The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra opens its season with polished viola playing from Vicki Powell and infectious enthusiasm from the entire orchestra in a Dvorak symphony.

October 25, 2014
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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 for 20 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John Barker

By John W. Barker

The Middleton Community Orchestra (below) opened its fifth season on last Wednesday evening with a mix of novelties and old favorites.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The orchestra’s new concertmaster, Valerie Clare Sanders, a senior at the UW-Madison School of Music  who also plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, also made her debut with the MCO.

Valerie Clare Sanders MCO 2014

The starter was the ever-popular, ever-rousing Overture to opera “William Tell” by Rossini. The playing seemed a little less fully digested, but the piece still came off with spirit.

The unfamiliar elements were two display pieces for the young but highly gifted, Madison-born violist, Vicki Powell (below). She offered a superbly warm, rich, clearly projected tone, presented in a thoroughly professional manner— reminding us, too, how under appreciated the viola is as a solo instrument.

Vicki Powell at MCO

Her first selection was a Fantasia on themes of Mozart, by Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837), a protégé of Mozart and rival to Beethoven. Originally a solo piano piece of 1833, if I am not mistaken, it was arranged for solo viola and chamber orchestra by the French musician Fernand Oubradous. It proved to be charming music, beautifully played.

The second piece was a Romance, Op. 85, of 1911, for viola and orchestra. Composed in lush late-Romantic style, it could have been a movement of a concerto, and was a handsome dialogue between soloist and orchestra, realized with particularly gorgeous tone by Powell. She is a musician to watch for.

Vicki Powell and Steve Kurr MCO finale

The grand finale was the Symphony No. 8 in G major by Antonin Dvorak.

Here I must ask the reader’s patience if I indulge in a strong personal memory about this work — and a very pertinent one.

When I was a graduate student in the late 1950s at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick N.J., I attended a concert by the New Brunswick Community Philharmonic (if I remember its name correctly). It consisted of semi-professionals and amateurs of the area, under the baton of the local high-school bandmaster, one Max Pecker. This has proven to be one of the most memorable concerts of my musical lifetime, and I still recall the program vividly.

Franz Schubert’s bouncy Overture to his opera “Alfonso und Estrella” immediately revealed that this orchestra was a pretty scrappy affair in terms of discipline. BUT: the players were having so much fun in their work that it was impossible not to share their enthusiasm.

The second work was the Piano Concerto No. 2 of Camille Saint-Saëns, featuring a local keyboard whiz just back from the Paris Conservatory. For him the orchestra had made its most careful preparation, and their playing came off as quite credible.

But the final work was this very same G major Symphony by Dvorak (below). Now, the orchestra’s concertmaster was also the local newspaper’s music critic (!), and in her review of the concert she revealed the profundity of her knowledge by observing that, though this symphony was not as well-known as Dvorak’s Symphony No 9 “The New World,” it was, she insisted, “not without moments of interest” (! again). (You can hear the entrancing and beautiful symphony in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

dvorak

The important thing was that, even though the work was rough going for this ensemble, the sheer joy of the players was simply contagious. The most honest kind of musical pleasure filled the hall. As I said, this is a concert I have never forgotten, always remembered affectionately.

I had that concert very much in mind in listening to the MCO performance.

Oh yes, there were some passing fluffs here and there. But this was an orchestra that could play with discipline and coherent unity of purpose, far beyond the New Brunswickers’ capacities. The parallel was, however, that the players seemed clearly to have caught the enthusiasm for the score conveyed to them by conductor Steve Kurr (below).

Steve Kurr and MCO 2014

Better than most performances I have heard, Kurr projected an intensity and even dramatic emphases that the orchestra took up and gave back to him gloriously.

One member told me afterwards: “We enjoyed playing it.” And I found myself at times transported with delight at how this magnificent score once again came alive for me, thanks to music-making that was more than just a matter of artistic efficiency.

My point is not just a matter of nostalgia revived. It is a reminder that one does not have to have a performance by one of the super-polished orchestras of our Big Cities, or of the international world, in order to have a memorable listening experience.

A deeply committed orchestra under inspired and inspiring leadership can offer as satisfying a musical experience as can be found anywhere.

Madison audiences should therefore listen up and pay attention to Middleton’s really splendid community orchestra, taking advantage of its offerings to discover the genuine rewards.

 

 

 

 

 


Classical music: Are super-high concert fees morally right or wrong? Do they contribute to the wealth gap and lack of young audiences? What can music consumers do?

October 24, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Are artist concert fees — like those charged by tenor Placido Domingo (below top), soprano Rene Fleming (below middle) and violinist Itzhak Perlman (below bottom) —  too high these days and too unaffordable for most American concert-goers?

FRENI

reneefleming

Itzhak Perlman close

What would Janet say?

Maybe that refrain could become the economic equivalent of What Would Jesus Say?

I am speaking of Janet Yellin (below), the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve who last week made headlines when she spoke out publicly against the widening wealth gap as being contrary to America’s historic democratic ideals.

Key Speakers At Seminars At The IMF & World Bank Annual Meetings

But let’s localize the issue.

By all accounts superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, along with pianist Kathryn Stott, turned in a terrific performance — his seventh — at the Wisconsin Union Theater last Saturday night.

