The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Gift guide or gift or both? Critics for The New York Times name their top classical recordings of 2018, and so does National Public Radio (NPR)

December 22, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is “Panic Saturday” — another, newer theme day on the commerce-driven Holiday Consumer Calendar that goes along with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber-Monday and Giving Tuesday. 

In past years, by this time many media outlets would publish the list of the top classical recordings of the past year. And The Ear has offered them as holiday shopping guides with links to the lists.

They seem to be running late this year, probably too late for many shoppers.

But recently the team of critics for The New York Times named their Top 25 classical recordings of 2018 that run from the 15th century to today (sample album covers are below).

This time, the website didn’t just reproduce something that first appeared in the printed edition. And something more than small snippets or excerpts are offered.

This time, the newspaper took full advantage of the electronic possibility of the web and used streaming to add hours of sound samples — some as long as 40 minutes – so you can see what you think of the recordings before you buy them. (Be sure to look at reader reactions and comments.)

It is a new and innovative way to do a Top 25 list – very appealing or entertaining as well as informative. Even if you don’t use it to buy anything for others or yourself, it can provide many minutes of listening pleasure. You can think of it as a gift guide or a gift or both.

Of course, there are also the usual short and very readable, to-the-point narratives or explanations about why the recording stands out and what makes it great music, a great performance or a great interpretation.

So there is a lot to listen to and help you make up your mind. The Ear has enjoyed it and found it helpful, and hopes you do too, whether you agree or disagree with the choice:

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/arts/music/best-classical-music-tracks-2018.html

Since this is the last weekend for holiday shopping before Christmas, here is the previous list – notice the duplications in the two lists — posted here, which was of the nominations for the upcoming 2019 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/classical-music-here-are-the-just-announced-grammy-nominations-for-2019-they-can-serve-as-a-great-holiday-gift-guide/

And here is the Top 10 list, which was chosen by the always discerning Tom Huizenga (below) — who explains the reasons for his choices — and which also offers generous sound samples, from National Public Radio (NPR) and its Deceptive Cadence blog. Also look for duplications:

https://www.npr.org/2018/12/18/677776208/npr-musics-best-classical-albums-of-2018

What recordings would you suggest? 

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Black Friday started the holiday shopping rush. What gifts about classical music would you recommend?

November 25, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday was Black Friday – the day that ushers in the start of frantic holiday gift shopping.

Today is Small Business Saturday for local shopping and Monday is Cyber Monday for on-line shopping.

It sure sounds like decadent capitalism that is growing ever more desperate for sales and marketing gimmicks.

And it sure sounds overwhelming.

But some help is available.

As in past years, from now through late December The Ear will offer some gift ideas of his own, including books, recordings and tickets to live performances.

Also as usual, he will offer the new Grammy nominations plus list of the Top 10 of 2017 and similar lists from The New York Times, National Public Radio (NPR), WQXR-FM (see the link below), The Washington Post, Gramophone magazine, and other sources.

In fact, you can use the blog’s search engine to look up suggestions from past years. You might be surprised at how relevant a lot of them still remain.

http://www.wqxr.org/story/hand-picked-gift-guide-classical-music-lover-your-list/

Is there a trend this year?

Well, because of the Leonard Bernstein centennial there is a lot of Lenny (below) being repacked for holiday sales, including his mid-century revival of Gustav Mahler with the New York Philharmonic. (You can hear Bernstein introduce and explain Mahler to young people in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

And the growing prevalence of digital streaming means that more and more wonderful box sets of operas, orchestral music, choral music, vocal music, chamber music and solo music are available for about $3 a disc or less.

But this year, The Ear also wants to encourage his readers, who are often very knowledgeable, to send in their own suggestions for holiday gift-giving.

It should be something you would either like to give or like to receive.

Plus, the recordings or whatever other products you mention do not have to be new.

The only important criterion is that you think either yourself or the recipient would enjoy it and somehow benefit from it.

Maybe it is something new you think up.

Or something you heard from someone else or another source.

Maybe it is a gift that you yourself received and think others would enjoy getting.

Anyway, let’s all educate each other and please each other this holiday season.

Let the suggestions begin!


Classical music: For this coming Giving Tuesday, The Ear takes note that symphony orchestras are not alone in now being more like charities than businesses

November 26, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Tuesday, Nov. 29, is Giving Tuesday.

It follows such hyped-up promotional and for-profit business days as Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

But this year Giving Tuesday seems more important than ever.

It’s no secret that the conservative political forces now in ascendancy do not favor government subsidies of the arts. And one has no idea about what the taste in the arts is for the incoming administration.

Plus, economic competition among proliferating music groups has only tightened the screws even further on many organizations.

Of course, lots of music organizations – small, medium and big – need your help.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Union Theater and increasingly the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music all seek out and solicit donations with more and more frequency.

