The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS — the slow movement of the Violin Concerto by Gerald Finzi

August 7, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has long had a fondness for the works of the 20th-century British composer Gerald Finzi (below).

His work may be relatively tweedy and conservative, but it is unmistakably modern. It is very poignant and appealing, with accessible harmonies and beautiful melodies. He seems much like a British Samuel Barber.

Ever since he first heard it maybe 20 years ago, The Ear has loved Finzi’s pastoral Eclogue for Piano and String Orchestra, which was meant to be the slow movement of a piano concerto but ended up being an independent work. And, judging by how increasingly  often it gets played on Wisconsin Public Radio, the Eclogue seems to be a favorite among a growing number of fans.

But there are other works.

There is the Romance for Violin and Small Orchestra.

There is the Romance for String Orchestra.

There is the Concerto for Cello.

There is his Romance for Clarinet and String Orchestra as well as the Five Bagatelles for Clarinet and Orchestra.

And now The Ear has discovered the slow movement — appropriately marked “very serene” — of the Violin Concerto by Finzi, which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.

It is performed by British violinist Tasmin Little (below, in a photo by Melanie Winning), who four seasons years ago turned in wonderful performances in Madison with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell. She played Finzi’s rarely heard “Introit.”

If you want to hear the whole concerto, it is available for free on YouTube from a couple of different performers. And you can find many other works by Finzi on YouTube.

In any case, The Ear hopes the Violin Concerto gets programmed at a local concert.

This past summer, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society featured a song cycle by Finzi. Even so, we need to hear more music by Gerald Finzi in live performances.

Finzi was a modest and retiring man, publicity shy and not given to self-aggrandizement or self-promotion, who went underperformed and underappreciated during his lifetime. But he is an extremely welcoming and moving modern composer.

The Ear thinks he deserves a better place among other modern British composers who have become more popular, including Ralph Vaughan Williams (shown, below right, with Finzi), Benjamin Britten, Frank Bridge, William Walton and others.

Are there other Gerald Finizi fans out there?

What do you think about him?

And what is your favorite work by Gerald Finzi?

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: Wisconsin Public Television to broadcast State Honors Concerts this Monday night as part of a new emphasis on Young Performers. Plus, violinist Laura Burns and pianist Jess Salek perform the complete music for violin and piano by Brahms this Friday night.

February 21, 2013
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ALERT: This Friday night, tomorrow, at 7:30 p.m. in the new Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, violinist Laura Burns of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Rhapsodie String Quartet)  and pianist Jess Salek will perform the complete violin and piano music by Johannes Brahms. I heard some of the program at a “Grace Presents” concert recently at Grace Episcopal Church (below). The two were terrific. If Brahms’s string and piano music is to your liking—and how can it not be? – then The Ear suggests you seriously consider going. (Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for student, paid by check or cash only.) It is just too bad the concert conflicts with the great program of J.S. Bach, Prokofiev, Finzi and Gounod by Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and violinist Tasmin Little in the Overture Center’s Capital Theater at 8 p.m. that same night. What contradictory and mutually exclusive musical riches we often live among and have to choose between!

Laura Burns Jess Salek Brahms Grace Epis

By Jacob Stockinger

During the Year of the Arts, Wisconsin Public Television is appropriately undertaking a very praise-worthy and brand new multi-year initiative to spotlight young performers around the state.

Classical music, of course, is not the only music to be featured, but it will be included – and that it important in spotlighting the role of music education.

The opening program in the series will be the State Honors Concerts, which will air this coming Monday night, Feb. 25, at 8 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television (Channel 21 in the Madison area; Channel 600 on the Charter hi-def schedule.)

The program offers excerpts from the Wisconsin School Music Association (WSMA) High School Honors Concerts for Band, Orchestra (below), Mixed Choir and Treble Choir.

It features some of Wisconsin’s best young musical talents in performance at Madison’s Overture Center.

wpt wisconsin state honors concert 2-13 2

The State Honors Concerts kicks off WPT’s multi-year Young Performers Initiative that celebrates Wisconsin’s young artists.

The WSMA State Honors Music Project brings Wisconsin’s top young musicians to work together with nationally known conductors in a highly disciplined, professional setting.

The students in grades 9 through 11 were selected from more than 1,400 who auditioned.

The Ear think you should watch the broadcast — which does a great public service and spotlights young people for more than sports —  and then go to WPT website and sent them an email or phone call thanking them for such commitment to engaging the public in youth arts education.

Here is a link for feedback to WPT:

http://www.wpt5.org/contact_us


Classical music Q&A: Violinist Tasmin Little discusses her latest projects and extols the virtues of music by Gerald Finzi and Sergei Prokofiev, which she will perform this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

February 20, 2013
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ALERT: This Friday at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the duo Sole Nero (below) of pianist Jessica Johnson and percussionist Anthony Di Sanza, will perform on the UW-Madison Faculty Concert Series. The duo will perform works by John Luther Adams, Philippe Hurel, UW composers Joseph Koykkar, Evan Hause and UW composer Les Thimmig. Guest artists will include video artist Daniel Zajicek and clarinetist Les Thimmig.

sole nero Jessica Johnson piano and Anthony Di Sanza percussion

By Jacob Stockinger

The concert this Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater is pure Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below).