The Ear didn’t go, but here is a rave review from the student newspaper The Badger Herald, which agrees with the word-of-mouth reviews I have heard:

http://badgerherald.com/artsetc/2014/10/20/yo-yo-ma-and-kathryn-scott-transcend-classical-music-norms-at-shannon-hall/#.VEfBQYeENUQ

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

And for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t buy tickets, the Wisconsin Union Theater even webcast the concert live and for free.

Still, with seats that sold for well over $100, The Ear got to wondering: Are really high artist fees morally right or wrong?

We all hear about the widening wealth gap, and especially about the astronomical pay given to CEOs versus their workers as compared to the same ratio several decades ago.

Well, what about well-known and in-demand concert artists?

If The Ear heard correctly, Yo-Yo Ma’s fee for that one-night performance was either $90,000 or $95,000 -– or about $42,500 or $45,000 an hour.

Can Yo-Yo Ma demand and get that extravagant fee in the so-called “free market” society with its corporate welfare and tax loopholes for the wealthy? Of course, he can — and he does. That is why he sold out the Wisconsin Union Theater.

But should he?

It makes one wonder.

Is Yo-Yo Ma really that much better as a cellist and musician -– and not just as a celebrity — than many other cellists, including MacArthur “genius grant” winner Alisa Weilerstein, Alban Gerhardt, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Steven Isserlis, Carter Brey, Joshua Roman and others? (You can hear Yo-Yo Ma’s interpretation of a movement from a solo cello suite by Johann Sebastian Bach in a  YouTube video — with over 11 million hits — at the bottom and decide if it is that much better than other cellists play it.)

Now I don’t mean to pick just on Yo-Yo Ma. I have gone to a half-dozen of his other performances here and I have met him and talked with him. He is without doubt a great musician, a fine human being and an exemplary humanitarian.

The problem that I am talking about transcends any single performer and applies to the whole profession.

Maybe at least part of the problem of attracting young audiences to classical music concerts can be placed right in the laps of the performing artists themselves.

When The Ear was young, he got to hear all sorts of great musical artists—including Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Rubinstein (below), Vladimir Horowitz, Van Cliburn, Itzhak Perlman, Rudolf Serkin, Isaac Stern, Emanuel Ax and others for quite affordable prices. Not that those artists didn’t live well -– but I doubt that they were paid the equivalent of $45,000 an hour.

artur rubinstein in moscow 1964

Maybe it is time for economic populism in the performing arts.

Fees like that exclude a lot of families from participating. Some fans might find it better and cheaper to hear a CD or download than go to a live concert.

Too many performing artists – opera stars come immediately to mind as a class — seem to have taken the same path toward justifying greed as movie stars, sports figures, rock stars and CEO’s who make out like bandits.

In short, can it be that classical musicians are helping to kill off classical music?

Smaller theaters like the Wisconsin Union Theater and even the Overture Center simply cannot book such well-known artists without charging a ridiculous amount of money for a seat – and at a time when many people of all ages just can’t afford it. It just adds to the Wealth Gap and the One Percent problem.

SO THE EAR WOULD LIKE TO ASK CONCERT ARTISTS: PLEASE ADJUST YOUR CONCERT FEES TO HELP SUSTAIN THE FUTURE OF YOUR ART.

Well, these are just some brain droppings.

The Ear wonders what you think of stratospheric artist fees?

Do they contribute to the wealth gap?

Do they hurt the popularity of the art form, especially younger generations?

Are they contributing to the decline of cultural literacy?

In short, are such high artist fees morally right or wrong?

And if wrong, what can we arts consumers do about it? Boycott certain artists until they become more reasonable in their fees?

Ask artist and management agencies to adjust the fees to make them more affordable?

Go to alternative concerts that are perfectly acceptable without star power and cost less or, like those at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, free?

Tell us what you think in a COMMENT.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble offers early music rarities with verve and polish. Plus, TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. native daughter violist Vicki Powell solos with the Middleton Community Orchestra

October 22, 2014
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ALERT: A reminder that Madison-born Vicki Powell, who trained at the UW-Madison School of Music, the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School and who plays with the New York Philharmonic and other major groups, will perform two solos  TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. at the season-opening concert by the largely amateur but very good Middleton Community Orchestra, under conductor Steve Kurr.

The place is the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School, 2100 Bristol Street, not far off of University Avenue.

On the programs is the Overture to “William Tell” by Rossini, the Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, the  Romance for Viola and Orchestra by Max Bruch and the Symphony No. 8 by Antonin Dvorak. Tickets are $10; all students get in for FREE. A meet-and-greet reception for the players and audience members follows the concert.

Here is a link to the Q&A with violist Vicki Powell that The Ear posted last week:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/10/17/classical-music-vicki-powell-talks-about-why-she-took-to-the-viola-rather-than-the-violin-she-returns-to-madison-to-solo-next-wednesday-night-with-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

Vicki Powell, Viola

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 for 20 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below top) launched its new season in Madison last Sunday afternoon, not at its usual venue (Gates of Heaven Synagogue), but at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below bottom).

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

The different location contributed to an enlargement of instrumental colors this time. Max Yount not only worked the harpsichord, but made good use of the church’s handsome Baroque organ in the numerous continuo functions.

In addition, Eric Miller (below) extended from his viola da gamba to show his new talents on the cornetto, while Theresa Koenig moved gracefully between dulcian (early bassoon) and recorders, and Monica Steger alternated on flute and recorder.

Eric Miller viol

The frequent vocal collaborators, UW-Madison soprano Mimmi Fulmer (below top, seen at the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s compound Taliesin in Spring Green) and mezzo-soprano Consuelo Sañudo were on hand, and patriarch Anton TenWolde (below bottom) on cello completed the group of seven performers.

