The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players complete their cycle of Beethoven sonatas for strings with impressive beauty and sensitivity

October 10, 2017
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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 photos.

By John W. Barker

In another distressingly overcrowded weekend, hard choices had to be made about which event to attend. I picked the performance by the Mosaic Chamber Players last Saturday night at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison.

For the past four years, this group has pursued a “complete” survey of Beethoven’s sonatas for strings and piano. Since he composed 10 for violin and piano plus five for cello and piano, it was easy to organize them into five concerts, each with two violin sonatas and one for cello. In addition, it was possible in many programs to draw on all three periods of Beethoven’s output.

This year’s concert was thus the fifth and the last in the series, climaxing a really impressive achievement for artistic director and guiding spirit Jess Salek and his colleagues.

As pianist in all three of the works presented, Salek (below) provided more than accompaniment, since the role of the piano was generally put on terms of equal partnership, sometimes even of relative superiority. He played bravely, justly showing palpable pride in the total achievement.

Laura Burns (below), who also plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the MSO’s Rhapsodie String Quartet, was the violinist in the early Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 12, No. 2.

This happens to be the first of these Beethoven sonatas that I came to know and love in my youth, via an old Jascha Heifetz recording, so it had particular reverberations for me. To its wit and sprightliness Burns brought an added warmth of sound and spirit.

The Cello Sonata No. 5 in D, Op. 102, No. 2, was the last one Beethoven composed for this medium, and one of two that dates from the composer’s late period. A great deal of very serious thinking went into it, with a slow movement particularly notable for its spiritual depth. Cellist Kyle Price (below) delivered it with genuine feeling and with great strength of tone.

Also Beethoven’s last work for its medium, the Violin Sonata No. 10 in G, Op. 96, comes from late in the composer’s so-called middle period. It is a work of almost kaleidoscopic variety, with frequent changes of mood and character.

Its core is another slow movement of amazingly personal eloquence and breath-taking beauty. And the theme-and-variations movement finale seems to have everything (almost) in it but the kitchen sink. (You can hear Wes Luke and Jess Salek performing another theme-and-variations movement from a different Beethoven violin sonata in the cycle, Op. 30, No. 1, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

It was clear that violinist Wes Luke (below), who is also the first violinist of the Ancora String Quartet, was having a whale of a good time playing it, relishing almost every note.

Luke’s printed program notes were particularly excellent, and included notice that the group’s spring concert will juxtapose piano trios of Beethoven and Brahms.

The Mosaic Chamber Players do not receive a great deal of publicity, but their concerts offer some of the most lovely and thought-provoking chamber music repertoire to be found, even in a town so full of wonderful music-making as ours.

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Classical music: This afternoon is your last chance to hear the season-opening concert of music by Bach, Mendelssohn and Berlioz by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Read the positive reviews here

September 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the highly praised season-opening concert “Orchestral Brilliance” by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top, in a photo by Peter Rodgers).

It will be conducted by music director John DeMain with a solo performance by MSO principal violist Christopher Dozoryst (below bottom).

The program features the dramatic orchestral arrangement, used in the soundtrack to Walt Disney’s famous film “Fantasia,” by Leopold Stokowski of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach; the Symphony No. 5 “Reformation” by Felix Mendelssohn; and “Harold in Italy” by Hector Berlioz. (You can hear the famous “Pilgrim March” movement of the Berlioz work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here are the positive reviews that were filed after the opening night performance on Friday:

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

https://isthmus.com/music/superlative-season-opener/

Here is the review by Greg Hettmansberger for his “What Greg Says” blog:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2017/09/16/demain-honors-two-traditions/

And here is the review done by UW-Madison graduate piano student Kyle Johnson (below) for The Capital Times, which blocks the content to non-subscribers unless you first answer a survey:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/mso-kicks-off-its-new-season-with-orchestral-brilliance/article_de094605-7a31-5d6c-9661-696d505bc7b5.html

For more information about the program, the performers, the prelude discussion, the program notes and tickets, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/09/13/classical-music-this-weekend-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-opens-its-new-season-with-mendelssohns-reformation-symphony-and-music-by-bach-it-also-highlights-principal-viol/


Classical music: Today is Labor Day. Opera San Jose brings classical music into the workplace – can we try that here? Plus, you can take a WQXR poll about what music is best to mark the holiday

September 4, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Labor Day (celebrated below by famed photographer Lewis Hine.).

The holiday probably won’t be celebrated in a big way by the blowhard billionaires and anti-union tycoons who run the government these days.

But workers can be and should be proud of what they do—despite the wealth gap, wage stagnation, unfair taxes, income inequality and a general lack of respect and support.

The Ear, however, has two offerings for the holiday.

The first is a story about how Opera San Jose is bringing classical music into the workplace of high technology companies like Adobe in Silicon Valley.

The opera company has started a program called “Arias in the Office” (below). And it sure sounds like a fine idea that other local groups – especially small chamber music groups – might try doing here in the Madison area.

Talk about taking music to the people if the people aren’t going to the music!

