The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Grammy winners Takacs Quartet and pianist Garrick Ohlsson perform a MUST-HEAR concert of Mozart, Brahms and Shostakovich this Sunday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Plus, you can hear a FREE performance of string music by Johan Halvorsen and Philip Glass this Friday at noon

November 30, 2017
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features the Passcaglia Duo of Norwegian composer Johan Halvorsen and String Quartet No. 5 by American contemporary composer Philip Glass.

Performers are violinists Kaleigh Acord, Elspeth Stalter and Ela Mowinski; violist Shannon Farley; and cellist Morgan Walsh. The concert, which runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m., will be streamed live on the Facebook page of Noon Musicales.

By Jacob Stockinger

Separately and together, The Ear loves piano and strings.

So you can imagine the appeal of a concert that will take place this Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

That’s when the veteran and venerable Takacs Quartet (below) and acclaimed pianist Garrick Ohlsson will join forces in a terrific all-masterpiece program.

The concert has all the makings of a MUST-HEAR event for chamber music fans.

The award-winning Takacs Quartet, founded 42 years ago in Hungary and widely recorded and honored, will play two string quartets.

The late String Quartet No. 21 in D Major, K. 575, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below), is the first of the composer’s three so-called “Prussian” quartets.

Known for a more relaxed style than the earlier “Haydn” quartets by Mozart, the Prussian quartets were composed for the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II (below), who was a talented amateur cellist.

The Takacs will also perform the seven-movement String Quartet No. 11 in F minor by Dmitri Shostakovich (below). It is one of The Ear’s very favorite of the 16 quartets written by the Russian composer who endured the torments and treacheries of the Stalinist terror in the Soviet Union.

Then Garrick Ohlsson (below) will join in for the Piano Quintet in F Minor by Johannes Brahms. It is one of the four or five crowning quintets for piano and string quartet.

The Ear loves the playing of both artists and the program should be deeply interesting and moving. The Takacs possesses a mastery of many styles and has recorded numerous quartets by Haydn, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Smetana, Janacek and, more recently, by Dvorak as well as a terrific complete cycle of the 16 Beethoven quartets.

But the Takacs has recorded little Mozart (two string quintets) and little Shostakovich (one quartet and a piano quintet), so The Ear looks forward to hearing the quartet’s take on those composers.

The Takacs has recorded the Brahms Piano Quintet, but with British pianist Stephen Hough and Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff, but that work too should be a memorable performance with Ohlsson, the only American ever to win the International Chopin Piano Competition. (You can hear the energetic and lyrical opening movement from the Takacs-Hough recording in the YouTube video at the bottom, which has an intriguing and colorful bar graph to emphasize the structure.)

Tickets are $10-$47. For more information about purchasing tickets plus a video and more background about the artists, go to:

https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/takacs-quartet-with-garrick-ohlsson/

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Classical music: Who are the best pianists of all time? And which ones do you think were left off the list by Classic FM?

September 16, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The British radio station and website Classic FM recently published its list of the 25 greatest pianists of all time.

Plus, the website also included samples of the playing where possible.

It is an impressive list, if pretty predictable — and heavily weighted towards modern or contemporary pianists. You might expect that a list of “all-time greats” would have more historical figures — and more women as well as more non-Western Europeans and non-Americans, especially Asians these days.

Here is a link:

http://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/instruments/piano/best-pianists-ever/

So The Ear started what turned out to be a long list of others who should at least be considered and maybe even included.

Here, then, is the question for this weekend: What do you think of the list? Which pianists do not belong on the list? And which are your favorite pianists who are not included in the compilation?

Leave your candidate or candidates in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube link of a favorite performance, wherever possible.

Happy listening!


Classical music: Musicians need silence, says pianist Stephen Hough, who also praises the rise of artists and audiences for Western classical music in Asia

April 15, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Pianist Stephen Hough is rightly described as a polymath, a Renaissance Man who is a world-class performer, composer, painter, novelist and blogger.

Little wonder that Hough was the first musician to win a MacArthur Fellowship or “genius grant.”

The virtuosic Hough (below) wowed local audiences here a couple of months ago when he performed the dazzling Piano Concerto No. 5 “Egyptian” by Camille Saint-Saens with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Recently, he gave an interview in which he talked about the importance of silence to musicians.

Along the way, he also remarked on and lauded the “thrilling” rise of Western classical music – shown in audiences as well as the huge numbers and high quality of professional performing artists, amateurs and students – in Asia.

