The Well-Tempered Ear

NPR names relevant classical albums in a musical Diary of the Plague Year of the pandemic, racial protests, wildfires and hurricanes

December 29, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

For an unusual and difficult year, NPR (National Public Radio) and critic Tom Huizenga have found a new and unusual way to recommend this past year’s top classical music recordings.

On the  “Deceptive Cadence” blog for NPR, Huizenga kept a personal month-by-month diary of “music and mayhem.”

For last February, for example, this ancient image of The Dance of Death inspired contemporary composer Thomas Adès to compose his own “Totentanz” or Dance of Death. (You can hear an excerpt from the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Some of the thematically-related music is modern or contemporary, some of it is from the Baroque or Classical era.

In June, as protests against the death of George Floyd (below top) flared up and spread worldwide, NPR names a recording of the “Negro Folk Symphony” by African-American composers William Dawson and Ulysses Kay (below bottom), thereby helping to rediscover Black composers whose works have been overlooked and neglected in the concert hall and the recording studio.

Devastating wildfires on the West Coast, Presidential impeachment and hurricanes on the Gulf Coast also found their way into the choices of music to listen to.

It is an unusual approach, but The Ear thinks it works.

See and hear for yourself by going to the sonic diary and listening to the samples provided.

Here is a link to the NPR album diary: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/12/21/947149286/music-and-mayhem-a-diary-of-classical-albums-for-a-troubled-2020

But many roads, if not all, lead to Rome, as they say.

What is also interesting is that a number of the NPR choices overlap with ones listed by music critics of The New York Times as the 25 best classical albums of 2020.

Some choices also are found on the list of the nominations for the Grammy Awards that will be given out at the end of January.

In other words, the NPR diary can also serve as yet another holiday gift guide if you have gift cards or money to buy some new and notable CDs, and are looking for recommendations.

Here is a link to the Times’ choices, which you can also find with commentary and a local angle, in yesterday’s blog post: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/17/arts/music/best-classical-music.html

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/12/27/the-new-york-times-names-the-top-25-classical-recordings-of-2020-and-includes-sample-tracks/

And here is a list to the Grammy nominations: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/11/28/for-holiday-shopping-and-gift-giving-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-63rd-grammy-awards-in-2021/

What do you think of the NPR musical diary of the plague year?

Do you find it informative? Accurate? Interesting? Useful?

Would you have different choices of music to express the traumatic events of the past year?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Today is the Winter Solstice. Here is a piece to make you look forward to longer days, warmth and the Summer Solstice next year

December 21, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – Monday, Dec. 21 — is the Winter Solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It arrives at 4:02 a.m. CST.

The Ear expects that Wisconsin Public Radio, among other media outlets, will be marking the event with traditional, often austere, winter music. That includes “Winter” from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”; maybe some songs from Schubert’s “Winterreise” (Winter Journey); Peter Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons” and “The Nutcracker”; and, of course, plenty of winter holiday music, including carols and the Baroque oratorios, cantatas and concertos by Bach, Handel, Telemann, Corelli and others.

But many people – strained by the coronavirus pandemic –are already eagerly looking forward to the days growing longer, which will culminate in the Summer Solstice at 10:31 p.m. CST on Sunday, June 21, 2021.

Who needs to celebrate the season’s cold and darkness? So The Ear thought that we could all use a little sonic sunlight, tonal warmth and musical hope, especially at the end of this Plague Year.

There are standards and favorites such as Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” and Vivaldi’s “Summer.” 

But to The Ear that work that really lifts one’s spirits, and captures the kind of joyful abandon and youthful energy of the mid-summer event, complete with animal noises and romance, is the “Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream” by a 17-year-old Felix Mendelssohn (below).

You can hear it below in a YouTube performance by the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig conducted by the late, great German conductor Kurt Masur, whose son, Ken-David Masur, is the new music director and conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

The Ear hopes you enjoy it.

What music would you like to hear or play to mark the Winter Solstice?

