The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The New Yorker magazine opens up its on-line archives. You can read for FREE fascinating profiles of pianists Lang-Lang, Helene Grimaud and Jeremy Denk; of mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato; and of violinist Christian Tetzlaff. Follow these links on NPR.

August 16, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Two of the best sources for reading about classical music are NPR (National Public Radio) with its Deceptive Cadence blog; and The New Yorker magazine, which features Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Alex Ross (below) on its staff.

AlexRoss1

These days a lot of publications are figuring out how to “monetize” their websites and on-line stories since they are losing readers of printed editions.

Perhaps David Remnick, the reporter-turned-editor of the The New Yorker who has more than doubled the magazine’s circulation and inaugurated a series of best-selling books of story and cartoon collections, may have a new and unorthodox approach. He seems to be thinking “outside the box” and in reverse: Use the web to increase the profile, and profitability of the print edition.

That approach may mean opening up to FREE ACCESS some of the stories that will give people a taste of what they are missing if they do not subscribe to or regularly read the source.

Whatever the reasoning, The New Yorker has opened up its archives to classical music fans with five not-to-miss profiles and stories about high-profile musicians.

They include the Chinese phenomenon and superstar pianist Lang-Lang (below), who is often dismissed by critics as “Bang-Bang” for his Liberace-like flamboyance and unmusicality, but who remains the most sought-after classical pianist in the world. (At bottom, you can see and hear the opening of a BBC documentary about Lang Lang on YouTube.)

Lang Lang Liszt cover

Others include the American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is highly articulate about the world of singing and opera; the French woman and highly individualistic pianist Helene Grimaud, who aims for unusual interpretations; the German violinist Christian Tetzlaff, who is renowned for eschewing the customary path of virtuosity; and the famous essay on taking piano lessons “Every Good Boy Does Fine” by American pianist Jeremy Denk (below), who recently won a MacArthur  “genius grant”; who has performed recitals twice in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater; and who will be releasing a book-length volume of his essays and postings on his acclaimed blog “Think Denk” this fall.

Jeremy Denk, 2013 MacArthur Fellow

The weekend is a good chance to catch up on such reading. You will learn a lot if you read these stories.

And maybe you, like The Ear, will also become a loyal New Yorker reader. When it calls itself “the best magazine in the world,” it is not kidding.

That goes for politics, social trends, art and culture, and even poetry.

Here is a link, which also features some audio samples:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/12/339560307/read-these-while-theyre-still-free

 


Classical music: Is there more to say about Beethoven and his music? Acclaimed musicologist Jan Swafford thinks so, and says so in his new biography of The Ludwig.

August 9, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

By most polls and surveys, the most popular composer of classical music remains Ludwig van Beethoven (below). The surly, willful and influential musician bridged the Classical and Romantic eras, and his music retains much of its power and universal appeal even today.

All you have to do is mention the names of works in virtually all the various musical genres and forms — solo sonatas, chamber music, symphonic music, concertos, vocal music — that Beethoven mastered and pushed into new realms of expression:

The “Eroica” Symphony.

The Fifth Symphony.

The “Pastoral” Symphony.

The Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy.”

The “Emperor” Concerto for piano.

The “Razumovsky” and “Late” String Quartets.

The “Ghost” and  “Archduke” piano trios, and the “Triple” Concerto.

The “Moonlight,” “Pathetique,” “Tempest,” “Appassionata,” “Waldstein” and “Hammerklavier” piano sonatas.

The “Spring” and “Kreutzer” violin sonatas.

The “Missa Solemnis.”

“Fidelio.”

And on and on.

Such nicknames and so many! Talk about iconic works!

Beethoven big

What more is there to be said about Beethoven?

Well, quite a lot, apparently, according to the acclaimed music historian Jan Swafford (below), who did his undergraduate work at Harvard University and his graduate work at Yale University and who now teaches composition and music history at the New England Conservatory of Music.

Jan Swafford color

Swafford, who has also written biographies of Johannes Brahms and Charles Ives, has just published his 1,000-page biography of Beethoven with the subtitle “Anguish and Triumph.”

It is getting some mixed or qualified reviews. But before you look into that, better check into the pieces that NPR (National Public Radio) did on Swafford and his takes on Beethoven, some of which defy received wisdom and common sense.

