The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Famed pianist Byron Janis reached out for Chopin. Did Chopin return the favor from beyond the grave?

August 28, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Recently, The Ear posted a story by pianist Jeremy Denk that, to his mind, did the best job ever of explaining why the music of Frederic Chopin appeals so universally.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/08/12/classical-music-pianist-jeremy-denk-explains-why-we-love-the-music-of-chopin/

Then more recently The Ear heard another story that involved the famed pianist Byron Janis (below), who studied with Vladimir Horowitz when he was a teenager.

He then went on to a spectacular virtuosic career before his hands were partially crippled by severe psoriatic arthritis. (You can hear him play less virtuosic music very poetically in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Through his piano playing and his library searches, Janis has reached out to Chopin, with some impressive results, including discovering lost manuscripts of famous waltzes.

But more surprising is Janis’ claim that, through a death mask, Chopin has returned the favor from beyond the grave and reached out to him in a paranormal or supernatural way.

The story was broadcast on National Public Radio (NPR). It aired on the Saturday version of Weekend Edition with Scott Simon, and then was posted on the blog Deceptive Cadence.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/08/05/541575050/chopin-in-the-shadows-the-supernatural-adventures-of-byron-janis

What do you think?

Do you believe Byron Janis’ story and explanation?

What do you think of his Chopin playing?

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: The Ear listens with eyes open and finds interesting photos at concerts

August 14, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

It was the famous 20th-century composer and pioneering modernist Igor Stravinsky (below) who advised us to listen to music with our eyes open.

For one, it fosters our appreciation of the sheer physicality of making music. Musicians are, as the pianist Vladimir Horowitz once observed, athletes of the small muscles.

If you listen with your eyes open you can see a lot of things.

You can see how musicians give each other cues.

You can see the expression on their faces, the joy and pleasure that making music gives them.

You can observe how different members of the audience react differently to different music.

You can appreciate the many kinds of instruments with the eye-catching shapes, sizes and colors.

And you can see patterns that make for good photographs – if taking photos is allowed.

Of course even if it is, there are rules to follow so that the musicians and other audience members are not disturbed: no flash and no shutter sound are the main ones besides the rule of intellectual property and the forbidding of taking photographs – kind of a difficult one to enforce these days, what with all the smart phones out there.

But some musicians and groups are very friendly and open to photographing, especially if the photos are strictly personal and not for commercial use to earn a profit.

At the last regular concert this summer by the Willy Street Chamber players a little over two weeks ago, The Ear found two that showed patterns for good composition.

It’s just fun. But productive fun that can capture the fascination with music and musicians, especially if you sit close to the performers.

Here they are.

First is “Three Clarinets,” a portrait of guest artist Michael Maccaferri, from the Grammy-winning chamber music group eighth blackbird, with the three clarinets he used in the Argentinian-Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov’s “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” The black verticality of the clarinets is heightened by the same quality of the music stands.

The second is “Two Cellos and One Violin,” taken during the bows after the string sextet version of Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante.” The shapes and shades of brown wood draw the eye.

Tell The Ear of you like this kind of photo essay and want to see more of them on the blog.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Which well-known composers or works can’t you stand and consider overrated?

August 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

We all have them: Composers and well-known works we just don’t like and consider highly overrated.

Composers whose musical works are deemed masterpieces by some but just don’t speak to others.

The Ear recently saw a blog post on the Internet in which a musically sophisticated British listener ranted against Johannes Brahms (below) – the epitome for so many of carefully crafted, soulful late Romanticism — and about how unlistenable and overwritten Brahms’ music is.

The Ear also knows several people who think that the music of the Classical pioneer Franz Joseph Haydn (below) is boring beyond bearable, that his music is thoroughly second-rate or forgettable – even though the great contemporary American composer John Harbison calls Haydn the most undervalued and underplayed of the great composers.

The 12-tone, serial and atonal composers – Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alan Berg – also come in for more than their fair share of dismissal.

For The Ear, one of those composers who divide the world in two – into those who love him and those who hate him – is Alexander Scriabin (below), the late Russian Romantic (1872-1915).

Oh, some of the early piano preludes and etudes are OK, largely thanks to the obvious influence of Chopin.

But even though Scriabin died young, he developed his own mature style, including the use of a mystical chord and a taste for apocalyptic and visionary frenzy .

To The Ear, those late works seem way too over-the-top and out-of-control, lacking in discernible structure and significance.

