By Jacob Stockinger
Can it really be 15 years already?
The Madison Early Music Festival began as a dream and an experiment. But it has endured, survived and prospered. This summer it marks its 15th anniversary with a focus on Italian music from 1300 to 1600. The theme is called “Italia Mia.”
This year’s installment starts on this coming Saturday, July 12, and runs through the following Saturday, July 19. It features many of the traditional things such as workshops, lectures and public concerts. But it also features new out-of-town groups and only the second annual Handel Aria Competition, which has been enhanced.
Venues are perhaps the biggest challenge this year, given the upgrading of Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Here is a link to the festival’s home website for information about tickets, events, programs and performers:
To get things straight, and to provide both some history and a larger context, The Ear asked baritone Paul Rowe and his soprano wife Cheryl Bensman Rowe -– who are the co-artistic directors of the Madison Early Music Festival -– to do an email Q&A for this blog.
They graciously agreed, and the results will be posted in two parts, today and tomorrow.
How successful is this year’s festival compared to others in terms of enrollment, budgets, guest performers, ticket sales, media interest, etc.? This is the 15th anniversary of MEMF. After 15 years, is MEMF clearly established now nationally or even internationally?
Cheryl: We have been getting more attention in the national press, and we continue to feature ensembles and artists from Europe and Canada. This year the Toronto Consort — seen below and heard at the bottom in a YouTube video of Italian music and art from the period that MEMF will cover — will open the festival with their program “The Da Vinci Codex,” which features Italian Music from the musical world of Leonardo Da Vinci.
In May, the blog Deceptive Cadence from NPR Classical mentioned MEMF 2014 as a “Can’t Miss Classical Music Festivals” in the Midwest region.
Besides the attention in the press, we are well-known in early music circles. Our performers and faculty are also hired by many well-established festivals, including the Berkeley Early Music Festival, Boston Early Music Festival (below), Amherst Early Music Festival, Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute and others.
What is new and what is the same in terms of format, students, faculty members and guest performers?
Paul: This year we are adding two new intensive workshops that will run concurrently with MEMF. One is focused on wind instruments that will form a loud band and be led by Robert Wiemken (below top) of Pifarro.
There are eight people in the loud band intensive class who play sackbut, shawm, dulcien and other instruments (below bottom). The other is a Baroque opera workshop that will be led by Drew Minter, Christa Patton and me.
We will use music from the operas “Orfeo” and “The Coronation of Poppea” by Claudio Monteverdi (below) as source material to explore Baroque gesture and dance as well as ornamentation and stylistic singing. We have 15 singers who will be taking this workshop. The two intensive classes will present an informal performance on Saturday afternoon, July 19, at 2 p.m.
Why was the topic of the Italian music 1300-1600 chosen for the early music festival? What composers and works will be highlighted?
Paul: We wanted to have a broader historical focus this year in order to include very early instruments and music as well as the larger format pieces that are a feature of the later Renaissance and early Baroque.
The most famous composer of this period is Claudio Monteverdi, but there are many others. Italy was really the hub of poetry and music for all of Western culture during the time period we are considering. The poetry of Petrarch (below) will provide the focus for the All-Festival Concert this year. This is the era of Boccaccio and Dante as well as Petrarch.
Tomorrow: What makes early music in Italy different? What will the All-Festival Concert next Saturday night be like? What is new about the second annual Handel Aria Competition and the new FREE noontime lectures?
By Jacob Stockinger
I have seen him live in concert and in person only once.
But over decades I have seen him many times in The New York Times and especially on PBS, particularly on “Live from Lincoln Center” and, if I recall correctly, “American Masters.”
I have heard him in regular subscription concerts and also, I think, in Mainly Mozart concerts. I think I have even heard him solo at least once or twice, maybe more.
And chances are, so have you.
The Ear is not surprised that the retirement of Glenn Dicterow this past weekend made the media in a major way.
He is a smart, talented, humorous, good-natured and articulate man and musician who has a lot to say about music and about working with some celebrated figures, including conductors Leonard Bernstein (below), Zubin Mehta, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel and Alan Gilbert.
The stories about Dicterow also give us a renewed and expanded appreciation of the role of a concertmaster, and how a concertmaster can affect an entire orchestra and how the orchestra sounds and how its members get along with each other and with the maestro.
