The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Let us now praise — and program — Lou Harrison, the prophetic American composer who pioneered both personal and professional diversity in music

May 20, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has heard the name of Lou Harrison.

But he doesn’t recall ever actually hearing any music by Lou Harrison (below).

Maybe that will change, now that the centennial of Harrison’s birth is being marked.

Perhaps the UW-Madison or a smaller local group will do something, since neither the Madison Symphony Orchestra nor the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has programmed anything by Harrison in their next seasons.

The Ear certainly hopes to hear some of Harrison’s intriguing and prophetic music, which seems to be a harbinger of contemporary globalism and world music, performed live. Harrison’s work seems to presage Yo-Yo Ma‘s crossover and cross-cultural Silk Road Ensemble, but was way ahead of its time and without the commercial success.

In any case, it seems very few composers pioneered and championed both personal and professional diversity through Asian sounds and an openly gay identity. Completely genuine, Harrison seemed creative and imaginative in just about everything he touched and did.

If you, like The Ear, know little about the maverick Lou Harrison, an excellent background piece, recently done by Tom Huizinga of National Public Radio (NPR), is a fine introduction.

Here is a link to the story:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/05/13/525919082/lou-harrison-the-maverick-composer-with-asia-in-his-ears

Harrison composed a lot of music, including concertos for piano and violin, that shows Asian influences and combines them with traditional Western classical music. Below is a YouTube recording of his Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Javanese Gamelan from 1981-82.

Have you heard or performed Harrison’s music?

What do you think of it?

Would you like to hear it programmed for live performance more often?

Leave your opinion in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: The new concert season features many world premieres in opera, orchestral music and chamber music. So, why not here in Madison?

September 20, 2016
12 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Who says classical music is dying?

You wouldn’t know it from some of the many world premieres of new music that will take place across the U.S. this season. Such events add a lot of excitement to the new concert season. And many critics and observers think they draw in new and younger audiences.

Quite a few of the premieres feature performers and composers familiar to Madison audiences. They include cellist Alisa Weilerstein (below top, in a photo by Harold Hoffmann for Decca Records), pianist Emanuel Ax (below second), composer Kevin Puts (below third) and composer Jake Heggie (below bottom).

alisa-weilerstein-cr-harold-hoffmann-for-decca

Emanuel Ax portrait 2016

Kevin Puts pulitzer

Jake Heggie

Here is a round-up of the national scene by Tom Huizenga, who writes the Deceptive Cadence blog for National Public Radio or NPR.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/31/491833898/first-impressions-a-guide-to-new-music-in-the-new-season

It makes one wonder: What about the local scene here in Madison?

True, several seasons ago, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison commissioned and premiered six new works to mark its centennial. They included four string quartets, one piano quintet and one clarinet quintet, all of which are now available in terrific recordings from Albany Records.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

This summer the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society featured bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below) in the world premiere of a song cycle it commissioned from American composer Kevin Puts, who is mentioned in the NPR story, to mark its 25th anniversary.

Timothy Jones posed portrait

And this fall, at its annual Labor Day concert the Karp family premiered a new work by Joel Hoffman for piano and cello, based on the life of the late pianist and former UW professor Howard Karp and performed by his sons pianist Christopher Karp and cellist Parry Karp (below).

karp-hoffman-pic

This winter the Madison Opera will stage the new jazz-inspired opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” although Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera will do a world premiere of a work it commissioned. Could the Madison Opera commission again its own new work, such as it did years ago with Daron Hagen‘s opera “Shining Brow” about Frank Lloyd Wright?

And there are other commissions and premieres by smaller groups, such as the percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion.

But what is the problem with getting new commissions and world premieres at bigger ensembles such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the UW Symphony Orchestra, which does perform a student work each year? Lack of money? Lack of will? Lack of audience interest?

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Prize-winning Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara has died at 87

July 30, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

He was a contemporary composer who wasn’t afraid to change or adapt his compositional style in radically differently ways, and who found a broad public as well as great respect from fellow composers and performers.

He was Einojuhani Rautavaara (below, in a photo from Getty Images), who was considered the most important composer of his country since Jean Sibelius, and he died at 87 this past week.

einojuhani rautavaara GETTY IMAGES

Here is a fine summary and obituary by Tom Huizenga for the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR or National Public Radio.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/07/28/487824438/eclectic-finnish-composer-einojuhani-rautavaara-dies-at-87

And here, in the YouTube video below, is the piece, complete with recorded bird songs recorded by the composer — Cantus Arcticus, Op, 61, from 1972 — that Rautavaara is perhaps best known for. It is also the piece that his fellow Finn, conductor Osmo Vanska, now the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, says he most admires.


Classical music: Meet Dame Ethel Smyth –- a Victorian feminist and forceful composer as well as an advocate of women’s rights and same-sex relations.

August 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

You probably don’t know the name Ethel Smyth (pronounced smaith, below).

The Ear certainly didn’t.

ethel smyth

But then he came across this fascinating account of her life and work.