Mimmi Fulmer at Taliesin 2014

anton tenwolde

Two of the nine composers represented — the German Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and the Swede Johan Helmich Roman (1694-1758) — stood apart as almost chronological afterthoughts, though Roman’s sonata for flute and continuo was given a predictably rousing rendition by Steger.

Otherwise, the focus was on music of the 17th century, especially its very early epoch. Miller gave us gamba renditions of Giovanni Bassano’s variations on a popular madrigal by Cipriano de Rore (1515-1565), two training pieces by Christopher Simpson (1602-1669), and an unaccompanied solo by the enigmatic Sainte-Colombe (1640-1700). (An entrancing sample of solo viol music by Sainte-Colombe is in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

Koenig presented a sonata for dulcian and continuo by Giovanni Antonio Bertoli (1598-1645), then joining Steger on recorders for a duo sonata by Giuseppe Scarani of the mid-17th century.

On the vocal side, the two singers joined in an impressive cycle of eight Italian duets, with continuo, by Sigismondo d’India (1582-1629). In these, D’India, an epigone of Claudio Monteverdi (below), contrived writing of individual elaborateness for each singer while also ingeniously integrating their parts.

Monteverdi 2

Vocal music returned at the end, too, when Sañudo, joined by all the players, sang the opening aria of Bach’s Cantata 161, and then the two singers and almost all the players came together for an early carryover by Heinrich Schütz (below, 1585-1672) from his Italian training, a moralizing madrigal in German for two voices, two melody instruments, and continuo, which made a richly satisfying conclusion to the program. It was in these two last vocal works, too, that Miller forsook his gamba and took up his cornet.

Heinrich Schutz

What can we say? After some 17 years, the WBE is still going strong, offering us annual presentations of mostly rare Baroque chamber works, in elegant performances in intimate venues. They are the trailblazers in Madison’s early music scene, and they remain a vital component of that scene.

 

 


Classical music: Vicki Powell talks about why she took to the viola rather than the violin. She returns to Madison to solo next Wednesday night with the Middleton Community Orchestra. Plus, cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s SOLD-OUT recital Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater will be WEBCAST LIVE and FOR FREE.

October 17, 2014
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REMINDER: This Saturday night, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma (below right) will make his seventh appearance at the Wisconsin Union Theater at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall. His recital features works by Igor Stravinsky, Johannes Brahms, Olivier Messiaen, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Astor Piazzolla and others with piano accompanist Kathryn Stott (below left). The event is SOLD OUT to the general public, although some student tickets may remain. For more information, here is a link:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/season14-15/yoyoma-kathynstott.html

BUT: If you didn’t get a ticket to the sold-out Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott concert Saturday night, October 18, in Shannon Hall in the Wisconsin Union Theater, don’t fret. The concert will be webcast if you go to the page above at 8 p.m.

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear loves the sound of the viola, with its mellow mediating between the higher violin and the lower cello.

And he will have the chance to hear it in some unusual repertoire this coming Wednesday night, Oct. 22, when  the Madison-born violist Vicki Powell (below top) returns to solo with the Middleton Community Orchestra (below bottom, in a photo by William Ballhorn) under conductor Steve Kurr.

Vicki Powell, Viola

Middleton Community Orchestra by William Ballhorn

The MCO opens its fifth season at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the Middleton Performing Arts Center, 2100 Bristol Street, that is attached to Middleton High School. Tickets are $10 general admission; students get in for FREE. Advance tickets can be bought at the Willy Street Coop West.

Middleton PAC1

The program includes the Overture to “William Tell” (which contains the brass fanfare theme to TV show “The Lone Ranger”) by Gioachino Rossini; the Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra by Johann Nepomuk Hummel; the Romance for Viola and Orchestra by Max Bruch; and the Symphony No. 8 by Antonin Dvorak.

For more information about the amateur but very accomplished ensemble, including how to join it and support it and find out what the coming season will bring, call (608) 212-8690 or visit: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Violist Vicki Powell (below) recently gave an email interview to The Ear:

Vicki Powell 2

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers and tell us a bit about yourself, including when you started music lessons, your early preparation and your life in Madison as well as your personal interests (hobbies, etc.) and professional career plans?

Greetings from New York City, the city that never sleeps and that is certainly never lacking in cultural events. I am a native Wisconsinite, raised in Madison, but for the past eight years I have been living on the East Coast.

After earning my Bachelor’s of Music at the Curtis Institute, where I studied with Roberto Diaz and Misha Amory, I moved to New York City to pursue my Master’s at the Juilliard School, and have lived in the city ever since.

My life consists of a potpourri of musical activities, from performing with the Jupiter Chamber Players, to playing with the New York Philharmonic, to collaborating with ballet companies alongside my new music group Ensemble39. I’ve traveled across the globe and collaborated with many incredible musicians, but my most fond memories are from my time back home, the formative years of my musical being.

I began taking violin lessons with Maria Rosa Germain at the age of four after hearing my brother, Derek, play the violin. I have such a vivid memory of the moment when I decided that I wanted to play the violin: It was dusk, and I was curled up on the green shag carpet of our basement floor, the last bits of daylight leaking in through the windows above. Derek was practicing the Waltz by Johannes Brahms from Suzuki, Book Two a few feet away.

