The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society announces its 23rd season “23 SKIDDOO” this June, with an emphasis on Latin American chamber music, a Midwest premiere by American composer Alan Jay Kernis and a silent Charlie Chaplin film with a musical score. It will take place June 13-29 and includes 3 weekends, 3 venues and 12 concerts with six different programs.

April 7, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Madison-based fun-filled and pun-filled Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society –- which The Ear named as Musician of the Year –- has announced its 23rd annual summer concert series, called “23 Skiddoo.”

The eclectic and unorthodox chamber music series, which will emphasize Latin American music, will take place this summer, from June 13 to June 29, 2014. It will be held over three weekends in three different venues and with 12 concerts offering six different programs. (Below is the official poster logo for 23 SKIDOO.)

23Skiddoo logo

Here is the official press release:

Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society (BDDS) presents its 23rd annual summer chamber music festival, “23 SKIDDOO,” from June 13 to June 29, 2014.

This festival features 12 concerts over three weekends, each weekend offers two different programs.

Concerts will be performed in The Playhouse at the Overture Center in Madison (below top); the renovated historic Stoughton Opera House (below middle); and the Hillside Theater at architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green (below bottom). 

BDDS Playhouse audience

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

taliesin_hillside2

Combining the best local musicians and top-notch artists from around the country, a varied repertoire and delightful surprises, BDDS presents chamber music as “serious fun” infused with high energy and lots of audience appeal, and makes this art form accessible to diverse audiences.

Led by artistic directors and performers Stephanie Jutt, flute, and Jeffrey Sykes, piano, (below in a photo by C Photography) 15 guest artists will perform in the festival.

Stephanie jutt and Jeffrey Sykes  CR C&N photographers

“23 Skiddoo” is early 20th century American slang that refers to leaving quickly or taking advantage of an opportunity to leave. Jutt and Sykes have taken some great colloquial expressions and found musical connections for them: sometimes obvious, sometimes oblique — but always leading to thrilling music.

Highlights for this season include Latin American music – especially from Argentina – two pianos on stage in one weekend, a Midwest premiere by Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Aaron Jay Kernis, and a silent film score including a screening of the film, below, by and with Charlie Chaplin.

Charlie Chaplin The Count

WEEK 1

We have two spectacular programs our first week, “Getta Move On” and “Exit Strategy.”

“Exit Strategy” features music written at the end of composers’ careers. It includes Claude Debussy‘s profound Sonata for Violin, the last work he wrote; Maurice Ravel’s popular “Bolero” in its original two-piano incarnation, almost his last work; Arnold Bax’s beautiful sonata for flute and harp; and the scintillating “Paganini” Variations of Witold Lutoslawski for two pianos.

“Getta Move On” features music inspired by dance, including Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s thrilling “Symphonic Dances” for two pianos, Ravel’s nostalgic “La valse” for two pianos, and the Midwest premiere of Aaron Jay Kernis’ evocative work “The Art of the Dance” for soprano, flute, harp, viola and percussion.

Madison’s piano star Christopher Taylor (below top) will pair up with BDDS artistic director Jeffrey Sykes on the two-piano works. The programs will also showcase the talents of Canadian harp virtuoso Heidi Krutzen and Pro Musicis award winner Yura Lee (below bottom) on violin and viola.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Yura Lee 2

Icelandic soprano Dìsella Làrusdóttir, hailed by Opera News as “a voice of bewitching beauty and presence,” will join in the premiere of the work by Aaron Jay Kernis (below)  and other works.

Concerts will be performed at The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts on Friday and Saturday, June 13 and 14, at 7:30 p.m. and Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 15, at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

aaron jay kernis at piano

WEEK 2

The second week features “Take a Hike” and “Hasta La Vista, Baby.”

“Take a Hike” includes music inspired by the countryside, from an Amy Beach “Romance,” to Johannes Brahms’ gorgeous Clarinet Trio and Mozart’s pastoral Piano Concerto No. 23, which celebrates the Austrian countryside, to works by Argentinian composer Carlos Guastavino (below).

Carlos Guastavino

“Hasta La Vista, Baby” is an extravaganza of Latin American chamber music from the sultry, sensuous, heart-on-the-sleeve tangos of Astor Piazzolla (below) to the mystic profundity of Osvaldo Golijov‘s “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.”

We are thrilled to have clarinetist Alan Kay, principal of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, joining BDDS for the first time.

