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
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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: Today is Sept. 11. Here are 10 pieces by 10 different composers inspired by the terrorist attacks of 2001

September 11, 2018
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Sept. 11, 2018.

That makes it the 17th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Two of the attacks took place on the Twin Towers (below) of the World Trade Center in New York City.

One took place on the Pentagon (below) in Washington, D.C.

And one, with an unknown target but perhaps either The White House or The Capitol, was thwarted on board Flight 93 when passengers forced the plane to crash in a field (below) in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

In past years, The Ear has chosen certain pieces to play or link to.

This year he found a list of 10 pieces of new music, with photos of the composers and short paragraphs of background as a program note, on the website for Classic FM digital radio.

Some of the pieces and the composers he already knows – and suspects you do too. They include John Adams, Steve Reich, Joan Tower, Eric Ewazen, Ned Rorem and John Corigliano.

But there are also quite a few new titles and names, including Robert Moran, Anthony Davis, Howard Goodall and Michael Gordon. (You can hear Howard Goodall’s “Spared” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

You can find recordings on YouTube.

Here is a link to the story to help you to listen in remembrance – although silence is also perfectly appropriate:

https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/occasions/memorial/classical-music-inspired-911/

Of course, lots of old music and historic composers can be suitable without being new music directly inspired by 9/11.

So please tell us: What music would you play to mark the occasion?

Leave your choice and the reason for it in the COMMENT section along with, if possible, a link to a YouTube performance.


Classical music: What composers and what pieces give you shelter and sanctuary during troubled times?

October 1, 2017
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

A week ago, The Ear went to the inspired all-Mozart program given by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet with guest cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau (below center) and guest clarinetist Alicia Lee (below right), who was making her debut as a new UW faculty member.

He expected a fine performance and he was not disappointed. Indeed, he shares the same very positive reactions that critic John W. Barker expressed in his review for this blog. Here is a link to that review:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/09/30/classical-music-uws-pro-arte-quartet-and-new-uw-clarinet-professor-alicia-lee-perform-a-sublime-all-mozart-program/

But something else happened too.

The sublime music of Mozart (below) – especially the Larghetto slow second movement of the late Clarinet Quintet, K. 581, but also the other movements and the String Quartet in G Major, K. 387 -– took The Ear into another world, into a parenthesis in time.

(You can hear a live performance in Japan by Yo-Yo Ma and others in the Larghetto movement, plus the rest of the Clarinet Quintet, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For a brief time – perhaps a total of about 80 or 90 minutes – The Ear was totally transported. He temporarily blocked out the political strife in Washington, D.C. and the Trump White House; the government turmoil here in Madison and around the world; and  the terrible, deadly natural disasters of floods, hurricanes and wildfires in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe.

He just let the transcendent music and the performances wash over him, refreshing him with their beauty before he reemerged onto the street and into the painful reality of current events after the concert ended.

So The Ear offers a deeply felt thank you to the performers for planning and playing such a timely and therapeutic program. He needed that more than he knew. And he hopes more such concerts are in store. The times demand such balm, not as escapism but as a reminder of great good things that endure.

So here is The Ear’s question: What other composers and what other pieces or works do you find offer the same kind of sanctuary or shelter?

Leave a COMMENT with a link to a performance on YouTube if possible.


Classical music: Today is Sept. 11. What music would you listen to, to commemorate the terrorist attacks on that day

September 11, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The news today will be filled with Hurricane Irma, Hurricane José and Hurricane Harvey as well as the wildfires raging out west.

But today is also Sept. 11, 2017.

That makes today the 16th anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in the Twin Towers in New York City (below top); the Pentagon in Virginia, close to Washington, D.C. (below middle); and that thwarted hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93, which passengers forced to crash in a field in Pennsylvania (below bottom)  before it could reach the Capitol or White House.

During the September 11 attacks, 2,996 people were killed and more than 6,000 others wounded. These immediate deaths included 265 on the four planes (including the 19 terrorists), 2,606 in the World Trade Center and in the surrounding area, and 125 at the Pentagon.

A lot of music could be played to mark the occasion.

At bottom, in a YouTube video, is “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a piece by the American composer John Adams that was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic specifically to mark the event. It ended up winning a Pulitzer Prize.

