The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Leon Fleisher, the inspirational pianist and teacher who died a week ago, had ties to Madison

August 9, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Famed American pianist and teacher Leon Fleisher (below, in a photo by Chris Hartlove), who also conducted, died of cancer at 92 last Sunday, Aug. 2.

Wisconsin Public Radio, like many other media outlets including National Public Radio (NPR) and most major newspapers and television stations, devoted a lot of time to tributes to and remembrances of Fleisher.

That is as it should be. If any musician deserved it, Fleisher did.

Fleisher (1928-2020) was a titan who became, over many years and despite major personal setbacks — stemming from an almost paralyzed right hand — a lot more than a keyboard virtuoso.

But despite lots of air time, less well covered has been his relationship to Madison audiences, who had the pleasure of seeing and hearing him several times in person.

In 2003 and then again in 2016 (below top) — at age 88 — Fleisher performed with the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below bottom).

Both times he played the Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, a masterpiece of chamber music. He and his wife, Katherine Jacobson, also performed a joint recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater in 2009.

Fleisher felt at home in Baroque, Classical, Romantic and even modern music. He was renowned as an interpreter of Brahms. Indeed, his early and widely acclaimed recordings of both Brahms piano concertos as well as of the Waltzes and Handel Variations remain landmarks.

Once he was again playing with both hands, Fleisher also recorded the piano quintet for Deutsche Grammophon with the Emerson String Quartet, another frequent and favorite performer in Madison. (You can hear the finale in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a this blog’s review of his last Madison appearance: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=Leon+Fleisher

Fleisher liked performing with the Pro Arte, and therein lies another historical tale.

His most influential teacher — the famed pianist Artur Schnabel, with whom the San Francisco-born Fleisher went to study in Europe when he was just 9 — also played often with the earlier members of Pro Arte Quartet. Together they recorded Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet by Franz Schubert, and that recording is still in the catalogue and available on Amazon.

Fleisher discusses studying with Schnabel in his entertaining and informative 2010 autobiography “My Nine Lives” (below).

Fleisher was a child prodigy who made his name while still young. Famed French conductor Pierre Monteux – who conducted the world premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in Paris — called Fleisher the “musical find of the century.” Fleisher made his concerto debut at 16 with the New York Philharmonic under Monteux.

Fleisher was just 36 and preparing for a tour with the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell – a perfect pairing and a conductor with whom he recorded all the Beethoven and Brahms concertos among may others – when he found he could not uncurl the last three fingers of his right hand.

Various diagnoses and causes were offered, and many cures were tried. In the end, it seems like that it was a case of focal dystonia that was caused by over-practicing, especially octaves. “I pounded ivory six or seven hours a day,” Fleisher later said.

After a period of depression and soul-searching, Fleisher then focused on performing music for the left hand; on conducting; and especially on teaching for more than 60 years at the Peabody Institute, located in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University.

There he helped shaped the career of many other famous pianists, including André Watts, Yefim Bronfman and Jonathan Biss (below, in a photo by Julian Edelstein), who played when Fleisher received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007. (All three have performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Here is an inspiring overview of Fleisher’s life and career from the Peabody Institute: https://peabody.jhu.edu/faculty/leon-fleisher/

And here is another short biography from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leon_Fleisher

Here are three especially noteworthy obituaries:

NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/08/02/702978476/leon-fleisher-the-pianist-who-reinvented-himself-dies-at-92

The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/02/arts/music/leon-fleisher-dead.html

The Washington Post, written by critic Anne Midgette who worked with Fleisher on his memoir: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/leon-fleisher-sublime-pianist-with-one-hand-or-two-dies-at-92/2020/08/02/c7c98f90-527d-11e6-b7de-dfe509430c39_story.html

The Ear has always found Fleisher’s playing remarkable for its technical fluency combined with the utmost clarity and exacting but flexible sense of rhythm. He always managed to make a piece of music sound just right, as it was intended to sound. His musicality always seemed innate and perfectly natural.

Sample it for yourself. The Ear thinks the performance of all five Beethoven concertos with George Szell still sets a high standard with its exciting, upbeat tempi, its exemplary balance between piano and orchestra, and its exceptional engineering.

The affable Fleisher will long remain an inspiration not only for his playing and teaching, but also for his determination to overcome personal obstacles and go on to serve music — not just the piano.

Did you ever hear Leon Fleisher play live or in recordings? What did you think?

Do you have a comment to leave about the legacy of Fleisher?


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Classical music: Legendary American cellist Lynn Harrell, who performed in Madison, is dead at 76

April 29, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Legendary American cellist Lynn Harrell (below) died Monday at 76.

If his name sounds familiar, it could be because Harrell performed in Madison at least three times – twice with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (2007 and 2011), in concertos by Lalo and Victor Herbert, and a recital with pianist Yefim Bronfman at the Wisconsin Union Theater (1994).

No cause of death has yet been given, but various sources say it was unrelated to COVID-19 or the coronavirus pandemic.

To know more about his remarkable life and impressive career, go to his biography on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynn_Harrell 

Colleagues were quick to praise Harrell not only as a master musician – gifted with beautiful tone and sensitive, expressive interpretations — but also as a great teacher and a congenial man who made friends easily. He also cut promotional ads for National Public Radio (NPR) urging members to donate, as he himself did.

Here is an interview he did in 2011 with host Norman Gilliland for Wisconsin Public Radio:

https://www.wpr.org/shows/lynn-harrell

Here is a link to an obituary from The Violin Channel that features quotes from many musicians who admired Harrell:

https://theviolinchannel.com/cellist-lynn-harrell-has-passed-away-died-obituary-rip/

And here are tributes from many of his colleagues for British critic Norman Lebrecht’s blog “Slipped Disc”:

https://slippedisc.com/2020/04/lynn-harrell-tributes-pour-in/

A prodigy who made his Carnegie Hall debut at 17, Harrell, who studied at Juilliard and the Curtis Institute, was renowned internationally. He later taught at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

In 1994 he played a Papal Concert at the Vatican to mark the first commemoration and remembrance of the Holocaust. His performance there of Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidrei”  for cello and orchestra can be seen and heard at the bottom in the most popular of Harrell’s many YouTube videos.

 


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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra cancels concerts and events through June. Here are details and links about ticket donations, exchanges and refunds

April 13, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below in a photo by Peter Rodgers) has canceled or postponed concerts and events that would have taken place in April, May and June 2020 in response to the impact of the coronavirus crisis.

“We have been continuously monitoring the latest news and guidance from our public officials throughout this pandemic,” Executive director Rick Mackie said. “All of us here at the MSO are saddened not to be able to share our final two symphony concerts and organ season finale performance with our audiences and community.

“It is with confidence and optimism that we look forward to welcoming you back to the beautiful experience of concerts in Overture Hall that are a part of both our 2020-21 “Beethoven and Beyond” symphony season and new organ series that begin this September.”

Here are more details:

APRIL AND MAY CONCERT CANCELLATIONS AND TICKET OPTIONS

The MSO’s April 3, 4 and 5 “Dvorak Requiem” subscription season concerts were canceled last month due to the closure of Overture Center through April 24, 2020 and the recommendations of local, state and national officials.

Ticket-holders were notified and given the option of donating their tickets back to the MSO, exchanging tickets for a new 2020-21 season concert, or requesting a refund. The MSO is grateful that a majority of people have chosen to donate their tickets to date.

The MSO’s May 1, 2 and 3 “Piano Power” season finale concerts, with Yefim Bronfman, are also now canceled. Patrons who have tickets for these subscription season concerts have received an email giving them the options to donate, exchange or receive a refund. Due to the cancellation of the concerts, the open rehearsal scheduled for Thursday, April 30, will also not take place.

SUPPORT FOR OUR MUSICIANS

The care of the MSO Board of Directors for the well-being and sustenance of our artists has been manifest from the outset of the coronavirus emergency.

We understand that the musicians will need our help keeping their lives together. The decision was made to pay the musicians of the orchestra for both the April and May subscription concerts.

MAY 5, 2020 OVERTURE CONCERT ORGAN PERFORMANCE POSTPONED

The May 5 Overture Concert Organ performance — “Greg Zelek (below in a photo by Peter Rodgers) with the Diapason Brass and Timpani” — is now postponed. When a new date is secured, we will notify ticket-holders about their options.

EDUCATION EVENTS

MSO’s Education and Community Engagement Programs, including Symphony Soup scheduled for May 18 and 19, and Link Up scheduled for May 20-21, have been canceled for this year. HeartStrings® and Up Close & Musical® events have previously been canceled.

2020 JUNE CONCERT ON THE GREEN

The Madison Symphony Orchestra League’s 2020 Concert on the Green annual fundraiser that was scheduled to take place on Monday, June 15, has been canceled for this year. The League’s event committee is already working on plans to bring the event back in 2021. More information about the date for the event next year will be announced as soon as it is available.

Here are helpful links to more information about Madison Symphony Orchestra concerts and events.

April 3, 4, 5 and May 1, 2, 3 symphony season concerts, ticket options: https://madisonsymphony.org/tickets

 May 5 organ performance postponement: https://madisonsymphony.org/organzelek

2020 Concert on the Green: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/concert-on-the-green-2020/

Upcoming Concerts & Events page (updated continually): https://madisonsymphony.org/events-list/

Learn more about MSO’s Education and Community Engagement Programs: https://madisonsymphony.org/education-community/

View the new 20/21 “Ode to Joy: Beethoven and Beyond” season that starts in September, 2020 (subscriptions available now): https://madisonsymphony.org/20-21

The MSO continuously composes and presents a series of News and Stories at https://madisonsymphony.org/news-stories/to keep the essential connection with its staff, audiences, artists and community alive. Explore two recent stories of note.

April 30, 2020, Experience Dvorak’s Requiem Virtually: https://madisonsymphony.org/experience-dvorak-requiem-virtually/

March 27, 2020, A Message from MSO maestro John DeMain: https://madisonsymphony.org/march-2020-message-from-john-demain/


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Classical music: Local groups stream videos to entertain home-bound listeners, and perhaps to promote their next seasons. Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra cancels and postpones its May concerts

April 4, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Cancellations and postponements aren’t the only effects that the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic are having on the local classical music scene.

Many local ensembles – much like such national and international organizations as the Metropolitan Opera and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra — are also starting to offer free streamed performances, some of them archival and some of them are specially performed.

Bach Around the Clock even held a virtual festival this year that featured many different original recorded performances spread out over many days and continues.

Why are they doing so?

Certainly to help entertain the public while they weather the boredom and loneliness of social distancing and sheltering in place at home. Music can comfort.

Perhaps they are also doing so as a smart marketing move to stay in the public’s consciousness despite cancellations and to indirectly promote their upcoming seasons.

Here are some examples:

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) is offering a link to a YouTube performance — by the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra below) — of the Dvorak Requiem, which the MSO orchestra and chorus were supposed to perform this weekend but had to cancel.

The video also has a message from music director John DeMain; texts and translations from the Czech; a special pre-concert talk and program notes for the Requiem by J. Michael Allsen; and a link to the MSO’s 2020-21 season.

Here is a link: https://madisonsymphony.org/experience-dvorak-requiem-virtually/

In other MSO news: The concerts with pianist Yefim Bronfman playing the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Brahms on May 1, 2 and 3 and the open rehearsal on April 30 are now canceled, and the May 5 organ performance has been postponed.

For those who hold tickets for May concerts, the MSO will be announcing options for donation, exchange and refunds sometime this weekend or next week.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO), which recently streamed its December concert in the UW’s Hamel Center, has started a special “Coucherto” series – it’s a pun on concerto and couch – of special at-home concerts by individual musicians in the WCO for those listeners who are staying at home.

The project uses social media including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Vimeo and at the WCO’s home website. Also included is an invitation by music director Andrew Sewell.

The WCO’s next season hasn’t been announced yet, but should be soon.

Here is a link: https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/about/coucherto/

For its part, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which is facing uncertainty about its June concert series, which focuses on Beethoven’s piano trios – is offering selected chamber music performances from its past seasons that are on BDDS’ YouTube channel.

It too has comments and the program lineup for its season this summer.

Here is a link: https://bachdancing.org/watch-listen/video/

Have you seen any of these videos?

What do you think of them?

Dp you think they work as marketing strategies?

Have you discovered sites for streaming classical music that you recommend to others?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Today is Super Bowl Sunday, so The Ear asks: Who are the winners and champions in the concert hall? Here are the most popular pieces, composers and soloists. Plus, on Tuesday night, violist Elias Goldstein returns to perform Paganini’s fiendish Caprices in a FREE recital

February 7, 2016
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ALERT: The Ear has received the following note from University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music viola professor Sally Chisholm, who also plays with the Pro Arte Quartet: “Elias Goldstein, who has a doctorate from UW-Madison (2011) and was a Collins Fellow, is playing a concert of all 24 Caprices, originally composed for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini, on VIOLA this Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall. Admission is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

“On March 9, he will perform this program at Carnegie Hall in New York City, as the first violist ever to perform all 24 Caprices in one concert. This is such a feat that it is difficult to believe one of our own is accomplishing it. I was with him in Krakow, Poland when he performed 6 of them. He got standing ovations. He is professor of viola at Louisiana State University, won top prizes at the Primrose International Viola Competition and the Yuri Bashmet Viola Competition in Moscow in 2011.”

Elias Goldstein big

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the 50th Super Bowl of the NFL, and will be played by the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos in the Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, near San Francisco.

It starts at 5:30 p.m. CST.

Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem. Coldplay, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars will perform in the half-time show. The Super Bowl will be broadcast live on CBS-TV.

super bowl 50 logo

So, one might ask in a society that loves competition, what constitutes The Super Bowl of classical music?

It is a source of endless discussion and often disagreement.

What classical music is the most mainstream, if not best?

Who are the big winners and champions in the concert hall?

A survey, compiled by a student at the UW-Milwaukee, of the most popular or frequently performed composers, works and soloists was recently conducted by the League of American Orchestras. The rest are for the 2010-11 season.

The No. 1 work is a YouTube video at the bottom. It is the Symphony No. 1 in C Minor by Johannes Brahms and is performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under its late music director and conductor Sir George Solti.

And on March 11, 12 and 13 the Madison Symphony Orchestra hosts TWO of the Top 10 winners: Pianist Emanuel Ax performing the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven. (The Symphony No. 4 by Gustav Mahler completes the program.)

Emanuel Ax Philharmonia

Here is a link to the complete results along with the method used to gather data:

http://www.classicalmpr.org/story/2014/04/08/league-american-orchestras-performance-data

See what you think and leave a COMMENT.

Do they match up with your preferences and your choices of favorites?

In your opinion, what makes them so popular?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Is this the minority report of a dissenter? The Ear offers some thoughts and after-thoughts from recent concerts by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Pro Arte String Quartet, the Middleton Community Orchestra and pianist Christopher Taylor. Plus, here are links to rave reviews of this afternoon’s final all-Beethoven concert by pianist Yefim Bronfman and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

March 9, 2014
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ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center is the final performance of the all-Beethoven concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain. It features pianist Yefim Bronfman (below) in TWO piano concertos (Nos. 2 and 5 “The Emperor”) plus the Symphony No. 1 and “The Creatures of Prometheus” Overture. Here are links to two rave reviews of the concert by Madison Magazine critic and blogger Greg Hettmansberger and by Isthmus critic John W. Barker, who also guest blogs for The Ear. It sure sounds like a NOT-TO-BE-MISSED concert. See you there!

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/March-2014/A-Piano-Concerto-Doubleheader-and-Beethoven-to-the-Max/

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42237

Yefim Bronfman portrait

By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a very busy time musically in Madison, with a lot of previews to post, which often supplant reviews since The Ear thinks previews are more useful than reviews to most listeners and performers. And this coming week and weekend are even worse. So much music, and so little space!

But here are some “outdated” capsule reviews, impressions really, with accompanying afterthoughts that come to The Ear as he listened and later thought about what he had heard:

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND TRUMPETER TINE THING HELSETH

It seemed a curious, even odd theme for a Valentine’s Day program. But BRASS – not romantic love — marked the Valentine’s Day weekend performances by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below), although ending with the “Rosenkavalier” suite by Richard Strauss did indeed prove an inspired choice to combine brass and love. Plus by all accounts, the concert sold very well. It sure got standing ovations. In short, it may have seemed odd, but it worked.

MSO playing

The “Doctor Atomic” Symphony by the contemporary American composer John Adams (below), who put the instrumental work together from his own opera score, was powerful, and also fit the brass bill, with great solos by MSO trumpeter John Aley, and was impressive to hear –- though also hardly romantic.

John Adams

Given conductor John DeMain (below) and his stupendous taste and talent for choosing great singers who are also affordable, I kept thinking: How I would like to have heard some great singers perform familiar and unknown love arias from operas by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Saint-Saens, even Wagner. Now those would be symphony tickets to throw in with a box of chocolates and a bouquet of roses. But The Ear has been informed that such concerts often do not sell well and might also be seen as competing with the local opera company.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

All that said, I thought that the guest soloist, Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth (below), proved an inspired, if unexpected, choice. She showed an uncanny power for playing softly. Brass instruments are not easy to control with little breath and with soft tone. But she did both beautifully in two concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn and Alexander Arutiunian. She clearly has the lung power to blow down the Walls of Jericho. But what impressed and seduced me was her quietness, which nonetheless possessed rich tone and unwavering pitch. That is a rare talent, and one to be cherished — and brought back to Madison!

Tine Thing Helseth big profile

WISCONSIN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

Maestro Andrew Sewell (below) has a never-failing knack of finding terrific music that has been overlooked but is actually very good, if not revolutionary or pioneering.

Sure, at his last concert I too, like the rest of the audience, loved what he did with the Jupiter Symphony of Mozart –- not too hectic, clear voicing, propulsive energy even with all the repeats. And the talented and congenial soloist Joshua Roman proved an irresistible highlight in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major.

Andrew Sewell BW

But the real surprise of the night was the 20th-century Concerto Grosso by Vittorio Giannini (below), who taught composition at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music and then established the North Carolina School of the Arts. What a discovery! I want to hear more by this guy.

Vittorio Giannini

And Sewell will soon unwrap another surprise this week –- and I expect, as usual, that it will be modern music that is accessible and tuneful, not R&D Music (that’s short research and development) that sounds like jet noise or broken plumbing.  Could that help explain why he gets full houses?

Sewell and the WCO will probably do so again THIS COMING FRIDAY NIGHT at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. That is when he and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra combine the famous famously listenable and lovely Violin Concerto (with guest soloist Karina Canellakis) by Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Clock” Symphony (Symphony No. 101 of his 104 symphonies) with “Elements” by American composer Michael McLean (below, and with a sample of  “Elements” in a YouTube video at the bottom). Sounds like another MUST-HEAR concert  to The Ear.

Michael McLean 1 REAL not mormon

PRO ARTE QUARTET

Well, the headlines and chit-chat went rightfully to the world premiere of Belgian composer Benoit Mernier’s commissioned String Quartet No. 3, which sounded fiendishly difficult and seemed based largely on technical stuff like trills, tremolos and glissandos instead of themes and infectious rhythms. And the Pro Arte Quartet, artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music since 1940 and celebration its centennial, played it with impressive aplomb and apparent ease.

Pro Arte Quartet in Haydn at Mernier

“Do you like the music?” someone asked me right after the performance.

I think the better question is: “Does the music like me?”

Think about it: What is the composer’s responsibility to you the listener, and what is your responsibility to the composer (Mernier, below), especially if he seems to ignore you?

Benoit Mernier 1

I also loved the rarely heard and beautifully performed viola quintet by Anton Bruckner and particularly the contrasts between Sally Chisholm’s viola and Samuel Rhodes’ viola (the two are below side-by-side). If you liked the combination –- and what is not to like with the darker hued voice of the viola –- be sure to try the viola quintets by Mozart and Brahms, which I would also like to hear the Pro Arte do more of.

Sally Chisholm and Samuel Rhodes in Bruckner Quintet

But for old-fashioned me, the star of the evening was the Haydn Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4. It just cleaned out your ears and was proof again that, at its best, the genre is indeed still as it was described by Haydn himself when pretty much invented in the 18th century: A conversation of equals. And did the Pro Arte ever play it with accuracy, clarity and texture. It sparkled like a diamond. The string quartet may have evolved, changed or morphed over the centuries, but it has simply not gotten any better than Haydn.

So: Is there any chance that we night get of a multi-year Haydn cycle by the Pro Arte, which decades ago in another avatar or configuration of players started to record the complete Haydn quartets in the famous Abbey Road studio in London for RCA. They have done Beethoven and Shostakovich cycles. What about Papa Haydn? And if not a complete cycle of the 68 or so quartets, how about a fairly comprehensive survey or at least a very large sampler of Haydn’s early, middle and late styles?

Haydn

PIANIST CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR

What more can you say about the award-winning, audience-approved star talent pianist Christopher Taylor (below) who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and concertizes around the world, and his stunning solo recital this year?

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

I loved the “War” Sonata No. 6 by Sergei Prokofiev, a great piece that he performed greatly with both riveting energy and heartbreaking lyricism. I also loved the encore — Scott Joplin’s “Pineapple Rag” –- as a contrast and change of pace.

But I have to be honest: I have heard enough of the Liszt piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies. Trust the genuine original! Accept no substitutes!

The next day I listened to a recording of the same work by a real orchestra — the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig under conductor Riccardo Chailly. What a difference when the “Eroica” is played with real brass countering, with jarring dissonance, real strings; when it is real tympani drumbeats rather than bass tremolos on the piano. Ludwig (below) simply had more of IT – whatever musical genius is — than Franz.

Beethoven big

The real “Eroica” Symphony doesn’t — and shouldn’t — sound so much like a Hungarian Rhapsody or a Transcendental Etude. In their day, these transcriptions served a purpose and they stretched the resources of the piano, or at least, of pianists. Now, they strike The Ear as precious, more of a sideshow of amazing and ingenious pianism and not much little else aside from some strokes of minor genius here and there by the Paganini of the Piano.

Liszt photo by Pierre Petit

From one of those transcriptions I learned something and I enjoyed it. But now that makes three down (symphonies numbers 3, 4 and 5) for Taylor. I, for one, sure hope we don’t have the other six to go. How much more I would have preferred to hear this supremely talented pianist and gifted musician in some serious and original piano repertoire –- maybe a late Schubert sonata, or a Bach partita, or a Chopin ballade, or a Schumann cycle. I want to hear Christopher Taylor in something that puts depth over display, substance over style.

Am I alone in that wish?

MIDDLETON COMMUNITY ORCHESTRA

Guest reviewer John W. Barker covered this recent concert of the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below), which featured music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Johannes Brahms and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, thoughtfully and thoroughly for this blog.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

All I would add is a lesson that every teacher knows: Students with lesser abilities rise to meet high expectations. That is why symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras should book the best soloists they can get and afford: The Ear is convinced that the level of playing and performing usually rises to match the soloist and fosters cohesion.

With the MCO, it was two lifelong friends and award-winning, UW-Madison trained string players -– violinist Eleanor Bartsch and violist Daniel Kim (below) who soloed and who seemed in complete synch, down to the timing of their trills, during Mozart’s sublime Sinfonia Concertante.

Their playing was superb, and the amateur orchestra rose to meet them and give them the beautiful support they deserved. And with Mozart there is no place to hide, so flaws or mistakes are quickly revealed.

Eleanor Bartsch and Daniel Kim MCO Mozart

Well, now it is on to another busy week of concerts.

Where, I wonder, will the music lead The Ear this time?

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Classical music Q&A: Pianist Yefim Bronfman, who mixes power and poetry, talks about his stamina and the two piano concertos he will perform during this weekend’s all-Beethoven concerts by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

March 4, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

He may not yet be a household name like Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz or Van Cliburn, but pianist Yefim Bronfman (below) — a prolific recitalist, concerto soloist and chamber music partner — commands great respect from critics and his fellow musicians.

Yefim Bronfman portrait

And with good reason.

“Fima,” as he known to friends and even his loyal followers, possesses a technique that other pianists envy plus a total commands of style, ranging from early period works through Romanticism and Modernism to new music.

He also is renowned for his stamina and power, but, at the same time, for subtle playing without banging. Combining power and poetry seems to be his signature.

Yefim Bronfman hansd in air

Here is a link to his website with his full biography — he emigrated to Israel from his native Tashkent — and critical reviews plus a discography, sound samples and other information:

http://www.yefimbronfman.com

People in the Madison area can hear Yefim Bronfman’s talents for themselves this weekend. That is when he joins the Madison Symphony Orchestra under its longtime music director and conductor John DeMain in a MUST-HEAR all-Beethoven program.

Bronfman will play the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat Major, Op. 19, AND the famous Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73, also known as  “The Emperor.” Also on the program are the Symphony No. 1 in C Major, and “The Creatures of Prometheus” Overture that Beethoven incorporated into his epic Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.”

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $16.50-$82.50. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information, including audio samples of the various pieces and of playing by Bronfman, visit:

http://madisonsymphony.org/bronfman

For program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor J. Michael Allman, visit:

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1314/6.Mar14.html

Yefim Bronfman recently agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

Yefim Bronfman playing a concerto

You are known for your stamina and power, as your cycle of the complete sonatas and concertos by Sergei Prokofiev and this Madison Symphony Orchestra concert with two Beethoven concertos prove. Are there special tricks or secrets you have to cultivate that kind of “marathon” playing and also avoid injury? Or is it just a natural gift?

It certainly helps to be in good physical shape, but recitals require the same kind of stamina and no one really questions that. Playing two concertos is actually less effort than playing a full solo recital.

Yefim Bronfman emotional

What are your current plans and future projects, both for live concerts and recordings, especially of works by living composers?

I just played a lot of new music in a chamber program with members of the New York Philharmonic, including the world premiere of a solo piano piece written for me by Marc Neikrug and a trio commissioned by Carnegie Hall several years ago by Marc-Andre Dalbavie. In Asia, on tour with the New York Philharmonic, we performed the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Magnus Lindberg (below, in a  photo by Saara Vuorkjoki), which is a co-commission with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and Gothenburg Symphony of Sweden. (Editor’s note: Bronfman’s recording of it was nominated for a Grammy Award.)

I’m always on the lookout for talented composers. My natural curiosity makes me wonder about the language of composers of today who often give me ideas that contribute to playing the music of composers who are no longer alive.

Magnus Lindberg Saara Vuorjoki

You frequently perform Beethoven concertos and have made outstanding recordings of them with David Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra on the Arte Nova budget label. What would you like to say to the general public about Beethoven (below), about his Piano Concertos No. 2 and No. 5, the “Emperor”?

These two pieces belong to very different worlds. The first one belongs to the Mozartean period of Beethoven, very classical in structure and texture. But a lot happened between concertos No. 2 and No. 5.

They come from a composer with a great deal of desire to experiment, so those two concertos are like works of two different composers. Yet we never stop to wonder at the genius of someone able to do that. (At bottom is a YouTube video in which Yefim Bronfman, as Artist-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic, and conductor Alan Gilbert discuss the complete cycle of Beethoven’s piano concertos they performed together.)

Beethoven big

I first heard you here years ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1.  Do you have any special memories of or thoughts about Madison?

Madison and this particular theater have some wonderful memories from my youth because I played here some of the earliest concerts of my career. Playing Beethoven 1 with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in Madison could have been one of the first Beethoven 1’s I ever performed.

What advice would you give today to young pianists and young musicians in general about pursuing a career in music? And how can classical music reach more young people and new audiences?

Arts and culture in general enrich our lives, and we have to give that understanding to the young generation. Without it our lives diminish greatly, and we have to learn to cherish what past artists have left to us.

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Classical music: Here is update and analysis of this year’s Grammy Award winners in classical music. Plus, the Madison Symphony Chorus under conductor Beverly Taylor will sample American choral traditions this Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Overture Center.

February 1, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Madison Symphony Orchestra have sent in the following announcement:

“Can you name all the different distinctly American choral traditions?

“Director Beverly Taylor (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) and the Madison Symphony Chorus will answer that question this Sunday afternoon, Feb. 2, at 2 p.m., when they’ll appear in “Apple Pie America: A Slice of Choral Americana” in Promenade Hall at the Overture Center for the Arts. (Taylor is also the head of the choral department at the university of Wisconsin-Madison, where she directs the UW Choral Union and UW Concert Choir, and is the assistant conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. And sorry, I have so specific titles of works on the program but I have been told that the concert is closing in on being sold-out, with only a few tickets remaining.)

Beverly Taylor Katrin Talbot

The concert will start with classical music selections from Charles Pachelbel, Lukas Foss, Randall Thompson and others, while the second half will be dedicated to folk songs, hymns, and spirituals.

Many of the works will be accompanied by Madison Symphony Orchestra principal pianist Daniel Lyons (below).

Dan Lyons

Tickets are $15, and are available at http://madisonsymphony.org/Americana or at the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141 or 201 State Street.

Formed in 1927, the Madison Symphony Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) gave its first public performance in 1928 and has performed regularly with the Madison Symphony Orchestra ever since.

It was featured at the popular Madison Symphony Christmas concerts in December, and it will be joined by four soloists for the MSO’s performance of Mozart’s Requiem on April 4, 5 and 6.

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

The Chorus is comprised of more than 125 volunteer musicians from all walks of life who enjoy combining their artistic talent, and new members are always welcome. Visit http://madisonsymphony.org/chorus for more information.

CATCHING UP WITH THE GRAMMY WINNERS

Last Sunday was the Grammy Awards.

Here is a complete list of the nominees and the winners. It makes for a good listening list or buying list.

WINNER

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4

Osmo Vänskä, conductor (Minnesota Orchestra)
Label: BIS Records

Atterberg: Orchestral Works Vol. 1

Neeme Järvi, conductor (Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra)
Label: Chandos

Lutosławski: Symphony No. 1

Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor (Los Angeles Philharmonic)
Track from: Lutosławski: The Symphonies
Label: Sony Classical

Schumann: Symphony No. 2; Overtures Manfred & Genoveva

Claudio Abbado, conductor (Orchestra Mozart)

Stravinsky: Le Sacre Du Printemps

Simon Rattle, conductor (Berliner Philharmoniker)
Label: EMI Classics

74. BEST OPERA RECORDING

 WINNER  Adès: The Tempest
 Thomas Adès, conductor; Simon Keenlyside, Isabel Leonard, Audrey Luna & Alan Oke; Jay David Saks, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus)
Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Britten: The Rape Of Lucretia

 Oliver Knussen, conductor; Ian Bostridge, Peter Coleman-Wright, Susan Gritton & Angelika Kirchschlager; John Fraser, producer (Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble)
Label: Virgin Classics

Kleiberg: David & Bathsheba

Tõnu Kaljuste, conductor; Anna Einarsson & Johannes Weisser; Morten Lindberg, producer (Trondheim Symphony Orchestra; Trondheim Symphony Orchestra Vocal Ensemble)
Label: 2L (Lindberg Lyd)

Vinci: Artaserse

Diego Fasolis, conductor; Valer Barna-Sabadus, Daniel Behle, Max Emanuel Cencic, Franco Fagioli & Philippe Jaroussky; Ulrich Ruscher, producer (Concerto Köln; Coro Della Radiotelevisione Svizzera, Lugano)
Label: Virgin Classics

Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen

Christian Thielemann, conductor; Katarina Dalayman, Albert Dohmen, Stephen Gould, Eric Halfvarson & Linda Watson; Othmar Eichinger, producer (Orchester Der Wiener Staatsoper; Chor Der Wiener Staatsoper)
Label: Deutsche Grammophon

75. BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE

 WINNER Pärt: Adam’s Lament
Tõnu Kaljuste, conductor (Tui Hirv & Rainer Vilu; Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir; Sinfonietta Riga & Tallinn Chamber Orchestra; Latvian Radio Choir & Vox Clamantis)
Label: ECM New Series

Berlioz: Grande Messe Des Morts

Colin Davis, conductor (Barry Banks; London Symphony Orchestra; London Philharmonic Choir & London Symphony Chorus)
Label: LSO Live

Palestrina: Volume 3

Harry Christophers, conductor (The Sixteen)
Label: Coro

Parry: Works For Chorus & Orchestra

Neeme Järvi, conductor; Adrian Partington, chorus master (Amanda Roocroft; BBC National Orchestra Of Wales; BBC National Chorus Of Wales)
Label: Chandos

Whitbourn: Annelies

James Jordan, conductor (Arianna Zukerman; The Lincoln Trio; Westminster Williamson Voices)
Label: Naxos
76: BEST CHMABER MUSIC/SMALL ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

 WINNER  Roomful Of Teeth

Brad Wells & Roomful Of Teeth
Label: New Amsterdam Records

Beethoven: Violin Sonatas

Leonidas Kavakos & Enrico Pace
Label: Decca

Cage: The 10,000 Things

Vicki Ray, William Winant, Aron Kallay & Tom Peters
Label: MicroFest Records

Duo Hélène Grimaud & Sol Gabetta

Labe;: Deutsche Grammophon

Times Go By Turns

New York Polyphony
Label: BIS Records

77. BEST CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO

 WINNER  Corigliano: Conjurer – Concerto For Percussionist & String Orchestra
Evelyn Glennie; David Alan Miller, conductor (Albany Symphony)
Track from: Corigliano: Conjurer; Vocalise
Label: Naxos

Bartók, Eötvös & Ligeti

Patricia Kopatchinskaja; Peter Eötvös, conductor (Ensemble Modern & Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra)
Label: Naïve

The Edge Of Light

Gloria Cheng (Calder Quartet)
Label: Harmonia Mundi

Lindberg: Piano Concerto No. 2

Yefim Bronfman; Alan Gilbert, conductor (New York Philharmonic)
Track from: Magnus Lindberg
Label: Dacapo Records

Salonen: Violin Concerto; Nyx

Leila Josefowicz; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor (Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra)
Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Schubert: Piano Sonatas D. 845 & D. 960

Maria João Pires
Label: Deutsche Grammophon

78. BEST CLASSICAL VOCAL SOLO

 WINNER Winter Morning Walks
 Dawn Upshaw (Maria Schneider; Jay Anderson, Frank Kimbrough & Scott Robinson; Australian Chamber Orchestra & St. Paul Chamber Orchestra)
Label: ArtistShare
winter morning walks

Drama Queens

 Joyce DiDonato (Alan Curtis; Il Complesso Barocco)
Label: Virgin Classics

Mission

 Cecilia Bartoli (Diego Fasolis; Philippe Jaroussky; I Barocchisti)
Label: Decca

Schubert: Winterreise

Christoph Prégardien (Michael Gees)
Label: Challenge

Wagner

Jonas Kaufmann (Donald Runnicles; Markus Brück; Chor Der Deutschen Oper Berlin; Orchester Der Deutschen Oper Berlin)
Label: Decca

79. BEST CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM

 WINNER Hindemith: Violinkonzert; Symphonic Metamorphosis; Konzertmusik
 Christoph Eschenbach, conductor
Label: Ondine

Holmboe: Concertos

Dima Slobodeniouk, conductor; Preben Iwan, producer
Label: Dacapo Records

Tabakova: String Paths

 Maxim Rysanov; Manfred Eicher, producer
Label: ECM New Series

80. BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION

 WINNER Schneider, Maria: Winter Morning Walks
Maria Schneider, composer (Dawn Upshaw, Jay Anderson, Frank Kimbrough, Scott Robinson & Australian Chamber Orchestra)
Track from: Winter Morning Walks
Label: ArtistShare

Lindberg, Magnus: Piano Concerto No. 2

Magnus Lindberg, composer (Yefim Bronfman, Alan Gilbert & New York Philharmonic)
Track from: Magnus Lindberg
Label: Dacapo Records

Pärt, Arvo: Adam’s Lament

Arvo Pärt, composer (Tõnu Kaljuste, Latvian Radio Choir, Vox Clamantis & Sinfonietta Riga)
Track from: Arvo Pärt: Adam’s Lament
Label: ECM New Series

Salonen, Esa-Pekka: Violin Concerto

Esa-Pekka Salonen, composer (Leila Josefowicz, Esa-Pekka Salonen & Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra)
Track from: Out Of Nowhere
Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Shaw, Caroline: Partita For 8 Voices

Caroline Shaw, composer (Brad Wells & Roomful Of Teeth)
Track from: Roomful Of Teeth
Label: New Amsterdam Records
And here is an excellent analysis of the classical Grammy winners that appeared on NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog and the rise of new music — including work by the relatively unknown Minnesota composer Maria Schneider (below, in a photo by Michael Buckner for Getty Images), whose “Winter Morning Walks,” using the poems of Ted Kooser and the voice of soprano Dawn Upshaw, capture three Grammy Awards. You can hear a sample of the moving songs and accessible songs by the three cancer survivors in a YouTUbe video at the bottom:

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Classical music: A special Madison Symphony Orchestra season subscription offer expires today. And MSO guest trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth heads up a new summer music festival.

July 25, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

In case you don’t already know, today is the expiration date of a special offer for subscribers to the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below).

MSO-HALL

Not only can you save up to 50 percent but you could also see the handling fee waived and also receive a free copy of a CD by John DeMain and the MSO that was done in Overture Hall of the Overture Center.

Here is a link for more information about the subscription and about the concerts in the 2013-14 season, including the special one-time only “Behind the Notes” performance of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony:

http://madisonsymphony.org/13-14

As you may recall, this coming season is the celebration the 20th year that John DeMain (below) has been music director of the symphony. He has selected a lot of special programs – though some of us are disappointed that there is no Mahler symphony or song cycle and no Bruckner symphony on the list.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The programs include an all-Beethoven program with acclaimed pianist Yefim Bronfman (below) perform two piano concertos (Nos. 2 and 5); the fabulous violinist Augustin Hadelich in Lalo; the Mozart Requiem and an all-American concert with Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein among other composers.

Yefim Bronfman 1 by Oded Antman

But one big surprise was DeMain’s choice of a Norwegian trumpeter player – and a female trumpet player, which is rarer still – to appear as a new guest soloist in two trumpet concertos, including the famous one in E-flat Major  by Franz Josef Haydn.

Her name in Tine Thing Helseth (below).

Helseth (c) ColinBell EMI Classics

At the publicity launch of the new season last spring, DeMain explained to The Ear that he heard playing on Sirius Radio while he was driving in his car, and he was quite impressed.

He also said that he thought it would be interesting for MSO audiences to hear a different soloist, someone besides the usual pianist, violin, cellist or singer.

Time and the box office will tell how big the appeal of a brass player as soloist is.

But it turns out that DeMain isn’t the only one impressed with her talent.

In fact, Helseth has been put in charge of a new summer music festival.

Here is a link to the story:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/tine-thing-helseth-launches-new-festival

Here is a link to Helseth’s own website:

http://www.tinethinghelseth.com

And here is a sample of Helseth’s playing — in the last movement of the Haydn Trumpet Concerto that she will perform here in Madison —  in a YouTube video:


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