The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: It’s Mother’s Day 2018. The Ear remembers his mom with a Rachmaninoff prelude

May 13, 2018
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Mother’s Day 2018.

To celebrate The Ear’s late mom, here is a piece of music with a story to tell with it.

The Ear remembers it well.

He was 13, maybe 14, and living on Long Island, New York.

It was in the afternoon, after school.

His mom was talking to a stranger long-distance on the phone. The conversation, something about preparing wild rice, was with a person in Minnesota.

The Ear was at the piano practicing and playing the famous Prelude in C-sharp minor by the young Sergei Rachmaninoff (below) – the “Bells of Moscow” – which you can hear Evgeny Kissin play in the YouTube video at the bottom.

It was music that The Ear first heard live when a babysitter played it for him. And he immediately fell in love with it.

It was hard to play, a Romantic piece with big loud chords (below is part of the score) and fast passage work. Perfect for a teenager.

Rachmaninoff's Prelude Op. 3 No. 2, The Recapi...

Rachmaninoff’s Prelude Op. 3 No. 2, The Recapitulation of the theme, in four staves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was The Ear’s first big piece, the right vehicle for an ambitious young piano student who was anxious to use the piano to make an impression.

Anyway, the person on the other end of the phone heard the piano playing and asked if they could listen a while longer.

Mom said, Sure!

Then she placed the phone near the piano — and beamed with pride at me while gesturing for me to continue playing.

Mom didn’t know a lot of classical music. But she knew her son loved it and she did everything she could to encourage that love.

She also liked this particular Rachmaninoff prelude because it was accessible and dramatic, easy to understand and to appreciate, and most of all because her son liked it and played it.

That’s how moms are.

The other person on the line listened until the end of the prelude, then offered praise and thanks, said good-bye, and hung up.

Mom told that story over many years and always with great pride.

For a long time after, it seemed that particular prelude fell out of fashion – probably because it was too popular and too melodramatic. Even Rachmaninoff grew to despise it and referred to the work disdainfully as “It,” which he often had to play as an encore.

But lately, as often happens to overexposed pieces that fall into neglect, it finally seems to be making something of a comeback.

Several years ago, Garrick Ohlsson played it as an encore after a concerto he performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. These days, The Ear has heard the young up-and-coming, prize-winning young Georgian-British pianist Luka Okros play it on YouTube and Instagram.

Anyway, here it is, offered with fond memories of a proud mom.

Is there a piece of classical music you identify with your mom? Maybe Antonin Dvorak’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” which you can hear on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s “Sunday Brunch” program at about 12:30p.m. today?

Maybe an opera aria or song?

Leave a comment, with a link to a YouTube performance if possible, and let us know.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Mother’s Day, all!


Classical music: Here is how Chopin’s famous “Fantaisie-Impromptu” sounds – and looks

March 29, 2018
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the most popular pieces in the piano repertoire is the “Fantaisie-Impromptu” in C-sharp minor, Op. 66, by Frederic Chopin (below).

Chances are good that you already know how it sounds.

But it case you don’t, here is one popular interpretation – with almost 9 million views – thanks to a YouTube video by the Chinese pianist Yundi Li (now known simply as Yundi). In 2000, at the age of 18, he became the youngest person ever to win the prestigious International Chopin Piano Competition.

And here is how it looks in an arresting, artistic and ingenious graphic display that might help you to understand the work structurally, rhythmically, melodically and harmonically:

Do you have any reactions to the playing and the seeing?

Do you want to see more of such graphic interpretations? Of what specific pieces?

Leave your thoughts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: This week the UW-Madison will put the spotlight on vocal music reclaimed from the Nazis and contemporary theater music inspired by Samuel Beckett

March 19, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Coming just before the Spring Break, this week will be a busy one at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

Here are the highlights that include a lecture and a concert about vocal music resurrected from the Nazis as well as an evening of contemporary works inspired by the 20th-century playwright Samuel Beckett.

But other important events, including some graduate student recitals, are also on the Events Calendar at https://www.music.wisc.edu/events/.

All events listed here are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

TODAY

Tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, guest trumpeter Richard Illman (below) with present a multimedia video concert with UW trombonist Mark Hetzler and UW trumpeter Alex Noppe.

Sorry, no word on composers or works on the program.

For more information, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-artist-richard-illman-trumpet-special-multi-media-concert/

At 7 p.m. in 2411 Humanities Building, a FREE lecture will be given by the guest award-winning singer Kristina Bachrach and UW pianist Daniel Fung on the “Rediscovered Voices Initiative.” The project seeks to reclaim musicians and musical works that were killed or suppressed by the Nazis during World War II. (This lecture was originally scheduled for March 9.)

The duo will also give a performance Tuesday night. For details, see below.

For more information, go to:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/concert-with-guest-artist-kristina-bachrach-daniel-fung-the-recovered-voices-initiative/

TUESDAY

At 7 p.m. in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill, guest singer Kristina Bachrach and UW pianist Daniel Fung (below) will give a concert for the “Recovered Voices Initiative” that rediscovers and revives music and musicians lost to the Nazis in World War II. (The concert was originally scheduled for March 10.)

