The Well-Tempered Ear

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

July 4, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

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

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

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

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

Here is a link to nine suggestions with audiovisual performances:

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

But The Ear got to thinking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ear wants to hear!

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Classical music: Madison Symphony Orchestra names Greg Zelek as its new principal organist

June 30, 2017
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following important news:

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) has announced that Greg Zelek (below) will become Principal Organist and Curator of the Overture Concert Organ, beginning Sept. 1, 2017.

Zelek will succeed Samuel Hutchison, who retired after 16 years in the position. Hutchison will remain active in an advisory role during the transition to his successor.

MSO Music Director John DeMain said “Greg Zelek’s decision to move to Madison and become our principal organist, is a testimony to the international reputation both the instrument and organ programs have gained in the past 12 years. Greg is simply a phenomenal virtuoso on the instrument and will be a wonderful addition to the symphony, the organ program, and the community.”

Samuel Hutchison (below) said:  “Greg comes to Madison as one of the brightest lights of a new generation of concert organists. His effortless facility at the organ console coupled with highly creative programming ideas will provide great excitement for our organ audiences. I anticipate his tenure with great enthusiasm as he launches the new season of organ concerts with his inaugural recital on August 26.”

Greg Zelek is recognized as one of the most exciting young organists in the American organ scene. The South Florida Classical Review praised Zelek for his “effortless facility on the instrument.” He has performed with orchestras as both a soloist and professional ensemble member throughout the US, including appearances with the Miami Symphony Orchestra and Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in Carnegie Hall.

He was the organist in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Faust, and performed twice with the New World Symphony, including a performance of Lukas Foss’s Phorion, under Michael Tilson Thomas. Zelek was chosen by The Diapason magazine as one of the top “20 Under 30” organists in 2016, a feature which selects the most successful young artists in the field.

Zelek has appeared in multiple venues throughout the US, including a performance of Cochereau’s Bolero for Organ and Percussion in Alice Tully Hall. He closed the WQXR Bach Marathon at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, which was streamed live on New York City’s only classical music station.

A proponent of new music for the organ, Greg (below) has premiered and performed works by fellow Juilliard composers and faculty, including Wayne Oquin’s Reverie and Samuel Adler’s Partita for Organ in concerts. Awards he has received include First Prize in both the 2012 Rodgers North American Classical Organ Competition and the 2012 West Chester University Organ Competition, and selection as a 2010 NFAA Young Arts Silver Medal Winner.

He won First Prize, as well as the “Bach Prize,” at the East Carolina University Organ Competition, and was a prizewinner in the Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival. Most recently, Greg was the Audience Prize winner and finalist in the 2016 Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition. (You can hear Greg Zelek perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Greg’s engagements have included serving as the Music Director and Organist at the Episcopal Church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy in New York City; Organ Scholar at Hitchcock Presbyterian Church in Scarsdale, New York; Music Director of Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Miami; and summer organist for San Pedro Apostol Church in Ramales de la Victoria, Spain.

He is completing an Artist Diploma as a student of Paul Jacobs at the Juilliard School. A recipient of the inaugural Kovner Fellowship, Greg also received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Juilliard.

Zelek is enthused about the opportunity and says. “I’m deeply honored to have received this unique opportunity with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. I look forward to building on Sam Hutchison’s outstanding work of promoting and elevating the art of organ music in performance and the magnificent Klais organ (below) to new heights.”


Classical music: What is the difference between a “symphony” orchestra and a “philharmonic” orchestra?

May 25, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Do you know the difference between a “symphony” orchestra and a “philharmonic” orchestra?

Between the New York Philharmonic (below top) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (below bottom), for example?

Even if you do, you might enjoy the background given in a recent blog posting on the website of the famed classical radio station in New York City, WQXR.

Here is a link:

http://www.wqxr.org/story/what-difference-between-symphony-philharmonic-orchestra


Classical music: What piece of classical music best celebrates Labor Day? And which pieces require the most work to play?

September 5, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Labor Day, 2106.

We spend so much of our lives working and so little of our art relating to that work. 

But there are exceptions, such as the great historic photo “Working” by Lewis Hines that is below.