It uses both an orchestra and a chorus, and it incorporates voices and sounds, actual recordings and tapes, from the events of that day. It all makes for a moving tribute.

But other music, in smaller forms and in many other styles,  would also be appropriate.

What piece would you suggest?


Classical music: Art and politics continue to clash as Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro cancels the U.S. tour by that country’s youth orchestra with superstar maestro Gustavo Dudamel

August 26, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

In the Age of Trump, art and politics continue to increasingly mix and do battle.

One of the latest developments is the decision by President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump not to attend the Kennedy Center Honors – in order, they say, not to disrupt the awards ceremony with politics.

The move came after several recipients protested Trump and his policies.

But Trump’s America isn’t the only place such conflicts between art and politics are happening.

Take the case of superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel (below, rehearsing the youth orchestra in a photo by Getty Images).

Dudamel was trained in the El Sistema program for youth music education and eventually led the Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra of his native country Venezuela before becoming the acclaimed music director and conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he still pioneers music education for poor youth.

For a while, Dudamel’s critics protested his unwillingness go speak out about serious problems in his native country. (Below, you can hear Dudamel and the orchestra opening last season at Carnegie Hall.)

But recently Dudamel spoke out against the abuses of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who, amid many crises, has taken steps to consolidate his power as a dictator.

As retaliation, Maduro (below) cancelled a four-city tour of the U.S. by Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, although some of Maduro’s defenders cite the country’s dire financial situation.

Here is the story that appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog by National Public Radio (NPR):

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/08/21/545070643/venezuelan-president-cancels-gustavo-dudamel-s-american-tour


Classical music: How does the Trump administration sound in mock-opera terms?

June 10, 2017
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It has been quite the week for President Donald Trump (below top), what with the Senate Congressional hearing of fired FBI director James Comey (below bottom).

How would this week and other happening sound in opera lingo?

Here is a satire — a fake news send-up of Trumpland — done with a famous aria from “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini — that reminds The Ear of The Opera Man skits with comedian Adam Sandler many years ago on Saturday Night Live.

That’s when Sandler would sing the news headlines in opera terms with pseudo-Italian words.

Anyway, here is the video on YouTube, which has received a good number of hits.

If you like it, share it with friends – or even with enemies!

And tell us what you think of it.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Why hasn’t anyone written an opera about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement?

January 19, 2015
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is a federal holiday in the US: Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

And The Ear has just one question: Why hasn’t anyone yet composed an opera about MLK?

martin luther king 2

His larger-than-life existence has all the necessary operatic elements about it, from being a prisoner in jail and winning the Nobel Peace Prize to meeting with President Johnson in The White House and being assassinated while defending garbage workers in Memphis.

He took part in momentous events, some of them dramatic and violent, that involved huge masses of people.

Plus, he and his staff experienced major individual and personal conflicts.

And the cause he fought for forever altered the course of American history and the civil rights of other individuals and groups advocating women’s rights, Latino rights, gay rights and disabled rights among others.

Martin Luther King speech

Could it be that MLK has not been treated in an opera because the composers are white or non-American?

Who, then, could or should do it?

The contemporary American composer John Adams (below top) comes immediately to mind. He used President Richard Nixon (below bottom is a scene from “Nixon in China, as it was staged at the Metropolitan Opera); physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project in “Doctor Atomic: to create the atomic bomb; and in the still controversial opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” the question of terrorism examined through the story of Jewish tourist Leon Klinghoffer and his Palestinian murderers, to create his successful reality-based historical operas.

John Adams

nixon in china plane

So, why not Martin Luther King Jr.?

Music certainly was vital to King and his campaign.

But what hasn’t he himself been treated as the central figure of an opera?

Maybe the difficulties posed by the King estate would have something to do with it, as they did with the current movie “Selma.”

But one can’t imagine that they are insurmountable.

Anyway, tell us what you think.

Should there be an opera about Martin Luther King Jr.?

Who would be a good composer to write one?

And why do you think one hasn’t already been written? Does racism play a role?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Today is the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. What music will you play or listen to in order to commemorate the tragic events and loss of life?