For more information about the performers, the project and the complete program, go to:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/concert-with-guest-artist-kristina-bachrach-daniel-fung-the-recovered-voices-initiative/

WEDNESDAY

At 7:30 p.m. In Mills Hall, a FREE concert will be given by the UW Concert Band (below top) under Mike Leckrone (below bottom). Sorry, no word on the program.

FRIDAY

At 1:30 p.m. in Music Hall, the Decoda Chamber Ensemble (below in a photo by Matt Dine) from New York City will give a FREE and PUBLIC master class and workshop for student chamber ensembles. The focus is on interactive performance and audience engagement.

No word on composer or pieces. But for more information, go to:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/master-class-decoda-chamber-ensemble/

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, “Sounding Beckett” will be presented. The concert features the intersection of music and drama as inspired by the Nobel-Prize winning playwright Samuel Beckett (below).

The performers feature guest group Cygnus Ensemble (below), which will play six short musical works based on three of Beckett’s one-act plays (“Footfalls,” “Ohio Impromptu” and “Catastrophe”).

The two works for each play include compositions by UW-Madison alumnus Chester Biscardi (below top) and current UW composer Laura Schwendinger (below bottom). You can hear Biscardi’s music for “Ohio Impromptu” in the YouTube video at the bottom.

There will also be instrumental master classes, a lecture and panel discussion with UW drama professor Patricia Boyette as well as Laura Schwendinger.

NOTE: A master class will also be held but the date, time and place have not yet been announced.

For an excellent longer story with more background and details, go to:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/sounding-beckett-the-intersection-of-music-and-drama-featuring-the-cygnus-ensemble/


Classical music: Longtime NPR host Robert Siegel brought his love of classical music to “All Things Considered.” Here are 10 interviews and some background to mark his recent retirement

January 8, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you are a fan of “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio – and The Ear certainly is – you probably already know not to listen for veteran host Robert Siegel (below) on this afternoon’s broadcast.

Or any other ATC broadcast in the future.

That is because last Friday afternoon Siegel had his last sign-off. He retired after spending 41 years with NPR – the first 10 as a reporter, including as a London correspondent, and the last 31 as a host of the prize-winning afternoon news and features magazine “All Things Considered,” which, by the way, was created by Jack Mitchell, who later came to teach Mass Communications at the UW-Madison.

There will be much to miss about Siegel. His qualities included a calming voice, a ready laugh, fairness and objectivity, a convivial studio presence and sharp but respectful interviewing skills.

One of the things that The Ear hopes will survive Siegel’s departure is the much-needed public attention he brought to classical music, which he loved and which the other media today so often ignore.

The mark his retirement, NPR classical music blogger Tom Huizenga compiled a list of 10 important interviews that Siegel conducted over the years. Then he put links to those interviews on an NPR blog.

Huizenga also got Siegel to open up about the formative influences that sparked his love for classical music. They included his young love for the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73, by Ludwig van Beethoven — the so-called “Emperor” Concerto, which you can hear played by Alfred Brendel in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Siegel went on to cover big stars like superstar soprano Renee Fleming; medium stars like violinist Gil Shaham (below), who performs with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this month; and smaller and new stars like the iconoclast harpsichord virtuoso Mahan Esfahani.

He also covered a U.S. Army rifleman who performed a violin recital for Churchill and Truman, and the role that music by Beethoven played in Communist China.

And there are many, many more, for which classical music and we listeners owe a debt to Siegel.

Check it out and enjoy! Here is a link to that posting on the Deceptive Cadence blog:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2018/01/05/575906745/10-interviews-celebrating-robert-siegels-love-for-classical-music


Classical music: Charismatic Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky is dead at 55

November 24, 2017
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The charismatic Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (below, in a 2006 photo by Richard Termine of The New York Times) had it all.

Most importantly, the great opera singer, concert singer and recitalist possessed a superb voice with wonderful tone and breath control that allowed him to even beat out Bryn Terfel to win Singer of the World at a competition in Cardiff, Wales.

But he also had handsome face and fit beefcake body that made him a believable actor in so many roles and proved a pleasure to watch on stage.

And what about that fabulous mane of prematurely white hair that became his signature?

But on Wednesday, the acclaimed Siberian singer Dmitri Hvorostovsky — who was well on his way to becoming a superstar — lost a two-year bout with brain cancer.

He died at 55 – but not after winning plaudits for unexpected appearances at the Metropolitan Opera (below) and Carnegie Hall even while he was ill.

Here are two obituaries.

The first comes from the Deceptive Cadence blog of National Public Radio (NPR) and features three samples of his singing as well as some memorable interview quotes, including the renowned singer’s unapologetic take on his own sex appeal (below) that landed him in People magazine:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/11/22/565450465/dmitri-hvorostovsky-renowned-baritone-dies-at-55

And here is a longer obituary, also with samples, from The New York Times. It includes a lot of background about the singer’s early life and career:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/22/arts/music/dmitri-hvorostovsky-dead.html

Did you ever see or hear Dmitri Hvorostovsky in person or perhaps in “Live From the Met in HD” broadcasts? (He sings two folk songs in the YouTube memorial video at the bottom.)

And for those of you can judge singers better than The Ear can, what was your opinion of the Russian baritone?

Did you have a favorite role or aria you liked him in?

The Ear wants to know.


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