The Well-Tempered Ear

Is a lot of ‘woke’ music inferior to the music it replaces?

January 21, 2023
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By Jacob Stockinger

Is a widespread attempt to explore historically ignored music and overlooked, marginalized composers interfering with the public hearing greater, more important and more beautiful music?

It is a problematic but timely question or issue, especially during an era of political correctness and in our current culture wars.

To be sure, you can hear some memorable music that has unjustifiably been excluded from the so-called canon. The discovery of Florence Price (below) is a prime example. The same can be said for Clara Schumann.

It does seem that a lot of the newly rediscovered pieces and composers — Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, Asian, women, LGBT — deserve an initial hearing, if only out of curiosity and to correct the historical record.

But after being heard for the first time, many of them seem second- or third-rate. They deserve to be shelved for another few decades in favor of restoring greater music and greater composers to the active performing repertory. 

To The Ear, for example, the symphonies by Michael Haydn always sound inferior to those of his famous older brother Joseph. And it doesn’t matter what critics and audiences of the day said, history its often — if not always — the better judge. The symphonies and violin concertos of the impressive and influential Joseph de Boulogne (Chevalier de Saint-Georges, below) are simply not as artistically interesting or engaging as those by his contemporary Mozart.

Anyway, whatever you think, The Ear came across an essay on the internet by George Leef that was published in The National Review — the iconic conservative political magazine founded by William Buckley. It contains background about current nationwide programming guidelines and organizations that you might not know. 

It is an interesting point of view. It often goes over the top and  clearly overstates the case against “woke” repertory by accusing those who support it of being “enemies of classical music” rather than sincere and well-intentioned progressive advocates of artistic justice.

But it deserves a serious reading and a serious answer to the provocative question of balancing the great and the less great. Here is a link:

https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nationalreview.com%2Fcorner%2Fthe-enemies-of-classical-music-open-a-new-front%2F&data=05%7C01%7C%7Cdc78db9851e24c937f3208dafa28c130%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C638097350187750246%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000%7C%7C%7C&sdata=SmHoEA2rkQ53xI6RZvi8o65zJ99IcjYFqXrbJq3DV18%3D&reserved=0

Read it for yourself and make up your own mind.

Then please tell The Ear and other readers what you think in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Gramophone Magazine names the Best Classical Recordings of 2022 by each month

January 9, 2023
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By Jacob Stockinger

Maybe you have a holiday gift card to use.

Or maybe you have some leisure time to explore new recordings for your pleasure.

You’re in luck.

Various media have recently named the Best Classical Recordings of 2022. Whether you stream them or use compact discs or listen to vinyl, over the next week or two The Ear will feature some of them.

One of the most prestigious and well respected lists is provided by the British publication and website, Gramophone Magazine (below).

The link below is just to the December 2022 choices. But in it you can find links by the month to other outstanding selections.

Like many other links now, you can also find links to complete reviews of individual albums, and can even listen to excerpts from the named performances.

Also like many international lists, this one often reflects a not-so-subtle bias — usual towards the artists in the home nation where the organization is based. So look for a lot of British performers and composers.

https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.gramophone.co.uk%2Ffeatures%2Farticle%2Feditor-s-choice-december-2022-the-best-new-classical-recordings&data=05%7C01%7C%7C9d54288e7aa14aee84e008dad6cf495a%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C638058483012574509%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000%7C%7C%7C&sdata=jQjPYfVgug0bP8RNt8LCpJaWifR5remsfdwHP8zwAW8%3D&reserved=0

Still, you can find many outstanding choices to spend those gift cards on. Or just to explore for pleasure whenever you have the time and desire.

Here is one example.

When he first heard it, The Ear was fascinated by Paul Wee’s outstanding and astounding performance of the virtuosic solo piano transcription by the 19th-century French composer Charles-Valentin Alkan of Mozart’s famously sublime and dramatic Piano Concerto No. 22 in D minor, K. 466 (below in a photo of the album cover and in a YouTube video).

