The Well-Tempered Ear

The Ear is back

June 10, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear is back!

For the first time since the May 18 posting about the season’s last concert by Just Bach, The Ear can post a new entry.

For three weeks, The Ear struggled to correct the situation, but to no avail. But then yesterday everything suddenly seemed to fall into place and new postings became possible.

Some readers and subscribers have contacted The Ear to ask if he was ill or something disabling had happened. Thank you for your concern.

But let me reassure you. The absence and silence were due simply to the technological glitch on the WordPress.com platform.

In some ways, though, the involuntary sabbatical was welcome. It provided The Ear with an opportunity to consider whether he wanted to continue the blog after the past 13 years.

After much consideration, The Ear has decided to continue, at least for the time being.

But the blog will see some changes.

Stay tuned and The Ear will explain more in detail.

In the mean time, thank you for continuing to subscribe and read the blog. It has been gratifying to see both the loyalty of the readers, many of whom used the hiatus to explore the archives. 

And if you have any comments or suggestions to make about the blog, please leave them in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Wisconsin Ensemble Project’s string quartet program to benefit the United Way of Dane County debuts online this Friday night

May 11, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, May 14, the Wisconsin Ensemble Project will present a recorded concert (below, in an image by Katrin Talbot) in partnership with United Way of Dane County (UWDC). 

This is their second in a series of performances to benefit local and international organizations.  

This production offers viewers a meaningful program that leads to direct impact with a focus on housing stability and family well-being.  You will hear the story and see the face of UWDC woven throughout a chamber music performance. 

The program of works for string quartet includes “Park”  by Daniel Bernard Roumain (below top); the “Heiliger Dankgesang” (Sacred Hymn of Thanksgiving, which you can hear played by the Alban Berg Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom) from Beethoven’s Opus 132; and selections from Five Folksongs in Counterpoint by Florence Price (below bottom).

WE Project members and performers are local, professional musicians who work together in the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra: violinists Leanne League and Mary Theodore; violist Jen Paulson; and cellist Karl Lavine.

“The WE Project is rooted in the quartet’s desire not only to delve deeply into chamber music repertoire, but also to address some of the many pressing social justice issues of our time,” says member Mary Theodore.

When exploring organizations to partner with for their second project, the quartet was inspired by the work of United Way of Dane County. The WE Project approached United Way out of their concern over housing security, with the understanding that one of UWDC’s key goals is to help more individuals and families find pathways out of poverty through housing and employment initiatives.

The recorded production will be available by registering at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/wisconsin-ensemble-project-spring-benefit-concert-registration-151923670789 from 6 p.m. this Friday, May 14, for 72 hours. Admission is free and contributions are strongly encouraged.

Contributions can be made through the website and will help to cover basic production costs and get funds directly into the hands of this very worthy organization which, most importantly, brings aid to the people they serve.


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Critics for The New York Times name their Top 10 online classical concerts for May

May 3, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Even as we wait to see whether concerts in the next season will be mostly streamed or live, the critics for The New York Times have named their Top 10 classical concerts to stream and hear online in May.

The Times critics have been doing this during the pandemic year. So perhaps if and when they stop, it will be a sign of returning to concert life before the pandemic.

Then again, maybe not, since The Ear suspects that many listeners have liked the online format, at least for some of the times and for certain events. So maybe there will be a hybrid format with both live and online attendance.

As the same critics have done before, they mix an attention to contemporary composers, world premieres and up-and-coming performers, including the Finnish conductor Susanna Maliki (below top) in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times).

In a welcome development, the recommendations for this month also seem to mention more Black composers, performers and pieces than usual, including the rising star bass-baritone Davon Tines (below, in a photo by Vincent Tullo for The New York Times).

But you will also find many of the “usual suspects,” including Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Bartok, Benjamin Britten, Olivier Messiaen and Shostakovich. (On the play list is Schubert’s last song, “The Shepherd on the Rock,” which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

You will also find dates and times (all are Eastern), links to the event and some short commentaries about what makes the concerts, programs and the performers noteworthy.

