The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The second annual Madison New Music Festival will take place this Thursday through Sunday

August 9, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The summer classical season in Madison just keeps getting busier and more interesting.

The Ear has received the following announcement from Zachary Green (below), a native Madisonian and composer who graduated from Oregon High School and the Juilliard School, which awarded him a grant to start the first Madison New Music Festival last year. He now directs the event:

Dear friends, family, colleagues, and mentors,

I am extremely pleased to invite you to the second season of the Madison New Music Festival, taking place this Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 10-12.

The Madison New Music Festival is an annual weekend-long concert series dedicated to strengthening Madison’s cultural vitality through the celebration of fresh classical music from our lifetimes.

The festival strives to affordably and accessibly share music by the world’s leading living composers with the Madison community, with special emphasis placed on Wisconsin-based composers and performers.

This year, over the course of four concerts, we will be featuring 30 performers playing the music of over 20 composers— including the music of a different living Wisconsin composer at every concert.

The concerts will take place Thursday at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (8 p.m.), Friday at Bethel Lutheran Church (8 p.m.), and Saturday at the Memorial Union Terrace (3 p.m.) and Robinia Courtyard (7:30 p.m.).

PROGRAM AND TICKET INFORMATION:

Thursday, Aug. 10, at 8 p.m., Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in the Overture Center. (Below is a photo at MMoCA from last year’s festival)

After an incredibly successful launch in 2016, the Madison New Music Festival is set to return to MMoCA for a concert combining contemporary visual art and new music.

The festival presents brand new pieces by emerging composers, underplayed classics of the contemporary repertoire, and shines a spotlight on new music created here in Wisconsin.

The concert at MMoCA features music with thematic ties to MMoCA’s current exhibitions, including politically charged works such as “But I Still Believe” by composer Zachary Green and inspired by Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, and “Drums of Winter” from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and environmentalist John Luther Adams (below). You can hear “Drums of Winter” in the YouTube video at the bottom.

There will be a cash bar and opportunities to walk around the exhibits. Tickets are $10, $5 for students and FREE for MMoCA members.

Tickets: https://www.artful.ly/madison-new-music-festival/store/events/13011

Friday, Aug. 11, at 8 p.m. in Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Avenue

The festival’s second night features an eclectic range of music, from the inventive, folk-inspired music of Romanian composer Doina Rotaru (below top) to the improvisatory soundscapes of recently departed legend Pauline Oliveros (below bottom).

Also featured is local composer Scott Gendel (below top) , who will present a set of his own music with frequent Madison Opera guest soprano Emily Birsan (below middle). Both are graduates of the UW-Madison.

Other performers include Chicago-based new music ensemble Chartreuse (below top), local flutist Iva Ugrcic (below middle) and local violinist Lydia Sewell (below bottom).  Tickets are $10, $5 for students.

Tickets: https://www.artful.ly/madison-new-music-festival/store/events/13028

Saturday, Aug. 12, at 3 p.m., Memorial Union Terrace

Local new music wind quintet Black Marigold (below top) will perform “Beer Music” by Brian DuFord (below bottom), inspired by different kinds of beer– and you can sip as you listen!

But first, get your groove on with rhythmic works by emerging composer Andy Akiho (below top), Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, and local percussionist Dave Alcorn (below bottom) of Clocks in Motion — interspersed with interactive interpretations of Renaissance motets and an electroacoustic work for vibraphone. Featured musicians include percussionist Garrett Mendelow and Chicago-based new music ensemble Chartreuse.  Admission is FREE.

Saturday, Aug. 12, at 7:30 PM, Robinia Courtyard (Jardin Restaurant) at 827 East Washington Avenue. 

Join us at Jardin Restaurant, part of the newly redeveloped Robinia Courtyard to hear local ensemble Mr. Chair (below) present an eclectic, head-banging set ranging from original compositions to versions of Erik Satie, Olivier Messiaen and Igor Stravinsky.

Also featured are the genre-bending Echelon String Quartet(below) and a mesmerizing solo bass piece performed by Grant Blaschka.  Cash bar.  ($10/$5 student)

Tickets: https://www.artful.ly/madison-new-music-festival/store/events/13029

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Classical music: Con Vivo concludes its 15th season with an outstanding concert of music by Spohr, Martinu and Dvorak with guest conductor John DeMain

May 28, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also took the performance photographs.

