By Jacob Stockinger
You may recall that the longtime director of University Opera William Farlow retired last spring. While no permanent successor has been named yet, the impressively qualified David Ronis, from the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY), was chosen from a national search and is serving as a guest director this academic year.
Ronis (below, seen talking to the cast on stage) makes his University of Wisconsin-Madison debut this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill, with a production of British composer Benjamin Britten’s comic opera “Albert Herring.” (The opening scene from a Los Angeles Opera production can be heard at the bottom in a YouTube video.) Additional performances are on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $22 general admission; $18 for senior; and $10 for student. They are available at the door and from the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office or call (608) 265-ARTS (2787)/ Buy in person and you will save the service fees.
Here are links with more information about the opera and about Ronis, including a fine profile interview done by Kathy Esposito, the public relations and concert manager at the UW-Madison School of Music:
And here is a link to David Ronis’ personal website:
Finally, here is the email Q&A that David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) gave to The Ear:
Can you give readers a brief introduction to yourself, including when and how you started learning music, your early training and formative experiences, your major professional accomplishments and some personal information like hobbies and other interests as well as current and future plans for your career?
I grew up on Long Island, did my undergraduate degree (a B.F.A. in Voice) at Purchase College, and have lived in Manhattan ever since. I studied both piano and voice as a kid and, in high school, was very much involved in musical theater. After graduating from Purchase, I supported myself by doing a lot of professional choral singing.
Soon after, I started getting hired to sing character tenor roles in opera companies in U.S, Europe and Asia, which I did for a number of years. One of the highlights was being a part of Leonard Bernstein’s A Quiet Place/Trouble in Tahiti when it was done at La Scala Milan, the Kennedy Center and the Vienna State Opera.
At one point in the mid-’90s, when I had less than a full year of regional opera work, I started auditioning for Equity musical theater jobs and was cast in the Los Angeles company of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
In opera circles, I was considered to be a “good actor.” But, to forgive myself (and others), I didn’t really know from good acting! In LA, my new colleagues and friends were actors, as opposed to singers and musicians, and I started seriously questioning my own (lack of) acting technique. After three years of doing Beauty –- in both LA and on the national tour -– I went back to New York, got into in a heavy-duty acting class, and started working in spoken theater, TV commercials (I have some very funny stories about that), and independent films, as well as continuing to sing in opera regionally.
My work in theater completely changed my perspective on stage work in opera and I found myself newly critical of much of the operatic acting I saw.
One day, my friend Paul Rowe (below) –- who teaches voice at the UW-Madison — was in New York hanging out at my apartment (this is very vivid in my mind) and he said something like, “David, you should put this together. You’re now an accomplished actor as well as a singer and you have a pretty unique perspective on how one affects the other.” Bingo!
Long story short: I started teaching Acting for Singers classes, doing small directing projects, and very soon got hired at Queens College to direct the Opera Studio. Almost immediately, this transition from performing to teaching just felt right.
I was hired as an Adjunct Lecturer at Queens with only a bachelor’s degree, and decided that I should probably have at least a master’s. So I enrolled in a terrific M.A. L.S. (Master of Arts in Liberal Studies) program at a de-centralized SUNY school, Empire State College. The M.A.L.S. was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It is a self-designed, inter-disciplinary research degree in which the candidates have to articulate their areas of academic inquiry and pursue them by creating individual courses and working with tutors. Over 2 ½ years, I wrote about 300 pages of material focused on operatic acting and production, research that I still regularly call upon in my teaching.
What are my principal influences? I’d say that my principal acting teacher, Caymichael Patten, is a big one. Cay’s a terrific, tough teacher who tells it like she sees it. She has an uncanny knack for “being inside your head –with you.” I learned a huge amount from her and, in many ways, have modeled my teaching on Cay’s. I also have a number of friends – all opera directors working in academia as well as professionally, who are on the same page as I am as far as operatic acting training. They’ve been big influences too -– Stephen Wadsworth (below, who teaches at the Juilliard School) and Robin Guarino, to name just a couple.
As for the future, who knows? I’ve actually never been one to have a detailed life plan. I’ve been very fortunate that opportunities have come my way and I’ve just followed my nose. I do know one thing -– that my passion for directing and teaching seems to be growing (if that’s even possible) and that I very much enjoy working in a university environment.
