ALERT: Young local pianist Garrick Olsen will play a FREE recital at the Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. He will perform from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the historic Landmark auditorium of the Meeting House that was designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. His program includes music that is both virtuosic and poetic: the Etude, Op. 10, No. 1, by Frederic Chopin; the Fantasy in C Major, Op. 17, by Robert Schumann (listen to the soulful final movement played by Claudio Arrau in the YouTube video at the bottom); and the dramatic, flashy Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 by Franz Liszt (also at the bottom played fantastically by George Cziffra in a popular YouTube video). In the spring, on May 2, 3 and 4 — Olsen, who won the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s concerto competition two years ago with Maurice Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand, will perform George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” Variations for piano and orchestra with the MSO under John DeMain.
By Jacob Stockinger
Edgewood College will present its 86th Annual Christmas Concerts this coming weekend, at 7 p.m. on both Friday night, December 6, and Saturday night, December 7, in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, in Madison.
Featured performers of joyous seasonal holiday music include the Guitar Ensemble, the Chamber Singers (below), the Women’s Choir, the Men’s Choir, the Concert Band and the Jazz Ensemble.
Sorry, The Ear has no details about programs.
The annual Christmas celebration is one of Edgewood College’s oldest traditions. A highlight each year is the invitation for audience members to join in singing traditional carols.
A limited number of tickets may be available at the door each night (cash or check only, please). Edgewood College strongly encourages patrons to purchase tickets online.
All proceeds for these concerts benefit Edgewood College students through the Edward Walters Music Scholarship Fund.
ALERT: UW-Madison cellist Parry Karp (below), who heads the UW School of Music’s chamber music program and who perform with the Pro Arte Quartet, will give a FREE and PUBLIC recital on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. He will perform with his father and mother, Howard and Frances Karp, as piano accompanists. The program includes: “Poem for Cello and Piano” by Charles Tournemire; “Eight Pieces” by Theordor Kirchner; “Pieces in the folk Style for Cello and Piano” by Robert Schumann; and the late Sonata for Clarinet (or viola) and Piano in E-flat Major, Op. 120, No. 2, by Johannes Brahms as transcribed by Parry Karp.
By Jacob Stockinger
Word has reached The Ear:
Sister violinists Alice and Eleanor Bartsch (below respectively, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) will join the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s organist, Samuel Hutchison, in a recital of music for organ and violin on this Friday, Nov. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center.
The generous program includes Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins; the Double Concerto in D Minor by Antonio Vivaldi; the Finale from Sonata No. 6 by Felix Mendelssohn; the Suite for Violin and Organ by Josef Rheinberger; the Prelude and Fugue in B Major by Marcel Dupre; the Coronation March from “Le Prophete” by Giacomo Meyerbeer; and the “Preludium and Allegro in the Style of Pugnani” by Fritz Kreisler (heard at the bottom in a very popular YouTube by superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman.)
Adds Teri Venker, the marketing director, in a press release for the Madison Symphony Orchestra:
“Sisters Alice and Eleanor Bartsch are a dynamic pairing: both are members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s first violin section with impressive performance credits.
“Each sister has also won prestigious competitions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) School of Music, where they are students.
“Currently, Eleanor is a first-year master’s student at UW and a Paul Collins Distinguished Graduate Fellow, and Alice is a senior at UW working toward a bachelor of music degree in performance.
“The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Samuel Hutchison (below, in a photo by Joe DeMaio) is a seasoned recitalist and will round out the powerful trio.
“When asked about playing on Overture Stage, Eleanor Bartsch (below) said, it “still takes our breath away! There’s actually a ‘sweet spot’ on stage: If you stand exactly right, the sound seems to ‘jump’ out of the violin and soar all the way to the balcony. I wish I could practice in Overture Hall every day!”
“Alice Bartsch said, “The Bach Double Violin Concerto is a piece we have been performing since we were little girls. The concert has a little bit of everything from the romanticism of Kreisler and Rheinberger to the powerful ”Chaconne” by Tomaso Vitali. For baroque music lovers, we will play the lively Double Concerto by Vivaldi.”
Both Alice and Eleanor agree that they have a “sister vibe” about timing and musical phrasing that makes playing together easy, fun, and rewarding.
For more information about the Bartsch sisters and their major funders including retired Citibank executive Paul Collins, retired UW chemistry professor Kato Perlman and retired UW-Madison Chancellor Irving Shain, read the fine posting by Public Relations Director and Concert Manager Kathy Esposito on the UW School of Music’s new blog “Fanfare” :
In addition to accompanying the Bartsch sisters, Hutchison will also perform solo works for organ by Marcel Dupré, Herbert Howells, Josef Rheinberger, and Tomaso Vitali.
Hutchison said, “It is a great privilege to be joined by Alice and Eleanor Bartsch in this program for organ and violins. Each brings a great joy and freshness to this music, which will be infectious for the audience. We look forward to sharing some audience favorites as well as some new pieces with our listeners in Overture Hall.”
General admission for the concert is $20, and tickets can be purchased at http://www.madisonsymphony.org/bartsch, the Overture Center Box Office or (608) 258-4141. Student rush tickets are $10 the day of the show with a valid student ID. (See http://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush).
The performance is sponsored by Kato L. Perlman, and by Alfred P. and Ann M. Moore, with additional funding from Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation and the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund. With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, the Madison Symphony Orchestra commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the dramatic backdrop of all MSO concerts.