By John W. Barker

For the conclusion of its 15th season, the Con Vivo chamber music ensemble (below, in a photo by Don Sylvester) called out an unusual plethora of players.

And, as it did back in 2013, it brought back conductor John DeMain (below), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Madison Opera, to whip them into shape.

The program consisted of three very ample works.

The first was the Nonet, Op. 31, composed in 1813 by Louis Spohr (below, 1784-1859) — the first of its kind for this combination of strings and winds.

It’s in that no-longer-Classical-but-not-quite-Romantic idiom in which Beethoven was the big troublemaker. It is music of charm and imagination, altogether enjoyable as one appreciates the composer’s experimentation.

Following this was a contrasting work in the same form, the Nonet No. 2 (1959) by Bohuslav Martinu (below, 1890-1959). It dates from the last months of the composer’s life — note that, by coincidence, he died exactly a century after Spohr.

Using Spohr’s same combination of the nine instruments (below), it is a perky affair, in which Czech song and dance meet Igor Stravinsky, as it were. The second of its three movements is a particularly beautiful piece of coloristic writing. It can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The pièce-de-resistance was the final work, the Serenade, Op. 44 (1878), by Antonin Dvorak (below, 1841-1904).

I have to admit that this is one of my favorite works by one of my favorite composers. Composed for 11 players, it is really the composer’s tribute to Mozart, via a Romantic rethinking of the kind of wind serenades that Mozart wrote so wonderfully.

Thus, it is really a wind octet, with the addition of a third horn plus two string players (cello and double bass). Adding those two stringed instruments was a wonderful idea, allowing a significant enrichment of textures in the bass role.

The pool of 14 players involved in the program drew upon a lot of superlative talent active in the Madison area. Highly accomplished players individually, they join in full-bodied ensembles, given the added spirit brought by DeMain’s leadership.

While it would be unfair to single out individuals too much, I must say that I was greatly impressed by Olga Pomolova’s command of the fiendishly difficult violin parts in the two nonets, while I was also struck by the strong leadership of Laura Medisky, who played oboe in the nonets and first oboe in the serenade. (Valree Casey played second oboe in the serenade.)

The audience at First Congregational Church responded justly with an enthusiastic ovation at the end. Truly an outstanding concert!


Classical music: Should the Madison Symphony Orchestra program more 20th-century music?

April 14, 2017
21 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

A friend and reviewer for this blog – his specialty is opera but he also is very experienced with the symphonic repertoire — sent in the following opinion piece.

It is being posted in the wake of the announcement by the Madison Symphony Orchestra of its 2017-18 season.

For reference, here is a link to the lineup of the next season’s concerts that was posted yesterday:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/classical-music-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-announces-its-2017-2018-season-of-nine-concerts-of-favorites-combined-with-firsts/

By Larry Wells

I received my subscription renewal package for the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a  photo by Greg Anderson) a couple of weeks ago, and I was struck then by how conservative and prosaic most of the offerings are.

I’ve mentioned my feelings to acquaintances, and one of the prevailing arguments is that they have to fill the seats.

The assumption seems to be that the patrons will only tolerate music written before 1850.

I’m 70 and I grew up with Stravinsky. I can recall the world premieres of Shostakovich’s final three symphonies. I once eagerly awaited recordings of Britten’s latest works. And I heard the first performances of several works by John Adams (below) while living in San Francisco in the 1980s.

If the assumption is that most reliable patrons are in their 70s and 80s, this seems like a dead-end (pardon the pun). There will be no audience in 20 years.

I believe that audiences can tolerate music of the 20th century — look at the glowing reviews of and enthusiastic ovations for last week’s performances of Witold Lutoslawski’s “Concerto for Orchestra’’ — and attracting younger patrons with bolder musical choices seems an economic necessity.

How can the MSO not be commemorating the centenary of Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell)? The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is performing several of his pieces in its upcoming season.

Why do we have to endure another Brahms symphony when we could hear Dmitri Shostakovich’s 11th or 15th or Jean Sibelius’ Fourth or Fifth or even Anton Bruckner’s 8th?

On a positive note, I was heartened to see that Benjamin Britten’s “Sinfonia da Requiem” is scheduled next season since that has been on my wish list for years. Likewise, Leos Janacek’s “Glagolitic Mass” is a nice surprise.