Very handy if you don’t have access to an orchestra! Plus you hear the composition in a new and insightful way — as often happens with transcriptions.

What do you think?

Do you have a favorite new recording from 2022?

The Ear wants to hear.


Ailing superstar maestro and pianist Daniel Barenboim, 80, quits longtime German opera post

January 7, 2023
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By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday — Friday, Jan. 6, 2023 — superstar maestro and pianist Daniel Barenboim, 80, resigned his longtime post of over 30 years as director of the Berlin State Opera.

Barenboim (below) cited ill health — specifically a severe inflammation of blood vessels — as the reason for his resignation.

Local residents might recall his long tenure at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, where many of them probably heard him conduct and perhaps even perform as a concert pianist.

Here is a long biographical entry in Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Barenboim

Below are links to two news articles about Barenboim’s decision. 

In them you can read a lot of details about: his philosophy of interpretation; his childhood as a Jewish child prodigy in Argentina; his training and early career as both pianist and conductor; his performances with marriage to British cellist Jacqueline du Pré, who died young; his love of German music and his role in Germany’s reunification; his controversial criticism of how Israel treats Palestinians; and the orchestra and music school he co-founded with the Palestinian activist and world-famous literary scholar Edward Said.

Here is a story from British newspaper The Guardian:

https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theguardian.com%2Fmusic%2F2023%2Fjan%2F06%2Fdaniel-barenboim-step-down-berlin-state-opera-poor-health&data=05%7C01%7C%7C66c77484055c4288326508daf02e850f%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C638086379832875661%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000%7C%7C%7C&sdata=pGEA0TsdHFxtYwzzqeugIDeFUh6zR5FNejjokYL5cZY%3D&reserved=0

And here is the story from the German broadcasting network and media conglomerate Deutsche Welle:

https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.dw.com%2Fen%2Fconductor-daniel-barenboim-resigns-as-berlin-state-opera-director-over-ill-health%2Fa-63760683&data=05%7C01%7C%7Ceeb75c8f244542d0496e08daf02ed28b%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0e%7C638086381129033294%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000%7C%7C%7C&sdata=qmTwyPzkWpJKfAT4ohHJVWWnISE%2BxZS%2FxuM7hrC09zQ%3D&reserved=0

Finally, here is a recent compilation video from the outstanding arts website and streaming service medici.tv to celebrate Barenboim’s recent 80th birthday. It is called “80 Minutes with the Barenboim” and it features many other classical luminaries such as Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman and Pierre Boulez who have been vital to his life and global career.

Do you know any of Barenboim’s many recordings?

Do you have a favorite recording to recommend?

Did you ever hear Barenboim in person conduct or play the piano?

What did you think of him? Of his conducting or playing?

The Ear wants to hear.


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

June 4, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The road to the Cliburn is not easy.

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

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

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

But The Ear also wants to hear from you.

Do you have thoughts about the various contestants?

Who are your favorites and why?

Thoughts about the programs and repertoire being played?

Other thoughts about the competition in general?

The Ear Wants to hear.

 


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YOU MUST HEAR THIS: No piece captures the mixed emotions of Memorial Day better than Charles Ives’ “Decoration Day”

May 30, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day, 2022.

It is the annual holiday to remember those who died in military service to the country. (Below are flags placed each year at the tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.)

If you want to honor survivors and current service members, that would be Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

All weekend long the radio has been playing music and the television has been showing war movies.

A lot of the music is familiar and repeated every year: Sousa marches and Morton Gould suites, elegies by Gustav Mahler, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein; requiems by Mozart and Fauré; a hymn by John Williams and other movie scores. This year has also seen the playlist include rediscovered works of homage by African-American composers such as William Grant Still.

But only this year did The Ear finally hear — thanks to Wisconsin Public Radio — the one piece that, to his mind, best captures Memorial Day with its blending of consonance and dissonance, its mix of major and major keys, of familiar or “found” music and original music.

