The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Is the Toronto Symphony censoring freedom of speech? Read about the Twitter Wars in Toronto that involve two pianists who have played in Madison.

April 18, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tweets — those messages that comes via Twitter — may be short, containing a maximum of only 140 characters.

Sample Tweet from space

But they can sure pack a wallop and get people riled up.

Consider what is happening in Toronto with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra  (below top, in a photo by John Loper) that canceled an appearance – with full payment of a concert fee  — by the Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa (below bottom).

Toronto Symphony Orchestra USE CR John Loper

Valentina Lisitsa

Lisitsa tweeted about the political situation in her native Ukraine and that apparently caused quite the stir among symphony sponsors. So the symphony canceled her performances of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff – and paid her concert fee anyway. (Rachmaninoff and this concerto are specialties of Lisitsa, as you can hear on the YouTube video at the bottom)

Locally, Lisitsa — known for her power, endurance and phenomenal technique as well as her savvy use of YouTube to establish a career — has played several times at the Wisconsin Union Theater and at Farley’s House of Pianos.

Then the Toronto Symphony tried to engage pianist-composer Stewart Goodyear (below), who is famous for doing marathons in which he plays all 32 piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven in one day. He has performed several times with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Goodyear

Anyway, here is a terrific account of the story — with great reporting and writing from Anastasia Tsioulcas — that was posted on Deceptive Cadence, the outstanding classical music blog that is on NPR (National Public Radio).

Here is the link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/04/09/398571112/twitter-outrage-takes-toronto-canceling-two-pianists

What do you think of this dust-up?

Was Lisitsa treated fairly?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra plus the Festival Choir of Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Madrigal Singers and pianist Stewart Goodyear left you wanting more –- which is exactly what a season-closing concert should do.

April 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

As I have noted in other postings earlier this week, I am doing some badly needed catching up. April has been just a hectic and even crazy month for classical music in the Madison area. And previews generally take precedence over reviews.

For example: A week ago last Friday, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) closed out its current Masterworks season with the Festival Choir of Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Madrigal singers and Canadian piano soloist and composer Stewart Goodyear.

WCO lobby

The concert left The Ear impressed with all parties and wanting to hear more, perhaps including a one Stewart Goodyear’s Beethoven piano sonata marathons as well as more known and neglected works from the chamber orchestra. And isn’t that exactly what a great season-ending concert should do?

For The Ear,  there were two unqualified masterpieces.

The concert opened with the ‘Ave Verum Corpus” of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a short but sublime late work for chorus and orchestra. And it was performed sublimely by the WCO and the WCO Chorus, which is made up of the Festival Choir of Madison (below) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Madrigal Singers. (A popular YouTube video, with over 2 million hits and featuring conductor Leonard Bernstein, is at the bottom.)

festivalchoir

That was followed by the often neglected “Choral Fantasy,” by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is an interesting and engaging piece, a sketch of the famous final “Ode to Joy” movement of the iconic Ninth Symphony and one that features the kind of piano part that makes you realize what an exciting keyboard improviser the young Beethoven (below, in 1804) must have been.

young beethoven etching in 1804

Is the “Choral” Fantasy a masterpiece? Stewart Goodyear thinks so.

I do not. I think it is a good dramatic work, with its own excitement for orchestra, chorus and especially pianist. But it is a work that simply doesn’t stand up to Beethoven’s greatest symphonies, concertos or even sonatas.

But Goodyear was all business and all Beethoven. After all, he performs all 32 piano sonatas in a single-day 10-hour marathon and has recorded them all.

I know from personal experience that Beethoven is hard to play. He always seems to be challenging or even daring the player. But such difficulties do not faze Goodyear (below), who has the power and the chops. He is an impressive player, without doubt.

stewart goodyear playing sideways

Even in his own piano concerto that followed, Goodyear was impressive in his playing. This concerto, which he revised especially for chamber orchestra, seems to play into his personal and technical strengths, which is right in keeping with the great virtuoso tradition that ran from Johann Sebastian Bach and Mozart through Beethoven and Johannes Brahms to Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sergei Prokofiev.