For more Overture Concert Organ information, visit http://www.madisonsymphony.org/organseason
ALERTS: French pianist Philippe Bianconi (below in a photo by Bernard Martinez), who is in town this weekend to play three performances of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John DeMain, will be the guest on Norman Gilliland’s “The Midday” program on THURSDAY from noon to 1 p.m on Wisconsin Public Radio WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area. And on Friday from 12:15 to 1 p.m., guitarist Steven Waugh plays Johann Sebastian Bach, John Dowland, Isaac Albeniz, Charlie Parker, Errol Garner and more for the First Unitarian Society’s weekly FREE FRIDAY Noon Musicale at 900 University Bay Drive.
By Jacob Stockinger
Three years ago, University of Wisconsin-Madison tenor James Doing (below) launched an ambitious and much appreciated project that helps to acquaint classical music fans – especially fans of singing – with some basic and well-known repertoire and basic vocal techniques. The format is much like a master class to acquaint the general public with the music from the inside and to help non-musicians understand the process of learning how to sing.
The second installment of the series of four recitals will be this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. Admission is FREE and open to the public.
Here is how Doing recently explained the special concert to Kathy Esposito for “Fanfare,” the terrific new blog at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.
It is the kind of reinventing of the classical music recital that The Ear thinks should be done more often to attract new audiences, younger audiences and non-specialty audiences. I was there and it was terrific. It was especially moving to see teacher and students sing together as partners, which is in fact what they: master and apprentice. It is the oldest educational method in the world — and it still works.
Here is a letter that Doing has sent out via email to his many friends and fans and to The Ear:
“Three years ago I presented a “Teaching Favorites for the Voice Studio” recital complete with program notes about vocal technique, diction and so on, and it was well received. (A YouTube video with a lovely sampling from that first concert, of James Doing singing Reynaldo Hahn’s song, is at the bottom.)
Jacob Stockinger had some nice things to say in his blog The Well-Tempered Ear: http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/02/16/classical-music-review-uw-tenor-james-doing-successfully-reinvents-the-art-song-recital/
The songs I sang on that recital are posted on my YouTube Channel, which has a link at the bottom.
On this Saturday night, Oct. 19, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, my students and I are going to be singing another “Teaching Favorites for the Voice Studio.” The pianist will be UW professor Martha Fischer (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot).
Admission is FREE. And I would love to have many singers and teachers from the community come and share the evening with me and my students.
I’ll be performing 18 songs and five of my female voice students will assist by singing eight selections. (The students are: CatieLeigh Laszewski, Jenny Marsland, Olivia Pogodzinski, Melanie Traeger and Sheila Wilhelmi.)
The generous and varied program of English, Italian, German and French art songs and opera arias includes:
“Strike the Viol” by Henry Purcell (1659?-1695) from “Come, ye Sons of Art”; “Se Florinda è fedele” by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) from “La donna ancora è fedele”; “Total eclipse” by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) from “Samson” and “V’adoro pupille” from “Giulio Cesare”, with CatieLeigh Laszewski, soprano; “Sebben, crudele” by Antonio Caldara (1670?-1736) from “La costanza in amor vince l’inganno”; “Và godendo” by George Frideric Handel (below) from “Serse” (Xerxes) with Melanie Traeger, soprano; “An die Musik” by Franz Schubert (1797-1828); “Das Veilchen” (The Violet) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791); “Du bist wie eine Blume” (You Are Like a Flower) by Robert Schumann (1810-1856); “Sonntag” (Sunday) by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897); “Auch kleine Dinge” (And Small Things) by Hugo Wolf (1860-1903); “Ständchen” (Serenade) with Olivia Pogodzinski, soprano, by Richard Strauss (1864-1949).
And that is just before intermission. Then comes the second half.
The second half features: “Plaisir d’amour” by Johann-Paul Martini (1741-1816); “Lydia” by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924); “Claire de lune” and “L’heure exquise” by Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947); “Si mes vers avaient des ailes” (If mY Word Had Wings) and “Les Papillons” by Ernest Chausson (1855-1899); and “Apparition” with Olivia Pogodzinski, soprano, by Claude Debussy (1862-1918); from “Le Nozze di Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), “Giùnse alfin il momento . . . Deh vieni, non tardar” with CatieLeigh Laszewski, soprano, and “Voi, che sapete” with Sheila Wilhelmi, mezzo-soprano; “Go, lovely rose” by Roger Quilter (1877-1953); “The Green Dog” with Jenny Marsland, soprano, by Herbert Kingsley (1858-1937 … I think!); “Love’s Philosophy” with Olivia Pogodzinski, soprano, by Roger Quilter; “At St. Patrick’s Purgatory” from “Hermit Songs” by Samuel Barber (below, 1910-1981); and “When I have sung my songs” by Ernest Charles (1895-1984).
Historical notes are being provided by Chelsie Propst (below), a fine young soprano who completed her Masters of Music in voice with Paul Rowe and is now a PhD candidate in Musicology. I add some Performance Notes/Suggestions and Diction pointers.
For this concert of 26 songs we will provide the full notes on about 10 songs and I will provide my own translations and International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) transcriptions for all of them (except the final set of English songs).
This concert is the second in a series of four with number three taking place April 3, 2014 in Mills Hall and number four taking place during the 2014-15 school year.
The goal or plan at this point is to eventually complete a book tentatively entitled 100 Teaching Favorites for the Voice Studio. The book will begin with some chapters on vocal pedagogy, diction, ornamentation, and other issues followed by the 100 songs. Each song will have historical background written by Ms. Propst, followed by performance and diction pointers, translations and IPA.