Smythe was friends with Peter Tchaikovsky and Johannes Brahms.

An early feminist leader for same-sex equality, she fell in love with the much younger writer Virginia Woolf.

And her muscular music and politically charged operas reminded people of Richard Wagner.

Now she has been resurrected thanks to Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College who also directs the American Symphony Orchestra and the Bard Music Festival. He staged her 1904 opera “The Wreckers.” (At bottom, you can hear a YouTube performance of the Overture to “The Wreckers.”)

Leon Botstein conducting USE

Tom Huizenga, of the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog, wrote this profile and appreciation for NPR, or National Public radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/07/23/410033088/one-feisty-victorian-womans-opera-revived


Classical music: It was the best of years and the worst of years. Here is NPR’s year-end national wrap-up of the state of classical music in 2013.

January 4, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

As I said in yesterday’s post, even though we are now into 2014 there is some unfinished business to wrap up for 2013 for reasons that I also explained yesterday. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/classical-music-here-are-the-top-six-essays-on-and-writings-about-classical-music-with-runners-up-from-2013-as-chosen-by-famed-radio-station-wqxr-fm-of-new-york-city/

Most media outlets, from old-fashioned newspapers to high-tech blogs, tend to take a year-end look back at the high points and low points of classical music as well as other forms of art and culture. But they tend to favor local performances and trends – even the venerable and first-class New York Times, the national newspaper that sets the media’s agenda, nonetheless generally focuses on The Big Apple as the center of the cultural universe.

So imagine my delight when I found a really good wrap-up of national trends, and even international events, on NPR’s great classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence.” It even opens up your eyes to what The Industry considers to be classical music by revealing the “classical” music that made it onto the Billboard charts of best-sellers.

The post was compiled and documented on by the blog’s director, Tom Huizenga, (below top) with, I suspect, help from the always informed and creative Anastasia Tsioulcas (below bottom).

huizenga_tom_2011

anastasia tsioulcas

What is especially praiseworthy is that it is comprehensive with much food for thought; it also seems to The Ear to be fair and balanced, neither boosterish nor alarmist; and it includes a lot of photos and a lot of links to develop any particular story that grabs you even further.

So here it is — from the mixed state of symphony orchestras (the locked out Minnesota Orchestra, which lost its conductor Osmo Vanska to labor strife, is below top) to the demise of the New York City Opera with the world premiere of the new opera “Anna Nicole” (below bottom) to the issue of bullying LGBT teenagers to various anniversaries of works and composers including the centennials of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” and of the birth of Benjamin Britten.

minn-musicians

Anna Nicole opera  StephanienBerger

It should easily provide you with some fine reading on what promises to be a bitterly cold and mean January weekend and work week.

Enjoy. And now it is onward to the high notes and low points of 2014!

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/12/31/258649125/high-notes-and-clams-the-best-and-worst-of-classical-2013


Classical music: Here is a year-end look back at the classical music performers and composers we lost in 2013, including pianist Van Cliburn and British composer John Tavener.

December 30, 2013
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Even as we look forward to a New Year, it is a traditional to look back at the various classical musicians -– performers and composers and even some prominent scholars or musicologists -– that we lost during 2013.

At the top of everyone’s list is probably the acclaimed but enigmatic American pianist Van Cliburn (below top) and the British composer John Tavener (below bottom, in a photo by Steve Forrest).

van cliburn old

John Tavener composing Steve Forrest Insight-Visual

The famed New York City City radio station WQXR-FM has put together a good “in memorium” slide show. Here is a link:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/memoriam-classical-musicians-who-died-2013/

Something new, I think, is also an overview of classical music in 2013 that includes awards and works as well as deaths on Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_in_classical_music

APOLOGY FOR A MISTAKE: As a reader alerted me, the Polish composer Krzysztof Pedereecki is NOT DEAD but is still living and recently turned 80. I mistakenly thought he had died at 80 and I apologize for the error. I changed the headline, but I am leaving in some material because it is so good. So here are fine appreciations, with audio clips, of Penderecki (below) by NPR weekend host Arun Rath and NPRDeceptive Cadence’ blog director Tom Huizenga:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/11/23/246916733/a-sound-of-fear-forged-in-the-shadow-of-war

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/11/23/246309165/the-sound-of-struggle-tempered-with-terror-penderecki-at-80

krzysztof penderecki

Locally, of course, as well as regionally, nationally and even internationally, the most memorable death in music education was that of Marvin Rabin (below), the 97-year-old founder of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra. His memorial service was yesterday. Here is a link to my appreciation of him:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/classical-music-let-us-now-praise-marvin-rabin-who-founded-the-wisconsin-youth-symphony-orchestra-wyso-who-excelled-as-a-music-educator-and-performer-who-was-the-leonard-bernstein-of-ma/

marvin rabin BW

Are there other “departures” — or deaths or passings or losses — pick your term — you know of?

Do you care to leave an appreciation or comment?

The Ear wants to hear.


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