The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Who are the best pianists of all time? And which ones do you think were left off the list by Classic FM?

September 16, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The British radio station and website Classic FM recently published its list of the 25 greatest pianists of all time.

Plus, the website also included samples of the playing where possible.

It is an impressive list, if pretty predictable — and heavily weighted towards modern or contemporary pianists. You might expect that a list of “all-time greats” would have more historical figures — and more women as well as more non-Western Europeans and non-Americans, especially Asians these days.

Here is a link:

http://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/instruments/piano/best-pianists-ever/

So The Ear started what turned out to be a long list of others who should at least be considered and maybe even included.

Here, then, is the question for this weekend: What do you think of the list? Which pianists do not belong on the list? And which are your favorite pianists who are not included in the compilation?

Leave your candidate or candidates in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube link of a favorite performance, wherever possible.

Happy listening!

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Classical music: Piano teacher and former radio host Bill Lutes to perform three FREE recitals of music by Bach, Haydn, Schubert and Schumann to say thank you to Madison

November 15, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

To mark his 40th year in Madison, piano teacher Bill Lutes will give three FREE recital programs in the coming weeks. They are:

• This Sunday, Nov. 20, at 7 p.m., in the Capitol Lakes Grand Hall (below)

Capitol Lakes Hall

• Sunday, Dec. 4, at 3 p.m. at Oakwood Village West Auditorium (below)

Oakwood Village1

• Friday, Dec. 16, at 12:15-1 p.m. p.m. at First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House (below) — Schumann and Schubert only.

FUS1jake

The program will for the first two recitals will be:

• Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in C major from “The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2,” by Johann Sebastian Bach. (You can hear it played by Sviatoslav Richter in the YouTube video at the bottom)

• Sonata No. 49 in E-flat major by Franz Joseph Haydn

• “Papillons” (Butterflies), Op. 2, by Robert Schumann

• Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960, by Franz Schubert

Lutes (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) is an independent piano teacher in Madison. His name may also be familiar because he was a host, producer and music director for Wisconsin Public Radio for over a decade as well as a voice coach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he did his master’s degree with the late pianist Howard Karp.

bill-lutes-2016-cr-katrin-talbot

In addition to teaching piano, Lutes performs with his pianist-singer wife Martha Fischer, who teaches at the UW-Madison, and he gives music talks at various venues around the city. The couple is known for performing Gilbert and Sullivan and for hosting and participating in the annual Schubertiades at the UW-Madison.

“The motivation for this program is first and foremost to express my gratitude to my friends and family, colleagues, students and the community for my rich life in Madison,” Lutes says. “I cannot begin to name all the people I’ve come to know and love in this beautiful city, which has afforded me so many wonderful opportunities.”

Adds Lutes: “I thought it would be a good idea to play a solo program of music I love to say “Thank you.’”


Classical music: Today is the Winter Solstice. So The Ear offers you Schubert’s “Winterreise.”

December 21, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight we turn the corner.

At 10:48 p.m. CST we will experience the Winter Solstice.

winter solstice image

That means that from now until late June, the days will start getting longer and the nights shorter.

True, so far we have not had much cold or snow, thanks to El Nino.

But we still have the coldest months of the season – January and February – to look forward to.

One of The Ear’s winter rituals is to listen to the song cycle “Winterreise” – winter journey – by Franz Schubert  (below) on or around the first day of winter.

Franz Schubert big

It is such a unique and astonishing work, so modern in so many ways.

And there are so many outstanding recorded versions of it that The Ear likes: Mark Padmore with pianist Paul Lewis; Matthias Goerner with Christoph Eschenbach; Thomas Quasthoff with Charles Spencer; Peter Schreier with Sviatolsav Richter; Hermann Prey and Karl Engel; and of course the legendary Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with Gerald Moore, Joerg Demus and later with Alfred Brendel.

More locally, he also likes the version, complete with black-and-white photographs by Katrin Talbot that was done by UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe with UW-Madison pianist Martha Fischer. (It is published by the University of Wisconsin Press.)

But probably The Ear’s favorite version of the amazing cycle so far is the one done by British tenor Ian Bostridge with Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. The Ear prefers the higher tenor range to the baritone range. He also likes not only Bostridge’s transparent sound and outstanding diction, but also his kind of singing speech style — Sprachstimme – that adds to the storytelling of the cycle.

The complete 70-minute cycle is available from YouTube but only by going  through the 24 different videos, one per song in the cycle.

