By Jacob Stockinger
On Sunday, we saw the “New World” Symphony in a new light.
I think I can speak for both seasoned concertgoers and novices.
And what I say is no overstatement in describing the triumphant Sunday afternoon multi-media performance of the popular work by Antonin Dvorak (below).
It was turned in by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top, with the Jumbotron screen behind it) under the baton of its longtime music director and conductor John DeMain (below bottom, in a photo by Prasad), along with guests actors and the inaugural use of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s almost decade-old “Beyond the Score” format.
In a one-time only performance, the house in the Overture Hall of the Overture Center was sold-out, something that has happened in recent years only with the Christmas concerts. And it was an enthusiastic audience that offered two long standing ovations: the first, after the 60-minute background presentation; and the second, after the post-intermission 40-minute complete performance, which was an exemplary reading that was convincingly dramatic in the fast movements and movingly lyrical in the songful slow movement.
The Ear listened not only to what the actors and players said and did, but also to what other audience members had to say. And the judgment seemed unanimously positive.
Everyone agreed that the multi-media part of the program was very well constructed and very well presented. It was remarkably tight. There were no awkward silences or lapses or pauses. This was not like when the A-V Club used to come to your middle school science or history class and you stared at your shoes while they figured out how to make the technology work.
Instead this was a thoroughly professional presentation that proceeded smoothly from start to finish. It was well researched and well written. It incorporated historical still photos and historical film footage. It used primary sources such as the music’s score and Dvorak’s own letters; and it used secondary sources such as newspaper stories and the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” and its influence on the impressionable and culturally curious Dvorak and his interest in American Indian music and Negro spirituals.
The orchestral excerpts that underlined the points were precisely played, and such starting-and-stopping is not an easy thing to do unless you are well rehearsed.
The Ear does have one minor concern with this Musicology for the Masses: The “Beyond the Score” format tends to turn all music into program music. Still, there is no questioning that it enhances one’s appreciation of a masterpiece by putting a frame around the painting, by providing a historical context. A specialist could probably pick out small flaws or gaps, but lengthy scholarship was not the point.
All in all, this new format seems exactly what a lot of American symphony orchestras need right now, especially at a time when so many of them are financially troubled and have to figure out a way to attract new and younger audiences.
And this presentation-performance combination sure did that. Remarkably few audience members left at intermission and it was inspiring to see so many, right up to the balcony, filled. Except for an all-Gershwin concert two seasons ago, it has been a few years since such a packed house showed up for a non-holiday MSO concert.
So, who gets credit and whom do we thank? The list is long and, happily, no one got into the kind of postured declaiming that can make it feel false, too staged and overly dramatic. Distraction was kept to a quiet minimum, the characters sitting on stools on the prone of the stage. Theatricality was minimal.
Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom (below, in a photo by Jim Gill) delivered the goods as a resonant and articulate but calmly expressive narrator.
American Players Theater actor David Daniel (below) did an outstanding job of playing the composer without overdoing the Czech accent and using only a bit of a costume suit.
Another APT actor, James Ridge (below), played Dvorak’s son who also commented on his father’s American adventures, but never overshadowed him.
And local mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Colbert (below), who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who directs the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, sang Negro spirituals beautifully in a way that proved less showy and concert hall-like than you often hear today. She sang in a subdued, simple and traditional manner that seemed more authentic, more true to the music’s roots.
Even conductor John DeMain got into the act playing the German conductor Anton Seidl, who headed the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and in 1893 conducted the world premiere of the symphony in New York City, with a German accent.
But perhaps the person we have to thank the most is the one whose checkbook made it possible: the Anonymous Donor, who suggested trying the format and who underwrote it financially.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly enlightening event. The Ear hopes it will get perhaps a second performance from the MSO (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) next season if the audience interest warrants it, and that it might even be incorporated into the regular subscription season. (The MSO, by the way, is using an email link to an on-line survey to sample the opinion of those who attended the concert, something i do not trembler them doing before.)
So the question now becomes: What symphony do you want to see done next in the new format?