Leave a suggestion with your reason and, if possible, YouTube link in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus plus guest artists premiere a virtual online Christmas concert this Wednesday night. It runs through Dec. 31. Plus, PBS Wisconsin will rebroadcast the 2018 holiday concert on Sunday, Dec. 20.

December 15, 2020
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ALERT: Tomorrow — Wednesday, Dec. 16 — Wisconsin Public Radio will mark the 250th birth of Ludwig van Beethoven. The day’s programming is sure to feature many of the composer’s most popular works as well as some neglected ones. Which Beethoven work most moves you? Leave word in the Comment section.

By Jacob Stockinger

This Wednesday night, Dec. 16, at 7:30 p.m., the Madison Symphony Orchestra will premiere its FREE virtual and online holiday concert of “A Madison Symphony Christmas.”

This special new one-hour concert production will feature vocalists Kyle Ketelsen and Emily Secor; the Madison Symphony Chorus; the Madison Youth Choirs; and the Mt. Zion Gospel Ensemble (below), with performances and accompaniment by John DeMain and Greg Zelek on piano and the Overture Concert Organ, respectively.

This concert is offered for FREE upon registration and will be available for viewing through Dec. 31, 2020.



Featured music includes Joy to the World, Peace Carol, O Holy Night, Sleigh Ride, The Christmas Song, Winter Wonderland, Christmas Hope and more — plus the traditional sing-along where you can join the MSO singing to a medley of favorites from your home.

To register and find out more information about the individual and group performers (below), go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/a-virtual-madison-symphony-christmas-2020/

In addition, you can relive the 2018 Madison Symphony Christmas concert on Sunday, Dec. 20, at 4 p.m. on your local PBS Wisconsin station.

For more information about the one-hour program and performers, go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/a-madison-symphony-christmas-2018-re-broadcast/


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The UW-Madison’s Wingra Wind Quintet performs a FREE online virtual concert this Wednesday night. Plus, local music critic Greg Hettmansberger has died

December 8, 2020
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NEWS ALERT: Local music critic and blogger Greg Hettmansberger (below) was killed in a car accident on Dec. 2, near Wichita, Kansas. Hettmansberger, 65, was driving when he hit a deer and then another car hit him. His wife survived but remains hospitalized in Wichita in critical condition. Here is a link to a news account:  https://www.kake.com/story/42993718/man-dies-in-crash-caused-by-deer-in-pratt-county

By Jacob Stockinger

This Wednesday night, Dec. 9, the UW-Madison’s Wingra Wind Quintet (below, in 2017) will perform a FREE virtual online concert from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

Here is a direct link to the pre-recorded video premiere on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/e1NhVZJW2cA

Due to the pandemic, the Wingra Wind Quintet has been unable to perform chamber music in a traditional way since March 2020. (You can hear the quintet play “On, Wisconsin” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

In response, the quintet put together a program that allowed each member to record parts separately and have those parts edited together.

Current faculty members (below) are: Conor Nelson, flute; Lindsay Flowers, oboe; Alicia Lee, clarinet; Marc Vallon, bassoon; and Devin Cobleigh-Morrison, horn

The engineer/producer is Kris Saebo.

The program is: 

The first piece “Allegro scherzando” from Three Pieces by Walter Piston (below, 1894-1976)

The Chaconne from the First Suite in E-flat for Military Band by Gustav Holst (below, 1874-1934)

“Retracing” by Elliott Carter (below, 1908-2012)

Selections from “Mikrokosmos” by Bela Bartok (below, 1881-1945)

“A 6 letter letter” by Elliott Carter

Intermezzo from the First Suite in E-flat for Military Band by Gustav Holst

“Esprit rude/esprit doux” by Elliott Carter

Since its formation in 1965, the Wingra Wind Quintet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music has established a tradition of artistic and teaching excellence.

The ensemble has been featured in performance at national conferences such as MENC (Miami), MTNA (Kansas City), and the International Double Reed Society (Minneapolis). 