WCO lobby

Which is to say that it is pure Andrew Sewell.

Sewell (below) is the longtime music director and conductor of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. He has become known over the past 12 seasons for his uncanny ability to mix tried-and-true classics with relatively obscure works and composers.

andrewsewell

This Friday’s night’s Masterworks concert is no exception. The theme is “Pastoral Gems” and it spotlights the young, critically acclaimed British violinist Tasmin Little (below in a photo by Melanie Winning).

Tasmin Little 3 Melanie Winning 

Tickets are $15-$65. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141 or visit the orchestra’s website at  www.wcoconcerts.org for more information and purchasing tickets on-line.

The program features two well-known works: J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3, with the familiar Air on a G String movement; and Sergei Prokofiev’s sublime Violin Concerto No. 2.

But wedged in between come rarely performed works: “Introit” for violin and orchestra, Op. 6, by Gerald Finzi, a mid-20th century British composer for whom Sewell has such an affinity; and the rarely heard Symphony No. 2, by the French 19th-century composer of the very well-known opera “Faust.”

Tasmin Little (below) recently agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

Tasmin Little

What are your current and future plans in terms of concertizing, recordings and other major projects, especially for the English and contemporary works that seem to be a specialty of yours?

This year will be a lovely year for projects – two new CDs will be released imminently, one with Witold Lutoslawski’s Partita and Chain 2 for violin and orchestra, and later in the spring, my recording of the Violin Concerto by Benjamin Britten – his centennial is this year — will be released, both on Chandos Records.

I am also releasing a CD of British chamber music repertoire with Piers Lane later in the year – beautiful works by Britten (his early Suite), William Walton’s Sonata and the wonderful but totally unknown second violin sonata of Howard Ferguson (below bottom).

Benjamin Britten

Howard Ferguson 1

What can you tell us about the rarely heard  “Introit” by Gerald Finzi (below) and what you would like audiences to listen for?

It is a very beautiful and peaceful work, in some ways it feels similar to Ralph Vaughan Williams “The Lark Ascending” in that it is a work which follows a pastoral line and exudes heavenly tranquility. There isn’t anything in particular that I would suggest an audience to listen for – more, that I hope they will enjoy approximately 10 minutes of beautiful calm and bliss!

Gerald Finzi 1

What would you like to say about the more well–known Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2? Are there certain things you would like listeners especially to listen for? Are there other works by Prokofiev (below) or other composers you would compare it to?

Regarding Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2, I am sure that this will be familiar to many members of the audience, so I will talk about what I enjoy about the piece.

The first movement is a capricious mix of darkness and light – one moment, the music is dark and sinister and then, without warning, the mood can lighten to frothy bubbliness!

The second movement has such a glorious and romantic theme and yet the music is quite quirky, with the pizzicato accompaniment and an occasional woodwind interjection.  The middle section feels almost lighthearted but it isn’t long before the first idea returns, more embellished and fulsome.

The final movement is hilarious!  I love the wit and the rustic earthiness.  Prokofiev must have had a wonderful sense of humor.

Serge Prokofiev

How do you think the two violin words fit into the theme of “Pastoral Gems” with Bach’s Suite No. 3 and Gounod’s Symphony No. 2?

I must confess to being unfamiliar with the symphony by Gounod (below) – I’ll look forward to getting to know it during my visit!  Obviously the “Pastoral Gems” bit refers to the Finzi, and I look forward to being educated in the similarities between the Gounod and Prokofiev.

Charles Gounod

Do you have an impression of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Madison audiences and the classical music scene in Madison, and what are they?

As this will be my very first visit to Madison, it’s hard to form an impression. I also like to keep an open mind about things, rather than try to build up an expectation or opinion that might be wrong.  However, I can see that the artistic planning of the orchestra is wonderfully rich and varied – so I’m guessing that this means that the audiences are not frightened of experiencing something new.  I like that!

When you were young, was there for you an Aha! Moment – perhaps a certain piece or performer – when you knew you wanted to become a professional musician and a violinist?

I remember vividly dancing to a recording of Itzhak Perlman playing Sarasate’s “Carmen Fantasy” and thinking how brilliant it would be, to be able to play such a piece of music. I also liked Locatelli’s violin concertos, so those are probably the moments when I realized I would like to learn the violin. (You can hear her most popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

tasmin little by melanie winning

Do you have your ideas about how music education should be done today and about how to attract younger audiences?

Through my “Naked Violin” project (which still exists as a free download of music on my website), I have attracted a great deal of audiences of all ages and I feel quite proud about that.  The project also takes music into the community, into hospitals, schools, prisons and other areas of the community where live music is not regularly available.

I feel that, if you can touch just one or two people by doing this, it is hugely worthwhile.  The joy, and sometimes the tears, of emotional release are what music is all about.

For more information visit my website at:

http://www.tasminlittle.com


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