In an interview I posted last week, John DeMain told The Ear that 22 symphonies have been performed this way in Chicago since the “Beyond the Score” format started in 2005. (At bottom is a YouTube video in which no less a musician than composer-conductor Pierre Boulez introduces, explains and defends the format. And you can find many other videos of Beyond the Score performance on YouTube.)
So I vote for Beethoven’s Third and Ninth Symphonies and the “Emperor” Piano Concerto; Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and Sixth “Pathetique” symphonies; Shostakovich’s Fifth; Brahms’ First and Fourth; Mozart’s “Jupiter”; and Schubert’s “Unfinished” and Ninth or “The Great.”
Which symphony would you like to hear in the Beyond the Score format?
Tell The Ear.
Tell the MSO.
In the meantime, you can read what some other critics said about the performance:
Here is a link to a review by John W. Barker (bel0w) for Isthmus:
And here is a link to the review by Greg Hettmansberger (bel0w) for his blog “Classically Speaking” blog for Madison Magazine:
ALERT: This Friday’s Free Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium at the historic the First Unitarian Society of Madison‘s Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature flutist Dawn Lawler and pianist Kirstin Ihde in music of Camille Saint-Saens, Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev and Johann Sebastian Bach.
By Jacob Stockinger
Ever since he arrived in Madison from Houston 20 years ago, maestro John DeMain has never ceased to innovate and try new things to boost the fortunes of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera, where he is the music director and the artistic director, respectively.
His many efforts have included new audition procedures for players; opening up rehearsals to the public; helping to procure and build the Overture Center; expanding educational programs and community outreach programs; and tirelessly promoting his efforts through Wisconsin Public Radio and WORT-FM, Wisconsin Public Television and commercial TV network affiliates.
He also tried a special New Year’s concert that didn’t work out, and going to triple performances, which did work out.
So it seemed only natural that The Ear should asked DeMain about his latest effort in both music education and concert performance: Doing the “Beyond the Score” version of Antonin Dvorak’s popular “New World” Symphony this Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. (Tickets are $15-$60 and are selling fast towards a sell-out; they can be bought through the Overture Center box office or by calling at (608) 258-4141.)
Here is a link with more details about the production and concert:
And here is an email Q&A with John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) about the background and future of the Beyond the Score series, which was pioneered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
How and when did the idea for this kind of concert or special event come to you?
Actually some of our patrons witnessed “Beyond the Score” in Chicago several years ago and brought it to our attention. We immediately investigated the program and found it fascinating and wonderful. We felt it was something that Madison should have.
The “Beyond the Score” concert on Sunday afternoon is almost sold out. What do you attribute its popularity to? When did it start, and how has it been received by the public and the musicians at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra?
I think the public loves the “New World” Symphony by Dvorak (below) and is anxious to get deeper into this great symphony and it’s connection to America. “Beyond the Score” is in its ninth season in Chicago and has been wildly successful with their audience. This year they’re adding three more symphonies to their canon of works for this program.
Why did you decide to program this event, and can you give us some background to it? Do you think it will help build new audiences? Deepen the appreciation of current audiences? How so?
I hope this will attract new listeners and deepen the experience of our current audience. This is not a musicological or theoretical analysis of the symphony, although many examples are cited to illustration certain aspects of the music. Rather it is a multi-media presentation that is highly entertaining as well as informative look into the creative process.
What makes this symphony American, Czech and Beethovenian all in one? This is what “Beyond the Score” examines as it conjures up the wonderful historical context in which this work was written. (Below is a photo of the manuscript score of the “New World” Symphony.)
If this format is popular and well received here, might the MSO (below) do another one next season, or maybe even more performances? What other works are available in that format and have you considered?
We hope that if the performance is well received here and that other underwriters step forward, we can possibly see more of these in the future. Currently, there are 22 works in the “Beyond the Score” canon.
Are there parts about the Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony program that particularly attract you, or parts that you want to draw the public’s attention to?