It is called, simply, “Decoration Day” and it was composed in 1912 — but not published until 1989 — by the 20th-century iconoclastic and early modernist American composer Charles Ives (below, 1874-1954). It ended up as part of a work the composer called “A Symphony: New England Hollidays.”

See if you agree with The Ear.

Listen to the 8-minute performance by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Listen to the deep anguish and and sense of loss conveyed in the opening, when a solemn remembrance procession goes to a cemetery to plant flags and lay flowers and wreaths to “decorate” the graves of the fallen.

Listen carefully and you will hear a faint version of “Taps” and ringing church bells in the atmospheric music.

Then as so often happens in reality, life suddenly intrudes in the form of a celebration by a loud marching brass band as it leaves the cemetery for the celebratory marches, picnics and fireworks.

But at the end, the darkness briefly returns. The sense of loss lingers long after the actual death and long after the holiday has been celebrated.

There is no closure.

Just resignation.

Just living with loss.

Here is the background from Wikipedia about how the holiday started as Decoration Day after the Civil War and when it evolved into Memorial Day in 1970: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Day

And here is biographical background, with the actual sources and depictions of “Decoration Day”  — just go  down the page to compositions and click — about Charles Ives: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Ives

Did you know and like Charles Ives’ music?

Does “Decoration Day” impress or move you?

What music most embodies Memorial Day for you?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Check out the 2022 classical music Grammys for trends and suggested listening

April 9, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

No doubt you have already heard about the 64th annual Grammy Awards, which were awarded last Sunday night.

But chances are you haven’t heard much about the classical music Grammys.

That’s just not where the money and publicity are for major record companies and for the music industry in general, compared to other, much more profitable genres such as hip-hop, rock and pop.

But the classical Grammy nominations and winners can be a good source about what composers, performers and music you might want to check out via streaming or by buying a CD.

You can also get a good idea of trends in classical music.

Contemporary or new music is big again this year, dominating the old standard classics.

Just like local, regional, national and international performers, both individuals and groups, the Grammys show an emphasis on female composers and performers, and a similar emphasis on rediscovering composers and performers of color from both the past and the present.

You might also notice that the New Orleans-born, Juilliard-trained jazz pianist and singer Jon Batiste (below) — who plays on CBS’ The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and directs the house band Stay Human and who seems a one-man Mardi Gras — was nominated for a record 11 Grammys and won five in other categories, seems to be the new Wynton Marsalis. Like Marsalis, with whom Batiste worked, Batiste seems perfectly at home in classical music as well as jazz, soul, blues and pop. And his original classical work Movement 11 was nominated for a Grammy this year.

Social activism, in short, has finally brought diversity and inclusion into the Grammys in a way that seems permanent.

Below are the nominations and winners of the 2022 classical music Grammys. Winners are boldfaced. I have also offered a few examples of those musicians who have performed in Madison and for what venue, although there are many more connections than indicated.

If you want to see the nominations and winners in other categories, here is a link:

https://www.npr.org/2022/04/03/1090342877/2022-grammys-full-list-winners-nominees

75. Best Engineered Album, Classical

  • Archetypes — Jonathan Lackey, Bill Maylone and Dan Nichols, engineers; Bill Maylone, mastering engineer (Sérgio Assad, Clarice Assad and Third Coast Percussion)
  • Beethoven: Cello Sonatas – Hope Amid Tears — Richard King, engineer (Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax) 
  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 — Mark Donahue, engineer; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Manfred Honeck, Mendelssohn Choir Of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
  • Chanticleer Sings Christmas — Leslie Ann Jones, engineer (Chanticleer)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 8, ‘Symphony Of A Thousand’ — Alexander Lipay and Dmitriy Lipay, engineers; Alexander Lipay and Dmitriy Lipay, mastering engineers (Gustavo Dudamel, Fernando Malvar-Ruiz, Luke McEndarfer, Robert Istad, Grant Gershon, Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, Los Angeles Master Chorale, National Children’s Chorus, Pacific Chorale and Los Angeles Philharmonic)