And there is a preface that features both Bostridge and Andsnes talking about the work and about performing it.

By the way, an excellent companion to the cycle is the book and e-book that Bostridge has published –- a doctoral thesis called “Schubert’s Winter Journey” Anatomy of an Obsession” (Knopf).

It is a comprehensive look at the aesthetic, historical, cultural and the literary aspects of the astonishing work and analyzes each of the 24 songs in the cycle. The Ear has read it and highly recommends this definitive study by someone who knows the famous song cycle inside and out after performing it more than 100 times.

Here is a set-up piece with pianist Jeremy Denk interviewing Ian Bostridge about his book:

And here are Bostridge and Andsnes talking about the cycle:

And “Gute Nacht” (Good Night) here is the opening song of “Winterreise”:

And “Der Leiermann,” the closing song of “Winterreise”:

The Ear urges you to sample many more, in order or out of order.

Let The Ear and other readers know which performers you prefer and which songs in the cycle are your favorite?

 


Classical music: Stephen Hough explains why the piano concerto by Dvorak is not heard more often — even as he is about to record it. Hear it here. Plus, you can hear via live streaming the Pro Arte Quartet play works by Mozart, Beethoven and Benoit Mernier at the Chazen Museum starting at 12:30 p.m.

May 3, 2015
1 Comment

ALERT: It is the first Sunday of the month. That means the Chazen Museum of Art will broadcast its own version of “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” — abandoned by Wisconsin Public Radio after 36 years — via live streaming as well as FREE and public attendance.

Today’s concert features chamber music starting at 12:30 p.m. with a link directly from the Chazen website. The artists are the UW-Madison’s popular Pro Arte Quartet performing the String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the String Quartet in A Major, K. 414, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier, which the Pro Arte (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) is about to record.

Here is a link to the Chazen for streaming the concert:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/visit/events-calendar/event/sal-5-3-15/

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

By Jacob Stockinger

British pianist, composer, painter, blogger and polymath Stephen Hough is one of the outstanding concert pianists on the scene today. He has performed several times in Madison, with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and at the Wisconsin Union Theater, giving master classes at the UW-Madison School of Music.

Known for both his outstanding technique and his deep musicality, Hough (below) has won numerous of awards and Hyperion will soon release three new CDs that each feature his own compositions as well as other standard repertoire.

Hough_Stephen_color16

So The Ear was pleased to read what Hough recently had to say about the neglected Piano Concerto by Antonin Dvorak (below top) whose Violin Concerto and Cello Concerto have fared much better, to say nothing of his symphonies and chamber music.

After all, the work’s last great champion was the Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter (below bottom), whose recorded performance you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom.

dvorak

Sviatoslav Richter

Wouldn’t it be fun to hear the Dvorak Piano Concerto performed live by some soloist – maybe Hough himself– and the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a future season? What a chance to resurrect the neglected past and to explore an unknown work by a very well known and beloved composer.

I tend to trust Hough’s judgment, although he is especially close to the work these days as he prepares to record it. After all, he has played and often recorded most of the standard piano concertos and quite a few of the more rarely heard Romantic concertos.

Here are his remarks:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100076512/probably-my-favourite-piano-concerto/

And here is the famous performance by Sviatoslav Richter:

 


Classical music: Do you know the Piano from A To Z? The BBC Music Magazine has listed 26 facts about pianos -– some of which The Ear knew and many of which he didn’t.

March 22, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a good follow-up to yesterday’s post about the centennial of the birth of the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter.

A lot of young people start learning classical music via the piano.

The Ear is one of them. And to this day he remains an avid amateur pianist.

But how much do I really know about my chosen instrument? Not enough, it turns out.

Farley's House of PIanos MMM 20141

And how well do you know the Piano From A To Z? The BBC Music Magazine has listed 26 facts about pianos -– some of which The Ear knew and many of which he didn’t.

See how you do – and let us know.

Here is a link:

http://www.classical-music.com/a-z-piano-1

 


Classical music: The great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter was born 100 years ago yesterday. Here is a short but comprehensive memoir and appreciation with a lot of biographical information and a good critical appraisal of his playing.

March 21, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday — Friday, March 20, 2015 – brought us the first day of spring.

It also marked the centennial of the birth of the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter (below).

Sviatoslav Richter

Richter was such a complex and towering figure that it would take a book to really do justice to him and to his career.