However, when will we hear Britten’s “War Requiem,” Bernstein’s “Mass” or “‘Songfest,” a symphony by Walter Piston (below top) or William Schuman (below middle) or Alan Hovhannes (below bottom)?

I’m really tired of going to concerts where only one of the works is of interest to me and the others are historic artifacts. I’d like to see a reversal wherein Brahms, Mozart and Beethoven are brought out occasionally, but the bulk of the music performed comes from the rich source of the 20th century.

What do you think?

Leave word in the COMMENT section.


Classical music: Spring arrives today. What is your favorite music celebrating spring?

March 20, 2017
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Has March’s proverbial lion finally yielded to the lamb?

Here is Madison there is still some snow on the ground. But it should all be gone by the end of today, which, like yesterday, will reach into the 50s.

Just in time.

Today is the Vernal Equinox, bringing the first day of spring. It arrives at 5:29 a.m. this morning.

Spring has been an inspiration to many composers. So there is a lot of music to choose from when you want to celebrate season musically.

The Ear is fickle and his choice changes from year to year.

But lately, his favorite has been the “Spring” Sonata in F Major for violin and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven. (You can hear the opening of the famously tuneful and upbeat sonata, performed by violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Of course there are violin concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and Arcangelo Corelli; choral works by Johann Sebastian Bach and Franz Joseph Haydn; chamber music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; orchestral music by Robert Schumann, Peter Tchaikovsky and Igor Stravinsky; piano pieces by Felix Mendelssohn and Edvard Grieg; songs by Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms. And there is more, so much more.

Yesterday, Wisconsin Public Radio programmed a lot of spring music, and The Ear expects the same for today’s programming.

But you can be your own DJ if you want. Here is a list of almost two hours of spring-related music:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfe3MUMdWKQ

And here is a springtime puzzler, or quiz, about flowers in opera from NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/05/06/404499920/flower-songs-a-springtime-opera-puzzler

Plus, there are plenty of other guides and anthologies to music for spring that you can find online.

So here is what The Ear wants to know: What is your favorite piece of music to greet spring with?

Leave words in the COMMENT section along with a link to a YouTube performance if possible.

And a Happy Spring to you!


Classical music: Teenage violin prodigy Julian Rhee performs the Brahms Violin Concerto with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra this Friday night. Also on the program are works by Stravinsky and Haydn

February 20, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Over the years, The Ear has heard quite a few child prodigies, many of them impressive.

But he has heard only one Julian Rhee (below).

Julian Rhee with violin

Rhee, from Brookfield, is a young Milwaukee area violinist who has won numerous awards from and has performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Rhee will perform again with the WCO (below), playing the complete Brahms Violin Concerto — not just separate movements or excerpts — this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO lobby

What makes Rhee so outstanding is that the level of his musicality matches his high technical mastery.

When he performed some of the Brahms concerto in the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Final Forte competition, which he won two years ago, all eyes and ears popped open with the first notes. You just knew right away who was going to win.

(You can hear the Final Forte introduction to Julian Rhee, which aired on Wisconsin Public Televisi0n, in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

Rhee’s playing exuded a maturity that even seasoned listeners did not expect. And the Brahms is a perfect vehicle to display his interpretive maturity as well as his technical virtuosity. Surely Rhee still has room to grow musically. But his mastery is already something to behold.

If you enjoy being able to say “I heard him when …,” this concert has all the hallmarks of being a must-hear, do-not-miss event.

But there are other attractions on the program, to be played under music director Andrew Sewell, who has again combined works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Igor Stravinsky’s “L’histoire du soldat” (The Soldier’s Tale) will be performed with guest narrator Jim DeVita (below) of American Players Theatre in Spring Green. The story involves a soldier who sells his soul to the devil.

James_DeVita

And there will also be the Symphony No. 102 in B-Flat Major by Franz Joseph Haydn, a composer whose style brings out the best in WCO music director and conductor Sewell (below), an accomplished interpreter of music from the Classical era.

Andrew Sewell BW

To read Julian Rhee’s complete and impressive biography, and to find out more information about the program, the performers and tickets, go to:

http://www.wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-iii-2/


Classical music: Jazz and classical music are closely related and work well together, says composer Daniel Schnyder. He discusses “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” which the Madison Opera stages in its Midwest premiere this FRIDAY night — NOT Saturday — and Sunday afternoon

February 6, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Jazz and classical music are not so different, says Swiss-born composer Daniel Schnyder.