Not long ago, Wisconsin Public Radio played Scriabin’s symphonic tone poem “The Poem of Ecstasy.” (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Is The Ear the only person who finds it more like “The Poem of Agony”?

And then there are the late, virtuosic and pretentious piano sonatas called “White Mass” and “Black Mass” – favorites of the great Russian piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz (below) who, as a child played for Scriabin.

When it comes to the Russian school, The Ear far prefers the emotion in the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev and even Peter Tchaikovsky.

Well, what can you do? Such is taste.

So today, The Ear wants to know: Are there famous composers or famous works that you just can’t stand and consider highly overrated?

Leave the name and the reason you hate it so much in the COMMENT section.

Here’s hoping for some interesting and surprising responses.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What is your favorite Sousa march for the Fourth of July? What other classical music celebrates the holiday?

July 4, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the Fourth of July, Independence Day, when we mark the day and the Declaration of Independence when the U.S officially separated from Great Britain to become not a colony but its own country.

Over the past decade The Ear has chosen music from many American composers to mark the event – music by Edward MacDowell, Charles Ives, William Grant Still, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, William Schuman, Joan Tower, John Adams and so many others.

And of course also featured around the nation will be the “1812 Overture” by Peter Tchaikovsky.

You will probably hear a lot of that music today on Wisconsin Public Radio and other stations, including WFMT in Chicago and WQXR in New York City.

Here is a link to nine suggestions with audiovisual performances:

http://www.classical-music.com/article/nine-best-works-independence-day

But The Ear got to thinking.

It is certainly a major achievement when a composer’s name becomes synonymous with a genre of music. Like Strauss waltzes. Bach cantatas and Bach fugues. Chopin mazurkas and Chopin polonaises.

The Ear thinks that John Philip Sousa is to marches what Johann Strauss is to waltzes. Others have done them, but none as well.

So on Independence Day, he asks: Which of Sousa’s many marches is your favorite to mark the occasion?

The “Stars and Stripes Forever” — no officially our national march — seems the most appropriate one, judging by titles. “The Washington Post” March is not far behind.

But lately The Ear has taken to “The Liberty Bell” March.

Here it is a YouTube video with the same Marine Band that Sousa, The March King, once led and composed for:

And if you want music fireworks in the concert hall to match the real thing, you can’t beat the bravura pyrotechnical display concocted and executed by pianist Vladimir Horowitz, a Russian who became an American citizen and contributed mightily to the war effort during World War II.

Horowitz wowed the crowds – including fellow virtuoso pianists – with his transcription of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” in which it sounds like three or four hands are playing. Judge for yourself. Here it is:

Of course, you can also leave the names of other American composers and works to celebrate the Fourth. Just leave a word and a link in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear!


Classical music: A Halloween treat of music for multiple pianos was served up by the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos

October 31, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also provided the performance photos.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Salon Piano Series offered by Farley’s House of Pianos on Madison’s far west side continues to be a project of imagination and inspiration, with concerts offering a range of visiting performers and unusual repertoire.

It was quality and quantity in the program offered on Friday night, which was then repeated the following evening. A team of four—count ‘em, four— highly accomplished pianists, who are used to performing together as a team, gave a remarkable concert of multi-piano splendor.

The four (below, from left) are: Spaniard Daniel del Pino, Canadian Lucille Chung, Israeli Alon Goldstein and Italian Roberto Plano. Their collaborative facility is linked to utter enthusiasm in their work.

four-on-floor-players-jwb

For this program, Farley’s assembled four superlative instruments. Three are vintage Mason & Hamlin pianos, one made in 1907, the other two dating from 1914; plus a Steinway grand made in 1940. The array of these instruments—all four in the center of the salon, with circles of chairs all around for the audience—was itself an inspiration, and a fine success.

four-on-the-floor-piano-layout-jwb

The opening piece was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, K. 381, for piano four hands, a kind of “miniature” introduction, and beautifully played by Chung and Goldstein at the Steinway.

four-on-the-floor-mozart-goldstein-and-chung-jwb

“All hands,” as it were, then turned out for the remainder of the program.

A four-piano arrangement of the Dance Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns was knowingly made in 1874 by Ernest Giraud, a contemporary and colleague of the composer.

This was followed by a more recent effort, a Fantasy on Themes from Bizet’s “Carmen” (1994) contrived by the distinguished Mormon musician Mack Wilbert. Both of those works built up spectacular effects of sound and color, in music certainly familiar in their original forms.

