartet.

edvard grieg

So this was a thoroughly enjoyable concert that reminded The Ear that the music of Grieg deserves to be heard more often in live performance than it currently is. Just listen to the lovely Nocturne, played by a contestant in the Grieg Piano Competition, in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Thanks go to Kent Williams (below top), to the Rural Musicians Forum –- which he directs and which is presenting a FREE tango quintet this Monday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Unity Chapel in Spring Green –- to Taliesin and especially to the three performers as well as to the full house (below bottom) that makes such a proposal all the more feasible and appealing.

Kent Mayfield at Taliesin

Grieg audience

Hear more music by Edvard Grieg?

As the late Eileen Stritch would sing: “I’ll Drink to That.”

Better break out the ice water.

 

 

 

 

 

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Classical music: Listen to American violinist Hilary Hahn revive the old tradition of salon music by playing the 27 short encores she commissioned from today’s important composers.

November 23, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

A frequent critic and gifted guest reviewer on this web site recently referred to Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine as the most exciting violin talent to emerge on the American scene.

Well, Barton Pine is indeed special and very gifted, as she proved earlier this month when she opened the Wisconsin Union Theater season with the magnificent Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, performed with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra conducted under the baton of UW alumnus and Madison native Kenneth Woods.

Here is a link to that review:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/classical-music-the-wisconsin-union-theater-opens-its-new-season-with-a-winning-blockbuster-program-of-brahms-and-shostakovich-performed-by-native-son-conductor-kenneth-woods-chicago-violist-rachel/

But The Ear has to respectfully disagree.

For my money, or my taste, or my values — whatever you want to call it —  the most exciting violin talent on the American scene is Hilary Hahn (below).

hilary_hahn

Hahn performs the classics and the great masterworks terrifically, with a great sense of architectural shape and beautiful tone, plus exciting but not exaggerated or distorted interpretations.

She also plays modern works and commissions works, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto by Jennifer Higdon (below) who teaches composition at the same Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where Hahn trained.

And her two recitals with the then relatively unknown pianist Valentina Lisitsa at the Wisconsin Union Theater were among the best performed and most originally programmed recitals that I have ever heard.

Jennifer Higdon and cat Beau

Oh, and Hilary Hahn also blogs, by the way.

And she also did her own interviews, posted on YouTube, with the 27 composers — including Max Richter, Lera Auerbach and Avner Dorfman — who composed the encores.

Check out her website: http://hilaryhahn.com

Now the heirloom record label Deutsche Grammophon has released the “The Hilary Hahn Encores in 27 Pieces,” which features 27 recently composed pieces, all commissioned by Hahn for her use as concert encores. It is a welcome throwback, in a way, to salon music and to composers like virtuoso violinist Fritz Kreisler.

Hilary Hahn Encores CD cover

I don’t know how they did it – I suspect it was some kind of swap for advertising space – but NPR has terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” and a feature called “First Listen” that also allows you to hear some music before it is released commercially. (But, as I understand it, you can’t download it or recorded it from the NPR site.)

NPR did the same for Jeremy Denk’s acclaimed new recording for the Nonesuch label of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.

Anyway, here is a link to the new Hilary Hahn CD of encores. Enjoy the music and listening to it.

http://www.npr.org/2013/11/03/242090716/first-listen-hilary-hahn-in-27-pieces-the-hilary-hahn-encores

And let us know your Top 5 picks of the 27, or even just your Top Pick.

It will be interesting to see if there is a consensus and what ones are liked the most.

The Ear wants to hear.


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