76. Producer Of The Year, Classical

  • Blanton Alspaugh 
  • Steven Epstein 
  • David Frost 
  • Elaine Martone 
  • Judith Sherman (below, who also recorded the UW-Madison Pro Arte Quartet’s centennial commissions)

CLASSICAL

77. Best Orchestral Performance

  • “Adams: My Father Knew Charles Ives; Harmonielehre” — Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor (Nashville Symphony Orchestra)
  • “Beethoven: Symphony No. 9” — Manfred Honeck, conductor (Mendelssohn Choir Of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
  • “Muhly: Throughline” — Nico Muhly, conductor (San Francisco Symphony)
  • “Florence Price: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3″ — Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Philadelphia Orchestra (below)
  • “Strauss: Also Sprach Zarathustra; Scriabin: The Poem Of Ecstasy” — Thomas Dausgaard, conductor (Seattle Symphony Orchestra)

78. Best Opera Recording

  • “Bartók: Bluebeard’s Castle” — Susanna Mälkki, conductor; Mika Kares and Szilvia Vörös; Robert Suff, producer (Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra)
  • “Glass: Akhnaten” — Karen Kamensek, conductor; J’Nai Bridges, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Zachary James and Dísella Lárusdóttir; David Frost, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus) 
  • “Janáček: Cunning Little Vixen” — Simon Rattle, conductor; Sophia Burgos, Lucy Crowe, Gerald Finley, Peter Hoare, Anna Lapkovskaja, Paulina Malefane, Jan Martinik & Hanno Müller-Brachmann; Andrew Cornall, producer (London Symphony Orchestra; London Symphony Chorus and LSO Discovery Voices)  
  • “Little: Soldier Songs” — Corrado Rovaris, conductor; Johnathan McCullough; James Darrah and John Toia, producers (The Opera Philadelphia Orchestra) 
  • “Poulenc: Dialogues Des Carmélites” — Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Karen Cargill, Isabel Leonard, Karita Mattila, Erin Morley and Adrianne Pieczonka; David Frost, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus) 

79. Best Choral Performance

  • “It’s A Long Way” — Matthew Guard, conductor (Jonas Budris, Carrie Cheron, Fiona Gillespie, Nathan Hodgson, Helen Karloski, Enrico Lagasca, Megan Roth, Alissa Ruth Suver and Dana Whiteside; Skylark Vocal Ensemble) 
  • “Mahler: Symphony No. 8, ‘Symphony Of A Thousand'” — Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Grant Gershon, Robert Istad, Fernando Malvar-Ruiz and Luke McEndarfer, chorus masters (Leah Crocetto, Mihoko Fujimura, Ryan McKinny, Erin Morley, Tamara Mumford, Simon O’Neill, Morris Robinson and Tamara Wilson; Los Angeles Philharmonic; Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, Los Angeles Master Chorale, National Children’s Chorus and Pacific Chorale)
  • “Rising w/The Crossing” — Donald Nally, conductor (International Contemporary Ensemble and Quicksilver; The Crossing)  
  • “Schnittke: Choir Concerto; Three Sacred Hymns; Pärt: Seven Magnificat-Antiphons” — Kaspars Putniņš, conductor; Heli Jürgenson, chorus master (Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir)  
  • “Sheehan: Liturgy Of Saint John Chrysostom” — Benedict Sheehan, conductor (Michael Hawes, Timothy Parsons and Jason Thoms; The Saint Tikhon Choir)
  • “The Singing Guitar” — Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (Estelí Gomez; Austin Guitar Quartet, Douglas Harvey, Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and Texas Guitar Quartet; Conspirare)

80. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance

  • “Adams, John Luther: Lines Made By Walking” — JACK Quartet
  • “Akiho: Seven Pillars” — Sandbox Percussion 
  • “Archetypes” —Sérgio Assad, Clarice Assad and Third Coast Percussion 
  • “Beethoven: Cello Sonatas – Hope Amid Tears” — Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax (who have frequently performed individually and together at the Wisconsin Union Theater)
  • “Bruits” — Imani Winds
  •  