Here is a link to the story: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/29/arts/music/classical-music-streaming.html

Do you know of local, regional, national or international online concerts that you recommend? Leave word with relevant information in the Comment section.

Happy Listening!


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The Madison Bach Musicians host a virtual online Baroque Tour starting this Saturday, April 24, and lasting through May 8

April 19, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following notice from Trevor Stephenson, the founder and artistic director of the Madison Bach Musicians (MBM), who will debut their season-closing concert live and online this coming Saturday night, April 24:

Stephenson (below) writes:

Since travel has been so very limited during the pandemic, Madison Bach Musicians is elated to conclude its 2020-21 season with a musical journey through both space and time, and invites you to join us from the intimacy and safety of your own home.

A Baroque Tour is a musical travelogue of instrumental masterworks from 17th- and 18th-century Europe. Luminaries like Handel, Vivaldi, Purcell and Buxtehude are in the mix on this program with their brilliant though lesser-known contemporaries such as Louis-Gabriel Guillemain (below top), Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Andrea Falconieri (below bottom) and Francisco Jose de Castro.

A Baroque Tour will explore the glorious sonic landscapes of Italy, Spain, France, England and Germany.

Our ensemble for this program consists of five strings plus harpsichord, and we are thrilled that baroque bassoon virtuoso Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill), who teaches at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, will join us for Vivaldi’s exuberant Bassoon Concerto in B-Flat Major. (You can hear the opening movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

A Baroque Tour will be broadcast via live-streaming from the acoustically spectacular sanctuary of Grace Episcopal Church on this Saturday evening, April 24. (Rebroadcasts will be available on demand through May 8.)

Tickets are $15 and available online at: https://madison-bach-musicians.square.site/product/a-baroque-tour-april-24-2021-livestream-on-demand-until-may-8/57?cs=true&cst=custom

If you wish to purchase tickets through the mail, use this downloadable form: https://madisonbachmusicians.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/MBM-2020-21-Live-Stream-Ticket-Form-A-Baroque-Tour.pdf

Here is the schedule for the concert and related events:

From 7:30-8 p.m., in a pre-concert lecture, MBM artistic director Trevor Stephenson will discuss the composers, the repertoire and the historical instruments.

The performance will run from 8 p.m. until approximately 9:15 p.m.

The evening will then conclude with a live Question-and-Answer session with the musicians who will be socially distanced on the concert platform.

Listeners should submit their questions—in advance or during the broadcast—via email to Karen Rebholz at madisonbachmusicians.manager@gmail.com.

THE MUSICIANS are:

Marc Vallon – baroque bassoon soloist

Kangwon Kim (below) – baroque violin

Emily Dupere – baroque violin

Micah Behr – baroque viola and baroque guitar

Martha Vallon – baroque cello and viola da gamba

James Waldo – baroque cello (and tambourine)

Trevor Stephenson – harpsichord 

THE PROGRAM is:

HANDEL – Sonata in A major for Violin and Continuo, HWV 361

CHARPENTIER – Concerto for Four Viols, H 545

PURCELL – Trio Sonata in C major, Z 795

VIVALDI – Bassoon Concerto in B-flat major, RV 503

GUILLEMAIN – Sonata in A minor for Two Violins, Op. 5, No.1

BUXTEHUDE – Trio Sonata in G major, BuxWV 271

DE CASTRO – Trio Sonata in C major, Op. 1, No. 6

FALCONIERI – La Folia (Folías de España)

Here is a link to some brief biographies and interesting facts about these remarkable composers: https://madisonbachmusicians.org/april-24-a-baroque-tour-a-livestream-event/


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As the semester ends, virtual concerts allow UW students to reach many more family members, friends and listeners. Here is how the public can connect to them

April 14, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Starting tonight and over the next two weeks, as the spring semester at the UW-Madison comes to a close, there will be more than two dozen student recitals to listen to. (Below is the YouTube video for the concert this Thursday night, April 15, at 6:30 p.m. of the Marvin Rabin String Quartet that is comprised of graduate students.)