The quintet also presented an invitational concert on the prestigious Dame Myra Hess series at the Chicago Public Library, broadcast live on radio station WFMT.

In addition to its extensive home state touring, the quintet has been invited to perform at numerous college campuses, including the universities of Alaska-Fairbanks, Northwestern, Chicago, Nebraska, Western Michigan, Florida State, Cornell, the Interlochen Arts Academy, and the Paris Conservatoire, where quintet members offered master classes.

The Wingra Wind Quintet has recorded for Golden Crest, Spectrum, and the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music recording series and is featured on an educational video entitled Developing Woodwind Ensembles.

Always on the lookout for new music of merit, the Wingra has premiered new works of Hilmar Luckhardt, Vern Reynolds, Alec Wilder, Edith Boroff, James Christensen and David Ott. The group recently gave the Midwest regional premiere of William Bolcom’s “Five Fold Five,” a sextet for woodwind quintet and piano, with UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below).

New York Times critic Peter Davis, in reviewing the ensemble’s Carnegie Hall appearance, stated “The performances were consistently sophisticated, sensitive and thoroughly vital.”

The Wingra Wind Quintet is one of three faculty chamber ensembles in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music. 

Deeply committed to the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea, the group travels widely to offer its concerts and educational services to students and the public in all corners of the state. (Editor’s note: For more about the Wisconsin Idea, which seems more relevant today than ever, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisconsin_Idea.)

Portions of this recording were made at the Hamel Music Center, a venue of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

 


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It’s Thanksgiving Day. Conductor Marin Alsop, NPR, WQXR, WFMT and Wisconsin Public Radio offer music suggestions. What piece would you choose to mark the holiday?

November 26, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020 — is Thanksgiving Day.

Right now, the U.S. has had more than 12 million cases of COVID-19 with more than 260,000 deaths plus all the alarming signs and conditions that many more cases and deaths are coming in the next several months.

We might be sad that we can’t be with the family and friends we usually celebrate with. But we nonetheless have many things to give thanks for during this strange and tragic time.

We can thank the vaccine researchers; the doctors and nurses; and the other health care workers who take care of Covid patients, even those who don’t observe precautions and bring on their own illness.

We can thank all kinds of people on the front lines — food and transportation workers, for example — who help protect us and care for us.

We can thank the friends, family and others who stay in touch and help get us through these trying times.

And we can thank technology that makes isolating a lot less unbearable because we have telephones, radios, TVs, CD players, computers, cell phones and virtual online ZOOM meetings and gatherings and various other events including live-streamed concerts.

For The Ear, music has never meant more or brought more comfort than during this difficult year. He is giving thanks for that as well as for the other people and things just mentioned.

So what music should we celebrate this year’s emotionally complicated and mixed Thanksgiving holiday with?

Well, you can Google sources and go to YouTube to find compilations of music appropriate to the holiday. (See one playlist lasting 90 minutes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Famed classical radio station WQXR in New York City has five suggestions for being musically grateful: https://www.wqxr.org/story/top-five-expressions-thanks-classical-music/

And WFMT in Chicago is offering 20 suggestions based on holiday food: https://www.wfmt.com/2019/11/25/a-complete-thanksgiving-feast-in-20-food-inspired-pieces/

But here are a couple of other suggestions, some local.

Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) is always a reliable source. And tomorrow is no exception.

If WPR programming stays true to past patterns, music by American composers will be emphasized.

Plus, starting at 10 a.m. WPR will broadcast performances from the Honors Concerts (below) by middle and high school students around the state and who participate in the Wisconsin School Music Association. This year, for the first time, the performances will be virtual. But as in past years, they are sure to be moving and even inspiring.

Other fine suggestions from the world-famous conductor Marin Alsop  (below), a Leonard Bernstein protégée, who recently spoke for 7 minutes to NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon. 

Here is a link, but you should listen rather than just read the transcript if you want to hear the musical samples: https://www.npr.org/2020/11/21/937448472/this-thanksgiving-put-on-some-music-to-soothe

Do you like any of those suggestions? Were any new to you?