Also familiar, of course, is Maurice Ravel’s Boléro, played in this program in a four-piano arrangement by Jacques Drillon (1992). Here, I felt that such an arrangement was a bit forced. All those hands made the repeated rhythmic foundation that much more pounding and more relentless than in the orchestral original, while the colors available from the pianos could not quite match the wonderful varieties that Ravel could draw from his wider range of orchestral instruments.

Particularly disappointing, I found, was a four-piano expansion (1886) by Richard Kleinmichel of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. While the single-piano original is dense, its division among four players was mainly a matter of doubling up the players on the same parts: more analytic than the original, this treatment does not really improve anything.

As an encore, the four delivered a Horowitzian transcription of John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever. (You can hear Vladimir Horowitz perform it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Responding to endless audience enthusiasm, the four then sat down together at the Steinway to play a Galopp by one Albert Lavignac, written for one piano, eight hands. The four players had a ball climbing all over each other to do this novelty piece as intended.

four-on-the-floor-encore-jwb

One interesting feature of the program was the opportunity to hear and compare these four fine pianos against each other. And the four performers added to the experience by constantly rotating who played which instrument.

To my ears, the Mason & Hamlin instruments could deliver a marvelous richness and power. But the Steinway could combine those qualities with an added brilliance and coloristic range.

But, then, that was to my ears.

Whatever, a dazzling keyboard evening was had by all.


Classical music: Let us now praise afternoon concerts. The Ear looks forward to two this weekend – by the Perlman Piano Trio and the Pro Arte String Quartet. Plus, wind music and harpsichord music are featured this week at the First Unitarian Society of Madison

April 6, 2016
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ALERTS: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, features the Mad Reeds Trio. The group’s members are: Laura Medisky, oboe; Bethany Schultz, clarinet; and Cindy Cameron-Fix, bassoon. They will perform music by Georges Auric, Alexander Tansman and Damian Montano.

Then on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., in the same venue, a recital by harpsichordist Mark Shuldiner. April 9, 7:30 p.m. will feature works by Jean-Henri D’Anglebert, Louis Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Bernardo Storace and Girolamo Frescobaldi.

It is a free concert, but donations will be accepted to benefit Madison Music Makers, which helps underserved children study music.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has always found the weekend afternoons are good times for concerts. One is usually both relaxed and attentive. And indeed, both the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and Edgewood College often schedule appealing concerts at an afternoon time.

They are not alone. As an aside, The Ear recalls that Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. was the preferred time for famed piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz, who felt that then both he and the audience were at their optimum.

Anyway, this weekend there are two FREE chamber music concerts that The Ear wants to draw your attention to.

SATURDAY

On Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, the Perlman Piano Trio (below) will perform its only concert of the season.

The program, all masterpieces, features the Piano Trio in E Major, K. 542, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, by Robert Schumann; and the Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101, by Johannes Brahms.

The trio of scholarship winners, funded by retired chemist Dr. Kato Perlman, consists of Adam Dorn, violin (below left); SeungWha Baek, piano (below center); and Micah Cheng, cello. For the quintet, the trio will be joined by Keisuke Yamamoto on the violin and Luke Carmichael Valmadrid on the viola.

Here is a link with more information:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/the-perlman-piano-trio/

And here is more background from A Tempo, the music blog at the UW-Madison compiled and written by concert manager and publicity director Katherine Esposito:

“It’s my first piano trio,” says violinist Adam Dorn, a Minneapolis native. “It’s very high-caliber playing, very different from anything I’ve ever done. And being given a scholarship to do something that you love is amazing.”

The trio is coached by Martha Fischer, UW-Madison professor of collaborative piano, and Parry Karp, UW-Madison cellist of the Pro Arte Quartet.

A reception will follow the concert.

Perlman Piano Trio 2016

SUNDAY

Then on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) will give a FREE concert of some interesting rarities.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The program features UW-Madison guest soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn (below top), in a work by Ottorino Respighi plus another Respighi work, the Doric Quartet, and the String Quartet No. 3 by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (below bottom), the Viennese-Czech Jewish composer and child prodigy who was exiled in Hollywood when he fled Hitler, the Nazis and World War II and who made his name and livelihood by composing popular film scores and compositions that won Oscar and Grammy awards.

You can hear the lovely slow movement of Korngold’s String Quartet No. 3 in the YouTube video at the bottom.