As an East Coast native, how do you like the Midwest, Madison and the especially the UW-Madison?
I’ve spent plenty of time in the Midwest, mostly working. So I “get” the Midwest and I’m comfortable here. I’m finding what “they say” about Madison to be true -– that it’s a pretty unique place within the Midwest — culturally, politically, intellectually.
I think these are things that make people who are kind of East Coast-centric, like myself, feel more at home, when “home” means lots of intellectual and artistic stimulation. What’s not to like about a city where everyone reads the New York Times and The New Yorker magazine and goes to the Madison Symphony Orchestra!
Why did you choose “Albert Herring” by Benjamin Britten (below top) to do this semester and “The Magic Flute” by Mozart (below bottom) to do second semester? Have you staged them before? What would you like audience members here to know about your productions of them?
I make repertoire decisions based on a variety of factors. This year, we needed to do a piece with small orchestral forces in the fall and a full orchestra show in the spring.
I also like to do shows that involve a good number of students. Both the Britten and the Mozart fit those descriptions.
Also, the “who do we have at school” factor is big. We need to do operas that we can cast well from the student population.
And, most importantly, I consider the educational value of various shows. Albert Herring is not only a great piece of music and theater, but there’s so much that the students learn from working on it. The roles are difficult, both vocally and musically. And since it’s a big ensemble show, students are challenged to develop their ensemble singing and acting skills. So far, I’m very pleased with the results.
I’ve directed The Magic Flute before. We’re going to do a version of a production I did some years ago that locates the drama vaguely in a South Asian environment. Flute, for all of its brilliance, is kind of a dramaturgical mess. Who are the truly good and bad guys/gals? Where do we start and where do we end up and what do each of the characters learn for having gone on the journey?
My take on the story very indirectly alludes to a conflict between East (Sarastro) and West (Queen of the Night), and attempts to examine the two opposing forces on the most basic, human level – even if they are iconic figures. Why makes the Queen tick? Why did Sarastro “steal” her daughter and why is he “holding her captive?” These are the questions that intrigue me.
Was there an Aha! Moment – a work or performer, a concert or recording – that made you realize that you wanted to have a professional life in music and specifically in opera?
My Aha! moment? OK, you’re going to think I’m a nerd. As a high school senior, I took a philosophy elective in which I was reading people like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. At the time, I was obsessed with an LP called “The Genius of Puccini” -– essentially excerpts from operas by Puccini (below) –- which I would play over and over again in my room. I recall going into my parents’ room one night, with record blaring in the background, and ranting on about what I was reading and how it described exactly what filled me up like nothing else. (Cue the big ensemble from the first act of Turandot). From that moment, it was all downhill!
Is there anything else you would like to add or say?
I’d just like to encourage people to come to both University Opera productions. We’ve got a terrific cast for Albert Herring, not to mention an incredibly talented and articulate young conductor in Kyle Knox (below)– Kyle is truly someone to keep your eye on.
We’ve been having so much fun during rehearsals – laughing a lot! I firmly believe that spirit transfers across the proverbial footlights.
If any of your readers are hesitant (perhaps because they tend to respond to 19th century Romantic pieces and might be reticent to go to an opera with which they’re not familiar), I can confidently say that Albert Herring is a very accessible piece –– extremely entertaining and, at times, quite moving. The physical production is coming along –- all in all, I’m very excited about the show.
ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is the final performance of this season’s second concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John DeMain. Pianist Olga Kern (below) is the soloist in Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor. Other music includes the Suite from the ballet “Swan Lake” by Peter Tchaikovsky and the Symphony No. 6 by Dmitri Shostakovich. For information about tickets, the artists and the program, visit:
Here are reviews of Friday night’s opening night performance:
By John W. Barker of Isthmus:
By Jess Courtier for The Capital Times:
And by Greg Hettmansberger, who writes the Classically Speaking blog for Madison Magazine:
By Jacob Stockinger
The much admired but elusive, eccentric and enigmatic Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov (below) has signed up with Deutsche Grammophon and will release a live recital –- he refuses to make studio recordings – in January.