Would you be so kind as to spread the word and announce this concert at your choir rehearsal?
Thank you so much. If you are able to attend please come and say hello after the performance.
Feel free to forward this e-mail to anyone you like:)
All the best,
Jim Doing, Tenor, Professor of Voice, University of Wisconsin School of Music, NATS National Voice Science Advisory Committee
REMINDER: At 7:30 p.m. tonight in Mills Hall, the UW Chamber Orchestra (below) under conductor James Smith performs a FREE concert. The program features the “Overture, Scherzo, and Finale” by Robert Schumann; the Symphony No. 88 by Franz Joseph Haydn and the “Siegfried Idyll” by Richard Wagner.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
Last weekend witnessed the acclaim justly given to John DeMain for what he has built the Madison Symphony Orchestra into during his 20 years with it. But on Sunday evening, there was a demonstration of the debt we owe to another conductor and his orchestra.
James Smith (below) has built his orchestral programs for the UW School of Music into something quire remarkable in their own terms. Evidence of this was on display at Sunday night’s concert in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. A considerable, if hardly capacity audience, but an enthusiastic one, heard the 2013 season opening event for the UW Symphony Orchestra, in a really meaty program, to say the least.
To begin, Smith yielded the podium to Kyle Knox (below), a graduate student and conducting assistant, for Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture. His was a young man’s projection of the familiar piece, not without nuances, but basically a propulsive and dramatic reading. The orchestra sounded confident and secure under his baton.
Smith then took over for a work of special appeal for me: the Third Symphony of Jean Sibelius.
For most of the public, it is the First, Second, and Fifth of Sibelius’s seven Symphonies that are likely to be familiar. Beyond those, some may know the austere Fourth, the enigmatic Sixth and the hyper-concise Seventh. But the Third has been overlooked consistently, which is a great pity.
The symphonies by Sibelius (below) are each highly individual and different from each other–with the exception of the Third and the Fifth. They are really two peas from the same pod, and, to be blunt, the Third is the fresher (and less hackneyed) of the two.
Its three-movement structure is for the most part a blueprint Sibelius then used for the Fifth. But, following the blowsy Second, I find that the Third has the spontaneity of a new and revitalized start in the composer’s self-definition. Quite frankly, it is my personal favorite among the Seven.
Smith seemed to find exactly that freshness in the work. His body language showed that he put himself wholly into projecting this inventive and colorful score. If only other conductors had his courage and gave this work more exposure!
The “biggie” of the concert was, of course, what followed the intermission. We have been rediscovering this year just how provocative and shocking Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps, or “The Rite of Spring,, can still be. When new, the work Stravnsky (below) was regarded by many musicians as unplayable. Now, any orchestra worth its salt can take it on — even a “student” orchestra.
But the UW Orchestra (below in a photo by John W. Barker) is no mere ”student” ensemble. James Smith has worked it up to a level of professionalism matching the standards and capabilities of ever so many big-city orchestras today. Oh, sure, a few very trifling and inconsequential fluffs at odd instants here and there, what any orchestra might risk. But this group has become an instrument on which Smith could play miracles. The players were totally with him, while his clear heat and precise cues gave them safe guidance.
Smith seemed to aim at an emphasis on rhythmic power, though he found passages to remind us of the work’s underlying Russian-ness amid all the “primitivism.” In his careful preparation of the many climaxes, he had his orchestra pour out torrents of sound that were extraordinarily compelling.
There were many individual players one might single out. For me, though, I found most fascinating the first of the two timpanists, a young woman who threw herself into her work with athletic abandon.
To sum up, this was a simply thrilling performance, within a totally wonderful concert.
It is a crying shame that the tightly limited attention paid by our journalistic establishment to Madison’s musical riches is so particularly restrictive in its recognition of the music-making available on campus. In any other place and circumstance, to have an orchestra and conductor such as the UW School of Music has blessed us with would be celebrated with due pride and attention.
But Madison’s audiences really should pay heed to what is being done on the UW campus.
Above all, it should give proper recognition to the wonderful work of the versatile James Smith (below in a photo by Jack Burns) with his various orchestra ensembles, which include the UW Symphony Orchestra, the UW Chamber Orchestra (which performs a FREE concert of Schumann, Haydn and Wagner tonight at 7:30 in Mills Hall) and the University Opera. (Smith is also the music director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.)
I recall an incident when a local politician sneered: “Why should a university have a symphony orchestra?” To which the logical rejoinder might be: “Why should a university have a football team?”
REMINDER: The UW Chamber Orchestra (below) performs a FREE concert tomorrow, on Tuesday night, Oct. 1, at 7:30 p.m in Mills Hall. The program, under conductor James Smith, features Robert Schumann’s “Overture, Scherzo and Finale,” Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 and Richard Wagner‘s “Siegfried Idyll.”
By Jacob Stockinger
But one of the most enjoyable events is also one of the most low-profile.
I am speaking about the weekly Friday Noon Musicales (below) that take place in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society’s historic Meeting House, near University Hospital, at 900 University Bay Drive off, just University Avenue on the city’s near west side.
It is not surprising that the Friday Musicales exist because the Unitarians in Madison — which has the highest concentration of Unitarians in the U.S. — always place a major emphasis on music, as did its famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. (An excerpt from an All-Mozart Sunday is in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
You can bring lunch, drink coffee or tea, or, as I do, eat before and take along a small dessert.