Often two or more concerts a day are scheduled, often at 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. 

That much is typical.

What is not typical during the pandemic is that technology will allow the recitals to be presented live-streamed and virtual.

The downside is that the students will not experience performing before a live audience.

But there is an upside.

Going virtual also means that the recitals will be available longer to family, friends and interested listeners  here as well as around the country and — especially for international students — the world. (Below, in a photo by Bryce Richter for the UW-Madison, is the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall in the Hamel Music Center.)

It also means you can hear them when it is convenient for you and not at the actual scheduled times.

The Ear has heard his share of student recitals and often finds them to be exceptional events.

If you go to the Mead Witter School of Music’s website, you can see the concerts and the lineups.

You will see that there will be student recitals of vocal music, brass music, wind music, string music and piano music. There are solo recitals, chamber music and even a symphony orchestra concert. (Below, in a photo by Bryce Richter for the UW-Madison, is the Collins Recital Hall in the Hamel Music Center.)

There are too many details for each concert to list them all here individually.

But if you go to the Concerts and Events page on the music school’s outstanding website, you can hover the cursor over the event and then click on the event and get everything from the performers and programs to program notes, a performer biography and a photo with a link to the YouTube performance.

On the YouTube site, if you click on “See More” you will see more details and can even set up an alarm for when the concert starts.

Here is a link: https://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Try it and see for yourself. Below is the YouTube link for pianist Mengwen Zhu, who performs his recital this Saturday, April 17, at 6 p.m.)

Happy listening!

Let us know what you think, especially if it is encouraging for the students.

The Ear wants to hear.


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New York Times critics name their Top 10 online concerts in April. They start today with a Good Friday performance of Bach’s “St. John Passion.”

April 2, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

More people are getting COVID vaccines, but concerts will remain virtual and online for quite a while yet, especially if a fourth wave or another spike hits the U.S. and the world.

So here, once again, are the Top 10 online choices for April listening picked by the classical music critics for The New York Times.

This being the weekend of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, it couldn’t be more timely.

The first choice, which starts steaming today, is perfect for both occasions. It is a production of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion.” It is conducted by THE Bach performers – the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque soloists, all conducted by Bach expert John Eliot Gardiner.

Gardiner has recorded and toured the world with Bach’s cantatas and oratorios. He also wrote the well criticially acclaimed book “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven.”

If you like Bach, you are in for some good listening this month. Pianist Jeremy Denk (below) will also perform the complete first book of Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier” at the end of the month. (You can hear the famous first prelude, popular with students and amateurs  but also used in a sacred setting by Schubert and Gounod, in the Youtube video at the bottom.)

You may recall that Denk performed Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” several years ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater, which also hosted an online concert by Denk this season in a program of Brahms and the two Schumann’s – Robert and Clara. 

You can also hear chamber music, including a concert of contemporary composers by the Attacca Quartet.

And there is a period performance of “Pelleas and Melisande” by Debussy (below). It will attempt to recreate how the opera score sounded when it was first performed in 1902.

The ever-inventive music educator Leon Botstein will conduct a concert of music by Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein and Tania Leon. 

German baritone Benjamin Appl will perform the famous song cycle “Die Schöne Müllerin” (The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter) by Franz Schubert. It streams from the faned Wigmore Hall in London.

One of the most intriguing choices is the score to Philip Glass’ “pocket opera” based on the short story “In the Penal Colony” by Franz Kafka.

The well-known conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below), who is also the new music director of the San Francisco Symphony after Michael Tilson Thomas retired last year. Much of the program is Salonen’s own music, along with Minimalist music by Steve Reich and Terry Riley.

There are also “Monumental Trios, featuring piano trios by Brahms and Beethoven, performed by members of the Chamber Music of Society.