I know that after the intermission, when we perform the symphony in its entirety, the audience will listen to it in a whole new way. (Below is a YouTube video, with more than 1.5 million hits of the soulful slow movement, which borrows from Negro spirituals, of the “New World Symphony as performed by conductor Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. It is The Ear’s favorite movement of this wonderful symphony.)
Editor’s note: Here are the official program notes by University of Wisconsin-Whitewater professor and Madison Symphony Orchestra trombonist J. Michael Allsen for the “New World” Symphony:
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is the birthday celebration of the murdered Nobel Peace Prize-winning civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (below) with celebrations around the nation, including a live broadcast from the state Capitol on Wisconsin Public Radio at noon CST. (The MLK tribute will also air tonight from 8 to 9 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.)
And that is exactly what the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) will do this coming Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall in a first-time and one-time only concert that looks, according to marketing director Teri Venker, headed for a sellout.
Here is the MSO press release:
“Bohemian Antonín Dvořák’s uniquely American composition, Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” will be the focus of Beyond the Score®, a multimedia concert experience Sun., Jan. 26, 2014, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall in Madison, Wisconsin. This is a Madison first and a one-time only performance.
“Beyond the Score® will feature videos and photos, actors and narrator, and musical examples, as well as a full performance of the symphony by Conductor John DeMain and the musicians of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The experience will fully immerse the audience in the “New World Symphony’s” context in history, how it relates to Dvořák’s other works, and the events in the composer’s life that influenced its creation.
“MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) said: “This is an entertaining way to learn more about one of the world’s masterpieces through video, music, and actors. Hopefully, you’ll hear the symphony in a whole new way. This is an opportunity you won’t want to miss!” (At the bottom is a popular YouTube video , that has over 1.3 millions hits, and that features superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic leading the exciting final movement of the :”New World” symphony in a special concert for Pope Benedict XVI.)
“Other professional talent will also play key roles.
“Anders Yocom, of Wisconsin Public Radio, will narrate.
Actor James Ridge (below), also a core member of American Players Theatre, will enact multiple roles.
“Mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Colbert (below), who is director of the women’s chorus at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Madison and is president of the Madison Symphony Chorus, will sing excerpts of spirituals that influenced Dvorak.
“Dan Lyons (below), principal pianist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will be the accompanist.
“Dvorak, already an internationally renowned composer, came to America in 1892 at the invitation of wealthy East Coast philanthropist Jeannette Thurber. He headed the American Conservatory of music in New York City and his main goal was to discover “American Music” and employ it in his own compositions. He also vacationed in the Czech community Spillville, Iowa, which holds an annual Dvorak festival each summer.
“Dvorak was particularly taken with the music of both African-Americans and Native Americans, and in 1893 began work on Symphony No. 9. To this day there is a lively debate as to whether the piece more prominently reflects these “new world” cultures or rather Dvořák’s native Bohemia.
“According to notes from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, “For Americans, this is the first great symphony about America. For African-Americans, this is the first great orchestral work to use themes inspired by their songs and spirituals. For Native Americans, it is the first, and so far the only, great work inspired by Native American music.” Beyond the Score® is a complete exploration of these varied and intriguing influences.
“Tickets are $15-$60 each, and are available at www.madisonsymphony.org/beyond ; through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, Madison, Wisconsin or by calling the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
“Beyond the Score® is produced by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Gerard McBurney, creative director, and Martha Gilmer, executive producer. Major funding for this concert is provided by an anonymous friend of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.”
By Jacob Stockinger
No doubt about it, “Downton Abbey” has become a global television drama phenomenon. Fans of the new season, which started two weeks ago, are eagerly looking forward to the third installment of the new season that will air this Sunday night on PBS (and Wisconsin Public Television at 8 p.m. CST).
Just how seriously “Downton Abbey” writers and producers also take the show could be seen in last week’s episode. There is where a side plot and secondary character -– a special gala performance by the Australian opera diva Dame Nellie Melba – was taken seriously. Where should she stay? was one issue. Another was whether a performing artist like Melba, who had been privately hired for a small command performance in the salon (below) should eat with the servants and help or with the aristocratic landowners?
