The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What piece of classical music best celebrates Labor Day? And which pieces require the most work to play?

September 5, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Labor Day, 2106.

We spend so much of our lives working and so little of our art relating to that work. 

But there are exceptions, such as the great historic photo “Working” by Lewis Hines that is below.

Here are suggestions of work-related music and a listing from 2014 by the famed radio station in New York City, WQXR-FM:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/poll-what-music-best-captures-spirit-labor-day/

And here is a pie chart and a 3-part listing from WQXR-FM this year with music that pertains to labor as well as to the work needed to play a piece of music as well. Just place the cursor over the segment of the pie chart to see the title and composer:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/crowdsourcing/classical-music-labor-day/report/

working Lewis hine photo

WQXR usually broadcasts labor-related music on Labor Day.

Here is a link for listening via streaming:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/

The Ear guesses that other radio stations, including Wisconsin Public Radio and Sirius XM Satellite Radio, will do the same.

But feel free to leave suggestions that might have been overlooked in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube performance if possible.

For example, The Ear thinks that the “Hammerklavier” Sonata and the “Diabelli” Variations by Ludwig van Beethoven qualifies as does the Symphony No. 8, the so-called “Symphony of a Thousand” by Gustav Mahler, the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff. there are many, many others. It often takes hard work to make great beauty.

Anyway, tell us what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Labor Day!

 


Classical music: Metropolitan Opera radio host Margaret Juntwait is dead at 58.

June 6, 2015
2 Comments

ALERT: This month’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” concert will take place tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III.

The concert features local violinist Kangwon Kim, violist Micah Behr and cellist Mark Bridges. The program includes a suite for solo viola by Quincy Porter and an arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous “Goldberg” Variations for string trio done by Russian violist Dmitry Sitkovetsky.

Admission is FREE. Since Wisconsin Public Radio ended live broadcasts of the concert after 36 years, you can stream it live starting at 12:30. Just go to the Chazen Museum of Art’s website where you will find the necessary link:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/the-goldberg-trio-sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-on-june-7

By Jacob Stockinger

Her expressive voice became as identifiable with the opera -– with the Metropolitan Opera -– as have some of the world’s great singers.

Her name is Margaret Juntwait (below in a photo by Jonathan Tichler) and she hosted the live radio broadcast from the Met that started in December and ran through May. Every Saturday, she reached more than one million fans worldwide with her commentaries and her outstanding interviews with singers and conductors.

Margaret Juntwait CR jonathan-tichler

This past Wednesday, Margaret Juntwait died at 58 of complications from ovarian cancer, which she had battled with for a decade.

Because today is Saturday, it seems like the perfect day for The Ear to post about her passing.

Here are three stories about Margaret Juntwait and her career plus a very short YouTube video about Puccini’s “La Boheme” that shows her quick wit.

From the Deceptive Cadence blog on National Public Radio (NPR):

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/06/03/411784750/met-opera-and-public-radio-host-margaret-juntwait-dies

From the Metropolitan Opera:

http://metopera.org/metopera/news/features/news-flash/remembering-margaret-juntwait

From the famed radio station in New York City, WQXR and WNYC:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/margaret-juntwait-former-wnyc-host-and-voice-metropolitan-opera-dies-58/

Feel free to leave your thoughts and feelings in the COMMENTS section of the blog.

The Ear wants to hear – and so do others.

 

 


Classical music: Ten Mozart performers name their favorite Mozart works to mark the composer’s 259th birthday this past week for the BBC Music Magazine.

January 31, 2015
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This past week -– on Tuesday to be exact -– we celebrated the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born in 1756 and died in 1791.

Mozart c 1780 detail of portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce

It was his 259th birthday.

For all his fame, familiarity and popularity, Mozart is a curiously underestimated composer. His best work is so sublimely beautiful that it is easy to overlook how different and revolutionary it was in its day. Mozart changed music, and we don’t always appreciate that fact.

Anyway, a lot of radio stations, including Sirius XM Satellite Radio, WFMT in Chicago, WQXR in New York City and Wisconsin Public Radio, broadcast a lot of Mozart on that day.