He will be joined by audience favorites Carmit Zori and Suzanne Beia, violins; David Harding, viola; and Tony Ross and Beth Rapier, cellos.

astor piazzolla

Finally, we have invited master pianist and arranger Pablo Zinger (below), one of Piazzolla’s champions who played with Piazzolla own’s quintet and is an international authority on Latin music, to give our programs authentic Latin flair. (You can hear Pablo Zinger playing with the composer in a popular YouTube video with over 1 million hits at the bottom in the beautiful bittersweet song “Adios, Nonino” that Piazzolla wrote when his father died. Zinger opens with a long and impressive solo piano riff and at about 1:48 minutes finally breaks into the heartbreaking melody.)

Concerts will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 20, at 7:30 p.m.; at the The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 21, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, on Sunday, June 22, at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Pablo Zinger at piano

WEEK 3

The final week includes “Cut and Run” and “Hightail It.”

“Cut and Run” features music by composers who made well-timed exits or transitions in their lives. Bohuslav Martinu escaped Europe just before the outbreak of World War II; when he arrived in the US, he wrote his jazzy Trio for flute, cello and piano. In Russia, Dmitri Shostakovich (below) responded to the war by writing his very moving piano trio. In this work, he got himself back into the good graces of the Soviet authorities—and yet still managed to sneak into his work an ironic critique of Soviet life.

dmitri shostakovich

Darius Milhaud’s great work for piano four hands, “Le boeuf sur le toit,” was originally intended as the score for Charlie Chaplin’s silent movie “The Count,” a movie (below) that culminates in a hilariously well-timed exit. Our program will reunite the movie with its erstwhile score.

Charlie Chaplin The Count 2

“Hightail It” includes music with fast codas. “Coda” is the Italian word for “tail,” and it refers to the final section of a movement or a piece. This program includes William Hirtz’s fun, over-the-top “Fantasy on the Wizard of Oz” for piano four-hands, and the jazzy, rhythmic Sonata, for violin and cello, of Maurice Ravel. The thrilling, symphonic Piano Trio in F minor of Antonín Dvořák brings the season to a close.

The San Francisco Piano Trio (below) — violinist Axel Strauss, cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau and BDDS artistic director pianist Jeffrey Sykes — will be joined by Boston Symphony pianist Randall Hodgkinson and BDDS Artistic Director flutist Stephanie Jutt in these programs.

San Francisco Trio 1

Randall Hodgekinson 1

Concerts will be performed at The Playhouse of the Overture Center for the Arts on Friday, June 27, 7:30 p.m.; at the Stoughton Opera House on Saturday, June 28, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, Sunday, on June 29, at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

FREE FAMILY CONCERT

For the fourth year, BDDS will also perform one FREE family concert, “Getta Move On Kids,” an interactive event that will be great for all ages. Together with the audience, BDDS will explore why dance-like melodies and rhythms can get people on their feet; they’ll listen to and repeat rhythms and move to the music.

This will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 14, in The Playhouse at the Overture Center.  This is a performance for families with children ages 6 and up and seating will be first come first served. CUNA Mutual Group, and Overture Center generously underwrite this performance.

University of Wisconsin-Madison artist Carolyn Kallenborn (below top with a set from 2011 below bottom), who works in textiles artist, will create a stage setting for each concert in The Playhouse. All concerts at The Playhouse, the Opera House and Hillside Theater will be followed by a meet-the-artist opportunity.

BDDS Carolyn Kallenborn 2

BDDS 2011 Kallenborn installation

The addresses of location and venues are: Stoughton Opera House, 381 East Main Street in Stoughton; the Overture Center in Madison at 201 State Street; and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Hillside Theater on County Highway 23 in Spring Green.

Single general admission tickets are $39. Student tickets are only $5. Various ticket packages are also available starting at a series of three for $111.  First-time subscriptions are 50 percent off.

For tickets and information, call (608) 255-9866 or visit: www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

Single tickets for Overture Center concerts can also be purchased at the Overture Center for the Arts box office, (608) 258-4141, or at overturecenter.com (additional fees apply).  Hillside Theater tickets may be purchased from the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitors Center on County Highway C, (608) 588-7900.  Tickets are available at the door at all locations.

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Classical music Q&A: The Annals of Accompanying, Part 1 of 2. The Ear talks with baritone Paul Rowe and pianist Martha Fischer, both of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, about the challenges of accompanying in their joint FREE performance this Wednesday night of Hugo Wolf’s complete “Italian Songbook.”

March 24, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Baritone Paul Rowe and pianist Martha Fischer have been performing song and song cycles together for almost two decades at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Some performances, like Schubert’s “Winterreise,” have even been published and recorded in book-and-CD format (bel0w) that also features moody theme-related, black-and-white photographs by the Madison-based photographer and violist Katrin Talbot and a foreword by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Harbison.

Winterreise UW Press

Fischer, who teaches Collaborative Piano at the UW-Madison, has also accompanied countless instrumentalists.

