The Well-Tempered Ear

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

August 12, 2017
Leave a Comment

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: New Orleans seeks to once again become an American opera capital with an emphasis on diversity

May 31, 2017
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

When you think of opera in America, chances are good that you think of New York City with the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera; the Lyric Opera of Chicago; the Houston Grand Opera; the Santa Fe Opera; and countless other opera companies in many major cities.

And when you think of New Orleans, you understandably think of jazz.

But the truth is that for a long time, New Orleans was an American capital for opera, more important than many of the other cities mentioned above.

Consider the fact that the first opera performed in the United States was performed in New Orleans in 1796. And that at one point, New Orleans was home to five opera companies.

Plus, the opera that was performed there in the past brought racial, cultural and gender diversity to an art form that often lacked it and was largely Euro-centric. (You can hear the company sing “We’re Goin’ Around” from ragtime great Scott Joplin‘s opera “Treemonisha” in the YouTube video at the bottom,)

Now some singers and others (below) have formed an organization – OperaCreole — with the aim of correcting racism and restoring New Orleans’ reputation for opera,  especially that of the many African-American and Creole opera composers who were native to New Orleans.

A fine story, with an illuminating interview, recently appeared on NPR (National Public Radio).

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/05/28/530085480/a-new-orleans-company-shines-a-light-on-operas-diverse-history

Another excellent story, with more focus on repertoire and history, appeared in The New Yorker magazine:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/a-small-step-toward-correcting-the-overwhelming-whiteness-of-opera

And here is a link to OperaCreole’s own website with more information about the company and its productions:

http://www.operacreole.com


Classical music: Meet the Chinese phenom pianist Yuja Wang in a New Yorker profile that has more details than you have ever seen before

September 17, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Whether you focus on her virtuosic playing or her sensational and controversial use of sexy fashion in performances, the young Chinese-born and American-trained pianist Yuja Wang is a phenomenon that has both audiences and critics talking in superlatives.

yuja wang dress times 3

True, she is no newcomer to the concert stage and has been in the mass media for years.

Yet the best profile that The Ear has yet seen was written by acclaimed journalist Janet Malcolm and appeared this month in The New Yorker magazine.

It is pegged to Yuja Wang’s recent performance at Carnegie Hall of the famously difficult “Hammerklavier” Sonata in B-flat major, Op. 106, by Ludwig van Beethoven. (You can see and hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Yuja Wang Ian Douglas NYT May 2013

Here is a link to the profile, which is chock full of personal and professional details:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/09/05/yuja-wang-and-the-art-of-performance


Classical music: Here is music to mark today’s 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11

September 11, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

A lot of classical music – requiems, symphonies, chamber music, solo works – could be used to commemorate the event. You can leave your own suggestions in the COMMENT section.

But The Ear wants to post something specific to the anniversary – something well known and something relatively unknown.

First the well known work:

Here is a slide show with the music “On the Transmigration of Souls,” by the American composer John Adams (below), who was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic to compose a work related to 9/11.

John Adams

The composition mixes sounds from actual events with music, and it won the Pulitzer Prize.

When the Madison Symphony Orchestra performed it many seasons ago, it proved a deeply moving experience.

Here it is:

The events inspired other works too, including two by Kevin Puts (below), who was in Madison this summer for the premiere of a new song cycle and performances of his other instrumental works by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

Kevin Puts pulitzer

The Ear sure wishes there was a YouTube performance of the 16-minute work “Falling Dream.”

Here is a description by the composer:

“The piece was written in the months immediately after 9/11. Its composition was initially inspired by news footage I saw in which a couple leaped from one of the burning towers (below) holding hands.

“For months I was incapable of getting the image out of my head. It was so poetic in both its horror and beauty that I almost couldn’t justify a musical reaction to it.

“However I eventually found a way to illustrate the experience in extreme slow motion by creating a counterpoint of two slowly descending melodies, heard first at the beginning of the work. Episodes fade in and out of this slow descent like memories, but the illusion I wanted to create is that the falling never really ceases.

“The last section of the piece is, by contrast, a slowly building ascent that has no programmatic relevance but whose majestic quality functions as a message of hope.”

Twin Towers on 9-11

And here is a performance of Kevin Puts’ Symphony No. 2, which The Ear first heard on Wisconsin Public Radio. It too was informed by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Here is what Puts, who was educated at Yale and the Eastman School of Music and who now teaches at the Peabody Institute of Music at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, says about it:

“In the September 24, 2001 issue of The New Yorker writer Jonathan Franzen wrote, “In the space of two hours we left behind a happy era of Game Boy economics and trophy houses and entered a world of fear and vengeance.”

