The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The future of Western classical music is in Asia – specifically China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Why is that?

May 25, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s not just about Lang Lang.

The signs are everywhere.

They were present at a recent piano recital by elementary school, middle school and high school students that The Ear attended.

You see it at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and at top music schools, including the Curtis Institute of Music, across the U.S. and Western Europe. And you see it in youth groups such as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (below).

Western classical music recording labels, such as Deutsche Grammophon and Sony Classical, are looking to develop new markets and so are signing more Asian musicians, such as the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and Shanghai String Quartet, and releasing more Asian performances. (Below is the Taiwanese-Australian, prize-winning violinist Ray Chen, who is also a master at using social media to build his meteoric career.)

All these items point to the same conclusion: The future of Western classical music looks more and more likely to be found in Asian culture and in Asia  – specifically in China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. (Next season, prize-winning South Korean pianist Joyce Yang (below) returns to Madison, where she first gave a recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater, to solo with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Consider some of the following:

There are, The Ear read somewhere, now more piano students in China than in all of Europe, North America and South America combined. And he is reading about more and more concert tours of China and other Asian countries by Western performers — even while in the U.S. the number of pianos in homes are on the decline.

Increasingly the winners of major international competitions — such as the Chopin competition, the Van Cliburn competition, the Tchaikovsky competition, the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium competition and the Leeds competition – come from Asia or are Asian. (Below, in a photo by Simon Fowler, is American pianist George Li, who immigrated from China as a child and attended Harvard and the New England Conservatory before winning a silver medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition. His concert career is now blossoming fast.)

In recent years, China has been building a lot of first-rate concert halls, opera houses and music schools. And the famed Juilliard School in New York City will open its second campus this fall in Tianjin, near Beijing.

China has certainly come a long way from the days of the Cultural Revolution when people could be imprisoned for listening to Beethoven, who is now a cultural icon in China — as you can hear at the bottom in the YouTube video of Li Jing Zhan conducting the orchestra at the Chinese National Opera in Beethoven’s No. 7. (Below is the striking new National Center for the Performing Arts in China.)

https://www.interlude.hk/front/culture-construction-chinas-new-concert-halls/

Nineteen of the 24 final competitors, ages 13-17, in the second Van Cliburn Junior Competition – which starts in Dallas, Texas, on May 31 and ends on June 8 – are Asian, Asian-American and Asian-Canadian, all with astonishingly impressive credentials and experience. It will be streamed live and free. Take a look and listen:

https://www.cliburn.org/2019-cliburn-junior-competitors/

Why this Asian shift is happening remains somewhat of a mystery to The Ear, although he had been thinking about for a long time.

Then he came across a op-ed column confirming the prevalence of Asian classical musicians. It was written by the American concert pianist and teacher Inna Faliks (below), who teaches at UCLA and who wrote convincingly about her recent concert experiences in China in The Washington Post.

Read it and see what you think, and tell us whether you agree:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-future-of-classical-music-is-chinese/2019/03/22/2649e9dc-4cb5-11e9-93d0-64dbcf38ba41_story.html?utm_term=.7f149e0f8eb9

Why are Asians so interested in Western classical music and music education? And why do they respect it or even revere it so much?

Does it have to do with the “tiger mom” phenomenon of strong parental pressure to succeed and achieve?

Is it largely a function of population?

Is it because of the collective teamwork required to make a lot of chamber music and orchestral music, or with the intense and instructive teacher-student relationship?

Is it because the cultural depth and seriousness in Western music education – ing contrast to the increasingly pop culture of the West – that prepares students well for the training and intellectual discipline required in other educational fields and careers, including the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)?

Is Asia simply fascinated by Western culture the same way that Western culture was fascinated by the exotic Asian cultures – especially in China and Japan — during the 19th century and earlier? Or is the West increasingly ignoring its own culture. (The Ear can’t recall any classical musicians performing at President Donald Trump’s White House. Can you?)

How do you see the situation and react to it? And what do you think about the causes and effects?

Please leave your reactions and thoughts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The Festival Choir of Madison closes its season TONIGHT with a concert of East Asian music from China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan

May 18, 2019
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ALERT: Today and next Saturday, Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Music in Wisconsin” program, hosted by Lori Skelton, will air recorded performances from the past season by the Madison Opera. Both broadcasts start at 1 p.m. This week’s opera is the double bill of one-acts “Cav/Pag,” as Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria rusticana” and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Paglicacci” are known. Next week will see Antonin Dvorak’s “Rusalka,” with the famous soprano aria “Song to the Moon.”   

