The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What kinds of classical music and classical composers do the presidential candidates like?

February 6, 2016
3 Comments

ALERT: This Sunday night’s concert of new music for woodwinds and piano composed by UW-Madison professor of saxophone Les Thimmig, with UW-Madison pianist Jessica Johnson, has been CANCELLED.

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight is the last debate for the Republicans before the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. It takes place at 7 p.m. CST in Manchester, and will be broadcast on ABC-TV.

This past week also saw both a town hall meeting and a debate between the Democrats – their last before the primary election (below, in a photo by Getty Images).

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders CR GettyImages

Here’s a question no one has asked them during the debates: What kind of classical music do you like?

I know, I know. The question has little relevance and little popularity.

But still.

The Ear is happy that the famed New York City radio station WQXR listed such preferences in its blog.

The Ear notes a couple of trends.

No specific pieces were named.

No sonatas or concertos, no symphonies or operas.

All the names of composers were extremely mainstream except for Arcangelo Corelli by Dr. Ben Carson (below), who also named Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi. Others mentioned Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Dr. Benjamin Carson, director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS HEALTH) - RTR3F2WE

Dr. Benjamin Carson, director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, speaks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS HEALTH)

Bernie Sanders’ preferred composer echoes his own populist and defiantly anti-establishment, even rabble-rousing, sentiments. Can you guess which composer he favors?

Why is The Ear not surprised that Hillary Clinton remains vague about composers and pieces, but says YES of course she likes classical music and even has it on her iPod.

And former businesswoman Carly Fiorina (below, in a  photo by Politifact) surprises one with her youthful plan to be a professional musician, a concert pianist. Does she still play? The Ear wants to ask.

Carly Fiorina CR Politifact

The Ear also wonders:

Does Evangelical Ted Cruz consider classical music frivolous or even sinful?

Does the Cuban background of Marco Rubio feel ethnically distant from European classical music?

And what about Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich and especially Donald Trump?

The Ear bets that country music, rock and pop music draw many more voters and gets many more votes.

But doesn’t anyone else think that the irresistible opening thee of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony would be a great dramatic call to arms for a candidate?

But who knows for sure?

Anyway, here is a link tot he WQXR story:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/classical-music-presidential-campaign-trail/

Now, The Ear doesn’t expect that this survey will change anyone’s vote.

Still, it is interesting as a sidelight to the much bigger and much more important issues confronting the candidates and the electorate.

And perhaps more specifics about their taste in music will emerge during the rest of the primary campaign and the then the general election.

Their individual culture quotients must matter for something.

What are your reactions?

What do you think?

Let us know.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Why couldn’t the New York Philharmonic find an American conductor? Meet Dutchman Jaap van Sweden, its next music director. Plus, Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen, is NEXT SUNDAY — NOT TODAY — and tonight’s concert of new music by UW-Madison professor Les Thimmig has been CANCELLED

January 31, 2016
4 Comments

ALERT 1: The Sunday Afternoon Live performance by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet at the Chazen Museum of Art is NEXT SUNDAY, NOT TODAY. The Ear apologizes for the mistake.

 ALERT 2: Tonight’s concert of new music for woodwinds and piano by UW-Madison professor Les Thimmig and pianist Jessica Johnson has been CANCELLED.

By Jacob Stockinger

This week the New York Philharmonic announced its next music director and conductor who will succeed Alan Gilbert, starting in 2018.

He is Jaap van Sweden (below, in a photo by Todd Heiser for The New York Times , a 55-year-old Dutchman, acclaimed for his technical prowess, who now is the music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

Jaap van Sweden CR Todd Heisler NYT

There are a lot of stories The Ear could link to.

Here is a short summary from NPR (National Public Radio) with audio clips of his conducting:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/01/27/464563264/jaap-van-zweden-named-new-music-director-of-the-new-york-philharmonic

But he found the coverage by the New York Times quite comprehensive and, on balance, fair.

It featured a main news story with some important feature elements, including the critical acclaim van Sweden received for conducting music by Gustav Mahler and Ludwig van Beethoven. (Below, you can see van Sweden conducting the New York Philharmonic in 2014 in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times).

Jaap van Sweden conducting the NY PHIL cr Horiyuki Ito NYT

And it also featured a column or commentary by senior classical music critic Anthony Tommasini, who spoke in Madison on the occasion of the centennial of the Pro Arte Quartet that was held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Overall, Tommasini’s notebook entry is a fine and insightful piece, even if it gets tiring to hear Tommasini climb up on his high horse and whine yet again about the neglect of new music and contemporary composers – which does not seem fully justified based on the record of this particular conductor.

Tommasini – who himself was trained as a composer — clearly would have preferred former Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below) as the new music director and conductor. Hmmm – could they be friends?

Esa Pekka Salonen

For his part, it may sound provincial but The Ear is more concerned that the very same symphony orchestra that made history in American culture for hiring the first American-born and American-trained maestro – Leonard Bernstein (below), who also just happened to put Jaap van Sweden on the path to a conducting career – is once again turning to Europe rather to the many fine conducting talents in this country.