Here is a summary of some common perceptions about Beethoven that may -– or may NOT –- be true, according to Swafford. It i s an easy and informative read.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/05/337857557/ask-us-anything-about-beethoven

And here is another piece on NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog that deals with how the powerful Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” reveals Beethoven’s personality. (You can hear the opening, played by the Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

http://www.npr.org/2014/08/03/336656578/beethovens-eroica-a-bizarre-revelation-of-personality

Some critics have questioned whether the book (below) is too long, whether it repeats things that are already well known and whether the writing style is accessible to the general public.

But nobody is ignoring it.

Jan Swafford Beethoven cover

Here are two reviews by reputable media outlets.

From The Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/book-review-beethoven-anguish-and-triumph-by-jan-swafford-1406927297

From The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/books/review/beethoven-by-jan-swafford.html?_r=0

Have you read Jan Swafford’s other work?

What do you think of his music histories and biographies?

Or of his new Beethoven book, if you have read it?

And what is your favorite  work by Beethoven?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music education: WYSO’s Youth Orchestra will perform a FREE concert of music by Antonin Dvorak, Peter Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Manuel DeFalla and more from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday night at Old Sauk Trails Park, thanks to the Gialamas Company.

August 8, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

All reports say that the 10-day tour to Argentina, completed just last weekend, was a rousing success for both members of the Youth Orchestra (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and for their many South American hosts and audiences.

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

Here is a link to the live real-time blog with the complete set of postings done for the tour:

www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com

But why take someone else’s word for it?

You can hear the musicians for yourself in some of the same music that the young performers played in several different locations in Argentina.

They will once again perform, under the baton of UW-Madison School of Music conductor James Smith, on this coming Wednesday night from 7 to 9 p.m. in Old Sauk Trails Park on Madison’s far west side at 1200 John Q. Hammons Drive..

WYSO Concert in the Park, playing under Jim Smith 3

The event actually starts at 5 p.m. when the park opens to audiences for picnicking and eating, kind of like a smaller Concert on the Square for the far west side and to greet the approaching end of summer and to reach lots of young people.

The concert typically attracts thousands. Just look at the parking!

WYSO Concert in the Park Photo aeriel view

Here is a link to the official site:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/events/concerts-recitals/

And here is a link to the major sponsor and underwriter, the real estate development firm The Gialamas Company, with more information:

http://www.gialamas.com/Events/tabid/164/vw/3/itemid/26/sm/615/d/20140813/Default.aspx

If you want to know about food, you will probably want at least to check out the two providers  — Benvenuto’s and Sprecher’s — with whom you can reserve food and beverages if you don’t want to bring your own.

http://www.gialamas.com/Portals/0/CITP2014/Benvenuto’s%20Menu.pdf

http://www.gialamas.com/Portals/0/CITP2014/Sprecher’s.pdf

WYSO Concert  the Park Tent 4

Finally, courtesy of WYSO, here is the complete program with approximate timings:

CONCERT IN THE PARK, AUGUST 13, 2014

Overture to Candide. By Leonard Bernstein. (6 minutes)

Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op.36, Fourth movement: Finale: Allegro con fuoco. By Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky. (10 minutes)

El sombrero de tres picos Three-Cornered Hat) Suite No. 2        By Manuel de Falla     (12 minutes)

  1. Los vecinos
  2. Danza del molinero (Farruca)
  3. Danza final

Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28. By Camille Saint-Saëns (12 minutes) with WYSO concerto contest winner violinist Savannah Albrecht (bel0w)

Savannah Albrecht

INTERMISSION

Symphony No. 8, in G major, Op. 88, Movement 4: Allegro ma non troppo. By Antonin Dvořák   (10 minutes)

“Billy the Kid” Suite. By Aaron Copland (22 minutes)

  1. The Open Prairie
  2. Street in a Frontier Town
  3. Card Game at Night (Prairie Night)
  4. Gun Battle
  5. Celebration Dance (after Billy’s Capture)
  6. Billy’s Death
  7. The Open Prairie Again

“Over the Rainbow.” By Harold Arlen (4 minutes) with the acclaimed local jazz singer Gerri DiMaggio (below top). The performance is dedicated to the memory of Candy Gialamas (below bottom on the right, with her husband George Gialiamas).

“Malambo” from Estancia Suite, Op. 8a. By Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (4 minutes). It is an audience favorite, a participation piece in South America. You can hear the high-octane and colorful orchestral music performed to an uproar of approval at the BBC Proms by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestsra of Venezuela in a YouTube video at the bottom.)                                                      

Gerri DiMaggio

George and Candy Gialamas

Have some fun, hear some fine music and learn how good music education is in WYSO and in this part of Wisconsin.