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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

The Festival Choir of Madison (below) will present the last concert of the season, “Jasmine Flowers,” TONIGHT — Saturday, May 18 — at 7:30 p.m. in the Atrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, in Madison.

The choir and its artistic director, Sergei Pavlov (below right in front row), will perform arrangements of famous songs such as the Japanese “Sakura” (Cherry Blossom), arranged by the late Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu (his version is heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); and “Mo-Li-Hua” (Jasmine Flower), a popular Chinese folk song used variously as a national anthem and for the Olympics, arranged by the leading Korean composer Hyo-won Woo.

The choir will also feature other recent compositions sung in Taiwanese, Korean, Chinese, English and French  — including works by Chen Yi, Libby Larsen, Bob Chilcott, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel — inspired by the musical traditions of East Asia.

Admission, with general seating, is $10 for students, $15 for senior citizens, and $20 for adults, with tickets available at the door the day of the concert. Tickets can also be purchased online through Brown Paper Tickets at:

https://www.festivalchoirmadison.org/concerts/2019/5/18/jasmine-flowers

The Festival Choir of Madison is an auditioned, mixed-voice volunteer choir of over 50 experienced singers. The choir performs thematic concerts of artistically challenging choral music from around the world for listeners who enjoy traditional, modern and eclectic works, and for singers who enjoy developing their talents with others.

To learn more about the Festival Choir of Madison, go to www.festivalchoirmadison.org.


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Classical music: This week at the UW-Madison highlights choral music

November 7, 2018
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, featurestwo local musicians: oboist Laura Medisky and pianist Vincent Fuh.

The program features solo works for oboe, oboe d’amore and piano by Johann Sebastian Bach, Grażyna Bacewicz, and Camille Saint-Saens. Food and drink are allowed. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m. Due to construction, Friday Musicale concerts are being held in the Atrium auditorium through December.

By Jacob Stockinger

Two choral concerts are the big events this week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

Here are the details:

FRIDAY

On this Friday night, Nov. 9, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Chorale, under director and conductor of Bruce Gladstone (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot), will present a FREE concert.

The program features “Lament of Gilboa” by Arthur Honegger (below top) and “Into the Silent Darkness” by Elizabeth Alexander (below bottom).

According to the School of Music’s website: “This concert explores opposites in a variety of ways (cold/hot, slow/fast, laughing/crying, life/death), inviting the listener to think about the gray areas in between.”

SUNDAY

On this Sunday afternoon, Nov. 11, at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, there will be a FREE concert of combined choirs. Participating groups are Masters Singers, University Chorus and Women’s Chorus (below).

The program, to be performed under graduate student conductors Michael Johnson and Andrew Voth, features traditional folk music as well as works by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn, Johannes Brahms (see the YouTube video at the bottom), Ralph Vaughan Williams and Aaron Copland.

For a long listing of specific works to be sung, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/combined-choirs-concert-masters-singers-university-chorus-and-womens-chorus/


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Classical music: Duo-pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung perform Schubert and Poulenc at Farley’s House of Pianos this Sunday afternoon. Plus, a FREE guitar concert takes place at noon on Friday.

January 13, 2016
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ALERT: The week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 pm. at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features guitarist Steve Waugh, who will perform music by Johann Sebastian Bach, John Dowland, Isaac Albeniz, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Francisco Tarrega and more.

By Jacob Stockinger

As part of the Salon Piano Series held at Farley’s House of Pianos, Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung (below) will perform numerous pieces by Franz Schubert and a concerto by Francis Poulenc, all for one piano-four hands and for two pianos.

Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax 2015

The concert is this Sunday, Jan. 17, starting at 4 p.m. when Bill Lutes, a local distinguished piano teacher who also used to be the music director and a program host at Wisconsin Public Radio and a voice coach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and University Opera, will give an introduction to the concert.

Tickets are $45 in advance or $50 at the door, and are available online at salonpianoseries.org, or at Farley’s House of Pianos (call 608 271-2626) or Orange Tree Imports.

But a new development will help students, says Renee Farley.