81. Best Classical Instrumental Solo

  • “Alone Together” — Jennifer Koh (below, who has performed with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra)
  • “An American Mosaic” — Simone Dinnerstein
  • “Bach: Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas” — Augustin Hadelich (a favorite of the Madison Symphony Orchestra)
  • “Beethoven and Brahms: Violin Concertos” — Gil Shaham; Eric Jacobsen, conductor (The Knights)
  • “Mak Bach” — Mak Grgić
  • “Of Power” — Curtis Stewart 

82. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album

  • Confessions — Laura Strickling; Joy Schreier, pianist
  • Dreams Of A New Day – Songs By Black Composers — Will Liverman (who has sung with the Madison Opera); Paul Sánchez, pianist (below at in the YouTube video at the bottom)
  • Mythologies — Sangeeta Kaur and Hila Plitmann (Virginie D’Avezac De Castera, Lili Haydn, Wouter Kellerman, Nadeem Majdalany, Eru Matsumoto and Emilio D. Miler)
  • Schubert: Winterreise — Joyce DiDonato; Yannick Nézet-Séguin, pianist
  • Unexpected Shadows — Jamie Barton; Jake Heggie, pianist (Matt Haimovitz) 

83. Best Classical Compendium

  • American Originals – A New World, A New Canon — AGAVE and Reginald L. Mobley; Geoffrey Silver, producer
  • Berg: Violin Concerto; Seven Early Songs and Three Pieces For Orchestra — Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor; Jack Vad, producer
  • Cerrone: The Arching Path — Timo Andres and Ian Rosenbaum; Mike Tierney, producer
  • Plays — Chick Corea; Chick Corea and Birnie Kirsh, producers
  • Women Warriors – The Voices Of Change — Amy Andersson, conductor; Amy Andersson, Mark Mattson and Lolita Ritmanis, producers  (below)

84. Best Contemporary Classical Composition

  • “Akiho: Seven Pillars” — Andy Akiho, composer (Sandbox Percussion)
  • “Andriessen: The Only One” — Louis Andriessen, composer (Esa-Pekka Salonen, Nora Fischer and Los Angeles Philharmonic)
  • “Assad, Clarice and Sérgio, Connors, Dillon, Martin & Skidmore: Archetypes” — Clarice Assad, Sérgio Assad, Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and David Skidmore, composers (Sérgio Assad, Clarice Assad and Third Coast Percussion)
  • “Batiste: Movement 11′” — Jon Batiste, composer (Jon Batiste)
  • “Shaw: Narrow Sea” — Caroline Shaw, composer (Dawn Upshaw, Gilbert Kalish and Sō Percussion) 
  •  


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How will you celebrate World Piano Day today?

March 29, 2022
22 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Today — Tuesday, March 29, 2022 — is World Piano Day.

(Below is a restored vintage concert grand piano at Farley’s House of Pianos used for recitals in the Salon Piano Series.)

How will you mark it? Celebrate it?

It’s a fine occasion to revisit your favorite pianist and favorite piano pieces.

Who is your favorite pianist, and what piano piece would you like to hear today?

If you yourself took piano lessons or continue to play, what piece would you play to mark the occasion? Fo the Ear, it will be either a mazurka by Chopin or a movement from either a French Suite or a Partita by Johann Sebastian Bach. Maybe both!

What piano piece do you wish you could play, but never were able to? For The Ear, it would be the Ballade No. 4 in F minor by Chopin.

One of the best ways to mark the day is to learn about a new younger pianist you might not have heard of.

For The Ear, one outstanding candidate would be the Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafsson ( below), who has won critical acclaim and who records for Deutsche Grammophon (DG). 

Olafsson has a particular knack for innovative and creative programming, like his CD that alternates works by Claude Debussy and Jean-Philippe Rameau.