And how many of you realized that Nellie Melba was played by the New Zealand opera diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (below)? The Ear sure didn’t, but now he knows why the singing of Puccini arias and Dvorak songs sounded so good.
In fact, the historical episode was taken so seriously that NPR’s terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence” this week posted a primer on just how important, acclaimed and controversial the real Nellie Melba (below, in a photo taken around 1900, and singing at the bottom in a YouTube was) really was.
Here is a link to Episode 2 of Season 4 that aired last week on “Masterpiece Theatre” and can be streamed via the Internet or viewed in an encore broadcast this Sunday night at 7 p.m. CST:
Here is a link to the NPR story about Nellie Melba and the episode:
REMINDER: Madison keyboardist Trevor Stephenson writes: “On this Sunday afternoon, Jan. 12, at 3 p.m., I’ll play a fortepiano house concert at my home at 5729 Forsythia Place on the west side of music ranging from Haydn to Bartok. (I know that Bartok is not usual fare on the fortepiano—but the other day I was reading through his Romanian Folk Dances at the fortepiano and was simply stunned by how energetic they sounded—since the style of these comes largely from cimbalom playing (Romanian hammer dulcimer, and the fortepiano is really a hammer dulcimer in a tuxedo). So this really makes perfect sense. The concert will also feature Mozart’s charming variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata, Op. 13, two Mazurkas by Chopin, and Haydn’s waggish Sonata No. 23 in F major. Sweet and savory treats, drinks, and will be wine served. Admission is $35. Reservations are required: email firstname.lastname@example.org or (608) 238-6092.
By Jacob Stockinger
It happens once every four years.
The contestants for the unusual Gilmore competition,which is based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for classical pianists don’t even know that they are in the running. Unlike other major competitions like the Tchaikovsky, the Van Cliburn, the Arthur Rubinstein and the Chopin, in the Gilmore the anonymous judges follow an individual’s career over a period of time and then choose the “winner.”
This year’s winner in the polish pianist Rafal Blechacz (below), who has already won the Chopin competition at 20 – the first Polish pianist to do so in 20 years, he also took all the gold medals in individual categories and was so good that no second prize was awarded. He has recorded half a dozen acclaimed CDs of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Karol Szymanowski and Claude Debussy and of course Chopin for Deutsche Grammophon.
The year’s recipient has been all over the airwaves and the web, so here is everything you may want to know about Rafal Blechacz plus his inaugural concert as the winner that was streamed live Wednesday night by famed radio station WQXR-FM in New York City, which then archived it for those of who missed the live event.
Here is the official announcement:
Here is an candid and cordial interview done by Tom Huizenga and NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog that was broadcast on “All Things Considered”:
Here is the announcement in a story in The New York Times:
Archived video of his sold-out concert Wednesday at the Greene Space that can be found at WQXR. No one listed the program even though it was live-streamed – but instead announced the works AFTER they were played.
That is too teasing for my taste, whether it is done on WQXR or on Wisconsin Public Radio. Can we please have the pieces to be played up front before the performance and then again after the performance?
The program included a Chopin waltz (the soulful valse triste in A Minor, Op. 34, No 2) and the two Op. 40 Polonaises the “Military” Polonaise and one in C minor; the Largo slow movement Beethoven’s Sonata in D, Op. 10, No. 3, and the scherzo from the same composer’s Sonata in A Major, Op. 2, No. 2; the spirited first movement from Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, K. 311; and Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”
All works except the Debussy and the Chopin waltz are available on recordings. (But you can hear a YouTube video of Blechacz playing the three waltzes of Op. 64, including the famous “Minute” Waltz, at the bottom.)
In the broadcast, Dan Gustin, head of the Gilmore Foundation, speaks about the unusual award, as does the last 2010 winner Kirill Gerstein, who uses Skype. Here is the link:
Some of the Gilmore winners seem to disappoint and peter out. I keep expecting to hear big things from the very talented Argentinian Ingrid Fliter, for example, but no such luck. Rafal Blechacz, on the other hand, seems more likely to follow the path of Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, who is perhaps the Gilmore winner who has maintained the highest profile and had the biggest career.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is January 1, 2014.