For the news plus an interesting interview and profile of Sokolov, here is a link to a story in the British magazine Gramophone. It includes some of his quirks such as not playing pianos older than five years and his specific repertoire favorites:
Italian conductor Daniele Gatti is named the new maestro of the famed Dutch Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. He starts in 2016 and sounds like he might be quite a bit of a contrast to past Concertgebouw conductors such as Bernard Haitink. Here is a story:
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra continues its lockout over labor disputes, thereby postponing or canceling the opening of the new season. But last weekend ASO music director Robert Spano conducted the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in the German Requiem of Johannes Brahms.
Here is a link to a story on NPR (National Public Radio) to yet another turmoil in the world of American symphony orchestras:
REMINDER: If you can’t or won’t go hear superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Stott in music by Johannes Brahms, Igor Stravinsky, Astor Piazzolla and others at their SOLD–OUT recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater TONIGHT, you can stream it LIVE and for FREE by going to this website at 8 p.m.:
By Jacob Stockinger
Talk about mixing politics and art!
And especially at a time so close to a contemporary conflict — Hamas, Gaza and Israel — that reflects the continuing tensions, frictions and bloodshed depicted in the original art decades ago.
No wonder, then, that the Metropolitan Opera has been protested and has received death threats over the new production of American composer John Adams’ controversial reality-based opera about Israel and Palestinian terrorists called “The Death of Klinghoffer.”
Due to pressure from the pro-Israeli lobby and some Jewish groups, the opera was already canceled as part of this season’s “Live From The Met in HD” telecasts.
Both detractors and defenders of the opera are deeply displeased with the Met.
But the actual production — which has gone on without incident in other cities at other times — continues in rehearsal as it heads to its opening this Monday night. (At bottom is a YouTube video with the director, conductor and composer of “The Death of Klinghoffer.”)
And here is another story from The Los Angeles Times:
And finally here is a terrific and well-balanced, well-sourced summary story, which includes an interview with librettist Alice Goodman (below) — who converted from Judaism to Christianity and is now an Episcopalian priest in England — about the opera and the protests. It was broadcast Friday on NPR (National Public Radio):
What do you think about the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer”?
Would you be a defender?
Or a detractor and protester?
The Ear wants to hear.
REMINDER: This Saturday night, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma (below right) will make his seventh appearance at the Wisconsin Union Theater at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall. His recital features works by Igor Stravinsky, Johannes Brahms, Olivier Messiaen, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Astor Piazzolla and others with piano accompanist Kathryn Stott (below left). The event is SOLD OUT to the general public, although some student tickets may remain. For more information, here is a link:
BUT: If you didn’t get a ticket to the sold-out Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott concert Saturday night, October 18, in Shannon Hall in the Wisconsin Union Theater, don’t fret. The concert will be webcast if you go to the page above at 8 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear loves the sound of the viola, with its mellow mediating between the higher violin and the lower cello.
And he will have the chance to hear it in some unusual repertoire this coming Wednesday night, Oct. 22, when the Madison-born violist Vicki Powell (below top) returns to solo with the Middleton Community Orchestra (below bottom, in a photo by William Ballhorn) under conductor Steve Kurr.
The MCO opens its fifth season at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the Middleton Performing Arts Center, 2100 Bristol Street, that is attached to Middleton High School. Tickets are $10 general admission; students get in for FREE. Advance tickets can be bought at the Willy Street Coop West.
The program includes the Overture to “William Tell” (which contains the brass fanfare theme to TV show “The Lone Ranger”) by Gioachino Rossini; the Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra by Johann Nepomuk Hummel; the Romance for Viola and Orchestra by Max Bruch; and the Symphony No. 8 by Antonin Dvorak.
For more information about the amateur but very accomplished ensemble, including how to join it and support it and find out what the coming season will bring, call (608) 212-8690 or visit: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org
Violist Vicki Powell (below) recently gave an email interview to The Ear:
Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers and tell us a bit about yourself, including when you started music lessons, your early preparation and your life in Madison as well as your personal interests (hobbies, etc.) and professional career plans?
Greetings from New York City, the city that never sleeps and that is certainly never lacking in cultural events. I am a native Wisconsinite, raised in Madison, but for the past eight years I have been living on the East Coast.
