The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Happy Halloween! Vote for the spookiest classical music you know.

October 31, 2012
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ALERT:  On Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Wind Ensemble Chamber will perform a FREE concert of “Integrales” b, Edgard Varese; “Rondino” by Ludwig von Beethoven; and Kammersymphonie (Chamber Symphony), Op. 9, by  Arnold Schoenberg. Scott Teeple (below) is the conductor and Scott Pierson is the guest conductor.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today, Oct. 31, 2012, is Halloween in the U.S., although many celebrations took place last Saturday night to benefit from the weekend.

It is the night of scary hobgoblins and ghosts. It is also the time when disguises and costumes often reveal rather than hide one’s true identity.

But most of all it is a chance for spooky art – Houses of Horrors, Ghost stories and Horror Movies – and The Ear wants to know what you think is the scariest or spookiest music ever written.

For many people, it is Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain.” Here is a link to one performance on YouTube:

The Ear knows one person who likes to play loud organ music – Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – for young Trick-or-Treaters. And he is not alone. Take a look and listen at various versions of the famous organ piece at NPR’sDeceptive Cadence” blog where you’ll be treated, not tricked, by the blog’s makeover and new appearance:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/10/29/163701843/halloween-fright-five-versions-of-that-terrifying-toccata-and-fugue

You can also hear Halloween-related music today on Wisconsin Public Radio, especially on The Midday (noon to 1 p.m.), which will, I expect, have a Quiz Question related to Halloween. For information or to stream programs, visit ww.wpr.org.

I recently heard a wonderful and absorbing  live performance by the all-student University of Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra of the famous “Symphonie Fantastique” by Hector Berlioz (below)that includes hallucinatory drugs and a death march to the scaffold and gallows.

And I was struck how the clarinets are used to create a very eerie, even frightening sound, in the Witches Sabbath section. It is a masterful use of orchestration by Berlioz.

Take a listen and let me know.

What do you think is the spookiest or eeriest piece of classical music for Halloween?

Vote for your favorite by leaving a COMMENT in the blog section of this blog, preferably with a link a YouTube performance, if possible.

 


Classical music: “Long Love the King!” Madison Opera’s successful production of Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” is an auspicious beginning to the tenure of its new general director Kathryn Smith. But the opera needs some Great Moments.

October 30, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

You could view the Madison Opera’s decision to stage Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” as a great choice for Halloween week, when disguised truth is celebrated. You could also view the Verdi opera, full of political intrigue and betrayals, as an apt choice during a presidential election  campaign.

But surely the best way to see it is as an auspicious beginning to the tenure of the company’s new general director Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill). True, she was here for last season, but that was to implement the plans draw up by her predecessor Allan Naplan.

With this successful production we now get to see Smith as her own woman.

And clearly Smith is interested in taking the Madison Opera level to a new level. Why else would she open the season with the Madison Opera premiere, in half a century, the neglected Verdi opera, which she says is one of her favorites? And why else would she slate the Madison Opera’s premiere production of a Handel opera (“Acis and Galatea”) for January? Smith is out to leave her mark.

The houses from the performances Friday night and Sunday afternoon crowds were smaller than expected or hoped for, but they were very enthusiastic. A company spokesperson said that probably had to do with so many other activities going on and with the political season upon us.

Still, there was much to like about the production, and I, like so many others, had fun. (All production photos below are by Madison photographer James Gill, taken for the Madison Opera.)

Here are do some things about “A Masked Ball” that appealed to The Ear.

I liked the pre-opera background talk given by Kathryn Smith. In the Promenade Hall of the Overture Center, she told a packed house about the place of “A Masked Ball” in Verdi’s output and traced the struggle by Verdi (below) with political censors to arrive at a plot that would satisfy them. After all, regicide – the killing of a king — was not something that the royal houses of Europe took lightly, encouraged or forgave shortly after the French Revolution.

I liked the excellence and evenness of the cast. All of the leads and secondary roles, including the energetic servant Oscar (played by Caitlin Cisler) and the fortune-teller Ulrica (Jeniece Golbourne) showed strong voices with excellent pitch, wide ranges, fine diction and power to project. But most of all, they showed balance. And evenness is something to cherish in an ensemble production.

William Joyner (below), who also sang in the Madison Opera’s production last season of Philip Glass‘ “Galileo Galilei,” excelled as the Swedish King Gustav III:

Here he is in a pivotal scene, getting his fortune told by Ulrica:

Hyung Yun (below left) was terrific as the king’s friend and betraying assassin Anckarstrom, while Alexandra LoBianco (below right) was terrific as the courtier’s wife and would-be adulterous Amelia:

I liked the staging by Metropolitan Opera veteran Kristine McIntyre (below). Her idea was clearly to serve the opera, not some bizarre idea of novelty. So the stage direction matched the sets, the costumes and the score. It did not call attention to itself, which is another of way of saying it served the opera, not dominated it.