But one of the most interesting celebrations that The Ear saw came from BBC Music Magazine. It asked 10 celebrated Mozart performers — including pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, conductor Sir Neville Marriner, pianist Dame Mitsuko Uchida, conductor Sir Roger Norrington and singer Barbara Bonney — to name their favorite work.

Mozart old 1782

It covered the range of Mozart’s enormous output: piano music, string quartets, operas, symphonies, violin works, operas and of course choral works. And the website provided generous sound samples of the works.

Here is a link:

http://www.classical-music.com/article/which-your-favourite-piece-mozart

At the bottom is a YouTube video of one of my favorite Mozart works — the Piano Sonata in C minor, played by Daniel Barenboim. It was also a favorite of Ludwig van Beethoven who seemed to use some of it in the slow movement of the familiar “Pathetique” Sonata.

What is your favorite Mozart work?

What else do you want to say about Mozart?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: A major and long overdue revival of Franz Joseph Haydn seems at hand –- and The Ear applauds it.

May 23, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The evidence just keeps on mounting, at least to The Ear’s ears.

What I hear tells me this: We are on the verge of a major rediscovery and revival of the works of Franz Joseph Haydn, who too often seems little more than a token inclusion or an afterthought in so much classical programming. The repertoire usually runs: Lots of Mozart, lots of Beethoven, some Schubert and far less Haydn.

Haydn

Almost all classical musicians, historical and contemporary, concede that “Papa” Haydn -– a more complex personality than it would appear at first, especially if you read the authoritative biographies and essays by H.C. Robbins Landon  — was one of the most inventive and creative, the most prolific and influential composers of all time.

Haydn was more or less the father of the symphony, as we know it; the string quartet as we know it; the piano trio as we know it; and the piano sonata as we know it.

But curiously, Haydn has never received the same intense attention that his more famous colleagues such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, have enjoyed. And this is even despite the fact that he was a teacher or mentor to all of them.

Haydnpiano

And on what does The Ear base his hunch about a Haydn revival?

Well, this past season I heard many more of Haydn’s string quartets and piano trios than usual. I also heard one of his two cello concertos and a trumpet concerto.

The string quartets and piano trios came from the Pro Arte Quartet (below top), plus the Hunt Quartet (below middle) and the Perlman Trio (below bottom, seen with a guest pianist and guest cellist) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music as well as from chamber musicians in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). Plus, the annual summer Token Creek Chamber Music Festival often likes to explore Haydn’s piano trios, although I don’t yet know this summer’s programs. (You can hear part of a great Piano Trio in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Pro Arte Quartet in Haydn at Mernier

Hunt Quartet Mills 2-2014 USE

perlman trio 2014 2 Esposito

I have also heard many more symphonies everywhere, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus concert halls to Wisconsin Public Radio and SiriusXM satellite radio. More importantly, I have heard far more of the 104 symphonies than the usual favorites such as “the Farewell,” “The Clock,” “The Drumroll” and “The Surprise,” including fine performances by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Orchestra under conductor John DeMain — which played Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto with soloist Tine Thing Helseth — as well as the UW Symphony Orchestra and UW Chamber Orchestra under conductor James Smith.

WCO lobby

Then take a look at the concertos, which are relatively rare in the concert hall.

Next season the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will feature Shai Wosner (below, in a photo by Marco Borgrevve), a first-rate and sensitive musician, performing two of Haydn’s many piano concertos, the unheard No. 4 in G Major and the more popular No. 11 in D Major. This season, his Piano Concerto in D Major –- the most famous one — was also featured at Edgewood College, and it will again be programmed this summer by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO). That kind of repetition programming means something and bodes well.

Shai Wosner Photo: Marco Borggreve

One major disappointment of the revival so far is that local pianists don’t seem to be doing their part. They are not picking up on the 52 piano sonatas that are such a rich field of repertoire.

Too bad!

The Ear finds the piano sonatas of Haydn interesting and varied, and I am not alone: They were favorites of none other than the titanic talent Sviatoslav Richter (below top), who possessed a gigantic repertoire, but always spotlighted Haydn in performances and recordings. Alfred Brendel, Emanuel Ax, Leif Ove Andsnes, Andras Schiff and especially “super-virtuoso” Marc-Andre Hamelin (below bottom) -– all top names currently on the concert circuit –- have also championed Haydn through performances and recordings.

richterwithcross1

marc-andre hamelin

But perhaps those shortcomings will be overcome in time. After all, this past season, Archiv issued an outstanding CD of Haydn’s rarely played violin concertos with Giuliano Carmignola ad the Orchestra of the Champs-Elysees.