What piece of music would you choose to express gratitude on this particular Thanksgiving?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The Willy Street Chamber Players give a free virtual concert this Sunday at noon. It will be posted until Dec. 31

November 14, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from The Willy Street Chamber Players (below), a relatively new group that is critically acclaimed for both its adventurous and eclectic, exploratory programming and for its outstanding performances of both the traditional repertoire and new music.

The Willy Street Chamber Players (WSCP) will play a virtual online concert this Sunday, Nov. 15, at noon CST.

Access to the “Beyond the Screen” concert is FREE and no registration is required. It will be available for free online until Dec. 31 on the group’s website. Here is a link to YouTube: https://youtu.be/j5Ved4FqYSQ

Listeners can visit the WSCP website or Facebook page Sunday at concert time for links to the 70-minute performance. Here is a link to the home website: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

The dynamic WSCP program was recorded live, with masks and social distance, at the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below, exterior and interior during the taping) in James Madison Park in downtown Madison.

The concert will premiere on Facebook live and YouTube, providing two ways to watch from the comfort and safety of your own home.

Members of WSCP will be on hand to interact with viewers in real time through the Facebook and YouTube virtual chat during the performance. They will provide spoken program notes.

Then, immediately following the concert, you can join WSCP members for a Q&A “reception” on ZOOM at 1:15 pm.

An RSVP required for Q&A

The concert program is:

Sonata for Violin and Cello (1922) by French composer Maurice Ravel (below)

“Allegro,” the first of Four Pieces for Solo Cello (1983) by Cuban-born composer Tania León (below), which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.

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

Canción de Cuna Del Niño Negro (Cradle Song of the Black Baby, 1937) by Cuban composer Amadeo Roldán y Gardes (below), as arranged by Rachel Barton Pine.

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

Heart O’ the Hills” from Appalachian Duets, Op. 38, No. 8 (2001) by American composer Maria Newman (below), who is the youngest daughter of famous Hollywood film composer Alfred Newman.

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

Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7 (1914), by Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly

 


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New York Times music critics pick 10 MUST-HEAR online virtual classical concerts to stream for October

October 3, 2020
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ALERT: Tonight’s concert by the choral group Roomful of Teeth for the Wisconsin Union Theater at the UW-Madison’s Hamel Music Center has been canceled and postponed indefinitely.

By Jacob Stockinger

Increasingly the coronavirus pandemic seems surging out of control. So it comes as no surprise that also more and more concerts of classical music are taking place virtually and online.

Coronavirus image CDC

There are many ways to choose among local, regional, national and international concerts.

But one good guide was published this last week and featured the choice of must-hear classical concerts by critics for The New York Times.

It is an interesting and varied selection, and includes times, links and brief descriptions.

It features concerts that emphasize Black composers such as Florence Price (below top) and women composers. It covers many genres from a solo piano recital by Jeremy Denk (below bottom) – who is supposed to perform here on Dec. 11 at the Wisconsin Union Theater – to chamber music, vocal music, orchestral concerts and operas.

Florence Price head shot University of Arkansas Libraries

Jeremy Denk playing CR Hiroyuki Ito NYTImes

Curiously, there is quite bit of new music but little early music, either Renaissance or Baroque. Perhaps more will appear around the holiday times, when that music is part of the traditional holiday celebrations.

You will find contemporary composers but also lots of certified, tried-and-true classics and masterworks.

Some are one-day only events but many run from a week through a month.

Here is a link to the story. PLEASE NOTE THAT TIMES ARE ALL EASTERN: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/29/arts/music/classical-music-stream.html

Please let The Ear know if you like this kind of listing and find it useful.

And please feel free to leave in the comment section other guides or events that the public should know about.


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Classical music: On this Memorial Day, The Ear honors not only soldiers but also civilians, COVID-19 victims and all those responders and workers who serve the public

May 25, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day 2020.

