The Well-Tempered Ear

See and hear The Cliburn piano competition for FREE via streaming. It runs through June 18

June 4, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

The 16th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition got under way this past Thursday, June 2, and will run through Saturday, June 18, when the winners will be announced.

2022 marks the 60th anniversary year of the competition, which the American pianist Van Cliburn founded at Texas Christian University after his 1958 Cold War victory in the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow,.

You can follow it all online. The complete impressive competition is being broadcast on medici.tv and on YouTube.

But The Ear has used the competition’s own streaming website and finds the videos, sound quality, contestant biographies and background information very professional and helpful. So far, it has been a thoroughly satisfying, enjoyable and engaging experience. I highly recommendation it for students, amateur pianists and all music lovers.

For The Ear, one of the most impressive performances from yesterday was given by the 21-year-old Chinese pianist Yangrui Cai (below), heard in the YouTube video at the bottom. Such beautiful and subtly virtuosic but shaded Liszt and Brahms is not often heard.

Here is a link to the home page (below): https://cliburn.org

From there you can hear live performances, past performances and many facts , including the complete schedule, about The Cliburn, as it is now called. All times are Central Daylight.

Starting at 10 a.m. today — Saturday, June 4 — will see the final 10 performances (3 in the morning and night, four in the afternoon) of the preliminary round, which has featured 30 pianists in 40-minute solo recitals. Except for a specially commissioned “Fanfare Toccata” by Sir Stephen Hough, who is also on the jury, the choice of programs is entirely up to the individual contestants.

The road to the Cliburn is not easy.

It started with 388 applicants. That was trimmed down to 72 by preliminary judges. Out of 72, 30 were chosen by jurors to compete.

After today, it will be on to the quarter-finals with 18 contestants in 40-minute recitals with no repetition from the preliminary round; then the semi-final round with 12 contestants in a combination of 60-minute solo recital along with a Mozart piano concerto accompanied by the Fort Worth Symphony conducted by the Nicholas McGegan, who is famous for his interpretations of Baroque and Classical era music; and the final concerto round with each contestant play two concertos with Fort Worth Symphony under famed conductor Marin Alsop, who is also the head juror.

The Ear will be posting his own thoughts as he experiences the extensive competition, maybe after each round or even each day.

But The Ear also wants to hear from you.

Do you have thoughts about the various contestants?

Who are your favorites and why?

Thoughts about the programs and repertoire being played?

Other thoughts about the competition in general?

The Ear Wants to hear.

 


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Should the 1812 Overture be played this Fourth of July?

May 2, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear recently noticed that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has once again scheduled the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky (below) as part of the finale of its Fourth of July concert on the evening of July 6, 2022.

The performance is part of this summer’s FREE Concerts on the Square (COS) by the WCO that run on six consecutive Wednesday nights from June 29 through Aug. 3. Concerts start at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square in downtown Madison, and will be conducted by Andrew Sewell.

For more information about the series and individual performers and programs, go to: https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/concerts-on-the-square

An asterisk says programs are subject to change.

Which got The Ear to thinking: Should Tchaikovsky’s perennial favorite, the flashy and loud  1812 Overture, be played again this year?

It is a tradition that was started on Independence Day in 1974 by Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops, according to reputable sources. 

But this year might be a very different case because of a quandary that might cause organizers, including PBS’ “A Capitol Fourth,” to rethink the program. 

It is a choice that will confront many musical groups across the U.S., given the current unprovoked brutality and and war crimes being committed by Russia against Ukraine.

After all, many music groups, including the Metropolitan Opera, have already banned Russian performers who support Russian President Vladimir Putin and his unjustified war in Ukraine (below).

So here’s the question: Is it appropriate to play a favorite work celebrating a Russian military victory while Ukraine, the United States and Western allies, including NATO, are desperately trying to defeat Russian forces?

As you may recall, the overture was inspired by Russia’s victory over the invading forces of Napoleon who was attempting go conquer Russia. Like Hitler and the Nazis, Napoleon failed and the Russians prevailed. That is why, in the work, you hear the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” overcome by the chimes and cannons of the Russian victory hymn. (There was no Russian national anthem until 1815.)

Here is a link to more background in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1812_Overture

Will the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or other orchestras as well as radio and TV stations around the U.S. find a substitute piece? Perhaps it could be the Ukrainian national anthem that is performed (as in the BBC Proms concert in the YouTube video at the bottom and as many other orchestras around the world, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and John DeMain, have done).

What else could the WCO and other groups play — especially since Sousa marches are already usually featured on The Fourth?

Do you have a suggestion?

The Ear will be interested to see how the quandary is solved — with explanations and excuses, or with alternative music?