And it is no secret that The Ear especially favors supporting music education organizations for young people such as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (below, at the group’s 50th anniversary concert last winter). They not only train future musicians but also build future audiences for classical music.

WYSO 50th players

But in whatever direction your philanthropy and generosity extend, here is some relevant news.

It is a story from The New York Times about how symphony orchestras are now less like businesses and more like charities.

Symphony orchestras aren’t alone, so the account seems especially timely with Giving Tuesday looming.

Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/16/arts/music/its-official-many-orchestras-are-now-charities.html?_r=0

If you have some thoughts, please leave them in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Today is Cyber Monday. Here are some gift guides and links to local music organizations if you want to buy tickets and look into performers, concerts and dates.

November 30, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Cyber Monday, which follows on the heels of Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Small Business Saturday.

Just look at those names of Institutionalized Shopping Days. Are we a consumer society or what?

All the news stories that the Ear hears and sees seem to agree: Online buying is by far the fastest growing segment of the holiday retail market.

In that spirit, here are two links to various gifts guides.

First, BBC Music Magazine and the Telegraph newspaper:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/classical-music-here-are-the-best-classical-music-cds-of-2015-according-to-the-bbc-music-magazine-and-the-telegraph-newspaper/

And The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/28/classical-music-its-small-business-saturday-here-are-classical-music-gift-suggestions-from-the-critics-for-the-new-york-times/

But just as important are the local music makers and concert promoters. The Ear thinks that tickets to future concerts make a great gift – especially if you agree to accompany someone and provide companion or maybe even transportation is the person is older.

And you don’t have to buy today.

The important thing is to USE YOUR COMPUTER OR SMART PHONE to browse and shop, to assist you in shopping.

Computers

smart phone

Some of the local groups are even offering major and minor holiday discounts. Or the past several years, the Madison Symphony Orchestra has offered has reduced price tickets. (This year, the MSO tickets sale of seats for $20 or $48 takes place Dec. 12-24.) This year, the Wisconsin Union Theater is waiving handing fees (but not discounting tickets) for the month of December and through Jan. 2. And other deals are likely, given the competitive nature of the performing arts in Madison.

And if you don’t buy them today or the sales come later, at least you can do the research right now and find out what you might want to buy later.

In some cases, as with the FREE Friday Noon Musicales at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, performers and programs are not listed much in advance. And the terrific new ensemble Willy Street Chamber Players won’t announce its new dates and programs until the spring.

The Ear thinks that combining a ticket to a live performance with a recording of the music or a book about music makes a superb holiday gift. And you will be supporting local businesses and local musicians.

So here are some links. But please forgive The Ear if the list is not exhaustive. There are so many classical music groups now in Madison and the surrounding area, it is hard to keep up.

If you want to ask something, please put the name and a link in the COMMENT section. The Ear will be grateful, and so will other readers.

The Ear hopes you find it useful.

A drumroll, please!

University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

MAYCO in MIlls June 2015 JWB

Edgewood College:

http://www.edgewood.edu

Edgewood Chamber Orchestra poster Sept 12

Madison Symphony Orchestra:

https://www.madisonsymphony.org

MSO playing

Madison Opera (a scene from “La Boheme” in a photo by James Gill):

http://www.madisonopera.org

Boheme Madison Opera USE Mimi and Rodolfo GILL

Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org

WCO lobby

Overture Center for the Arts:

http://www.overturecenter.org

OvertureExteior-DelBrown_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85

Wisconsin Union Theater:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu

Shannon Hall UW-Madison

Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras:

https://www.wysomusic.org

WYSO Youth Orchestra

Oakwood Chamber Players:

http://www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

Madison Bach Musicians:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble:

http://www.wisconsinbaroque.org

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble 2014

Middleton Community Orchestra:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

Con Vivo:

http://www.convivomusicwithlife.org

Con Vivo group

Festival Choir of Madison:

http://festivalchoirmadison.org/seasons/events.html

Festival Choir of Madison at FUS

Madison Choral of Madison:

http://themcp.org/concerts/

Madison Choral Project color

Farley’s House of Pianos:

http://www.farleyspianos.com

Farley Daub plays

Fresco Opera Theatre:

http://www.frescooperatheatre.com

Fresco Opera Theatre cast for Opera SmackDown

Live From the Met in HD:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas/

Met Live IlTrovatore poster


Classical music: Today is Small Business Saturday. Here are classical music gift suggestions from the critics for The New York Times. Plus, a FREE Christmas Carol Sing is in Overture Hall tonight at 7.

November 28, 2015
5 Comments

ALERT: Want to relax after eating and shopping? Tonight at 7 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, there is a FREE and PUBLIC one-hour Community Christmas Carol Sing, hosted by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. All ages are welcome. Accompaniment will be on the Overture Concert Organ, played by MSO Principal Organist Samuel Hutchison.

