The Well-Tempered Ear

Here are the classical music nominations for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards in 2021

November 28, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s time again for the annual Grammy Awards (below).

Although determined by the recording industry and often considered promotional marketing, they might be more helpful given the peculiar circumstances of the past year.

After all, the coronavirus pandemic has changed our listening habits.

Perhaps you now listen mostly via computer to virtual online concerts and performances that are streamed.

Perhaps you listen to Compact Discs using home stereo systems.

Perhaps you subscribe to a streaming service such as Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify and others.

However you listen to music, you might find the following list useful, especially as it comes at the beginning of the holiday shopping and gift-giving season.

You might also find the nominations for the 63rd annual Grammy Awards informative about individual musicians and musical groups in your area.

They can help you judge how many or how few contemporary composers and new works get performed.

Performers provide other examples. You might find it interesting, for example, that soprano Sarah Brailey (below) has been nominated for her role in the solo vocal work “The Prison” by Ethel Smyth. Brailey is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music and a co-founder and performer of the free monthly Just Bach concerts.

Pianist Shai Wosner (below, in a photo by Marco Borggreve), who played late Schubert sonatas at the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos, is included in a list of producer awards for his recording of those sonatas.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and Florentine Opera have been nominated for a recording of Carlisle Floyd’s opera “Prince of Players.” 

Conductor Julian Wachner (below top), violinist Augustin Hadelich (below middle) and pianist Jonathan Biss (below bottom) have all performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, some more than once.

Soprano Laquita Mitchell (below) — who has sung with the Madison Opera — has been nominated for her performance in the choral work “Sanctuary Road” by Paul Moravec. 

Cellist Matt Haimovitz (below top) and composer Luna Pearl Woolf (below bottom) have been nominated for the latter’s “Fire and Flood.” Both have appeared with UW-Madison orchestral and choral groups.

If you notice more local connections, please leave word in the Comment section.

The winners will be announced on CBS Television the evening of Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021.


73. Best Engineered Album, Classical
An Engineer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

·      DANIELPOUR: THE PASSION OF YESHUA
Bernd Gottinger, engineer (JoAnn Falletta, James K. Bass, Adam Luebke, UCLA Chamber Singers, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra & Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus)
 

·      GERSHWIN: PORGY AND BESS 
David Frost and John Kerswell, engineers; Silas Brown, mastering engineer (David Robertson, Eric Owens, Angel Blue, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus)
 

·      HYNES: FIELDS
Kyle Pyke, engineer; Jesse Lewis and Kyle Pyke, mastering engineers (Devonté Hynes & Third Coast Percussion)
 

·      IVES: COMPLETE SYMPHONIES (below)

Alexander Lipay and Dmitriy Lipay, engineers; Alexander Lipay and Dmitriy Lipay, mastering engineers (Gustavo Dudamel and Los Angeles Philharmonic)
 

·      SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONY NO. 13, ‘BABI YAR’
David Frost and Charlie Post, engineers; Silas Brown, mastering engineer (Riccardo Muti and Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

·  
  74. Producer Of The Year, Classical
A Producer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

·      BLANTON ALSPAUGH

• Aspects Of America – Pulitzer Edition (Carlos Kalmar and Oregon Symphony)
• Blessed Art Thou Among Women (Peter Jermihov, Katya Lukianov and PaTRAM Institute Singers)
• Dvorak: Symphony No. 9; Copland: Billy The Kid (Gianandrea Noseda and National Symphony Orchestra)
• Glass: The Fall Of The House Of Usher (Joseph Li, Nicholas Nestorak, Madison Leonard, Jonas Hacker, Ben Edquist, Matthew Adam Fleisher and Wolf Trap Opera)
• Kahane: Emergency Shelter Intake Form (Alicia Hall Moran, Gabriel Kahane, Carlos Kalmar and Oregon Symphony)
• Kastalsky: Requiem (Leonard Slatkin, Steven Fox, Benedict Sheehan, Charles Bruffy, Cathedral Choral Society, The Clarion Choir, The Saint Tikhon Choir, Kansas City Chorale and Orchestra Of St. Luke’s)
• Massenet: Thaïs (Andrew Davis, Joshua Hopkins, Andrew Staples, Erin Wall, Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Toronto Symphony Orchestra)
• Smyth: The Prison (Sarah Brailey, Dashon Burton, James Blachly and Experiential Orchestra)
• Woolf, L.P.: Fire And Flood (Julian Wachner, Matt Haimovitz and Choir Of Trinity Wall Street)

·      DAVID FROST (below)

• Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 9 (Jonathan Biss)
• Gershwin: Porgy And Bess (David Robertson, Eric Owens, Angel Blue, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus)
• Gluck: Orphée ed Eurydice (Harry Bicket, Dmitry Korchak, Andriana Chuchman, Lauren Snouffer, Lyric Opera Of Chicago Orchestra and Chorus)
• Holst: The Planets; The Perfect Fool (Michael Stern and Kansas City Symphony)
• Muhly: Marnie (Robert Spano, Isabel Leonard, Christopher Maltman, Denyce Graves, Iestyn Davies, Janis Kelly, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus)
• Schubert: Piano Sonatas, D. 845, D. 894, D. 958, D. 960 (Shai Wosner)
• Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13, ‘Babi Yar’ (Riccardo Muti, Alexey Tikhomirov, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus)

·      JESSE LEWIS

• Gunn: The Ascendant (Roomful Of Teeth)
• Harrison, M.: Just Constellations (Roomful Of Teeth)
• Her Own Wings (Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival)
• Hynes: Fields (Devonté Hynes and Third Coast Percussion)
• Lang, D.: Love Fail (Beth Willer and Lorelei Ensemble)
• Mazzoli: Proving Up (Christopher Rountree, Opera Omaha and International Contemporary Ensemble)
• Sharlat: Spare The Rod! (NOW Ensemble)
• Soul House (Hub New Music)
• Wherein Lies The Good (The Westerlies)

·      DMITRIY LIPAY

• Adams, J.: Must The Devil Have All The Good Tunes? (Yuja Wang, Gustavo Dudamel and Los Angeles Philharmonic)
• Cipullo: The Parting (Alastair Willis, Laura Strickling, Catherine Cook, Michael Mayes and Music Of Remembrance)
• Ives: Complete Symphonies (Gustavo Dudamel & Los Angeles Philharmonic)
• LA Phil 100 – The Los Angeles Philharmonic Centennial Birthday Gala (Gustavo Dudamel and Los Angeles Philharmonic)
• Langgaard: Prelude To Antichrist; Strauss: An Alpine Symphony (Thomas Dausgaard and Seattle Symphony Orchestra)
• Nielsen: Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 2, ‘The Four Temperaments’ (Thomas Dausgaard and Seattle Symphony)

·      ELAINE MARTONE

• Bound For The Promised Land (Robert M. Franklin, Steven Darsey, Jessye Norman and Taylor Branch)
• Dawn (Shachar Israel)
• Gandolfi, Prior and Oliverio: Orchestral Works (Robert Spano and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra)
• Singing In The Dead Of Night (Eighth Blackbird)
• Whitacre: The Sacred Veil (Eric Whitacre, Grant Gershon and Los Angeles Master Chorale)

75. Best Orchestral Performance
Award to the Conductor and to the Orchestra.

·      ASPECTS OF AMERICA – PULITZER EDITION (below)
Carlos Kalmar, conductor (Oregon Symphony)
 

·      CONCURRENCE
Daniel Bjarnason, conductor (Iceland Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      COPLAND: SYMPHONY NO. 3
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony)
 

·      IVES: COMPLETE SYMPHONIES
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor (Los Angeles Philharmonic)
 

·      LUTOSLAWSKI: SYMPHONIES NOS. 2 and 3
Hannu Lintu, conductor (Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra)

76. Best Opera Recording
Award to the Conductor, Album Producer(s) and Principal Soloists.

·      DELLO JOIO: THE TRIAL AT ROUEN
Gil Rose, conductor; Heather Buck and Stephen Powell; Gil Rose, producer (Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Odyssey Opera Chorus)
 

·      FLOYD, C.: PRINCE OF PLAYERS 
William Boggs, conductor; Keith Phares and Kate Royal; Blanton Alspaugh, producer (Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra; Florentine Opera Chorus)
 

·      GERSHWIN: PORGY AND BESS (below)
David Robertson, conductor; Angel Blue and Eric Owens; David Frost, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus)
 

·      HANDEL: AGRIPPINA
Maxim Emelyanychev, conductor; Joyce DiDonato; Daniel Zalay, producer (Il Pomo D’Oro)
 

·      ZEMLINSKY: DER ZWERG
Donald Runnicles, conductor; David Butt Philip and Elena Tsallagova; Peter Ghirardini and Erwin Sturzer, producers (Orchestra of The Deutsche Oper Berlin; Chorus of The Deutsche Oper Berlin)

·    

77. Best Choral Performance
Award to the Conductor, and to the Choral Director and/or Chorus Master where applicable and to the Choral Organization/Ensemble.

