The Well-Tempered Ear

NPR names relevant classical albums in a musical Diary of the Plague Year of the pandemic, racial protests, wildfires and hurricanes

December 29, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

For an unusual and difficult year, NPR (National Public Radio) and critic Tom Huizenga have found a new and unusual way to recommend this past year’s top classical music recordings.

On the  “Deceptive Cadence” blog for NPR, Huizenga kept a personal month-by-month diary of “music and mayhem.”

For last February, for example, this ancient image of The Dance of Death inspired contemporary composer Thomas Adès to compose his own “Totentanz” or Dance of Death. (You can hear an excerpt from the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Some of the thematically-related music is modern or contemporary, some of it is from the Baroque or Classical era.

In June, as protests against the death of George Floyd (below top) flared up and spread worldwide, NPR names a recording of the “Negro Folk Symphony” by African-American composers William Dawson and Ulysses Kay (below bottom), thereby helping to rediscover Black composers whose works have been overlooked and neglected in the concert hall and the recording studio.

Devastating wildfires on the West Coast, Presidential impeachment and hurricanes on the Gulf Coast also found their way into the choices of music to listen to.

It is an unusual approach, but The Ear thinks it works.

See and hear for yourself by going to the sonic diary and listening to the samples provided.

Here is a link to the NPR album diary: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/12/21/947149286/music-and-mayhem-a-diary-of-classical-albums-for-a-troubled-2020

But many roads, if not all, lead to Rome, as they say.

What is also interesting is that a number of the NPR choices overlap with ones listed by music critics of The New York Times as the 25 best classical albums of 2020.

Some choices also are found on the list of the nominations for the Grammy Awards that will be given out at the end of January.

In other words, the NPR diary can also serve as yet another holiday gift guide if you have gift cards or money to buy some new and notable CDs, and are looking for recommendations.

Here is a link to the Times’ choices, which you can also find with commentary and a local angle, in yesterday’s blog post: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/17/arts/music/best-classical-music.html

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/12/27/the-new-york-times-names-the-top-25-classical-recordings-of-2020-and-includes-sample-tracks/

And here is a list to the Grammy nominations: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/11/28/for-holiday-shopping-and-gift-giving-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-63rd-grammy-awards-in-2021/

What do you think of the NPR musical diary of the plague year?

Do you find it informative? Accurate? Interesting? Useful?

Would you have different choices of music to express the traumatic events of the past year?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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This Wednesday’s FREE Just Bach virtual online concert features holiday music from the Christmas Oratorio and other works

December 14, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from the organizers of Just Bach:

The program for Just Bach’s holiday concert this Wednesday, Dec. 16, opens with Chorale Prelude settings of Advent melodies from the Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) by Johann Sebastian Bach (below), with Mark Brampton Smith on organ and soprano Sarah Brailey singing the melodies. 

Violinist Nathan Giglierano follows with the beautiful, contemplative Largo from the third solo violin Sonata, along with two pieces – Two-Part Invention No. 13 and the Sinfonia from Cantata 156 — arranged for violin and viola, which he plays with his wife Gillian.

The second half of the program features selections from the Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248. The Madison-based early music group Sonata à Quattro (SAQ, below in a photo by Barry Lewis) plays the luminous Sinfonia – in an arrangement for string quartet and organ– that opens the second Cantata in this work. The performance was recorded at St. Matthias Episcopal Church in Waukesha, Wis., where SAQ is ensemble-in-residence. (You can hear the Sinfonia in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Members of SAQ (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis)  are: Christine Hauptly Annin and Leanne League, violins; Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola; Charlie Rasmussen, cello; and Mark Brampton Smith, organ.

Soprano and UW-Madison graduate student Sarah Brailey (below) — who was just nominated for a Grammy Award — returns with three chorales from the Christmas Oratorio, singing all four parts in a multi-track recording and bringing the holiday program to a high-tech conclusion.

We are thrilled to participate in the weekly ‘Music at Midday’ concert series by Luther Memorial Church. Here is a link: https://www.luthermem.org/music-at-midday

As part of this series, Just Bach concerts take place on the third Wednesday of each month. Remaining concerts are Dec. 16, Jan. 20, Feb. 17, March 17, April 21 and May 19. Each program lasts approximately 30 minutes.

It is still too risky to have in-person audiences, so these concerts are posted on the Just Bach and Luther Memorial YouTube Channels. 

Please note: Now that concerts are online instead of in person, the videos are published early Wednesday mornings, instead of at noon. Then the online post will remain up and accessible for an indefinite time.

Here is a link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcyVFEVsJwklHAx9riqSkXQ?

