ALERT: The final performance of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s season-opening program of Richard Strauss “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (with the organ theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey”), Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments and Camille Saint-Saens (Symphony No. 3 “Organ”) will be given today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center. Here is a link to a previous post about the concert as well as links to several very positive reviews:
Here is a link to a review by John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus:
Here is a link to the review by Gregg Hettmansberger (below) for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:
And here is a link to Lindsay Christians’ review for The Capital Times and 77 Square:
By Jacob Stockinger
All right, then.
The Big Vote is over.
The outcome surprised The Ear since so many of the arguments offered by Great Britain seemed similar to the ones that were probably made about why the United States should remain a colony of England.
But now the question is answered for at least another generation.
You’d be surprised. I was.
One obvious, and, for many, noisily unpleasant, answer is the bagpipes. We’re not talking about Scotland-inspired music such as Felix Mendelssohn‘s justly famous “Hebrides” Overture (at bottom in a popular YouTube video featuring Claudio Abbado conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, though it sure does seem to capture the dark North Sea atmosphere of Scotland.)
But there are other answers too, and some of them may surprise you.
Be sure to listen to some of the sound samples provided on the NPR website posting. Here is a link:
Also be sure to check out the readers’ comments. They are a hoot, or whatever the equivalent saying is in Scotland.
And the reader comments contain one of the all-time best puns, based on The Rolling Stones song “Hey You, Get Off of My Cloud.” Of course, someone says it isn’t funny! Which makes it only funnier to The Ear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today marks the 13th anniversary of 9/11 and the tragic events during the terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda on the United States, in New York City on the Twin Towers; on Washington, D.C,, and the Pentagon; and on United Airlines Flight 93, which passengers made crash into a Pennsylvania field before it could destroy the U.S. Capitol or White House.
There is a lot of great classical music that one could play to commemorate the event and loss of life. There are, of course, requiems by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Giuseppe Verdi and Gabriel Faure.
There are masses and other choral works by them and also Ludwig van Beethoven and others. And there are a lot of opera arias and choruses as well as art songs.
There are large-scale symphonic and choral work as well as more intimate chamber music and solo works, especially the solo cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach, one of which, thanks to cellist Vedran Smailovic (below) in 1992, became am emblem of the awful and bloody siege of Sarajevo by the Serbian army. Chamber music by Franz Schubert — such as the slow movement of the Cello Quintet — would at the top of my list.
Then there is the contemporary work “In the Transmigration of Souls” by the American composer John Adams. It won the Pulitzer Prize and was written specifically, on commission from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, to remember 9/11 and which uses actual tape recordings of the events and responses of that awful day. And another work by Steve Reich.
Myself, I tend towards the tried-and-true, the pieces of music that never fail to take me to the appropriate place in memory and sorrow.
So today, at the bottom, I offer a YouTube video of the last movement of the profoundly beautiful and moving “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms. It is more secular than religious, and it asserts that “Blessed Are the Dead … for They Rest from Their Labors and Their Works Shall Live After Them.”
Hard to disagree, don’t you think?
So here it is.
But be sure to let us know what music you will be playing and what piece or pieces you favor to commemorate 9/11.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is Labor Day, Sept. 1, 2014.
To The Ear, the holiday seems a great occasion and a very appropriate time to remember all the people behind the scenes — and behind the performers — who make music happen.
We usually don’t know or recognize their names, even when those names are given to us in program credits.
So let us today praise the technicians and the stagehands (below) , the office staffers and the business managers, the publicity people and the development experts, the government and private sponsors and donors, and even the box office ticket-sellers and the ushers who all support the musicians and the music we so love.
I am thinking of some people with whom I could not write this blog or ever attend a lot of concerts. There are many, many more than the ones I will name. But high on my list are: Katherine Esposito (below top), who is the concert manager for the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music; Teri Venker (below middle), who is the marketing director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra; and Sue Ellen Maguire (below bottom), who is the marketing director of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.