By Jacob Stockinger

Thanksgiving is done, and now we look forward to the holiday season of Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and even winter solstice festivals.

To further and foster your shopping, today is now known as Small Business Saturday, the day following Black Friday. It is supposed to encourage consumers to shop and eat at locally owned businesses.

Unfortunately, the availability of classical music recordings has shrunk so much over the past decade, it can be hard to shop locally for classical music gifts except tickets — which make a great gift.  But you can still try. Any tips you want to leave in the COMMENT section and share with others?

And a gift guide might be appreciated or even helpful, whether you shop online or locally.

Today, The Ear offers installment Number 2 from The New York Times.

New York Times classical music gift guide 2015

Yesterday’s post featured gift ideas from the BBC Music Magazine and the Telegraph newspaper.

Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/classical-music-here-are-the-best-classical-music-cds-of-2015-according-to-the-bbc-music-magazine-and-the-telegraph-newspaper/

Today is the annual gift guide put together by the various critics for The New York Times. Prices have a wide range, and there are some inexpensive gifts. But this year there seems to be an emphasis on more expensive sets of books and recordings.

Could it possibly be that because the critics get free review copies, they feel compelled to push them or hawk them at the holiday time?

Maybe. But in the spirit of the season let’s pretend that the suggestions – many of which are very good and The Ear agrees with – are based on merit alone.

Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/multimedia/2015-holiday-gift-guide-musicmovies.html

All the gift guides in various areas or field are on the same website.

So first you have to scroll down to Classical Music.

Then you have to click on the name or title to get more information about the item including the price.

It seems kind of inconvenient and a little bit sleazy to The Ear, what with all that navigating.

Which web designer came up with this way? The Ear much preferred the guides of past years, where you got the full text without so much work and so much clicking. All you had to do was scroll.

Try and see what you think, whether you disagree or agree with The Ear.

Good luck.

Good shopping.

And, if you are the recipient rather than the giver, good listening and reading.

 


Classical music: As we head into Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber-Monday, how appealing as holiday gifts are complete CD boxed sets?

November 29, 2013
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Black Friday, known for deep price cuts, huge sales and outrageous store hours that draw massive crowds — and for putting retails business in the profitable black at the end of the year.

Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday, which is supposed to encourage us to patronize local businesses.

And Monday is Cyber-Monday for on-line Internet shopping.

Never mind that they are all starting to get mixed up and to become one big, long shopping frenzy.

Black Friday Shopping

As I do every year, I will hunt out and post on this blog the “Best of 2013” lists, which should feature lots of recordings, some great DVDs and also some noteworthy books about classical music. Here are some links to last year’s from NPR, The New York Times and The New Yorker and Gramophone magazines among others. After all,  the music and the performances are just as good as it was a year ago:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/classical-music-critics-have-had-their-say-but-about-the-public-what-were-the-most-popular-if-not-the-best-classical-records-of-2012-radio-station-wqxr-knows/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/classical-music-gramophone-magazine-announces-its-2012-awards-for-best-classical-recordings-artists-and-labels-do-you-see-evidence-of-a-brit-bias/

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/11/ten-notable-classical-music-recordings-of-2012.html

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/classical-music-here-is-part-4-of-the-ears-holiday-gift-giving-guides-to-classical-music-compliments-of-the-new-york-times/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/classical-music-here-is-part-2-of-the-ears-holiday-gift-giving-guide-featuring-nprs-top-10-classical-recordings-of-2012/

But recently The New York Times chief music critic Anthony Tommasini (below) wrote about the phenomenon of these multi-CD boxed sets, containing dozens of CDs and costing hundreds of dollars (unless of course you are a reviewer) that often use original LP covers and that give you the encore output” – or “oeuvre,” if you like – of a particular performer (like pianist Arthur Rubinstein, below) or composer. But they also probably offer lots of duplicates to serious collectors who already have a substantial number of recordings.

tommasini-190

Tommasini remarks on the seeming contradictions of these as music becomes more and more about digital downloads rather than physical Compact Discs.

Arthur Rubinstein CD box set

He makes some intriguing points worth considering if you are hunting for a special classical music gift.

So in honor of the days-long holiday shopping frenzy that is facing us, here is a link to Tommasini’s story that covers several major pianists including Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall (below top, bowing, in a  photo by Don Hunstein, and below middle in the scale model “Carnegie Hall” box container), Murray Perahia (below bottom) and Van Cliburn as well as Byron Janis, Leon Fleisher and Gary Graffman plus the composer Benjamin Britten, whose birth centennial was on Nov. 22.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/arts/music/classical-music-boxed-sets-multiply.html?_r=0

Benjamin Britten Complete CD set

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE RECORDING TO RECOMMEND AS A GIFT?

The Ear wants to hear.

Vladimir Horowitz in Caregie Hall Don Hunstein,jpg

Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall CB whole box

Murray Perahia box


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