Hough also talked about the role of composing for performers, why it is a valuable skill and whether the performer-composer tradition is returning. (You can hear Stephen Hough perform his own Piano Sonata No. 3 “Trinitas” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear found Stephen Hough’s interview engaging and informative, and hopes you do too.

Here is a link:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carlos-gardels/musicians-silence-stephen-hough_b_9626456.html


Classical music: Pianist Stephen Hough returns to solo with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend in a program of “firsts” that includes music by Barber and Saint-Saens as well as Tchaikovsky’s famous “Pathétique” Symphony

February 13, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) offers one of the best must-hear programs of the season – or so thinks The Ear.

MSO-HALL

Pianist Stephen Hough (below, in a photo by Sim Canetty-Clarke) returns for his fourth appearance with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO), led by music director and conductor John DeMain.

stephen-hough-20167-formal-cr-sim-canetty-clarke

The concert will open with Samuel Barber’s Second Essay, a dramatic piece written in the midst of World War II, followed by a performance of the exotic Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Egyptian”) featuring soloist Stephen Hough, who won major awards for his recordings of the complete works for piano and orchestra by Saint-Saëns. The concert will close with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s emotional Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”).

The concerts are Friday, Feb. 17, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 18, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 19, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street. (Ticket information is below.)

Samuel Barber (below) was one of the new generation of mid-20th century American composers with contemporaries Howard Hanson, Aaron Copland, David Diamond and, later, Leonard Bernstein.

His Second Essay was written in 1942, in the middle of the Second World War. Barber once wrote: “Although it has no program, one perhaps hears that it was written in a war-time.” This will be the first time this piece is performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

barber 1

The Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Egyptian”) by Camille Saint-Saëns (below) was composed while he was on a winter vacation in the Egyptian temple city of Luxor, in 1895-96. The location of this piece is important because it helped give the piece its nickname, and also influenced the sound of the score. This will be the first time this piece is performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

camille saint-saens younger

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (below) wrote his final piece between February and August 1893. The Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique) was then performed in Oct. 1893 and was conducted by Tchaikovsky himself. Nine days later he was dead.

Tchaikovsky’s late symphonies are autobiographical, and the sixth being “the best, and certainly the most open-hearted,” according to Tchaikovsky himself. Seeing that he was a troubled man, dealing with a dark depression, Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique) is filled with poignancy and deep sorrow, as you can hear in the finale in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Tchaikovsky 1

One hour before each performance, Randal Swiggum (below), artistic director of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra Artistic Director and the newly appointed Interim Music Director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

Randall Swiggum

For more background on the music, read the program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1617/5.Feb17.html

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

Single Tickets are $16 to $87 each, and are available at madisonsymphony.org/hough and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

Find more information at madisonsymphony.org

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Major funding for the February concerts is provided by: Irving and Dorothy Levy Family Foundation, Inc., Stephen Morton, and BMO Wealth Management. Additional funding is provided by: Boardman & Clark LLP, Forte Research Systems & Nimblify, James and Joan Johnston, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Classical music: Give the gift of LIVE music. Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Union Theater are offering holiday discounts.

December 13, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

A lot of holiday gift lists suggest recordings, videos and books related to classical music.

The Ear recently posted a link to the holiday gift guide by critics of The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/classical-music-here-is-the-new-york-times-holiday-gift-guide-of-classical-music-for-2016/

The Ear also offered the 2017 Grammy nominations for gift suggestions:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/10/classical-music-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-2017-grammy-awards-they-make-a-great-holiday-gift-list-of-gives-and-gets/

But The Ear thinks the best gift by far is LIVE music – a ticket to one or more of the many concerts that take place in the Madison area. You can’t beat live music for excitement, insight and enjoyment.

There may be more, but at least two major arts presenters in Madison are offering holiday discounts to make your gift-giving easier and more affordable.

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

Through Dec. 24, the Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering a special deal — two levels of tickets for $20 and $49. That includes values up to $89. Concerts in the next semester include two outstanding pianist soloists (Stephen Hough, below top, playing the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Egyptian” by Camille Saint-Saens and Philippe Bianconi playing the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, or “The Rach 3”) as well as the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms, the “Beyond the Score” performance about Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” (with actors from American Players Theatre in Spring Green) and Norwegian trumpet virtuoso Tina Thing Helseth (below bottom).