But is the concerto by Goodyear a great concerto? Unfortunately, I think not. It reminds me of the 50 or so big and difficult piano concertos in the Hyperion series of recordings of neglected Romantic Piano Concertos by Ignaz Moscheles and Moritz Moszkowski and the like. All of them were impressive showpieces in their day, composed by and performed by the biggest piano virtuoso names of the day.

Here is a link to the Hyperion series:

http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/s.asp?s=S_1

And yet in the end, they only require one to two listenings to get the most out them. You soon realize that they are neglected for good reason. They served their purpose in the day, but then couldn’t stand up to history as first-rate.

I felt the same way about Goodyear. It had its moments, especially in the slow movement. In its use of Caribbean rhythm and harmonies, it reminded me of the jazz-like qualities brought to the concert hall by Maurice Ravel, George Gershwin, Darius Milhaud and Heitor Villa-Lobos, maybe even George Gershwin of the “Cuban” Overture. I am glad I heard it, but am not anxious to have repeated hearings.

The concerto was an interesting, impressive and entertaining oddity, but an oddity nonetheless. Goodyear would be wise to keep his day job -– or, should I say, his night job -—as a concert pianist who masterfully plays Beethoven and other major composers, and not to rely on composing as a living.

Stewart Goodyear2

After intermission came the big treat: Beethoven’s mammoth Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica.” Now, I love the overwhelming sound of a big, full orchestra. But there is undeniable value to hearing the transparency and clarity of the work in its chamber music version.

The “Eroica” Symphony just never gets old, and easily stands up to the Fifth, Sixth (Pastoral), Seventh and Ninth symphonies as a candidate for Your Favorite Beethoven Symphony.

The balance and tempi were perfect, especially in the moving and complex Funeral March. The horn played flawlessly as far I could tell. The strings were crisp, not gooey. And sections provided great voicing and counterpoint.

Conductor Andrew Sewell (below) seemed in total command and looked completely satisfied as he proved again what incredible progress the WCO has made during his tenure.

andrewsewell

Sewell has an abiding and well realized interest in unearthing interesting music, both new and old, as you can see from the next season, which will features three pianists in works as diverse as rarely heard two piano concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn, the Suite for Strings by Paul Lewis, the Suite for String Orchestra by Frank Bridge as well as another work by Vittorio Giannini.

Here is a link to the new season. Click on “For more information” to see programs:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/

And here are links to other reviews so you can compare and draw your own conclusions, especially if you were part of the full house:

Here is a link the review by John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42498

John-Barker

Here is a link to the review by Greg Hettmansberger (below) for Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/April-2014/Wisconsin-Chamber-Orchestra-Goes-Big-Before-Going-Home/

greg hettmansberger mug

 

 

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Classical music Q&A: Pianist Stewart Goodyear talks about the emotional appeal of Beethoven and the eclectic style of his own Piano Concerto, both of which he will perform tonight with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. On Saturday night, you can hear Bach’s “St. John Passion” performed by the UW Concert Choir and UW Chamber Orchestra under Beverly Taylor.

April 11, 2014
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ALERT: On Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Beverly Taylor will conduct the University of Wisconsin-Madison Concert Choir (below) and the UW Chamber Orchestra with guest soloists in Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion.” (Tickets are $15 for the public and $8 for senior citizens and students.)

Concert Choir

By Jacob Stockinger

It is daunting for any pianist to play all 32 of the piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven, usually over several days or weeks.

But then Stewart Goodyear (below) is not just any pianist.

He performs all the Beethoven sonatas in a single day, much like a marathon.

Stewart Goodyear2

Moreover, Goodyear, who hails from Toronto, Canada, is also a composer who has written his own Piano Concerto.

Tonight at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, Stewart Goodyear will perform both Beethoven and his own work.

With the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, Goodyear will perform Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy” and his own Piano Concerto.

For the Beethoven, the choral part will be sung by the WCO Choir that is made up of the University of Wisconsin Madrigal Singers and the Festival Choir of Madison (below). The choir will also perform Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s sublime “Ave Verum Corpus,” which should complement some of the tone of  Goodyeas’s piano concerto.

festivalchoir

The closing the program will be Beethoven’s famed Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica,” which radically changed the course of the modern symphony.