“The Salon Piano Series recently got word of being awarded a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board,” says Farley. “Their board liked what we do, but wanted us to increase our outreach to younger people. So, effective today we are offering student tickets to this concert for $30 each. Right now this is just being offered for the Bax-Chung concert. But our SPS board meets later this month and will discuss how to handle it for future programs.”

The two-piano pieces will be played on rare “twin” pianos restored by Farley’s House of Pianos: a 1914 Mason & Hamlin CC and a 1914 Mason & Hamlin BB.

Farley Daub plays

Bax, a winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition and the Martin E. Segal Award from Lincoln Center, started off 2016 performing several concerts in Japan with other concerts scheduled in Spain, Chile, South Korea and China.

Chung, an alumna of the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School, is a winner of the Virginia Parker Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts and an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Governor General of Canada.  In 2015, she performed in Canada, Italy, Germany and Argentina.

Here is the program:

Fantasia in F Minor, D. 940 — Schubert

Andantino varie, D. 823 — Schubert

Military March No. 1, D. 733 — Schubert

Lebensstürme, D. 947 — Schubert

Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D minor, original transcription for two solo pianos — Poulenc (NOTE: You can hear the poignant Mozartian second movement in its original form and with the composer at a keyboard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Salon Piano Series is a non-profit organization founded by Tim and Renée Farley to continue the tradition of intimate salon concerts at Farley’s House of Pianos.

For ticket information and concert details see salonpianoseries.org.

All events are held at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near the Beltline. Plenty of free parking is available and it is easy to reach by bicycle or Madison Metro.

 


Classical music: Famed child prodigy conductor Lorin Maazel has died at age 84. To the end, he was surrounded by controversy and contradiction.

July 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Sunday. as you may have already heard, the distinguished conductor Lorin Maazel (below, in a photo by AFP-Getty Images) died at his summer festival grounds and home in Virginia from complications of pneumonia. He was 84. Many expected him to live much longer — since conducting is such aerobic exercise, since extreme longevity ran in his family, since  conductors are a very long-lived group as a rule. 

lorin maazel AFP Getty Images

Here is a specially posted tribute video, with Maazel conducting music by Gustav Mahler — the famed Adagietto from the Symphony No. 5:

I read a lot about outstanding and searing performances by Maazel, who had a truly international career, but never heard any first-hand.

I also read a lot about his mechanical and uninspired approach to conducting, despite his mastery of “stick technique” with the baton. I never heard that in person either.

When I did hear him, usually conducting the New York Philharmonic on the PBS program “Live From Lincoln Center” or the Vienna Philharmonic  “New Year’s Day in Vienna,” he seemed perfectly competent and acceptable, if never outstandingly original or impressive or inspired. (You can hear him conduct in Seoul, Korea, the dramatic and moving “Egmont” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Born in France, Maazel as a major talent who started as a violin prodigy and then went on to conducting major orchestras before he reached the age of 10. Later, he also turned to opera, including appearances at the Metropolitan Opera. And he often talked about how lucky he had been to have parents who did not exploit his talent during childhood. And he was full of forward-looking plans to the end.

Maazel’s death was all over the media -– including media that don’t normally care to give much coverage to the arts, especially to the current arts and to living artists. Perhaps the fact that he made history by taking the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang, North Korea, where he also performed our national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” to applause, had something to do with it.

Nonetheless, here are some stories to help you catch up:

Here is a story, with sound clips and a fine appreciation, from the classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/13/331148634/conductor-lorin-maazel-who-brought-america-to-the-podium-dies

Here is an exhaustive and comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/14/arts/music/lorin-maazel-brilliant-intense-and-enigmatic-conductor-dies-at-84.html?_r=0

Here is a story from the Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/conductor-lorin-maazel-dies-at-84-1405273033

Here is a fine memorial from The Washington Post critic Anne Midgette:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/style/wp/2014/07/13/lorin-maazel-1930-2014/

Here is a fine summing up by The New Yorker magazine of the contradictions and controversies that surrounded Maazel’s conducting. I love the headline – “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” which is a timely reminder of the balance needed between intellectualism and emotional directness, the latter of which is, for The Ear, the heart of making music:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2014/07/lorin-maazel-the-man-who-knew-too-much.html

Did you hear Lorin Maazel?

Do you have a favorite memorable performance or recording by him?

A least favorite one?

What do YOU think of Lorin Maazel?

The Ear wants to hear.


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