“My second symphony, while by no means a memorial, makes reference to this sudden paradigmatic shift. During the first eight minutes of the work, a slow orchestral build describes the unsuspecting climate pre 9/11, a naïve world aptly described by my mother as a metaphorical island.

“After a brief passage for solo violin, an upheaval of sorts effectively obliterates this opening sentiment and initiates another gradual crescendo which makes use of the same material as the opening, cast this time in darker and more ambiguous harmonic colors.

“Once the entire orchestra reaches the climax of the work, the solo violin returns in a more extended passage than before and subdues the turbulent orchestra. This leads to a reflective epilogue in which a clock-like pulse creates a mood of expectancy and uncertainty, interlaced with hope.”


Classical music: What can you do to overcome stage fright? Ask professional cellist Miranda Wilson – and think about the composers and music you are playing

April 24, 2016
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

If you suffer from stage fright when you perform in public, you are not alone.

stage fright

Some of the biggest names in the performing arts share that same fate.

So does The Ear. When he plays or speaks in public, he often feels like one of those quivering and neurotic figures in cartoons by Roz Chast for The New Yorker magazine.

And there seem to be many ways to deal with stage nerves, from eating potassium-rich bananas just prior to performing to taking beta-blocking drugs to doing all sorts of meditation and adopting new attitudes.

But here is an essay form the Internet by professional cellist Miranda Wilson (below) with a point of view and helpful hints that might prove useful:

http://mirandawilsoncellist.com/2016/04/01/disarmed-dropping-the-protective-armour-of-stage-fright/

Miranda Wilson cello

Do you have tips abut dealing with stage fight?

Please leave your suggestions in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Music critic Alex Ross praises Tom Cruise’s use of Puccini’s opera “Turandot” in the new “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” movie.

August 15, 2015
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger.

Looks like it’s going to be a hot and humid weekend.

Just the kind of weather to go see a movie in an air-conditioned cinema.

If you are an opera fan, you might want to consider seeing Tom Cruise and the latest offering in the “Mission Impossible” franchise -– “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” (below) — which features a central opera scene (below).

Puccini opera and Mission Impossible

That is the opinion of the prize-winning music critic Alex Ross (below), who writes for The New Yorker magazine. And many consider Ross the best music critic in the U.S.

Alex Ross 2

In his essay or review in the Aug. 11 issue, Ross traces the use of opera in various movies — including in the romantic comedy “Moonstruck” and in the thrillers by Alfred Hitchcock. Ross argues that Tom Cruise really stands out in the way he does justice to Puccini’s “Turandot,” including the great and popular tenor aria “Nessun dorma.” (Heard at bottom in a YouTube video, with 33 million hits, as sung by Luciano Pavarotti, who made the aria his signature.)

Here is a link to the review by Alex Ross that is well worth reading:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/finally-a-non-embarrassing-classical-music-scene-in-a-blockbuster-movie

Enjoy!

And leave a comment telling The Ear if you agree with Alex Ross.


Classical music: Who has stage fright and why? And how can you overcome stage fright?

August 5, 2015
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s surpising how many acclaimed professional performers -– like dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, pop singers Adele and Carly Simon, actors Laurence Olivier and Daniel Day-Lewis, and pianists Charles Rosen, Glenn Gould, Vladimir Horowitz  and Emanuel Ax — have suffered from the same ailment that afflicts countless students and amateurs, including The Ear.

We are talking about stage fright, which ranges from mild to debilitating in its severity. (Below is an illustration by Nishant Choksi.) It can literally rob people of careers in the performing arts.

Stage fright Cr Nishant Choksi

Periodically, stories about stage fright and how to deal with it or perhaps even lessen it come to the public’s attention. (See the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The latest is a book by gifted amateur pianist Sara Solovitch (below top, in a photo by Christine Z. Mason). Her book, “Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright” (below bottom) has just been published by Bloomsbury.

Playing Scared is journalist Sara Solovitch's first book. Her work has appeared in Politico, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and Wired. She lives in Santa Cruz, Calif

Playing Scared is journalist Sara Solovitch’s first book. Her work has appeared in Politico, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and Wired.¬†She lives in Santa Cruz, Calif

Sara Solovich Playing Scared cover

And here is Sara Solovitch playing a work by Claude Debussy:

Several essays and interviews give a terrific overview of the book and its contents.

Probably the best is in the Aug. 3 issue of The New Yorker in a review by critic Joan Acocella. Here is a link:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/03/i-cant-go-on

Also, two stories on NPR or National Public Radio offer an engaging take on the book and the subject of stage fright:

http://www.npr.org/2015/07/05/419485599/in-playing-scared-pianist-grows-less-frightened-of-stage-fright

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/06/26/417190441/to-master-stage-fright-practice-makes-imperfect-ok

Do you suffer from stage fright?