After earning my Bachelor’s of Music at the Curtis Institute, where I studied with Roberto Diaz and Misha Amory, I moved to New York City to pursue my Master’s at the Juilliard School, and have lived in the city ever since.
My life consists of a potpourri of musical activities, from performing with the Jupiter Chamber Players, to playing with the New York Philharmonic, to collaborating with ballet companies alongside my new music group Ensemble39. I’ve traveled across the globe and collaborated with many incredible musicians, but my most fond memories are from my time back home, the formative years of my musical being.
I began taking violin lessons with Maria Rosa Germain at the age of four after hearing my brother, Derek, play the violin. I have such a vivid memory of the moment when I decided that I wanted to play the violin: It was dusk, and I was curled up on the green shag carpet of our basement floor, the last bits of daylight leaking in through the windows above. Derek was practicing the Waltz by Johannes Brahms from Suzuki, Book Two a few feet away.
I was exhausted after an afternoon of monkeying around on the jungle gym, and the waltz was the most soothing lullaby to my ears, transporting me to that surreal state of half sleep where time seems to stand still. I felt so peaceful, so warm, so content, the effects combining to make the moment so magical that the only logical thing to me upon waking was that I would some day be able to recapture that sensation and make music as beautiful.
My main violin studies were with Eugene Purdue (below, in a photo by Thomas C. Stringfellow), of the famed “Buddy” Conservatory of Music, with whom I studied for nine years. Mr. Purdue also introduced me to the wonderful world of chamber music, taking on the role of devoted coach to my string quartet, the Élève Arte (wannabes of the Pro Arte String Quartet).
The challenge to my string quartet was that there were three of us violinists, and no violist to speak of, so we took it upon ourselves to switch around our roles in order for us each to have a turn at playing the viola. As the years rolled on, it became clear to us that in order to compete at competitions, it was not practical for us to be lugging so many instruments onstage (there exists some comical video footage of this phenomenon).
At this point, I decided that my role in life was not that of diva (ahem, First Violin). Although I find the role of Second Violin extremely vital to the ensemble, challenging, thrilling and full of guts, I was drawn to the uniquely dark tone of the Viola.
To me the viola (below) represented the real meat and soul of the string quartet, and the tone of the viola was the perfect vehicle for expressing all of the rage, pain and suffering that I felt (Bela Bartok’s works were the perfect outlet for those emotions).
Most violists also play the violin. What attracted you to the viola? What would you like the public to know about the viola, which seems less well-known and more mysterious than, say, the violin or the cello?
Having now overcome my teenage angst, I still adore the viola and its role in music -– to be entrusted with the core of harmony, the real color within every texture, gives me such a sense of quiet power with which I can subtly control the direction of a phrase and the shape of an entire work.
Mr. Purdue once shared a piece of wisdom relating to his wife, Sally Chisholm (below), who teaches at the UW-Madison School of Music and performs with the Pro Arte Quartet. She was my first formal viola teacher and the person responsible for expanding my creative horizon beyond the physical realm of music-making.
Those words of wisdom were: “People feel at ease when playing with Sally, and they easily credit themselves for sounding so magnificent. However, it is Sally who, through her playing, acts as such a strong guiding force that the flow of musical intention is undeniable.” That is a powerful statement that has stayed with me to this day, and which I strive to achieve every single day.
Was there an Aha! Moment – an individual piece or composer or performance or recording, when you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career and be a violist?
I can’t imagine pursuing a life in anything unrelated to music and the arts, but it was not always that way.
As a teenager, I refused even to dream of becoming a musician –- I’m a very realistic person, and the idea of fighting my way through a world that is so competitive and which is not quite so financially lucrative was not one that appealed to my sensibilities. During my early high school years, I focused my attentions on math and the sciences, preparing myself for a life as a dentist or pathologist.
Then my “Aha!” moment came with my 16th birthday when I gave my debut as a solo violist on the nationally syndicated radio show From the Top on NPR (National Public Radio). It was the first time I had ever played for an audience to which I had no connection — the show was taped in Dallas, Texas — and I suppose the whirlwind story behind my debut as a violist sans string quartet helped to convince me that a life in music would never be boring.
I had such a blast meeting new people, and the thrill that came with being onstage was unforgettable that from that point forward I was hooked.