·      CARTHAGE
Donald Nally, conductor (The Crossing)
 

·      DANIELPOUR: THE PASSION OF YESHUA (below)
JoAnn Falletta, conductor; James K. Bass and Adam Luebke, chorus masters (James K. Bass, J’Nai Bridges, Timothy Fallon, Kenneth Overton, Hila Plitmann and Matthew Worth; Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus and UCLA Chamber Singers)
 

·      KASTALSKY: REQUIEM
Leonard Slatkin, conductor; Charles Bruffy, Steven Fox and Benedict Sheehan, chorus masters (Joseph Charles Beutel and Anna Dennis; Orchestra Of St. Luke’s; Cathedral Choral Society, The Clarion Choir, Kansas City Chorale and The Saint Tikhon Choir)
 

·      MORAVEC: SANCTUARY ROAD
Kent Tritle, conductor (Joshua Blue, Raehann Bryce-Davis, Dashon Burton, Malcolm J. Merriweather and Laquita Mitchell; Oratorio Society of New York Orchestra; Oratorio Society of New York Chorus)
 

·      ONCE UPON A TIME
Matthew Guard, conductor (Sarah Walker; Skylark Vocal Ensemble)

·       

78. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance
For new recordings of works with chamber or small ensemble (24 or fewer members, not including the conductor). One Award to the ensemble and one Award to the conductor, if applicable.

·      CONTEMPORARY VOICES
Pacifica Quartet
 

·      HEALING MODES
Brooklyn Rider
 

·      HEARNE, T.: PLACE
Ted Hearne, Steven Bradshaw, Sophia Byrd, Josephine Lee, Isaiah Robinson, Sol Ruiz, Ayanna Woods and Place Orchestra
 

·      HYNES: FIELDS
Devonté Hynes and Third Coast Percussion
 

·      THE SCHUMANN QUARTETS
Dover Quartet

·      

79. Best Classical Instrumental Solo
Award to the Instrumental Soloist(s) and to the Conductor when applicable.

·      ADÈS: CONCERTO FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA
Kirill Gerstein; Thomas Adès, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      BEETHOVEN: COMPLETE PIANO SONATAS (below)
Igor Levit
 

·      BOHEMIAN TALES
Augustin Hadelich; Jakub Hrusa, conductor (Charles Owen; Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks)
 

·      DESTINATION RACHMANINOV – ARRIVAL
Daniil Trifonov; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor (The Philadelphia Orchestra)
 

·      THEOFANIDIS: CONCERTO FOR VIOLA AND CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
Richard O’Neill; David Alan Miller, conductor (Albany Symphony)

·       

80. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album
Award to: Vocalist(s), Collaborative Artist(s) (Ex: pianists, conductors, chamber groups) Producer(s), Recording Engineers/Mixers with 51% or more playing time of new material.

·      AMERICAN COMPOSERS AT PLAY – WILLIAM BOLCOM, RICKY IAN GORDON, LORI LAITMAN, JOHN MUSTO
Stephen Powell (Attacca Quartet, William Bolcom, Ricky Ian Gordon, Lori Laitman, John Musto, Charles Neidich and Jason Vieaux)
 

·      CLAIRIÈRES – SONGS BY LILI and NADIA BOULANGER
Nicholas Phan; Myra Huang, accompanist
 

·      FARINELLI
Cecilia Bartoli; Giovanni Antonini, conductor (Il Giardino Armonico)
 

·      A LAD’S LOVE
Brian Giebler; Steven McGhee, accompanist (Katie Hyun, Michael Katz, Jessica Meyer, Reginald Mobley and Ben Russell)
 

·      SMYTH: THE PRISON
Sarah Brailey and Dashon Burton; James Blachly, conductor (Experiential Chorus; Experiential Orchestra)

·       

81. Best Classical Compendium
Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s) and Engineer(s) of over 51% playing time of the album, if other than the artist.

·      ADÈS CONDUCTS ADÈS
Mark Stone and Christianne Stotijn; Thomas Adès, conductor; Nick Squire, producer
 

·      SAARIAHO: GRAAL THEATER; CIRCLE MAP; NEIGES; VERS TOI QUI ES SI LOIN
Clément Mao-Takacs, conductor; Hans Kipfer, producer
 

·      SEREBRIER: SYMPHONIC BACH VARIATIONS; LAMENTS AND HALLELUJAHS; FLUTE CONCERTO
José Serebrier, conductor; Jens Braun, producer
 

·      THOMAS, M.T.: FROM THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and MEDITATIONS ON RILKE
Isabel Leonard; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor; Jack Vad, producer
 

·      WOOLF, L.P.: FIRE AND FLOOD
Matt Haimovitz; Julian Wachner, conductor; Blanton Alspaugh, producer

·      

82. Best Contemporary Classical Composition
A Composer’s Award. (For a contemporary classical composition composed within the last 25 years, and released for the first time during the Eligibility Year.) Award to the librettist, if applicable.