This Wednesday night, March 26, Rowe and Fischer will give a FREE performance of Hugo Wolf’s complete “Italian Songbook” at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

To The Ear, it seemed like the perfect occasion to explore the complexities of accompanying and of musical collaboration. The two musicians (below left and center with UW alumna Julia Foster, right, who teaches voice at Rollins College and will join in the singing of the Wolf songs) generously agreed to respond to the same questions. Those questions and their answers will be featured today and tomorrow on this blog.

Paul Rowe, Martha Fischer and Julia Foster 1

Why is “accompanying” now referred to as “collaboration”? What distinction is one trying to make? What would you like the audience to listen for and hear in an exemplary collaboration?

PAUL ROWE: To me, this is all in the interest of equal billing for equal participation.

In the past the singer was often the “star,” who hired a pianist to play for them. This started to change in some cases as far back as the 1840s when Felix Mendelssohn and then Johannes Brahms played with selected singers in salons and concert halls. They would do what we now call recitals and might feature music by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann or Brahms or Mendelssohn.

The first of the great modern collaborators was Gerald Moore (below in 1967, seated, with baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on the left, and also at the bottom in a 1957 YouTube video that celebrates spring with two songs by Franz Schubert). Moore joined many of the great post World War II recitalists including Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Fritz Wunderlich, Kathleen Ferrier, Janet Baker and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in many performances.

Other great pianists who also collaborated since that time have included Leonard Bernstein, Wolfgang Swallisch, Daniel Barenboim, Benjamin Britten and Mstislav Rostropovich. The next generation included Graham Johnson, Harmut Höll, Jorg Demus and many others. All of these great pianists deserve equal billing with the singers or other musicians.

MARTHA FISCHER: When thinking about the specialty of “pianists-who-prefer-playing-with-others,” Collaborative Piano is a more inclusive term.  It refers to all of the many possibilities of collaboration – duos, trios, larger chamber works, piano-four-hands, two pianos, accompanying choirs, playing as orchestral pianists or with wind ensembles, etc.

This is the explanation from a purely practical standpoint.  But in addition to that, there is the fact that over time “accompanying” had come to have a pejorative connotation — that “those who can’t really play SOLO piano become accompanists.”  In more recent years, I believe that we (including pianists, by the way) have come to understand that it is an art in and of itself that deserves the same respect as any other kind of music-making.

I usually have a whole class in my undergraduate accompanying course where I talk to the students about the importance of approaching their collaborative repertoire with the same kind of integrity that they do their solo repertoire.

If we, as pianists, think of it as “just accompanying” — as a lesser experience — then we are perpetuating the stereotype that accompanists are good sight-readers who should stay in the background and be nothing more than pretty wallpaper to the soloist’s great artistry.

If we as pianists bring all we have to offer to the table and are as prepared (or more so) than our partners, then we play in a way that demands respect.  And that’s where it should all begin.

dietrich fischer- dieskau and gerald moore in 1967

Historically or on the contemporary scene, are there great collaborations that you admire and view as role models?

PR: I would have to rate the Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau/Gerald Moore (below) and Peter Pears/Benjamin Britten duos as among the most influential for me. Also, Pierre Bernac/Francis Poulenc and Gerard Souzay/Dalton Baldwin rank very high.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore 1

MF: Some of the greatest collaborations between singers and pianists?  They include Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears (below), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and the great Gerald Moore (Fischer-Dieskau collaborated with many pianists, among them being Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Sviatoslav Richter and others; and Gerald Moore collaborated with virtually every great singer in the mid-20th century, but Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore’s collaborations are still very special). And then there’s Francis Poulenc and Pierre Bernac!

Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten

Today, I often look to the British pianist, Graham Johnson (below top), who created “The Songmakers’ Almanac,” a group of singers who would do projects of art songs and specially designed programs. (He has done HUGE recording projects for the Hyperion label including the complete Schubert songs, the complete Brahms, Schumann, etc.).

Graham Johnson is also a gifted writer about music and I absolutely love his extensive notes on every song he has recorded. His writing gives us a glimpse into the detailed scholarship, creativity, and imagination that he possesses as an artist (In fact, I have especially enjoyed reading his notes on Wolf’s “Italian Songbook”!) In America, pianist Steven Bleier (below bottom), who teaches at the Julliard School and who played at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival with the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, has put together The New York Festival of Song that does similar song-related concerts on special topics or composers.

Graham Johnson at piano

There are many other great accompanists today, all of whom I see as role models: Malcolm Martineau, Roger Vignoles, Helmut Deutsch, Justus Zehen, Julius Drake, Craig Rutenberg, Warren Jones and Martin Katz, just to name a few.

steven bleier

TOMORROW: What qualities make for a great accompanist or collaborator? What are the most rewarding and most challenging parts of working together? Are some styles of music easier to accompany? And what makes Hugo Wolf’s “Italian Songbook” special?