I was exhausted after an afternoon of monkeying around on the jungle gym, and the waltz was the most soothing lullaby to my ears, transporting me to that surreal state of half sleep where time seems to stand still. I felt so peaceful, so warm, so content, the effects combining to make the moment so magical that the only logical thing to me upon waking was that I would some day be able to recapture that sensation and make music as beautiful.

My main violin studies were with Eugene Purdue (below, in a photo by Thomas C. Stringfellow), of the famed “Buddy” Conservatory of Music, with whom I studied for nine years. Mr. Purdue also introduced me to the wonderful world of chamber music, taking on the role of devoted coach to my string quartet, the Élève Arte (wannabes of the Pro Arte String Quartet).

Eugene Purdue 2 by Thomas C. Stringfellow

The challenge to my string quartet was that there were three of us violinists, and no violist to speak of, so we took it upon ourselves to switch around our roles in order for us each to have a turn at playing the viola. As the years rolled on, it became clear to us that in order to compete at competitions, it was not practical for us to be lugging so many instruments onstage (there exists some comical video footage of this phenomenon).

At this point, I decided that my role in life was not that of diva (ahem, First Violin). Although I find the role of Second Violin extremely vital to the ensemble, challenging, thrilling and full of guts, I was drawn to the uniquely dark tone of the Viola.

To me the viola (below) represented the real meat and soul of the string quartet, and the tone of the viola was the perfect vehicle for expressing all of the rage, pain and suffering that I felt (Bela Bartok’s works were the perfect outlet for those emotions).

viola

Most violists also play the violin. What attracted you to the viola? What would you like the public to know about the viola, which seems less well-known and more mysterious than, say, the violin or the cello?

Having now overcome my teenage angst, I still adore the viola and its role in music -– to be entrusted with the core of harmony, the real color within every texture, gives me such a sense of quiet power with which I can subtly control the direction of a phrase and the shape of an entire work.

Mr. Purdue once shared a piece of wisdom relating to his wife, Sally Chisholm (below), who teaches at the UW-Madison School of Music and performs with the Pro Arte Quartet. She was my first formal viola teacher and the person responsible for expanding my creative horizon beyond the physical realm of music-making.

Those words of wisdom were: “People feel at ease when playing with Sally, and they easily credit themselves for sounding so magnificent. However, it is Sally who, through her playing, acts as such a strong guiding force that the flow of musical intention is undeniable.” That is a powerful statement that has stayed with me to this day, and which I strive to achieve every single day.

Sally Chisholm

Was there an Aha! Moment – an individual piece or composer or performance or recording, when you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career and be a violist?

I can’t imagine pursuing a life in anything unrelated to music and the arts, but it was not always that way.

As a teenager, I refused even to dream of becoming a musician –- I’m a very realistic person, and the idea of fighting my way through a world that is so competitive and which is not quite so financially lucrative was not one that appealed to my sensibilities. During my early high school years, I focused my attentions on math and the sciences, preparing myself for a life as a dentist or pathologist.

Then my “Aha!” moment came with my 16th birthday when I gave my debut as a solo violist on the nationally syndicated radio show From the Top on NPR (National Public Radio). It was the first time I had ever played for an audience to which I had no connection — the show was taped in Dallas, Texas — and I suppose the whirlwind story behind my debut as a violist sans string quartet helped to convince me that a life in music would never be boring.

I had such a blast meeting new people, and the thrill that came with being onstage was unforgettable that from that point forward I was hooked.

Benjamin Solomonow playing cello on NPR's %22From the Top%22

How do you think classical music can attract more young people?

We so often hear that classical music is dying, a sentiment with which I strongly disagree. Times have changed, and the world has turned to an era of short attention spans and an addiction to social media. I myself am victim to a few of these [shortcomings], but because of them, I am also aware of the enormous amount of interest in the classical world.

I believe that in order to attract more young (and old) fans of classical music, we must be conscious of providing inviting points of entry.

I am very fortunate to be privy to several hip events around New York City that target young people looking to be cultured and have a great time doing so. A few examples are: Groupmuse, Wine by the Glass, NYC House Concerts, the Le Poisson Rouge (below) nightclub. They all introduce music in a social setting where it’s cool to explore, and where you don’t feel constrained by rules of concert-watching etiquette.

Le Poisson Rouge

What can you tell us about Hummel’s Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra?

Hummel (below) was a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn, both of whom played the role of mentor for their younger counterpart. Hummel is most well-known for his fantasies, which are said to be “the peak and keystone of virtuosic performance.” The Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra takes on different operatic themes, three of which appear in the version that I will be performing with the Middleton Community Orchestra. (You can hear the Hummel Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra performed in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Hummelcolor

What can you tell us about the Bruch Romance for Viola and Orchestra

The Romance by Max Bruch (below top) holds a very special place in my heart. It was the very last work I performed — with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) — before departing Madison to begin my studies at the Curtis Institute of Music eight years ago! The lush, tonal soundscape will draw in any sucker for Romantic music.

max bruch

WCO lobby

Is there something else you would like to say or add?

I’m very much looking forward to performing at home again, with people that are like family to me. Mindy Taranto, cofounder of the Middleton Community Orchestra, has been such a great friend and supporter to me throughout the years, and I am thrilled to finally have the opportunity to collaborate with her and the orchestra.


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra again proves that it’s not just for summer pops listening anymore as it opens its winter season to the full house its deserves.