Dicterow played his swan-song concert this past weekend.
Here are backstories and a review of his final “New York Phil” concert:
Here is the story that appeared on the outstanding “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR:
And here is a similar story, with lots of facts, including his incredible salary, from The New York Times:
Here is the story that ran in the Wall Street Journal:
Here is a review of his last concert with the New York Philharmonic performing the Triple Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven with New York Philharmonic principal cello Carter Brey and guest pianist-in-residence Yefim Bronfman, who played two Beethoven piano concertos (Nos. 2 and 5, the “Emperor”) this past season with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain.
Finally, and in case you thought ensemble players were necessarily less virtuosic than soloists, here is a YouTube video of Glenn Dicterow playing the fiendishly difficult “Carmen” Fantasy by composer Franz Waxman (below), who is better known for the Hollywood movie scores he wrote after he fled Nazi Germany. Dicterow plays it with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta. (You can also see him perform other works and talk about his role as concertmaster on YouTube.)
Sounds like Glenn Dicterow will be a fantastic teacher at the same school in Los Angeles, California where the legendary violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz taught for so many years:
By Jacob Stockinger
By all accounts, Rudel was a knowledgeable, impeccable and insightful musician, and a generous man and instructive role model. And that is how he comes across in an interview for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) you can listen to at the bottom in a YouTube video.
An unassuming man and a populist for the arts, Rudel, who was a native Austrian and a refugee from Adolf Hilter’s Nazi Germany at 17 in 1938, had the misfortune to outlive the opera company that he so nourished but which went bankrupt and defunct eight months ago.
He had a local tie in that, early on, he recognized and encouraged the talent of a young piano and conducting graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City who was also a student at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s famed Tanglewood Festival.
That man was John DeMain (below), who is the music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera. Before coming to Madison, DeMain led the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Huston Grand Opera.
Here is a link to the story where John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) talked briefly about his link and debt to Rudel.
Rudel lived a long and productive life, filled with nurturing many famous opera singers, including Beverly Sills who is seen below, at left, in 1976 talking to Rudel) and Placido Domingo, and with guest stints around the world conducting all kinds of music.
Here is a great story from the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR:
And here is an impressively comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:
And here is the NEA interview on YouTube:
By Jacob Stockinger
It sure doesn’t seem like the Metropolitan Opera (below) could or should be the hero in this opera. More like it plays the role of the bad guy, the villain.
Or is it really more of a soap opera?
In case you haven’t been following the news, the general director of the Metropolitan Opera Peter Gelb has caved in to pressure from Israeli lobbies and agreed to cancel the scheduled “Live in HD” broadcast of the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” by the acclaimed contemporary American composer John Adams (below and at bottom in a YouTube video with the stage director of the Met’s production.)
The Ear finds that action thoroughly reprehensible.
It seems the pro-Israeli lobby thinks the opera is anti-Semitic and too kind in the way it treats the four Palestinian terrorists — from the Palestine Liberation Organizations — who in 1985 took over the luxury cruise ship the Achille Lauro and killed the disabled Jewish passenger Leon Klingerhoffer in his wheelchair and then threw him overboard.
Well, I want to tell the head honchos at the famed Met: Don’t do my thinking about terrorism and Mideast peace for me. Just give me the facts and let me make up my own mind.
I want to see art, not propaganda, which is apparently what some pro-Israeli activists think would be good for the rest of us. I think I can see tragedy where there is tragedy, whether it is Jewish or Arab tragedy, Israeli or Palestinian tragedy. Just listen to the “Night Chorus” (below) and watch the videos that go with it:
This whole affair sound more than a little to my mind like a protester who would censor William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” or Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” in the name of a higher morality.
I say: Let us see the opera –- it is one of next season’s “Live in HD” satellite broadcasts that I would like most to attend -– and then decide for ourselves.
Stop condescending to us, stop underestimating us.
Now, one suspects that the poor finances of the Met would help to explain a lot of the shameful action. And Gelb admits that donors didn’t pressure him but that groups connected to donors did.