To The Ear, the Korngold work seems an especially fitting choice for the Pro Arte Quartet, which was founded in Brussels, Belgium, and itself was exiled in Wisconsin when Hitler invaded its homeland.

The quartet, which had come to play in the Wisconsin Union Theater the complete cycle of string quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven, was then offered a job as artists-in-residence at the UW-Madison — the first such appointment anywhere for a musical group — and it has remained here ever since. It is now more than 100 years old, making the Pro Arte Quartet the oldest string quartet in history.

Elizabeth Hagedorn singing 2

erich wolfgang korngold at piano

Here is a link with more information:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-3/


Classical music: The big events at the UW-Madison this week are a piano recital on Friday by pianist Christopher Taylor of music by Bach, Brahms and Scriabin, and a FREE concert on Saturday by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet.

February 23, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Two concerts at the UW-Madison this week are especially noteworthy:

FRIDAY

One of the indisputable stars at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music faculty is pianist Christopher Taylor.

A winner of the bronze medal at the 1993 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Taylor (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) concertizes around the world to rave reviews, especially for his performances of modern or contemporary music.

Christopher Taylor Recital

Christopher Taylor Recital

This Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Taylor will perform a more tradition recital, but with a still noteworthy program made up of Baroque and Romantic music.

He is known as an interpreter of that music too since he has performed all 32 piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven and the Franz Liszt transcriptions of the nine symphonies by Beethoven. (You can hear Taylor play the opening of the Famous Fifth Symphony at a festival in Russia in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Plus, Taylor is known for playing the “Goldberg” Variations, by Johann Sebastian Bach, on a special double keyboard piano that he has tinkered with and refined or improved upon, and which is now being built.

Christopher Taylor playing two-keyboard

In the upcoming recital Taylor will perform the French Suite No. 1 in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach; the rarely played Piano Sonata No. 1 by Johannes Brahms; and the even more rarely played compete Twelve Etudes, Op. 8, of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin. (The etudes include the last one in D-sharp minor that was a favorite of pianist Vladimir Horowitz.)

Tickets are $15. Students get admitted free.

For more information, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/christopher-taylor-piano-faculty-concert/

Christopher Taylor new profile

SATURDAY

Then on Saturday night, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the critically acclaimed Wisconsin Brass Quintet will perform a FREE concert of music by a variety of older composers and works as well as living composers and new music.

Members of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (WBQ, below, in a photography by Michael R. Anderson) are, from left: Mark Hetzler, trombone; Matthew Onstad, trumpet; Tom Curry, tuba; John Aley, trumpet; Daniel Grabois, horn.

Wisconsin Brass Quintet

The program is: Sonatine by Eugène Bozza (1905-1981); Allegretto Pizzicato by Béla Bartók (1881-1945); Madrigaux Slaves by Ivan Jevtić (1947- ); Morning Music by David Sampson (1951-); Contrapunctus IX from “The Art of Fugue” by Johann Sebastian Bach (1695-1750); Elegy by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975, arranged by UW-Madison emeritus professor of tuba and euphonium and a nationally recognized composer John Stevens); and Music for Brass Instruments by Ingolf Dahl (1912-1970) with special guest Tom Kelley, bass trombone.

A native of Appleton, WisconsinTom Kelley is a junior at UW-Madison studying trombone performance under Professor Mark Hetzler. At the UW_Madison, Kelley has performed with the Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Wind Ensemble, Jazz Orchestra, Blue Note Ensemble, Low Brass Ensemble and a number of chamber groups.

He has also played outside the university in groups such as the Rock River Philharmonic and the Darren Sterud Jazz Orchestra. In the summer of 2015, Kelley attended the Sewanee Summer Music Festival where he won the Jacqueline Avent Concerto Competition.  He enjoys biking, cooking and binge-watching TV and movies.

For general background on the Wisconsin Brass Quintet:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/wisconsin-brass-quintet/


Classical music: The Ear hears the impressive young pianist Joyce Yang and thinks Madison needs more piano recitals. Plus, a FREE concert of female vocal duets is at noon on Friday.

October 22, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held 12:15-1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature sopranos Susan Savage Day and Rebekah Demaree with pianist Sharon Jensen in duets by Gabriel Faure, Jacques Aubert, Jules Massenet, Claudio Monteverdi, UW-Madison alumnus Lee Hoiby and more.