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Classical music: Listen to American violinist Hilary Hahn revive the old tradition of salon music by playing the 27 short encores she commissioned from today’s important composers.

November 23, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

A frequent critic and gifted guest reviewer on this web site recently referred to Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine as the most exciting violin talent to emerge on the American scene.

Well, Barton Pine is indeed special and very gifted, as she proved earlier this month when she opened the Wisconsin Union Theater season with the magnificent Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, performed with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra conducted under the baton of UW alumnus and Madison native Kenneth Woods.

Here is a link to that review:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/classical-music-the-wisconsin-union-theater-opens-its-new-season-with-a-winning-blockbuster-program-of-brahms-and-shostakovich-performed-by-native-son-conductor-kenneth-woods-chicago-violist-rachel/

But The Ear has to respectfully disagree.

For my money, or my taste, or my values — whatever you want to call it —  the most exciting violin talent on the American scene is Hilary Hahn (below).

hilary_hahn

Hahn performs the classics and the great masterworks terrifically, with a great sense of architectural shape and beautiful tone, plus exciting but not exaggerated or distorted interpretations.

She also plays modern works and commissions works, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto by Jennifer Higdon (below) who teaches composition at the same Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where Hahn trained.

And her two recitals with the then relatively unknown pianist Valentina Lisitsa at the Wisconsin Union Theater were among the best performed and most originally programmed recitals that I have ever heard.

Jennifer Higdon and cat Beau

Oh, and Hilary Hahn also blogs, by the way.

And she also did her own interviews, posted on YouTube, with the 27 composers — including Max Richter, Lera Auerbach and Avner Dorfman — who composed the encores.

Check out her website: http://hilaryhahn.com

Now the heirloom record label Deutsche Grammophon has released the “The Hilary Hahn Encores in 27 Pieces,” which features 27 recently composed pieces, all commissioned by Hahn for her use as concert encores. It is a welcome throwback, in a way, to salon music and to composers like virtuoso violinist Fritz Kreisler.

Hilary Hahn Encores CD cover

I don’t know how they did it – I suspect it was some kind of swap for advertising space – but NPR has terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” and a feature called “First Listen” that also allows you to hear some music before it is released commercially. (But, as I understand it, you can’t download it or recorded it from the NPR site.)

NPR did the same for Jeremy Denk’s acclaimed new recording for the Nonesuch label of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.

Anyway, here is a link to the new Hilary Hahn CD of encores. Enjoy the music and listening to it.

http://www.npr.org/2013/11/03/242090716/first-listen-hilary-hahn-in-27-pieces-the-hilary-hahn-encores

And let us know your Top 5 picks of the 27, or even just your Top Pick.

It will be interesting to see if there is a consensus and what ones are liked the most.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Kevin Puts answers on NPR the question: “Why write symphonies today?”

August 10, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Is the novel dead yet?

Well, some say yes and some say no. I suppose it depends on what you are looking for.

Lots and lots of novels continue to be written and published, and to sell big.

But then again, one can argue, the novel just doesn’t seem to have the cultural power or sway, or the same serious reader appeal, that it once held in the 19th and 20th centuries.

So can one ask the same thing about the symphony?

Why should one compose today in a musical form or genre that can seem so outdated, according to some who critics who point out that it dates back to at least Franz Joseph Haydn in the 18th century with roots going back even further back than that.

The American composer Kevin Puts (below, in a photo by Andrew Shapter), defends writing symphonies, even as he is doing so. Puts, you may recall, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for his opera “Silent Night,” about the Christmas Truce on the front lines and in the trenches during World War I.

puts

By the way, Kevin Puts’ own 2001 postmodern orchestral piece “Inspiring Beethoven,” which is based on the famous Allegretto movement of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 (below, in a YouTube video with intriguing schematic graphics and over 5 million hits)  was performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra two seasons ago. (You can hear “Inspiring Beethoven” performed in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Beethoven big

Anyway, Kevin Puts tackles the question of the relevance of the symphony – and the concerto, for that matter — head on in an essay he did for NPR’s terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

The Ear finds his case compelling and shares his defense of the symphony. Maybe you will too.

Here is a link to Puts’ essay, which has a lot of specific modern composer names and examples of modern symphonies as well as links:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/08/05/208280751/a-pulitzer-winner-asks-why-write-symphonies

What do you think? Is the symphony or concerto outdated or dead?

Do you have a favorite modern or contemporary symphony?

What is your favorite symphony of all time?

The Ear  wants to hear.

But in the mean time, please excuse me.

I have to get back to working on the pre-deceased novel I am writing.