Giuliano Carmignola

Another area that needs some catching up with is Haydn’s choral music. It has been quite a few years since we have heard either of his large and magnificent oratorios “The Seasons” or “The Creation.” And I am not even talking about his wondrous, smaller-scale late masses (“Mass in Time of War,” “The Lord Nelson Mass”) that deserve far more performances than they usually receive, maybe from the UW Choral Union.

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

Will Haydn ever displace or dethrone the bigger masters and more famous names? Probably not.

The Ear finds Mozart more beautiful, but Haydn more interesting. 

Beethoven (below) is more dramatic, virtuosic and powerful, though much of what he learned about development, he learned from Haydn with whom he studied counterpoint, and whose work he knew intimately.

Beethoven big

And except in some of the “Storm and Stress” symphonies, Haydn seems more formal and objective, and rarely expresses the kind of heart-wrenching empathy and soulful humaneness we find in Mozart (below top)  and Schubert (below bottom), who were supreme melodists.

Mozart old 1782

Franz Schubert big

In fairness, we have to admit that Haydn did have his weak points. He wrote far too many works (123 trios!) for the outdated baryton (below) –- a kind of cello or viol with vibrating sympathetic strings -– simply because his royal patron at the Esterhazy Palace in Austria (now Hungary) played it. One can only imagine what would be the result if such energy had gone into other more important genres where Haydn excelled.

Baryton

Also, Haydn’s many operas seem deservedly neglected when they are compared to Mozart’s. Haydn just didn’t seem to have the flair necessary to combine theater and music in an engaging and insightful or moving way. And perhaps Haydn didn’t really take to vocal music because he subconsciously resented how close he had come to being castrated to preserve his boy soprano voice. Still, it might be interesting to see the Madison Opera do one of the better Haydn operas as its winter offering, or to see the University Opera, which often does neglected repertoire, tackle one. (Below is the English Touring Opera performing Haydn’s opera “Country Matters.”

Haydn's opera %22Country Matters%22 by the English Touring opera

But make no mistake. Haydn’s life and career were very long and his enormous output constitutes an endless vein of precious ore to mine, as these approximate numbers show: 104 symphonies, 60 piano trios, 72 string quartets, 52 piano sonatas, dozens of concertos and operas, a dozen or two major choral works.

Haydn, a humorous and good-natured man as well as a hard worker -– he always composed at the keyboard (below) — was a driving force behind all of them. And even though he developed and changed immensely over long life -– he was born in 1732 and died famous in 1809 -– all stages of his work offer masterpieces that deserve performances and acquaintance, and certainly far more attention than they generally receive.

Haydn_3

That is especially so now that early music, period instruments and historically informed performance practices are the norm. But I personally find that Haydn, unke some other composers, sounds terrific on either period instruments or modern instruments.

Haydn’s early symphonies like the triptych “Morning, Noon and Night;” (Symphonies Nos. 6, 7 and 8) are rich; his middle-period “Storm and Stress” minor key symphonies from his middle period are extraordinary and surprising for a Classical era composer. His sophisticated late work, when he twice took London by storm, includes the “Paris” and “London” symphonies as well as the “Oxford,” to celebrate his receiving an honorary degree. Next season, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will perform Symphony No. 96, “The Miracle.”

The Ear would love to see WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below)  -– who has shown himself to be a masterful interpreter of Haydn – undertake either a major cycle or at least a major survey of Haydn’s symphonies in coming seasons. Maybe the UW’s Pro Arte Quartet could do the same with the string quartets.

andrewsewell

So rich is Haydn’s work that even if a major revival happens -– if it indeed has already started – it can keep going for a very long time to come, and still keeps surprising us and pleasing us.

Does anyone else sense that a major Haydn revival is at hand?

Why do you think Haydn has been comparatively ignored?

What Haydn works do you like best?

And what Haydn works would you like to get to know better or to see better known by the general public and performed more often?

The Ear wants to hear.