Viewing the concerts is free, but we ask those who are able, to help us pay our musicians with a tax-deductible donation. https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=7A4R7CA8VDRMG&source=url

Concert viewers are invited to a half-hour live Zoom post-concert reception on Wednesday night, Dec. 16, at 7:30 p.m. Those who would like to join us and chat with the performers can follow this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88960952122?pwd=NTNQY21HZmxNSEh0ODRWdmQvVTlsQT09

Just Bach concerts are typically performed in Luther Memorial’s beautiful nave (below), but that was not possible this month. The recent Emergency Order barring indoor gatherings in Dane County of people from different households inspired some special creativity.

 

The program was recorded by musicians in their respective homes, and at a church in Waukesha County, and in some cases, some high technology was involved.

Dave Parminter was the videographer.

Just Bach’s social media links are:

https://justbach.org

facebook.org/JustBachSeries

youtube.com/channel/UCcyVFEVsJwklHAx9riqSkXQ?

 


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Salon Piano Series cancels the rest of this season but offers a free monthly video from past concerts

December 13, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from the Salon Piano Series that take place at Farley’s House of pianos:

Dear friends,

How we’ve missed seeing you, since last we were able to gather – in February, for pianist Shai Wosner (below, in a photo by Marco Borggreve) and his recital of heart-stopping Schubert, Scarlatti, Rzewski and Beethoven.

Since then, our pianos have sat silent, waiting for the day we can safely reopen and welcome you back.

For now, although it breaks our hearts, we do need to stay dark through the rest of the 2020-21 season, for everyone’s safety. Our highest priority is the well-being of our artists, audience and staff.

But rest assured that we are rescheduling all of our postponed performances:

Drew Petersen (below) (https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4275242) will perform next October.

Jazz great Bill Charlap (below) (https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4275248) will perform in June.

We are working to schedule Sara Daneshpour, violinist Rachel Barton Pine, Niklas Sivelov and John O’Conor over the next two seasons.

In the meantime, while we can’t gather in person, we’re pleased to announce the launch of a monthly video series featuring some of our past and upcoming artists.

December brings us the incomparable Shai Wosner  and in January, Adam Neiman (below).

During these uncertain times, we appreciate remembering time spent together enjoying music.

Please take a break from your day to see and hear Shai Wosner (below) performing Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in C Minor, K. 230, and Frederic Rzewski’s Nano Sonata No. 12.

The video was recorded live at Farley’s House of Pianos as part of the Salon Piano Series on Feb. 23, 2020.

Click here or at the bottom for the YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MCxr5ioV4o&feature=youtu.be

Last March, Shai Wosner released a 2-CD album (http://www.shaiwosner.com/recordings.html) of Schubert late piano sonatas. The album’s producer is nominated for a Grammy Award for the album.

Over the years, you have supported the intimate Salon Piano Series with your attendance, individual sponsorships and donations (https://salonpianoseries.org/donate).

We look forward to bringing you more world-class musical performances in our unique salon setting again soon.

In the meantime, these performances are a way to recapture the live concert experience, including commentary from artistic director Tim Farley, with videography by Tom Moss.

Those on our e-newsletter list, available at our website at https://salonpianoseries.org/contact.html, will receive a video link each month, and the videos are also available on our social media channels.

Stay safe, stay healthy and keep listening.

Sincerely,

The Salon Piano Series Board of Directors

 


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Will using first names with Beethoven and Mozart help fight racism and sexism in the concert hall?

October 28, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Why do concert programs read simply Beethoven for Beethoven (below top), but Florence Price for Florence Price (below bottom)?

According to a recent controversial essay by Chris White (below), a professor of music theory at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, it reflects and reinforces sexism and racism.

White is calling for universal “fullnaming” to put women composers and composers of color on an equal footing with the traditional canon of dead white male composers. All people may be equal, but all composers and their music are not.

You can certainly make a case for his interesting argument against using “mononyns,” as he calls them. But it still seems less than convincing to many, including The Ear. It many ways it seems downright silly and arbitrary. Isn’t it obvious that not all composers are equal in quality of their work?

It is the latest dustup in the classical music world, coming right on the heels of, and logically linked to, the idea that Beethoven is responsible for sexism and racism in the concert hall and the so-called “cancel culture” that is allied with the social and political protest movements of the past year, including Black Lives Matter.