·      ADÈS: CONCERTO FOR PIANO AND ORCHESTRA
Thomas Adès, composer (Kirill Gerstein, Thomas Adès and Boston Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      DANIELPOUR: THE PASSION OF YESHUA
Richard Danielpour, composer (JoAnn Falletta, James K. Bass, Adam Luebke, UCLA Chamber Singers, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra & Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus)
 

·      FLOYD, C.: PRINCE OF PLAYERS (below)
Carlisle Floyd, composer (William Boggs, Kate Royal, Keith Phares, Florentine Opera Chorus and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra)
 

·      HEARNE, T.: PLACE
Ted Hearne, composer (Ted Hearne, Steven Bradshaw, Sophia Byrd, Josephine Lee, Isaiah Robinson, Sol Ruiz, Ayanna Woods and Place Orchestra)
 

·      ROUSE: SYMPHONY NO. 5
Christopher Rouse, composer (Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony)

If you want to see many more nominations, including those for pop, rock, folk, hip hop, jazz and videos, go to: https://www.grammy.com/grammys/news/2021-grammys-complete-nominees-list


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It’s Thanksgiving Day. Conductor Marin Alsop, NPR, WQXR, WFMT and Wisconsin Public Radio offer music suggestions. What piece would you choose to mark the holiday?

November 26, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020 — is Thanksgiving Day.

Right now, the U.S. has had more than 12 million cases of COVID-19 with more than 260,000 deaths plus all the alarming signs and conditions that many more cases and deaths are coming in the next several months.

We might be sad that we can’t be with the family and friends we usually celebrate with. But we nonetheless have many things to give thanks for during this strange and tragic time.

We can thank the vaccine researchers; the doctors and nurses; and the other health care workers who take care of Covid patients, even those who don’t observe precautions and bring on their own illness.

We can thank all kinds of people on the front lines — food and transportation workers, for example — who help protect us and care for us.

We can thank the friends, family and others who stay in touch and help get us through these trying times.

And we can thank technology that makes isolating a lot less unbearable because we have telephones, radios, TVs, CD players, computers, cell phones and virtual online ZOOM meetings and gatherings and various other events including live-streamed concerts.

For The Ear, music has never meant more or brought more comfort than during this difficult year. He is giving thanks for that as well as for the other people and things just mentioned.

So what music should we celebrate this year’s emotionally complicated and mixed Thanksgiving holiday with?

Well, you can Google sources and go to YouTube to find compilations of music appropriate to the holiday. (See one playlist lasting 90 minutes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Famed classical radio station WQXR in New York City has five suggestions for being musically grateful: https://www.wqxr.org/story/top-five-expressions-thanks-classical-music/

And WFMT in Chicago is offering 20 suggestions based on holiday food: https://www.wfmt.com/2019/11/25/a-complete-thanksgiving-feast-in-20-food-inspired-pieces/

But here are a couple of other suggestions, some local.

Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) is always a reliable source. And tomorrow is no exception.

If WPR programming stays true to past patterns, music by American composers will be emphasized.

Plus, starting at 10 a.m. WPR will broadcast performances from the Honors Concerts (below) by middle and high school students around the state and who participate in the Wisconsin School Music Association. This year, for the first time, the performances will be virtual. But as in past years, they are sure to be moving and even inspiring.

Other fine suggestions from the world-famous conductor Marin Alsop  (below), a Leonard Bernstein protégée, who recently spoke for 7 minutes to NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon. 

Here is a link, but you should listen rather than just read the transcript if you want to hear the musical samples: https://www.npr.org/2020/11/21/937448472/this-thanksgiving-put-on-some-music-to-soothe

Do you like any of those suggestions? Were any new to you?

What piece of music would you choose to express gratitude on this particular Thanksgiving?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra cancels its first Masterworks concert and launches an online virtual Winter Chamber Series in January

November 22, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

With the surge in the coronavirus pandemic, the dominos are starting to fall again — this time for the spring series of live, in-person concerts that had been planned.

Friday night brought important news from the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below, in photo by Mike Gorski).

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO) has canceled its first Masterworks concert, with guest cellist Amit Peled, in late January. In its place the WCO is launching its first-ever digital Winter Chamber Series.

The virtual, online series of digital concerts will feature the ensemble’s 34 players in smaller groups of four to eight, That will be safer for both players and audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four home-viewable virtual online concerts are planned: Jan. 22, Feb. 26, March 26, and April 16. Programs are not available except for the first concert.

Also included are a pre-concert talk with WCO music director and maestro Andrew Sewell (below top, in a photo by Alex Cruz) and Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland (below bottom), and post-concert reflections with musicians of the WCO.

The ticket price for each concert, which will run 60-75 minutes, is $30 per household. A ticket entitles you to one viewing of the concert between Friday, Jan. 22, and Monday, Jan. 25. The concert will start streaming at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

Patrons who have already purchased season subscription tickets can apply that to the full series of four concerts.

Tickets are available online at the Overture Center box office. See below.