Tickets are $15 to $67. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141. For more information, you can also visit:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/72/event-info/

www.stewartgoodyear.com

Goodyear (below) agreed to an email Q&A that for various reasons got delayed. But good sport that he is, he answered the questions after a strenuous rehearsal. Clearly this is a intense artist who approaches both music and writing in an articulate and athletic way.

Stewart Goodyear informal

You have performed — in marathon one-day sessions — and recorded all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and I believe you play all the concertos. What is it about Beethoven’s works that attracts you so deeply, and what is your view of how to best play him?

I was three years old when I first heard the music of Beethoven. It was that moment when I knew I wanted to be a musician. Beethoven’s music spoke to me as a child more profoundly than any other artist.

Even now, I feel that Beethoven expresses the complete human experience: the passion, the rage, the humor, the vulnerability, the courtship, the love, the defiance, and, finally, the spiritual awakening. I lived with Beethoven’s music my whole life, but I only felt ready to perform his music when I finally experienced every aspect of the human experience. It was at that point where I had a profound thirst to perform Beethoven’s music.

I was 32 when I first performed the complete 32 sonatas, and I knew that my first solo recording had to be those masterpieces. The sonatas, to me, are a very intimate diary communicated with the listener.

I think the best way to play Beethoven (below) is from a very personal place in one’s heart. Like a great actor, one has to live every moment, feel every emotion deeply, and play every note like it was a last opportunity. The audience must be seized at every second. Rage must be raging; pain must be painful. Raw emotion cannot be tamed.

Beethoven big

How do you place the Choral Fantasy among his works –- just a sketch for the Ninth Symphony or a work in its own right?

The “Choral Fantasy” is quite an interesting piece. The last time I performed this piece was with Yannick Nezet-Seguin and Orchestra Metropolitan, on a program that re-enacted the historic 1808 concert that saw the premiere of the Fifth Symphony and Sixth (“Pastoral”) Symphony, the Piano Concerto No. 4, and the “Choral Fantasy,” among other works.

I see this work as the perfect finale for this program, first showcasing Beethoven’s improvising skills, then showcasing different members of the orchestra, and after variations of the hymn, showcasing the vocalists and chorus who participated in the mammoth 1808 program.

This piece was written specifically for that concert as a showstopper, but I firmly believe that this powerful, moving work is a masterpiece in its own right.

Stewart Goodyear at piano keyboard

How and when did your own Piano Concerto come about? How would you describe it to the general public? Is it tonal and accessible, or melodic and appealingly harmonic? Rhythm-wise, does it have unusual aspects? How many tines have you performed it, and how has it been received before by the general public?

My piano concerto was commissioned by the Peninsula Music Festival (below) in Wisconsin’s Door County and premiered there in 2010. The architecture of this work is very much inspired by the Mozartian concerto, but it is also inspired by my own ethnic musical background: Classical, calypso and English folk music. (Goodyear talks about his own concerto in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The piano writing is lyrical but intensely rhythmic, and the harmonies are tonal and accessible with spicy dissonances.

I was delighted by the warm response of my concerto at the world premiere, and I hope the audience in Madison enjoys it. This will be my second performance of the concerto., but the world premiere of a revised version of it I did specifically for chamber orchestra.

Peninsula Music Festival Door Community Auditorium

Is there anything you would like to say about performing for a third time with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top) and conductor Andrew Sewell (below bottom) before a Madison audience?

It is always a great pleasure to work with Andrew Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. I look very much forward to tonight’s concert.

WCO lobby

andrewsewell

 

 

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Classical music: What would be a good April Fool’s joke about classical music? But it is no joke that April will bring a lot of major choral music by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Faure and Rachmaninoff among others.