That was treated here in a previous post: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/09/19/did-beethoven-and-his-music-especially-the-iconic-fifth-symphony-foster-racism-exclusion-and-elitism-in-the-concert-hall-the-ear-thinks-that-is-pc-nonsense-what-do-you-think/

Here is a link to the complete article by White about the inclusion and absence of first names as it appeared on Slate: https://slate.com/culture/2020/10/fullname-famous-composers-racism-sexism.html

Funny, The Ear thinks of using only last names as little more than a function of: quality, importance and time; of fame and familiarity; and sometimes of promoting clarity and preventing confusion — not of race or gender.

It is why we say Bach (below) when we mean Johann Sebastian, and why we say Wilhelm Friedemann or Carl Philipp Emmanuel or Johann Christian when we mean one of his sons.

It is why we say Richard Strauss to distinguish him from Johann Strauss.

But it also why Haydn means Franz Joseph (below), not his less important brother Michael Haydn.

And why the American composer Henry Cowell is listed with his full name and not just Cowell.

Perhaps one day – if we hear enough of the music by the recently rediscovered Black female composer Florence Price often enough and like it enough – she will be known simply as Price. After all, the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu is not usually listed as simply Takemitsu. 

Actually, the Ear prefers using full names for all composers — famous or not, male or female, white or black — especially when it is for the general public. But it seems more a matter of politeness, respect and education than of sociopolitical change and social justice.

That is not to say that those of us in classical music don’t see a need to correct the racism and sexism of the past, to foster diversity and inclusiveness. White has a point. Still, the whole idea of using both names in all cases seems more than a bit naïve, superficial and simplistic as a solution to racism and sexism.

It sounds a lot like the kind of theoretical speculation and contrarian thinking you might expect from an assistant professor trying to get noticed and make his mark on big contemporary issues so that he can get tenure and become an associate professor. A high public profile certainly helps that.

But whatever you think of White’s motives or purpose, his essay is causing a “meltdown” on Twitter: https://mybroadband.co.za/forum/threads/‘fullnaming’-mozart-and-beethoven-to-fight-sexism-and-racism-twitter-squabbles-over-slate-article.1108776/

Should you want to know more about Professor White or to leave a message of either support or disagreement, here is a link to his home website: http://www.chriswmwhite.com

What do you think about the idea of using first names for all composers as a way to combat racism and sexism in classical music?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Do these statistics about music lessons for children versus adults apply to you? Plus, the Madison Opera sets a new date for Kyle Ketelsen’s online tribute concert to Giorgio Tozzi

October 26, 2020
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ALERT: The Madison Opera has announced on Instagram that Kyle Ketelsen’s tribute concert for his teacher Giorgio Tozzi has been rescheduled for next Sunday night, Nov. 1, at 7:30 p.m CST. For more information and links about the concert and how to sign up for it, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/10/17/madison-opera-cancels-its-january-production-of-she-loves-me-tonight-is-the-last-virtual-concert-by-the-lunart-festival-of-music-and-art-by-black-women/

By Jacob Stockinger

It looks like children and students think of music lessons differently than adults do.

Take a look at the statistics from a study below, cited from Classic FM, and let us know if you share the findings and agree with it.

What are the implications for schools and education?

The Ear wants to hear;


Madison Opera postpones the tribute TONIGHT to Giorgio Tozzi by Kyle Ketelsen

October 24, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received word that tonight’s virtual and online tribute concert by Sun Prairie bass-baritone Kyle Ketelson to his world-renowned teacher Giorgio Tozzi (below) has been CANCELED for TONiGHT — Saturday  Oct. 24 — and POSTPONED as part of the Digital Fall series.

Here is the complete message that was posted on Instagram: 

“This weekend’s “Live From the Madison Opera Center” concert starring Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a photo by Lawrence Brownlee) has been postponed.

“We are attempting to reschedule for the following weekend and will let you know when we have details.”

For more information about this concert and $50 household subscriptions to the Madison Opera’s Digital Fall, as well as a sample of Tozzi, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/10/17/madison-opera-cancels-its-january-production-of-she-loves-me-tonight-is-the-last-virtual-concert-by-the-lunart-festival-of-music-and-art-by-black-women/


Classical music: Fresco Opera of Madison will hold an “aria hunt.” It starts this Friday, Aug. 28, and runs through Sept. 27 with unspecified rewards

August 25, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from the board of directors of the always imaginative Fresco Opera Theatre of Madison:

“Fresco Opera is trying to stay alive in the world of the global coronavirus pandemic. So many organizations are going to social media platforms with live streaming.

“We have found that audiences have become numb to this. So Fresco Opera has decided to change the game.

“Our artistic director has created a “geo-caching” opera — similar to a treasure hunt –where the patron goes on an interactive adventure to discover hidden spots in our city. It is accompanied with a recorded story and arias.