September 11, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today marks the 13th anniversary of 9/11 and the tragic events during the terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda on the United States, in New York City on the Twin Towers; on Washington, D.C,, and the Pentagon; and on United Airlines Flight 93, which passengers made crash into a Pennsylvania field before it could destroy the U.S. Capitol or White House.

Twin Towers on 9-11

There is a lot of great classical music that one could play to commemorate the event and loss of life. There are, of course, requiems by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Giuseppe Verdi and Gabriel Faure.

There are masses and other choral works by them and also Ludwig van Beethoven and others. And there are a lot of opera arias and choruses as well as art songs.

There are large-scale symphonic and choral work as well as more intimate chamber music and solo works, especially the solo cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach, one of which, thanks to cellist Vedran Smailovic (below) in 1992, became am emblem of the awful and bloody siege of Sarajevo by the Serbian army. Chamber music by Franz Schubert — such as the slow movement of the Cello Quintet — would at the top of my list.

Sarajevo cellist Vedran Smailovic 1992

Then there is the contemporary work “In the Transmigration of Souls” by the American composer John Adams. It won the Pulitzer Prize and was written specifically, on commission from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, to remember 9/11 and which uses actual tape recordings of the events and responses of that awful day. And another work by Steve Reich.

Myself, I tend towards the tried-and-true, the pieces of music that never fail to take me to the appropriate place in memory and sorrow.

So today, at the bottom, I offer a YouTube video of the last movement of the profoundly beautiful and moving  “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms. It is more secular than religious, and it asserts that “Blessed Are the Dead … for They Rest from Their Labors and Their Works Shall Live After Them.”

Hard to disagree, don’t you think?

So here it is.

But be sure to let us know what music you will be playing and what piece or pieces you favor to commemorate 9/11.

 

 

 


Classical music education: Let us now praise Marvin Rabin — who founded the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO), who excelled as a music educator and performer, who was the Leonard Bernstein of Madison

December 8, 2013
16 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Marvin Rabin  (below, seen at an award banquet in 2011) was always surprising people, even his biggest fans like me, with his boundless energy and persistence, his attentiveness and keen intelligence — all combined with his deep compassion and unending kindness and good humor.

Even when he was well into his 90s, and when his eyesight and hearing were failing and his walking was unstable, there would be Marvin Rabin, arriving at a concert just when you least expected to see him and you would have completely understood his absence.

He would usually take a seat up close to the stage, often helped by friends like Margaret Andreason or family, especially his violin-maker son Ralph Rabin.

But no longer.

Marvin Rabin died Thursday at the age of 97.

Rabin portrait USE

Marvin’s life was devoted to music, and especially to the young students who make it.

And how he knew those orchestral scores, so many of which he had conducted himself during his days of leading youth orchestras in Lexington, Kentucky; Boston, Massachusetts; and Madison, Wisconsin. Decades after he had performed a work, he would talk about it in details as if it were a fresh and new experience. His memory and knowledge were nothing short of phenomenal.

But it was in Madison that so much of his earlier career (recapitulated in a video seen below) came to full fruition. It was Marvin Rabin who in 1966 founded the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra while he was a professor the University of Wisconsin-Extension. Over the years, more than 5,000 students from more than 100 communities in southcentral Wisconsin benefitted from WYSO – which is to say Marvin Rabin.

Here is a link to the WYSO website with lots of information:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu

For more background about Marvin Rabin, here is a link to a terrific story done 2011 for The Wisconsin State Journal by Gayle Worland in the same year that Marvin won only the third Lifetime Achievement award given by the statewide Wisconsin School Music Association.

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/music/marvin-rabin-a-wisconsin-music-treasure/article_e7e9bb7e-0da4-55c6-9619-1e6b0e4b02e4.html

Rabin video

Until near the end Marvin kept travelling around the country to see friends and former students, and to consult about music education.

Marvin Rabin was the Leonard Bernstein of Madison. He had a regional, national and international reputation. He played at The White House. And he made understanding music and making music seem like completely natural and totally necessary, even inevitable, acts. He was a coach, an arts coach, whose enthusiasm moved people to achieve more than they ever thought they could.