By Jacob Stockinger

There he was last Thursday, sitting in the lower balcony in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The Ear was in Piano Himmel, listening to a masterful performance.

The occasion was a solo piano recital by Joyce Yang (below), an up-and-coming, prize-winning Korea-born and America-trained pianist, still in her late 20s, who was making her Madison debut.

Joyce Yang

And the same thought haunted The Ear, himself an avid amateur pianist, that also came to him during a fine student piano recital this summer.

That thought was simply this: Madison needs to have many more solo piano recitals.

The piano is perhaps the one most commonly studied musical instrument and is a staple of music education, so the potential audience should be there. The repertoire is vast and wonderful. And the piano just hasn’t been receiving its due compared to the many new choral groups and chamber music ensembles that always seem to be proliferating in the area.

The Wise Teacher recalls years ago when almost a dozen solo piano recitals happened during a single season. This season there are only three -– and two have already taken place.

One was the recital of Mendelssohn, Franck and Chopin by Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino (below top)  on Oct. 4 at Farley’s House of Pianos on its Salon Piano Series. (The Ear couldn’t go because he is was in Chicago that afternoon hearing a piano recital by Maurizio Pollini.) The second was by Joyce Yang. The third one will be the performance by UW-Madison virtuoso professor Christopher Taylor (below bottom) on Friday, Feb 26. (No program has yet been announced.)

Daniel del PIno square

Christopher Taylor new profile

Here is an afterthought: Maybe the Madison Symphony Orchestra could start a piano series like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra offers on Sunday afternoons?

Let’s be clear: This is a matter more of pleasure and education than of justice.

Take Yang’s performance, which drew an unfortunately small house of only 300-400.

The first half was remarkable for both the clarity and color she possessed. Ethnic themes, folk songs and folk dances, especially Latin American and Spanish in nature, united the first half of her program.

She opened with two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, the three “Estampes” or Prints by Claude Debussy and two pieces from “Iberia” by Isaac Albeniz and three virtuosic “cowboy” dances by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera.

In all those works, Yang proved a complete and mature keyboard artist. Her technique is rock solid, but it is her musicality that most impresses the listener. The Ear was particularly struck by Yang’s command of dynamics, her ability to play softly and still project, and to delineate and balance various voices.

The second half, all works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, proved less satisfying to The Ear, if not to the audience. It featured two transcriptions of vocal works or songs — “Dreams” and  “Vocalise”  — by the late American virtuoso pianist Earl Wild (below).

earl wild

Unfortunately, Wild himself possessed a Lisztean (or Horowitzean) command of keyboard technique. And like Franz Liszt (or Vladimir Horowitz), Wild just couldn’t resist adding Liberace-like flourishes, flash and trash to his transcriptions in places where simplicity rather than Big Chords would have more than sufficed.

At certain points in a Wild transcription, the work inevitably sounds louche or decadent and over-the-top, like something you might hear at a piano bar or in a cocktail lounge. In short, they are more piano than music. (You can listen to Earl Wild himself performing his own transcription of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Then came  the Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor by Rachmaninoff (below) in its revised 1931 edition. To be honest, this is a Big Piece that is full of sound and fury signifying not very much that The Ear can discern. (The Ear much prefers Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos, preludes and Etudes Tableaux.)

To be sure, the bombastic sonata requires impressive and powerful piano playing, which must explain the muscular work’s popularity among professional pianists and certain segments of the public. It is a Wower and wow us it does, although many of us would rather be seduced than wowed.

Rachmaninoff

The sonata surely is effective in live performance and brought an immediate standing ovation. That, in turn, was rewarded with another Earl Wild transcription this time of George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Too bad the love once again seemed overpowered by difficult but flawlessly executed scales and runs.

But putting those shortcomings aside, the sound of an amazingly played piano recital was such a welcome experience.

The Ear hopes that many more of them are somehow in store.

 


Classical music: Who has stage fright and why? And how can you overcome stage fright?

August 5, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s surpising how many acclaimed professional performers -– like dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, pop singers Adele and Carly Simon, actors Laurence Olivier and Daniel Day-Lewis, and pianists Charles Rosen, Glenn Gould, Vladimir Horowitz  and Emanuel Ax — have suffered from the same ailment that afflicts countless students and amateurs, including The Ear.

We are talking about stage fright, which ranges from mild to debilitating in its severity. (Below is an illustration by Nishant Choksi.) It can literally rob people of careers in the performing arts.

