By Jacob Stockinger
After the last three weeks, which were super busy with concerts, it is refreshing to have a relative breather leading into Mother’s Day this Sunday.
It’s happening later than usual, but the big MUST-HEAR event this week is that the Madison Symphony Orchestra is closing out is current season this coming weekend.
The program is an appealing all-Gershwin program – a natural fit for MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in photo by James Gill), who won a Grammy for his authentic production of the opera “Porgy and Bess.” He has since conducted it over 400 times, including a one show that was broadcast nationwide on PBS’ “Great Performances.”
Excerpts of “Porgy and Bess’ with will performed with singers soprano Laquita Mitchell (below) and baritone Michael Redding in solo roles. Also included are “An American in Paris,” the “Cuban” Overture and the evergreen “Rhapsody in Blue” with pianist Martina Filjak. The Madison Symphony Chorus, under Beverly Taylor, will also perform.
Always popular, the music of George Gershwin (below) is undergoing a major revival, it seems to The Ear. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opened this past season with the “Rhapsody in Blue.” Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic did a Gershwin concert for HD satellite broadcast. Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony also did a Gershwin concert.
Some of the best commentary and analysis I’ve ever heard about the music of Gershwin came on Wisconsin Public Radio on Monday. That is when DeMain appeared with host Norman Gilliland on The Midday (noon to 1 p.m.).
DeMain sat at the studio keyboard and played snippets and sang – not a voice to win the Met auditions but quite serviceable — as he demonstrated all sorts of things. He showed how carefully Gershwin structured “Porgy and Bess.” He demonstrated why Gershwin (below) is as much a classical composer as he is a jazz, popular or crossover composer. He explained how an orchestra “swings” a rhythm. He talked about various piano soloists, including Leonard Bernstein, who wrongly think they can “improve” the “Rhapsody in Blue” by taking liberties with the notes, rhythm and tempi. He showed how Gershwin loved and incorporated the music of J.S. Bach. And his wit and good humor matched his deep knowledge and extensive first-hand experience.
It was a brilliant and accessible, amiable and witty discussion that all Gershwin fans, and especially non-Gershwin fans, would be smart to listen to. Hands down, it was the best introduction to Gershwin that The Ear has ever heard.
When I last looked for the interview-demonstration, it was not yet posted in WPR’s Audio Archives. But I suspect it will be shortly. So here it s a link:
In the meantime, the all-Gershwin concerts will be held in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $13.50 to $78.50. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.
For more information, visit: http://madisonsymphony.org/gershwin
For program notes by J. Michael Allsen, visit:
Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianists Sonya Clark and Leo Van Asten who will perform music for piano-four hands by Dvorak, Ginastera, Schubert, Brahms and Van Asten. For information, call 608 233-9774 or visit www.fusmadison.org
At 7:30 p.m. in the downtown historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below) in James Madison Park, 302 East Gorham Street, the local early music, period instrument and vocal ensemble Eliza’s Toyes and guests will be performing rarely heard music composed by Heinrich Schütz, Johann Schein, and Samuel Scheidt.
The concert, titled “The three Sch’s: Music By Schütz, Schein, and Scheidt,” includes a pre-concert lecture at 7 p.m. Admission is $10 at the door.
The program by Eliza’s Toyes (below) will showcase some of their best works, both sacred and secular. Highlights include Scheidt’s most somber setting of “Miserere mei Deus” for soprano and 5 low voices, and his uplifting setting of Psalm 148 in German “Lobet, ihr Himmel den Herren”; Schein’s motet “Ach Herr, ach meiner schone”, and a very funny song from his 1626 collection “Studentenschmaus”; and selections of Schütz’s rarely heard Italian madrigals, particularly “Vasto Mar” for 8 voices.
Besides musicians from the regular ensemble, special guests viol player Eric Miller (belowl) and Lawrence Conservatory faculty organist Kathrine Handford will be joining in the music making.
At 7 p.m. in the same venue, there will be a pre-concert lecture titled “Singing the Reformation”, by Erin Lambert, A.W. Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Fellow in History and a Ph.D. candidate in early modern European history at UW-Madison.
Here are some program notes from director and performing member of Eliza’s Toyes, Jerry Hui:
“Schütz, among the three featured composers, received the most household recognition because his career spanned across several countries. However, they all were regarded highly. Singled out by the 17th-century German composer/theorist Wolfgang Caspar Printz as the best German composers in his book “Historische Beschreibung” (1690), they were important in cultivating a distinctly German musical style, and their work would influence generations of composers to come —from J.S. Bach in later Baroque period, to Brahms in the Romantic period, and even to Hugo Distler of the 20th century.”
Adds Hui (below): “Much of these composers’ music, driven strongly by modal counterpoint but also showing influence of Baroque harmonic progression, are not heard as frequently as they should. Perhaps this is because many other Baroque composers — such as Bach and Sweelinck — worked around that time period wrote in a style that is more distinguishable from what is considered the Renaissance period. Also, the vocal range demanded by these composers from the choir often differs from the standard setup of a four-part choir, especially in requiring more low altos or high tenors.”
For more information about the program and Eliza’s Toyes, visit: http://toyes.info
From 12:30 to 2 p.m. “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” closes out its current season with pianist Raffi Basalyan (below) in Brittingham Gallery Number III at the Chazen Museum of Art, 759 University Ave. This will be his fourth appearance on “Sunday Afternoon Live.”
The program includes Baghdassarian’s Prelude in B minor; Bach/Busoni: Two Chorale Preludes; Liszt’s Transcendental Etude #10 in F minor and “Mephisto Waltz”; and Rachmaninoff’s “Polka de WR” and Sonata No. 2, Op. 36.
As usual, the concert will be broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio.
Members of the Chazen Museum of Art or Wisconsin Public Radio can call ahead and reserve seats for Sunday Afternoon Live performances. Seating is limited. All reservations must be made Monday through Friday before the concert and claimed by 12:20 p.m. on the day of the performance. For more information or to learn how to become a museum member, contact the Chazen Museum at (608) 263-2246.
A reception will follow the performance with treats, coffee, and tea donated by local businesses. We would like to thank our generous donors, Fresh Madison Market, Steep & Brew, and Coffee Bytes. A free docent-led tour in the Chazen galleries begins every Sunday at 2 p.m.
On Sunday, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area Performing Arts Center (below) at 2100 Bristol Street, in Middleton High School, the Madison Youth Choirs will perform their spring concert series, entitled Revolution!
These concerts focus on the connections between music and social change. Featuring music from “revolutionary” composers along with compositions from the Civil Rights movement, Revolutionary War, anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa and the Estonian “singing revolution.”
Selections by Brahms, Billings, Britten, Persichetti, Vittoria, Handel, and more will be featured.
Here is the schedule of performers and programs:
2 p.m.: three boychoirs (Purcell, Britten, Holst) and three girlchoirs (Choraliers, Con Gioia, Capriccio)
7 p.m.: three high school ensembles (Cantilena, Cantabile, Ragazzi)
Tickets are $9 plus a processing fee in advance or $12 at the door. Children 7 and under are free.
About Madison Youth Choirs (MYC): According to the organization, “Madison Youth Choirs strives to create a community of young musicians dedicated to musical excellence through which we inspire enjoyment, enhance education, and nurture personal, musical, and social development, by the study and performance of high-quality and diverse choral literature. To this end, we focus on the process and provide singers a rich rehearsal experience where thoughtful discussion and activities lead to larger connections and a music education that becomes a springboard for understanding the world.”
For more information, visit: www.madisonyouthchoirs.org