Maybe I’ll listen to a symphony while I am writing it.


Classical music: Radio station WORT FM will air music and interviews by local composers Jerry Hui and John Harbison starting this Thursday morning. Plus, tonight at 7 the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opens its 30th annual Concerts on the Square.

June 26, 2013
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ALERT: Tonight, at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square downtown, is the opening the 30th annual series of Concerts on the Square (below top) by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Although most of the programs for the next  six Wednesdays (rain dates are Thursdays)  feature mostly pop, folk and rock music, tonight’s is an all-classical program with the student violinist David Cao (below bottom), who won this year’s WCO concerto competition for young people. He will solo in the tuneful and irresistible Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (the opening with Janine Jansen is in a YouTube video at the bottom). Also featured are works by Prokofiev (“Peter and the Wolf”), Tchaikovsky (excerpts from “Sleeping Beauty”)  and Respighi. For more information about tonight’s event and all six Concerts on the Square, use this link:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square/

Concerts on Square WCO orchetsra

David Cao WCO

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s good friend Rich Samuels (below), who loves classical music and hosts his weekly radio show “Anything Goes” every Thursday morning from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. on the community-sponsored radio station WORT-FM (89.9) writes:

“I’ll be broadcasting Madison composer Jerry Hui’s Internet opera “Wired for Love” on my show in two segments: Acts I and II (beginning at 7:08 am) on June 27; the final act will begin at 7:08 on July 4. I’m airing the work in two segments on account of its length. I also want it to air during the 7 a.m. hour when more people are able to listen.

Rich Samuels

“Pre-recorded interviews with Jerry  – who wrote and staged the opera (below) as his Doctor of Musical Arts thesis at the UW-Madison School of Music — will be included on both dates.

Wired for Love 1 P1000703

“It will be interesting to see what Jerry Hui — below — comes up with for the next Madison Area Youth Chamber orchestra (MAYCO) concert on Aug. 9.

Jerry Hui

“On July 11, I’ll be airing a pre-recorded interview with the Pulitzer Prize-winning and MacArthur Fellow or “genius” grant-winning composer and Token Creek Chamber Music Festival co-director John Harbison (below).

“I will also play a recording of his “Remembering Gatsby,” a precursor of his opera based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A concert version of “The Great Gatsby,” which was commissioned and premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, will be performed at Tanglewood that same evening.”

“I’ll be programing lots more Harbison in weeks to come. He turns 75 at the end of the year.

JohnHarbisonatpiano


Classical music: The University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet will tour Europe in January of 2014. It also gives the world premiere of a quartet by Joel Hoffman this Saturday night along with classic works by Mendelssohn and Mozart. Plus, this Friday night, the UW Symphony Orchestra performs with the student concerto competition winners and plays a student work.

February 12, 2013
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ALERT: This Friday at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW conductor James Smith (below) will lead the UW Symphony Orchestra in the annual FREE concert by the student concerto competition winners and the student composition winner. This year’s program includes: Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s “Capriccio Espagnol”; soprano Shannon Prickett singing the aria “Pace, pace mio Dio” from Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino“; percussionist Jacob Wolbert in the third movement of Joseph Schwantner’s Concerto for Percussion; cellist Philip Bergman in Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto, Op. 129; violinist Nathaniel Wolkstein in the first movement of Camille Saint-SaensViolin Concerto No. 3; pianist Yusuke Komura is the first movement of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor; and “Whispering Seraphim” by student Joshua Hintze, conducted by David Grandis.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

By Jacob Stockinger

For The Ear, one of the MUST-HEAR concerts will take place this coming Saturday night, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

That is when the Pro Arte String Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer) -– now in its record-breaking 101st season after last year’s commission-filled Centennial -– will perform a very appealing program that is FREE and open to the public.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The first half of the chamber music concert is devoted to quartets based on the theme–and-variations format.

The concert opens with the last unfinished quartet, Op. 81, from 1847 by Felix Mendelssohn (below), who died at 36 that same year. The work has two movements that Mendelssohn supposedly wrote in overwhelming grief at the death of his sister-composer Fanny Mendelssohn.

Mendelssohn

Then comes the world premiere of a string quartet from 2012 with 14 short movements by the American composer Joel Hoffman (below) of Cincinatti, whose work is often featured in Madison by members of the Karp family at their Labor Day concerts.

As The Ear understands the story, Hoffman wrote the work for the Pro Arte on the occasion of its centennial last season. (The Pro Arte Quartet has a long history, right from its founding, of playing and championing new music, starting from Schoenberg, Webern, Berg and Bartok right through today.)

But the Arte had already commissioned several new works (string quartets and piano quintets) for the centennial — including one quartet by well-known American composer John Harbison, who has won the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” that also features many small or short movements. So this “volunteer” commission by Hoffman was not included in the official centennial, but will finally get a hearing.

