The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Are American violins equal to or even superior to European ones? The Library of Congress thinks so and will buy 263 of them

August 11, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Whether it is conductors or orchestras, singers or instrumentalists, Americans have often been viewed as inferior to Europeans.

And that goes for modern instruments, not just those that are centuries old.

But one collector felt otherwise. He is David Bromberg, a guitarist who played with Bob Dylan and Beatle George Harrison, and he ended up collecting some 263 American-made violins.

The violins are modern but some go back to the 19th century.

American Violins NPR

Now the American government – specifically, the Library of Congress – will raise $1.5 million to purchase the collection.

NPR, or National Public Radio, recently featured a terrific story about the phenomenon, which should help overcome any sense of cultural inferiority.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/2016/08/07/488561838/these-250-plus-violins-are-about-to-be-owned-by-the-u-s-government

Read it and see what you think.

Then let us know in the COMMENT section.

Does anyone else wonder about the quality of violins and string instruments made in Asia, in China and especially in Japan, which is the home of the Suzuki method that has trained so many string players?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Famous and historic cellist Pablo Casals and his 1733 cello come alive again through the artistry of Amit Peled. Plus, the Quey Percussion Duo gives a FREE recital Thursday night at the UW-Madison

March 1, 2016
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ALERT: This Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, guest artists the Quey Percussion Duo – Gene Koshinsky and Tim Broscious – will perform an eclectic combination of original and existing repertoire for percussion duo. Sorry, no word about specific works on the program.

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker, who also took the performance photos. 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 for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Once again, Farley’s House of Pianos has shown what a unique outpost it is for classical music in Madison.

On last Saturday night, it presented the brilliant young Israeli-American cellist Amit Peled (below), with his working accompanist, Noreen Cassidy-Polera, having snared them along the line of their current national tour.

Amit Peled 1

Peled will be recalled from his performance of the Schumann Cello Concerto with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in March of 2015.

For this visit, he brought with him not only his own talents, but a remarkable instrument. This was a cello  made in 1733 by Matteo Gofriller, once owned and played on by no less than Pablo Casals (below). Two years ago, it was entrusted to Peled on loan by Marta Casals Istomin, the great cellist’s widow.

Casals and his cello

For the recital at Farley’s, Peled played a program that Casals had presented himself back in 1915. Thus, listeners heard a century-old program, played on an almost 300-year old instrument, accompanied on a hundred-year-old (1914) Mason and Hamlin piano restored by the Farley workshop.

Before the program began, the history of this cello and its maker was discussed by Dan Hendricks (below), a local maker and repairer of string instruments.

Dan Hendricks

The cello (below) is a handsome playing-piece of burnished color. It underwent serious restoration after a long period without being played. It has an extraordinarily rich sound through its entire range—a fact that Peled has been learning to exploit, on his own terms. In effect, he played on it as if making love to it, bringing out sound ranging from almost thunderously bold to exquisitely delicate.

Casals cello

That range of playing technique was, indeed, the image of Peled’s own remarkable artistry. And the 1915 program was his revival of what used to be typical of a concert menu, in the form of a veritable dinner.

The appetizer was an adaptation of an Oboe Sonata by George Frideric Handel, followed then by the “steak”, the Third of the Sonatas for Unaccompanied Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach. After an intermission, the “salad” was Beethoven’s witty variations on Mozart’s “Bei Männern” duet from The Magic Flute opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Then followed an array of “desserts”: three short pieces by Gabriel Fauré, an aria by Bach in transcription, and an aptly titled “Allegro appassionato” by Camille Saint-Saëns. (You can hear Peled play a Faure piece, “Elegy,” on the Goffriller cello in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

All this music was presented with sensitivity, power and endlessly moving nuance by Peled (below). As if his musical artistry were not enough, however, he talked about the “dessert” pieces with the audience, showing fine historical perspective, wittily presented. He even took questions from the house.