So here is the compromise: There will be no protesting at the actual opera production in New York City –- where tickets can run hundreds of dollars and seating is limited and most of the world cannot and will not see it — and no boycotting or withdrawing of financial support if the Met doesn’t broadcast it worldwide to a much larger audience.
I think I smell blackmail.
What do you smell?
I know I smell censorship on the part of the protesters and self-censorship of the part of the famed opera company’s administrators who caved in to their demands.
“The Death of Klinghoffer” would seem to build on the other news-based or reality-based operas of John Adams that the Met has staged and then broadcast so successfully by the Met: “Nixon in China” (below) about President Richard Nixon meeting Chairman Mao; and “Doctor Atomic,” about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the building of the first atomic bomb.
Here is a line to the story in The New York Times about the original decision:
And here is a link to reaction from the composer John Adams, who counters objections and make convincing points:
Here is a link to a fine critique from the longtime senior music critic for The New York Times Anthony Tommasini:
Here a link to a fine editorial that appeared in The Boston Globe:
And here is another great editorial, this one from The New York Times, which is located in a city known for its large Jewish population and, one presumes, its large body of Jewish subscribers:
By Jacob Stockinger
The acclaimed Spanish conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos died on Wednesday. He was 80, and the cause of death was cancer that caused him to announce his retirement just a week ago. (He is seen below conducting The New York Philharmonic in a photo by Richard Termine of The New York Times.)
The Ear gives credit to Wisconsin Public Radio and afternoon radio host Lori Skelton (below top), who, it seems, probably made a quick programming change and played a recording by him and the legendary Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha (below bottom, 1923-2009) of Manuel de Falla’s lushly quiet piano concerto-like tone poem “Nights in the Garden of Spain.”
It is refreshing to see arts events treated as newsy and important as, say, politics, sports and economics.
Plus, music by Manuel de Falla (below top) was a specialty of the conductor, as was other Spanish music, including works by Isaac Albeniz (below bottom). But he was also known for his interpretations of standard repertory, and led orchestras around the world to popular and critical acclaim. He also recorded many standard works for many different labels.
Here is a link to the background story and obituary on the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog at NPR:
And here is a link to the obituary in The New York Times:
And here is a YouTube video in which the conductor discusses his family and personal history and in which you can hear him conduct music from Franz Schubert ‘s Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished” and Manuel de Fall’s “La vida breve.”
By Jacob Stockinger
Perhaps you already know the simple facts of the controversy:
A number of critics lambasted a relatively unknown Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught (below top) when she recently sang the role of the young, handsome and androgynous Octavian (below bottom on the left) in Richard Strauss’ extraordinarily popular and moving opera “Der Rosenkavalier.”
All agreed that she sang gorgeously. But being overweight, she was also criticized for short-changing the believability of the theatrical side of the opera. One critic who lauded her singing also described her as a “chubby bundle of puppy fat.”
True, The Ear can recall when superstar tenor Luciano Pavarotti (below) was criticized for being way too heavy — indeed, obese and not just overweight — and lumberingly awkward to play certain romantic leads with any creditability. But, oh, that voice!
But these new critical remarks seem to cross those boundaries and veer off into gratuitous meanness and rudeness that had more than a smack of sexism and bias about them. Unless you are a top female diva, maybe women do indeed remain second-rate citizens of the opera world.
Anyway, here are links to three stories that provide good summaries of the conflict and the kerfuffle.
Be sure to read the many reader and listener comments that greeted them. They give you a feeling for the state of the art when it comes to the public’s changing standards of physical fitness for playing the dramatic or theatrical sides of opera roles.
Then other voices in other media weighed in.
And here is another piece done by NPR that provides a kind of post-mortem following the two weeks of scandal and reactions:
Plus in all fairness, you should also listen to the intelligence, charm and vivacious energy — to say nothing of her lovely voice in singing Rossini — that Tara Erraught projects in a Lincoln Center “spotlight” profile you will at the bottom in a YouTube video.
What do you think of the criticism of her size and weight?
Have TV and films made us more literal in what we expect in the way of realistic portrayals of characters in the theatrical side of opera versus the musical side?
If you find the critical remarks about physical weight inappropriate, how and why do you think so? Do you find them sexist or genuinely biased?