How do you deal with it?

The Ear wants to hear.

 

 


Classical music: The critics are unanimous — iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and others streaming services do a grave injustice to classical music. CDs and vinyl are far better.

July 31, 2015
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The critics’ judgments are in and they seem unanimous: iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and other similar streaming services do a grave injustice to classical music. In the end, CDs and vinyl LPs are far better than streaming for a quality listening experience.

itunes logo complete

spotify logo

 

pandora logo

The difficulties apparently have to do with engineering and the limits of technology, specifically of the digital compression of sound.

Here are three good and convincing critiques to read:

From The Atlantic magazine:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/07/the-tragedy-of-itunes-and-classical-music/399788/

From the acclaimed prize-winning music critic Alex Ross (below) of The New Yorker magazine:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-anxious-ease-of-apple-music

Alex Ross 2

Here is an analysis from the prolific and always interesting reporter Anastasia Tsioulcas (below), who writes for National Public Radio (NPR) and its outstanding classical music blog Deceptive Cadence. She tackles other streaming services including Pandora and Spotify. She focuses on the organization and the difficulty of finding the music you want to listen to:

http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/04/411963624/why-cant-streaming-services-get-classical-music-right

anastasia tsioulcas


Classical music: Famed music critic Andrew Porter has died at 86.

April 10, 2015
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Music critic Andrew Porter, best known in this country for his 20-year tenure at The New Yorker magazine, died in London this week at the age of 86. (Below, he is seen working on “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in a Toronto production in 2005.)

andrew porter magic flute toronto 2005

In his music reviews for The New Yorker magazine, critic Andrew Porter always seemed a cut above most journalistic critics.

His reviews had enough depth and substance beyond the occasion of the specific performance he was reviewing that they were collected and published in several books — unfortunately many are now out of print — that still provide terrific research possibilities and vindicate his earlier judgments.

Here is a link to a page at amazon.com that lists his essays and libretto translation:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_13?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=andrew+porter+music&sprefix=andrew+porter%2Cstripbooks%2C237

Andrew Porter book

So many of us learned to appreciate classical music in more knowledgeable and sophisticated ways, thanks to Andrew Porter and his wealth of detailed knowledge as well as his superior writing style. (Below, you can see Andrew Porter in the 1970s.)

andrew porter 1970s

But I had no idea of his really erudite sides — including his command of several languages and his extensive involvement in the actual performances of music, especially translating opera librettos — until I read his obituaries.

Here is a sampling of the memorial essays about a critic who will go down as one of the greatest critics ever.

Here is a story from the terrific Deceptive Cadence blog of NPR )National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/04/03/397295421/multifaceted-music-critic-andrew-porter-dies-at-86

Here is a story from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/arts/music/andrew-porter-new-yorker-classical-music-critic-dies-at-86.html

And here is a story, with great background and details, from The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom where Porter — seen below in 1992 in a photo by Jane Bown — lived in London since retiring from the New Yorker:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/apr/07/andrew-porter

Andrew Porter in 1992.

 


Classical music: Go inside the Money Opera at the Met with the Pulitzer Prize-winning financial reporter James B. Stewart.

March 30, 2015
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It is no secret that the famed Metropolitan Opera in New York City has been having major financial and labor problems during the tenure of its General Director Peter Gelb (below).

Peter Gelb 2.jpg

But it is hard to find a better researched or more detailed account of what is going on than the account that was written by the journalist James B. Stewart and appeared in the March 23 issue of The New Yorker magazine.

A graduate of the Harvard University Law School, Stewart (below), you may recall, is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and currently a columnist for the New York Times. He has also written best-selling books. Such qualifications give him added credibility when reporting on the fiscal state of the arts.

James B. Stewart

Plus, Stewart got access to documents and records as well as to members of the board of directors. His account is filled with specific details about costs and fundraising that are convincing.

The discrepancy, for example, between what the Met said was the official cost of its recent and controversial “Ring” cycle (below) by Robert Lepage of Cirque du Soleil and what others say it cost is both astonishing and appalling.

Lepage Ring set

In an interview with Jim Zirin, Peter Gelb defends himself and his tenure in a YouTube video at the bottom.

To The Ear, the larger question is whether some of the same criticisms apply to other large performing arts groups, opera companies and symphony orchestras in other cities.

But that is another story for another day.

Here is a link to the story about the Met by James B. Stewart:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/23/a-fight-at-the-opera

 


Next Page »

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,094 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 1,722,376 hits
%d bloggers like this: