The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: You can celebrate Valentine’s Day this Thursday, Feb. 14, with live concerts of new music or old music in a large hall or a small cafe

February 10, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you are looking to celebrate Valentine’s Day on this coming Thursday, Feb. 14, with live classical music, there are at least two excellent choices facing you.

The larger event is a FREE concert at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall by the UW Symphony Orchestra (below top) under the award-winning conductor and professor Chad Hutchinson (below bottom) and two graduate student conductors, Michael Dolan and Ji Hyun Yim.

The program features the “Valse Triste” (Sad Waltz) by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and the Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

But the main focus will be on two works by the living American composer Augusta Read Thomas (below), who lives in Chicago and whose music is widely performed because of its accessible style.

The two works by Thomas are “Of Paradise and Light” and “Prayer and Celebration.”

Thomas, who this week will be doing a residency at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, will also hold a free and open master class in Music Hall, at the base of Bascom Hill, from 2 to 5 p.m. that same day. (You can listen to her discuss how she composes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more information about the concert, the program and especially about Thomas – including an audio sample — go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-madison-symphony-orchestra/

A BAROQUE VALENTINE’S DAY

On Valentine’s Day, baroque chamber music enthusiasts can hear the music of the Kim-Kielson Duo as they perform a program on period instruments, titled Canons, Chaconnes and Chocolate!

Longtime friends and performers, baroque violinist Kangwon Lee Kim and recorder player Lisette Kielson (below top, right and left respectively) will be joined by viola da gambist James Waldo (below bottom).

The concert is on this Thursday, Feb. 14, at 7 p.m. at Chocolaterian Cafe, 6637 University Ave., in Middleton.

You can name your own ticket price — $20-$35 per person is suggested, payable in either cash or check.

There also will be Special Valentine’s Day Chocolate available for purchase.

The program celebrates the popular baroque forms of the canon and chaconne as composed by Italian, German and French masters.

The duo will perform three chaconnes by Tarquinio Merula, Antonio Bertali and Marin Marais plus canonic duos by Georg Philipp Telemann as well as an arrangement of canons from The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080, by Johann Sebastian Bach.


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Classical music: It’s Valentine’s Day. What piece of classical music would you give to your Valentine?

February 14, 2017
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s Valentine’s Day.

Cupid

If you want to celebrate, there is always chocolate or roses or champagne or a special dinner.

But there is music too.

Many composers come to mind: Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Antonin Dvorak, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Gabriel FaureGiacomo Puccini, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev, and  Sergei Rachmaninoff to name a few.

But The Ear thinks one of the most beautiful pieces is a short one, a miniature if you will.

It is the Romance in F-sharp Major, Op. 28, No. 2, by the Romantic German composer Robert Schumann (below with his wife Clara Wieck Schumann). Nobody wrote music about love, music filled with love and yearning, better than Schumann.

Schumann_Robert_and_Wieck_Clara

Not only does the piece sound intimate.

It IS intimate — with the two thumbs playing the melody a third apart much of the time. It is as if the two thumbs, left and right, are the two lovers.

Little wonder that the composer asked his virtuoso pianist-composer wife Clara to play it for him as he lay dying.

And to top it off, it is not all that difficult to play, so you could learn it and play it for your Valentine.

Here it is, performed in a YouTube video by the late Van Cliburn:

But what about you?

As radio stations like to say ”The Request Line is open!

What piece of classical music – big or small, old or new, hard or easy — would you play or dedicate to your Valentine?

Duets of all kinds seem especially appropriate. But so do songs and symphonies, operas and oratorios, and all kinds of chamber music.

So tell us about your musical gift for Valentine’s Day.

Leave a message in the COMMENT section, with a short explanation and dedicatory comment and perhaps with a YouTube link if possible — the forward it to your Valentine.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Today is Valentine’s Day. What piece of music best celebrates love? Here are Limelight Magazine’s Top 10 Sexiest Moments in Classical Music. Leave some music and words for your Valentine right here. Plus, the University of Wisconsin School of Music has successfully reinvented the annual Concerto Competition Winners’ concert -– to loud approval and multiple standing ovations from a packed house.

February 14, 2014
5 Comments

READER SURVEY: Today is Valentine’s Day. What is the best piece of romantic music you know of to listen to or to send to someone to celebrate this day? You can even leave a link to a YouTube video and a dedication in the COMMENT section. Here is a link to Limelight Magazine’s Top 10 Sexiest Moments in Classical Music:

http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/Article/371934,the-10-sexiest-moments-in-classical-music.aspx

Cupid

By Jacob Stockinger

Little things can add up to a big difference.

Take the annual concert given by the winners (below) of this year’s concerto competition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Here are links to background of the event and the performers in the preview story that was posted  on this blog and and a link to the performers’ biographies that appeared on “Fanfare,” the outstanding bog of the UW School of Music:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/classical-music-education-the-university-of-wisconsin-school-of-music-ramps-up-its-annual-student-concerto-competition-concert-this-saturday-night-with-a-gala-reception/

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/symphony-showcase2013-14/

UW concerto winners 2014 Michael R. Anderson

Someone at the SOM (as the School of Music is referred to by insiders) rightly decided that the event deserved a higher public profile. (Except where noted, performance photos are by The Ear.)

