The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Accusations of sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse expand to classical music, and former Metropolitan Opera maestro James Levine has been suspended. On Tuesday night, a percussion concert spotlights UW composer Laura Schwendinger

December 4, 2017
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ALERT: At 7:30 p.m. this Tuesday night in Mills Hall, the UW Western  Percussion Ensemble, under director Anthony Di Sanza, will perform a FREE concert. It will focus on a new work by the award-winning UW composer Laura Schwendinger along with other modern classics and new works. For more information about the group and the program, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/western-percussion-ensemble-4/ 

By Jacob Stockinger

It started in Hollywood, quickly spread to politics and Washington, D.C., as well as to journalism and to radio and television.

Now accusations of sexual harassment, sexual abuse and sexual discrimination are focusing on classical music.

Perhaps the most visible case so far is one that focuses on James Levine (below), the former longtime artistic director and conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, who just this past weekend conducted a live broadcast performance of the Requiem by Verdi, which was dedicated to the recently deceased Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

Levine is accused of abusing an underage teenager while he was at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, and the Met says it will investigate that allegation.

Through Google, you can find many reports about the situation.

Here is a link to a comprehensive story in The Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/metropolitan-opera-to-investigate-james-levine-over-sexual-abuse-allegations/2017/12/03/e8820982-d842-11e7-a841-2066faf731ef_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_met-misconduct-805am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.3abb56afabc3

UPDATE: Amid more allegations of sexual abuse, James Levine, 74, has been suspended by the Metropolitan Opera. Here’s a link to a detailed story in The New York Times:

But Levine is not likely to be alone.

According to a new study in the United Kingdom, it now looks that many more individuals and groups will be involved since sexual harassment and sexual discrimination were found to be “rampant.”

Here is a link to the story in The Independent:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/sexual-harassment-classic-music-incorporate-society-of-musicians-west-end-bbc-radio-3-a8088591.html

What do you think about the many current scandals and wave of allegations as they pertain to classical music or to your own experience in the field of music, either performance or education?

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: Charismatic Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky is dead at 55

November 24, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The charismatic Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (below, in a 2006 photo by Richard Termine of The New York Times) had it all.

Most importantly, the great opera singer, concert singer and recitalist possessed a superb voice with wonderful tone and breath control that allowed him to even beat out Bryn Terfel to win Singer of the World at a competition in Cardiff, Wales.

But he also had handsome face and fit beefcake body that made him a believable actor in so many roles and proved a pleasure to watch on stage.

And what about that fabulous mane of prematurely white hair that became his signature?

But on Wednesday, the acclaimed Siberian singer Dmitri Hvorostovsky — who was well on his way to becoming a superstar — lost a two-year bout with brain cancer.

He died at 55 – but not after winning plaudits for unexpected appearances at the Metropolitan Opera (below) and Carnegie Hall even while he was ill.

Here are two obituaries.

The first comes from the Deceptive Cadence blog of National Public Radio (NPR) and features three samples of his singing as well as some memorable interview quotes, including the renowned singer’s unapologetic take on his own sex appeal (below) that landed him in People magazine:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/11/22/565450465/dmitri-hvorostovsky-renowned-baritone-dies-at-55

And here is a longer obituary, also with samples, from The New York Times. It includes a lot of background about the singer’s early life and career:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/arts/music/dmitri-hvorostovsky-dead.html

Did you ever see or hear Dmitri Hvorostovsky in person or perhaps in “Live From the Met in HD” broadcasts? (He sings two folk songs in the YouTube memorial video at the bottom.)

And for those of you can judge singers better than The Ear can, what was your opinion of the Russian baritone?

Did you have a favorite role or aria you liked him in?

The Ear wants to know.


Classical music: University Opera’s “Turn of the Screw” is a completely satisfying production of a complex modern masterpiece by Benjamin Britten

March 5, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Opera Guy filed this review, with photos by Michael R. Anderson, for The Ear:

By Larry Wells

I attended the opening performance of Benjamin Britten’s 1954 chamber opera “The Turn of the Screw” that was presented by University Opera and directed by David Ronis.