I have found Hoffman’s work – a couple of piano trios and a cello sonata, I seem to recall – modern but accessible,  interesting and engaging. Se will see how the strong quartet stacks up.

Joel Hoffman

Then the concert will conclude with one of the great all-time masterpieces of chamber music: Mozart’s String Quartet in G Major, K. 387, from 1782, one of the six great “Haydn” quartets that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below) composed to honor his older mentor Franz Joseph Haydn, who had basically invented and perfected the string quartet as a genre and whom Mozart admired and loved.

In fact the two geniuses played string quartets together, with Mozart (below right) on viola and Haydn (below left) on violin.

Haydn (left) and Mozart (right)

Old string quartet

In related news, The Ear has also learned that the Pro Arte Quartet has signed on to do a European tour in the first half of January 2014. The exact itinerary, details and length are still being worked out, but the tour will include at least one stop in Belgium.

Belgium is where the Pro Arte was founded at the Brussels Conservatory in 1911-12 and eventually became the royal court quartet before being exiled in Madison by World War II and accepting an artist-in-residence post at the UW-Madison in 1940, where it has remained ever since.

In addition, a quartet by a contemporary Belgian composer, Benoit Mernier (below), whose work has been commissioned as part of the continuing centennial celebration and will be premiered next season.

Benoit Mernier 1


Classical music: What New Year’s resolutions or wishes do you and other classical music fans and classical music makers have for 2013?

January 13, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

What should you wish for to benefit classical music in the coming year?

NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” blog put that question to two outstanding and Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary composers including Jennifer Higdon (below top, with her cat Beau) whose “blue cathedral” will be performed next weekend by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and Kevin Puts, below bottom, whose work the MSO has also performed), a producer, a performer, a presenter and a couple of bloggers.

Jennifer Higdon and cat Beau

Kevin Puts pulitzer

The answers are predictable, for the most part.

But I see that as a plus.

With such unanimity or at least agreement, maybe these wishes can come true – to the betterment of classical music — in the coming year and the years that follow it.

My favorite wish is asking people to forego recordings for live concerts. Very do-able, no?

But take a look for yourself.

Then let us know what you think.

And leave your own wishes or resolutions in the COMMENTS sections.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/01/09/168987190/symphonic-resolutions-whats-on-your-classical-music-wish-list


Classical music: Let us now praise American composer Elliott Carter, who has died at 103. Here are obituaries, remembrances and sound samples.

November 10, 2012
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It got largely lost in all the hullabaloo coverage of the Presidential Election, but there was other news that happened this past week.

A major piece of culture news is that the dean on American classical music composers, Elliott Carter, died last Monday at 103. Carter had won two Pulitzer Prizes and a host of other honors and awards.

Carter (below top, in his younger years) was a devout modernist who early on was known for the thorny difficulty and cerebral quality of his music – his string quartets (below bottom is the opening page of the score to String Quartet No. 2) were often said to be the most difficult ones ever written. But he apparently loosened up in his later years.

Makes up you wonder what Bach, Handel, Haydn , Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Dvorak, Brahms and many other great composers would have written, had they lived past 100.

To be honest, The Ear was never a big Elliott Carter fan. His music has its moments — some of them in the “Night Fantasies” for solo piano and the Cello Sonata — but is generally too serial and unlyrical for my taste. I’m more of a tunes guy, and for me his music generally lacks my kind of beauty – that moving quality that I look for in all art. Nonetheless, you can hear the masterful craft and original art that went into Carter’s music, whether it speaks deeply to you or not. (Below is Carter in 1989.)

There are some local ties to mention. For one, Sally Chisholm (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) who teaches viola at the University of Wisconsin School of Music and plays with the Pro Arte String Quartet, performed one of this string quartets before Carter to help mark his 100th birthday back in 2008 (below bottom is a New York Times photo with James Levine and Carter at a concert in Carnegie Hall celebrating his centennial.)

Some old media took notice of Carter’s death this past week. But I was particularly pleased to see how the new media, especially blogs and websites, offered information PLUS audio clips of musical performances and interviews given by Carter.

Here are the complete and comprehensive obituaries that ran in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/06/arts/music/elliott-carter-avant-garde-composer-dies-at-103.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/07/arts/music/elliott-carter-composer-and-master-of-gear-shifting.html?_r=0

Here is a terrific account from NPR’s outstanding classical music blog Deceptive Cadence:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/11/06/164364953/elliott-carter-giant-of-american-music-dies-at-103

Here is the story from the British Gramophone Magazine, along with the last interview Carter gave, conducted by cellist Alisa Weilerstein (below). Weilerstein, who has played in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, is also a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” who just released her performance, with conductor Daniel Barenboim, of Carter’s Cello Concerto paired with the popular Elgar Cello Concerto, on Decca Records:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/the-composer-elliott-carter-has-died

Here is the obituary and story of the famed BBC Music Magazine:

http://www.classical-music.com/news/american-composer-elliott-carter-dies-aged-103

And of course there are many more appreciations to be found on Google if you go and simply type in “Elliott Carter.”