October 14, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Can it really be that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra –- The Little Orchestra That Could -– is finally getting the long overdue recognition and larger audiences that it deserves? One hopes so, and it certainly seems so.

Last Friday night on the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opened its new winter season to a full and enthusiastic house.

WCO lobby

So perhaps the tide is indeed turning and the WCO will not continue to be hamstrung by its own success, by which I mean its historic role and pops repertoire in the always popular summertime Concerts on the Square. The WCO should be taken more seriously by the area’s classical fans.

Friday saw a full house – but not necessarily a sold-out house since the WCO generously offers tickets to students and others in need -– which was what they deserve, and have deserved, for a longtime.

The ensemble’s playing proved nothing short of terrific, and the soloists – violinist Rachel Barton Pine and violist Matthew Lipman – proved nothing short of spectacular.

Here are the points that The Ear took away.

1. The music of the famous 18th-century composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below top) and Franz Joseph Haydn (below bottom) can by now seem so safe and so predictable. The Classical-era style is that well established. So it is high praise to the WCO ‘s longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, who his starting his 15th season, that these most established of Classical composers again seemed vital and even, at times, daring and radical. No music box Mozart from the WCO!

Mozart old 1782
Haydn

Sewell’s readings of both composers is not timid in any way, but robust and energetic. Not that Sewell (below) sacrifices the elegance and balanced proportion that we expect to hear in Classical compositions. But he also brings an approach that features up-beat tempi, sharply accented beats, long phrases and an emphasis on dissonant harmonies that helped listeners see how such staple Classical composers were innovative revolutionaries in their day and helped pave the way to modernity.

andrewsewell

Really, at one point during Haydn’s late Symphony No. 96 “The Miracle” The Ear could look down the road of music history and see not only Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert coming, but even Gustav Mahler (below), with his use of peasant dances, harmonic suspensions and dissonances, and a kind of tightly knit theme-and-variations method of composing and adding to the music’s momentum.

Gustav Mahler big

2. The WCO knows how to book outstanding and exciting soloists. Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below), playing a violin once chosen by Johannes Brahms himself, showed superb tone and musicianship with just the right splash of head-turning virtuosity. But she can sing too, and she held the audience in her hand when she played the famous quiet Lullaby by Brahms as an encore.

One very discerning listener whom The Ear knows thought that Barton Pine’s stellar rendition of Camille Saint-Saens’ showpiece “Introduction and Rondo capriccioso” was the best version of the several he had heard in three performances over the past several months. It helped, I think, that you could watch the playing as well as hear the piece. As the composer Igor Stravinsky used to advise: Listen with your eyes.

Rachel Barton Pine

Similarly the violist Matthew Lipman (below), who was making his WCO debut, did a terrific job. He may look about 16, but he plays like a seasoned veteran with confidence and fine tone.

matthew lipman violajpg

The two string players excelled in the Double Concerto for Violin and Viola by Benjamin Britten -– but more about that performance and work later. Yet what really brought the string duo a prolonged standing ovation was their encore: the famous solo Passacaglia for Violin and Viola by George Frideric Handel, as arranged by Johan Halvorsen. (You can hear a version of this great violin and viola piece, with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, in a YouTube video at the bottom.) What fun it was to hear it live!

3. The hybrid programming proved typical of Andrew Sewell, who likes to combine the familiar with the unknown. So  Mozart’s popular Overture to the opera “The Marriage of Figaro” and the well-known late Haydn symphony were balanced out by the rarely programmed Violin Concerto No. 5 by the mid-19th century Romantic Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps (below), a competent but, to The Ear’s ears, not a particularly inspired composition. I think I can wait another decade or two before hearing a repeat performance.

henri vieuxtemps

The Double Concerto for Violin and Viola by the young Benjamin Britten is another matter. I need to hear it again, and that will not be easy since it is not often programmed or recorded.

But the hallmarks of mature Britten (below) all seemed there, if not yet seamlessly assembled. The music sounded modern but accessible, clearly not academic. This was real music, not what The Ear calls R&D Music — Research and Development Music — that is designed more to make a point or win tenure than to please the ear or touch the heart.

Benjamin Britten

In all, it was a delightful night of music-making, and if you are not going to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, you are only cheating yourself of great pleasure and great performances.

Reviews, of course, are by nature subjective. So here is another one you can compare this review to:

It is a review by the highly respected John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=43770&sid=c9ccfe0ad418291bab1d31cde0181d49

John-Barker

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opens its new winter season Friday night with masterpieces and rarities with guest violinist Rachel Barton Pine. Get there early, and check out the photographs of Paul Vanderbilt.

October 7, 2014
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ALERT: If you have a chance before attending a concert at the Overture Center, be sure to check out the impressive show of black-and-white landscape photos by Paul Vanderbilt (below), the former curator of photography at the Wisconsin Historical Society. It is a stunning exhibit that features single shots and also couplings with poetic commentaries by Vanderbilt.

The images are on show in the James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, on the top floor of the Overture Center. The show runs through Sunday, Nov. 2. A FREE panel discussion will be held on Saturday, Oct. 18, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the auditorium at the State Historical Society, 816 State Street (NOT the museum on the Capitol Square).

Here is a link to more information and other related events:

http://www.wisconsinacademy.org/gallery/current-exhibition

Paul Vanderbilt

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear is all excited.