He also seems at home at in many different stylistic periods. His records every thing from Baroque masters, to Mozart and his contemporaries in the Classical period — including Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach — to Impressionists to the contemporary composer Philip Glass.

But The Ear especially loves his anthology of Bach pieces (below) that include original works and transcriptions, including some arranged by himself. His playing is always precise and convincing, and has the kind of cool water-clear sound that many will identify with Andras Schiff.

You can hear a sample of his beautiful playing for yourself in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is an live-performance encore from his inaugural appearance last August at The Proms in London, where he also played Mozart’s dramatically gorgeous Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor (also available on YouTube.)

Final word: You might find some terrific pianists and performances on the Internet. Record labels, performing venues and other organizations are marking the day with special FREE recitals that you can reach through Google and Instagram.

Happy playing!

Happy listening!

Please leave a comment and let The Ear and other readers know what you think of the piano — which seems to be falling out of favor these days — and which pianists and piano pieces you will identify this year with World Piano Day.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Does Wisconsin Public Radio play too much harp music?

March 26, 2022
7 Comments

PLEASE NOTE: Due to a technical glitch, the following commentary was posted briefly yesterday and then withdrawn. That also disabled the commentary function temporarily. Once the glitch is solved, The Ear will post it again. That means some of you will get it twice. I apologize for any inconvenience. And to the fans who have kindly greeted my return, heartfelt thanks. I will be posting more details about the use and frequency of this blog in the near future.

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Can’t help it.

The harp always reminds The Ear of a giant egg slicer.

Still, The Ear loves the sound of the harp — in the right works.

That usually means when it is blended into orchestral works (Brahms, Wagner, Tchaikovsky and Mahler come to mind) and chamber music works (Debussy and Ravel come to mind).

But when it comes to solo harp and harp concertos, no thanks. Barring some Baroque music and Classical works — Handel’s concerti grossi and Mozart’s “Brunch” Concerto for Flute and Harp — he’ll pass for the most part.

So much harp music, both original and arranged, just sounds second-rate or worse. Can anyone name a masterpiece for the solo harp written by a great composer? And I don’t mean Louis Spohr who composed for his harpist wife.

The solo harp repertoire is very small, hence the need for so many transcriptions.

That’s a problem.

The harp tends to make music for other instruments sound so .. so … so pleasant! Even when the original is dramatic, it’s all pluck pluck, twang twang, zing zing. Just listen to the YouTube video at the bottom of J.S. Bach’s mighty Toccata and Fugue in D minor for Organ played on the harp.

So, The Ear asks, why has Wisconsin Public Radio started playing so much harp music on almost every show? (Below is WPR host, accomplished harpist and harp evangelist Ruthanne Bessman, who often includes harp music in her Saturday Morning program “Classics by Request.”)

Is it because the public really loves hearing the harp so much?

Is it because the radio show hosts do?

Do listener surveys indicate a preference for the harp?

Does the covid pandemic play a role in seeking bland but soothing music?

What do you think?

Do you like or even crave harp music?

Do you think WPR is programming too much harp music these days?

Too little?

Or the right amount?

Leave a comment, please.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Going live! Here are some links to newly announced summer concerts and 2021-22 seasons

June 15, 2021
2 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

Now that the pandemic is fast abating, at least locally, music groups and music presenters in the Madison area have been announcing a return to live music and their new seasons and summer events in a relentless way.

The Ear had been out of commission since mid-May until this week. But in any case, The Ear was overwhelmed and just couldn’t keep up with a separate post for each one.

Still, he thought it might be helpful to be able to check the dates, performers, programs, tickets and other information in one place.

Remember that the Madison Early Music Festival is no more. It has been absorbed into the regular music curriculum at the UW.

Please know that many groups – including, but not limited to, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music (below is the UW Symphony Orchestra — masked, socially distanced and virtually streamed — during the pandemic), University Opera, Edgewood College, Just Bach, Grace Presents, the Salon Piano Series, the First Unitarian Society of Madison, Bach Around the Clock, the Festival Choir of Madison, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir and the Madison Bach Musicians – have not yet released details of their new seasons.