But so often the midday music concert is itself the dessert, the real treat. Imagine the fun of hearing live music for a daytime break. It is like a parenthesis, a time-out or an oasis in the day. Often I have walked into the concert with less enthusiasm and energy than I left with. The music recharges me and provides a spark to get through the rest of the day.
The setting and presentation are informal. But I have found the audiences very appreciative and generally quiet and well-behaved, though sometimes the knitters and readers, especially if they are in the front rows, strike me as rude and disrespectful to the performers.
I have heard singers and solo pianists, string trios and string quartets, all kinds of soloists and ensembles and music.
The Musicale series starts again this week, this Friday Oct. 4. So The Ear asked the First Unitarian Society’s music director Dan Broner to provide some background.
The many-talented Broner (below) not only plans the concerts and performers, he also plays the pianist himself as an accompanist in many of the concerts.
Here is Dan Broner’s email Q&A with The Ear:
How long have the Free Friday Noon musicales been held? Are they expensive to put on and how are they funded?
They have been held since 1987. They are an outreach program to the community and funded by the First Unitarian Society’s operating budget. The costs are that portion of my salary for administering and performing in the series, plus piano tuning and minimal utility expenses.
The musicians donate their services, and the 45-minute concerts (they run 12:15 to 1 p.m.) are free and open to the public.
How successful have they been? What is the typical attendance and how it is trended in recent years? Do certain kinds of concerts (instrument, voice, program, performer) attract a bigger or smaller audience?
The Musicales attract listeners of all ages, but are particularly attractive to seniors, and workers who can attend during their lunch break.
They regularly attract between 50 and 75, numbers, which have been consistent for the past 11 years of my tenure.
Attendance would most likely be higher if it we had more parking. But we share the lot with the Meeting House Nursery School, which limits availability.
Generally instrumental performances attract a larger audience, and more well-known artists will generate a larger crowd as well.
What do you hear from the public as a reaction to the concerts?
Almost every week I will receive favorable comments from attendees who enjoy the Musicales. Some have stated that they are their favorite musical events.
The Musicales are scheduled between October and May and many folks have said that they are eager for the season to begin.
How do you line up artists and programs? Do they come to you or you come to them?
Many artists contact me. They are attracted by the historic Frank Lloyd Wright landmark venue (below): the architecture, acoustics and the fully restored 1889 Steinway Model A grand piano.
Often they are students and teachers from the University of Wisconsin School of Music and other area universities who would like a trial run of recitals they are preparing.
Every summer I send out an email to every artist who has performed in the series and many elect to perform again.
Are there special programs you would like to point out for the current season?
There are many intriguing musicales this season, but a few do stand out for me personally. I’m eager to hear the young Madison pianist Garrick Olsen (below top), who is playing on Dec. 6. I always enjoy hearing the fine violinist, Kangwon Kim (below middle), and I look forward to collaborating with her on the Johannes Brahms’ Sonata in G for Violin and PIano on Friday, Jan. 10.
The fine Chicago area virtuoso pianist Mark Valenti will be performing at the Musicales for the first time on Jan. 31. Madison native pianist Kathy Ananda-Owens, from the St. Olaf College music faculty, plays on Feb. 7 and the Black Marigold Woodwind Quintet (below bottom), which is always fun, performs on March 14.
Is there anything else you would like or add or say?
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this unique series. We welcome new listeners and musicians interested in performing.
Please join us for the first Musicale on this Friday, October 4, at 12:15 p.m. Violist Shannon Farley (below), with guitarist Christopher Allen and pianist Greg Punswick, will be performing music of J.S. Bach, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann and Cesar Franck.
REMINDER: In a FREE concert this Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, University of Wisconsin-Madison baritone Paul Rowe (below) will perform a promising and appealing concert of cantatas for solo voice and instruments composed between 1600 and 1720. Performers include John Chappell Stowe, harpsichordist and organist; Eric Miller, cellist and viola da gambist; and Alice Bartsch and Madlen Horsch Breckbill, violinists.
The program includes: Small Sacred Concertos by: Ludovico da Viadana (1564-1645) “Salve, Regina” and “Cantemus Domino” from Cento concerti ecclesiastici (1602); Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672), “Ich liege und schlafe,” SWV 310 from “Kleine Geistliche Konzerte,” Op.9 (1639); Secular Cantatas by: Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764): “Thetis” (1718); George Frideric Handel (1685-1759): “Cuopre tal volta il cielo” (circa 1708); and J. S. Bach (1685-1750): “Amore traditore,: BWV 203 (circa 1720).
By Jacob Stockinger
It’s a Friday morning as I am writing this.
And I just turned off “Morning Classics” on Wisconsin Public Radio.
That saddens and disappoints me because I have long loved and listened to WPR, and I almost always write as a close friend rather than a critic. The WPR people I know and have met, from director Mike Crane to many of the show hosts, are all fine, intelligent and sensitive people.
But lately I find myself turning off Wisconsin Public Radio more than I ever have before.
Why is that? I began to wonder.
Some of it has to do with recent schedule changes.
Today is Friday and since a few weeks ago that means the 9-11 a.m. Morning Classics slot will feature the weekly Classics By Request show.
Requests used to be on Saturday morning. That was a great slot in which smaller excerpts of usually well-known works set up the longer, often lesser well-known opera broadcasts. It also allowed children and students to listen to snippets of tried-and-true masterpieces.
True, the morning show’s new host Ruthanne Bessman (below) still seeks out requests from kids. But does anyone want to bet that most of the children are in school when the requests get played on Friday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.?
Sorry, like some other good and loyal WPR friends I know, I turn it off.