Here are suggestions of work-related music and a listing from 2014 by the famed radio station in New York City, WQXR-FM:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/poll-what-music-best-captures-spirit-labor-day/

And here is a pie chart and a 3-part listing from WQXR-FM this year with music that pertains to labor as well as to the work needed to play a piece of music as well. Just place the cursor over the segment of the pie chart to see the title and composer:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/crowdsourcing/classical-music-labor-day/report/

working Lewis hine photo

WQXR usually broadcasts labor-related music on Labor Day.

Here is a link for listening via streaming:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/

The Ear guesses that other radio stations, including Wisconsin Public Radio and Sirius XM Satellite Radio, will do the same.

But feel free to leave suggestions that might have been overlooked in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube performance if possible.

For example, The Ear thinks that the “Hammerklavier” Sonata and the “Diabelli” Variations by Ludwig van Beethoven qualifies as does the Symphony No. 8, the so-called “Symphony of a Thousand” by Gustav Mahler, the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff. there are many, many others. It often takes hard work to make great beauty.

Anyway, tell us what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Labor Day!

 


Classical music: Composer of the Day app is a great way to start a new week

July 17, 2016
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Which composer was born today?

What is he or she best known for?

And what does his or her music sound like in FREE samples?

Finding out is a great way to start a new week.

And start every day.

So here is a website you might want to look at and check every day. It has one-sentence mini-biographies of 366 composers (yep – one for Leap Year) and links to music samples.

It also allows you to search backwards, although not forward beyond “today” – one improvement it could make that would also making planning for blogs and listening a lot easier. The Ear bets that would give it a 5 rating.

It is called Composer of the Day and it is compiled by Wittenberg University. Here is what it looks like:

composer of the day app

It is a FREE app that is available for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. You can find it in the iTunes stores.

The Ear has it and likes it and uses it.

So does WQXR. That is the famous classical music radio station in New York City and the most listened-to classical music station in the U.S. And WQXR named it among the Top Five classical music apps for iPhones.

So do others, who give it a 4+ rating.

So you might like it too.Try and see.

Here are links:

http://www.wittenberg.edu/academics/music/apps.html

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/composer-of-the-day/id336077559?mt=8

Enjoy!

And use the COMMENT section tell us what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Here are people that classical music lost in 2015. Can you think of others?

January 2, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Each year inevitably brings losses in the world of classical music.

And 2015 was no different.

Yet it some ways it seems to The Ear that the losses are getting harder to bear.

Is it because The Ear is getting older -– and finds that aging is not as desensitizing to death as he had expected?

Is it because so many of the deaths were high-profile figures like the German conductor Kurt Masur, who resurrected the New York Philharmonic and helped broker German reunification; or the distinguished Czech pianist Ivan Moravec, who also played the music for the Oscar-winning film “Amadeus”?

Kurt Masur closeup

ivan moravec playing

Is it because one of them, Metropolitan Opera’s weekly radio host Margaret Juntwait, died much too young from cancer?

Margaret Juntwait

Is it because of a local link, like the dramatic tenor Jon Vickers (below top in a 1998 photo by Graham Trott; and below bottom, as Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes) who performed in Madison when the Madison Opera was still coming of age?

GRAHAM TROTT 19/10/98 JON VICKERS, FORMER TENOR

Jon Vickers as Peter Grimes

Is it because it was someone who helped us, who brought us new beauty, as Robert Craft (below top, signing a copy of his memoir for Naxos) did with his championing of Igor Stravinsky? (In the photo below, Craft, left, is seen with Stravinsky.)

robert craft older

Robert Craft, left, and Igor Stravinsky

And there were others.

Here is a list of the classical music losses compiled by WQXR, the famed FM radio station in New York City:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/memoriam-classical-musicians-who-died-2015/

SURELY THERE WERE OTHER WOMEN AND MEN WHOM CLASSICAL MUSIC LOST IN 2015, ESPECIALLY LOCALLY, WHO HAVE NOT BEEN NAMED.

IF YOU CAN THINK OF SOMEONE, PLEASE LEAVE THEIR NAME AND A DESCRIPTION OF THEIR LIFE AND WORK IN THE COMMENT SECTION.

And to honor all those who were taken from us, The Ear offers one of the best pieces for grieving he knows, the stately and restrained “Pavane for a Dead Princess” by Maurice Ravel in the original piano version.