Amit Peled playing 2016

Beyond that, he and Cassidy-Polera stayed on after the concert to talk at length with any audience member interested—following, as he pointed out, a practice of Casals himself in his appearances.

It was, in all, a remarkable musical evening, teaching us much about fine old instruments, delighting us with wide-ranging selections, and revealing a superb musical artist who is also a warm and wonderful human being.


Classical music education: The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) is expanding its chamber music program to non-WYSO string and wind players. The program also seeks non-WYSO pianists.

September 4, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is the news I have heard from cellist Karl Lavine, who heads the expanding chamber music program (below) for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras. It is good news for many reasons, but especially to pianists who often remain stuck as soloists and never experience the joy of collaborative work in chamber music. (Below is a piano quartet from a WYSO chamber music concert last spring in Morphy Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.)

WYSO DSC_8972

Karl Lavine (below top) is as congenial and cooperative as he is accomplished, and that is saying something. He is the principal cellist with both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and he also plays in the MSO’s Rhapsodie String Quartet (below bottom).

Karl Lavine, principal cello of WCO

Rhapsodie Quartet MSO Greg Anderson

Writes Karl:

“We are interested in having pianists for the WYSO Chamber Music Program. We have not had any formal auditions to date as most of the pianists have previously come from WYSO or they have been students of Karen Boe (below), who is the WYSO Chamber Music Program piano ensemble coach.

Karen Boe

“We also have only had two or three pianists — all advanced musicians capable of learning and performing chamber works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven or Johannes Brahms  — per semester working with our groups. (At bottom is a YouTube video of violinist Kyung-Wha Chung playing one of The Ear’s favorite chamber works, the piano part of which he wishes he himself could play with a violinist: Mozart’s dramatic and tuneful Violin Sonata No. 21 in E minor, K. 304.)

“The history so far has been one that involved our more advanced players, mostly string players, with these pianists. However, we have had wind players join us as well. Doing both their main instrument and the piano can stretch them pretty thin.

WYSO DSC_8944

“We have not opened collaboration with pianists up to our younger string and wind players primarily because the level of technique and experience necessary make it very difficult to assign repertoire.

“I am not opposed to considering younger WYSO instrumentalists to collaborate with pianists, but it creates a whole new set of parameters for coaching and rehearsing.

“Frankly, it is tough enough to get the more experienced pianists up to speed on the standard chamber repertoire — even though they might be very accomplished as soloists — given we only have 10 coaching sessions per semester. Many of the pianists that have participated in the program have never worked in this type of collaboration before.

“We are open to the idea of having an audition of prospective pianists. In addition, a letter of reference from their private teachers would be required. We would also limit applicants to pianists who have advanced to the Wisconsin School Music Association State Level with the “A” list repertoire, or participated in Wisconsin Music Teachers Association or Federation competition in piano.

Farley's House of PIanos MMM 20141

Here is another tidbit for the blog: We are opening up participation in the WYSO Chamber Program to string and wind players who are NOT a part of WYSO. We have a separate brochure/application for these folks. This is a pilot project this year and we will see what our numbers turn out to be.

So, It would be most helpful if you could write about WYSO’s Chamber Music Program offering openings for those instrumentalists who are not current members, orchestral musicians (string and wind Players) AND pianists:

“1. Membership is open to those between the ages of 10 and 18 and currently in Middle School or High School.

“2. For pianists, a letter from your current private teacher recommending you for the program.

“3. A WYSO Chamber Music Program Brochure can be obtained from the WYSO office. You can find information about the coaching sessions and performance possibilities offered as well as expectations.

“4. For more information, contact the WSYO office: (608) 263-3320, OR send an email to wyso@wyso.music.wisc.edu   OR by contacting Program Director, Karl Lavine at (608) 239-4131; email is karllavine@gmail.com

The WYSO Chamber Music Program offers 10 coaching sessions a semester and public recitals in December and May.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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