So they made a few adjustments.

They booked Mills Hall for a Saturday night – last Saturday night, in fact — the best night of the week for entertainment events.

Then they rechristened the event the Symphonic Showcase, since the UW Symphony Orchestra (below with graduate student and assistant conductor Kyle Knox) is the common denominator and accompanies all the concerto winners and also premieres the winning piece by a student composer. The Ear likes that emphasis on collective or collaborative music-making.

They started the concert early, at 7 p.m.

That was because they also added a small and informal dessert reception from 9 to 11 p.m. — with all the proceeds of a $10 ticket going to a student scholarship fund — at the nearby Tripp Commons in the UW Memorial Union.

Kyle Knox and UW Symphony Orchestra

And what were the results?

Nothing short of a spectacular success.

Mills Hall was packed just about full (see the photo below by Michael R. Anderson).

uw concerto winner 2014 big audience Michael R. Anderson

And the big, enthusiastic audience greeted each performer with cheers and a standing ovation. And they deserved that. All of the winners played well and all chose great works to perform.

Here a rundown by contestant.

If you weren’t there -– well, you probably should regret it, You missed out on a lot of fun and a lot of beautiful music-making by a very impressive group of talented students. Maybe some state legislators were in the audience and will stop clowning around trying to micro-manage and ruin the UW while they say they’re really trying to fix it.

The evening started out with an orchestral showpiece, a kind of Romantic tone poem-concerto grosso that highlighted each section. That might be expected since the “Russian Easter” Overture came from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, a master orchestrator who taught Igor Stravinsky the craft of scoring music.

Graduate student Kyle Knox (below) conducted and did a fine job of bouncing the music around to various sections and keeping a clear line.

Kyle Knox 2

Violinist Madlen Breckbill (below) confidently commanded the stage with an appropriately lyrical and heart-breaking reading of the first movement of Samuel Barber’s masterful Violin Concerto. It was a thoroughly convincing rebuff to those people and critics who say you need to hear a new piece of music several times to know it is great. This kind of greatness you get from the first notes.

Madlen Breckbill

Saxophonist Erika Anderson (below left) played and projected with absorbing conviction the new “Poema” (2014) by student composer 24-year-old Russian-born composer Daria Tennikova (below right), who writes in an impressively accessible yet thoroughly modern idiom.

Erika Anderson and Daria Tennikova

Clarinetist Kai-Ju Ho (below top) brought both lyricism and swing to Aaron Copland’s underperformed Clarinet Concerto, pleasing conductor James Smith (below bottom right), himself a very accomplished clarinetist who performed the same concerto five times under the composer.

Kai-Ju Ho

James Smith and UW Symphony Orchestra with clarinet soloist Kai-Ju Ho

SeungWha Baek (below top, playing; below bottom by Michael R. Anderson) brought out the sizzle and virtuosity in the dazzling first movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with its ingenious Hanon-like five-finger exercise motif – except that this is no work for beginners, as you can see and hear at the bottom in a YouTube video with pianist Martha Argerich and conductor Andre Previn.

SeungWha Baek playing

UW concerto winners SeungWha Baek Michael R. Anderson 2014

Flutist Mi-Li Chang brought beautiful tone and playfulness, even Gallic charm, to the Concerto for Flute by Jacques Ibert.

Mi-Li Chang

And pianist Sung-Ho Yang brought the show to a close with a surprising subtle reading of Franz Liszt’s flashy and bombastic Piano Concerto No 1. The whole work is like one long cadenza – not one of the Ear’s favorites — so it was refreshing to hear Yang emphasize the quiet passages and subtlety, all the while bringing out the dialoguing back and forth between the piano and the orchestra.

Sung-Yo Yang playing

And after the music, we went to a quiet but friendly reception that featured coffee and tea as well as chocolate cake and pumpkin bars (below), set out much like a Wayne Thiebaud painting. It was a chance to meet the musicians and thank them for a splendid evening.

Chocolate cake al a Wayne Thiebaud

Pumpkin bars a la Wayne Thiebaud

Bravo to all.

The Ear is betting and hoping that next year will find the new format repeated.

Tinkering with failure is one thing.

But why tinker with success?

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Classical music: The Request Line is Open! Here is beautiful love music by Schumann and Schubert for my Valentine. What music would you dedicate to your Someone Special for Valentine’s Day?

February 14, 2013
13 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Valentine’s Day.

Music and love are inextricably linked for me. In fact, I am quite sure that much of the very best music in all genres is some kind of love song – expressing love of another person, an idea, a landscape or a flower, an art object, an idea or even a God.

Cupid

For me, nothing expresses love and deep feelings as much as music. Nothing even comes close, not painting or drawing or sculpture, not the best prose or even the best poetry, which also move me, but just not as much or as deeply.