Then too I find that WPR is programming too much harp music these days, mostly in the morning but not exclusively. I mean, I like the harp probably as much as anyone — excepting harp players of course. But I the harp in its place, which is usually as an ensemble instrument with an orchestra or smaller chamber group, where it can add a distinctive texture and tone.
But I am hearing too many solo works for harp and too many goofy and thoroughy forgettable harp pieces, especially arrangements. One recent offering was J.S. Bach’s keyboard “Italian Concerto” arranged for Harp Ensemble. That is misusing such a fine member of the family of “brunch instruments.” Kind of like an arrangement I recently heard of Tomaso Albinoni’s famous Adagio for Strings and Organ that used the flute, played by the famous James Galway, to suck all the pathos out of the piece.
It turned the profound into the pleasant.
So once again I turned the radio off.
Maybe audience surveys and focus groups tell WPR executives that the public likes the harp and other members of the “brunch instrument” family that much. But I don’t. Do you?
It all makes me miss the former morning host Anders Yocom (below top), who used to play what he called “The Minimum Daily Requirement” of Bach (below bottom) every morning. And who else but Bach – serious Bach – can meet that daily requirement? Yocom also usually featured big and beefy concertos and symphonies and sublime chamber music .
I mean the kind of music I want to hear mostly is the kind of music you don’t want to live without.
It is the kind of music that led the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to proclaim” “Life without music would be a mistake.”
WPR also seems to be airing more ads and acknowledgements, more teasers and promos, more fundraising appeals and mentions of corporate sponsors, than it used to. I suppose it needs to. But it seems to becoming more like the same mainstream commercial networks that it was originally designed to be an alternative to.
I realize that it is not easy being in public radio these days, when conservatives refuse to recognize their outstanding merits and want to defund PBS and NPR, and when competition for money is so fierce.
It also doesn’t help that some of the programmers and hosts seem more interested in airing rarities than in disseminating great and inspiring music that gets the pulse going and proves compelling or irresistible. Maybe these programmers know the masterpieces too well, but the rest of us like to hear great and music – not just obscure pieces and neglected composers that interest more than inspire.
So I would urge programmers and hosts to alternate the great and the obscure, and to keep the non-specialist listeners in mind. Some Bax is fine; but lots more Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, to say say nothing of lots more Handel and Vivaldi and Haydn and Mozart and Schubert and Chopin and Schumann and Dvorak and Tchaikovksy and Debussy and Ravel and Stravinsky and Prokofiev and Shostakovich and on and on — is even better.
But then again maybe all this carping comes back to me — to my own taste or personal preferences. So I want to know:
Does anyone out there share my concerns about Wisconsin Public Radio? Or do you think I am totally off-base?
While you consider the question, I think I’ll go to my library to pick out a CD to play instead of listening to the Classics By Request show.
Then I will try turning WPR back on again – and hope I don’t end up once again turning it off until the news comes on.
What do you think of Wisconsin Public Radio, and of its new schedules changes and the music it plays?
Leave something in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
You might think of it as a form of musical archaeology: Recovering, reclaiming and exhibiting the time-honored tradition of improvisation that for centuries was essential to composers and performers alike.
“Improvisations on a Theme” is a watchword that shapes the programs of the 2013 Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the concert presented by guest ensemble from New York, Open End (below), three of whose members will be in residence for a week at this summer’s festival.
Essential to the Open End mission is the reclaiming of improvisation as the central skill of all musicians. Audiences at Open End concerts come to think of spontaneous creation as being part of a natural, ongoing dialogue between performers creating in the moment and a written body of work that continues to expand, to transform.
At home in venues from galleries and living rooms to concert halls, Open End seeks nothing less than to engage audiences in an experience that is wonderful, intimate, challenging and beautiful.
On this coming Sunday, August 25, at 4 p.m. Open End members Andrew Waggoner (violin), Caroline Stinson, (cello), and Molly Morkoski (piano) will present a program of recent works and improvisations in a program including music of Charles Ives, Henry Cowell (below), Anna Weesner, Andrew Waggoner, and Bach, concluding with the premiere of a new work by Waggoner.
Waggoner has been characterized by The New Yorker magazine as “the gifted practitioner of a complex but dramatic and vividly colored style” His new piano quintet, inspired by the acclaimed Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, was written this summer for the 2013 Token Creek Festival and is dedicated to Co-Artistic Directors John and Rose Mary Harbison.
Then at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, August 27, and Wednesday, August 28, the Open End members will also participate in one of the Festival’s program of Shakespeare in scenes and songs. The program opens with the premiere of John Harbison’s “Invention on a Theme of Shakespeare” for solo cello and small ensemble, followed by scenes from Shakespeare plays accompanied by new incidental music, and songs and arias on texts from the same plays set by to music by composers from the Renaissance to the present day.
Songs will be offered by composers including Morley, Arne, and Henry Purcell; Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Hugo Wolf; and Francis Poulenc, Frank Bridge, Michael Tippett and John Harbison.
All performances take place at the Festival Barn (below), on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek, with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small, and early reservations are recommended.
More information about the Token Creek Festival can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org
Violinist-composer Andrew Waggoner (below) recently granted an email interview to The Ear:
Could you briefly introduce yourself and your work to people who don’t know you or haven’t heard about you?
I think the best way for people to approach me and my music is to know going into it is that the two paramount values for me in any musical exchange are strangeness and beauty.
I say “strangeness” because the most arresting, durable encounters we have with creative work are marked by a level of confusion, or of the numinous, of something that immediately strikes us as “other,” but that, hopefully, the work itself gives us the tools to sort out over the course of the experience.