It was a completely satisfying theatrical experience of a complexly organized musical work.

The libretto is based on Henry James’ serial novella of the same name. Whereas the James work is an ambiguous, psychological tale, Britten’s opera is an eerie ghost story laden with suggestions of psychosexual mischief.

Musically the opera is based on a 12-tone theme with each of its scenes preceded by a variation of the theme. There are further structural complexities in this highly organized work, but the music is very accessible and was admirably performed by 13 musicians ably led by conductor Kyle Knox. Particular praise goes to the percussionist Garrett Mendlow.

The beautiful, minimalistic set and stunning lighting enhanced the creepiness of the tale.

As for the singing, the cast tackled the complex vocal lines with aplomb, and there were several exceptional performances.

Particular praise goes to Anna Polum for her outstanding portrayal of the ghostly Miss Jessell. She sang beautifully and acted convincingly. (Below, from left, are Katie Anderson as the Governess and Anna Polum as Miss Jessell.)

Dress Rehearsal for "Turn of the Screw"

Dress Rehearsal for “Turn of the Screw”

Likewise Emily Vandenberg as Flora was realistic in the role of a young girl. I have seen performances of this opera that were brought down by unconvincing portrayals of this difficult child role, but Vandenberg acted naturally and sang beautifully.

The other child role, Miles, was capably performed by Simon Johnson, a middle school student. Cayla Rosché adeptly performed Mrs. Grose, the enigmatic housekeeper. (Below are Amitabha Shatdal  as Miles, Cayla Rosché  as Mrs. Grose and Elisheva Pront as Flora.)

Dress Rehearsal for "Turn of the Screw"

Dress Rehearsal for “Turn of the Screw”

The two major roles are The Governess and the spectral Peter Quint. Erin Bryan was convincing as the increasingly confused and hysteric governess, and she played off Rosché’s Mrs. Grose to great effect. At one point I was thinking that these were two extremely flighty women. (Below, from left, are Cayla Rosché  as Mrs. Grose; Elisheva Pront as Flora; Katie Anderson as the Governess; and Amitabha Shatdal as Miles.)

Dress Rehearsal for "Turn of the Screw"

Dress Rehearsal for “Turn of the Screw”

Alec Brown (below) as Quint had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of singers like Peter Pears who made Quint an evil, threatening, nasty fellow. Brown’s Quint came off as slightly laid back, and his perfectly fine tenor voice was just not a Britten voice in the style of Pears, Philip Langridge or Ian Bostridge.

Dress Rehearsal for "Turn of the Screw"

Dress Rehearsal for “Turn of the Screw”

I had a couple of minor problems with the evening. First, I did not understand why the doors to Music Hall didn’t open until 7:20 for a 7:30 performance, which then actually started at 7:45. And, I was disappointed that the piano, which is a major contributor to the music’s sonority, was swapped for an electronic keyboard.

Yet I left feeling once again that Britten was a true musical genius of the 20th century and that I was eager to go to the 3 p.m. performance this afternoon to experience it all over again.

“The Turn of the Screw” will also be performed one last time on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

For more information about the opera, including how to buy tickets — admission is $25 with $20 for seniors and $10 for students, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2017/01/31/university-opera-presents-benjamin-brittens-the-turn-of-the-screw/


Classical music: Here is a true tale of a famous Mozart opera, sexual assault and Trump Tower

December 3, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

World-famous avant-garde stage director Peter Sellars (below, in a photo by Christian Carisius for the European Press Photo Agency) is known for his unorthodox recasting of operas and Bach cantatas.

peter-sellars-2016-cr-christian-charisiuseuropean-pressphoto-agency

But one of his productions, done almost 30 years ago, has proven especially prescient.

It involved the opera “The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which years ago he set in Trump Tower.