For Schnyder, it is more than an academic matter. He puts his point of view into action in his acclaimed chamber opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” which deals with the life of the bebop saxophone player and jazz giant. (You can see the YouTube trailer for the productions by Opera Philadelphia and the Apollo Theater in Harlem at the bottom.)

charlie-parkers-yardbird-logo-for-maidson-opera

The Madison Opera will offer the work’s Midwest premiere when it stages the chamber opera this Friday night (NOT Saturday night, as first mistakenly posted here) at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Both performances are in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. (Performances photos below are from the world premiere at Opera Philadelphia.)

Here is a link to more general information about the opera, tickets, the cast and the production:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/classical-music-madison-opera-will-present-the-midwest-premiere-of-charlie-parkers-yardbird-here-are-the-many-preparatory-events-for-the-public/

Daniel Schnyder (below) — who will perform a FREE concert of the music of Charlie Parker and do a question-and-answer session on this Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOT 7 p.m. as mistakenly first stated here) in Morphy Hall on the UW-Madison campus — also agreed to an email interview with The Ear:

daniel-schnyder-2017

What was the work’s genesis and what gave you the idea for “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird”? Are you a big jazz fan and did you see the work as a way to meld the jazz and classical styles of music?

I am a jazz fan. I am also a jazz musician and I love to compose, play and improvise in the jazz idiom. I have recorded more than 30 jazz CDs.

I love to combine jazz and classical music. I just finished a symphony for orchestra and big band, a commission by the Temple University in Philadelphia.

I do not see classical music and jazz as two completely different things. Jazz is by nature a synthesis of European music influences and African music.

The idea from the very beginning was to write an opera for Lawrence Brownlee, the great African-American tenor. Opera Philadelphia asked me to write a work for him and we tried several libretto options. After hearing a recital by Larry singing gospel songs, I came up with the idea to write an opera about Charlie Parker’s life.

lawrence-brownlee-as-charlie-parker-opera-philadelphia

How would you describe the musical style of the opera in terms of tonality and melody, and its accessibility to the general public? What were the audience reactions in Philadelphia and New York City?

In both places, the audiences were very moved by the story and the music. The topic hit a nerve, something our society has to reflect upon, a general issue that concerns us all as a nation.

The music itself is not hard to listen to and moves swiftly. For the orchestra and singers, the opera is rather challenging, since Charlie Parker (below) was a virtuoso. The music moves fast and often in off-beat rhythms that are unusual for classical musicians. There are also a lot of odd meters and tricky patterns that sometimes connect to Parker’s music and sometimes relate to the music that came after him.

The audience will have a ball. There are 12-tone music passages reflecting on new music and opera — mostly in Nica’s parts —  but there are a lot of R&B influences and jazz and Latin music grooves.

It would be false to see the opera as a patchwork of different musical sequences and styles. It is my music that is based on all these influences. The opera can be described as a modern music carpet with lots of colors of today’s music, rather than a quilt.

charlie-parker-1

In what ways do you see the characters and the story as offering lessons and being relevant to today?

I guess this is obvious: Our society has to understand that different cultures and different ethnic backgrounds enrich America and are fundamental to its culture and success.

If we go down the path of segregation, divisiveness and disrespect, we all will lose. Jazz is the great coming together of different heritages, the roots of America, and it conquered the world.

We still erect barriers in society and music that are detrimental to growth and innovation. Other contemporary issues are also important in the opera, such as being a single parent, drug addiction and faith.

The opera also highlights that jazz musicians at the time could not earn money from recorded music, something that is true again today. The stealing of royalties from Parker and Dizzie Gillespie were different from today’s issues of streaming, but the problem of jazz musicians not receiving money for their creative works stays the same.

In the opera, Parker discusses the very nature of music, its volatility and the fact that you cannot physically possess it. This is one of the reasons why he wants to write the music down on paper. He wants to make it abstract, but realizes that he loses some of the essence of what he wants to say. That is the dilemma of the composer.

He also reflects on the notation system, which was not designed for jazz. He sings: “How can I put down these black dots on white paper, how can I capture these sheets of sound?”

The opera reflects on American history, but it simultaneously relates to today’s world. This is not just some nice story about the past; it is about us.

charlie-parkers-yardbird-women-opera-philadelphia

Quite a few other productions have been planned. What do you think explains the work’s popularity? Do you think it attracts new audiences to opera?