See you there.

Come say hi to The Ear.

 

 


Classical music education: This Thursday, Music con Brio will hold its first-ever “Summer Shindig” to raise money to support music education for diverse and economically disadvantaged young people. Plus, check in on the last day of WYSO’s tour in Argentina.

August 4, 2014
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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:

wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

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)

Musc con Brio

“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 1 CR Scott Maurer

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.

Music con Brio 2 CR Scott Maurer

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 info@musicconbrio.org 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.

Music con Brio 3 CR Scott Maurer

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.

Clocks in Motion outside

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.

Pecatonica String Quartet

For more information visit www.musicconbrio.org or write to carol@musicconbrio.org

Thank you so much for your support of Music con Brio!

Carol Carlson

 

 


Classical music: The Ear does some more catching up. This time he takes in the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO). Plus, here is more news from Day 4 of WYSO’s tour in Argentina.

July 28, 2014
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Here is the daily alert for the tour though Aug. 3 by Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) in Argentina. Here is a link to the latest news from Day 4: www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

As I said yesterday, The Ear is finally getting a chance to catch up on some old business, now that live concerts have quieted down a bit for a while.

Here is an overdue review.

MADISON AREA YOUTH CHAMBER ORCHESTRA (MAYCO) EXCELS IN OLD MUSIC AND NEW MUSIC

On Friday, July 11, the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) performed “Triumph and Delight,” the first of its two concerts this summer. This one was at the handsome new Atrium auditorium, with its bright acoustics, of the First Unitarian Society of Madison 900 University Bay Drive.

Founder and conductor Mikko Utevsky (below), who is currently a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, led the group through an intriguing program that include the Piano Concerto No. 11 in D Major, by Franz Joseph Haydn; the “Reformation” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn; and the world premiere of a “Experiment No. 1” by his fellow student, composer Olivia Zeuske.

Mikko Utevsky with baton

The soloist in the Haydn Piano Concerto was UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below). The Ear recently heard him in the Romantic and evergreen Piano Concerto In A Minor by Edvard Grieg, played with the Middleton Community Orchestra. And the performance was impressive, so expectations were high.

And those expectations were both met and surpassed in the Haydn.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

This was not, thank goodness, period Haydn. From what The Ear heard, Kasdorf made no attempt to scale back his part and treat the piano like some Classical-era fortepiano. Instead this was robust and rich Haydn, an interpretation that made Papa Haydn sound more alive than dead. The humor and tunefulness plus the effective, if sparing, use of dissonance, all came through convincingly and in a contemporary way.

Add in the orchestra’s careful attention to part-playing and to dialogue with the piano, and you had a performance that The Ear loved.

Thomas Kasdorf at FUS MAYCO Haydn

The work by Olivia Zeuske (below) proved highly atmospheric –- not exactly 12-tone or atonal, but not exactly not, either. For the most part, The Ear found it appealing, engaging and attractive.

But for The Ear, who admits to being a “tunes” guy, it could have used some kind of melody or motif that was recognizable and repeated. In addition the piece could use more distinctiveness among the three sections, so the structure guides your listening.

True, the very end did seem to build to some kind of climax, and you knew something was about to happen. But a lot of the rest of the piece seemed to have a tad too much lateral drift. A good statement or speech is not made by a series of “um”’s and “you know”’s and similar filler. And it takes more than sound to make music.

Still, The Ear thinks that she has a future and looks forward to hearing more from Olivia Zeuske.

olivia zeuske 2014

The famous and familiar “Reformation” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn was not weak except by comparison to the other performances. Some of it seemed a bit muddled, and The Ear wondered if it couldn’t have used more rehearsal time, which more likely went to working with the soloist and the world premiere. Still, the music carries itself in a great way.

Plus, it was set off and spotlighted by a stroke of genius and inspiration in programming. Utevsky opened the entire program with the chorale prelude-type arrangement by Johann Sebastian Bach for orchestra of the hymn by Martin Luther “Ein Feste Burg” (A Mighty Fortress is Our God”). (At bottom, you can hear an arrangement by Leopold Stokowski that sounds a bit Wagnerian and even “Parsifal”-like at the end because of the horns.)

That is the same Lutheran hymn that Mendelssohn, a Jew who converted to Christianity but was nonetheless banned from being performed under the Nazis and Adolf Hitler, used in the finale to his irresistible symphony.