It is played below in a YouTube video by the late great pianist Shura Cherkassky.

 


Classical music: Today is Thanksgiving. Famed New York City radio station WQXR offers its Top 5 musical expressions of giving thanks. Plus, Wisconsin Public Radio has lots of holiday fare to listen to.

November 26, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Thanksgiving Day, 2015.

Music is such a part of Thanksgiving Day, from hymns and songs, solo music and chamber music, symphonies and oratorios.

thanksgiving dinner

Today, Wisconsin Public Radio will feature a lot of music with the theme of Thanksgiving and giving thanks.

And from 10 until noon, will also feature band, choral and instrumental music from the Honors Concerts of the Wisconsin School Music Association. That involves middle school and high schools students from around the state.

wpt state honors concert 2014

Then from noon to 3 p.m. there is a special National Public Radio (NPR) program for Thanksgiving that includes the British pianist Stephen Hough, who has performed several times in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and who also held master classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. (The NPR show features music and stories, and will also include Chris Kimball of the popular TV show and magazine America’s Test Kitchen, which he is leaving because of a contract dispute. By the way, you can stream Wisconsin Public Radio,)

But you might also be interested to stream some other music. WQXR, the famed classical music radio station in New York City, has put together the Top 5 musical expressions of giving thanks. The website has audio and visual performances of the works that you can stream.

Here is a link:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/top-five-expressions-thanks-classical-music/

And if you have other ideas about music that is appropriate for Thanksgiving this year, please leave them in the COMMENT section, preferably with a YouTube link if possible.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

 


Classical music: Metropolitan Opera radio host Margaret Juntwait is dead at 58.

June 6, 2015
2 Comments

ALERT: This month’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” concert will take place tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III.

The concert features local violinist Kangwon Kim, violist Micah Behr and cellist Mark Bridges. The program includes a suite for solo viola by Quincy Porter and an arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous “Goldberg” Variations for string trio done by Russian violist Dmitry Sitkovetsky.

Admission is FREE. Since Wisconsin Public Radio ended live broadcasts of the concert after 36 years, you can stream it live starting at 12:30. Just go to the Chazen Museum of Art’s website where you will find the necessary link:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/the-goldberg-trio-sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-on-june-7

By Jacob Stockinger

Her expressive voice became as identifiable with the opera -– with the Metropolitan Opera -– as have some of the world’s great singers.

Her name is Margaret Juntwait (below in a photo by Jonathan Tichler) and she hosted the live radio broadcast from the Met that started in December and ran through May. Every Saturday, she reached more than one million fans worldwide with her commentaries and her outstanding interviews with singers and conductors.

Margaret Juntwait CR jonathan-tichler

This past Wednesday, Margaret Juntwait died at 58 of complications from ovarian cancer, which she had battled with for a decade.

Because today is Saturday, it seems like the perfect day for The Ear to post about her passing.

Here are three stories about Margaret Juntwait and her career plus a very short YouTube video about Puccini’s “La Boheme” that shows her quick wit.

From the Deceptive Cadence blog on National Public Radio (NPR):

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/06/03/411784750/met-opera-and-public-radio-host-margaret-juntwait-dies

From the Metropolitan Opera:

http://metopera.org/metopera/news/features/news-flash/remembering-margaret-juntwait

From the famed radio station in New York City, WQXR and WNYC:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/margaret-juntwait-former-wnyc-host-and-voice-metropolitan-opera-dies-58/

Feel free to leave your thoughts and feelings in the COMMENTS section of the blog.

The Ear wants to hear – and so do others.

 

 


Classical music: Ten Mozart performers name their favorite Mozart works to mark the composer’s 259th birthday this past week for the BBC Music Magazine.

January 31, 2015
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This past week -– on Tuesday to be exact -– we celebrated the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born in 1756 and died in 1791.

Mozart c 1780 detail of portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce

It was his 259th birthday.

For all his fame, familiarity and popularity, Mozart is a curiously underestimated composer. His best work is so sublimely beautiful that it is easy to overlook how different and revolutionary it was in its day. Mozart changed music, and we don’t always appreciate that fact.

Anyway, a lot of radio stations, including Sirius XM Satellite Radio, WFMT in Chicago, WQXR in New York City and Wisconsin Public Radio, broadcast a lot of Mozart on that day.

But one of the most interesting celebrations that The Ear saw came from BBC Music Magazine. It asked 10 celebrated Mozart performers — including pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, conductor Sir Neville Marriner, pianist Dame Mitsuko Uchida, conductor Sir Roger Norrington and singer Barbara Bonney — to name their favorite work.

Mozart old 1782

It covered the range of Mozart’s enormous output: piano music, string quartets, operas, symphonies, violin works, operas and of course choral works. And the website provided generous sound samples of the works.

Here is a link:

http://www.classical-music.com/article/which-your-favourite-piece-mozart

At the bottom is a YouTube video of one of my favorite Mozart works — the Piano Sonata in C minor, played by Daniel Barenboim. It was also a favorite of Ludwig van Beethoven who seemed to use some of it in the slow movement of the familiar “Pathetique” Sonata.

What is your favorite Mozart work?

What else do you want to say about Mozart?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The 57th annual Grammy Award nominations are out — and they provide a useful guide to holiday gift-giving.

December 9, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This year, the holiday gift-giving season went into high gear on Thanksgiving Day, not just Black Friday. That was followed by Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday and on and on.

Doesn’t such commercialism of the holidays just make you want to break into “Joy to the World” or the “Hallelujah” Chorus?

Traditionally, The Ear has offered many lists and compilations for suggested classical recordings for the holidays — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, whatever.

Over this past weekend, the nominations for the 57th annual Grammy Awards were announced.

grammy award BIG

Of course, this event – no matter how hyped and prestigious for helping music  — is an industry honoring and promoting itself. So of course classical music is way down on the list, far behind more money-making and better selling genres.

But over the years The Ear has found that the nominees are actually more useful than the much shorter list of winners, which doesn’t come out anyway until well after the holidays.

So here is a link to the complete list of Grammy nominations. Just go the website, and scroll down to Category 72 though Category 81.

http://www.grammy.com/nominees

Sure, the Big Labels and Gray Ladies – such as Deutsche Grammophon and EMI – are represented.

And so are some pretty big New Names, including the astonishingly gifted prize-winning young pianist Daniil Trifonov (below), who, The Ear thinks, show get a Grammy for his Carnegie Hall recital. (Just listen to the YouTube video, taken from that live recital, at the bottom. It features a difficult Chopin prelude and notice the virtuosic ferocity combined with lyricism, the voicing, and the flexibility of tempo or rubato.)

danill trifonov

But once again The Ear notices how many recordings are being done by labels that have been established by the performing groups themselves or by smaller labels. Decentralization continues. So does the rediscovery of Baroque opera and early music as well as new music.

In addition, there continues to be an emphasis, established in recent years, on newer music and lesser known composers. So specialization also continues.

Notice too that veteran independent record producer Judith Sherman (below, holding the Grammy she won in 2012) is once again up for Producer of The Year – she has won it several times already.

Judith Sherman Grammy 2012

Sherman is the same person who recorded the impressive first double CD of four centennial commissions for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet. That release included string quartets by John Harbison and Walter Mays as well as Piano Quintets by Paul Schoenfield and William Bolcom.

pro arte cd commission cover

This spring Judith Sherman is coming back to the UW-Madison School to record the last two commissions: the terrific Clarinet Quintet based on Allen Ginsberg’s Beat poem “Howl’ by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below top) and for the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoît Mernier (below bottom, in a photo by Lise Mernier).

Pierre Jalbert

Benoit Mernier by Lise Mernier

More such suggestions for classical music gifts are to come.

Usually critics from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal weigh in, as does Alex Ross of The New Yorker magazine and the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR (National Public Radio), and The Ear will include those.

And often The Ear throws in his own idea for gifts, which often involves linking a local live concert with a CD or a book and a CD. Stay tuned.

In addition, other website devoted to classical music – say the BBC and radio stations WQXR in New York City and WMFT in Chicago –- often featured a Best of the Year compilation.

And here is a link to more about the Grammys, including background

http://www.grammy.com

The Grammys will be awarded on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015 and broadcast on CBS-TV from 8 to 11 p.m. LIVE from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.


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