How do you think classical music can attract more young people?
We so often hear that classical music is dying, a sentiment with which I strongly disagree. Times have changed, and the world has turned to an era of short attention spans and an addiction to social media. I myself am victim to a few of these [shortcomings], but because of them, I am also aware of the enormous amount of interest in the classical world.
I believe that in order to attract more young (and old) fans of classical music, we must be conscious of providing inviting points of entry.
I am very fortunate to be privy to several hip events around New York City that target young people looking to be cultured and have a great time doing so. A few examples are: Groupmuse, Wine by the Glass, NYC House Concerts, the Le Poisson Rouge (below) nightclub. They all introduce music in a social setting where it’s cool to explore, and where you don’t feel constrained by rules of concert-watching etiquette.
What can you tell us about Hummel’s Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra?
Hummel (below) was a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn, both of whom played the role of mentor for their younger counterpart. Hummel is most well-known for his fantasies, which are said to be “the peak and keystone of virtuosic performance.” The Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra takes on different operatic themes, three of which appear in the version that I will be performing with the Middleton Community Orchestra. (You can hear the Hummel Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra performed in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
What can you tell us about the Bruch Romance for Viola and Orchestra
The Romance by Max Bruch (below top) holds a very special place in my heart. It was the very last work I performed — with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) — before departing Madison to begin my studies at the Curtis Institute of Music eight years ago! The lush, tonal soundscape will draw in any sucker for Romantic music.
Is there something else you would like to say or add?
I’m very much looking forward to performing at home again, with people that are like family to me. Mindy Taranto, cofounder of the Middleton Community Orchestra, has been such a great friend and supporter to me throughout the years, and I am thrilled to finally have the opportunity to collaborate with her and the orchestra.
By Jacob Stockinger
A good friend and blog fan writes:
The highly praised production features maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) , the longtime music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which performs an all-Russian program this weekend. DeMain is also the artistic director of the Madison Opera. He frequently guest conducts around the nation and the world.
DeMain has conducted, to large audiences and critical acclaim, excerpts of “Porgy and Bess” here in Madison. It has long been a specialty of his. In fact, DeMain won a Grammy for his all-black cast in New York City in 1976. He also conducted a production that was broadcast on PBS several years ago by the now–defunct City Opera of New York.
The San Francisco Opera production stars two highly acclaimed singers: bass-baritone Eric Owens as Porgy and soprano Laquita Mitchell as Bess.
But don’t look for a local production of the entire opera.
“When you see the big cast,” this fan explains, “it becomes very clear why we in Madison and the Madison Opera cannot do “Porgy and Bess” in Madison. It is just too big.”
Here are the specifics: “Porgy and Bess” will be broadcast on Friday night at 8-11 p.m. on The Wisconsin Channel (Cable Channel 972). It will be broadcast again on Sunday at 4-7 p.m. on the flagship WPT channel (Channel 21, Cable Channel 600 in HD).
The Ear thinks that it is too bad that the PBS broadcasts won’t be shown on a big screen in some cinema, like the “Met Live in HD” series. It would be fun to see the production in a group.
Here is a link to a preview from Wisconsin Public Television:
Here is a link to a review from a SFGATE website for San Francisco:
And here are links to the San Francisco Opera website that also includes a blog that talks about “Porgy and Bess” and also has complete cast information:
Finally, to whet your appetite, here is a YouTube video with excerpts of favorite moments from the San Francisco Opera production of “Porgy and Bess”:
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature “Triple Play” — trumpeter David Miller, cellist Amy Harr and pianist Jane Peckham in music of Eric Ewazon, William Schmidt, and Johannes Brahms. The concert is in the historic Landmark Auditorium.
By Jacob Stockinger
The early music and period instrument group Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will perform a concert of vocal and instrumental chamber music of largely the 16th and 17th centuries.
PLEASE NOTE: The concert will be performed at 3 p.m. on this Sunday, October 19, at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church — That is a change of venue from the usual Gates of Heaven Synagogue in James Madison Park. The church is located at 1833 Regent Street, on Madison’s near west side across from Randall Elementary School.