“Beauty” is perhaps a little more self-evident, but it can manifest in myriad ways, of course, including beauty of form, of shape or dramatic arc. Much of the music I love most (J.S. Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Duke Ellington (below), Miles Davis, Harbison (really!), Elliott Carter, Pierre Boulez) moves me at the level of the big shape as much as at that of surface sensuality.
That said, sensuality is hugely important to me, and when I feel I’ve found a unity of shape and surface beauty that makes a listener want to stay with a piece long enough to figure out where its strangeness is coming from and what it means, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. This doesn’t happen all the time, of course.
What are the guiding principles – improvisation — and the performance goals behind the Open End Ensemble? How do they reflect your opinion of the state of contemporary classical music today?
The thing we most wanted with Open End was to have a group that played like a group — always the same players — and that could move easily between written-out music and free improvisation and not miss a beat.
We wanted the audience to hear the improvisations as pieces, and to hear the pieces as having the same level of listening and spontaneous response as the improvs. We make an issue of improv, in part, in order to get the audience to the point where they no longer hear it as unusual.
With regard to the state of things today, I’d just say that the only criterion we bring to programming a piece is whether or not we like it. If we believe in it, we play it. We have the luxury of not taking things on for any purpose other than what we want a program to sound like, how we want it to move, to flow.
If there are specific contemporary currents that seem not to flow through our programs, it’s most likely because we’re not interested in them.
What would you like the general public to know about your performances and specific programs (Ives, Cowell, Weesner, Waggoner’ world premiere and Bach; also Harbison’s Shakespeare music) and works at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival?
We like programs that mix contemporary works with 20th-century classics, along with different instrumental combinations that provide relief and perspective on each other.
In this way we’re no different from anyone else, it must be said, except that, again, there are no “isms” guiding our programming, so we can be very free about the kinds of combinations we find.
So the works by Charles Ives and Henry Cowell make a natural pair (culturally and temperamentally, and in their dogged sense of exploration), and they provide a nice come-down from the energy of the work by Anna Weesner (below), which is volcanic.
The improvs will work in some way yet to be discovered to bridge these different expressive worlds, with John and Rosie’s Bach offering both a stylistic distance and expressive weight specific to it — though listeners will recognize Cowell’s affectionate nod to Bach in his little pieces, so to some degree we go in widening gyres here.
The premiere of my own work, “Floating Bridge,” is a very personal homage to John and Rosie, to John and my (and Carrie’s) shared love of the award-wining Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, to the festival’s rural setting, and to Ellen Singer, a dear friend at our own rural festival, Weekend of Chamber Music, whom we lost this past spring. All these threads were evoked for me and somehow float together in Munro’s story, also called “Floating Bridge.”
The Shakespeare program will mash-up an astonishingly diverse group of Shakespeare songs with dramatic monologues, acted by Madison native Allison Shaffer (below), with Carrie and me improvising, joined by John at the piano. We’ve done this kind of thing a lot, and we love it. We have no idea how the musical environment for the texts will take shape. We’ll find that in the moment.
How would you characterize the style and interest of your own compositions and particularly the work that you will premiere here in Madison?
My own work, as I mentioned earlier, hopefully offers the listener something strange and compelling that is made comprehensible through a surface that is beautiful, and often sensual.
One person’s beauty is another’s caterwauling, of course, so not everyone will hear this music in the same way I do. But I am working to make the music as powerful and communicative as possible, not by trying to anticipate everyone’s varied tastes and levels of musical experience, but simply by responding to my own work as a listener.
The old modernist dichotomy of composer vs. listener bores me, in part because it always was mostly, and has now become entirely, meaningless, and because it overlooks the obvious fact that composers are listeners too.
So that’s where I start with any piece: what do I want to hear, where do I want to go with this, how do I want this to make me feel? I can only really respond to those questions as a listener, as someone who will hear the piece in performance and judge it in those terms, not as the product of a wonderfully complex compositional process.
In terms of style, the composers referenced above have all had a profound effect on me. To that list, I’d add Copland and Messiaen; if one morphs all of those different characters (Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Copland, Messiaen, Miles Davis, Carter, Boulez, Harbison (below)) one might actually come up with something like Waggoner!
What else would you like to say about yourself and the ensemble, about your programs and work, and about the festival?
We’re crazy excited to come out to Token Creek. For us it’s both an extension of our relationships to John and Rosie Harbison (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot)and to John’s music, and an expression of how we most love to work as a group: in intimate, imaginative settings, close to the audience, able to work with the energy they give us, to shape an experience that is site-specific. For us it’s really the ideal, and we get to do only a few times a year under very special circumstances. So this is a rare privilege.
By Jacob Stockinger
It was nothing short of a triumph for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.
The Ear surely couldn’t be the only listener who came away Saturday night deeply moved from the Overture Center’s Playhouse — and from the fourth concert of the six that the Madison-based BDDS is offering this month — with one overpowering thought: We need more of this!
We need more concerts with first-rate songs and first-rate singing. And we need more concerts that have a narrative and tell the personal story behind the music and musicians they feature.
A lot of musical groups and individuals today offer brief introductory remarks to help prepare audiences. And that is fine. Experts say that providing that kind of listener-friendly context will help draw younger, newer and bigger audiences.