There might be many different reasons for that:

1) There are very few operas using the modern jazz idiom.

2) There are very few operas in which the leading roles are African-American.

3) The opera is flexible; it can be produced with a moderate budget in a lot of different venues. It is mobile, which is similar to L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) by Igor Stravinsky. It also has a length of just over 100 minutes.

4) As mentioned above, the opera hits a nerve; it is about our time and about us.

5) Charlie Parker is a legend, but very few people really know about him and his music. People are intrigued.

6) The music is very accessible; it can be played on the radio without getting boring or incomprehensible. Some modern operas rely a lot on light, staging and special visual effects. This opera works more like Carmen or a Verdi opera, told through the music.

7) It is an opera, not a musical. It only uses a song format in a few instances. The opera is composed in an open and evolving format, connected by leitmotifs similar to Wagner’s operas.

The music definitely has a lot of jazz influences, but the format is mostly one not used in jazz music. That creates a new experience. It does not fit into one of the known “drawers” of music, so it can be tempting to try to compare it to their pieces but it sticks out as musically different.

8) The opera is composed very close to the sound and rhythms of the words. Hence you can understand a lot. The language is very direct and clear, close to spoken language. That helps. You can actually understand a lot of the lyrics without reading the supertitles.

I tried to avoid the Strauss or Wagner effect of creating something where the mix of complex language and complex music creates something beautiful but often incomprehensible. French and Italian operas are better in this regard. “Yardbird” has a message that needs to be understood.

9) There are many riddles in the opera – musical riddles, but also hidden messages and references in the text – that can be explored. The opera plays in a twilight zone between death and life. This is also intriguing.

charlie-parkers-yardbird-female-singer-opera-philadelphia

Is there something else you would like to say about yourself and the opera?

I enjoyed writing the opera very much. It was a great pleasure and an honor to reflect on one of the great music geniuses in American history.


Classical music: The UW Choral Union delivers an eclectic non-seasonal program of music by Beethoven, Brahms and Bernstein with power and lyricism

December 12, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Eschewing any seasonal or holiday connections, the UW-Madison Choral Union (below) gave its December concert last Friday night with a program of three “B’s”.

uw-choral-union-with-chamber-orchestra-and-soloists-dec-2016-jwb

Well, two of the B’s are familiar ones. But in place of Bach, we got Leonard Bernstein, taking first place in reverse chronological order — his Chichester Psalms, dating from 1965.

This three-movement work probably represents Bernstein’s most important choral score. It sets texts in the original Hebrew, the middle movement calling for a boy treble to represent the young David in the rendering of Psalm 131 — a function here filled bravely by young Simon Johnson (below, front left) of the Madison Youth Choirs.

uw-choral-union-dec-2016-jwb-simon-johnson-of-myc

The platoon of percussionists in the first two movements confirms the composer’s flashy “modernism.” To be sure, there are some characteristic melodic twists that proclaim the composer familiar to us, and the swaying melodic tune of the third movement is really lovely.

But Bernstein (below) did not know what to do with it besides repeating it obsessively. Bernstein simply was not a savvy master of choral writing, and I firmly believe that this work—a trivial cross between Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Bernstein’s own Broadway musical West Side Story—would not merit much attention were it not for Bernstein’s name on it.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: You can decide on the work’s merits for yourself by listening to the live performance, conducted by the composer himself, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Leonard Bernstein composing in 1955

Just how inadequate Bernstein’s choral sense was emerged clearly with the next work, the short ode for chorus and orchestra by Johannes Brahms, Nänie, Op. 82.

The title adapts a Greek word for a lament, and Friedrich Schiller’s German text evokes the death of beauty in the death of Achilles. Brahms was among the supreme choral masters, and this particular example is one of several of his “minor” choral works that we hear too rarely.

brahmsBW

The second half of the program was devoted to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Mass in C major, Op. 86. No, not the monumental Missa solemnis of the composer’s last years when (as with the Ninth Symphony’s finale) he had transcended the realities of choral writing. This earlier Mass setting, dating from 1807, was in the direct line of Mass settings for the Esterházy family composed by the aged Haydn.