The plot centers on the medieval “droit du seigneur” that allowed a nobleman to be entitled by law to have sex with a servant on her wedding night before the husband did. (In the YouTube video at bottom is the famous and so breathtakingly beautiful Forgiveness scene, featured in the Oscar-winning film “Amadeus,” with the faithful Countess and the philandering Count that ends the masterpiece opera.)

In 1988 Sellars set the opera on the 52nd floor of the luxurious Trump Tower (below), as the equivalent of an aristocratic estate, of net-feudalistic excess and wealth.

trump-tower-up-to-sky

With great insight and articulateness, Sellars recently discussed with The New York Times the inspired settings in light of the past history, campaign and recent election of President-elect Donald Trump.

The Ear found the interview both enlightening and entertaining, and he hopes you do too.

Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/arts/music/remember-when-figaro-was-set-in-trump-tower.html?_r=0

It makes you wonder: How will other forms of art deal with the new administration?

Could it be that we are in for more activist protest art, something of a return to the 1960s and such efforts as Barbara Garson’s 1967 “MacBird,” which recast Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth” as a theatrical satire of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, or LBJ, and First Lady Lady Bird Johnson as the Macbeths following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or JFK?

What do you think?

Can you think of other works that lend themselves to such an approach to contemporary affairs?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Does Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni” reveal anything about Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump”?

October 29, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

For generations, the conquests of the legendary Don Juan were treated as seductions.

But were they really rape?

The question is important in considering the masterpiece opera “ Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

don-giovanni-met-2016-simon-keeleyside

One blog writer for slate.com – Bonnie Gordon, who teaches a class on music and gender at the University of Virginia — draws a link between the charismatic historic nobleman and the current charges of “womanizing” and allegations of sexual assault made against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (below).

Donald Trump thumbs up

She doesn’t bring up whether the same discussion applies to former Democratic President Bill Clinton, but it doesn’t seem a stretch.

She raises questions about what is sexual assault, seduction and rape – and how the definitions of a “rape culture” have changed over time and depending on whether it comes from a man’s or a woman’s point of view.

She pegged her essay to LAST weekend’s broadcast performance of the opera by “Live From the Met in HD” with Simon Keenlyside in the title role. In the YouTube video at the bottom, with English subtitles, Don Juan’s servant Leporello sings an aria about his master’s thousands of “conquests.”

But despite the week that has passed since the broadcast of the production, to The Ear the essay still seems relevant as the national election approaches.

Here is a link to that essay:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2016/10/21/what_don_giovanni_an_opera_about_a_charismatic_rapist_can_teach_us_about.html

What do you think about the essay and its main argument or point?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Meet the Chinese phenom pianist Yuja Wang in a New Yorker profile that has more details than you have ever seen before

September 17, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Whether you focus on her virtuosic playing or her sensational and controversial use of sexy fashion in performances, the young Chinese-born and American-trained pianist Yuja Wang is a phenomenon that has both audiences and critics talking in superlatives.

yuja wang dress times 3

True, she is no newcomer to the concert stage and has been in the mass media for years.

Yet the best profile that The Ear has yet seen was written by acclaimed journalist Janet Malcolm and appeared this month in The New Yorker magazine.

It is pegged to Yuja Wang’s recent performance at Carnegie Hall of the famously difficult “Hammerklavier” Sonata in B-flat major, Op. 106, by Ludwig van Beethoven. (You can see and hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Yuja Wang Ian Douglas NYT May 2013

Here is a link to the profile, which is chock full of personal and professional details:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/09/05/yuja-wang-and-the-art-of-performance


Classical music: Female classical musicians are coerced to sex up their image, says star violinist Nicola Benedetti

July 27, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear loves all the talk about female equality happening at the Democratic National Convention this week.

It seems only fitting, after all, given that Hillary Rodham Clinton last night became the first female presidential nominee of a major political party in the U.S.

Now, you might think that culture and especially the arts lead the way in such progressive matters.

And sometimes they do.

But not always.