And let’s not forget that composing music, performing music and presenting music are all hard work too. So we should also celebrate the musicians, the administrative and box office staffs, the stagehands, the light and sound engineers,  the sets and costume people, and all the others who toil behind the scenes for our pleasure.

The story was reported by NPR (National Public Radio) and can be found on the radio station’s website and Deceptive Cadence blog:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/08/30/544164183/new-pop-up-series-treats-silicon-valley-workers-to-opera-at-the-office

The second is a listener poll, now three years old, done by the famed classical music radio station WQXR in New York City.

It is a survey of classical music that is appropriate for Labor Day and features three generous examples in YouTube videos — an opera by Giuseppe Verdi, a symphony by Franz Joseph Haydn and a film soundtrack by Virgil Thomson.

But it also has about two dozen other choices– including music by Handel, Schubert, Copland, Joan Tower, Robert Schumann, Gershwin, Shostakovich and others — for the public to select from, and a lot of comments from other respondents that you might want to check out.

Here is a link:

http://www.wqxr.org/story/poll-what-music-best-captures-spirit-labor-day/

Happy Labor Day!

And if you have another piece of music that you think is appropriate, let us know in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Why do we love Chopin? Ask pianist Jeremy Denk

August 12, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like playing or hearing the music of Chopin (below).

Can you?

But just why the 19th-century Romantic composer has such universal appeal is hard to explain.

One of the best explanations The Ear has read came recently from pianist Jeremy Denk, whose essay on “Chopin as a cat” appeared in The New York Times.

Denk, who has performed two outstanding solo recitals in Madison, is clearly an important musical thinker as well as a great performer. You can also see that at once if you read his excellent blog “Think Denk.”

The Ear suspects the current essay grew out of some remarks that Denk gave during a lecture on Chopin’s pedaling at the UW-Madison, and will be incorporated into the book he is working on that includes his previous acclaimed essays in The New Yorker magazine.

Denk (below), who has lately been performing an intriguing survey concert that covers 600 years of music, thinks that Chopin’s uniqueness resides in how he consolidated and fused both conservative values and radical, even modern, innovations.

To the Ear, it is the best modern analysis of Chopin that he has read since the major treatment that the acclaimed pianist-musicologist Charles Rosen wrote about the Polish “poet of the piano” in his terrific book “The Romantic Generation.”

Moreover, the online web version of Denk’s essay is much more substantial and satisfying than the newspaper print edition. It has not only audio-visual performances of important Chopin works by major artists such as Arthur Rubinstein and  Krystian Zimerman, it also suggests, analyzes and praises some “old-fashioned” historical recordings of Chopin by Ignaz Friedman, Alfred Cortot and Josef Hoffmann.

Now if only Jeremy Denk would record an album of Chopin himself!

Here is a link to the Chopin essay:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/04/arts/music/jeremy-denk-chopin.html

Enjoy!

Please listen to the wonderful clips that Denk suggests.

Then tell us what pieces are your favorite Chopin works, big or small, and what performers are your favorite Chopin interpreters.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music survey: What was the first piece of chamber music that you loved? And what is your favorite piece of chamber music now?

January 28, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The weekend always seems like a good time for a reader survey or poll.

So this week, here is what The Ear wants to know:

What was the first piece of chamber music that you loved and that really hooked you on chamber music?

And what is your favorite piece of chamber music now? (Below is the UW-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet.)

ProArte 2010 1

There are so many pieces to choose from in such a rich repertoire that covers all instruments and the human voice as well.

There are sonatas and duos for violin and cello with piano, for example, and songs for voice and piano or other accompaniment, There are piano trios and string trios. There are string quartets and piano quartets. There are wind quintets, string quintets and brass quintets as well as piano quintets. And there are even wonderful sextets, septets and octets. (Below are UW faculty members pianist Christopher Taylor and violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino.)

soh-hyun-park-altino-and-christopher-taylor

So what pieces or performers or qualities hooked you on chamber music?

And what pieces or performers or qualities keep you listening?

The “Trout” Quintet or the string quartets or the piano trios by Franz Schubert? For The Ear it was a magical and entrancing performance of the beautiful Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major by Schubert, performed outdoors. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Was it the Baroque trio sonatas  by Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel? Or various Classical-era sonatas and string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Ludwig van Beethoven? Maybe more Romantic string quartets by Antonin Dvorak and Johannes Brahms. Or more modern ones by Sergei Prokofiev or Dmitri Shostakovich? Perhaps even contemporary string quartets by Philip Glass? (Below are the Willy Street Chamber Players, who regularly program new music.)

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

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

Maybe your choices will even help win over new converts to chamber music.