Here is a reminder that “New Year’s Day From Vienna,” with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (below) performing waltzes, polkas and marches of the Strauss Family under the baton of Daniel Barenboim, will be broadcast live this morning at 10 a.m. CST on Wisconsin Public Radio, and then air at 1:30-3 p.m. and again at 7-8:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.
As always the Strauss Family will be the featured stars. But while they made the waltz a livelihood and trademark, there are other outstanding waltz composers.
So here are two of my favorite sad waltzes both by Chopin. First, there is the so-called “Farewell” Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 69, supposedly written in the memory of a fellow student who was killed in the Polish rebellion by Russian troops. Here it is played in a beautifully restrained manner by British pianist Stephen Hough:
And then here is the Op. 34, No 2 in A minor, played by Arthur Rubinstein:
As for ringing in the New Year, here is one of the “Brilliant Waltzes” by Chopin often used by Arthur Rubinstein to start or end a recital:
More heartbreaking waltzes come from Franz Schubert in his “Noble and Sentimental” Waltzes, a title later borrowed ironically by Maurice Ravel. Here are some of those Schubert waltzes – both cheerful and dark — in one of those wonderful scissors-and-paste jobs, a free-wheeling transcription, by Franz Liszt in the “Soiree de Vienne No. 6” and played incomparably by Vladimir Horowitz.
Hope you enjoy them
Farewell to 2013.
Cheers to 2014.
What are your favorite sad and happy waltzes?
The Ear wants to hear.
REMINDER: “New Year’s Day From Vienna,” with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performing waltzes, polkas and marches under Daniel Barenboim, will be broadcast live on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio, and then air at 1:30-3 p.m. and again at 7-8:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is the day last of the old year, New Year’s Eve — which means it is that time of the year again when The Ear looks back over the past year and decides who deserves to be named “Musician of the Year.”
That is never an easy decision, especially in a city with as much fine classical music and as many fine classical musicians as Madison has. There are so many talented individuals and so many outstanding groups or ensembles in the area that any number of them could qualify for the honor.
It was particularly difficult this year because, due to personal circumstances, The Ear didn’t get to attend a lot of live events he wanted to. Even so, this year the choice seemed somewhat obvious.
For example, here is a link to an insightful overview of the 2013 season offered in Isthmus by critic John W. Barker, who often is a guest writer on this blog. You just have to scroll down through the long story until you find Barker’s spot-on assessments of the year in classical music. It should make any classical music fans envious and proud to be in Madison:
So on to the man who happens to be the most common denominator among Barker’s Best Picks: John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) is the Musician of the Year for 2013.
Let’s start at the beginning.
It has been 20 years since maestro John DeMain came to Madison as the Music Director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Artistic Director of the Madison Opera. And he is a supremely articulate — he often does interviews on TV and radio — and cordial advocate of his own causes, as you can hear for yourself in a video at the bottom and in more than a dozen video on YouTube.)
Even before he arrived here, DeMain had a high profile as the artistic director of the Houston Grand Opera, where he commissioned and premiered John Adams’ “Nixon in China” and has a long history with the City Opera, where he conducted while still a student at the Juilliard School. He had also won a prestigious Grammy Award for his landmark recording of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”
But coming to Madison, DeMain had a chance to show his strength as an organizational builder and planner -– with results that the Madison public could easily see, hear and be impressed by.
John DeMain inherited a fine organization for an amateur or semi-professional orchestra, one that had been built up especially by Roland Johnson during his long tenure.
But once he took over, DeMain vastly improved the playing and then programmed more ambitious pieces for the players, and developed his approach to them. His Brahms now is tighter and leaner and more exciting than when he arrived. John DeMain (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) is devoted to lifelong learning and improvement, and doesn’t take even the music he already knows and performs for granted.
