The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The future of Western classical music is in Asia – specifically China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Why is that?

May 25, 2019
2 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s not just about Lang Lang.

The signs are everywhere.

They were present at a recent piano recital by elementary school, middle school and high school students that The Ear attended.

You see it at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and at top music schools, including the Curtis Institute of Music, across the U.S. and Western Europe. And you see it in youth groups such as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (below).

Western classical music recording labels, such as Deutsche Grammophon and Sony Classical, are looking to develop new markets and so are signing more Asian musicians, such as the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and Shanghai String Quartet, and releasing more Asian performances. (Below is the Taiwanese-Australian, prize-winning violinist Ray Chen, who is also a master at using social media to build his meteoric career.)

All these items point to the same conclusion: The future of Western classical music looks more and more likely to be found in Asian culture and in Asia  – specifically in China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. (Next season, prize-winning South Korean pianist Joyce Yang (below) returns to Madison, where she first gave a recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater, to solo with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Consider some of the following:

There are, The Ear read somewhere, now more piano students in China than in all of Europe, North America and South America combined. And he is reading about more and more concert tours of China and other Asian countries by Western performers — even while in the U.S. the number of pianos in homes are on the decline.

Increasingly the winners of major international competitions — such as the Chopin competition, the Van Cliburn competition, the Tchaikovsky competition, the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium competition and the Leeds competition – come from Asia or are Asian. (Below, in a photo by Simon Fowler, is American pianist George Li, who immigrated from China as a child and attended Harvard and the New England Conservatory before winning a silver medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition. His concert career is now blossoming fast.)

In recent years, China has been building a lot of first-rate concert halls, opera houses and music schools. And the famed Juilliard School in New York City will open its second campus this fall in Tianjin, near Beijing.

China has certainly come a long way from the days of the Cultural Revolution when people could be imprisoned for listening to Beethoven, who is now a cultural icon in China — as you can hear at the bottom in the YouTube video of Li Jing Zhan conducting the orchestra at the Chinese National Opera in Beethoven’s No. 7. (Below is the striking new National Center for the Performing Arts in China.)

https://www.interlude.hk/front/culture-construction-chinas-new-concert-halls/

Nineteen of the 24 final competitors, ages 13-17, in the second Van Cliburn Junior Competition – which starts in Dallas, Texas, on May 31 and ends on June 8 – are Asian, Asian-American and Asian-Canadian, all with astonishingly impressive credentials and experience. It will be streamed live and free. Take a look and listen:

https://www.cliburn.org/2019-cliburn-junior-competitors/

Why this Asian shift is happening remains somewhat of a mystery to The Ear, although he had been thinking about for a long time.

Then he came across a op-ed column confirming the prevalence of Asian classical musicians. It was written by the American concert pianist and teacher Inna Faliks (below), who teaches at UCLA and who wrote convincingly about her recent concert experiences in China in The Washington Post.

Read it and see what you think, and tell us whether you agree:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-future-of-classical-music-is-chinese/2019/03/22/2649e9dc-4cb5-11e9-93d0-64dbcf38ba41_story.html?utm_term=.7f149e0f8eb9

Why are Asians so interested in Western classical music and music education? And why do they respect it or even revere it so much?

Does it have to do with the “tiger mom” phenomenon of strong parental pressure to succeed and achieve?

Is it largely a function of population?

Is it because of the collective teamwork required to make a lot of chamber music and orchestral music, or with the intense and instructive teacher-student relationship?

Is it because the cultural depth and seriousness in Western music education – ing contrast to the increasingly pop culture of the West – that prepares students well for the training and intellectual discipline required in other educational fields and careers, including the STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)?

Is Asia simply fascinated by Western culture the same way that Western culture was fascinated by the exotic Asian cultures – especially in China and Japan — during the 19th century and earlier? Or is the West increasingly ignoring its own culture. (The Ear can’t recall any classical musicians performing at President Donald Trump’s White House. Can you?)

How do you see the situation and react to it? And what do you think about the causes and effects?