Kudos, then, to this fine group of young up-and-coming musicians, who were warmly applauded by a good size audience of more than friends and family members.

Mikko Utevsky and MAYCO at FUS

MAYCO audience at FUS July 2014

It makes one look forward to MAYCO’s next concert at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 22. That’s when soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller (below) will join then in Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville, Summer 1915” with words by James Agee and music by Samuel Barber; the Symphony No. 9 in E-Flat Major, Op. 90, by Dmitri Shostakovich; and the Overture to “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

caitlin ruby miller

The advertised venue is Music Hall, though the Atrium auditorium and other venues are still being considered, so stay tuned. Tickets are an affordable $7 with students being asked to donate what they can.

The Ear says: Don’t miss it.

 

 


Classical music: The Ear catches up again. This time he takes in a terrific evening sampler of Edvard Grieg at Taliesin in Spring Green. Plus, here is more news from Day 3 of WYSO’s tour in Argentina.

July 27, 2014
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Here is the daily alert for the tour though Aug. 3 by Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) in Argentina. Here is a link to the latest news from Day 3: www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

As I said yesterday, The Ear is finally getting a chance to catch up on some old business, now that live concerts have quieted down a bit for a while.

I have another short review for today.

THE EAR HEARS A GREAT GRIEG SAMPLER AT TALIESIN

Earlier this month, The Ear found himself wondering: Why don’t we hear more music by Edvard Grieg?

Well, we know that famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright -– better known to his cult-like following as Mr. Wright –- much preferred the music of Ludwig van Beethoven.

Wright1

Beethoven big

Makes sense. One big and difficult ego attracted to another big and difficult ego. One would-be artistic titan wanting to cloak himself in the mantle of another.

But nevertheless on July 14 -– forget Bastille Day — the Hillside Theater (below) at Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green saw an evening sampler of the 19th-century Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, and some other Scandinavian composers, performed, thanks to the Rural Musicians Forum and its director Kent Mayfield.

taliesin_hillside2

Called “Songs of Norway,” the program featured the kind of variety that The Ear would like to see in more concert programming: a dozen or so songs; 10 solo piano pieces from the “Lyric Pieces”; and the Sonata No. 2 in G Major, Op. 13, for violin and piano.

I found the music somewhat uneven, but never bad. And all the performances, turned in by three outstanding musicians (below), proved quite satisfying.

3 Grieg musicians

University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music soprano Mimmi Fulmer (below) showed fine control and tone while singing songs both a cappella and with the piano. Moreover, her Norwegian diction and pronunciation were quite good, or so I was told by a native Norwegian speaker.

Mimmi Fulmer at Taliesin 2014

Pianist Michael Keller, a retired professor from UW-Stevens Point, performed admirably both as soloist and accompanist or collaborator. He excelled at conveying the quickly changing moods of miniature Lyric Pieces, of which he played 10 contrasting ones.

Michael Keller playing

And violinist Stephen Bjella, an artist-in-residence at the UW-Stevens Point, played the more ambitious violin sonata with conviction and aplomb.

steven bjella norway

Now truth be told, Edvard Grieg’s music is no match for the achievement of Bach. Or Beethoven. Or Mozart. Or Haydn, Or Schubert. Or Schumann. Or Brahms. Or Mahler. And so on and so on. But The Ear thinks of Grieg as The Dvorak of the North. I think Claude Debussy once said his works were bonbons filled with snow.

That doesn’t mean his music is without value. His “salon”-like music certainly is enjoyable and worth hearing more often. Major artists like pianists Arthur Rubinstein, Emil Gilels and Stephen Hough play his Lyric Pieces and included several in their active repertoire. I think the violinist Jascha Heifetz also liked his three violin sonatas. And his songs are too rarely heard, perhaps because of the difficulty of singing Norwegian instead of German and French, Italian and English. Plus, the Emerson Quartet won a Grammy with his one string quartet.

edvard grieg

So this was a thoroughly enjoyable concert that reminded The Ear that the music of Grieg deserves to be heard more often in live performance than it currently is. Just listen to the lovely Nocturne, played by a contestant in the Grieg Piano Competition, in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Thanks go to Kent Williams (below top), to the Rural Musicians Forum –- which he directs and which is presenting a FREE tango quintet this Monday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Unity Chapel in Spring Green –- to Taliesin and especially to the three performers as well as to the full house (below bottom) that makes such a proposal all the more feasible and appealing.