In this 22nd summer season, when the theme of card playing is highlighted, BDDS trumped that wisdom and raised the stakes by going one better, by upping the ante: Co-founder and co-director pianist Jeffrey Sykes, who got his doctorate at the UW School of Music and now teaches at the University of California-Berkley, showed his inventive theatrical side by creating an original story about the complex romances of Robert Schumann, his wife Clara Wieck Schumann and the young Johannes Brahms –- whose photographic portraits were projected on the backdrop (below).
Moreover, Sykes’ two-act mini-drama -– an experimental scissors-and-paste tapestry woven together with snippets of letters, diary entries and of course music -– proved successful on every count. It was greeted with cries of Bravo! and an enthusiastic, prolonged standing ovation.
Of course, Sykes was not alone in bringing this successful experiment off. He had the help of his co-founder and co-director flutist Stephanie Jutt.
Most importantly, for this concert he had the top-flight talents of bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below top), whose diction and tone are superb, and of the UW-Madison graduate and Lyric Opera of Chicago soprano Emily Birsan (below bottom), who possesses equally beautiful tone and excellent German as well as French.
BDDS also drew on the talents of Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera maestro John DeMain, a willing sport who did terrific double-duty as a pianist and as Clara’s difficult father Friedrich Weick. The singers also did double duty with Jones playing Robert Schumann and Birsan playing Clara Weick.
Flutist Jutt played Romances by both Robert and Clara Schumann, the first transcribed from the oboe and the second from the violin. Her performances and her readings too were expressive and fit right in with the playing and recitations from others.
The excerpts that Sykes chose from song cycles were spot on, especially from the heart-wrenching cycle by Schumann’s “A Woman’s Life and Loves.”
But nowhere was the formula of tinkering with tried-and-true classics more successful than in Robert Schumann’s song “Widmung” (Dedication), which was used to mark the consummation of the romance when a German court decides, over father Friedrich Wieck‘s libelous objections, that Roberta and Clara can indeed marry.
The song, usually sung by either a male or female voice, was shared. (For the usual interpretations, see the YouTube videos at the bottom with Jessye Norman and Hermann Prey.) And the duet was profoundly moving as Jones’ Robert and Birsan’s Clara walked free and in love off the stage and arm-in-arm to conclude the first half (below).
Similarly, when Birsan’s Clara sang “Now you have hurt me for the first time” after her beloved Robert had died, was there a dry eye in the house? Not where I sat – and I doubt where many others sat too.
Sykes wove his tapestry seamlessly. He also took a letter about a short musical theme or motif that came to the delusional Robert Schumann in the insane asylum, where his wife Clara was forbidden from visiting him until two days before he died. And then he wrapped a letter by Robert around it as well as a letter that Brahms later wrote to introduce to Clara his variations on that theme same for piano-four-hands, performed by Sykes and DeMain as the conclusion finale.
Of course one can nitpick. Given how much solo piano music, filled with bittersweet longing, that both Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms composed, I kept wondering why the program didn’t include the short and deeply moving Romance in F-sharp Major by Schumann which Clara asked her grandson Ferdinand to play while she lay expiring on her deathbed. (It is below top, in a YouTube video) Or play the late Romance in F Major, Op. 18, No. 5, by Brahms (below bottom, in a YouTube video by Evgeny Kissin). How The Ear would have loved to hear Sykes, with his rich tone and natural lyricism, perform these miniature gems.
But you can’t have everything and what we got was plenty generous. It cohered. It moved you. And it provided an intelligent context for understanding the romance behind the great Romantic music of these Romantic composers.
All paintings need a frame, and so does a lot of music. This frame could not have been better designed and executed or more beautiful.
But that Schumann-Brahms drama-concert was not the only reason to take in the second of the three weekends of music by the BDDS.
Just the night before at the refurbished Stoughton Opera House, the group used the same singers to perform another great concert. The program was timely and relevant, given both the Afghanistan War and the anniversary of the America Civil War.
The musical offerings featured Timothy Jones in Ned Rorem’s movingly spiky and grim “War Scenes” songs drawn from Walt Whitman’s Civil War notebooks (“The real war will never get in the books’) and Emily Birsan in “Sonnets to Cassandra” by the French Renaissance poet Pierre de Ronsard by the underplayed and underrated Swiss composer Frank Martin.
The concert began with a flute quartet by Ferdinand Ries, a student of Beethoven who nicely fit the theme of a “Stacked Deck” since history has largely overlooked and forgotten him. (But, you know, Beethoven really wasn’t much of a flute guy anyway.)
The real gem came when several local string players – violinist Suzanne Beia and cellist Parry Karp of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet and principal violist Christopher Dozoryst of the Madison Symphony Orchestra – joined pianist Sykes in playing a superb rendition, by turns turbulent and lyrical, of Gabriel Faure’s Piano Quartet No. in G Minor (below).
It was yet another reminder of how, like BDDS, Faure is a first-rate composer, with a sound and style unmistakably his own, who deserves a much higher profile and a much wider hearing.
Next weekend brings two final BDDS concerts — in Madison, Stoughton and Spring Green — with violinist Naha Greenholtz (concertmaster of the Madison Symphony) and San Francisco Trio members violinist Axel Strauss (now teaching at McGill University in Montreal) as well as cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau in music by Copland, Mozart, Brahms, Korngold, Beethoven and Dick Kattenburg.
For more information about the times and venues, the programs, the performers and tickets, here is a link:
If you love classical music, to miss these BDDS performance is to deprive yourself of great pleasure and great insight, of new exposure to works both well-known and neglected. Why would you want to do that?
By Jacob Stockinger
Madison and the rest of the world know John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) primarily as a symphony and opera conductor who is also the longtime music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera.