In a story in the newspaper The Daily Mail, published in the United Kingdom, Scottish star violinist Nicola Benedetti (below) says that female classical musicians are still coerced to “sex it up” to have major careers. (Y0u can hear another interview with her in the YouTube video at the bottom. She seems both charming and candid.)

NIcola Benedetti PIcture:- Decca/Simon Fowler

NIcola Benedetti
PIcture:- Decca/Simon Fowler

Hmmm. Sounds almost like an appropriate story at a time when conservative political genius and news director Roger Ailes was forced to leave his Fox News job because of multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

Benedetti cites her own career as an example, and also the case of singer Charlotte Church (below), who had to wear sexy lingerie in a crossover video.

Charlotte Church

It sure sounds like sexism is alive and well in the world of classical music.

Here is a link to a story with Benedetti’s charges.

Read it and see what you think:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3682724/Proms-star-Nicola-Benedetti-Charlotte-Church-parading-lingerie-does-NOT-empower-women.htm

Then tell the rest of us what your opinion is.

And if you know of other examples.

The Ear recalls a sexed up album cover for American violinist Lara St. John (below) who, on a recording of solo works by Johann Sebastian Bach, used her instrument to conceal her bare breasts.

Lara St. John Bach breasts

Let us know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Don’t miss tango weekend at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society

June 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

If there was ever a genre of music created specifically for the talented, eclectic and fun-loving musicians of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, it is surely the tango.

It is hard to imagine a more perfect kind of music because it seems so suited to the temperament of the BDDS and its participants. The tango and BDDS simply seem made for each other.

BDDS 25th poster

The sexy and sensual tango has become both a popular and populist form of South American dance music. It started in brothels and then went mainstream. Then it crossed over into the classical repertoire, thanks to composers Astor Piazzolla, Carlos Guastavino and others.

If you have heard the BDDS perform tangos before, you know how captivating the performances are.

This weekend, the BDDS Silver Jubilee season will feature two programs with tangos, arranged by Pablo Zinger (below), a Uruguayan native who now calls New York City home.

Pablo Zinger at piano

Last time they performed, Zinger and his BDDS colleagues were absolutely terrific. The Ear will never forget the BDDS version of Piazzolla’s “Oblivion,” a fantastic, soulful and heart-breaking piece of music. (You can hear another version of “Oblivion” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here are links to the program with tango this weekend to be performed at the Playhouse in the Overture Center and in the Hillside Theatre (below) at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org/schedule.php

taliesin_hillside2

Besides tangos, there will also be music by Maurice Ravel (Piano Trio); Arnold Schoenberg (Chamber Symphony); Franz Schubert (Piano Trio No. 1); Joseph Haydn (Piano Trio No. 25, “Gypsy Rondo”); and movie music by Nino Rota, Henry Mancini and Luis Bacalov.

But featured prominently are tangos by Uruguayan composer Miguel del Aguila (below top) and by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla (below bottom), who turned to the tango of his native land at the advice of Nadia Boulanger, the famous French teacher of Aaron Copland, Philip Glass and others.

Miguel del Aguila

astor piazzolla

If you are looking for a preview sample, you can of course go on YouTube. But you could also listen to the new CD of South American tangos by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Stephanie Jutt, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who is also principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Not long ago, Jutt (below) spent a sabbatical year in Argentina, if The Ear recalls correctly. She clearly fell in love with tango music and is anxious to share her enthusiasm with others. That enthusiasm and her flair for the dance form show in the terrific performances on the CD.

Stephanie Jutt with flute

The new CD (below), on the Albany label, features pianists Elena Abend and the versatile arranger-pianist Pablo Zinger, whom you can hear live this weekend. It features 20 modern Latin American and Spanish works by Piazzolla and Guastavino as well as by Angel Lasada, the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and the Basque composer Jesus Guridi. (It is on sale at BDDS concerts for $15.)

Stephanie Jutt tango CD

Dance has always inspired classical music. Historically, the tango seems a natural modern progression from the Baroque minuets and allemandes of Johann Sebastian Bach, the Classical landler of Haydn, the Romantic waltzes of Franz Schubert and Frederic Chopin, the Hungarian Dances of Johannes Brahms and the Slavonic Dances of Antonin Dvorak.