Kent Mayfield at Taliesin

Grieg audience

Hear more music by Edvard Grieg?

As the late Eileen Stritch would sing: “I’ll Drink to That.”

Better break out the ice water.

 

 

 

 

 


Classical music: The Ear catches up with the 15th annual Madison Early Music Festival, and takes in the second annual Handel Aria Competition and the All-Festival Concert. Both get big, hearty shout-outs and Hallelujahs. Plus, see how the WYSO tour to Argentina is going.

July 26, 2014
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ALERT: If you want to find out the latest news about the tour to Argentina by the Youth Orchestra (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, here is a link to the blog:

www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

As you probably already know, The Ear is running a bit behind.

That’s how busy even the summer season has become, when it comes to classical music in the Madison area. And reviews take a second seat to previews and advance Q&A’s that benefit the performers and audiences.

So over the next few days, I want to provide some critiques and reviews, and even more shout-outs, to various events that took place over the past couple of weeks. I hope you will forgive my tardiness.

You should also know that I am not going in chronological order because some things seem more important or more timely, and therefore more overdue, than others.

So, first things first.

As you probably know, this summer marked the 15th anniversary of the annual Madison Early Music Festival that takes place each July at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Here is the official website of the competition with the results plus background and biographies of all the finalists and other information:

www.handelariacompetition.com

memf banner 2014

True, the second annual Handel competition is not strictly speaking a part of MEMF. But it is affiliated with MEMF. And since I have already covered the extraordinary MEMF opening concert “The Leonardo da Vinci  Codex” by the Toronto Consort, I wanted to bring you up to date with the results of the aria competition, which has begun to attract national and even international attention.

Here are the big point to note: What a difference a year makes!

This year there was no unsatisfactory split or disagreement between the four judges and the public, as there was last year. BRAVO!!!!

This year, both the judges and the public — which had some pretty discerning listeners in it — agreed on the winner: She was Chelsea Morris (below), who might be familiar from other appearances in Madison with the Madison Bach Musicians and Trevor Stephenson, who whom she has released a CD of songs by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn and  Franz Schubert.

Morris met all the criteria that Professor John W. Barker, an insightful critic and devoted Handelian, had outlined in his pre-concert lecture. He emphasized that it was not only about beautiful singing but also capturing the sense of drama in a role, of great diction, of ornamentation, of mastering the Handelian style.

Chelsea Morris did all of them, and the second time proved the charm. (You can hear her entry in last year’s aria competition in a YouTube video at the bottom.) And she is moving from Chicago to Madison as her base, where she will be a Studio Artist with the Madison Opera this coming season  So The Ear hopes to score a Q&A with her soon. She won $1,000 and free tuition (worth just under $500) to next summer’s Madison Early Music Festival.

Morris sang “Svelato il cor ti vedo” and “L’amor que per te sento” from “Alessandro” and “O Sleep, why dost thou leave me?” from “Semele.”

MEMF 2014 Chelsea Morris

Second Prize went to Daniel Moody (below), a countertenor who sang “Pomoe vane do morte! And “Dove aei, amato ben” from the opera “Rodelinda”:

MEMF 2014 Handel Daniel Moody

Third Prize ($500) went to soprano Yukie Sato, a Tokyo native who is now based in Basel, Switzerland where she won a similar competition. With much drama, she sang “A Ruggiero crudel” and “Ombre palle” from “Alcina” and “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion” from the oratorio “Messiah.

MEMF 2014 Yukie Sato

You read me right: Tokyo and Switzerland. This past year, some money had been raised to help pay travel expenses, and that paid off in the quality of singing, which was higher overall.

The applicants this time numbered 60, and they came from around the nation and world. That was whittled down to 30, and then 15 and then, in the end, to seven finalists (below) because the judges couldn’t agree on just six.

Each contestant had to sing one aria in Italian and another in English. The Ear likes that. It helped us in judging diction, and helped you to appreciate the range of Handel’s music. But The Ear wishes that in future competitions they would ban arias from “Messiah” since you hear that music enough already.

MEMF 2014 7 Handel contestants

One downside: Held in Music Hall, the Handel aria smack-down drew an audience about half as big as last year, maybe 250 instead of the 500 in Mills Hall. No doubt that fact that admission this year was $10, while last year it was free, figured in that lower attendance. I would sure like to see it return to free admission, if possible. It is a great way to introduce people to the world of Handel, and draw a general audience –- not just specialists.