I recently came across something I wrote and posted about this before, about 2-1/2 years ago. The occasion was NOT Labor Day, but a spring memorial service for Ann Miller Chastain (below), who headed marketing for the Madison Symphony Orchestra before she died of breast cancer. She specialized in developing a loyal student audience, and she worked hard but charmingly for her success.
But I think what I said then about Ann Miller also reflects on a lot of other people.
After all, it takes a lot more than the performers, the musicians — who, to be sure, are also hard-working — to put on concerts. And that is a wise lesson to remember today, on the day that traditionally serves as the dividing line between the summer season and the start of the regular concert season in the fall.
So here is a link:
Happy Labor Day to all those who labor to bring us the great classical music and the beauty we love!
By Jacob Stockinger
Trends come and trends go.
Who knows why?
A few years ago, it seemed as if I hadn’t heard the famous and overplayed “Appassionata” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven in decades. Everyone focused on the last three piano sonatas. And then suddenly there were four or five live performances of the “Appassionata” within a year or two. Can the “Waldstein” Sonata be far behind?
This past couple of years, it also seems almost impossible to escape “La Valse” by Maurice Ravel -– in its two-piano version or its original solo version, or in modified solo version, or in its orchestral arrangements. Maybe the popularity of the work says something about the decadence of our times and our society. Or maybe it has to do with the centennial this year of World War I, which destroyed and demolished the old monarchical “waltz” societies, much as Ravel does in his postmodern deconstruction of the waltz.
In any case, you might recall that only last Wednesday night, the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival featured Smith College pianist Judith Gordon (below) in four Scarlatti sonatas along with 12 preludes by Frederic Chopin. (The festival closes with a SOLD-OUT performance of music by Franz Schubert, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy this afternoon at 4 p.m.)
Here is a link to the festival’s website with information about the artists, the program and tickets:
The Ear loved that program about the originality of short forms and keyboard music for both its insight and its beauty. Here is a link to my review:
I hadn’t heard live Scarlatti performances in a while.
But that will change soon, I expect.
It turns out that another trend is in the making. Scarlatti is hot again. There are several new recordings of sonatas by Scarlatti (below) that just came out. And they are featured on the exceptional Deceptive Cadence blog done by NPR, or National Public Radio.
The blog posting – “A Surge of Scarlatti Sonatas” – was written by blog chief Tom Huizenga and even features some sound samples from the various records.
I’ll be anxious to see how they measure up to The Ear’s favorite recordings, which include, in approximate order, recordings by: Vladimir Horowitz; Alexandre Tharaud; Andras Schiff; and Mikhail Pletnev.
Here is a link to the NPR story and review. I hope you enjoy it.
And let us know which one of the 555 sonatas by Scarlatti is your favorite. Slow or fast? Major or minor? Extroverted and dance-like or introspective and meditative?
At the bottom is a popular YouTube video of one of my all-time favorite Scarlatti sonatas, in B minor — Longo 33 or Kirkpatrick 87 — and performed to perfection by Vladimir Horowitz, who brings both clarity and soul to its almost prayer-like intensity.
I would also like to dedicate the performance and the sonata to the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp, for whom a free and public memorial celebration will be held today at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall.
Include a link to a YouTube recording, if you can.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
You might recall that Ludwig van Beethoven (below) composed only one opera.
And you may recall that the Madison Opera has slated “Fidelio” for a production this coming season in Overture Hall on Friday night, Nov. 21, and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 23.
The production comes during a time of great political unrest and perhaps upheaval at home, with crucial national and state elections, and especially overseas and in foreign affairs with Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Africa’s Ebola strife and many other hot spots showing no sign of letting up.
So will the local production of “Fidelio” be more or less a traditional one? Or will the Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith and its artistic director, John DeMain, who is also the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, have other ideas about how to tweak the opera and recast it for modern or contemporary relevance?
It will be interesting to see, although The Ear understands that the production will be traditional.
Here is a link to the Madison Opera’s website:
Currently, the acclaimed Santa Fe Opera is staging a controversial new version of “Fidelio”(below), created by director Stephen Wadsworth, that takes place in the Nazi death camp Bergen-Belsen. Sounds very Peter Sellars-like. (You can hear the moving music from the Prisoners’ Chorus at the bottom in a YouTube video.)
Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, of The New York Times, did not like it and, in fact, said it offended her because it belittled the Holocaust. She also complained that the roles in the actual text did not match the roles that the new staging created. She saw the production as too inconsistent.
Her larger complaint seems to reflect the notion that after the Holocaust, writing poetry and creating art is impossible, that beauty has been ruined.
It is an ambitious, lofty and tempting thought, but one that is clearly not true. In fact, it is downright wrong. Great suffering and art are old pals. Sometimes art takes you away from suffering; sometimes it takes you deeper into it. It depends on the work and on the performers. But we need both.
Anyway, here is the review from the Times as well as another one with a different take. Read them for yourself. Then decide and make up your own mind. It sure sounds like a concept worth pursuing, even if flawed, to The Ear.
Critic Heidi Waleson, of The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, praised the production:
Be sure to tell The Ear, and other readers, including members of the Madison Opera, if you have ever seen an updated version of “Fidelio” and what you thought of it.
Where do you think “Fidelio could be recast to best advantage The Holocaust? The Spanish Inquisition? The Soviet Gulag and Great Terror? The Killing Fields of Cambodia? The Rwandan genocide? Abu Graib prison in Iraq? A CIA black site torture prison in Egypt? The Chinese Cultural Revolution?
Or, given the fact that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, how about a Supermax prison in Wisconsin?
You get the idea.
Go wild with your imagination, and then write in.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Will the outcome be tragedy?
In case you haven’t heard about it, the famed Met is negotiating new contracts with its labor unions. The Met currently has a debt of $2.8 million.
According to the Met’s general director Peter Gelb (below), major reductions totaling some $30 million, in salaries are required to put the Met back on a financially sustainable course.
Those are easy words to say for Gelb, whose own salary is reported to be $1.4 million and whose tenure has emphasized extremely expensive productions that have taxed the Met’s budget.
On his behalf, Gelb also is the manager who initiated the “Met Live in HD” that have been so popular in movie theaters around the world – including the Eastgate and Point cinemas in Madison — and have generated a lot of income. (You can see the coming season in a YouTube video at the bottom, although the November broadcast of “The Death of Klinghoffer” by John Adams has been cancelled under a controversial agreement to pacify Jewish and Israeli protest groups and lobbyists who see the opera as too focused on humanizing terrorism and Palestinian terrorists, and who threatened to withdraw much needed needed underwriting for the Met.)
The original deadline for an understanding or agreement was this past Sunday. But that deadline has been extended until Tuesday, today, apparently because negotiations continued and presumably continued in a positive way, despite the appearance of an overall deadlock.
Mediators were called in and apparently an independent audit of the Met’s books is under way.
So by the end of the day we should hear more about the results –- or lack of results. That, in turn, will tell us more about the short-term future and long-term future of the Met.
Here are some links mostly to websites for newspapers and radio. The Ear has heard NOTHING – at least nothing that I recall – on the major TV outlets and network, commercial or cable. Well, maybe they are too busy doing features about dogs and children who raise money for good causes. I am sure they have polling and surveys to back up their story selection.
To learn about the major players in the Met drama – or the Cast of Characters, so to speak, here is a story:
How the negotiations were going? Read this:
If you want an overview of the situation, try these:
And here in another selection of stories from The New York Times:
Here is the latest news from The Wall Street Journal about an independent audit of the Met’s books:
Do you have an opinion on the matter?
Given the recent bankruptcies and closings of American symphony orchestras and the City Opera of New York, what do you think the Metropolitan Opera drama signifies or means for the classical music scene in the U.S.?
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: The Youth Orchestra under University of Wisconsin-Madison conductor James Smith (below), of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), just concluded its 10-day tour to Argentina. Here is a link to the live blog where you can catch on up all the entries and events, including a final word from WYSO executive director Bridget Fraser:
By Jacob Stockinger
Normally, The Ear doesn’t post about fundraisers. There are just too many of them given by too many groups.
But certain kinds of fundraiser stand out as special, especially since The Ear considers money spent on music education the best possible investment one can make for both the future of musical performance and music appreciation by audiences.