But to Haydn’s incorporation of symphonic structure into Mass composition, Beethoven (below) brought his own strongly progressive personality, and a remarkable quality of melodic and thematic invention. This is a lovely work, and choirs who fling themselves doggedly against the Missa solemnis ought sometimes to revel in this beautiful work instead.

Beethoven big

The forces arrayed included a solo quartet (below, in the front from left) are bass John Loud, tenor Jiabao Zhang and sopranos Jessica Kasinski and Anna Polum.

uw-choral-union-dec-2016-soloists

The UW Chamber Orchestra proved able. But the star was, of course, the Choral Union chorus itself. Its diction worked from indistinguishable Hebrew through respectable German to really lucid Latin. Above all, it made mighty, full-blooded sound that bolstered Beethoven’s lyricism with powerful projection.

Once again, conductor Beverly Taylor (below) has gone beyond stale conventions to bring us valued exposure to music outside the conventional boundaries.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE


Classical music: Which violin concertos have the hardest openings? You may be surprised

September 18, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Recently The Ear stumbled upon a fascinating story, on a blog by Nathan Cole, about famous violin concertos.

It was NOT about the Top 10 Best Violin Concertos ranked in order.

It was NOT about the Top 10 Most Difficult Violin Concertos.

It was simply about the most difficult openings of violin concertos – about what happens when the violinist walks on stage and starts up along with the orchestra or before it or after it.

It uses the Olympics’ sports competitions as a model and awards degrees of difficulty along with explanations for the scoring.

(For a close to simultaneous start by orchestra and soloist, listen to American violinist Hillary Hahn, who played a recital last spring at the Wisconsin Union Theater, and conductor Paavo Jarvi in the opening of the popular Violin Concerto in E Minor by Felix Mendelssohn in the YouTube video at the bottom. It has over 8 million hits and it is very relevant to the story.)

stradivari-solomon-ex-lambert

The story reminds The Ear of famous literary critic Frank Kermode’s classic book “The Sense of an Ending” — only now it would be “The Sense of a Beginning,” a subject the late literary critic, cultural analyst and Palestinian activist Edward Said wrote about in his book “Beginnings: Intention and Method.”

The musical discussion features accessible and informative analysis by an accomplished violinist as well as terrific audio-visual clips of each concerto and the openings in question.

It’s a long piece – good for weekend reading, perhaps because it can be done in different segments at different times.

But even if you read only a part of it, it certainly imparts a sense of the challenges that a soloist faces. You vicariously experience the thrill and intimidation of walking out on stage and starting to play.

And it enhances your appreciation of some famous violin concertos and of what it takes to pull them off in live performance.

Like The Ear, you will come away with a new appreciation of the challenges that any concerto soloist – violinist, pianist, cellist, brass player, wind player, whatever — faces.

Here is a link:

http://www.violinist.com/blog/ncole78/20169/19726/

The Ear also hopes the website violinist.com follows up with a listing or ranking of the most difficult ENDINGS of violin concertos and a discussion of what makes them so difficult.

In the meantime, The Ears asks:

Do violinists out there agree or disagree with the scoring and reasons?

Do they care to leave a comment one way or the other?

Do they have other candidates – say, Baroque concertos by Antonio Vivaldi or Johann Sebastian Bach — to rank for the difficult of starting?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: New York Times critic David Allen is a role model of how to prepare for listening to a new and unknown conductor

August 7, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Many people were taken off guard when in January the New York Philharmonic named Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden (below) as its new music director — the highest paid conductor in the U.S.

Jaap van Sweden CR Todd Heisler NYT

The Ear certainly was.

And so was the New York Times critic David Allen.

But rather than wait to go hear van Zweden live, Allen plunged into van Zweden’s discography. The many recordings gave him a very good idea of what the conductor’s strengths and weaknesses are.

It took Allen some 52 hours of listening to do his due diligence and get a comprehensive background and preparation.

But the conclusions he reaches about van Zweden (below, in a photo by Washington of The New York Times) in contemporary repertoire as well as in classic works by Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Peter Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky, Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner, among others, are illuminating.

You can hear Jaap van Sweden conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in what seems to The Ear an energetic and forceful interpretation of the Symphony No. 1 by Brahms in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Jaap van Zweden CR Ruby Washington NYTImes

Here is a link. You can judge for yourself what the public can look forward to:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/24/arts/music/jaap-van-zweden-new-york-philharmonic-recordings-discography.html?_r=0

What do you think of Allen’s assessment?