Please leave your reactions and thoughts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: A FREE concert of Polish piano music is on this Sunday afternoon at the UW-Madison

October 20, 2018
1 Comment

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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

On this Sunday afternoon, Oct. 21, at 4 p.m., University of Oklahoma Professor Igor Lipinski (below) will perform a solo piano recital with commentary at Mills Concert Hall of UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. Mills Hall is located at 455 North Park Street in the George Mosse Humanities Building.

At this FREE CONCERT, Lipinski will perform music by 19th through 21st century Polish composers: Fryderyk (Frederic) Chopin, Karol Szymanowski, Ignaz Jan Paderewski, Grazyna Bacewicz and Pawel Mykietyn. (Editor’s note: Sorry, no titles of specific works are listed.)

Since classical music from Poland has been rarely performed in concert halls in Madison, this recital will be a unique occasion to experience Poland’s musical heritage and diversity.

This concert also commemorates the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining independence at the conclusion of World War I, after 123 years of its partition and disappearance from the map of Europe.

Please join our local Polish community in celebrating this joyous occasion through appreciation of beautiful and captivating music from some of the Poland’s most important composers.

This event is organized by the Polish Student Association of UW-Madison and Mad-Polka Productions, with cooperation and financial support provided by Lapinski Fund (UW-Madison German, Nordic and Slavic Departments) and the Polish Heritage Club of Madison as well as the Sounds & Notes Foundation from Chicago.

ABOUT THE PERFORMER:

Prof. Igor Lipinski is native to Poland and currently teaching at the University of Oklahoma. At the age of 12, he won a Grand Prize at the Paderewski Piano Competition for Young Pianists in Poland.

He is a musician, piano teacher, performer and also a magician, sometimes surprisingly combining all of his interests during his performances.

He received his Doctor of Musical Arts in Piano Performance from Northwestern University and since then performed over 100 concerts, both solo and with orchestras, all over the U.S.

This will be his debut in Madison.

For more information, go to: www.igorlipinski.com

ABOUT THE COMPOSERS:

Fryderyk (Frederic) Chopin (1810-1849, below): He was born in Poland, but also composed and performed in Germany, Vienna and France. Probably the most prominent Polish composer as well as pianist and performer. Much of Chopin’s inspiration came from Polish village music from the Mazovia region. Chopin composed 57 mazurkas – the mazurka being one of his most beloved type of compositions. He also composed numerous polonaises, concertos, nocturnes and sonatas. (You can hear famous Polish pianist Arthur Rubinstein perform Chopin’s famously nationalistic “Heroic” Polonaise in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937, below): Part of “Young Poland” group of composers at the beginning of 20th century, Szymanowski composed operas, ballets, sonatas, concertos, cycle of songs, string quartets. Many of his compositions were also inspired by Polish folk music, including the famous ballet “Harnasie” based on the culture of Polish highlanders which he experienced while living in Zakopane.

Ignaz Jan Paderewski (1860-1941, below) was a remarkable figure in Poland’s turn-of-the-century history. He was a pianist, composer, statesman, politician, philanthropist, actor, businessman, patron of the arts and architecture, wine grower and humanitarian. As a pianist, he was praised for his interpretations of music of Chopin, Liszt, Bach and Beethoven. He successfully toured western Europe before eventually setting off for the USA. Starting with his first 1891 tour he crossed U.S. about 30 times in his 50-year career.

He was a very popular, charismatic and somewhat extravagant figure, which eventually resulted in “Paddymania” phenomenon. He was largely influenced by Chopin in his composition of sonatas, concertos, polonaises, Polish dances, symphonies, mazurkas, krakowiaks, minuets and even one opera. He also relentlessly supported and lobbied for Poland ‘s independence as World War I unraveled.  He influenced U.S. politicians and played a crucial diplomatic role in Poland regaining its independence in 1911.

Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969, below): Violinist, pianist, teacher, writer and composer, she was one of the few female classical music composers at the time in Poland and in the world. Thanks to a generous grant from Ignaz Jan Paderewski, she was able to study music in Paris. She composed numerous concertos, string quartets, sonatas, symphonies.