So today I offer two pieces for my Valentine.

Heart

The first is by Robert Schumann (1810-1856), the slow third movement from his Piano Quartet in E-flat. It is a piece that we both discovered and first heard together, decades ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater in Madison, Wisconsin, when the great American pianist Emanuel Ax (below) and the Cleveland String Quartet performed it.

Emanuel Ax

Was there ever a composer who captured romantic love and longing better than Robert Schumann? Some come close –- J.S. Bach in many different works, among which I single out the slow movement of the F minor violin sonata; Mozart’s “Forgiveness Quartet” in “The Marriage of Figaro”; Beethoven in many movements of his piano and string sonatas, string quartets, symphonies and concertos; Wagner in the “Love Death” from the opera ‘Tristan and Isolde”; Puccini in the first act of “La Boheme”; Chopin in certain works like the Ballade No. 4 and the Largo from the Sonata No. 3; Brahms in his F minor Piano Sonata, his “German” Requiem, his songs and some of his late piano pieces; Debussy in his “Clair de lune,” the slow movement to his String Quartet and some of his piano preludes; Prokofiev in his ballet score to “Romeo and Juliet.” And there many more.

But no one composed as much love music as movingly and in as many different forms as Robert Schumann, who spent his whole adult life affirming his love for his long sought after and finally obtained beloved virtuoso pianist wife Clara Wieck Schumann. (Both are seen below in a photo.)

Schumann_Robert_and_Wieck_Clara

So here is the music. See what you think:

The other piece is the song-like last movement of Franz Schubert’s penultimate Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 959. Like Schumann, Schubert (1797-1828) returned again and again to love, especially in his art songs, his chamber music and his piano music. Empathy and compassion, humanity and love, are what make me  turn more to Schubert (below) than to Beethoven these days.

Schubert etching

And once again, this is a work I first heard sitting next to my Valentine, when the young Christoph Eschenbach (below in a more recent photo) performed it many years ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater, before he turned to conducting. It was one of those times your hand instinctively reaches for the other person’s hand and you are joined in love and beauty.

Christophe Eschenbach

Much like love itself, the end of the songful music often seems like it could and will stop, only to go on triumphantly and movingly.

See if you feel the same way about the music in this performance by Alfred Brendel, not Christophe Eschenbach:

I also identify other works with my Valentine, especially Bach, Brahms and Faure. But these two are among the essentials.

Thank you, Valentine, for loving me; for bringing me a better life and making me a better person. I have always loved you, I still love you and I will always love you.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Now, readers, it is your turn: THE REQUEST LINE IS OPEN!

What piece of music best expresses Valentine Day for you and for your Valentine?

Which piece would you dedicate to your Valentine? If this blog were yours, what music would you post for your Valentine?

Let us know in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube video performance, if possible.

And Happy Valentine’s to you all.

I hope you are all as lucky in love as I have been.


Classical music: Robert Schumann is the best composer to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Can you name another?

February 14, 2012
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Valentine’s Day, when we celebrate romantic love. Maybe you can even send this special posting as an email to your Valentine.

In any case, if you are looking for pieces of classical music to play or listen to that are appropriate to celebrate Valentine’s Day, you have a lot of choices.

The Ear can think of specific pieces by Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Verdi, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Dvorak, Faure and Poulenc, to name just a few of my favorites.

Many of them composed “romances” or pieces that could easily pass as a romance, some embodying requited love and some embodying unrequited love.

But I still think that the one composer who should be most identified with Valentine’s Day is Robert Schumann (1810-1856 and below in a photo from around 1850).

His deep and endless longing for Clara Wieck (with him, below), the young concert pianist who eventually became his wife — and after his death his champion — against the vociferous objections of her father, is palpable so much of his music in just about every form or genre including solo piano music, songs, chamber music and symphonic works.

In fact, I think one can argue that Schumann’s uncanny ability to capture love and passion in memorable and great sound makes him THE central Romantic composer of them all. Love and longing infuse his works.

I offer the following favorite Schumann moments as evidence, examples or case studies:

First, the slow movement from Schumann’s Piano Quartet:

Now, the second movement from his piano suite “Kreisleriana”:

Then there is the second of his Three Romances, the one in F-sharp major, for solo piano:

And from the song cycle “A Woman’s Life and Loves,” “Du, Ring an Meinem Finger” (You, Ring on My Finger):

And from the song cycle “Dichterliebe” (A Poet’s Loves), “Ich grolle nicht” (I won’t complain):

And then there is the magnificently poetic Piano Concerto, which is filled throughout its three movements with great moments of longing.

Here is a short but touching and memorable story about the role that the Schumann Piano Concerto played in two college students’ romance, courtship and love life:

http://www.npr.org/2012/01/31/146151332/winter-songs-young-love-in-ithaca-with-schumanns-help

And here is the opening of the first movement of that same Piano Concerto, dedicated to my own Valentine: I love you. Always have and always will.


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