I liked the sets from the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and the costumes. They were luxurious enough to capture the sense of an 18th century royal court, but also simple enough and period or historical enough not to push the production into some postmodern meaningfulness. (The photo below is by Douglas Hamer for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.)

I especially liked the gallows set.  Its contrasting Gothic starkness played well as a context for the theme of a betraying love and the doom it entails. Love can indeed be a deadly noose (below), as King Gustav and Amelia will soon discover:

I found myself listening closely and paying special attention to the orchestra and I liked the way the orchestral accompaniment was superbly handled by players from the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the Madison Opera’s artistic director John DeMain (below). It was precise and balanced. Never did the pit overwhelm the singers.

Most of all, especially in its solo passages I found myself impressed with Verdi’s instrumental writing. Verdi possessed a command of counterpoint and orchestration, punctuated with sharp rhythms and converging lines. He knew exactly how to achieve the effects he wanted. I realized just why the “Force of Destiny” Overture and other orchestral excerpts by Verdi are popular. Take away the voices — not that you would want to — and what is left is still great music.

I liked the way the Madison Opera Chorus handled the crowd scenes. They seem blended and just as even as the secondary soloists and leads. I did find some of the hip-hoppy choreography by Madisonian Maureen Janson a bit awkward – I almost always do – but I really couldn’t tell whether that was because of period-appropriate dance steps; because the dancers simply felt a bit awkward; or because the choreography was a bit contrived and self-conscious.

While I liked the singing, I still came away more a fan of Puccini (below) than of Verdi. A day later at home, I can’t recall a tune from “A Masked Ball.” The score always seemed promising, but the Great Moment never materialized. In that respect, evenness was unfortunate, not laudable. The opera needed some stand-outs. It needed memorable tunes, the kind you hear and remember from “La Boheme” and “Madama Butterfly,” “Tosca” and “Turandot.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t like the plot. If this opera were just a play or movie, it would B-grade, too predictable and even stereotypical. Verdi was smart in other operas when he borrowed from Shakespeare, a master of human psychology, or even Victor Hugo for his librettos.

But that’s show biz — and the prolific but reliable Verdi.

Local critics universally praised the Madison Opera’s production of “A Masked Ball.” But each one discovered different points to make. That speaks well for the production.

Here is a sampling:

Here is a link to John W. Barker’s review, which makes an excellent point about smaller regional opera companies, for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=38122

Here is a link to Greg Hettmansberger’s review for his Madison Magazine blog ”Classically Speaking”:

http://iwww.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/October-2012/Madison-Opera-Has-a-Ball-Unmasking-Verdi/

Here is a link to Rena Archwamety’s review on www.madison.com for 77 Square, The Capital Times and The Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/reviews/concert-review-madison-opera-s-a-masked-ball-elegant-understated/article_eb6f680c-204a-11e2-a29e-001a4bcf887a.html

Here is a link to the review by Mike and Jean Muckian for their Brava magazine blog “Culturosity”:

http://culturosity.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/madison-operas-a-masked-ball-is-masterful/

Now you be the critic and tell us what you thought.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music Q&A: The Madison-born Naughton Twins – Christina and Michelle – talk about their performances of Poulenc gorgeous and witty Concerto for Two Pianos this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

October 29, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last weekend was Homecoming at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This weekend, it will be a homecoming of sorts at the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Overture Center.

That’s when the twin Naughton sisters – Christina and Michelle (below, in a photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco) – return as professionally now fully launched into their career as duo-pianists.  They are even official Steinway Artists.

In the past, they have both won the MSO’s concerto competition for young artists. They studied privately with UW pianist Christopher Taylor before completing their undergraduate work at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where they both won a prestigious prize. They now live in New York City, have released their first CD for the German label Orfeo and concertize around the world.

Here is a link to their webpage at their agent, Columbia Artists Management Inc. with a full biography, video and clips, and laudatory reviews:

http://www.cami.com/?webid=2128

And here is a link to the Naughtons’ own webpage:

http://www.christinaandmichellenaughton.com

In Madison they will perform Francis Poulenc’s neo-Classical style Concerto for Two Pianos. Kodaly’s “Dances of Galanta” and Schubert’s last Symphony No. 9 in C Major, D. 944, “The Great” are also featured on the program to be conducted by MSO music director and conductor John DeMain.

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland will lead the prelude discussions an hour before each performance. Tickets are $16.50-$78.50. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information, visit the MSO website:

http://madisonsymphony.org/naughton

For program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor J. Michael Allsen, visit:

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1213/3.Nov12.html

The Naughtons (below, in a photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco, Christina is on the left and Michelle is on the right) recently took time to give an email Q&A to The Ear:

What is it like to be twin sisters as a professional duo-piano team? Is it easier or harder as family?

We love being a duo-piano team. One of the best things about it is that we are never alone when we are touring. It makes it so much more fun.

It is hard to say whether it is easier or harder as family.

Perhaps the thing that is best about this arrangement is also the thing that sometimes makes it difficult: we are so close that we are completely open and honest with each other. There is nothing more helpful than a brutally honest opinion from the person one trusts the most, and sometimes there is nothing tougher to hear than a brutally honest opinion from the person one trusts the most.