The program for the first Winter Chamber Concert on Jan. 22 is:

Four Canzonas by the Baroque Italian composer Giovanni Gabrieli (below):

“Tzigane” (a term for music by Hungarian gypsies or Romani) for Wind Quintet by the contemporary American composer Valerie Coleman (below):

The first movement of the famed String Quintet in C major, D. 956, by the Austrian Romantic composer Franz Schubert (below):

Four Octets by the 20th-century American composer and jazz musician Alec Wilder (below), which you can sample in the YouTube video at the bottom.

To see more background about the composers, more details about the concert and purchase tickets, go to: https://www.overture.org/events/wco-chamber-series

You can also check out the series as it progressively gets announced on the WCO home website: https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/winter-chamber-series

The concert series sounds like a terrific substitution for the regular concerts that cannot yet take place.

But The Ear wonders if the price per concert is a bit steep, given that comparable concerts by UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music , the Wllly Street Chamber Players and Just Bach are free – although they do ask for donations — and that the Madison Opera charged $50 for its entire fall digital series while the Wisconsin Union Theater charges between $10 and $20 per virtual concert.

The Ear likes the eclectic programming, but also thinks it is kind of teasing and unsatisfying to offer just the first movement of such an organic masterpiece and profoundly beautiful work as the Schubert Cello Quintet. Doing one movement of a chamber music work somehow seems very different from doing one movement of a symphony.

It would also be nice to see the programs for all the concerts plus a series discount as an incentive.

What do you think about the WCO’s Winter Chamber Series?

What do you think about the price and the programming?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The New York Times music critics pick 10 online concerts and operas to watch through the month of November

October 30, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Classical music critics for The New York Times have again listed their picks of virtual and online concerts that will be streamed during the month of November, starting this Sunday, Nov. 1, and running right through Nov. 30. In September, they did the same for the month of October.

The list of 10 highlights includes chamber music, orchestral music and operas as well as lots of new music, world premieres of commissions and even the Cliburn International Piano Competition, now known simply as The Cliburn.

Most of the events are posted and available for quite a while.

Note that all times are Eastern and that on this Sunday, Nov. 1, daylight saving ends.

As the critics point out, the list may be especially helpful and enjoyable now that the weather is turning colder, people are isolating at home during the nationwide spikes in coronavirus cases, and concert halls remain closed to the public.

Well-known institutions such as The Metropolitan Opera (below) and the Los Angeles Opera are featured. (You can sample an earlier Met production of Philip Glass’ “Satyagraha” – about the early life of Gandhi — in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So are symphony orchestras from Detroit, Seattle, San Francisco and Cincinnati. 

And pianist Igor Levit (below top), who this past year released the highly praised, award-winning complete cycle of 32 piano sonatas by Beethoven and who was named Artist of the Year by Gramophone magazine, is also featured, as is the outstanding Chicago-based violinist Jennifer Koh (below bottom, in a photo by the Los Angeles Times). 

Here is a link to the story: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/28/arts/music/classical-music-stream.html

What do you think of the choices?

Do you have other concerts or classical music events to add to the list?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Can American film director Ron Howard make a sensitive and accurate biopic of Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang? Or is it a cultural appropriation that deserves to be condemned?

September 27, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The self-appointed PC diversity police have struck again.

This is getting silly and tiresome, insulting and embarrassing.

Some advocates of cultural diversity are crying foul over the latest project of the American and Academy Award-winning Hollywood film director Ron Howard: making a biopic of the superstar Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang (below).

The script will be drawn from the pianist’s bestselling memoir “Journey of a Thousand Miles” — which has also been recast as an inspirational children’s book — and the director and scriptwriters will consult with Lang Lang.

It seems to The Ear a natural collaboration, as well as a surefire box office hit, between two high-achieving entertainers. Check out their bios:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lang_Lang

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ron_Howard

But some people are criticizing the project in the belief that because Ron Howard  (below) is white and Western, he cannot do justice to someone who is Chinese or to Asian culture.

Here is an essay, found on the website of Classic FM, by one objector. She is Chinese film director Lulu Wang (below), who says she has no interest in doing the project herself: https://www.classicfm.com/artists/lang-lang/pianist-biopic-ron-howard-faces-criticism-lulu-wang/

Talk about misplaced alarm over “cultural appropriation.”

Don’t you think that Lang Lang will have a lot to say about how he is depicted?

Do you wonder if Wang thinks cultural appropriation works in reverse?

Should we dismiss Lang Lang’s interpretations of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Bartok simply because he is non-Western and Chinese rather than German, French or Russian?

Of course not. They should be taken on their own merits, just as the interpretations of any other Asian classical musician, and artists in general including Ai Weiwei, should be.

But however unfairly, cultural appropriation just doesn’t seem to work in reverse.

Mind you, The Ear thinks that cultural appropriation is a valid concept and can indeed sometimes be useful in discussing cross-cultural influences.

But it sure seems that the concept is being applied in an overly broad and even misdirected or ridiculous way, kind of the way that the idea of “micro-aggressions” can be so generously applied that it loses its ability to be truthful and useful.