Over his tenure, DeMain has discovered and booked exciting and affordable young guest soloists – pianist Philippe Bianconi, violinists Augustin Hadelich and Henning Kraggerud, cellist Alisa Weilerstein tenor Stephen Costello — although The Ear would also like to see some big and more expensive figures brought to town to allow us to hear these artists live. Plus, DeMain listens to dozens of auditions each year and unerringly picks great young up-and-coming singers for the Madison Opera’s season including the popular Opera in the Park each summer.
I also find it noteworthy and important. DeMain is in demand elsewhere and every season has many opportunities to guest conduct out of town — for the now defunct New York City Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Glimmerglass Opera in upstate New York and many others.
No less important is his willing to expand out into the local scene. In addition to the opera, he has conducted the chamber groups Con Vivo the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. He continues to play the piano — he was trained as a pianist before turning to conducting.
As an administrator and organizer, he has demonstrated great skills at putting together a team. True, the orchestra has suffered somewhat during the Great Recession and its aftermath – as did all artistic groups. It had to cut back its season by one concert, which DeMain says he hopes to restore to the subscription season.
But the same labor strife that has led to great damage to the Minnesota Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and so many others has not touched the MSO. DeMain’s contained the damage.
Having inherited double performances, DeMain took the MSO to three performances of each concert, reaching about 5,000 people or so with each “triple” performance. He continues to experiment with programming, and in late January will try out the “Behind the Score” series of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak (below).
And while some listeners might complain about the lack of more adventurous contemporary music, DeMain has seats to fill and still manages to program contemporary works every season, even with many experimental offerings nearby at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.
DeMain attends concerts at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, and is a tireless promoter of music education from the televised “Final Forte” Bolz concerto competition to the matinée Young People’s concerts (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson).
And let’s not forget that DeMain was instrumental in getting the impressive Overture Center built and then programming concerts for the orchestra’s and opera’s home in Overture Hall (below).
I am sure there is more I am overlooking.
Do I have some disappointments? Sure.
I thought his 20th anniversary season would be a bit more ambitious and adventurous, and feature some big works by Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner. I would like to see few more big-name and hot young soloists, including pianists Joyce Yang, Daniil Trifonov and Jeremy Denk (below), who has done two recitals at the Wisconsin Union Theater but has yet to perform a concerto. And there are so many young talented soloists out there today, we should be hearing more of them live and while they are still affordable in our market.
I also get impatient with what I call “playing the Gershwin card” too often -– including again for this year’s season finale -– because the important and identifiable George Gershwin (bel0w) had such an easy-listening and crossover pop-like musical style that it unfailingly draws so many listeners. I loved DeMain’s last concert version of “Porgy and Bess,” but there must be other solutions.
But in the end I have to defer to his judgment. The excellence that John DeMain has brought to the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera has extended to the entire city and to other groups. The rising tide he brought has lifted all boats.
If any one individual can take credit for the ever-increasing quality of the classical music that wehear in Madison, that person is John DeMain (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot).
Little wonder, then, that on this 20th anniversary of his arrival in Madison, maestro John DeMain is the Musician of the Year for 2013.
Thank you, John DeMain. We all – listeners and performers alike — are in your debt.
Cheers and good luck in the coming years!
ALERT: Wisconsin‘s finest young musicians (below) unite for one of the most rewarding musical experiences of their lives. Wisconsin School Music Association’s (WSMA) High School State Honors Concerts were recorded Oct. 24, 2013 at Madison’s Overture Center. The show is part of the Young Performers Initiative to celebrate Wisconsin’s young performers and those who inspire them. The hour-long special airs this afternoon at 5 p.m. and Monday night at 8 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television’s main channel and also on alternative The Wisconsin Channel. For more information about other air times and channels, here is a link: http://wptschedule.org/episodes/44717914/2013-State-Honors-Concerts/
By Jacob Stockinger
After all, the Britten celebration was largely overshadowed by the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which also fell on this past Friday, Nov. 22.