Meanwhile, as comedian Stephen Colbert likes to say: What do you think?

Should the “1812 Overture” be played on this Fourth of July?

Why?

Or why not?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Ukraine’s most famous living composer is now a war refugee in Germany

April 2, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

He fights and defends his native country with beautiful sounds.

Ukraine’s most famous living composer has had to flee his war-torn country and — like some 3 million fellow Ukrainians in various other countries — is now living as a a war refugee in Germany. 

He is Valentin Sylvestrov (below), 84, and has survived both World War II and the Nazi occupation as well as the Soviet rule experiencing democracy and freedom after the fall of the USSR and now the devastating Russian invasion five weeks ago.

The irony is that his music, which The Ear can’t recall ever hearing performed live in Madison — although Wisconsin Public Radio recently featured a beautiful choral work — seems calming and peaceful, even consoling.(Please correct me if I am mistaken.) Many people compare him to the style of Arvo Pärt, his Eastern European contemporary and colleague in Estonia.

Little wonder that his works have found a new popularity in worldwide concerts as the world hopes for the survival and victory of Ukraine — below is Ukraine’s flag — over Vladimir’s Putin’s army and war crimes. 

His works have been particularly popular at fundraisers and memorials. They underscore the long history and importance of Ukraine’s tradition of making music, which has been recounted in the news features you find in the press, on TV, on radio and elsewhere in the media including live streams and recorded videos other media, especially the Internet.

As far as The Ear can tell, his most popular work in the concert hall these days is his hauntingly beautiful 1937 “Prayer for Ukraine.” You can hear it, in  an orchestra version, in a YouTube video at the bottom.

As background here are two different interviews with the distressed and saddened Sylvestrov in exile.

The first interview, from The New York Times, is by a professor at Arizona State University who has published a book on postwar Eastern European composers and offers links to more works: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/30/arts/music/valentin-silvestrov-ukraine-war.html

The other interview is from the German media outlet Deutsche Welle, translated into English and featuring current photos: https://www.dw.com/en/ukrainian-composer-valentin-silvestrov-what-are-you-kremlin-devils-doing/a-61158308

The tragic occasion of the war in Ukraine could be the event that brings the soul-stirring music of Sylvestrov to a larger global public. 

He certainly deserves it — along with some live performances here — and The Ear certainly plans on posting more of his music.

Have you heard the music of Valentin Sylvestrov?

Do you have favorite works from his piano music, chamber music, choral music and many symphonies?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Today is Veterans Day. Here is some appropriate music by Beethoven to mark it. Can you guess which piece? What composer or music would you choose?

November 11, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020 – is Veterans Day.

It started out as Armistice Day in 1918 when the end of World War I was declared to take place on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

It is a day to mark the service of all veterans – not just those who died in the line of duty, as is celebrated on Memorial Day.

You can find a lot of choice of classical music to play for Veterans Day. Here is one link to a compilation that features patriotic songs and marches: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJepYzH1VUY

But The Ear settled on Beethoven (below, in an 1815 portrait by Joseph Willebrord Maehler).

Can you guess which piece?

It is not the memorable funeral marches on the Piano Sonata in A-Flat, Op. 26, or the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.”

It is also not the “Sacred Hymn of Thanksgiving” in the String Quartet, Op. 132.

And it is not “Wellington’s Victory” or the “Egmont” Overture or the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” with its triumphant fast movements.

Instead it is the second movement of the Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92. (You can hear it see it represented graphically in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

That is the very well known Allegretto movement with its repetitious and almost hypnotizing, soaring theme. It seems like a funeral march, full of introspection, poignancy and sadness, that is a bit brisker and more lyrical than usual.

It is so popular, in fact, that it has been used as a soundtrack in many movies, including “The King’s Speech” and has inspired works based on it including the “Fantasia on an Ostinato” by the contemporary American composer John Corigliano.

If it seems an unexpected choice, you just need to know more about its history.

It was composed 1811-1812, and Beethoven correctly considered it one of his finest works. So did Richard Wagner who famously described as the “apotheosis of the dance” for the infectious rhythms throughout the symphony.

At its premiere in Vienna, in his introductory remarks Beethoven said: “We are moved by nothing but pure patriotism and the joyful sacrifice of our powers for those who have sacrificed so much for us.”

Beethoven (below, in 1815 as depicted in a paining the Joseph Willibrord Maehler) premiered the symphony at a charity concert in 1813 to help raise money for the Austrian and Bavarian soldiers who had been wounded at the Battle of Hanau while fighting against France during the Napoleonic Wars.

It was so popular with the first performance that the audience demanded and received an immediate encore performance of the second movement.