And be sure to tell us what appeals to you about chamber music versus other music genres such as operas and orchestral works.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Today is Super Bowl Sunday, so The Ear asks: Who are the winners and champions in the concert hall? Here are the most popular pieces, composers and soloists. Plus, on Tuesday night, violist Elias Goldstein returns to perform Paganini’s fiendish Caprices in a FREE recital

February 7, 2016
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ALERT: The Ear has received the following note from University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music viola professor Sally Chisholm, who also plays with the Pro Arte Quartet: “Elias Goldstein, who has a doctorate from UW-Madison (2011) and was a Collins Fellow, is playing a concert of all 24 Caprices, originally composed for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini, on VIOLA this Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall. Admission is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

“On March 9, he will perform this program at Carnegie Hall in New York City, as the first violist ever to perform all 24 Caprices in one concert. This is such a feat that it is difficult to believe one of our own is accomplishing it. I was with him in Krakow, Poland when he performed 6 of them. He got standing ovations. He is professor of viola at Louisiana State University, won top prizes at the Primrose International Viola Competition and the Yuri Bashmet Viola Competition in Moscow in 2011.”

Elias Goldstein big

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the 50th Super Bowl of the NFL, and will be played by the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos in the Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, near San Francisco.

It starts at 5:30 p.m. CST.

Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem. Coldplay, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars will perform in the half-time show. The Super Bowl will be broadcast live on CBS-TV.

super bowl 50 logo

So, one might ask in a society that loves competition, what constitutes The Super Bowl of classical music?

It is a source of endless discussion and often disagreement.

What classical music is the most mainstream, if not best?

Who are the big winners and champions in the concert hall?

A survey, compiled by a student at the UW-Milwaukee, of the most popular or frequently performed composers, works and soloists was recently conducted by the League of American Orchestras. The rest are for the 2010-11 season.

The No. 1 work is a YouTube video at the bottom. It is the Symphony No. 1 in C Minor by Johannes Brahms and is performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under its late music director and conductor Sir George Solti.

And on March 11, 12 and 13 the Madison Symphony Orchestra hosts TWO of the Top 10 winners: Pianist Emanuel Ax performing the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven. (The Symphony No. 4 by Gustav Mahler completes the program.)

Emanuel Ax Philharmonia

Here is a link to the complete results along with the method used to gather data:

http://www.classicalmpr.org/story/2014/04/08/league-american-orchestras-performance-data

See what you think and leave a COMMENT.

Do they match up with your preferences and your choices of favorites?

In your opinion, what makes them so popular?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What’s the best classical music of the past 100 years? Take part in the contemporary music poll by radio station Q2 Music -– and help determine the Top 100 musicians and compositions of the past 100 years. Then tune in starting Dec. 27 to hear the results. Plus, this afternoon’s Christmas concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra is SOLD OUT.

December 7, 2014
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ALERT: This just in: This afternoon’s performance at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s Christmas concert, with guest soloist and local groups under the baton of John DeMain (below, in a photo by Bob Rashid) is virtually SOLD OUT. But you can call the Overture Center Box Office (608-258-4141) to determine any availability.

DeMain Santa Bob Rashid

By Jacob Stockinger

Sure, you look at the entirety of classical music history and you can name your favorite composers and favorite works: Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Ninth Symphony, right?

But there are surprises awaiting you, if you restrict the choices to the past century.

Looking over the past 100 years — starting Jan, 1, 1914 — who would have guessed, for example, that: Music for 18 Musicians (at bottom, in a complete performance in a YouTube video by the acclaimed and Grammy Award-winning new music group eighth blackbird) by contemporary minimalist composer Steve Reich (below, in a photo by Wonge Bergmann) would pull out ahead of George Gershwin, Dmitri Shostakovich, Bela Bartok, Charles Ives, Alban Berg and all others in last year’s Q2 Music poll?

Steve Reich  CR Wonge Bergmann

The Q2 Music poll is done by WQXR in New York City, a radio station that is a member station of NPR, or National Public Radio.

Anyway, the terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” recently posted a story about the Q2 Music poll.

It included an entry form that will allow readers to pick up to FIVE works and composers as they participate in this year’s poll that dates back to Jan. 1, 1915.

Voting closes on Dec. 20, 2014.

Then, starting on Saturday, Dec. 27, as a way to close out the old year and ring in the new, a marathon countdown will begin and all the works will be played in reverse order of the survey results.

No word if it will be webcast, but The Ear suspects you can easily tune into Q2 Music by going to the website for WQXR.

Here is a link to the NPR story by Anastasia Tsioulcas  and to the poll entry form.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/12/01/366570066/whats-your-top-100-of-the-last-100-years

And here is a link to WQXR where you can find a way to listen (at the top of the page), to sign up for the Q2 Music Newsletter and also see the results of the Q2 polls for 2011, 2012 and 2013 as well as the upcoming 2014. It makes for some interesting reading and listening.

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/q2-musics-2014-new-music-countdown/

And here is a link to a Dec. 2 concert, now archived at NPR, in which some of the best new recordings and music from 2014 was performed:

http://www.npr.org/e2014/11/26/366570255/celebrate-some-of-the-years-best-new-releases-with-q2

As for the Q2 Music poll, The Ear hopes someone chooses – make that that many people choose – the gorgeous Violin Concerto by the American composer Samuel Barber, who was less hot and controversial but much more gifted as a composer.

barber 1

But whatever happens, have fun choosing and voting.

Don’t forget to use the COMMENTS section to tell The Ear and his readers what works you entered.

And don’t forget to fill in your date book for some happy listening to new music.


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