But the following essay by Steve Wigler for the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR (National Public Radio) does an excellent job for a short-form piece of criticism.

With one exception that gets no mention.

We now know beyond question that Richter (below) was a gay man who was forced by the Soviet government into a marriage of convenience and camouflage.

Somehow that information seems particularly pertinent to The Ear, given the growing acceptance of LGBT people and of marriage equality.

richterwithcross1

Still, Wigler’s essay is an excellent read and includes a YouTube video – there are many, many YouTube videos of Richter, who had an immense repertoire, playing. This video is of a live performance by Richter in which he plays the last movement of the first piano sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.

You can hear the power and energy, the subtleties and excitement, to say nothing of the originality of interpretation, that Richter brought to music.

Richterconcerto

Enjoy it -– and tell us if you ever heard Richter live and what is your favorite performance by Sviatoslav Richter with a link to a YouTube video is possible.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/03/19/393778706/sviatoslav-richter-the-pianist-who-made-the-earth-move

 


Classical music: Trevor Stephenson will teach a class on the piano music of Claude Debussy in January and February. The deadline to register is Jan. 20.

January 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our good friend Trevor Stephenson — who is usually an eloquent and humorous advocate of early music as a keyboardist who founded and directs the Madison Bach Musicians — will be offering a class at his home-studio about the piano music of the early 20th-century French Impressionist composer Claude Debussy (below).

Claude Debussy 1

The class will take on four Monday evenings: January 26, February 2, 16 and 23 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Those who know Trevor Stephenson (below top) know that he is an articulate and witty explainer, a fine teacher who can reach listeners on all levels. And he will use a 19th-century piano that is close to the kind the Debussy himself used (below bottom).

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

Stephenson ca 1850 English parlor grand

TOPICS include:

. Debussy’s life and musical influences

. Construction and tonal qualities of the 19th-century piano

. Modes, whole-tone scales, harmonic language, tonality

. Touch, pedaling, sonority

. Fingering approaches

. Programmatic titling, extra-musical influences, poetry and art

REPERTOIRE includes:

. Suite Bergamasque (with Clair de Lune), Preludes Book II and Children’s Corner Suite

. Two Arabesques, Reverie and Estampes (or “Prints,” heard at the bottom in a YouTube video of a live performance by the magical and great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter in 1977 in Salzburg, Austria.)

The course is geared for those with a reading knowledge of music.

The classes will be given at Trevor Stephenson’s home studio (below). It is located at 5729 Forsythia Place, Madison WI 53705 on Madison’s west side.

Schubert house concert

Enrollment for the course is $150.

Please register by January 20, 2015 if you’d like to attend. Email is: trevor@trevorstephenson.com

 


Classical music: Listen to wrong notes played by great pianists.

October 12, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, The Ear offered a blog post about stage fright and performance anxiety.

stage fright

It was written by someone who knows: Concert pianist and polymath Renaissance Man Stephen Hough (below), who is also a writer, painter, composer, photographer, culture critic and more.

Hough_Stephen_color16

But even the greatest musicians can -– and do — mess up.

So today is a follow-up.

Here is a link to a YouTube video with some pretty messed up notes and whole passages by some of history’s greatest pianists, virtuosos and technical wizards.

They include Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Horowitz (below) and Artur Schnabel – along with the actual scores to show you what is being muffed.

Vladimir Horowitz

There was no recording technology back then, but it makes one wonder what Frederic Chopin or Franz Liszt might have sounded like off the page when they played. Or even such famed keyboard virtuosos as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

After all, in the same video the great Arthur Rubinstein (below) even explains how he faked an entire difficult Chopin etude and dumped a whole batch of deliberately played wrong notes into it during a public concert — and still won rave reviews from the critics!

artur rubinstein in moscow 1964

It also puts a frame around the picture, and suggests that maybe we should simply worry more about the music and less about the notes. Performers just have to learn to accept failure! Perfection is beyond any of us.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.

If you know of other examples, or have personal experiences to share, let us know.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Music Orchestra (MAYCO) performs music of Haydn and Mendelssohn plus a world premiere of a work by Madison composer Olivia Zeuske this Friday night at the First Unitarian Society.

July 9, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Few young musicians, or older ones for that matter, lead a busier schedule than the young University of Wisconsin-Madison violist and conductor Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below).

Mikko Utevsky with baton

Recently returned from a stay in Europe, Utevsky will show his latest ambitious achievement in a program this Friday night.