Pawel Mykietyn (1971-, below in a photo by Oliva Soto): Composer, clarinetist, member of Nonstrom Ensemble. In 1995, he won a first prize in the young composers category during the UNESCO composers competition in Paris. Mykietyn’s composing style is at times aggressive and postmodern, incorporating sharp rhythms to create a vivid and provocative sound. He has composed concertos, sonatas, symphonies, preludes and string quartets.

Thanks to all the sponsors and community support, this concert is FREE and open to the public.


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Classical music: Who are the best pianists of all time? And which ones do you think were left off the list by Classic FM?

September 16, 2017
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The British radio station and website Classic FM recently published its list of the 25 greatest pianists of all time.

Plus, the website also included samples of the playing where possible.

It is an impressive list, if pretty predictable — and heavily weighted towards modern or contemporary pianists. You might expect that a list of “all-time greats” would have more historical figures — and more women as well as more non-Western Europeans and non-Americans, especially Asians these days.

Here is a link:

http://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/instruments/piano/best-pianists-ever/

So The Ear started what turned out to be a long list of others who should at least be considered and maybe even included.

Here, then, is the question for this weekend: What do you think of the list? Which pianists do not belong on the list? And which are your favorite pianists who are not included in the compilation?

Leave your candidate or candidates in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube link of a favorite performance, wherever possible.

Happy listening!


Classical music: How well did Western classical music fare in China during the Cultural Revolution compared to today?

July 10, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Western classical music seems to be thriving in the new China.

The Ear sees Lang Lang — the world’s highest paid classical pianist — and Yundi Li and all the Chinese winners of major competitions, and he reads that there are more piano students in China than in all of Western Europe, North America and South America combined.

But the path to such success wasn’t easy.

In fact it was downright tragic during the Cultural Revolution waged by Chairman Mao Zedong – with dramatic stories and figures that may be worthy of an opera or two. (Below is a poster from the Cultural Revolution.)

Cultural Revolution poster

Anyway, weekends are a good time for reading longer pieces.

So here is a fine and eye-opening story The Ear liked. It comes from The Guardian newspaper in the UK. It even ponders the question of whether the more cerebral and intellectual Johann Sebastian Bach will soon replace the more dramatic and emotional Ludwig van Beethoven as China’s favorite classical composer.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jul/08/after-the-cultural-revolution-what-western-classical-music-means-in-china


Classical music: What makes early Slavic music different? What composers are being rediscovered? And what will the All-Festival concert offer? Co-artistic director Cheryl Bensman Rowe talks about the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF). The festival starts this coming Saturday and runs through the next Saturday. Here is Part 2 of 2 parts.

July 7, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The 16th annual Madison Early Music Festival opens this coming Saturday night and runs through the All-Festival concert the next Saturday night. The topic is “Slavic Discoveries: Early Music from Eastern Europe.”

Here is a link to the home website where you can information and event, times and prices: http://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/

MEMF 2015 Slavic banner

Cheryl Bensman Rowe (below), who co-directs the festival with her husband, UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe, agreed to talk about the festival and its lineup of workshops, lectures and concerts. Her interview is running in two parts.

Here is a link to Part 1, which ran yesterday:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/classical-music-co-artistic-director-cheryl-bensman-rowe-talks-about-early-eastern-european-music-which-is-the-focus-of-this-summers-madison-early-music-festival-memf-the-festival-starts/

Today is Part 2.

Cheryl Rowe color 1

How does early Slavic or Eastern European music differ from its counterparts in, say, Western Europe such as Italy, France, Spain and England. What is the historical origin and role of the music from that era in that part of the world?

The early Slavs came from Indo-European lands, spreading from various parts of Asia into Eastern Europe around 2000 B.C. Under the pressure of nomadic hordes, the Slavic tribes crossed the Carpathian Mountains and pushed their way down to the Balkans. Others moved westward toward the upper Danube, and still others eastward toward the River Dniper and Black Sea.