And of course there will be a world premiere of the Symphony No. 2 by Huw Watkins  (below is his Wikipedia bio with a photo in case you haven’t heard of the composer).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huw_Watkins

For more details, here is a link to the Times story. Click on the headline. It includes some commentary by the critic who chose each piece. You will also find links to the artist and organization plus the debut date and how long the post will remain available. Please note that all times are Eastern Daylight Time.

Do you have other concerts you recommend for streaming – local, regional, national or international?

Please leave your selection in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy listening.


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Today – Monday, March 29 – is World Piano Day. Here are links to free online recitals. What does the piano mean to you? Did it play a role during the pandemic?

March 29, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – March 29, 2021 – is World Piano Day.

That is because today is the 88th day of 2021.

Gotta have some kind of code or symbolic meaning, after all.

In any case, there are virtual online celebrations all over the world. Here is a link to the official welcoming website that also lists Spotify and SoundCloud playlists from past years and dozens of worldwide events this year, running from March 25-30: https://www.pianoday.org

You can also find more on Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

The piano means a lot to The Ear, who listens to it and plays it. He loves, loves, loves the piano.

What has the piano and piano music meant to you in your life?

What role did the piano play for you during the past pandemic year?

Have you listened to or discovered newer, younger talent?

Do you have favorite pianists, either historic or current? What do you like about them?

Or maybe you have favorite piano pieces?

Please tell us all about you and the piano in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

In the meantime you can listen to the World Piano Day “monster recital” by 17 pianists who record for Deutsche Grammophon. The “Yellow Label” – the first commercial record label — has signed a lot of great pianists in its time, and still does.

Here is a link to the YouTube DG recital, which lasts 2 hours and 50 minutes. If you go to the actual YouTube site, click on Show More to see the complete list of performers and pieces. Otherwise performers and programs are displayed on the screen:


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Here is a collaborative obituary for music critic, radio host, performer and gay pioneer Jess Anderson, who died in January at 85

March 7, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

In late January of this year, Jess Anderson (below) — a longtime friend, devoted musician and respected music critic – died at 85.

The Ear promised then that when more was known or written, it would be posted on this blog.

That time has come.

Jess was a polymath, a Renaissance Man, as the comments below attest to time and again.

For the past several years, he suffered from advancing dementia and moved from his home of 56 years to an assisted living facility. He had contracted COVID-19, but died from a severe fall from which he never regained consciousness.

Jess did not write his own obituary and he had no family member to do it. So a close friend – Ed Wegert (below) – invited several of the people who knew Jess and worked with him, to co-author a collaborative obituary. We are all grateful to Ed for the effort the obituary took and for his caring for Jess in his final years.

In addition, the obituary has some wonderful, not-to-be-overlooked photos of Jess young and old, at home, with friends, sitting at the piano and at his custom-built harpsichord.

It appears in the March issue of Our Lives, a free statewide LGBTQ magazine that is distributed through grocery stores and other retail outlets as well as free subscriptions. Here is a link to the magazine’s home webpage for details about it: https://ourliveswisconsin.com.

That Jess was an exceptional and multi-talented person is obvious even from the distinguished names of the accomplished people who contributed to the obituary:

They include:

Chester Biscardi (below), who is an acclaimed prize-winning composer, UW-Madison graduate, composer and teacher of composition at Sarah Lawrence College.

John Harbison (below), the MacArthur “genius grant” recipient and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who teaches at MIT and co-directs the nearby Token Creek Chamber Music Festival in the summer.

Rose Mary Harbison (below), who attended the UW-Madison with Jess and became a professional performing and teaching violinist who co-directs the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

Steve Miller (below), a close friend who became a bookmaker and is now a professor at the University of Alabama.

The Ear, who knew Jess over many decades, was also invited to contribute.

Here is a link to the joint obituary in Our Lives magazine, a free LGBTQ periodical that you can find in local grocery store and other retail outlets: https://ourliveswisconsin.com/article/remembering-jess-anderson/?fbclid=IwAR027dzv2YqRUNlYF1cF6JyXnEcQxAwcprPYbtBQCs3rYt0Nu847W_xbjpk

Feel free to leave your own thoughts about and memories of Jess in the comment section.