Here are two relevant links:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/holidaysale

http://www.overture.org/events/madison-symphony-orchestra/

Hough_Stephen_color16

Helseth (c) ColinBell EMI Classics

WISCONSIN UNION THEATER

Through Jan. 8, at the Wisconsin Union Theater will forego the $4 per ticket handling fee for any event, including the classical pianist and improviser Gabriela Montero (below top), the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra with its famous outgoing music director Edo de Wart conducting (below bottom).

Here is  a link to shows for the second semester:

https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/

https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/AdvSearchForm?Locations[329]=329

Gabriela Montero

milwaukee-symphony-orchestra-with-edo-de-waart

And of course discounts are not the only reason to choose a certain program or performer.

Whatever you are looking for — early music or new music, chamber music or orchestral music, art song recitals or choral music — you can find it in Madison, and usually at a very affordable price.

Lots of specific concerts at the UW-Madison and elsewhere are either free or low in price, as is the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Here are two links:

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

http://www.middletoncommunityorchestra.org

And you can find numerous other sites by Googling the organization’s name.

Combine a ticket to a live performance with a recording of a work or an artist, and maybe even include an invitation to be a companion, and you have a fine gift package that promises to be truly memorable.

Are there any other holiday deals the Ear hasn’t heard about?

Any suggestions or ideas for giving live music?

Leave word and links in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Today is Thanksgiving. Famed New York City radio station WQXR offers its Top 5 musical expressions of giving thanks. Plus, Wisconsin Public Radio has lots of holiday fare to listen to.

November 26, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Thanksgiving Day, 2015.

Music is such a part of Thanksgiving Day, from hymns and songs, solo music and chamber music, symphonies and oratorios.

thanksgiving dinner

Today, Wisconsin Public Radio will feature a lot of music with the theme of Thanksgiving and giving thanks.

And from 10 until noon, will also feature band, choral and instrumental music from the Honors Concerts of the Wisconsin School Music Association. That involves middle school and high schools students from around the state.

wpt state honors concert 2014

Then from noon to 3 p.m. there is a special National Public Radio (NPR) program for Thanksgiving that includes the British pianist Stephen Hough, who has performed several times in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and who also held master classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. (The NPR show features music and stories, and will also include Chris Kimball of the popular TV show and magazine America’s Test Kitchen, which he is leaving because of a contract dispute. By the way, you can stream Wisconsin Public Radio,)

But you might also be interested to stream some other music. WQXR, the famed classical music radio station in New York City, has put together the Top 5 musical expressions of giving thanks. The website has audio and visual performances of the works that you can stream.

Here is a link:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/top-five-expressions-thanks-classical-music/

And if you have other ideas about music that is appropriate for Thanksgiving this year, please leave them in the COMMENT section, preferably with a YouTube link if possible.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

 


Classical music: Let us now praise elderly audiences! Plus, the 14th annual FREE Opera in the Park is TONIGHT at 8 p.m.

July 25, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

When you start talking about audiences for classical music, almost inevitably the subject turns to: How can we attract younger audiences to live concerts?

Proposals range from making tickets cheaper and concerts shorter, stressing music education and community outreach, moving to informal concert venues like bars and coffeehouses, and programming more new music.

It is a good question to revisit today, when the 14th annual family-friendly Opera in the Park, put on by the Madison Opera at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on the far west side, takes place and will draw up to 15,000. Here is a link to a posting about the event with more details:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/07/23/classical-music-on-the-eve-of-opera-in-the-park-madison-operas-general-director-kathryn-smith-recaps-the-last-season-and-previews-the-next/

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 2 James Gill

But such a discussion about audiences usually runs the risk of almost always underestimating and even insulting the contribution of older audiences. (The Sunday afternoon crowd at the Madison Symphony Orchestra comes immediately to mind.)

Not that we should ever stop looking for ways to attract young people. But isn’t it maybe a little like asking: How can we attract more blue hairs to young punk band or rap concerts? Maybe we just need different music at different stages of our life.

In any case, let us not forget to praise the immense contribution of older people or to be grateful for them.

That is the welcome and long overdue message of British pianist-composer-painter and polymath MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” winner Stephen Hough (below), who has performed in Madison several times, in his blog for The Guardian.

Hough_Stephen_color16

Here is a link to his posting. Read it and see if you agree and leave a message in the COMMENT section:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100076555/our-wonderful-elderly-audiences/

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: To play or not to play Hanon? Should piano students do five-finger exercises as well as scales and arpeggios? Sergei Rachmaninoff thought so and Stephen Hough thinks so. What do today’s piano students and teachers think?