Performers are UW-Madison professor soprano Mimmi Fulmer; mezzo-soprano Consuelo Sañudo; recorder and dulcian players Theresa Koenig; traverse, recorder and harpsichord player Monica Steger; viola da gamba and cornetto players Eric Miller; baroque cello player Anton TenWolde; and organist and harpsichord player Max Yount.
Works by Scarani, Heinrich Schuetz, d’India, J.S. Bach, Bertoli, and Simpson will be featured.
Tickets at the door only: $20 for the general public, $10 for students.
Here is the complete program: Prelude for Solo Viola da gamba by Monsieur de Sainte-Colombe (ca. 1640–1700); “Ancor che col partire” from “French Motets, Madrigals and Songs” by Giovanniu Bassano (ca. 1561-1617) viola da gamba solo; “Music for Two Voices” (1615) by Sigusmondo d’India (ca. 1582-1629); Sonata for Dulcian and Basso continuo by Giovanni Antonio Bertoli (1598-1645); Sonata XII for Traverse and basso continuo by Johan Helmich Roman (1694-1758); INTERMISSION; Sonata decima quarta a tre, duoi canti e basso by Giuseppe Scarani (1628–1641); Two Divisions for the Practice of Learners by Christopher Simpson (1606–1669); “Komm, du süsse Todesstunde” (Come, Sweet Hour of Death, the tenor aria from which can be heard at bottom in a YouTube video), from Cantata 161 by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750); “Tugend ist der beste Freund,” SWV 442, by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672).
By Jacob Stockinger
Can it really be that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra –- The Little Orchestra That Could -– is finally getting the long overdue recognition and larger audiences that it deserves? One hopes so, and it certainly seems so.
Last Friday night on the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opened its new winter season to a full and enthusiastic house.
So perhaps the tide is indeed turning and the WCO will not continue to be hamstrung by its own success, by which I mean its historic role and pops repertoire in the always popular summertime Concerts on the Square. The WCO should be taken more seriously by the area’s classical fans.
Friday saw a full house – but not necessarily a sold-out house since the WCO generously offers tickets to students and others in need -– which was what they deserve, and have deserved, for a longtime.
Here are the points that The Ear took away.
1. The music of the famous 18th-century composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below top) and Franz Joseph Haydn (below bottom) can by now seem so safe and so predictable. The Classical-era style is that well established. So it is high praise to the WCO ‘s longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, who his starting his 15th season, that these most established of Classical composers again seemed vital and even, at times, daring and radical. No music box Mozart from the WCO!
Sewell’s readings of both composers is not timid in any way, but robust and energetic. Not that Sewell (below) sacrifices the elegance and balanced proportion that we expect to hear in Classical compositions. But he also brings an approach that features up-beat tempi, sharply accented beats, long phrases and an emphasis on dissonant harmonies that helped listeners see how such staple Classical composers were innovative revolutionaries in their day and helped pave the way to modernity.
Really, at one point during Haydn’s late Symphony No. 96 “The Miracle” The Ear could look down the road of music history and see not only Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert coming, but even Gustav Mahler (below), with his use of peasant dances, harmonic suspensions and dissonances, and a kind of tightly knit theme-and-variations method of composing and adding to the music’s momentum.
2. The WCO knows how to book outstanding and exciting soloists. Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below), playing a violin once chosen by Johannes Brahms himself, showed superb tone and musicianship with just the right splash of head-turning virtuosity. But she can sing too, and she held the audience in her hand when she played the famous quiet Lullaby by Brahms as an encore.
One very discerning listener whom The Ear knows thought that Barton Pine’s stellar rendition of Camille Saint-Saens’ showpiece “Introduction and Rondo capriccioso” was the best version of the several he had heard in three performances over the past several months. It helped, I think, that you could watch the playing as well as hear the piece. As the composer Igor Stravinsky used to advise: Listen with your eyes.
Similarly the violist Matthew Lipman (below), who was making his WCO debut, did a terrific job. He may look about 16, but he plays like a seasoned veteran with confidence and fine tone.
The two string players excelled in the Double Concerto for Violin and Viola by Benjamin Britten -– but more about that performance and work later. Yet what really brought the string duo a prolonged standing ovation was their encore: the famous solo Passacaglia for Violin and Viola by George Frideric Handel, as arranged by Johan Halvorsen. (You can hear a version of this great violin and viola piece, with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, in a YouTube video at the bottom.) What fun it was to hear it live!