So I have invited Music con Brio to submit a post. Think of it as “A friend writes” column from the New Yorker magazine.
Here it is, with photos by Scott Maurer, as written by Carol Carlson, who holds a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who is a co-founder and co-director of Music con Brio (Music with Force)
“In summer, the song sings itself.” From American poet William Carlos Williams
What a beautiful time it is in Madison right now! The flowers, the birds, the Dane County Farmers’ Market in full bloom –- it’s enough to make anyone hum a little tune with a spring in their step. And what better place to enjoy all that the Madison summer has to offer than the beautiful Capitol Square?
You are cordially invited to Music con Brio’s first-ever Summer Shindig on Thursday, August 7 from 6-8 p.m., generously hosted by the Boardman Law Firm, 1 South Pinckney Street, in downtown Madison on the Capitol Square.
Music con Brio, Inc. is committed to offering high quality music lessons at an affordable graduated tuition schedule to a diverse mix of Madison area students, forming an inclusive, supportive community to build students’ self-esteem and pride in their talents. (A sample of Music con Brio’s music-making from a 2013 appearance at Emerson Elementary School can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Music con Brio’s first-ever Summer Shindig will be held on this Thursday, August 7, from 6 to 8 pm, generously hosted by the Boardman Law Firm. The Pecatonica String Quartet (below) will be performing, as well as Music con Brio’s own Eagle Feather Fiddlers and advanced violin group. The Shindig will feature goodies by Barriques and artisan brews by Mobcraft Beer.
For a suggested donation of $10 per person or $20 per family, you can:
- Check out the fantastic view of the Capitol from Boardman’s beautiful balcony terrace.
- Enjoy Barrique’s goodies and Mobcraft beer.
- Bid on the fabulous silent auction filled with awesome, local arts-related items.
- Meet current Music con Brio students.
And you can do all this while listening to the beautiful music of the Pecatonica String Quartet, featuring Music con Brio’s own Carol Carlson and Amber Dolphin.
Check out more event details and RSVP here.
Donations of items for the silent auction are greatly appreciated -– if you have something you’d like to contribute, please email email@example.com to let us know.
Music con Brio, Inc. is committed to offering high-quality music lessons at an affordable graduated tuition schedule to a diverse mix of Madison area students, forming an inclusive, supportive community to build students’ self-esteem and pride in their talents.
Now beginning its fourth year, the organization serves almost 100 students in 1st-9th grade, representing 10 different Madison schools. In addition to lessons in violin, cello, piano and percussion, Music con Brio presents an annual Community Concert Series around Madison in collaboration with local bands such as The Handphibians, Yid Vicious, and The Big Payback.
Contemporary percussion group Clocks in Motion (below), an affiliate ensemble with the UW-Madison School of Music, will be in residency with Music con Brio during 2014-15, which will include performing with Music con Brio on the Community Concert Series.
The Pecatonica String Quartet was founded in 2008 by young, vibrant musicians in the Madison area. The name of the group comes from a quaint, twisting stream in southwest Wisconsin, the Pecatonica River. The PSQ plays frequently around southern Wisconsin at weddings, private parties, schools, and in concert. Their performance for Music con Brio will include all types of music, ranging from arrangements of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Brandenburg” Concertos to contemporary rock. The quartet is happy to take requests as well.
Thank you so much for your support of Music con Brio!
ALERT: The Youth Orchestra (below), under the baton of University of Wisconsin-Madison conductor James Smith and part of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), is into the final day of its 10-day tour to Argentina. Here is a link to the live blog:
By Jacob Stockinger
When did World War I start?
Some might argue it started with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914. And the media had many features on that day a little over one month ago.
Then on July 28, 1914, the first shots were fired. That too received media coverage last week.
But the best I can find out, the actual and formal beginning of the “War To End All Wars” was Aug. 1, 1914 -– with the 100th anniversary falling yesterday.
See for yourself:
Quite a number of media stories -– on-line, in print, on TV and radio –- have focused on World War I. They usually take the tack of how it changed the world and its cultural politics and economics for many years after, and so directly set up the circumstances that led to World War II.