Increasingly, research studies have demonstrated the lifelong benefits of studying instruments and making music as a young person, no matter what career you later take up. (Below are young violinists performing at his award ceremony.)

Rabin Young players 2

Marvin was way ahead of the curve of the score. Long ago, he knew firsthand the successes that learning to make music prepared you for with its discipline, its teamwork and cooperation, and its lifelong appreciation for the hard work of making beauty.

Little wonder, then, that when Marvin received his award, friends, colleagues and former students came from around the country to honor him. The event (below) was sold-out and crowded with grateful admirers.

Rabin crowd

The world of the performing arts, and especially the world of local music making, seems a smaller and less joyful place today without its ever-upbeat cheerleader, Marvin Rabin.

But his was a long life that was well lived, both for himself and for countless others. It’s just that we need more Marvin Rabins – today more than ever, given the shrinking budgets for arts education and the anti-intellectual attack from the right wing on serious cultural values.

Please: If you have a message about Marvin Rabin for his family and friends, his colleagues and students, leave it in the COMMENT section.

If you have a story to tell or a recollection to share, also please leave it in the COMMENT section.

I have yet to see a full obituary and plans for a memorial service. But when I do, I will post them and share them with you.

And here is a YouTube video of WYSO playing the special piece that University of Wisconsin tuba professor and composer John Stevens, composed to honor Marvin Rabin when he received his award and conducted by the composer.

It is called, fittingly, “Fanfare for an Uncommon Man.”

Marvin’s own voice may have been silenced, but his larger voice — the one he carried about most and cultured in so many young people — continues on and will always be heard .


Classical music: What music does the assassination of JFK bring to mind for you today on the 50th anniversary of his death?

November 22, 2013
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (below), or JFK, in Dallas, Texas.

WH/HO Portrait

It was a momentous event in so many ways for the country. And like many of you, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news flash of his shocking death.

One of JFK’s legacy, one deeply encouraged and acted on by his First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, was to revitalize the American art scene and enhance it with involvement and help from the government.

That so now irks the conservative philistines who want to zero out the budgets for NPR, PBS, the NEA and the NEH, who want an ignorant citizenry that will buy into their distorted lies and mean-spirited stupidities.

But how fitting for the New Frontier was that quiet cultural revolution promoted by JFK during his short tenure in The White House.

Artists responded enthusiastically to JFK and his death. How I recall the music that was put together quickly and performed on the then relatively new medium of television. I think the requiems by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Giuseppe Verdi were performed and broadcast, as was Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” – a favorite of JFK and a work that was given its world premiere by the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet in 1936. Gustav Mahler‘s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” were also performed.

Here is a link to a great story on NPR about what music was played in JFK’s hometown of Boston by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under conductor Erich Leinsdorf:

http://www.npr.org/2013/11/21/246328972/moved-by-kennedys-death-the-boston-symphony-played-on

I remember the specific works that for me struck the right chords, so to speak, about the murderous death of the President.

One was the Requiem by Gabriel Faure (below). The whole work is so beautiful and gentle, peaceful and calm – and how we all needed beauty and gentleness, peace and calm, that awful weekend — and it was completely unknown to me.

faure-1

I liked all the movements. “In Paradiso” was one. But I also liked the “Pie Jesu” and the “Libera me.” But what stuck me most and keeps resonating is the “Sanctus.” Here it is in a YouTube video, and be sure to read the comments from other listeners:

The other work I remember from those events is the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms (below). I had known it before. But this was when it took on real meaning.

Johannes_Brahms

I remember hearing and loving the movement “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place.” But the part that really got me choked up was not that one or the Funeral March or even the fabulous “Here on Earth We Have No Abiding City,” with its fabulous fugue “Death, Where Is Thy Sting; Grave, Where Is Thy Victory?.”

It was the final movement, “Blessed Are The Dead for Their Works Live on After Them.” I loved the secular, but respectful and even loving quality of the text and of course the music. That allowed it to appeal to the entire nation and to all people everywhere around the world, regardless of their faith or beliefs.

It seemed so fitting and so true, then; and it still does now.

Here it is:

What works of classical music come to mind for you when you think of that awful day in Dallas and terrible weekend in Washington, D.C., 50 years ago?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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