3. The hybrid programming proved typical of Andrew Sewell, who likes to combine the familiar with the unknown. So Mozart’s popular Overture to the opera “The Marriage of Figaro” and the well-known late Haydn symphony were balanced out by the rarely programmed Violin Concerto No. 5 by the mid-19th century Romantic Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps (below), a competent but, to The Ear’s ears, not a particularly inspired composition. I think I can wait another decade or two before hearing a repeat performance.
The Double Concerto for Violin and Viola by the young Benjamin Britten is another matter. I need to hear it again, and that will not be easy since it is not often programmed or recorded.
But the hallmarks of mature Britten (below) all seemed there, if not yet seamlessly assembled. The music sounded modern but accessible, clearly not academic. This was real music, not what The Ear calls R&D Music — Research and Development Music — that is designed more to make a point or win tenure than to please the ear or touch the heart.
In all, it was a delightful night of music-making, and if you are not going to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, you are only cheating yourself of great pleasure and great performances.
Reviews, of course, are by nature subjective. So here is another one you can compare this review to:
It is a review by the highly respected John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus:
By Jacob Stockinger
Not only does the Russian pianist Olga Kern (below, in a photo by Chris Lee) play Russian music superbly, she speaks about it just as well, even eloquently and poetically.
Witness her remarks below, which serve as an introduction to Kern, who will return to Madison to solo this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) under longtime music director and conductor John DeMain.
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 cost $16-$84 with student rush tickets available. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.
Here is link to the MSO’s webpage about the concert, which includes biographical information, program notes and some audiovisual clips.
And here is a link to the always comprehensive and informative but accessible program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot).
The half-hour pre-concert talk will be given by the accomplished violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (below). She plays with the MSO, the Madison Bach Musicians and the Ancora String Quartet and who also serves as a weekend host for Wisconsin Public Radio. The FREE talk starts in Overture Hall one hour before the start of the concert.
NOTE: In addition, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Club 201 will host a special concert and after-party for Madison’s young professionals on Friday, Oct. 17. Fun, friendship, networking and tastings are included. The post-concert party, located in nearby Promenade Lounge within Overture Center, will include hors d’oeuvres and desserts, and offer drink specials. All Club 201 guests will have the exclusive chance to mingle with Madison Symphony Orchestra musicians and fellow music lovers. The $35 ticket will include a discounted concert ticket (usually $63-$84), seating near other young professionals during the performance, and access to the post-concert party with food. Purchase tickets by this WEDNESDAY, OCT. 15, by calling (608) 257-3734 or at www.madisonsymphony.org/club201
Here is the email interview that Olga Kern, who won the first Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition when she was just 17, graciously granted to The Ear:
How do you compare the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Sergei Rachmaninoff – which you played to win the Van Cliburn gold medal — to its more popular counterparts such as the Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 and the “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” which you also perform? What do you like about the work and what should listeners pay attention to?
The first concerto is Rachmaninoff’s Opus 1 piece. He re-edited it later in life, and in this composition you can hear the fresh approach immediately from the beginning of the first movement. And what an incredibly beautiful second movement it has. He gives the piano an opportunity to start the main melody, which sounds almost like an improvisation in a way.
It’s so unique, and at the same time you can hear Rachmaninoff’s special style as a composer in every note and bar. It’s his first composition and it gives incredible platform and base to his other orchestral works, especially to his piano concerti.
This concerto is similar in structure to his third concerto. It has also a long piano cadenza in the first movement, which is the dramatic point of the whole composition. Also, as in the third concerto, the finale of the last movement is challenging for both the pianist and the orchestra. (You can hear Olga Kern perform Rachmaninoff’s fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
This is why, I think, this concerto is not performed very often — because it’s not easy. But it’s really a great pleasure and excitement to perform this concerto. It’s such a wonderful jewel of Rachmaninoff’s music!
You have performed in Madison several times, both solo recitals and concertos. Do you have anything to say about Madison audiences or the Madison Symphony Orchestra?