One of the major players on the Madison music scene will open its new season this coming Friday night.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, under the baton of its longtime music director and conductor, Andrew Sewell, will perform a concert of music by Henri Vieuxtemps, Camille Saint-Saens, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Benjamin Britten and Franz Joseph Haydn. It takes place at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO lobby

The new WCO season is heavy with three fine pianists (Shai Wosner, Ilya Yakushev and Bryan Wallick)  -– which The Ear likes since he is himself an avid amateur pianist -– but the opening concert is special and an exception.

The guest soloist is Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below), who received a rave review when she performed the famous Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra last season for the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Here is a link to that review by John W. Barker:

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

Here is a link to a preview interview that The Ear did with Rachel Barton Pine:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/classical-music-qa-violinist-rachel-barton-pine-talks-about-music-education-her-new-projects-reaching-new-audiences-playing-rock-music-and-the-brahms-violin-concerto-that-she-will-perform-sat/

Rachel Barton Pine

Rachel Barton Pine will perform the Violin Concerto No. 5 in A minor by the 19th-century Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps (below top) and also the showpiece “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” by French composer Camille Saint-Saens (below bottom, at the piano circa 1900 in a Corbis photo). You can hear the flashy Saint-Saens piece at the bottom performed by Itzhak Perlman in a popular YouTube video.  

henri vieuxtemps

Camille Saint-Saens at the piano

Then she will be joined by the young Juilliard School-trained violist Mathew Lipman in a performance of the early and rarely heard Concerto for Violin and Viola by the 20th-century British composer Benjamin Britten (below bottom).

matthew lipman violajpg

Benjamin Britten

Bookending the program are Mozart’s Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro” and Haydn’s late Symphony No. 96 in D Major, “The Miracle” -– so-called because a chandelier fell during the premiere performance in London but didn’t injure anyone in the audience.

The program is typical for Andrew Sewell (below), an avowed Francophile who likes to combine well-known works with rarely heard works. And it should be even more memorable because the Classical-era style of Mozart and Haydn plays to Sewell’s strong suit.

Andrew Sewell BW

Tickets are $15 to $75. Call the overture box office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information, including audio-video clips and artist biographies, for this opening concert, visit:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/76/event-info/

For more information about the entire WCO Masterworks winter season, including an all-Beethoven concert, visit:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/

 

 

 

 


Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians return to their roots in moving and impressive renditions of two cantatas and two concertos.

October 6, 2014
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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 for 20 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John Barker

By John W. Barker

Trevor Stevenson’s Madison Bach Musicians (below) returned to their core commitment in their first concert of the new season – their 11th — devoted entirely to Johann Sebastian Bach, and focused on his sacred cantatas.

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

There were two of the cantatas,  written for solo voices without choir. The accompanying ensemble consisted of a quartet of string players, with harpsichord, reproducing the scale of performance that Bach himself would have used.

By far the best-known of Bach’s solo cantatas is No. 82, “Ich habe genug” (“I Am Content,” the title aria of which can be heard sung by the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer Dieskau at the bottom in a YouTube video). In the cantata the believer confronts death with the comfort of faith. Though the composer adapted it for female voice, this work was written for baritone, and is most frequently performed and recorded that way. In two of the three arias, an obbligato oboe is added for creating a kind of duet.

Baritone Joshua Copeland (below top) offered strong and nicely shaped singing, with a fine German diction. The oboe playing by Baroque oboe expert Luke Conklin (below bottom) was beautifully eloquent.

Joshua Copeland BW

Luke Conklin

The other cantata, No. 58, “Ach Gott, manches Herzeleid” (O God, What Heartache) is a duet cantata, but with a novel (if typically Bachian) spin: in two framing arias, the baritone sings reflected texts, while the soprano intones the melody of Lutheran chorales. The central aria, however, is hers alone, and Chelsea Morris (below) — a now-beloved Madison familiar — revealed her expressive artistry with stronger, more ringing power than we have yet heard from her.

Chelsea Morris soprano

Flanking the two cantatas were examples of Bach’s concerto writing.

To begin, only the first movement was played of the Harpsichord Concerto in D minor (BWV 1052), with Stevenson himself as the soloist, though his work was richly integrated with the string playing.

At the end came the now-standard reconstruction of Bach’s lost Concerto for Violin and Oboe, based on its survival as a Two-Harpsichord Concerto (BWV 1060). For this, most of the players (joined by a supplemental violinist) chose to play standing up. Without slighting the always vivacious playing of violinist Kangwon Kim (below), it must be admitted that the show was stolen by the beautifully colored and nuanced playing of oboist Conklin. The performance was truly stunning, bringing the audience to its feet in appropriate excitement. It proved a truly wonderful example of MBM presentation at its best!

Kangwon Kim

The Saturday night performance was given in the recently rebuilt sanctuary of Christ Presbyterian Church, a new and acoustically stimulating venue for Stephenson to explore.

As always, Stephenson (below) himself prefaced the concert with his own lecture, delivered with his usual charm and humor, and this time not only discussing the music on the program, but giving in 40 minutes a virtual course in Baroque music-making.

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

Coming next is their fourth annual Christmas Concert, which always features unusual Renaissance and Baroque fare for the holiday season. It takes place on Saturday, December 13,  with a 7:15 p.m. lecture and an 8 p.m. concert at the First Congregational United Church of Christ at 1609 University Avenue — something not to be missed.

For more information, go to: http://madisonbachmusicians.org

 

 


Classical music education: Superstar violinist Joshua Bell talks about the importance of music education and reaching people in unusual places — like subways. Plus, his terrific new all-Bach CD merits your attention.