It also seems a fitting tribute to play the final chorus from The St. John Passion of Johann Sebastian Bach. You can hear it in the YouTube video below. It is, if memory serves me well, the same piece of sublime music that Jess played when he signed off from hosting his Sunday morning early music show for many years on WORT-FM 89.9.

 


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Here are the Top 10 online concerts to stream in March, according to critics for the New York Times

March 2, 2021
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ALERT: The online live-streamed concert by the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet — scheduled for this Friday night, March 5 — in the all-Beethoven cycle of string quartets has been canceled and postponed until next year. The Friday, April 9 installment of the Beethoven cycle will be held as Installment 7 instead of 8.  

By Jacob Stockinger

Classical music critics of The New York Times have once again picked their Top 10 online concerts for the month of March.

The Ear has found such lists helpful for watching and hearing, but also informative to read, if you don’t actually “attend” the concert.

If you have read these lists before, you will see that this one is typical.

It offers lots of links with background about the works and performers; concert times (Eastern); and how long the online version is accessible.

Many of the performers will not be familiar to you but others – such as pianist Mitsuko Uchida (below, in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for the Times), who will perform an all-Schubert recital, will be very familiar.

But the critics once again emphasize new music and even several world premieres – including one by Richard Danielpour — and a path-breaking but only recently recorded live performance of the 1920 opera “Die Tote Stadt” (The Dead City) by long-neglected composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (below), who is best known for his Hollywood movie scores but who also wrote compelling classical concert hall music. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear soprano Renée Fleming sing “Marietta’s Song.’)

But some works that are more familiar by more standard composers – including Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Ravel and Copland – are also included.

The Times critics have also successfully tried to shine a spotlight on Black composers and Black performers, such as the clarinetist and music educator Anthony McGill (below top), who will perform a clarinet quintet by composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (below) and music in the setting of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

No purists, the critics also suggest famous oboe and clarinet works in transcriptions for the saxophone by composer-saxophonist Steven Banks (below).

Also featured is a mixed media performance of words and music coordinated by the award-winning Nigerian-American novelist, essayist and photographer Teju Cole (below), whose writings and photos are irresistible to The Ear.

Here is a link to the story in the Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/25/arts/music/classical-music-streaming-concerts.html

Are there other online concerts in March – local, regional, national or international – that you recommend in addition to the events listed in the Times?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Did any composer ever capture the quiet, timeless and motionless cold of deep winter better than Debussy?

February 9, 2021
6 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

It was one of those deep subzero days of the polar vortex that we seem locked in now right now.

The Ear looked out a window.

It was a chilly scene of winter, as the American writer Ann Beattie once described it.

The Ear saw the snow piled up.

He listened to the windless quiet.

Time, like motion, seemed to stop– or at least slow down — in the severe cold.

He saw tracks in the snow.

He couldn’t say whether they came from a rabbit or a squirrel or some other critter.

But it brought to mind a piano prelude by Debussy (below) that contains a kind of frozen minimalism.

Life was once again imitating art, as Oscar Wilde once observed, remarking that “there was no fog in London until the Impressionists painted it.”

Has any piece ever captured the cold, the quiet, the feeling of time and motion slowing down or stopping as Debussy did in “Des pas dans la neige” (Tracks in the Snow)?

Especially as it was played by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (below) who, like Sviatoslav Richter, wasn’t afraid to risk taking a slower-than-usual tempo if it right felt right and created the appropriate  atmosphere. (You can hear Michelangeli playing the Debussy prelude in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Do you agree about the Debussy piece?

About Michelangeli’s interpretation?

Do you know of another piece that captures the Arctic cold spell we are in?

Please leave a comment and a YouTube link, if possible.

The Ear wants to hear.

Stay safe and warm.

 


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