Take the example of the heterosexual Taiwanese movie director Ang Lee. He certainly proved himself able to depict American culture in “The Ice Storm” and the gay world in “Brokeback Mountain.”

Let’s be clear. The Ear is a piano fan.

But if he objects to the project, it is because he doesn’t like Lang Lang’s flamboyant playing, his Liberace-like performance manners and showmanship, and his exaggerated facial expressions.

Yet there is no denying the human appeal of his story. He rose from a young and suicidal piano student (below) who was emotionally abused by his ambitious father – shades of the lives of young Mozart and Beethoven and probably many other prodigies – to become the best known, most frequently booked and highest paid classical pianist in the world. 

Yet not for nothing did some critics baptize him with the nickname Bang Bang.

Still, the Curtis Institute graduate does all he can to foster music education, especially among the young and the poor.

And there is simply no denying his virtuosity. (See Lang Lang playing Liszt’s Paganini etude “La Campanella” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So there is plenty to object to about Lang Lang the Piano Star besides the ethnicity of Ron Howard, who also did a biopic of opera superstar Luciano Pavarotti, in telling his story.

What do you think?

Is it culturally all right for Ron Howard to direct a film about Lang Lang?

Do you look forward to the movie and seeing it?

What do you think of Lang Lang as a pianist and a celebrity?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: This summer the Token Creek Festival goes online. The music starts TODAY at 4 p.m. Concerts run daily through Sept. 15 and remain up for this month

September 2, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival normally occurs in the final weeks of summer, just before Labor Day, in the welcoming rustic comfort of the beautifully converted barn (below) located on the rural farm property of composer John Harbison and violinist Rose Mary Harbison.

With its normal concert season canceled due to Covid-19, the festival is pleased to announce an alternative for the summer almost ended.

Slightly later than usual, “MUSIC FROM THE BARN” is a two-week virtual season, a retrospective of concert compilations from 30 years of performances.

The topical programs will be released daily over the period Sept. 1–15 at 4 p.m. (CDT), and will remain posted and available to “attendees” throughout the month. From anywhere in the world, you can revisit whole programs or individual pieces.

The goal of the series has been to achieve the broadest possible representation of repertoire and artists who have graced the Token Creek stage since the series began in 1989.

To festival-goers, it will come as no surprise that the virtual season emphasizes music of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, vocal music, works by artistic director John Harbison and his colleagues, and, of course, jazz.

In addition to the welcoming beauty of the barn and festival grounds, with sparkling creek and abundant gardens and woods, and the convivial intermissions at every concert, one of the features most beloved by audiences is the concert introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient and MIT professor John Harbison (below) that begins each program. Happily, these remain a feature of the virtual season as well.

Season Schedule

Tues., Sept. 1: Welcome and introduction from the artistic directors (below and  in the link to the YouTube video at the bottom)

TODAY, Wed., Sept. 2: Founders Recital

Thurs., Sept. 3: Haydn Piano Trios

Fri., Sept. 4: Bach I: Concertos

Sat., Sept. 5: A Vocal Recital (I)

Sun., Sept. 6: Beethoven

Mon., Sept. 7: Contemporaries

Tues., Sept. 8: Early Modernists

Wed., Sept. 9: A Vocal Recital (II): Schubert and Schumann

Thurs., Sept. 10: Jazz 2003-2019

Fri., Sept. 11: Neo-classicists: Pizzetti, Martinu, Stravinsky

Sat., Sept. 12: Schoenberg and His Circle

Sun., Sept. 13: Mozart

Tues., Sept. 14: John Harbison: Other Worlds

Wed., Sept. 15: Bach II: Preludes, Fugues, Arias, Sonatas

Programs will be posted on Token Creek’s YouTube Channel, accessible from the festival website (https://tokencreekfestival.org), which will also host concert details: works, artists, program notes and other information.

All concerts are FREE and open to the browsing public.

In addition to the virtual concert season, the Token Creek Festival is pleased to release two new CDs.

A Life in Concert (below) features music written for Rose Mary Harbison by John Harbison, and performances of diverse music by the two of them. It includes the world premiere recordings of Harbison’s Violin Sonata No. 1 and Crane Sightings: Eclogue for Violin and Strings, inspired by frequent encounters with a pair of sandhill cranes at the Wisconsin farm.

Wicked Wit, Ingenious Imagination (below) offers four piano trios by Haydn, a beloved genre the festival has been surveying regularly since 2000.  CDs will be available at the festival website by mid-September.

For more information, go to: https://tokencreekfestival.org

https://tokencreekfestival.org/2020-virtual-season/welcome/#


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Classical music: Grace Presents HD offers a free virtual online concert by the acclaimed Willy Street Chamber Players this Saturday at noon

August 19, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Cellist and UW-Madison graduate student James Waldo has sent the following announcement about a FREE virtual online concert by Grace Presents, which he coordinates.