It is of course a largely military holiday. Most of the planned public events will be to honor those who died in service to their country. That usually means fallen soldiers and deceased veterans.

It also means that military cemeteries – like Arlington National Cemetery, below — will be decorated with American flags.

But The Ear doesn’t think we should forget that there are many ways to serve your country and protect the public, many kinds war and self-sacrifice.

Let’s not forget civilians, especially since worldwide more than twice the numbers of civilians died in World War II than did members of the armed forces. Lives are taken as well as given.

A larger definition of “national service” also seems especially timely since this weekend the U.S. is likely to surpass 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic. They include many first responders and frontline workers (below) as well as grocery store workers and delivery drivers. Even “small” occupations have big heroes. There is no reason not to be more inclusive.

There are traditional kinds of music to honor the dead. They include requiems and elegies, military marches and funeral marches. And in the comment section you should feel free to suggest whatever music you think would be appropriate.

But The Ear found a piece he thinks is both unusual and ideal.

It is called “Old and Lost Rivers” by the contemporary American composer Tobias Picker (below). It is a beautiful, moving and contemplative piece, based on an actual place in Texas, that you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.

But you should know this about the work’s title.

With rivers, “lost” doesn’t mean forgotten or misplaced.

One dictionary defines it as “a surface stream that flows into an underground passageway” – and eventually often becomes part of a larger body of water such as a lake or the ocean.

It can also mean rivers that appear during heavy rain and then disappear when they evaporate during a drought.

Somehow, those images serve as fitting metaphors for our losses and that music seems a very appropriate way to honor those who sacrifice themselves and disappear in service to others.

The Ear hopes you agree.


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Classical music: The Festival Choir of Madison performs Yiddish music Saturday night. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performs the child-friendly “Beethoven Lives Next Door” for FREE twice on Saturday morning

March 11, 2020
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ALERT: Do you have children or grandchildren you want to introduce to classical music? This Saturday morning, March 14, at 9:15 and 11:15 a.m. in the Goodman Community Center, at 149 Waubesa Street on Madison’s near east side, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will give two FREE public performances of “Beethoven Lives Next Door.” The interactive, multi-media event includes live music and story-telling, and is designed for children age 4-10 and their families. Because space is limited, advance registration is strongly recommended. You can register for one of the performances by going to: https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances

By Jacob Stockinger

The Festival Choir of Madison will present its second concert of the season, “Ner Tamid: Eternal Flame,” on this Saturday night, March 14, at 8 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison at 900 University Bay Drive.

The choir (below), under the artistic direction of Edgewood College professor Sergei Pavlov (below, front right)  will perform songs drawing on Yiddish folklore, Klezmer innovations, the pain and cultural fusion of the diaspora, and the poignancy of love in the Holocaust.

Spanning geography and time, this array of Sephardic folk songs, Middle Eastern melodies, the high European tradition of the late 19th century, and contemporary settings of ancient texts paints a rich picture of the breadth of Jewish musical tradition.

The performance includes works by Gustav Mahler, Jacob Weinberg (below top) and Alberto Guidobaldi (below bottom) for classical composers, as well as Paul Ben Haim and Josef Hadar, who are more contemporary Israeli and Jewish composers, respectively.

The Festival Choir of Madison (FCM) is an auditioned, mixed-voice volunteer choir of over 50 experienced singers. FCM performs thematic concerts of artistically challenging choral music from around the world for listeners who enjoy traditional, modern, and eclectic works, and for singers who enjoy developing their talents with others.

The choir performs three thematic concerts annually in November, March and May. It also serves as the core choir for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s annual “Messiah” concert. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the Festival Choir of Madison perform “The West Lake” by Chinese composer Chen Yi in 2019.)

Concert admission — general seating — is $10 for students, $15 for senior citizens, and $20 for adults, with tickets available at the door the day of the concert. Tickets can also be purchased online at: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4383496

To learn more about the choir and see details about its May 16 performance of Mozart’s Requiem, visit: www.festivalchoirmadison.org

 


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