But don’t take The Ear’s word for it.

Go listen for yourself. And be captivated, be transported. You won’t be disappointed.


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS – the sensual sound and sexy music of Gabriel Faure’s Piano Quintet No. 1

June 1, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The other night The Ear heard a recording of Gabriel Faure’s Piano Quintet No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 89.

He had forgotten quite how quietly and intimately sensual, even sexy, it is.

The Ear has never heard the work in a live performance because, unfortunately, it isn’t programmed often – a fate it shares with most of Fauré’s music save his Requiem. But Fauré also wrote beautiful chamber music, songs and solo piano music.

Just listen to the opening watery sounds of the piano and the luscious string sounds. Just listen to the melodies and harmonies. It is such seductive music, filled with yearning and softly stated passion.

See if you don’t agree when you listen to the first movement in the YouTube video at the bottom. (You can also find a complete performance of the work in YouTube.)

It offers more proof that Faure (1845-1924, below), who taught Maurice Ravel, is severely underestimated and underperformed in the non-French music world.

faure-1

In The COMMENT section, tell The Ear if you agree and what other sexy pieces of chamber music you want others to listen to.


Classical music: Music for piano-four hands played a vital historical role in disseminating classical music and also in encouraging amateur musicians and a socially acceptable form of erotic intimacy.

April 1, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

First things first — a full disclosure because today is April 1 or April Fool’s Day.

april fools day

But this is no April Fool’s post. The Ear detests using the media, old or new, for April Fool’s stories and pranks. The Ear finds them stupid and reprehensible. They undercut credibility and insult readers or consumers by taking advantage of their gullibility.

So …

Yesterday, you may recall, I posted a preview of the upcoming recital this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. by pianists Peter Serkin and Julie Hsu at Farley’s House of Pianos.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/classical-music-pianists-peter-serkin-and-julia-hsu-will-play-works-for-piano-four-hands-by-mozart-schubert-schumann-and-brahms-this-saturday-night-at-farleys-house-of-pianos/

But as background, or perhaps an appetizer or teaser, I thought you might like to see a link sent to me by a professor friend at Stanford University. It covers a book by his colleague in German that offers not only history but also the role of four-hand playing in encouraging intimacy, a kind of erotic sensuality and sexuality that was socially acceptable. Then, too, music playing also bridged the worlds of professional and amateur musicians.

Whether or not you attend the concert at Farley’s, it is good to read the overview of the vital role that music for piano-four hands (below is the team of Varshavsky and Shapiro who perform quite often in the area) played in the history of Western classical music. They helped to disseminate into ordinary homes versions of the symphonies by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven at a time when hearing a real symphony was a rare occasion.

And of course they also encouraged Hausmusik — the playing of music in private homes before commercial concerts became established. A piano was like the CD player or radio or television of its day.

Stanislava Varshavski-Diana Shapiro

Madison hears its fair share of such music. It is always featured at the Schubertiades, held by wife-and-husband pianists Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music in late January.

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

Such music has also appeared regularly at the free Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen Museum of Art, the annual Karp Family Labor Day Concerts, the summer Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, Farley’s House of Pianos, and other important series.

The Ear has enjoyed such music – in addition to the many social works by Franz Schubert, I have heard Hungarian Dances by Johannes Brahms, Slavonic Dances by Antonin Dvorak and Polonaises by Franz Schubert, for example — but was never fully aware of what, historically, he was listening to.

So The Ear found the historical essay fascinating and thought you might also appreciate it.

Here is a link to the essay:

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/december/piano-monster-daub-120814.html

And here is a link to a YouTube video of the piece that is perhaps the crown jewel of piano-four hand literature — Franz Schubert’s late Fantasy in F Minor, D. 940 — performed by two of my favorite British pianists, Imogen Cooper and Paul Lewis:


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