The hi-def, one-hour concert by the critically acclaimed and popular Willy Street Chamber Players (below) is at noon (CDT) this Saturday, Aug. 22.

Says Waldo:

“This is a pre-recorded event, and as such, I had the singular pleasure of sitting in the room while these fantastic musicians recorded their program. This event is not to be missed!

“Grace Presents HD brings you free, crystal-clear performances by local Madison musicians in the nave of historical Grace Episcopal Church – located downtown on the Capitol Square — from the comfort and safety of your own home.

“The Willy Street Chamber Players will have a video premiere that will be available on the Grace Presents YouTube channel on this Saturday, Aug. 22 at noon CDT. (This virtual concert is available for a limited time only!)

You can see and hear a preview of the concert in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Artists in the Willy Street Chamber Players are: Paran Amirinazari, artistic director, violin and viola; Eleanor Bartsch, violin and viola; Mark Bridges, cello; and Lindsay Crabb, cello, five-string cello.

You can find more information about the chamber music ensemble, including a link to a post in which The Ear named them as Musicians of the Year for 2016, at: http://willystreetchamberplayers.org

As is typical for The Willys, the program reflects diversity and includes both classical masters and contemporary composers:

Schubert: String trio in B-flat major, D. 47

Tania León (below) – Four Pieces for Solo Cello: II. Prayer

Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber – Passacaglia

George Walker (below) – “Bleu”

J.S. Bach – Solo Cello Suite No. 6 in D major: I. Prelude and IV. Sarabande

Kimo Williams (below): “Quiet Shadows”

Beethoven: String Trio in G major, Op. 9, No. 1 / I. Adagio-Allegro

“We will be hosting a Zoom meet-and-greet with our guest artists following the performance. If you’d like to attend this virtual gathering, please RSVP to Grace Presents Program Coordinator James Waldo (gracepresents@gmail.com) for more information.

“Here is biographical background: The Willy Street Chamber Players (WSCP) are dedicated to creating community through classical music. Established in 2015, the group has become a fixture of the Willy Street neighborhood’s vibrant cultural scene.

“Recently awarded a gold medal in Madison Magazine’s prestigious “Best of Madison” reader poll, WSCP has received numerous accolades for its accessible and exciting performances, intelligent and fun programming, and community partnerships.

“Today, the group consists of four core members. Led by Artistic Director and violinist Paran Amirinazari, each player brings a fresh, imaginative take to classical music.

WSCP convenes each July – this summer’s concerts were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic — to present their popular summer concert series at Immanuel Lutheran Church (below) on Spaight Street. For these programs, the group has collaborated with many well-known guest artists from Madison and beyond.

“In addition, WSCP presents an array of events throughout the year including the admission-free Community Connect series that aims to bring classical music to inclusive spaces.

“WSCP has also performed at many other popular Madison venues including Marquette Waterfront Fest; Summer Serenades at Memorial Union Terrace; the Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin compound in Spring Green; the Madison New Music Festival; and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA).”

OTHER DETAILS

Video recording and editing has been done by: https://www.microtonemedia.com/

Audio engineering has been done by Bruce Kasprzyk.

Grace Presents is supported in part by generous project grants from Dane Arts, the Madison Arts Commission, the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) and the Grace Episcopal Development Fund Trust as well as individual gifts and in-kind support.

 


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Classical music: Leon Fleisher, the inspirational pianist and teacher who died a week ago, had ties to Madison

August 9, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Famed American pianist and teacher Leon Fleisher (below, in a photo by Chris Hartlove), who also conducted, died of cancer at 92 last Sunday, Aug. 2.

Wisconsin Public Radio, like many other media outlets including National Public Radio (NPR) and most major newspapers and television stations, devoted a lot of time to tributes to and remembrances of Fleisher.

That is as it should be. If any musician deserved it, Fleisher did.

Fleisher (1928-2020) was a titan who became, over many years and despite major personal setbacks — stemming from an almost paralyzed right hand — a lot more than a keyboard virtuoso.

But despite lots of air time, less well covered has been his relationship to Madison audiences, who had the pleasure of seeing and hearing him several times in person.

In 2003 and then again in 2016 (below top) — at age 88 — Fleisher performed with the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below bottom).

Both times he played the Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, a masterpiece of chamber music. He and his wife, Katherine Jacobson, also performed a joint recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater in 2009.

Fleisher felt at home in Baroque, Classical, Romantic and even modern music. He was renowned as an interpreter of Brahms. Indeed, his early and widely acclaimed recordings of both Brahms piano concertos as well as of the Waltzes and Handel Variations remain landmarks.