April 1, 2014
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READER SURVEY: Today is April Fool’s Day! So in keeping with tradition, here is what The Ear wants to know: What would be a really good April Fool’s joke about classical music? Discovering a 10th symphony or sixth piano concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven? Finding one of the many lost cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach? Unearthing a letter from Arnold Schoenberg disavowing his own 12-tone or atonal music as a dry and boring experiment? Use the COMMENT section to leave your April Fools treat. Be creative, original and unexpected, and have some fun.

Here is a link to one year’s entries:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/classical-music-news-the-discovery-of-beethovens-tenth-symphony-wins-first-prize-for-the-best-april-fools-day-story/

april fools day

By Jacob Stockinger

April is the “choralist month,” to paraphrase — with a badly twisted pun — a famous opening line from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland.”

Is it because of Easter? The end of the semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison? Or maybe the arrival of spring? Or perhaps the closing on some current seasons?

All play a role, The Ear suspects, but so does coincidence. Besides, after such a hard winter, singing out seems healthy and almost normal.

During this April, local audiences will have the chance to hear more than half a dozen major choral works –- and that doesn’t even include the Russian and Baltic concert performed this past weekend by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.

Many of the events will have more detailed postings on this blog. But here is a summary roundup to help you fill in your datebooks and make plans.

It will kick off this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Symphony Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) and guest soloists when they perform the famously storied Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Guest conductor Julian Wachner will be substituting for the MSO music director John DeMain, and the program also includes guest organ soloist Nathan Laube in Jongen’s “Sinfonia Concertante.” For more information, including program notes and ticket information, visit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/laube

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

On Friday, April 11, at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with guest pianist Stewart Goodyear and the Festival Choir (below), under WCO music director Andrew Sewell, will perform Mozart’s late, short and sublime “Ave Verum Corpus” (heard at the bottom with conductor Leonard Bernstein in a popular YouTube video that has over 2 million hits) and Beethoven’s rarely heard “Choral Fantasy,” which is a sketch with solo piano of the famous last chiral movement, with the famous “Ode to Joy,” of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Stewart Goodyear’s own Piano Concerto is on the program, as is Beethoven’s epic Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.” For details, visit: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/72/event-info/

festivalchoir

On Saturday, April 12, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will see a FREE performance on Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” performed by the Concert Choir (below) and the UW Chamber Orchestra).

Concert Choir

The next day Sunday, April 13 is Palm Sunday. It will see two performances (10 a.m. and 3 p.m.) of the gorgeously calm and reassuring Requiem by Gabriel Faure (below) at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, performed in the old historic Landmark Auditorium, where the organ is. FUS music director Dan Broner will conduct. Free-will offerings will be accepted.

faure

Then on Good Friday, April 18, in the First Congregational Church and on Saturday, April 19, in the Atrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, J.S. Bach’s landmark Mass in B Minor will receive two performances (both at 7:30 p.m. with a pre-concert lecture at 6:45 p.m.) from the Madison Bach Musicians, and guest soloists and the Madison Choral Project under conductor and UW bassoonist Marc Vallon.  

MadisonBachMusicians

On Saturday, April 19, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is also a FREE concert by the UW Madrigal Singers under conductor Bruce Gladstone (below, in a  photo by Katrin Talbot). Sorry, no word on the program yet.

BruceGladstoneTalbot

On Saturday, April 26, at 8 pm. in Mills Hall the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union (below) will perform the lovely and rarely performed Russian Orthodox, a cappella “Vespers” of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Beverly Taylor, who heads the UW-Madison choral program, will conduct the one-time only performance -– normally the UW Choral Union gives two performances. Tickets can be purchased for the concerts. Admission is $10 for adults and the general public; free for  students and seniors.
 Remaining tickets will be at the door. 
Call (608) 265-ARTS (2787) for ticket info.

UW Choral Union  12:2011

As an added bonus to April, and to wind up the spring semester, on Saturday, May 3, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is the FREE concert by the UW Women’s Chorus and University Chorus. On Monday. May 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall the UW Master Singers will perform a FREE concert.

I’m betting there are some others I am missing, especially at Edgewood College, which I haven’t heard from yet. Perhaps readers will leave word in a COMMENT. But even from what I have listed, you see that listeners are in store for a lot of choral treats.

 

 

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