October 4, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The perennially boyish Joshua Bell, now a veteran of the concert stage and recording studio for more than 25 years, is in his third season as the artistic director of the famed British chamber orchestra Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

joshua Bell

Sony Classical has just released his new recording – which has a program that is all by Johann Sebastian Bach (below). It features two violin concertos plus three arrangements, including the famous Chaconne from the Solo Partita No. 2, for violin and orchestra. (His previous release as conductor and concertmaster of the ASMF players was a fine reading of Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7 by Ludwig van Beethoven.)

And despite his Pretty Boy status, Bell — who has performed recitals here at the Wisconsin Union Theater and concertos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra — once again shows himself to be a gifted and serious musician. The Ear finds that he makes sense of notes that often get passed over by other violinists. Bells finds patterns in scales of climbing notes that help give the music momentum and melodic appeal. When he wants, Bell can be absolutely revelatory.

The Ear is not alone in his admiration for Bell at his best. Read the review by New York Times critic Steve Smith when Bell performed the glorious Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at this past summer’s “Mostly Mozart” Festival.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/22/arts/music/joshua-bell-plays-mostly-mozart.html?_r=0

Joshua Bell Bach CD cover

But perhaps the achievement these days it that Bell has become an adamant advocate of music education.

Joshua Bell with students

In that capacity he recently was featured in a 30-minute HBO special program about master classes with 9 students.

The Ear recently heard and saw him defend music education as a means not just to raise musicians but to give student more self-esteem and self-confidence. Playing music also brings other benefits, he adds, from better grades and a better sense of teamwork to a lower likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse.

But it is best to let Joshua Bell speak for himself.

Here is a link to an interview his did with NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/09/29/352494911/three-quick-lessons-from-the-violin-wunderkind-who-became-a-master

And here is a link to a television interview Bell did with reporter Jeffrey Brown of PBS’ The NewsHour as well as to the second, and final, subway appearance. (You may recall how his first anonymous appearance, at the bottom in a popular YouTube video with more than 5 million hits, made such a splash and even won the reporter a Pulitzer Prize.)

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/violinist-joshua-bell-turns-train-station-concert-hall-encourage-arts-education/

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/art/grammy-winning-violinist-joshua-bell-takes-another-turn-at-a-subway-concert/

Here is a 10-question video interview Bell did with Time magazine, in which he also discusses his love of gambling, his $5-million violin and possible alternative career choices:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9grpRj-KvtU

And here is the original “anonymous” “Stop and Hear the Music” subway busking “concert” with more than 5 million hits:

Do you have any thoughts about Joshua Bell?

The Ear wants to hear. 


Classical music: Madison Bach Musicians opens its season with two all-Bach performances on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. The program features two cantatas and two concertos.

September 30, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Bach Musicians, perhaps the premier local early music group in Madison that draws bigger audiences and offers terrific education through pre-concert lectures, will open its 11th season this coming weekend.

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

On this Saturday evening, Oct. 4, at Christ Presbyterian Church, and Sunday afternoon, Oct. 5, at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Monona, the Madison Bach Musicians will perform a program of cantatas and concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bach1

Included are two cantatas: Cantata 82, “Ich habe genug” (I Am Content); and Cantata 58, “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid” (O God, How much Heartache); plus the well-known Harpsichord Concerto in D minor (you can hear the irresistibly energetic first movement played by the Concert des Nations in a YouTube video at the bottom) and the Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C minor.

Madison Bach Musicians in Bach Cantata Dec. 2012

Featured soloists are bass-baritone Joshua Copeland (below top), who is flying in from England for the performances; and soprano Chelsea Morris (below, bottom) the recent winner of the second annual Handel Aria Competition during the Madison Early Music Festival in July), who has moved from Chicago to Madison; harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson; baroque oboist Luke Conklin; and baroque violinist Kangwon Kim.

Joshua Copeland BW

Chelsea Morris soprano

The concert will be played entirely on 18th-century period instruments.

Beginning 45 minutes before the concert, MBM founder and director Trevor Stephenson (below) will give a pre-concert lecture about the music and the period instruments. Ticket information can be found at madisonbachmusicians.org or by calling (608) 238-6092.

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

Here are specifics about the two performances

Saturday, Oct. 4, 7:15 p.m. for the lecture, 8 p.m. for the concert – at Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 E. Gorham St.

Sunday, Oct. 5, 2:45 p.m. for the lecture, 3:30 p.m. for the concert — at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, 5700 Pheasant Hill Rd.

Tickets for Madison Bach Musicians concerts may be purchased in advance or at the door. Advance outlets include the Willy Street Coops east and west; Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street; Farley’s house of Pianos near West Towne Mall; A Room of One’s Own, downtown; and the Ward Brodt Music Mall, off the West Beltline.

NOTE: 
Cash or checks only. Please make checks payable to Madison Bach Musicians.

For this weekend, advance ticket prices: $25 general, $20 students and seniors over 65; tickets at the door are $30 general, $25 for students and seniors.

Season tickets are also available.

The Madison Bach Musicians will also perform other concerts this season -– an always reliable holiday program in December at the First Congregational United Church of Christ and a concert “Pygmalion,” an opera-ballet by Jean-Philippe Rameau in April at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. For the lineup and details, go to:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/concerts/current-concert-season/

 

 

 

 

 


Classical music: Which one of five trains will you ride into the upcoming super-wreck on this Sunday afternoon?