Once he was again playing with both hands, Fleisher also recorded the piano quintet for Deutsche Grammophon with the Emerson String Quartet, another frequent and favorite performer in Madison. (You can hear the finale in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a this blog’s review of his last Madison appearance: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=Leon+Fleisher

Fleisher liked performing with the Pro Arte, and therein lies another historical tale.

His most influential teacher — the famed pianist Artur Schnabel, with whom the San Francisco-born Fleisher went to study in Europe when he was just 9 — also played often with the earlier members of Pro Arte Quartet. Together they recorded Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet by Franz Schubert, and that recording is still in the catalogue and available on Amazon.

Fleisher discusses studying with Schnabel in his entertaining and informative 2010 autobiography “My Nine Lives” (below).

Fleisher was a child prodigy who made his name while still young. Famed French conductor Pierre Monteux – who conducted the world premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in Paris — called Fleisher the “musical find of the century.” Fleisher made his concerto debut at 16 with the New York Philharmonic under Monteux.

Fleisher was just 36 and preparing for a tour with the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell – a perfect pairing and a conductor with whom he recorded all the Beethoven and Brahms concertos among may others – when he found he could not uncurl the last three fingers of his right hand.

Various diagnoses and causes were offered, and many cures were tried. In the end, it seems like that it was a case of focal dystonia that was caused by over-practicing, especially octaves. “I pounded ivory six or seven hours a day,” Fleisher later said.

After a period of depression and soul-searching, Fleisher then focused on performing music for the left hand; on conducting; and especially on teaching for more than 60 years at the Peabody Institute, located in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University.

There he helped shaped the career of many other famous pianists, including André Watts, Yefim Bronfman and Jonathan Biss (below, in a photo by Julian Edelstein), who played when Fleisher received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007. (All three have performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Here is an inspiring overview of Fleisher’s life and career from the Peabody Institute: https://peabody.jhu.edu/faculty/leon-fleisher/

And here is another short biography from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Fleisher

Here are three especially noteworthy obituaries:

NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/08/02/702978476/leon-fleisher-the-pianist-who-reinvented-himself-dies-at-92

The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/02/arts/music/leon-fleisher-dead.html

The Washington Post, written by critic Anne Midgette who worked with Fleisher on his memoir: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/leon-fleisher-sublime-pianist-with-one-hand-or-two-dies-at-92/2020/08/02/c7c98f90-527d-11e6-b7de-dfe509430c39_story.html

The Ear has always found Fleisher’s playing remarkable for its technical fluency combined with the utmost clarity and exacting but flexible sense of rhythm. He always managed to make a piece of music sound just right, as it was intended to sound. His musicality always seemed innate and perfectly natural.

Sample it for yourself. The Ear thinks the performance of all five Beethoven concertos with George Szell still sets a high standard with its exciting, upbeat tempi, its exemplary balance between piano and orchestra, and its exceptional engineering.

The affable Fleisher will long remain an inspiration not only for his playing and teaching, but also for his determination to overcome personal obstacles and go on to serve music — not just the piano.

Did you ever hear Leon Fleisher play live or in recordings? What did you think?

Do you have a comment to leave about the legacy of Fleisher?


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Classical music: UW-Madison piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor performs a free virtual recital of impromptus by Schubert and Scriabin this Wednesday afternoon

August 4, 2020
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A note from The Ear: Thank you to the many blog followers who left a message of encouragement when I had computer troubles last week. The problem seems to be solved, at least temporarily. And I am healthy, despite the fears that some of you expressed that I was covering for coming down with the coronavirus virus or Covid-19.

By Jacob Stockinger

A friend has passed along the following note from Christopher Taylor, the piano virtuoso who won a bronze medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and who has been teaching for many years at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music.

Taylor (below) writes:

“Despite having my performance schedule ravaged, like everyone else, I do actually have one positive morsel of news to relay regarding a “recital” coming up in the near future, which I wanted to you know about.

“It is being hosted by the Chautauqua Institution, where I’ve performed a few times in the past. Unsurprisingly, they’ve had to switch to an online format this summer.

“Just last week I made the actual recording, playing four impromptus by Scriabin, and Four Impromptus, Op. 142, by Schubert in the Mead-Witter Foundation Concert Hall (below, with the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra), which seemed like a propitious setting. (Editor’s note: In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the third impromptu in the set by Schubert performed by Vladimir Horowitz during his historic 1986 recital in Moscow.)

“Under the circumstances I think the video turned out pretty well. The actual streaming, which will include the 45 minutes of music plus a little live interview before and afterwards, takes place this Wednesday – Aug. 5 – at 3 p.m. CDT.

You can get there by way of the following link: https://porch.chq.org/ue/event/6518/

“Apparently there is a brief registration form one has to fill out prior to viewing the show, but basically getting in should be a free and painless process for all and sundry.

“Hope you get a chance to join in, and that you enjoy it!”

 


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