“Fresco Opera is pleased to present “Aria Hunt” – an interactive opera experience that will allow you to enjoy beautiful music, while you join in the experience.

“Beginning this Friday, Aug. 28, participants can explore and seek out seven “hidden” locations in the Madison area, which we have paired up with an operatic aria.

“Once you find a location, you will listen to an aria, which will be available on Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music.

“Fresco will provide clues to seek out each of the locations. In addition, a story will accompany you on your quest.

“You are the opera!

“To add to the excitement, we want you to take a “selfie” at each of the locations, to be posted on our social media sites. You will then be eligible for a reward!

“All locations must be discovered to qualify.

“Aria Hunt is the perfect way to end this summer on quite literally a high note! The hunt will run from this Friday, Aug. 28, through Sunday, Sept. 27.

“Here are details and the cast (below) of the Aria Hunt:

“Music Streaming Release Date: August 28th

“Per-Person tickets (or donations) are $8 and are available at www.frescoopera.com

“Singers are: Erin Bryan; Melanie Cain; Diana Eiler; Rachel Eve Holmes; Cat Richmond; Emily Triebold and Thomas Weis

The Writer and Narrator is: Andrew Ravenscroft


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Classical music: University Opera announces a new season that is politically and socially relevant to today. The two shows are a virtual revue of Marc Blitzstein and a live operatic version of “The Crucible.”

August 7, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

David Ronis (below), the director of the University Opera at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music, has posted the following notice about its upcoming season on social media.

The award-winning Ronis is known for being creative both in programming and staging. The new season is yet another example of that. It features one virtual original production about an American composer to see and hear online, and two live performances of a mid-20th century American opera.

Both works seem especially pertinent and cautionary, given the times we currently live in in the U.S.

Here are the details:

FINALLY!!!

Things have fallen into place for the University Opera 2020-21 season and we are happy to announce our productions:

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein — the Man in His Music”

“A biographical pastiche featuring songs and ensembles from Marc Blitzstein’s shows, spoken excerpts from his letters and working notes, and a narration. 

“Oct. 23, 2020

8 p.m. Video Release

____________________________________________________________________________________

“The Crucible” (1961)

Music by Robert Ward

Libretto by Bernard Stambler

Based on the 1953 play by Arthur Miller

March 19 and 21, 2021

Shannon Hall, Wisconsin Union Theater

_____________________________________________________________________________________

We will post more information as we get it. For now, we are very excited about both projects! Stay tuned.”

(Editor’s note: To stay tuned, go to: https://www.facebook.com/UniversityOpera/)

_____________________________________________________________________________________

And what does The Ear think?

The revue of Marc Blitzstein seems a perfect choice for Madison since his papers and manuscripts are located at the Wisconsin Historical Society. For details, go to: http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi/f/findaid/findaid-idx?c=wiarchives;view=reslist;subview=standard;didno=uw-whs-us0035an

Focusing on Blitzstein (1905-1964) also seems an especially politically relevant choice since he was a pro-labor union activist whose “The Cradle Will Rock, directed by Orson Welles,” was shut down by the Works Progress Administration of the federal government.

For more about Blitzstein (below in 1938) and his career, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Blitzstein

“The Crucible” also seems an especially timely choice. In its day the original play about the Salem witch trials was seen as a historical parable and parallel of McCarthyism and the Republican witch hunt for Communists.

Read about the Salem witch trials here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_witch_trials

Now that we are seeing a time when Democrats and others with progressive ideas are accused of being radical leftists, socialists and destructive revolutionaries, its relevance has come round again. Like McCarthy, President Donald Trump relies on winning elections by generating fear and denigrating opponents.

For more about the operatic version of “The Crucible” (below, in a production at the University of Northern Iowa) — which was commissioned by the New York City Opera and won both a Pulitzer Prize and the New York Music Critics Circle Award in 1962 — go to this Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crucible_(opera)

You can hear the musically accessible opening and John’s aria, from Act II, in the YouTube video at the bottom. For more about composer Robert Ward (1917-2013, below), go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Ward_(composer)

What do you think of the new University Opera season?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: This summer’s Token Creek Festival is CANCELED. Plus, a teenager’s piano “practice journal” on Instagram is instructive, entertaining and encouraging

July 17, 2020
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NEWS ALERT: This summer’s Token Creek Festival (TCF) — with the chamber music theme of Legacy to run from Aug. 21-Sept. 6 –has been CANCELED. Organizers say they hope to launch a virtual online season of archived performances at the end of the summer.  Also, once modestly sized gatherings are safe again, the TCF hopes to hold an off-season event. For more information and an official statement from TCF, go to: https://tokencreekfestival.org 

By Jacob Stockinger

Somewhere in New York City is a young Chinese piano prodigy who can help you get through what is often the most challenging and discouraging part of piano lessons: practicing.