Leonard Bernstein CR Jack Mitchell

Why was no American conductor chosen. One who comes to mind is Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (below top) and the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra in Brazil who is also a Bernstein protege. And then there is David Robertson of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia(below bottom).

Seems odd that Marin Alsop is good enough for Brazil and David Robertson is good enough for Australia — but not for New York?

The Ear wants to ask the Philharmonic’s board of directors: Do you really find all American conductors to be that inferior to Jaap van Sweden?

Maybe there were practical considerations — salary, contracts, availability, refusals — that made hiring an American conductor impossible. But the stories suggest that the choice of van Sweden was made early on and the fix seemed in. Too bad. It still seems like a great opportunity that was lost.

Marin Alsop big

David Robertson

You can decide for yourself.

Here is the news story by Michael Cooper:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/arts/music/new-york-philharmonic-taps-jaap-van-zweden-as-its-next-maestro.html?_r=0

And here is Tommasini’s column:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/arts/jaap-van-zweden-and-the-future-of-the-new-york-philharmonic.html

Do you know the work of Jaap van Sweden?

Have you heard him in live or recorded performances?

What do you think?

Here is a sample of Jaap van Sweden conducting Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Leave your opinion in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Making music is healthy for you, researchers say. It can lower blood pressure and increase a sense of well-being. You can even start music lessons as an older adult.

March 23, 2013
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about art therapy!

A close friend has often told me how the German army in World War I gave double rations to the piano players because they used so much energy doing their job of entertaining the troops.

I have never been able to prove the story. But it makes a lot of sense to this amateur pianist. I know the physicality of playing, and it takes stamina as well as finesse. And it involves both body and mind. (Below in a photo of University of Wisconsin pianist Christopher Taylor, whose playing is particularly physical and energetic, as you know well if you saw his recent astonishing recital of Franz Liszt‘s extremely virtuoso transcriptions of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony and Fifth Symphony.)

Taylor_Chris_piano01

Contemporary researchers have taken an interest in studying how music affects one’s physical and mental health as well as social well-being, especially now that researchers can track changes through MRI and CAT scans.

Here is more good news: The suggestion, or even proof, by Dutch researchers that playing music lowers stress and lowers blood pressure. (Other studies show that listening to music also has benefits. But the one I am discussing dealt specific with actual music-making.)

Here is a link to the study:

http://www.psmag.com/blogs/news-blog/playing-music-may-lower-blood-pressure-51779/

Singing opera

And that story has a link to another study, done in Britain, that talks about the heightened sense of well-being one gets from making music – playing the piano or some other instrument or singing. And we know that conducting is particularly aerobic and healthy. Little wonder that conductors generally live along and healthy life.

http://rsh.sagepub.com/content/133/1/36.short

The Bottom Line? Music is good and good for you.

So I say to my fellow Baby Boomers and retirees who wanted to better their health: Music lessons, anyone?

Trust me, it’s never too late.

Just look at the YouTube video below that has had more than 9 MILLION hits:


Classical music: University of Wisconsin–Madison viola student and conductor Mikko Utevsky receives the FIRST “1st Chair Award” from CBS affiliate WISC-TV. Look for him on Channel 3 and Cable Channel 603. You can nominate other recipients.

March 4, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

A justifiably proud parent of Mikko Utevsky has contacted The Ear about a community recognition for public service that went to his son and is well worth noting on this blog.

“I just received this from WISC-TV Channel 3 (Channel 603 on the Charter Cable high-definition channel) and hoped you might like to see it.” (The station logo is below.)

wisc3-tv logo

Indeed I did, and I expect you will too.

Here is a link to it: http://video.channel3000.com/embed/?v=47898

The “1st Chair Awards” are given by CBS affiliate WISC-TV Channel 3 and the Madison Area Music Association, and are awarded to a “a musician who used music to give back to their community, or used music to overcome an obstacle” and is between 5 and 18 years old.”

The video and audio of Mikko Utevsky, the first recipient, started running Feb. 21 and will air on the station until March 19.

Utevsky will also receive an invitation to be honored at the Madison Area Music Association Awards (MAMA) Show on Sunday, June 23, at the Overture Center for the Arts.

The Ear will try to keep you current with future recipients.

The award is sponsored by the Madison Area Music Association (MAMA) and Heid Music. Thank you, sponsors, for standing by such a laudable way to give a shout-out to local musical talent.

There will be five monthly winners. Mikko Utevsky (below)  is the first.

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

Mikko certainly is a deserving recipient. Utevsky (seen below and also heard conducting  the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in the YouTube video at the bottom) is a Madison resident who attended and graduated from East High School; and who founded and still conducts the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which will soon start its third season. ( The season will be two 7 p.m. concerts in Music Hall on June 21 and August 9.) Mikko, who is finishing up his freshman year at the UW-Madison, is now a scholarship viola student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte String Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and where he plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra and UW Chamber Orchestra.

Mikko Utevsky conducts MAYCO Steve Rankin

As a member of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, he was also a guest blogger for this blog during last summer’s WYSO tour to Budapest, Prague and Vienna. (You can check out his fine writing skills by typing his name in the blog’s search engine.)