But Benjamin Britten was a great composer, for more reason than many of us realize.
Here are three essays – two from NPR and one from The New York Times – that I found particularly helpful and insightful, especially the detailed explanations by Baltimore Symphony Orchesrra conductor Marin Alsop (below) explanation to Scott Simon of Britten’s “War Requiem” (see the YouTube video at the bottom) and her three points about what makes Britten so important and unique. (Be sure to listen to the longer program rather than read the short text):
Do you have a favorite piece by Benjamin Britten?
What is it and why is it a favorite?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Pro Arte String Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer) – which became the world’s first artists-in-residence in the world when they agreed to stay at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1940 — kicks off its new season with two FREE concerts this week and much more this fall.
The Pro Arte – which celebrated its historically unprecedented centennial two seasons ago — will perform Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Prussia” String Quartet in D Major, K 575, Darius Milhaud’s Quartet No. 7 and the rarely heard Quartet in A Minor by the Viennese violinist and composer Fritz Kreisler who is best known for his miniature works, transcriptions and pastiches.
Then at 7:30 p.m. on next Thursday, Oct. 3 in Mills Hall, the Pro Arte will perform a FREE and MUST-HEAR concert in Mills Hall. It will perform the same Mozart and Kreisler quartets as above, but the Milhaud will be replaced by the String Quartet No. 1, Op. 51, No. 1, by Johannes Brahms.
Also, stay tuned for word about an airing date for the program that the Pro Arte is recording this coming Monday night for Wisconsin Public Television.
The by-invitation-only TV concert has a program that features a prelude by Ernest Bloch (at bottom in a YouTube video) and the famous “Adagio for Strings” quartet movement – later transcribed for string orchestra at the request of famed conductor Arturo Toscanini (below top) – by Samuel Barber (below bottom).
Many people forget that the Pro Arte Quartet gave the world premiere of the famous “Adagio for Strings” — the slow movement of Barber’s String Quartet in B Minor, Op. 11 — in Rome in 1936.
Also watch for news this fall of an Albany Records CD release — with a local release party — of the four commissions (two string quartets and two piano quintets)– that the Pro Arte Quartet commissioned for its centennial two seasons ago. The CD was engineered by the multiple Grammy Award-winner Judith Sherman (below).
The two string quartets were composed from Walter Mays (below top) and John Harbison (below bottom), who is also the co-director of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.
The two piano quintets were composed by Paul Schoenfield (below top) and William Bolcom (below middle) and featured the celebrated UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below bottom).
Then at its FREE concert in Mills Hall at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, the Pro Arte will give the world premiere of its fifth centennial commission: a String Quartet by the contemporary Belgian composer Benoit Mernier (below). The Pro Arte originally started, you may recall, at the conservatory in Brussels.
And finally, next May, the Pro Arte Quartet travels to Europe – to its home city of Brussels, Belgium, as well as London and maybe Paris – to perform works from its centennial commissions.
And there is still more to come, including a book about the Pro Arte Quartet by the retired UW-Madison historian turned music critic and guest writer for Isthmus and for this blog John W. Barker (below).
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has heard from two loyal readers and friends – period keyboardist Trevor Stephenson and the WORT FM radio host Rich Samuels about events that will take place on the airwaves this Thursday morning and noon.
Rich Samuels (below), who hosts the weekly classical radio program “Anything Goes” from 5 to 8 a.m. on WORT FM 89.9 and who records and emphasizes local music and local musicians, writes:
“This Thursday morning, Aug. 29, starting at 30 seconds past 7:07 to about 7:45 a.m., I’ll be airing (on WORT 89.9) a recut of an interview I recorded last August with Howard, Frances, Parry, Ariana and Isabel Karp in anticipation of the 36th FREE annual Karp Family Labor Day Concert on Monday, Sept. 2, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. (As you recall, that same concert last year was cancelled on account of Illness).