 

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Classical music education: Can you pass NPR’s Bach Puzzler? Also Wednesday night is the FREE concert and live broadcasts of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Final Forte concert of high school students in the teenage concerto competition.

March 23, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

HAPPY BELATED BACH BIRTHDAY

For The Ear, Sunday morning is always Bach Time.

True, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below) is good to listen to anytime of the day or night. And indeed on Friday, which as Bach’s actual birthday in 1685, the commercial station Sirius XM radio played all-Bach while Wisconsin Public Radio played generous helping of Bach.

Bach1

But something about the Baroque style and about Bach’s music in particular, beyond its religious or theological aspects, seems especially suited to morning and especially to Sunday morning. (Am I alone in that feeling?)

That is when I especially love to listen to a cantata, a violin or keyboard concerto, some of the solo suites for violin, cello and piano. It just feels right for Sunday morning.

So, go ahead: Celebrate Bach’s birthday today, even if it is a bit belated. What piece of Bach do you most love to listen to? Tell The Ear in the COMMENT section.

And while you are at it, try taking the Bach Puzzler quiz that appeared on NPR. It asks 10 questions about Bach’s music and life, and teaches you things you might not know. The Ear scored 9 out of 10. He’s betting many of you can do better.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/03/21/291393250/wig-out-with-the-big-bach-puzzler

johann sebastian bach puzzler

THE FINAL FORTE

This coming Wednesday night, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will hold the 2014 edition of the annual Final Forte in Overture Hall at the Overture Center.

The FREE concert, under the baton of University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music guest conductor James Smith (below), who is filling in for John DeMain, features performances by the four finalists (two other rounds have already been completed)  for the Bolz Young Artist Competition -– in other words, a teenage concerto competition.

It will start at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast LIVE over Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

To add to the excitement, right after the performances are over, and while the orchestra plays on its own, the judges will caucus and vote, and the winners and prize placements will then be determined and announced.

PLEASE NOTE: Those attending the performance in person must be in their seats by 6:45 p.m. And they must make reservations by calling the MSO at (608) 257-3734.

The four young artists competing are (below, from left to right, in photo by James Gill):

mso final forte 2014 David Cao, Elizabeth Moss, Bobby Levinger, Ephraim Sutherland CR James Gill

Violinist David Cao, 15, who attends James Madison Memorial High School in Madison and who will play the first movement of the Violin Concerto in D Minor by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Violinist Bethany Moss, 17, is a senior home-schooled in Appleton, Wisconsin. He will perform the third movement of the Violin Concerto in B Minor by French composer Camille Saint-Saens.

Pianist Bobby Levinger, 17 is a senior at Central High School in LaCrosse. He will play the first movement of the Piano Concerto in A Minor by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.

Marimba player Ephraim Sutherland, 15, is a sophomore at Viroqua High School. He will perform the Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra by French composer Emmanuel Sejourne.  (You can hear the first movement in a YouTube video at the bottom)

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

In case you have to miss the Final Forte this Wednesday night, you can always record it. But there will also be encore broadcasts of the competition.

For more about these impressive sounding performers, including more complete biographies of them, and for broadcast dates and times, visit these two sites:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/bolz

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/media/MSO_ScoreAprilMay_Web-1.pdf

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Classical music Q&A: Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth discusses being a female brass player and her program with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend.

February 11, 2014
1 Comment

ALERT: Blog friend Rich Samuels writes: “At 7:22 a.m. on this Thursday morning,  my classical music show “Anything Goes” that is broadcast weekly from 5 to 8 a.m. on WORT-FM 89.9 will be airing an interview with Norwegian trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth, who will be in Madison for concerts this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and a master class at the UW-Madison School of Music (see more below). Listeners can hear a sampling of her solo work as well as a performance by tenThing, her all-female Norwegian brass ensemble. Tune in to 89.9 FM.

By Jacob Stockinger

As he tells the story, Madison Symphony Orchestra’s longtime music director and conductor John DeMain was riding in his car and listening to Sirius XM radio. He heard a new recording by a terrific trumpet player and he was so impressed that he determined then and there that he would try to book her for a Madison concert — especially since most soloists he books are pianists, string players or singers.

Her name in Tine Thing Helseth (below), and DeMain succeeded. He booked her for a debut that will take place in Madison this weekend.