But NPR also ran a series of stories on what would have happened if World War I had never taken place. The consequences ranged from a much later discovery of antibiotics, technology and space travel to a completely different map of the Middle East that might have allowed us to escape some of the current turmoil.
And what was the effect of World War I on music?
You can Google the question and find a lot of entries.
Here are some of the more interesting ones that The Ear found:
The outstanding “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR (National Public Radio) by Tom Huizenga used audio samples to explore how the composers Maurice Ravel (below) and Gustav Holst responded to the war, as did the famed tenor Enrico Caruso:
From the BBC, here is a list of poets and composers. It asks the question: Why do we remember the poets more than the composers? When he wrote his “War” Requiem, British composer Benjamin Britten (below) used great texts from World War I poets to commemorate World Wart II and dedicate the reconstruction of the Coventry Cathedral. (You can hear the opening in a YouTube video at the bottom. Be sure to read the lyrics.)
Here is another British website that discusses British music, perhaps because that country’s composers responded more than other nations’ composers did, certainly more than American but also French, German and Russian composers:
Here is a story from The Wall Street Journal:
And here is a list of some important music composed during World War I:
What classic music and composers do you identify with World War I?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
This is a reminder.
This is A Tale of Two Tours.
Like the tours, both of which will run exactly from July 24 through August 3, the two local groups will also offer competing sendoff concerts at exactly the same time — tonight, Tuesday, July 22, at 7 p.m.
But it is best not to dwell on the conflict or competition.
Instead, The Ear prefers to see it as a reminder that Madison, Wisconsin, is a great place to be not only for culture in general and for classical music, but for classical music education, which has been shown again and again by researchers to reap lifelong benefits in terms of development and maturity.
It involves two FREE sendoff concerts by two important groups of young musicians in Madison.
One is by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras’ Youth Choir, under conductor UW-Madison professor James Smith, which will perform tonight at 7 p.m. at Olbrich Botanical Gardens on Madison’s East side. The program, a preview of the concert fare to be performd in Argentina, features music by Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Peter Tchaikovsky and Alberto Ginastera.
Here is a link to a previous blog posting about the WYSO concert:
The other concert is the Madison Boychoir (below, in a photo by Jon Harlow), which will perform tonight at 7 p.m. in the Covenant Presbyterian Church, 326 South Segoe Road, on Madison’s near west side.
And here is a statement from Nicole Sparacino, the director of development for the Madison Youth Choirs:
“By a strange coincidence, the MYC send off concert is the same night as WYSO’s send off concert, and the dates of both tours are exactly the same, July 24-August 3!
“It’s pretty neat to think that, combined, over 100 of Madison’s finest young musicians will be sharing their talents on two very different parts of the world’s stage at the same time.
“Over the course of the tour, 71 MYC boys ages 9-18 will sing in medieval cathedrals, perform a joint concert with the National Youth Choir of Scotland, and have the chance to meet hundreds of other young artists from across the world. Our boys will even get the chance to test their foreign language skills, as they will have the honor of singing the national anthems of all participating countries during the festival’s Opening Ceremony. (You can see a promotional video for the Scotland tour at the bottom in a YouTube video.)
“We’re so excited for the boys to have this outstanding opportunity.
“Tonight, over 70 boys ages 9-18 from Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) will share an exciting free concert with the community before taking off to perform at the Aberdeen International Youth Festival in Scotland.
“As the only boychoir from the United States invited to perform at the festival, MYC’s lads (below, in a photo by Jon Harlow) will pay homage to the rich musical traditions of their homeland, from folk songs to cowboy melodies.
“It will perform classic boychoir repertoire in three different languages. Concert selections will include the Shaker tune “Simple Gifts,” the powerful “Anthem” from the musical Chess, “Laudamus Te” by Antonio Vivaldi and the Shakespeare and “Macbeth”-inspired “Sound and Fury.”’
The latter is a world premiere work by composer Scott Gendel (below), who is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
For further information: visit www.madisonyouthchoirs.org or call (608) 238-7464.