That is when the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, seen below in a performance last year in Mills Hall at the UW-Madison), which was founded by Utevsky while he was still a student at Madison East High School, opens its fourth season on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.

MAYCO orchestra close up

The concert will take place in the crisply designed Atrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison (below, in a photo by Zane Williams), 900 University Bay Drive, on Madison near west side. Tickets are $7, with donations requested from students.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

The gifted pianist Thomas Kasdorf (below), a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studied with Christopher Taylor and where he will return as a graduate student this fall, joins the orchestra for the Piano Concerto No. 11 in D Major by Franz Joseph Haydn. (You can hear the legendary Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter play the concerto in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Thomas Kasdorf

You may recall that this spring Kasdorf answered a Q&A for this blog when he performed the Piano Concerto in A Minor by Edvard Grieg with the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Here is a link to Kasdorf’s interview:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/classical-music-qa-native-son-pianist-thomas-kasdorf-talks-about-playing-solo-recitals-chamber-music-and-the-grieg-piano-concerto-with-the-middleton-community-orchestra-which-also-closes-out-i/

And here is a link to The Ear’s positive review of his performance of the Grieg concerto (below):

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/classical-music-maybe-its-back-to-the-future-the-classical-music-scene-needs-more-groups-to-act-like-the-middleton-community-orchestra-and-break-down-barriers-between-performers-and-listene/

MCO june 2014 Thomas Kasdorf plays Grieg

Also on the program are the “Reformation” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn and the world premiere of the chamber symphony “Experiment No. 1” by Olivia Zeuske (below). Zeuske just graduated from the UW-Madison with a double major in English and music composition, which she studied with professor and composer Steven Dembski.

olivia zeuske 2014

MAYCO’S NEXT CONCERT

MAYCO’s next concert this summer will be at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, August 22, 2014. Called “Summer Magic,” it features soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller. The program includes the Overture to “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” by Samuel Barber: and the Symphony No. 9 in E-flat Major, Op. 70, by Dmitri Shostakovich. The concert will be held in UW Music Hall, 925 Bascom Mall, at the base of Bascom Hill.

For more information about MAYCO, including background, concerts, programs, photos and how to support and join MAYCO, visit:

http://madisonareayouthchamberorchestra.org/


Classical music: What music best commemorates today’s 70th anniversary of D-Day, which marked the beginning of the end of Nazi domination of Western Europe? The Ear offers two works by Edward Elgar and Maurice Ravel.

June 6, 2014
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is June 6, 2014 –- the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when the Allies invaded the northwest coast of France on the beaches at Normandy and started the beginning of the end of Nazi domination in Western Europe by Adolf Hitler.

D-Day landing

A lot of music commemorates war and the troops who fell in battle.

I offer two that may not be the best choices but that move me.

First, I offer the ninth variation, “Nimrod,” from British composer Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations. American documentary filmmaker Ken Burns used it very effectively in a solo piano version in his epic film about World War II called simply “The War.”

But I cannot find that version. So here is the a haunting and deeply moving orchestral performance in a popular YouTube video played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under its former music director and conductor Daniel Barenboim:

And here is the “Pavane for a Dead Princess” by French composer Maurice Ravel. He actually wrote “Le Tombeau de Couperin” and dedicated each movement to a different friend of his who died in World War I. But there is something quietly eloquent about the way Ravel uses the stately and processional dance step of the Pavane to express understated sorrow.

Ravel usually composed on the piano, and then orchestrated his own work. So here are two versions, the first orchestral and the second done on the piano and played by the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, who captures just the right bittersweetness and poignancy.

You can decide which one best expresses your sentiments about today’s historic commemoration. Despite the coughing in the background, I tend to favor the simpler and more austere piano version. But both are deeply moving to me.

I am sure that many other works, from two famous funeral marches by Ludwig van Beethoven (in the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” and the Piano Sonata in A-Flat Major, Op. 26) to the famous Funeral March by Frederic Chopin, would be appropriate.

Classical music –- instrumental, vocal and choral as well as operatic – offers so many appropriate choices. My guess is that NPR and Wisconsin Public Radio, like radio stations and even TV stations around the country and the world, will feature many such works in their programming for today. I would especially love to hear Requiems by Johannes Brahms, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Gabriel Faure.

If you have a favorite, please leave a reply with a YouTube link if possible, plus the reasons why you like the work so much.

The Ear wants to hear.

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