But another plus this year was that the singers were accompanied by a small five-person pickup orchestra or consort (below) made up mostly of faculty members and professional instrumentalists from the Madison Early Music Festival. The sound sure added authenticity and helped both the singers and the listeners get into the mood of Handel operas, which have been rediscovered big time. Plus, it was just more fun to listen to with great variety of sound, timbre and tone.

MEMF 2014 Handel consort

This year’s Handel Aria Competition was nothing short of a triumph. The competition is well on its way to becoming an impressive and fun Madison summertime institution. All thanks go, then, to founders and sponsors Dean and Orange Schroeder (below, holding a bust of George Frideric Handel), the business owners of Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street, who are such reliable and generous supporters of Madison’s classical music scene.

MEMF Handel 2014 Handel Orange and Dean Schroeder

THE ALL-FESTIVAL CONCLUDING CONCERT

A week ago tonight, the Madison Early music held its All-Festival Concert in Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue. (MEMF had to use Music Hall and Luther Memorial as alternative venues this summer because Mills Hall at the UW-Madison School of Music was undergoing repairs.)

And speaking of triumphs, the thematic program was based on the sonnet cycle of “Triumph” by Petrarch (below), who examined the importance of Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time and Eternity. It is a work that both anticipates and sums up the emerging humanism of the Italian Renaissance.

francesco petrarca or petrarch

There are not a lot of specific remarks I can make except that:

The program was well constructed by Grant Herreid (below), who also conducted it.

MEMF 2014 All-Festival Grant Herreid

The orchestra played beautifully and produced big full sound enhanced by the church’s acoustics. Yet a balance was maintained, and vocal and instrumental parts blended.

The various soloists -– and there were many –- were impressive.

Lasting just over an hour, it was a perfect wrap up to a great festival.

MEMF 2014 All-Festival

Co-founders and co-artistic directors UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe and Cheryl Bensman Rowe, who both sang in the chorus parts, also announced that next year’s theme will be Early Music in Central and Eastern Europe, including Czechoslovakia, Poland and Bohemia.

Sounds great.

Can’t wait.


Classical music: Tangos will be featured in a FREE concert by the Yzafa Quintet this Monday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Unity Chapel in Spring Green.

July 25, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Monday night at 7:30 p.m. the Yzafa Quintet will perform a FREE concert of tangos at the Unity Chapel in Spring Green. Members of the quintet include (bottom left to right) Doug Brown, Michael O’Brien, August Jirovec, Amber Dolphin and Jamie Davis.

Quinteto Yzafa

To The Ear, it sure seems like this certainly has been the year for South American music in general and tangos in particular in the Madison area.

The Wisconsin Youth Chamber Orchestras’ Youth Orchestra (below) left yesterday for an extensive 10-day tour of Argentina, the home of the tango, which legend says was first danced in brothels.

Here is a link to background about the tour:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/2014-international-tour/

And here is a link to the tour blog:

http://wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

Earlier this summer, The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society performed a dozen tangos by Astor Piazzolla and other composers with the help of Uruguayan pianist and tango master Pablo Zinger (below).

Pablo Zinger at piano

And flutist Stephanie Jutt (below), who is a co-founder and co-artistic director of BDDS, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who is principal flute with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, has performed and recorded a bunch of tangos she brought back from a sabbatical year she spent in Argentina.

BDDS 2014 Jutt and Syles play Angel Lasala

Well, you really can’t blame them at all for programming tangos.

Was there ever a sexier or more sensual,  more seductive dance –- even if you don’t actually dance it?

Tango

And Madison isn’t alone in succumbing to Tango Fever.

Here is a note from our blog friend Kent Mayfield, who heads up the Rural Musicians Forum and is bringing the urban decadence of the tango out to the wholesome farm fields in south-central Wisconsin:

TANGO TAKES THE SPOTLIGHT IN SPRING GREEN CONCERT

The region’s only group specializing in traditional Argentine tango, Quinteto Yzafa, takes the spotlight in a concert in Spring Green’s Unity Chapel on Monday night, July 28, at 7:30 p.m.. The concert is part of an annual series sponsored by the Rural Musicians Forum. (You can hear a sample of a tango by the Quinteto Yzafa in a YouTube video of a performance in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the bottom.)

The tango is a partner dance that originated in the 1890s in working class districts of Buenos Aires and along the Río de la Plata, the natural border between Uruguay and Argentina. Soon it became wildly popular around the world.