But most of their websites say that an announcement of their new season is coming soon.

There are also some trends you may notice.

Many of the groups are raising prices and persistently seek donations as well as subscribers, no doubt to help make up for the loss of revenue during the pandemic.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra have reduced the number of concerts or start later.

Some have simply rescheduled events, like the Wisconsin Union  Theater closing its season with soprano Renée Fleming. And the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s new season is largely the same one they were planning to have to celebrate the Beethoven Year in 2020-21.

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, the Middleton Community Orchestra and the Willy Street Chamber Players all have pop-up concerts and scheduled outdoor concerts in parks. Some have also scheduled individual mini-concerts or personal sessions.

If you look at programs, you will see an emphasis on Black composers and performers by almost all groups. (The Madison Symphony Orchestra has scheduled “Lyric for Strings” by George Walker, below. You can hear it performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

What is most disappointing is that no group seems to have announced a special concert or event to pay homage to the public ordeal, health care workers and victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ear keeps thinking a performance of a suitable requiem (by perhaps Mozart, Faure, Brahms, Verdi or Britten) or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony would have been an appropriate way to start the in-person season and, at the same time, acknowledge the more than 7,000 deaths in Wisconsin and almost 600,000 deaths in the U.S. and almost 4 million worldwide as of now. Maybe even Barber’s overplayed Adagio for Strings would suffice.

Finally, very few groups seem to be offering online virtual concert attendance as a possibility for those listeners who found that they actually enjoyed at least some the  music in their own homes and at their own times.

IN ANY CASE, HERE IS WHAT HAS ALREADY TAKEN PLACE OR IS STILL ON TAP. CHECK IT OUT! 

Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in free live and for-pay recorded concertshttps://bachdancing.org

Middleton Community Orchestra’s summer concerts at Fireman’s Park (below) in Middleton: https://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Madison Bach Musicians summer workshops (below): https://madisonbachmusicians.org/2021-summer-chamber-music-workshop/

Concerts on the Square with limited paid admission at Breese Stevens Field (below): https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/concerts-on-the-square

Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers): https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/madison-symphony-orchestra-concerts/

Madison Opera and Opera in the Park (below): https://www.madisonopera.org/oitp21/; and https://www.madisonopera.org/21-22/

Wisconsin Union Theater: https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/seasonevents/concert-series/

Willy Street Chamber Players (below) at Orton Park: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/2021-summer-concert-series.html

If you know of more entries or have observations to make about these, please leave word and, when possible, a link in the comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Critics for The New York Times name their Top 10 online classical concerts for May

May 3, 2021
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Even as we wait to see whether concerts in the next season will be mostly streamed or live, the critics for The New York Times have named their Top 10 classical concerts to stream and hear online in May.

The Times critics have been doing this during the pandemic year. So perhaps if and when they stop, it will be a sign of returning to concert life before the pandemic.

Then again, maybe not, since The Ear suspects that many listeners have liked the online format, at least for some of the times and for certain events. So maybe there will be a hybrid format with both live and online attendance.

As the same critics have done before, they mix an attention to contemporary composers, world premieres and up-and-coming performers, including the Finnish conductor Susanna Maliki (below top) in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times).

In a welcome development, the recommendations for this month also seem to mention more Black composers, performers and pieces than usual, including the rising star bass-baritone Davon Tines (below, in a photo by Vincent Tullo for The New York Times).

But you will also find many of the “usual suspects,” including Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Bartok, Benjamin Britten, Olivier Messiaen and Shostakovich. (On the play list is Schubert’s last song, “The Shepherd on the Rock,” which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

You will also find dates and times (all are Eastern), links to the event and some short commentaries about what makes the concerts, programs and the performers noteworthy.

Here is a link to the story: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/29/arts/music/classical-music-streaming.html

Do you know of local, regional, national or international online concerts that you recommend? Leave word with relevant information in the Comment section.

Happy Listening!


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