Does it seem fair? Biased?

Does it make you look forward to hearing van Zweden?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: This Friday night and Sunday afternoon, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir performs music composed by immigrants to the U.S.

April 14, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Robert Gehrenbeck (below), the talented and energetic director of the Wisconsin Chamber Choir who also directs choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, writes:

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will present “Songs In a New Land” on this Friday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m. in Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Ave., in Madison and on Sunday, April 17 at 3 p.m. at Cargill United Methodist Church, 2000 Wesley Ave., in Janesville.

Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for students.

Advance tickets are available from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org. They are also available at the door.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir 1

The WCC’s concert will celebrate composers who were immigrants from the 15th century to the present, including emigres to the United States from China, Russia, Syria, Germany, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

At a time when immigration has become a burning issue in national politics, the WCC’s program highlights composers who emigrated from the country of their birth to make new homes elsewhere. They imported traditions from their homelands and enriched the cultural life of their adopted countries in innumerable ways.

Their reasons for leaving home were varied-some moved voluntarily but many were forced to emigrate for political, economic or religious reasons or, often, a combination of all of these.

While the experience of leaving behind all that is familiar and making a new life in a foreign country was rarely easy, the interaction of old and new influences resulted in some of the most lasting and unique artistic creations in history.

Most of the featured composers were or are immigrants to the United States, but the program opens with a set of Renaissance motets—“Stabat Mater” by Josquin des Prez (below top) and “Domine, Convertere” by Orlando di Lasso (below bottom) — demonstrating that migrant composers have played a major role throughout history.

Josquin Des Prez

Orlando Gibbons

Some of the more recent composers represented are: Kurt Weill, whose Kiddush was composed for Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City; Chen Yi (below top), represented by “A Set of Chinese Folksongs”; Osvaldo Golijov (below bottom), with an excerpt from his “Pasion segun San Marcos” (Passion According to St. Mark); and 20th-century giants Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky.

Chen Yi

Osvaldo Golijov 2

Although Schoenberg and Stravinsky were known for their dissonant, modernist works, much of the music they composed in the U.S. was tempered by an effort to communicate with audiences here. During the 1940s, both men ended up settling in Hollywood, along with countless other exiled European artists fleeing totalitarian regimes and persecution at home.

In the case of Schoenberg (below), even though he is known as “the father of atonality,” and the originator of “12-tone” music, he continued to compose tonal music throughout his life, and often wrote in a more accessible style for amateur musicians. The WCC will present two such tonal works by Schoenberg: “Verbundenheit” (Solidarity) for male chorus, and the folksong arrangement, “Mein Herz in steten treuen” (My Heart, Forever Faithful).

Arnold Schoenberg 1936

In the American works of Stravinsky (below), the Credo movement of his 1947 Mass was subtly influenced by American Jazz.

Igor Stravinsky old 2

Joining the WCC will be Madison organist Mark Brampton Smith, who will accompany several pieces at the organ as well as perform solo organ works by Paul Hindemith and Joaquin Nin-Culmell (two additional mid-century immigrants to the U.S.).

Mark Brampton Smith

The movements from Stravinsky’s Mass will be performed with Brampton Smith at organ and guest trombonist Michael Dugan (below), who will also enhance Josquin des Prez’s “Stabat Mater” by playing sackbut, the Renaissance ancestor of the trombone.

Michael Dugan

Guest percussionist Stephen Cherek will enliven several of the Latin American selections, playing a variety of instruments.

Here are some YouTube links to sample performances:

Josquin des Prez, “Stabat Mater”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsayDDRl3kI

Orlando di Lasso, “Domine Convertere”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufP3S_M4mog

Kurt Weill, “Kiddush”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RI2jTYqso0

Chen Yi, “Mo Li Hwa” (“Jasmine Flower” from A Set of Chinese Folksongs)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtlsW2ZjSHA

Osvaldo Golijov, “Demos Gracias” (from La Pasion segun San Marcos)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vldVEk29s3Y

Arnold Schoenberg, “Verbundenheit” (from Six Pieces for Male Chorus)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPAeA3sIoc8

Arnold Schoenberg, “Mein Herz in steten Treuen”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPsE1LBMHrs&index=5&list=PLdXviD-nr2a7RIabEqL5XrXLi4G7V71tP

Igor Stravinsky, Credo (from Mass)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBpfSfq9v0A


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