But this acclaimed conductor, who won a Grammy Award for his recording of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess” and who conducted the world premiere of John Adams’ opera “Nixon in China” at the Houston Grand Opera, started his career as a promising pianist, as did many other conductors including Leonard Bernstein (with whom DeMain studied conducting), Sir Georg Solti, James Levine, Daniel Barenboim and Christoph Eschenbach. Aside from the pipe organ, the piano is generally considered to be the most orchestral of instruments — so it really comes as no surprise that so many conductors started out as pianists. (To be fair, still other well-known conductors began as string or wind players.)
DeMain will return to the piano this weekend when he splits accompanying duties with pianist Jeffrey Sykes (below), the co-founder and co-director of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. DeMain and Jeffrey Sykes will perform jointly in Johannes Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann,” Op. 23, and will take turns accompanying other performers in songs and romances for flute. (BDDS is also performing a second program of songs and chamber music by Ferdinand Ries, Ned Rorem, Frank Martin and Gabriel Faure.)
Performances are on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Overture Center’s Playhouse (below top) and on Sunday evening, at 6:30 p.m. in the Hillside Theater (below bottom) at the landmark and historic Frank Lloyd Wright compound Taliesin in Spring Green.
The rest of the “love triangle” program of music by Robert Schumann, Clara Wieck Schumann (both below) and Johannes Brahms includes many songs by Robert Schumann, Clara Wieck Schumann and Brahms; Robert Schumann’s Three Romances for flute and piano, Op. 94; Clara Wieck Schumann’s Three Romances for flute and piano Op. 22. For more information about the program, performers and tickets, visit http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org
DeMain (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) graciously answered an email Q&A for The Ear:
Most of us know you as a conductor, even though you have played continuo and conducted smaller operas from the keyboard for the Madison Opera. You started out as a pianist. Can you tell about your time as a pianist from starting lessons through competitions and Juilliard and the decision to go into conducting?
I started studying piano at the age of six. I was a pretty good sight-reader and loved to accompany myself singing. When I was a senior in high school, I won the Youngstown Symphony Society’s piano competition, competing with college-level students.
After making my debut playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.1 with the symphony, I decided to audition for Juilliard. I was accepted and studied for six years with Adele Marcus (below, as a demanding young teacher and performer). I played chamber music with the concertmaster of the Juilliard orchestra, and I won a competition in New York for young artists.
Why did you want to change from being a pianist to being a conductor, especially an opera conductor? (What are the comparative pleasures and pains of each, the piano and conducting?)
Conducting sort of coexisted side by side with playing the piano. I was conducting the grade school band in fourth-grade when the teacher didn’t show up. It came to me naturally.
While at Juilliard I took some elective conducting courses with Jorge Mester (below). I earned my tuition for Juilliard by conducting musicals for big summer stock theaters in the summer.
After graduating from Juilliard, I continued to play chamber music in New York and played a few recitals. I always had a big love for the theater, opera and singing as well as the symphony orchestra.
Certain opportunities were presented to me in the field of conducting, starting with the Norwalk Connecticut Symphony, followed by a lengthy stint with opera for public television.
That, in turn, led to a summer studying conducting at Tanglewood, and to beginning my professional career at the New York City Opera as the second winner of the Julius Rudel award. (Below is a photo of Julius Rudel, the Austrian native who led the New York City Opera for many years and also guest conducted at the Met and elsewhere .) My duties included 35 hours a week of coaching and playing rehearsals. So the piano was always part of my professional life.
My next position was with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (below) as associate conductor. In addition to conducting the orchestra on tour and having my own subscription concerts, I was playing chamber music with members of the orchestra on our chamber music series.
How did the piano affect your conducting and what did you bring to conducting from the piano? And inversely, what does conducting now bring to your playing the piano?
Playing the piano is a great aid in learning orchestral scores. One can study both the melodic content of a work, but even more importantly the harmonic structure of the music.
Conducting makes me aware of pulse when I’m playing the piano. And, of course, there is the imagining the piano part as though it would be orchestrated, much the same way we imagine the human voice singing an orchestral melody.
I think the life of a pianist can be more isolated, considering the many hours of practicing that is required. While studying orchestral and operatic scores is also isolated and private, there are so many rehearsals with the cast or the orchestra that makes for a more social experience. That seems to suit me better.
I suppose the trite answer is we do something because we can. I love the big playground of opera and symphony, and wouldn’t trade it for the world. But making music at the piano with fellow musicians is such an important part of a complete musical life.
In the orchestra world, we like to say that all music is chamber music. Listening to each other and responding accordingly is a great part of great orchestral playing. One develops this playing chamber music. Playing one-on one with your fellow musicians where everyone is equal. I feel blessed that I can participate in all of this from time to time.
Do have any comment about Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme of Robert Schumann” for piano, four-hands, and other works you will be performing this weekend with Jeffrey Sykes for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society?
I certainly don’t play the piano publicly that frequently anymore, and I haven’t for years. But I thought this would be a rewarding experience, which is turning out to be just that. I have big respect for what Stephanie Jutt (who is principal flute with the Madison Symphony Orchestra) and Jeffrey Sykes (below) have created. And I love Jeffrey’s pianism.
The Brahms theme-and-variations (played by the Kontarsky brothers in a YouTube video at bottom) are rather extraordinary, and we are enjoying ourselves immense putting them together. They are harmonically quite daring at times, and of course deal in the finality of life as well. It should be an interesting concert.