“Recorded music for this segment includes recordings of Howard and Parry performing the final movement of John Ireland’s Sonata in G minor for Piano and Violin (adapted for violin and cello); Howard and Frances Karp playing Antonin Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance in E minor Op. 72, No. 2, for piano, four hands version; and Joel Hoffman’s “Karptet” (featuring Frances Karp, Howard Karp, Christopher Karp, Parry Karp and Katrin Talbot).”
The program this year includes Pro Arte Quartet violinist Suzanne Beia plus the above Karp family members. The program includes: the Sonata in G minor, Op. 2 No. 8 for Two Cellos and Piano (ca. 1719) by George Frideric Handel (below in a YouTube video); “ November 19, 1828” for Piano and String Trio (1988) by John Harbison ; Sonata in D major for Piano and Cello, Op. 102, No. 2 (1815) by Ludwig van Beethoven ; and music and dramatic excerpts from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Op. 61, with incidental music by Felix Mendelssohn. Notes about the concert will be featured on this blog on Friday. (Below are daughter Ariana Karp and father Parry Karp at the Labor Day family concert in 2011.)
Adds Samuels: The Karp segment runs 37 minutes and 43 second. The show concludes with a recording John Harbison gave me from last year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival: the first movement of Mozart’s Concerto in D Major for Piano and Orchestra K. 537 in a chamber arrangement featuring some pretty amazing improvising by Harvard University pianist Robert Levin (below) who will perform some of his Mozart completions this coming weekend at the Token Creek Festival. Other instrumentalists are Heidi Braun-Hill and Rose Mary Harbison (violins), John Harbison (viola) and Rhonda Rider (cello).
WERN 88.7 FM
Another fan and friend, Trevor Stephenson (below) writes:
I’ll play selections by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, and Norman will interview me about the all things fortepiano: How and why it came about in the 18th century? How its construction (thinner wire, leather hammers, all wooden frame, etc.) facilitates playing of Classical-era repertoire?
I’ll talk about why the fortepiano is particularly theatrical, affectively polarized really — from its giddy, fizzy, articulate highs, to its moody, menacing, growling lows. Wisconsin Public Television will also be filming the broadcast and that will air on WPT later in the year.
Also, this Fall — on Monday evenings from October 14 through November 18 — I’m offering a course on the keyboard music of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti. I’ll discuss the stylistic similarities and divergences of these three masters — all born in 1685 — and will also examine how each composer integrated elements of various national styles (French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Hungarian . . .) to form their own personal compositional voice.
I’ll talk about each composer’s life and personality as well as the social circles within which they moved. I’ll also discuss and demonstrate—at both the harpsichord and piano — approaches to performing their music and we will look into elements of performance such as fingering, tempo, rubato, articulation, voicing, instruments, and the ever-elusive yet oh-so-important Affect, or interpretation, or feeling for the moment at hand!
Here is some of the specific repertoire we’ll look at: Johann Sebastian Bach – English Suite in G minor, “Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother,” “Art of Fugue” Contrapunctus XIX (ending with the B-A-C-H fugue), the C major Prelude and Fugue from Book I and Book II of “The Well-Tempered Clavier to compare them; George Frideric Handel – Suite in E major (which concludes with the “Harmonious Blacksmith” variations), Gavotte in G major, Suite in D minor (which includes the famous Sarabande), Impertinence, Allegro in G major; Domenico Scarlatti – Sonatas: K. 238 and 239 both in F minor, K. 159 in C major, K. 9 in D minor “Pastorale,” and K. 380 in E major.
The course is geared for those people with a reading knowledge of music. The classes will be given at my home studio from 7-8:30 p.m. on the following Monday evenings: October 14, 21, Nov. 4, 11, 18. My home studio (below during a “house concert”) is at 5729 Forsythia Place, Madison, WI 53705. Enrollment for the course is $180. Please let me know by September 15 if you’d like to attend. Contact me at www.trevorstephenson.com or by calling (608) 238-6092.
The Madison Bach Musicians 2013-14 season is now posted and tickets are available! This is our 10th season! Opening concert is October 5. See www.madisonbachmusicians.org Sign up and more details will com by email in a couple of days.