While you do, here is some of Elliott Carter’s more popular and accessible music to listen to: the haunting “Symphony for Three Orchestras” from 1976 performed by Pierre Boulez and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (you can find lots more Carter on YouTube):


Classical music news: Get ready for John Harbison Week and Pro Arte Quartet Week, with FREE events and concerts, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

April 13, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

There is a lot of classical music going on next week– to say nothing of the annual Wisconsin Film Festival.

But the biggest series of event involves the final of this season’s four concerts and four world premieres, with accompanying lectures and master classes, celebrating the centennial of the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer).

The guest lecturer for the week with be the Scotland-based Tully Potter, perhaps the world’s foremost authority on the history of recordings.

So get out your datebooks and pencil in — or, better yet, ink in — various events almost of all of which are free and open to the public.

There are many events to go to, but the centerpiece will be on Saturday, April 21, when the composer John Harbison (below) will be present tp hear the world premiere of his String Quartet No. 5.

Here is a link to the detailed story and UW news release about the April 21 Pro Arte Concert, which features works by Haydn, Franck and the world premiere of John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5 (in 10 short movements):

http://www.news.wisc.edu/20535

Or you can visit Pro Arte websites:

http://proartequartet.org/schedule.html

http://www.music.wisc.edu/pro-arte

For background on the composer John Harbison, who in summer co-directs the nearby Token Creek Chamber Music Festival and who has won the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” among many other honors, visit:

http://www.schirmer.com/default.aspx?TabId=2419&State_2872=2&ComposerId_2872=627

http://web.mit.edu/music/facstaff/harbison.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Harbison

This is part of  the season-long celebration of the UW-Madison Pro Arte Quartet’s Centennial, in residence at the UW since 1940, when they were exiled by World War II from their home in Belgium while on tour in the US. The Pro Arte Quartet (below, in 1940) is the first string quartet in history to reach 100 and has commissioned two new string quartets and two new piano quintets to premiere to mark its centennial. ALL EVENTS ARE FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Tuesday, April 17, 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall of the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park St. The UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (below, under the direction of UW composer Laura Schwendinger, performs works by John Harbison and others. Free.

Wednesday, April 18, 4-5:30 p.m. in Room 1351 of the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. American composer John Harbison will discuss his recent music and new String Quartet No. 5 in a public composition master class as part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s Centennial. Free.

Thursday, April 19, 9 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. in Mills Hall, Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. Open rehearsal by the Pro Arte Quartet with composer John Harbison for the world premiere of his Quartet No. 5 for the quartet’s centennial concert on Saturday night, April 21, at 8 p.m. in the Mills Hall of the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park St. Free.

Friday, April 20, 4-5:30 p.m. UW School of Music Colloquium in Room 2650 in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. Public lecture and discussion by UK musicologist Tully Potter on early 20th-century European string quartets. Free.

Saturday, April 21, 3-5 p.m. in the Chazen Museum of Art (below), 750 University Ave. Lecture by Tully Potter on “Four Famous Belgians: The Quatuor Pro Arte.” It will be followed by a question-and-answer session. Free. (Pre-concert cocktails and a dinner 5-6:45 with composer John Harbison and UK musicologist Tully Potter in the Chazen Museum of Art, are optional ($35 per head, deadlines of making a reservation is Monday) by calling (608) 265-ARTS or going to www.uniontheater.wisc.edu)

Saturday, April 21, at 8 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall of the Mosse Humanities Building, 750 University Ave. Last of the four concerts with the WORLD PREMIERES of commissioned works: The Pro Arte Quartet will perform Franz Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 54, No. 2 (1788); the world premiere of John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5 in 10 short movements (2011); and Belgian composer (below) Cesar Franck’s String Quartet in D Major (1889). (Pre-concert events with introductions to composer John Harbison and British critic Tully Potter and with questions from the audience will be held free from 7-7:30 p.m. There will be a free post-concert dessert reception at the nearby University Club, 803 State St., immediately following the concert.) Free.

Sunday, April 22, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III of the Chazen Museum of Art, 750 University Ave. “Sunday Live From the Chazen” will feature part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s Saturday night concert, including the second performance of John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5. The event will be broadcast live over Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN 88.7 FM). Call 263-2246. Free.