Stage fright Cr Nishant Choksi

Periodically, stories about stage fright and how to deal with it or perhaps even lessen it come to the public’s attention. (See the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The latest is a book by gifted amateur pianist Sara Solovitch (below top, in a photo by Christine Z. Mason). Her book, “Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright” (below bottom) has just been published by Bloomsbury.

Playing Scared is journalist Sara Solovitch's first book. Her work has appeared in Politico, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and Wired. She lives in Santa Cruz, Calif

Playing Scared is journalist Sara Solovitch’s first book. Her work has appeared in Politico, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and Wired.¬†She lives in Santa Cruz, Calif

Sara Solovich Playing Scared cover

And here is Sara Solovitch playing a work by Claude Debussy:

Several essays and interviews give a terrific overview of the book and its contents.

Probably the best is in the Aug. 3 issue of The New Yorker in a review by critic Joan Acocella. Here is a link:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/03/i-cant-go-on

Also, two stories on NPR or National Public Radio offer an engaging take on the book and the subject of stage fright:

http://www.npr.org/2015/07/05/419485599/in-playing-scared-pianist-grows-less-frightened-of-stage-fright

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/06/26/417190441/to-master-stage-fright-practice-makes-imperfect-ok

Do you suffer from stage fright?

How do you deal with it?

The Ear wants to hear.

 

 


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra closes its fifth season with a lively concert that featured fiery Marquez, subtle Brahms, lyrical Bruch and thrilling Tchaikovsky.

June 5, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Spring is officially over now, for the Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by Margaret Barker) has given the fourth and last concert of its fifth season — as usual, on a Wednesday night and before a sizable crowd at the Middleton Performing Arts Center.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

The opening work was a rarity from the little-known Mexican composer Arturo Marquez (b.1950, below), called Danzon 2. It is a piece that starts with promise of melodic expression, but soon slips into a piling up of the usual hard-driven Latin dance rhythms, for a large orchestra, playing very loudly. A kind of musical refried beans.

arturo marquez 3 USE

More substantial was the early orchestral masterpiece, the “Variations on a Theme by Haydn” by Johannes Brahms (below).

This is a very thickly scored piece, placing particular emphasis on the winds. I found myself, as I listened, appreciating more than ever how cunningly Brahms designed the seams and sutures among the instruments, taxing the skills of the players for subtlety. Fortunately, the Middleton musicians faced the challenges bravely and brought off a very sturdy and convincing performance.

brahms3

After the intermission, it was concerto time.

First, as MCO maestro Steve Kurr (below top) has regularly done, the young concertmaster was given a chance to tackle a solo assignment. Valerie Sanders (below bottom), a new graduate from the UW-Madison School of Music, took on the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor by Max Bruch, though only its slow movement. She played this lovely music quite sweetly, and one was tempted to wonder how she would have fared in taking on the two bolder wing movements, in the full concerto.

Steve Kurr conducting

MCO Valerie Sanders plays Bruch

The Big Event was, of course, local pianist Thomas Kasdorf playing the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. This is a very warhorse of the warhorses, a work that some will be surprised to learn that predates Van Cliburn, whose recording of it was the first classical album to sell one million copies. (Vladimir Horowitz was once the exponent automatically brought to mind.)

It is a colossally demanding piece, technically, and a summit of virtuosic display — as you can see and hear in the popular YouTube video at the bottom.

Kasdorf (below), a locally born, raised and educated pianist and a well-established young Madison fixture of enormous talent and virtuosity, made this his latest entry into the warhorse corral.

MCO Thomas Kasdorf plays Tchaikovsky

Yes, he had the chops to bring it off, in an undeniably exciting performance. But I had the sense that his heart was really in the quieter passages, where he had some ideas of his own.

In the prevailingly bravura writing, by contrast, he was battling for survival. He certainly won the battle, on technical points alone. But this is not a work he has fully made his own—he played from score, rather than memory. It is an interpretation in progress, rather than one securely controlled.

And I hope this is not a career effort in progress. He is too fine a musician to be just a barn-storming, roof-raising virtuoso. He should pursue rather the great variety of roles he as developed, in which he has so much more that is personal and nuanced to offer.

The orchestra, with fewer perils to face than in the Brahms, sounded confident and full-voiced.

All in all, it was a lively and stimulating concert, as we have come to expect from Steve Kurr and his remarkable Middletonians.

 


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