His name is Auston (below) – no last name is given – and you can find him, in T-shirts and shorts, on Instagram at Auston.piano.

Auston is quite the prodigy. A 13, he plays difficult and dramatic repertoire: the Nocturne in C minor, the Scherzo No. 1 in B minor and the Ballade No. 1 in G minor, all by Chopin.

You can also hear him play the Prelude and Fugue No. 3 in C-sharp minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, by Johann Sebastian Bach; the fiendish Toccata by Sergei Prokofiev; and the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

One day, The Ear expects, Auston might well be among the impressive amateurs and, later, professionals who compete in international competitions.

But more than listening to him playing, his frequent social media entries – sometimes he posts two or three times a day — allow us to hear him practice. We even hear him practicing scales – so-called Russian scales that combine scales in parallel and contrary motion.

This week, he hit 100 video posts. Just yesterday Auston started sight-reading the “Winter Wind” Etude of Chopin, Op. 25, No. 11, which many consider to be the most technically difficult of all Chopin’s etudes. (You can hear the etude – played by Maurizio Pollini – and see the note-filled score in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Starting out, he often plays hands separately (below) and sight-reads the score very, very slowly, making mistakes and working out fingering. He also uses a metronome at a very slow tempo. He gets frustrated but he never gives up. He just starts over again and provides an excellent role model for aspiring piano students.

But this young man is also fun to read. In his one-minute or less entries of his “practice journal” – which he also calls his “practice journey” — he is witty and self-deprecating in his commentaries about the music and especially about himself when he makes mistakes. As seriously as he takes the piano and practicing, he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

All in all he can even encourage others – including The Ear –to persevere and go through the same frustrations of practicing and learning a new piece.

In this case, it is the piano, but the postings could easily apply to practicing any other instrument or even to singing.

Check it out.

You will be impressed.

You will admire him.

You will laugh along with him.

And you just might practice more.

If this practice journal is a pandemic project, it succeeds way beyond what you — and probably Auston himself — might expect.

Happy listening!

And patient, productive practicing!

 


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Classical music: Here are the world premieres of the last three pieces of “pandemic music” commissioned by the U.S. Library of Congress

July 1, 2020
1 Comment

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

The ambitious project has now ended.

Two weeks ago was when the world premieres of the 10 short pieces — written for the U.S. Library of Congress’ “Boccaccio Project” — started going public and began being posted on the social media sites Twitter and Facebook as well as on YouTube and the internet.

Last week saw the last five compositions and the end of the project.

This blog has already posted the first seven compositions and performances.

Today you can hear the last three.

The project, funded by the federal government, is a way to capture some of the unique culture brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19. Below are photos with links to the performances.

The eighth piece is “Lobelia,” a work for solo cello composed by Ashkan Behzadi (below top) and performed by Mariel Roberts of the Wet Ink Ensemble (below bottom, in a photo by Gannushkin).

https://www.loc.gov/concerts/boccaccio-project/behzadi-roberts.html

The ninth piece is “A Shared Solitary” for solo violin and electronics by composer Niloufar Nourbakhsh (below top) and performed by Jannina Norpoth (below bottom, in a photo by Laura Ise) of the PUBLIQuartet.

https://www.loc.gov/concerts/boccaccio-project/nourbakhsh-norpoth.html

The 10th and final piece is “Have and Hold” for solo singing flutist and electronics composed by Allison Loggins-Hull (below top, in a photo by Rafael Rios) and performed by Nathalie Joachim (below bottom, in a photo by Erin Patrice O-Brien), both of the group Flutronix.

https://www.loc.gov/concerts/boccaccio-project/loggins-hull-joachim.html

On the same page as the performance you can read what the composer and sometimes the performer have to say about the new work and what it strives to mean or express.

You can use links to go to the past performances and premieres, to all 10 commissions.

You can also follow links on the bottom of the page to see more information about both the composer and the performer, and to general background of the project.

If you would like some more background, along with some commentary and questions from The Ear, go to https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/06/13/classical-music-the-library-of-congress-has-commissioned-new-music-about-the-coronavirus-pandemic-you-can-listen-to-the-premieres-from-this-monday-june-15-through-june-28/

What do you think of the individual pieces?

Do you have one or more favorites?

What do you think of the project?

How successful is it?

Will you like to hear more by composers of the commissioned music?

The Ear wants to hear.


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