As for the 1st Chair Awards, here are links first to the rules and then to the nomination form:

http://www.channel3000.com/education/1st-chair/1st-Chair-Official-Rules/-/18095578/18121640/-/c2c9t5/-/index.html

http://www.channel3000.com/education/1st-chair/-/18095578/-/12l274vz/-/

The nominee’s date of birth must be 1/16/94-1/16/08 and the nominee must be a Wisconsin musician.

Who else deserve being nominated for such a recognition?

The Ear wants to hear.

Meanwhile, CONGRATULATIONS to Mikko Utevsky – and to WISC-TV Channel 3 for recognizing the importance of musical education and community service among young people in the Madison area.

I hope other media follow suit with similar recognition!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Prep Arts get similar coverage to Prep Sports?


Classical music: Looking for a great holiday music gift? Look to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in a new book and recording that show how revolutionary and radical the work is.

November 24, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, it started with Gray Thursday and yesterday proceeded to Black Friday. Today is Small Business/Shop Local Saturday and then we move on to Cyber-Monday.

Yes, the holiday gift-giving season– and especially gift-BUYING season — is upon us. And how!!!

The Ear has long proposed combining a book, a CD and a ticket to a live performance.

And this year offers a perfect chance.

Take no doubt the most famous four notes –- made up of just two tones, a minor third – in all of classical music.

They are: DUH-DUH-DUH-DAHHHH.

Say it out loud and you will recognize at once the “fate knocking on the door” motif opening of the Symphony No. 5 in C Minor by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), a work of unparalleled forcefulness for its time – of any time really. It was the “Rite of Spring” of its day.

Half a century ago, Leonard Bernstein (below) discussed Beethoven’s Fifth in a wonderfully lucid talk. He particularly emphasized the inevitability of all the repetitions at the end. I can still see Lenny on TV standing on a floor that was covered with the score that he was discussing.
Well, lo these many years later come two other Great Explainers. 

The first is Boston Globe writer and critic come Matthew Guerrieri (below top) in his book “The First Four Notes: Beethoven’s Fifth and the Human Imagination” (below bottom), which is available as both a regular book and an e-book/Kindle.

The second is the award-winning Sir John Eliot Gardiner (below), who conducts and records with the Monteverdi Choir and the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, (the ORR, or Revolutionary and Romantic Orchestra) and who gives his take on the opening of the famous symphony, which he has just released a new recording from live performances of the Fifth and the Seventh Symphonies at Carnegie Hall.

Gardiner and Guerrieri also talked to NPR host Robert Siegel on “All Things Considered” about how period-instrument playing has evolved from historical accuracy to more expressive and visceral playing and the role the Romanticism, the French Revolution and the role that the newly invented metronome played in helping Beethoven decide how fast the symphony should be played.

You can find the story on NPR’s always outstanding classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

Here is a link. Take a listen and tell me it isn’t like hearing this iconic work with new ears – and makes you want to share the news and beauty by giving them as a gift.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/11/19/165495617/beethovens-famous-4-notes-truly-revolutionary-music

Do you have a favorite recording of Beethoven’s Fifth that you recommend? (I personally like Carlos Kleiber and the Vienna Philharmonic on Deutsche Grammophon).

Leave a COMMENT with your pick.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Fifth Symphonies, like Ninths, can mark a turning point in a composer’s career and in the history of music.

August 23, 2012
5 Comments

ALERT and REMINDER: A new chamber group in the area, the Black Marigold wind quintet (below) performs its second feee concert tomorrow, on Friday, Aug. 24, at 7:30 p.m. in the Grand Hall of Capitol Lakes Retirement Center, 333 W. Main St. For more  informaiton about the performers and the program, go to: http://host.madison.com/calendar/music/black-marigold-summer-concert-series/event_0b76af2a-e0b3-11e1-9f8f-1777522ac029.html#.UCFecwfQz_A.facebook

By Jacob Stockinger

Most classical music fans know about the so-called Curse of Beethoven’s Ninth, which seems to have intimidated many composers who cam later and kept them from completing more than nine symphonies. (A small number compared to Haydn’s 104 and Mozart’s 41, no?)

But Fifth Symphonies also mark a sea change in a composer’s career and inspire a certain kind of awe and legend, also going back to Beethoven (below).

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conductor Marin Alsop (below), who has recorded for Naxos Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony with her new additional orchestra, the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra in Brazil. She discussed Fifth Symphonies with NPR’s Scott Simon.

It is an illuminating talk with great audio clips that help her explain the music. Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/07/21/157113606/a-grand-soviet-symphony-by-way-of-brazil

Curiously, my favorite fifth symphony – after Beethoven’s Fifth, that is – was never even mentioned: Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, with its great final movement featuring brass and strings plus an unbeatably dramatic finale punctuated by silence (at bottom).

I also don’t recall hearing them talk about Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, which is also a great one, though Shostakovich’s great Fifth Symphony gets a nod.

Do you have favorite Fifth Symphony?

Let The Ear know what it is.


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