This migration continued from the fourth through the eighth century, giving birth to the Slavic nations that we know today. East of the River (below) explores the dance music and traditional melodies from these indigenous cultures, and you will hear the haunting and virtuosic melodies from these Slavic traditions that influenced the music of many Eastern European compositions.

East of the River

Bob Wiemken (below), from Piffaro explains: “It would seem at first consideration that an immersion in music of Slavic lands and peoples to the East during the medieval through baroque periods would yield some sounds, styles and repertoire strikingly different from that produced by composers from western lands, and in some cases and during certain times that assumption yields expected results.

“However, when comparing what might be considered composed art music, the fodder of courts and cathedrals, a surprising similarity between the two, between East and West, emerges, at least insofar as the lands bordering on what is normally considered “western Europe” are concerned.

“On closer examination the reasons for this similarity seem clear. Political and cultural interchange between East and West burgeoned during the late 15th through early 17th centuries. Eastern rulers, especially in Poland and Hungary, sought to build their courts and chapels after western fashion. They thus attracted some of the best western composers to create and/or head their musical establishments for a time. Easterners studied and worked in western environs, most notably the Slovenian Jakob Handl in Vienna and the Hungarian Bálint Bakfark in Paris and Padua, and many western composers occupied lofty musical positions or spent a portion of their professional careers at eastern courts.

“As a result, western sacred polyphony, the international musical language of the day, traveled east and settled in Slavic courts and cathedrals, and eastern dances, such as the Polnischer Tanz, the Passamezzo ongaro and the Ungarescha journeyed east, creating a tale of cross-cultural influence and engagement in the musical interaction between western and eastern composers.”

And Jordan Sramek, director of the Rose Ensemble, writes:

“During the 17th century there is an often-forgotten relationship between Poland and Italy and there is a striking influence the Italianate style had on Polish composers of the time. Also, Italian composers were invited to the Imperial Russian court to be in residence in St. Petersburg.”

Bob Wiemken

What music and composers of the era have been most neglected and least neglected by historians and performers?

Many composers and their works have only been neglected because the music was unavailable to us in Western countries. The music in some of the Eastern European collections has been out of print, or inaccessible in libraries. It’s the same with recordings—Amazon does not have everything!

Ancora String Quartet violist and Wisconsin Public Radio host Marika Fischer Hoyt (below center) should be interviewed about her experience in Hungary. Tom Zajac was in Poland several years ago, and talked to Polish musicians, went to libraries, and tried to soak up as much information as he could while he was there.

Ancora 2014 2 Marika, Benjamin, Robin

As time goes by, it will become easier to travel to some of these countries, and more materials will become available, there will be more ensembles presenting this music. Music historians from the East have been doing research, but a lot of their books and articles need to be translated into English.

Jordan Sramek (below), the director of the Rose Ensemble, describes the situation so well, “Among scholars and performers of early vocal music, there is, perhaps, an unreasonable lack of attention paid to music from what is contemporarily referred to as “Eastern Europe.” While some musicians spend their careers digging in the “Western” libraries of Florence and Paris, the shelves of the manuscript libraries and monasteries of Krakow, Moscow and Prague often remain dusty, either due to lack of interest or perceived inaccessibility.”

The Rose Ensemble concert features only a glimpse of the great wealth of early vocal repertoire from Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Bohemia, in an attempt to shine some light on some truly brilliant gems.

Jordan Sramek 

Can you tell us about the All-Festival concert program on Saturday, July 18th?

At the All-Festival Concert (below is a photo of last year’s, held in Luther Memorial Church instead of Mills Hall) at the end of the festival on Saturday, July 18, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall, there will be a wonderful program of Slavic music. The first half will feature Polish composers:

“Missa Lombardesca” by Bartołomiej Pękiel: https://youtu.be/lT8ZBRqQWZ8

That will be followed by a triple-choir “Magnificat” by Mikołaj Zieleński: https://youtu.be/Rb414r9IScE and motets by Mikołaj z Krakowa.