I love Madison — the city, the people, the concert hall, the audience, the orchestra and of course the Maestro, John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad). He is fantastic. I can’t wait to work with him again. It’s always great! I have wonderful friends here and I always come back to this great place with pleasure!
I like to work with the Madison Symphony Orchestra — they are so sensitive and responsive, and I always have a great and fun time at the rehearsals with them. In the end, at the concert time, the performances come off so beautifully that it is a joy and a great celebration of music!
The Rachmaninoff piano concerto is part of an all-Russian program that also features music by Tchaikovsky (below top) and Shostakovich (below bottom). Are there certain qualities that you identify with Russian music and that explain the music’s appeal to the public?
Russian music is full of feeling and is very powerful emotionally. Russian people, even if they are happy, are always sad inside. And this explains why Russian music is so complicated with feelings -– it is in its nature — always a fight between sadness and happiness, between darkness and light, between good and bad. You feel it — whether you listen to it or you perform it.
All the composers who will be performed in this concert had very difficult, complicated lives. They went through so much, but at the same time they wanted to be happy. They were romantics in their souls, fighters in their hearts.
They wanted to make the world beautiful, no matter what, with their heavenly amazing music! This is why it’s always so exciting and so touching to listen and to perform their incredible works and compositions!
Since winning the gold medal at the Van Cliburn International Competition in 2001, you have been very busy. What are your current recording projects and touring plans?
Yes, I am very busy, and of course very happy about it. I definitely have lots of exciting plans for the near future, but — if you don’t mind — I will keep it as a secret to keep many wonderful surprises soon for my wonderful fans and friends!
Please follow me on my website, www.olgakern.com, my official Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/olgakern?fref=ts, Twitter: @kernolga1, and Instagram @kernolga. I will be posting all my exciting news and projects and share it with all of you there!
Is there more you would like to say or add?
I am looking forward very much to coming back to beautiful autumn season in Madison. It’s my favorite season there. Nature is gorgeous and, as always for me, very inspiring!
By Jacob Stockinger
Yesterday, The Ear offered a blog post about stage fright and performance anxiety.
But even the greatest musicians can -– and do — mess up.
So today is a follow-up.
Here is a link to a YouTube video with some pretty messed up notes and whole passages by some of history’s greatest pianists, virtuosos and technical wizards.
There was no recording technology back then, but it makes one wonder what Frederic Chopin or Franz Liszt might have sounded like off the page when they played. Or even such famed keyboard virtuosos as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.
After all, in the same video the great Arthur Rubinstein (below) even explains how he faked an entire difficult Chopin etude and dumped a whole batch of deliberately played wrong notes into it during a public concert — and still won rave reviews from the critics!
It also puts a frame around the picture, and suggests that maybe we should simply worry more about the music and less about the notes. Performers just have to learn to accept failure! Perfection is beyond any of us.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.
If you know of other examples, or have personal experiences to share, let us know.
The Ear wants to hear.
“Live from the MET in HD” kicks off today at 11:55 a.m. with soprano Anna Netrebko in a critically acclaimed production of Giuseppe Verdi‘s opera “Macbeth,” based on the famous tragedy by William Shakespeare. The show is at Point Cinemas on the city’s far west side and Eastgate Cinemas on the city’s far east side. Here is a link to more information:
ALSO: Just a reminder that the spotlight concert of the University of Wisconsin-Madison brass festival is TONIGHT AT 8 P.M. IN MILLS HALL. Admission is $25 for the public, but all students get in for FREE. Here is a link to details about this concert and the whole festival, which winds up Monday.
By Jacob Stockinger
Do you suffer from stage fright -– better known as performance anxiety?
The Ear sure does.
But the British pianist Stephen Hough (below) is a breathtaking virtuoso who at least seems never to suffer from stage fright or performance anxiety –- at least not judging by the performances of recitals and concertos that I have heard him give in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he offered master classes.
But what about the rest of us?
It is surprising how many professional musicians, as well as amateur musicians, suffer from performance anxiety and state fright. The same goes for actors and public speakers of all kinds.
But Hough, who writes a wonderful blog that is both very readable and very informative for The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, recently dealt with the topic in a way that The Ear really admired and found helpful.
Maybe you will feel the same way.
Here is a link:
Do you suffer form stage fright and performance anxiety?
What have you found helpful to overcome it?