And am I the only person who thinks Tara Erraught — who I am sure felt hurt by the deeply personal nature of the criticism — might well have the last laugh from all the publicity that has brought her to the world’s attention?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear admits it: He is more of an armchair traveler than a true explorer of the globe and its many cultures and cultural events.
But that approach has its compensations. At least it gives me a certain satisfaction that my carbon footprint is smaller than many “eco-friendly” people and “greens” who say they worry about global warming and climate change but think nothing of hopping on a jet to travel thousands of miles.
But if I were to go on big trips, I might well plan some of them around the many wonderful classical music festivals that have sprung up in the area, the regional, the nation and the world.
Here is a link to 10 “can’t miss” classical music festivals. They include the always intriguing Bard Festival (below) that takes place near New York City on the Hudson River and in a concert hall (below) designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry. Here is a link to the list on the terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence” on NPR:
The New York Times has a more international list that includes the Salzburg Festival (below top) in Austria and the self-consciously hip Bach Festival (below bottom and at the bottom in a YouTube video) in Leipzig, Germany:
The Ear also found it helpful to Google “2014 summer classical music festivals.” He found quite a few festivals that were not listed in the other guides.
Of course, you still have to pay attention to the local media for word of local music festivals. This month, for example, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below) kicks off its annual three-weekend season of chamber music on Friday, June 13.
In July, to offer another example, the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) will take place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. This year it is devoted to Italian music from 1300 to 1600, and will take place July 12-19. MEMF (below) made the New York Times listing last year, if I remember correctly, but not this year.
And then in late August the annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which takes place in a renovated barn (below), will happen. The 2014 season is the 25th anniversary season. Specific programs of composers and works are not listed, although performers and concert titles or themes are given. The site says to check back soon for details:
By Jacob Stockinger
There I was last Sunday afternoon, sitting in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, deeply engaged in and enjoying Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s glorious and poignant Requiem, incomplete as the original score is.
Now, I have my own personal reasons why the performance and music proved especially moving to me.
But suffice it to say that during the outstanding performance that was turned in by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top), the Madison Symphony Chorus (below bottom, in a photo by Greg Anderson), guest soloists including UW graduate soprano Emily Birsan and guest conductor Julian Wachner, from the famed Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City, I kept wondering:
Why isn’t Beverly Taylor conducting this program?
You may recall that Beverly Taylor has headed the choral department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music for 19 years. Before that, she was at Harvard. Plus, she regularly tours and does guest stints.
And if you are like The Ear, Beverly Taylor (below) has probably brought you more memorable moments of great choral music than any other musician in town since Robert Fountain, especially through her almost two decades at the UW-Madison during which she has directed the main community and campus group, the UW Choral Union, as well as various other UW groups, including the Concert Choir.
She has also conducted world premieres and Midwest premieres, and she has worked with some pretty big names, singers and instrumentalists (cellist Matt Haimovitz) as well as composers such as Robert Kyr (below top) and John Harbison (below bottom).
So then I started thinking:
When have I heard Beverly Taylor conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra -– of which she is the assistant conductor, the same kind of post that launched the meteoric career of Leonard Bernstein (below) when he was the assistant conductor to Bruno Walter at the New York Philharmonic? Assistants often get to fill in when the principal conductor is ill or out-of-town. Same thing happened to assistant conductor Seiji Ozawa when Bernstein was ill disposed.
Perhaps memory fails me, but I could not think of a single time when I heard Taylor conduct the MSO in a regular season subscription concert.
Can it be true that she is good enough to keep her post, but not good enough to perform its duties when the occasion arises. And if it is true, is it right? Would that happen to a man?
Now, it is true that Taylor’s many duties include preparing the MSO Chorus. And she performed that important duty in a fine manner for the Mozart Requiem, which was acknowledged both in critics’ reviews and in the loud applause when she came on stage to take a bow. One suspects she herself has conducted Mozart’s Requiem several times in her long career.
Not that guest conductor Julian Wachner (below top) was in any way a failure or proved unsatisfactory. He conducted just fine, even if the program was somewhat odd because it opened with a single Slavonic Dance by Antonin Dvorak, which is usually an encore instead of a curtain-raiser; and because it featured Joseph Jongen’s “Symphonie Concertante” for Organ and Orchestra with guest organist, and a real real virtuoso, Nathan Laube (below).