The second half of the program will feature excerpts from a wonderful Hungarian collection that Marika Fischer Hoyt found for MEMF when she was in Hungary this past summer. She was visiting family, but also spent a lot of time in the library researching music that is only available in Hungarian libraries. Libraries are still so valuable, and it’s wonderful to know that we can’t find everything on the Internet!

Take Harmonia Caelestis, a cycle of 55 sacred cantatas attributed to the Hungarian composer Paul I, First Prince Esterházy of Galántha (1635–1713) and published in 1711. They are in the Baroque style, and each of the cantatas consists of one movement, composed for solo voices, choir, and orchestra. https://youtu.be/txE-Levn_vM

The program will end with Ukrainian composers Ephiphanius Slavinetsky (below, depicted revising service books), a sacred choral concerto by Dmitri Bortnianski.

Epiphanius Slavinetsky

Next on the program, you will hear a stunningly beautiful a cappella choral work, “Now the Powers of Heaven,” by Giuseppe Sarti. https://youtu.be/4VI6chNJe50

In 1784, Sarti was invited by Catherine the Great to succeed Paisiello as director of the Imperial Chapel in St. Petersburg. We will end the program with a work by Nikolai Diletski.

Many of these works have not been recorded, so we hope the Madison community will join us to hear these unknown works. Also, it’s not too late to sign up to sing or play in the workshop! http://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/classes.htm

MEMF 2014 All-Festival

Are there other sessions, guest lectures and certain performers that you especially recommend for the general public?

I think everything is highly recommended, and I’m looking forward our first day on Saturday, July 11, with the opening concert of the Rose Ensemble. John W. Barker, who is well known to The Ear, will be presenting the opening 6:30 p.m. pre-concert lecture, “Discovering the ‘Other Europe’”, which will give a wonderful overview for the week. There will be other lectures throughout the week, and the Balkan Dance event with live music, on Wednesday, July 15, will be really fun.

I’ve included the link, which has more information about these and all the other events. Try to see them all! http://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/events.htm

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We’re looking forward to an entire week immersed in the wonderful Slavic sounds.

And in 2016 we will be celebrating Shakespeare!


Classical music: Will 2013 give us more proof that the future of Western European classical music can be found in South America, Asia and elsewhere in the Developing World? American conductor Marin Alsop seems to think so.

January 3, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the most interesting stories I heard about classical music in 2012 points yet again to a curious paradox.

Even while many First World audiences, as well as school programs, in Western Europe and North America seem to be turning their backs on classical music, that same classical music is thriving and blossoming in South America and Asia, and even in Africa (below is a double bass player in the Kinshasa Symphony).

Kinshasa Symphony bassist

Curiously, the greatest success often seems to come from the most unlikely source: The poor and undereducated young people and students, plus their families and friends, for whom the music takes on even more personal and cultural or social meaning.

landfill harmonic cello

One example is Gustavo Dudamel (below), the fiery and charismatic superstar conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Gustavo Dudamel  and “el sistema” in Venezuela, which trained him and gets countless young people into making classical music.

dudamel-wild49754818

You may remember that on Christmas Day I touched on this same theme with a very moving video of poor young in Paraguay who are featured in the upcoming documentary “Landfill Harmonic” about poor students who recycle trash into instruments of musical beauty.

Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/25/

And here is a link to the story, which aired on NPR in which Leonard Bernstein protégée and conductor Marin Alsop, who leads both the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Sao Paulo Orchestra in Brazil, discusses her exhilarating experience south of the border.

Those experiences include an outdoors concert for 20,000 (below) and taking the first South American orchestra ever invited  to the famed British Proms concerts, where the crowds went wild. (At bottom is a YouTube video of Alsop and the Sao Paulo Orchestra playing encores at the 2012 Proms in Britain.)

alsop_brazil

Such beauty, meaning and enthusiasm are indeed contagious. Let us hope 2013 brings more of that same energy and devotion to beautiful music and a lifelong appreciation of it right here!

I found the story hopeful and inspiring, and I hope you do too:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/12/22/167459993/marin-alsop-a-utopian-musical-dream-from-south-america


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