September 25, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There are “train wrecks,” as the Wise Critic likes to call competing or conflicting music events.

And then there are TRAIN WRECKS!!!!!!!!!

Take the afternoon of this upcoming Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014.

The best The Ear can figure, you have a choice of five trains to ride into the wreck, possibly two if you plan really carefully and everything — including the length of concerts, transportation time and the availability of parking —  falls into place.

There are just too many events and too few weekdays to do separate blog posts on all of them. Besides, it will probably be helpful for scheduling –- if discouraging –- to see them all listed together.

A-l-l-l-l aboard:

Here, in timetable order, we go:

PRO ARTE STRING QUARTET

The Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in photo by Rick Langer), which is wrapping up its centennial anniversary and six centennial commissions with a gala FREE world premiere concert and dessert reception at the Wisconsin Union Theater on this Friday night at 8 p.m., will repeat the program in a FREE concert at the Chazen Museum of Art on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3 (below middle).  It will be streamed live by Audio for the Arts. Go to www.chazen.wisc.edu on the day of the concert for a link.

The program includes the world premiere of the Clarinet Quintet “Howl” (based on the Beat poem by Allen Ginsberg) by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below bottom) by as well as String Quartet No. 2 in A Major (1824) by Spanish composer Juan Crisostomo Arriaga and the gorgeous Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Here is a link: http://proartequartet.org

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

SALProArteMay2010

Pierre Jalbert

ANCORA STRING QUARTET

Originally scheduled for Friday, Sept. 26, the Ancora Quartet (below top, in a photo by Barry Lewis), with guest violinist Wes Luke (below bottom, in a photo by Barry Lewis) filling in for Leanne League. The three regular quartet members are,  from left, violinist Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.

They will instead perform the Ancora’s opening concert of the season on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society where the quartet has been artists-in-residence. The program includes the “Sun” Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4, by Franz Joseph Haydn; the one-movement Quartet for Strings by Amy Beach, which uses Inuit tunes; and the final String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80, composed by Felix Mendelssohn in honor of the death of his beloved sister Fanny. A champagne reception is included. Tickets at the door are $15; $12 for seniors; and $6 for children under 12.

Other performances of this program will take place on Saturday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Eaton Chapel on the Beloit College campus, and on Sunday, Oct. 26, at 4 p.m. at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Fort Atkinson. In addition, the quartet has added the following dates: Monday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. at Oakwood Village West on Madison’s far west side at 6902 Mineral point Road, with FREE admission, followed by a Meet & Greet with the musicians; and on Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Loras College Visitation Center: Gallagher Hall, in Dubuque, Iowa.

http://ancoraquartet.com

Ancora 2014 2 Marika, Benjamin, Robin

Wes Color CR Barry Lewis

UW SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND SOPRANO ELIZABETH HAGEDORN

At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top, in photo by John W. Barker) with guest UW-Madison professor soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn (below middle) and conductor James Smith (below bottom) will perform a FREE concert.

The program includes the “Totenfeier” (Funeral Rites) music (the first draft of the First Movement from the Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”; and the “Rueckert Lieder,” both by Gustav Mahler; and also the Symphony No. 1 “Spring” by Robert Schumann.

UW Symphony Orchestra 2013 CR John W. Barker

Elizabeth Hagedorn 1

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

EDGEWOOD COLLEGE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

At 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, at Edgewood College, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra (below top, in an old poster), conducted by Blake Walter (below bottom, in a photo by John Maniaci), will perform the “Ojai Festival Overture” by Peter Maxwell Davies, “Historic Scenes,” Op. 66, by Jean Sibelius and Symphony No. 53 in D Major “Imperiale” by Franz Joseph Haydn. Tickers are $5 at the door, free with an Edgewood College ID.

Edgewood Chamber Orchestra poster Sept 12

blake walter john maniaci

SOPRANO CHELSEA MORRIS AND FORTEPIANIST TREVOR STEPHENSON

At 3 p.m. in Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street, there will be a voice concert and CD-release party with soprano Chelsea Morris  and fortepianist Trevor Stephenson (both are below), the founder and leader of the Madison Bach Musicians, to celebrate the release of their new CD of songs by Mozart, Haydn and Franz Schubert. This past summer, Morris won top spot in the second annual Handel Aria Competition during the Madison Early Music Festival.

Trevor Stephenson will bring his 5-octave, 18th-century German fortepiano to accompany Ms. Morris and he also will play solo fortepiano works by Mozart and Beethoven.

He will give a brief talk about the Classical style and discuss how the fortepiano creates a thrilling sense of theatrical immediacy in the music of the 18th-century masters. 
Selections on the concert from Morris and Stephenson’s new CD: Songs by Mozart, Haydn & Schubert. A CD autograph signing will be held after the concert.

http://madisonbachmusicians.org

Chelsea, Trevor CD cover shot

OVERTURE CENTER ANNIVERSARY

At 3:30 p.m. in the Overture Center for the Arts, “American Kaleidoscope,” the second performance of a multi-performing arts celebration of the Overture Center’s 10th anniversary, will take place, continuing from the all-day festival on Saturday.

All the resident performing arts companies — including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber  Orchestra, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society — will do a second performance (the first is Saturday night). Here is a link:

http://www.overturecenter.org/about/news/1016-you—ve-never-seen-a-concert-like-this-sep-12-2014

OvertureExteior-DelBrown_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85

 


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