The dance derives from the Cuban and Argentine dance styles. It is said to contain elements from the African community in Buenos Aires, influenced both by ancient African rhythms and the music from Europe.

In 2009, the tango was declared part of the world’s “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO.

Quinteto Yzafa (pronounced “ee-SAH-fuh”) is dedicated to a fresh, dynamic approach to traditional Argentine tango music.

With backgrounds in classical music as well as jazz, bluegrass, Arabic music, Latin American folk and popular dance styles, the musicians perform tangos, waltzes and milongas from the 1910s through the present day.

Their dynamic new arrangements have the variety and intensity to entertain concert audiences, but they never lose the danceable essence of the true tango. They delight schoolchildren and serious tango dancers alike.

The ensemble’s sound features the bandoneón (below), the characteristic 71-button relative of the accordion whose distinctive timbre is essential for traditional tango music, filled out with the rich tones of a full string section (violin, cello and double bass) and piano.

Bandoneon

Bandoneon player and composer Michael O’Brien says he was inspired by the Argentinian classical composer Astor Piazzola (below bottom).

“There was something about the combination of sinuous, expressive melody interspersed with periods of brutal dissonance and percussive playing that lodged itself in my memory,” O’Brien says.

astor piazzolla

That was the beginning of a life-long interest which has led him to learn Piazzolla’s own instrument, the bandoneon, travel to Argentina to study, research and perform tango music, and even to make a career out of it. In his day job, O’Brien is a professor of ethnomusicology. O’Brien has created for the group a repertoire of little known and original tangos, waltzes and milongas as well as many tango classics.

Quinteto Yzafa has passion and zing … At times bold and brash and at other times heartbreakingly tragic, it covers every emotion in the spectrum.

The Unity Chapel (below top is the exterior, below bottom is the interior) is located at 6596 County Road T, just east of Highway 23. The chapel is a living testament to the simple and contemplative lives early settlers created for themselves in southwest Wisconsin.

There is no ticket charge but a freewill offering to support the concert series will be taken.

Unity Chapel in Spring Green exterior

Unity Chapel in Spring Green interior

For more information: www.ruralmusiciansforum.org

OR contact Kent Mayfield ruralmusiciansforum@yahoo.com.

https://www.youtube.com/watch


Classical music: A memorial for the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp is set for Sunday, Aug. 31, at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall. Here is a link to an obituary in The Wisconsin State Journal and to two other stories about Karp from Isthmus and the UW-Madison News Service.

July 21, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The word is in: There will be NO annual Labor Day Concert by the Karp family this year.

Instead, on the day before Labor Day, friends, students and family members will gather to celebrate the life of professor, pianist and musical patriarch Howard Karp (below, playing with his son, fellow UW-Madison School of Music professor and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp), who taught and performed for many decades at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, in a memorial event.

Karp family 2011 Brahms Parry and Howard Karp

The memorial is set for Sunday, August 31, at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall. Initial plans call for playing recorded live performances by Howard Karp; for selected speakers; and perhaps for some live music performances. As details develop, this blog will pass them along.

Howard Karp ca. 2000 by Katrin Talbot

On June 30, in Colorado. Howard Karp died at 84 of cardiac arrest. He was so loved and so respected that news of his death brought this blog a record number of comments and remarks (more than 70 so far), and close to a record number of “hits” or views:

Here is a link to the post, which has a lot of photos provided by the family, that broke the news:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/classical-music-pianist-howard-karp-who-taught-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-has-died-at-84/

Frances and Howard Karp June 22, 2014

Here is a link to the obituary that appeared two Sundays ago in The Wisconsin State Journal (below, Howard Karp is seen performing at a recent Labor Day Concert with his wife Frances Karp and his two of his four grandchildren, actors Isabel and Ariana Karp):

http://host.madison.com/news/local/obituaries/karp-howard/article_fbbd171c-96da-5166-93e6-66b05ca2239a.html

Howard, Frances, Isabel and Ariana Karp 2013

Two stories have also celebrated Howard Karp as the patriarch of Madison’s First Family of Music (below in a past photo by Mike DeVries of The Capital Times, are, from left, violinist-pianist and doctor son Christopher Karp, who works for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; daughter-in-law biologist and violist Katrin Talbot; Howard Karp; cellist son Parry Karp; and pianist wife Frances Karp):

