The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Another Stradivarius violin is rescued – and teaches us a valuable lesson about loss and perspective.

August 9, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Stradivarius violins may be rare, but they have sure come in for their share of adventure in the past year and a half.

First, there was the theft of the “Lipinski” violin owned and played by Frank Almond, the Paganini Competition-winning concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

That story made national headlines.

Now comes word of a second Strad (below) that has been rescued 35 years after it was stolen.

Ames Totenberg Stradivarius

This violin belonged to Roman Totenberg. He was the concertizing violinist and violin teacher at Boston University who was the father of the well-known and prize-winning legal affairs reporter for NPR, or National Public Radio, Nina Totenberg (below center with her two sisters). She is probably best known for her stories on the U.S. Supreme Court. When her father died in 2012 at 101, she also did a memorable obituary.

(At the bottom in a YouTube video, you can hear Roman Totenberg playing the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, with the Boston University Symphony Orchestra on the occasion of his 90th birthday.)

Stradivarius Totenberg sisters

Roman Totenberg bought the so-called Ames Stradivarius for $15,000 in 1943. It is now said to be worth tens of millions of dollars after restoration. But his daughters promise it will be sold to a great violinist who will play it and perform with it as their father did — and not go into some museum or investment collection.

The story was all over the media -– maybe because it was good news amid so much bad news, a happy ending amid so many unhappy endings.

And what do you say when Nina Totenberg explains that her heart-broken father, who suspected who the thief was, moved on after the theft and bought another violin – a Guarneri del Jesu -– because he had personally suffered much bigger losses such as the deaths of his family in Nazi death camps during World War II.

That is perspective at a time when we sorely need perspective, especially about the worth of material objects versus humanist values.

Here is a story from NPR in which Nina Totenberg takes part and in which you can hear excerpts of her father playing a violin and piano sonata by Johannes Brahms and solo violin music by Johann Sebastian Bach:

http://www.npr.org/2015/08/06/427718240/a-rarity-reclaimed-stolen-stradivarius-recovered-after-35-years

And here is the big story it got in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/arts/music/roman-totenbergs-stolen-stradivarius-is-found-after-35-years.html


Classical music: Learn about old and new violin-making, and about making violins in Wisconsin.

June 4, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Are all Stradivarius violins good or outstanding?

Stradivarius violin

Antonio Stradivari

The answer might surprise you.

A piece for “Wisconsin Life” discussed the question this week. It was broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio in the morning. It was part of a story about Brian Derber, a North Woods violinmaker, or luthier, in Wisconsin.

Brian Derber Violin maker

In case you missed the piece, here it is:

http://www.wisconsinlife.org/story/old-world-violin-making-wisconsin


Classical music: See what goes into making a Stradivarius violin great, from the special Italian spruce trees to the master violin-makers who come to Cremona, Italy from around the world. But are the old violins really better than the best new ones?

December 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Ever wonder what goes into a great violin made centuries ago by Stradivarius or Guarneri or Amati that makes them the favorite instruments of great performing virtuosos?

Stradivarius violin

(The Ear will forget for a while the stories about how blind hearing tests with professional violinists showed that new or modern instruments outscored the centuries-old masterpieces.)

For whatever reason last weekend brought two terrific stories about what goes into making world-class violins – in specific the violins, worth millions of dollars, by Antonio Stradivari (below) and other master crafters and luthiers in Cremona, Italy.

Antonio Stradivari

The stories followed the great violins — and also violas and cellos — from the special Italian spruce trees grown in the dolomite Alps, which are celebrated and serenaded with music, to the actual makers of the instruments and the overall cooperative music culture of Cremona, Italy.

Serenading spruce trees

One of the stories appeared on NPR (National Public Radio) , specifically on Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/12/05/368718313/in-the-italian-alps-stradivaris-trees-live-on

The other was a great segment on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” It has great visuals and interviews. Here is a link:

http://www.cbs.com/shows/60_minutes/video/FWotANRzsjL84Aj5ziBSdezDN88_Hp3M/the-city-of-music/

And at bottom in a YouTube video, is a comparison test of old and new violin sounds. Listen to it, take it and see how you do.

What do you think of the comparison results?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will perform music by Rossini, Wieniawski and Tchaikovsky this Tuesday night in Edgerton.

November 15, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a few years since the acclaimed and impressive Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below) –- still in the news (a link to a story on NPR, or National Public Radio, is below) because of the attempted theft of concertmaster Frank Almond’s $3-million Stradivarius violin — played an annual concert at the Wisconsin Union Theater. The Ear always looked forward to the top-flight playing and fine programs that the Milwaukee group brought to Madison.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/10/12/355623871/the-case-of-the-stolen-stradivarius

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra 2

But this week, the MSO, playing under an assistant conductor, will perform in nearby Edgerton at the Edgerton Performing Arts Center.

Edgerton PAC

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra – without its music director Edo de Waart — will perform at the Edgerton Performing Arts Center on this coming Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door.

Here is some information from a press release: “The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, under the dynamic leadership of Music Director Edo de Waart, has embarked upon a new era of artistic excellence and critical acclaim. Now in his fifth season with the MSO, Maestro de Waart has led sold-out concerts, elicited rave reviews, and conducted an acclaimed performance at Carnegie Hall. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra has four purposes: to comfort, educate, entertain and exhilarate the human soul.” For more information, visit www.mso.org

The concert will feature conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong and violin soloist Jeanyi Kim.