Here is a Wikipedia link to the history of the symphony: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._7_(Beethoven)

To this day, the Seventh Symphony, so charged with energy, remains for many people, conductors and orchestral players their favorite Beethoven symphony.

It is ironic that Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Paul de Hueck) performed the Seventh Symphony at the last concert he ever conducted – at the Tanglewood Festival in August 1990. He took the second movement at a slower-than-usual tempo and many have criticized Bernstein, who was in terrible health, and have suggested that he was using it as a funeral march or homage for himself. 

They may be right. But in retrospect the choice of Bernstein – who died two months later — finds a certain justification in the original motive for the entire symphony and especially the second movement.

Listen for yourself.

Then tell us what you think.

Does this movement justify it being played on Veterans Day?

What music would you choose to mark the day?

What do you think of the Symphony No. 7 in general and the second movement in particular?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: This weekend the Madison Symphony Orchestra, with guest conductor Carl St. Clair and trumpet virtuoso Tina Thing Helseth, performs music by Beethoven, Hummel and Richard Strauss

March 8, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) features Tine Thing Helseth (below), the Norwegian virtuoso trumpet soloist, for a special performance of Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto.

Conductor Carl St. Clair (below) returns for a third visit as guest conductor with the MSO to lead a pair of early 19th-century works with 112 musicians performing the largest of Richard Strauss’s symphonic tone poems. (MSO music director and conductor John DeMain is conducting a production of Puccini’s opera “Turandot” in Virginia.)

The program begins with the Egmont Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven, followed by the MSO’s premiere performance of the Trumpet Concerto by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, featuring HelsethThe concert ends with a nod to the awesome splendor of the Bavarian Alps, “An Alpine Symphony,” by Richard Strauss.

The concerts are this weekend on Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, 201 State Street. See below for ticket information.

Beethoven (below top) composed his Egmont Overture in 1810. Both Beethoven himself, and playwright Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (below bottom) upheld the ideals of human dignity and freedom in their works.

Their personal relationship stemmed from Beethoven’s incidental music for a new production of Goethe’s play Egmont in 1810. This play about a nobleman’s betrayal by the Spanish monarchy, is beautifully paired with Beethoven’s music. As Goethe called it, Egmont Overture is a “Symphony of Victory.” (You can hear the dramatic “Egmont” Overture, performed by the Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Another friend of Beethoven’s, was Johann Nepomuk Hummel (below). Even though they were rivals, their respect for each other’s talent kept the relationship afloat.

Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto is a frisky fanfare with “playful dancelike” episodes laced throughout. This is the first time Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto will be performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Richard Strauss (below top) composed his Eine Alpensinfonie (“An Alpine Symphony”) from 1911-15. The final score used materials from some of his unfinished works, including an Artist’s Tragedy and The Alps.

Though there are many influences for this piece, the main is Strauss’s love for the Bavarian Alps. In his diary he wrote: “I shall call my alpine symphony: Der Antichrist, since it represents: moral purification through one’s own strength, liberation through work, worship of eternal, magnificent nature.” Antichrist is a reference to an essay by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (below bottom), and though the title was dropped for its publication, the work still carries many of Nietzsche’s ideals.

One hour before each performance, Michael Allsen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), the author of MSO program notes and an MSO trombonist as well as a UW-Whitewater Professor of Music, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

For more background on the music, please visit the Program Notes at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1617/6.Mar17.html.

Single Tickets are $16 to $87 each, available at madisonsymphony.org/helseth and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit madisonsymphony.org/groups.

Club 201, MSO’s organization for young professionals, has continued to fulfill its mission for the past 11 years as the premiere organization promoting classical music and networking opportunities to the young professionals’ community in Madison. Tickets are $35 each and include world-class seating in Overture Hall, an exclusive after-party to be held in the Promenade Lounge, one drink ticket and a cash bar.

The conductor as well as musicians from the symphony may also be in attendance to mingle with Madison’s young professionals during the after-party.

The deadline to purchase tickets is Thursday, March 9, pending availability. Tickets can be purchased for this event, as well as the other events throughout the 2016-17 season by visiting the Club 201 page on the MSO’s website at http://www.madisonsymphony.org/club201.

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

Major funding for the March concerts is provided by: The Madison Concourse Hotel & Governor’s Club, An Anonymous Friend, and Madison Gas & Electric Foundation, Inc. Additional funding is provided by: Audrey Dybdahl, Family and Friends, in loving memory of Philip G. Dybdahl, John A. Johnson Foundation, a component fund of the Madison Community Foundation, Madison Veterinary Specialists, Gary and Lynn Mecklenburg, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


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