May 28, 2015
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Should piano students play exercises?

Should they play repetitive five-finger etudes by Hanon (below and in a YouTube video at the bottom), Czerny and other pedagogues?

Should they learn and play scales and arpeggios?

hanon 1

Should they learn them separately? Or within the context of a musical composition?

These remain controversial questions.

But the British classical pianist Stephen Hough (below top) recently blogged about how he and Sergei Rachmaninoff (below bottom) – often considered the greatest pianist of the 20th century as well as a major post-Romantic composer –- defend the practice.

Hough_Stephen_color16

Rachmaninoff

Here is a link to the recent blog post by Stephen Hough for The Guardian newspaper in the UK:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100076542/remembering-what-nourished-our-roots/

The Ear wants to know what you think, especially if you are a pianist, a piano student or a piano teacher.


Classical music: Stephen Hough explains why the piano concerto by Dvorak is not heard more often — even as he is about to record it. Hear it here. Plus, you can hear via live streaming the Pro Arte Quartet play works by Mozart, Beethoven and Benoit Mernier at the Chazen Museum starting at 12:30 p.m.

May 3, 2015
1 Comment

ALERT: It is the first Sunday of the month. That means the Chazen Museum of Art will broadcast its own version of “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” — abandoned by Wisconsin Public Radio after 36 years — via live streaming as well as FREE and public attendance.

Today’s concert features chamber music starting at 12:30 p.m. with a link directly from the Chazen website. The artists are the UW-Madison’s popular Pro Arte Quartet performing the String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the String Quartet in A Major, K. 414, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier, which the Pro Arte (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) is about to record.

Here is a link to the Chazen for streaming the concert:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/visit/events-calendar/event/sal-5-3-15/

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

By Jacob Stockinger

British pianist, composer, painter, blogger and polymath Stephen Hough is one of the outstanding concert pianists on the scene today. He has performed several times in Madison, with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and at the Wisconsin Union Theater, giving master classes at the UW-Madison School of Music.

Known for both his outstanding technique and his deep musicality, Hough (below) has won numerous of awards and Hyperion will soon release three new CDs that each feature his own compositions as well as other standard repertoire.

Hough_Stephen_color16

So The Ear was pleased to read what Hough recently had to say about the neglected Piano Concerto by Antonin Dvorak (below top) whose Violin Concerto and Cello Concerto have fared much better, to say nothing of his symphonies and chamber music.

After all, the work’s last great champion was the Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter (below bottom), whose recorded performance you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom.

dvorak

Sviatoslav Richter

Wouldn’t it be fun to hear the Dvorak Piano Concerto performed live by some soloist – maybe Hough himself– and the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a future season? What a chance to resurrect the neglected past and to explore an unknown work by a very well known and beloved composer.

I tend to trust Hough’s judgment, although he is especially close to the work these days as he prepares to record it. After all, he has played and often recorded most of the standard piano concertos and quite a few of the more rarely heard Romantic concertos.

Here are his remarks:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100076512/probably-my-favourite-piano-concerto/

And here is the famous performance by Sviatoslav Richter:

 


Classical music: Listen to wrong notes played by great pianists.

October 12, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, The Ear offered a blog post about stage fright and performance anxiety.

stage fright

It was written by someone who knows: Concert pianist and polymath Renaissance Man Stephen Hough (below), who is also a writer, painter, composer, photographer, culture critic and more.

Hough_Stephen_color16

But even the greatest musicians can -– and do — mess up.

So today is a follow-up.

Here is a link to a YouTube video with some pretty messed up notes and whole passages by some of history’s greatest pianists, virtuosos and technical wizards.

They include Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Horowitz (below) and Artur Schnabel – along with the actual scores to show you what is being muffed.

Vladimir Horowitz

There was no recording technology back then, but it makes one wonder what Frederic Chopin or Franz Liszt might have sounded like off the page when they played. Or even such famed keyboard virtuosos as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

After all, in the same video the great Arthur Rubinstein (below) even explains how he faked an entire difficult Chopin etude and dumped a whole batch of deliberately played wrong notes into it during a public concert — and still won rave reviews from the critics!

artur rubinstein in moscow 1964

It also puts a frame around the picture, and suggests that maybe we should simply worry more about the music and less about the notes. Performers just have to learn to accept failure! Perfection is beyond any of us.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.

If you know of other examples, or have personal experiences to share, let us know.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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