Karp Family in color

One is from Isthmus by Sandy Tabachnick, who got statements from fellow pianists and teachers Christopher Taylor, Bill Lutes, Martha Fischer and Jessica Johnson:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=43120

Howard Karp ca. 1955

Another memorable story about Howard Karp (below with his wife of 63 years Frances, who survives him) was filed by Susannah Brooks, who also spoke with UW-Madison School of Music head Susan Cook (below bottom), for the University of Wisconsin-Madison News Service:

howard and frances karp

Susan C. Cook UW SOM BW CR Michael Forster Rothbart

And here is a wonderful appreciation of Howard Karp and the new 6-CD set of Karp’s live recordings by UW-Madison and WYSO alumnus Kenneth Woods (below). Woods is a composer, professional cellist and now the conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, who is also an acclaimed blogger (“A View From the Podium”) and an honored recording artist whose releases include world premiere recordings of music by Hans Gal.

http://kennethwoods.net/blog1/2014/07/07/6162/

Kenneth_Woods

And, finally, here is a small excerpt from that new 6-CD set on Albany Records. It is a triumphant recording of the first movement of the epic Fantasy in C Major, Op 17, by the Romantic composer Robert Schumann, which was written to raise money for a memorial statue to Ludwig van Beethoven.

In mood and meaning, the masterpiece is a fitting tribute to Howard Karp and to the art, generosity and devotion to both beauty and love with which he lived his life. As a teacher, a friend, a family man and a performer, Howard Karp lived his long, rich life in the service of bringing and sharing whatever beauty he could to other people.

 

 

 


Classical music: Famed child prodigy conductor Lorin Maazel has died at age 84. To the end, he was surrounded by controversy and contradiction.

July 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Sunday. as you may have already heard, the distinguished conductor Lorin Maazel (below, in a photo by AFP-Getty Images) died at his summer festival grounds and home in Virginia from complications of pneumonia. He was 84. Many expected him to live much longer — since conducting is such aerobic exercise, since extreme longevity ran in his family, since  conductors are a very long-lived group as a rule. 

lorin maazel AFP Getty Images

Here is a specially posted tribute video, with Maazel conducting music by Gustav Mahler — the famed Adagietto from the Symphony No. 5:

I read a lot about outstanding and searing performances by Maazel, who had a truly international career, but never heard any first-hand.

I also read a lot about his mechanical and uninspired approach to conducting, despite his mastery of “stick technique” with the baton. I never heard that in person either.

When I did hear him, usually conducting the New York Philharmonic on the PBS program “Live From Lincoln Center” or the Vienna Philharmonic  “New Year’s Day in Vienna,” he seemed perfectly competent and acceptable, if never outstandingly original or impressive or inspired. (You can hear him conduct in Seoul, Korea, the dramatic and moving “Egmont” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Born in France, Maazel as a major talent who started as a violin prodigy and then went on to conducting major orchestras before he reached the age of 10. Later, he also turned to opera, including appearances at the Metropolitan Opera. And he often talked about how lucky he had been to have parents who did not exploit his talent during childhood. And he was full of forward-looking plans to the end.

Maazel’s death was all over the media -– including media that don’t normally care to give much coverage to the arts, especially to the current arts and to living artists. Perhaps the fact that he made history by taking the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang, North Korea, where he also performed our national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” to applause, had something to do with it.

Nonetheless, here are some stories to help you catch up:

Here is a story, with sound clips and a fine appreciation, from the classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/07/13/331148634/conductor-lorin-maazel-who-brought-america-to-the-podium-dies

Here is an exhaustive and comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/14/arts/music/lorin-maazel-brilliant-intense-and-enigmatic-conductor-dies-at-84.html?_r=0

Here is a story from the Wall Street Journal:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/conductor-lorin-maazel-dies-at-84-1405273033

Here is a fine memorial from The Washington Post critic Anne Midgette:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/style/wp/2014/07/13/lorin-maazel-1930-2014/

Here is a fine summing up by The New Yorker magazine of the contradictions and controversies that surrounded Maazel’s conducting. I love the headline – “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” which is a timely reminder of the balance needed between intellectualism and emotional directness, the latter of which is, for The Ear, the heart of making music:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2014/07/lorin-maazel-the-man-who-knew-too-much.html

Did you hear Lorin Maazel?

Do you have a favorite memorable performance or recording by him?

A least favorite one?

What do YOU think of Lorin Maazel?

The Ear wants to hear.


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