The program will include the Overture to the opera “Semiramide” by the Italian composer Gioachino Rossini (below top); the Concerto for Violin No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 22, by the well-traveled Polish violin virtuoso and composer Henryk Wieniawski (below middle); and the popular Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Opus 64, by the Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (below bottom). You can hear the tuneful and melancholy Tchaikovsky symphony, played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Bernstein,  in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.

Rossini photo

Henryk Wieniawski

young tchaikovsky

Jeanyi Kim (below) is the associate concertmaster (third chair) of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra. In 2007, she served as a guest assistant concertmaster of the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis and Valery Gergiev.

As an orchestral musician, the Toronto native has performed in illustrious venues around the world, including Carnegie Hall, the Barbican Centre, Salle Pleyel, and the Concertgebouw.  In addition to maintaining a private studio, she has served on the faculties at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, University of New Haven, and Neighborhood Music School, to name a few.

She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Yale University, from which she also earned her BA, MM, and MMA degrees.

Jeanyi Kim

Francesco Lecce-Chong (below), currently associate conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, has worked with the Atlanta, Indianapolis, and St. Louis Symphony Orchestras, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Hong Kong, Pitesti (Romania), and Ruse (Bulgaria) philharmonic orchestras. Equally at ease in the opera house, Maestro Lecce-Chong has served as principal conductor for the Brooklyn Repertory Opera and as staff conductor for the Santa Fe Opera.

He has earned national distinction, including the Solti Foundation Career Assistance Award and The Presser Foundation Music Award. In summer 2014, he served as the associate conductor at the Grand Tetons Music Festival and had guest appearances with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Las Vegas Philharmonic and the Breckenridge Music Festival.

He is a graduate of the Mannes College of Music, where he received his Bachelor of Music degree with honors in piano and orchestral conducting.  Lecce-Chong also holds a diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music.

Francesco Lecce-Chong

Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door. They are available at the Edgerton Pharmacy and Edgerton Piggly Wiggly; and in Janesville at Knapton Musik Knotes and Voigt Music Center, and by calling (608) 561-6093.  Online, go to at iTickets.com

All performances funded by the William and Joyce Wartmann Endowment for the Performing Arts. An additional sponsor is the Edgerton Piggly Wiggly.

 

 


Classical music: Famed Tokyo String Quartet will disband after 44 years at the end of next season.

July 25, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is one of those cases of: Better late than never.

The Ear has a correction to make in the form of an update.

Quite a while ago, I reported that two members of the famed Tokyo String Quartet (below) would retire at the end of the 2013 season.

At the time, the quartet, which was founded in 1969 at the Juilliard School and has long since been identified as artists-in-residence at Yale University, said it was auditioning for replacement members.

But in the meantime, the acclaimed and award-winning quartet — which plays on a matched set of Stradivarius instruments — has decided to retire and to disband entirely after the end of the 2012-2013 season.

Here is a link to my original story:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/classical-music-news-tokyo-string-quartet-is-losing-but-will-replace-two-longtime-members/

And here are links to the update:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/04/20/151063275/the-tokyo-string-quartet-bids-farewell

http://music.yale.edu/news/?tag=tokyo-string-quartet

And here is a sample of the music-making — the last movement of Beethoven’sRazumovsky” Quartet, Op. 59, No. 3 –that all fans of the Tokyo String Quartet will miss:


Classical music: Annals of the Violin 1 – Can YOU hear the difference between a vintage Stradivarius violin and a newly made 21st-century violin?

January 5, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Sometimes the same subject draws the interest of different reporters, and we have a happy convergence of information that can often remain esoteric and known only to specialists.

Two recent stories – one in The New York Times and the other on NPR – focused on the differences – or lack of them – between old and new violins.

Traditionally, the Old Master violins, made by Stradivarius (above, the 1729 “Solomon ex-Lambert” Strad photographed by Dan Emmert/Getty Images) and by Guarneri, sell for millions and are legendary. They are always considered more beautiful in tone, louder in volume and easier to play than more modern instruments.

But how much of that received wisdom is, in fact, wisdom or truth? And how much of it is myth or hype?

Defying conventional wisdom, some high-profile professional concertizing musicians have turned to modern string instruments, including cellist David Finckel (below) of the Emerson String Quartet who will perform an all-Mendelssohn program with the David Finckel, pianist Wu Han and violinist Philip Setzer Piano Trio at the Wisconsin Union Theater on Friday, Feb. 24. And the acclaimed German violin virtuoso Christian Teztlaff (at bottom, playing solo Bach) also performs on a modern violin.

This is a particularly interesting topic to Madison circles. Until his death last summer, William “Jack” Fry (below), a retired professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Physics Department, had long investigated the sonics and engineering of violins. The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has used some of Fry’s instruments as played by John and Rose Mary Harbison, the husband composer/violist and wife-violinist who co-direct the summer festival.

So both old and new violins have their defenders and partisans.

Now you can try the test and decide for yourself.

Here is a link to an illuminating background story in the New York Times.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/03/science/in-play-off-between-old-and-new-violins-stradivarius-lags.html

And here is a link to the NPR story – listen to the streamed broadcast over reading the typescript, if you can — where you can take a “blindfold” hearing test to see whether the old or new violin sounds better to you, and then compare your results to the panel of experts and violinists:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/01/02/144482863/double-blind-violin-test-can-you-pick-the-strad

How did you do?

What did you learn?

What do you say in the debate about the superiority of older violins and the inferiority of newer violins?

The Ear wants to hear.


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