The Jongen is a work that wasn’t performed here at all until the Overture Center opened with its custom-built, million-dollar Klais concert organ; and now we have heard it twice in 10 years. I think I can go another 10 or 20 years without hearing this second-tier work again. It has its moments, but they are not very many and they are not very long.
Anyway, just to be sure, I checked the biographies of Julian Wacher and Beverly Taylor. I compared and decided that Taylor’s holds up just fine. See for yourself:
You will notice that Taylor, who has a good training pedigree, is not only the chorus preparer for the MSO, but also the Assistant Conductor -– the one who helps the main maestro and music director John DeMain help balance the orchestra during rehearsals and who consults with him on other occasions for other reasons.
And Beverly Taylor has certainly conducted her share of major chorus and orchestra masterworks with the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra: Requiems by Giuseppe Verdi and Johannes Brahms as well as Mozart; Benjamin Britten’s “War” Requiem’; Antonin Dvorak’s “Stabat Mater”; and many other works including Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and B Minor Mass, Mozart’s great C Minor Mass, Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” (below); Felix Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” George Frideric Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” (at bottom in a YouTube video performance by the UW Choral Union under the baton of Taylor), Franz Joseph Haydn’s “ Lord Nelson” Mass, the “Symphony of Psalms” by Igor Stravinsky and other works by Gabriel Faure, Anton Bruckner, Leonard Bernstein and Francis Poulenc.
In fact, you can hear Beverly Taylor in action TONIGHT at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, when she conducts the UW Concert Choir and the UW Chamber Orchestra in Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” (tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for seniors and students); and again on Saturday night, April 26, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, when she will conduct the UW Choral Union in the large-scale a cappella “Vespers” by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below) for one performance only. Admission for the “Vespers” is $10 for the public, free for seniors and students.
So I am again left with the question: Why didn’t Beverly Taylor get to fill in on the podium for MSO conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), who is also the artistic director of the Madison Opera and who was off in Virginia guest conducting Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen.” It sure seemed like her kind of program.
I want to give the MSO the benefit of the doubt and not jump to the conclusion that Taylor didn’t get the podium to herself because of sexism, especially since the MSO has booked guest women conductors, including the Finnish firecracker Anu Tali (below top), and hired a woman concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz (below bottom), whom it has often highlighted as a soloist.
But then I also remembered that the MSO used Taylor’s colleague at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, instrumental conductor James Smith, for this year’s “Final Forte” Bolz Young Artist Competition concert and broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television.
And I also read a New York Times story about how even the great and high-profile Metropolitan Opera has had only three -– yes, count them, three -– women conductors (below top is Anne Manson leading the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra) in its entire history, even during the time when women conductors like Marin Alsop (below middle) and JoAnn Falletta (below bottom) are much in the news. Here is a link to that story:
So what about our own hometown woman conductor? Maybe it really is a question of sexism, perhaps the unconscious or subconscious kind, or the kind that is camouflaged under other concerns like incompetence and low public appeal. Or maybe it is just a question of the orchestra’s history, habit and tradition in action. Or perhaps it is something as simple and innocent as a schedule conflict or an overbooked schedule. But it looks suspiciously like the old vicious circle: She is inexperienced, so we can’t give her the experience.
I raise the question more than I claim to I have the answer. But I also want to know if I am alone in my curiosity and concern.
I want to hear what other readers and musicians in the area and elsewhere have to say, even though they may be reluctant to speak up using their real names to question or criticize such a major player as the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
But Beverly Taylor (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) is a major player in Madison too. And she deserves a chance to move from behind-the-scenes and once in a while have her talents place in the public spotlight for the same organization that she has served so well for so long.
Who knows, she might even have saved the MSO some money in booking fees and her local fans might even have helped filled some of the empty seats I saw last Sunday afternoon.
So The Ear says: Come on, MSO, give Beverly Taylor the chance she has earned to stand alone and conduct by herself after almost 20 years of being a team player. Please shine the spotlight on her when the chance next presents itself.
What do readers and audience members think?
Don’t be shy.
The Ear wants to hear.