Classical music Q&A: Chinese-American composer and Pulitzer Prize winner Zhou Long talks about blending Western and Eastern music in “The Future of Fire, which the UW Wind Ensemble and Concert Choir will perform Saturday night in a FREE concert.

February 23, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

On Saturday at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Wind Ensemble will perform “Circa Now,” a FREE concert of works by living composers, three of whom will be present at the performance.

The program includes “Fanfare for the Uncommon Man” by UW composer John Stevens (below), who was commissioned to honor Marvin Rabin, the founder of WYSO (Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras) and who will conduct the work. 

Also on the program are “Concerto for percussion” by Michael Udow, with percussion soloist Anthony Di Sanza; “The Future of Fire” by Zhou Long (below), the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner in music for his opera “Madame White Snake,” with the UW Concert Choir; and “Cosmosis” by Susan Botti, with soprano soloist Mimmi Fulmer and the women of the Concert Choir.  Scott Teeple is the conductor of the Wind Ensemble.

A pre-concert discussion with Stevens, Udow and Zhou will take place at 7:15 p.m.

Zhou Long recently gave an emailed Q&A to The Ear:

Can you introduce yourself briefly to readers?

I am Zhou Long and currently a Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Missouri at Kansas City (UMKC). I was born into an artistic family and began piano lessons at an early age. During the Cultural Revolution , I was sent to a rural state farm, where the bleak landscape with roaring winds and ferocious wild fires made a profound and lasting impression.

I resumed my musical training in 1973, studying composition, music theory, and conducting, as well as Chinese traditional music. In 1977, I enrolled in the first composition class at the reopened Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Following graduation in 1983, I was appointed composer-in-residence with the National Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra of China.

I travelled to the United States in 1985 under a fellowship to attend Columbia University, where I studied with Chou Wen-Chung, Mario Davidovsky, and George Edwards, receiving a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in 1993.

My creative vision has resulted in a new music that stretches Western instruments eastward and Chinese instruments westward, achieving an exciting and fertile common ground.

Briefly, what should listeners pay attention to and know about “The Future of Fire” and about the meaning of the title?

Memories of my years in the countryside surface again in “The Future of Fire” (2001, rev. 2003). With melodic material taken from a Shaanxi love song, it is a brief symphonic anthem vibrantly depicts my memories of farmers burning off dried grass to prepare the land for planting, but losing control of the flame to the passing wind — a vivid, if charitable, metaphor for the Cultural Revolution (below).

Although a mixed chorus is featured in the recording singing the piece’s text-less vocalise, I have also suggested using a children’s chorus to emphasize the piece’s dedication to “the powerful energy of the younger generation and the passionate hope for peace in the new millennium.”

How has winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 changed your life? Has it helped get your music performed more often?

The prize might have been a sign of things to come, but mostly I feel my works finally have been accepted. I’ve lived here for almost 30 years, and have been entirely working to blend the cultures. I think that I carefully combined Western and Eastern cultures, and that I did it well. I don’t want the opera “Madame White Snake” (at bottom) that won the Pulitzer Prize to taste like wine and beer mixed together. You can’t ever say that you have the right or perfect result, but I believe in what I did.

The Pulitzer gave me more confidence. It’s a quintessentially American award. That it could be offered not only to American-born composers, but also to a composer who immigrated to the United States and became an American citizen, really means something to me. I would say, for a composer’s career there’s no ending, you have no ceiling. You don’t talk about everything when you reach the top.

So far, I feel honored by this recognition. But it doesn’t guarantee you will continue to write good music and it doesn’t guarantee you will get more opportunities. The prize does not provide opportunities. That is provided by pure recognition and the recognition is respect.

What are your current and future projects and plans?

Recently, I have just completed The New York New Music Ensemble (below) commissioned work “Cloud Earth,” for flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet in B-flat, percussion, piano, violin and cello, to be premiered on April 16, 2012 for its 35th Anniversary Celebration, at the Merkin Concert Hall in New York City.

I will also start a Portland State University commission, a solo piano piece for Prof. Susan Chan to be premiered at UMKC Musica Nova Concert in April 2012. My new projects, including a major work “Beijing Wind,” a 40-minute symphonic suite, commissioned by the Beijing Symphony Orchestra, to be premiered in 2013.

A lot of Chinese, and other Asian, composers such as Bright Sheng and Tan Dun are working within the tradition of Western classical music. What do you see as the effects of such an ethnic mixing or blending, and what do you see happening in the future of classical music both here and in Asia?

I think that makes sense for me as a composer who works here in the States. It’s international and metropolitan, and inviting to the multicultural society here. For the quarter century I’ve been living in the States, I think that’s my goal — to meld the Western and Eastern cultures together.


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