Tine Thing Helseth big profile

Helseth is young, energetic and articulate. She is also generous with her time and talent. In fact she will give master class for trumpet and brass players with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras and a FREE public master class at the UW-Madison School of Music at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on this Thursday, Feb. 13.

Then come her MSO concerts, which she will perform under the baton of DeMain in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 pm.; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

Helseth will perform Franz Joseph Haydn’s well-known Trumpet Concerto in D Major and Alexander Arutiunian’s lesser known Trumpet Concerto in A-Flat Major (1920).

Rounding out the program is Jean Sibelius’ powerful and popular tone poem “Finlandia”; the symphonic suite from John Adams’ opera about physicist Edward Teller and the A-Bomb called “Dr. Atomic”; and the luscious late Romantic suite from Richard Strauss’ opera “Der Rosenkavalier,” a perfect offering for Valentine’s Day weekend.

A prelude discussion by musicologist Susan Cook, the new director of the University of Wisconsin School of Music, will take place in Overture Hall one hour before each curtain time.

Tickets are $8.25-$82.50 with rush tickets and discounts available. They can be purchased at the Overture Center box office, 211 State St., or by calling (608) 258-4141 or by visiting:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/helseth

http://ev12.evenue.net/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/SEGetEventList?groupCode=MSO_H&linkID=overture&shopperContext=&caller=&appCode=

Here is a link to the MSO’s program notes, written superbly as always by trombonist J. Michael Allsen who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater:

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1314/5.Feb14.html

Helseth recently granted an email interview to The Ear:

Helseth (c) ColinBell EMI Classics

Can you briefly introduce yourself, and tell us when and how you started studying music? How did you get into brass and what attracted you to brass and specifically the trumpet?

I started to play the trumpet when I was seven years old, basically because my mother plays the trumpet. I had played piano a couple of years already, but from the first moment the trumpet felt like my best friend — and we’ve stayed that way ever since! My mum had a good friend who played in the Norwegian Opera Orchestra, and she became my first teacher. I also played in my school band. 


tine thing helseth side view with trumpet

Do you find that being a woman plays any role, positive or negative, in your career or reception as a world-class trumpet player?

The most important thing as a performer will always be if you have something to say. Nothing else really matters.

But, that being said, I do feel comfortable with the fact that for some it might be a bit rare to see a woman having my profession. I feel a responsibility to show all the young kids out there that you can pick up whatever instrument you feel like, and make it your voice. Stereotypes can be boring. Just listen to your inner voice and follow your heart. 


(Here is a link to a more extensive answer she gave about the issue of gender and sex roles in another interview:

http://www.standard.co.uk/goingout/music/trumpet-trailblazer-tine-thing-helseth-on-women-in-the-classical-music-world-8749414.html

trumpet

What would you like to tell the audience about the Trumpet Concerto by Haydn (below)?

Franz Joseph Haydn’s trumpet concerto is basically the most famous concerto for my instrument. This year marks my very own 10-year anniversary for the first time I played it with a professional orchestra. I was 16 and it was with the Bergen Philharmonic in Norway.

This piece will forever have a truly special place in my heart. I play it several times a year, but I never get tired of it. There are always new things to discover, new colors and voices in the orchestra. It’s a true chamber music work, and I absolutely love performing it.  (And she performs it very well. You can hear the final movement at the bottom in a YouTube video that has drawn more than 3.3 million hits.)

Haydn

What would you like the audience to know about the Trumpet Concerto by Alexander Arutiunian (below)?

It’s very romantic in style, with clear folk music elements and the harmonics reveals that it’s written in the middle of the 20th century. It reminds me a bit of Khachaturian. It has beautifully melodic material and a really catchy fast theme.

Alexander Arutiunian

These concerts mark your debut in Madison, perhaps even Wisconsin and the Midwest? Is there anything special you want to say about the city, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, conductor John DeMain or the rest of the program (Jean Sibelius, John Adams and Richard Strauss)?

I am just very much looking forward to coming to Madison and working with the orchestra and Maestro DeMain, and to meeting the audience. As a performer I live for the communication with the musicians I work with and with the audience. It’s always exciting to come to new places and communicate with music.

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