We are also realizing more and more that our shared musical lives growing up together have given us a kind of private, shared “musical language” that lets us communicate even complex ideas with very few words and sometimes with no words. That might be hard to duplicate if we had not grown up together (below, the Naughton twins in 2007).

Do you ever you have disagreements about repertoire or interpretation or other matters, and if so how do you resolve them?

We absolutely have disagreements about repertoire, interpretation and all things musical; but we have come to regard this as a very positive thing. In the end, we believe these conflicts produce a result that is more meaningful than what either of us could come up with individually.

What would you like the audience to know about the Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos? What should they listen for especially?

The Poulenc Concerto is a delight to share with audiences. One aspect of this piece is its remarkable combination of keen wit and good humor — two traits that apparently showcase the personality of the composer himself.

Though we are unfortunately too young to have experienced Poulenc’s sense of humor first-hand, we did have the wonderful opportunity to study this piece with pianist Evelyne Crochet, who performed this concerto with the Poulenc himself (below).

We are so grateful for this opportunity because of course with most of the concerti that we play (Bach, Mozart, Mendelssohn), there is no possibility of discussing the work with anyone who has performed it with the composer. (At the bottom, Poulenc and another play the poignantly melodious second movement of the two-piano concerto in the YouTube video.)

What do you think of working again with John DeMain (below, in a photo by James Gill) and the Madison Symphony Orchestra and returning to your hometown to perform?

We are so looking forward to this coming performance with Maestro DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra. More importantly, we feel the aspiration to perform is very much cultivated on stage, not in a practice room, not in one’s living room, and our desire to become performers was born with this conductor and this symphony.

Was there an Aha! moment – a certain performer or performance or piece of music — for you individually or together when you realized you wanted to be a professional pianist or professional duo-pianists?

We vividly remember when we were under 10 years old performing the Haydn D major concerto (Christina) and the Mozart A major concerto (Michelle), hearing the beautiful orchestra, feeling our awakening desire to collaborate, with soloist, orchestra, and conductor reaching to speak to the audience — it was something very spontaneous, yet something that was possible only after many, many hours of serious practice.

When we experienced the thrill of hearing music come to life in such a way, the burning wish to say something through music was planted in our hearts.


Classical music: UW oboist Marc Fink to retire in May and brass player John Stevens will step down as director of the University of Wisconsin School of Music this August, then retire as a composer and tuba professor in 2014.

October 28, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has learned that University of Wisconsin School of Music director John Stevens (below) will step down as director of the school next summer and retire completely from the university one year later.

Stevens is also a well-regarded composer and arranger. He is a tuba and euphonium player who performs with the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below, in the middle of the photo by Katrin Talbot) which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this season.

Stevens, who joined the UW in 1985 and directed the School of Music 1991-1996 before doing so again last year, announced his decision in an email late last week:

Dear School of Music Faculty and Staff,

My apologies for the general email but, after a great deal of consideration I decided that it was best to communicate the following to everyone at the same time.

I am writing to inform all of you of my intention to retire from the university/School of Music following the 2013-14 year.

I have also decided that I wish to go out the way I came in – as a musician and teacher. Therefore, I will step down from my position as Director of the School of Music at the end of August, 2013 and spend my final year on the faculty in my position as Professor of Tuba and Euphonium. I have discussed this with Dean Sandefur and Associate Dean Zaeske, and they are supportive of these plans.

By the end of this year I will have spent 25% of my time on the faculty as the Director. It has been a pleasure to do so, and I continue to be honored to serve the School of Music in a leadership role. Of course I will continue to work as hard as possible on behalf of the school and will do everything I can to facilitate a smooth transition to the next Director.

Due to the high volume of emails I receive daily in my roles as administrator and professor, I would very much appreciate it if you could not respond to this with an email reply.  Thank you very much.

John Stevens, Director, UW School of Music

For a full biography and discography of this impressive musician – who is also a very congenial and amiable guy — visit his profile at the UW School of Music website. Here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/bio?faculty_id=2

My guess is that Stevens will continue to do guest appearances and especially to pursue composing (below, composing at him home). At bottom is  the Tuba  Quartet on YouTube playing his moving “Benediction,” which was played at the recent funeral for Paul Haugan, the late principal tubist for the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Stevens’ retirement could also be part of the wave of retirements that will hit the UW School of Music – even with a new home for the school about to be built — as Baby Boomers age and as UW budgets become tighter and hiring freezes take curtail recruitment of new faculty. Many of the current UW faculty joined around 1985 and are approaching the 30-year mark.

This is the second retirement from the UW School of Music The Ear has earned of so far this year. Oboist Marc Fink (below), who performs with the Wingra Woodwind Quintet and in principal oboist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will retire at the end of this season. A non-tenure track, temporary instructor is slated to replace Fink.

The Ear worries what all this means for the quality of the teaching and performing at the UW School of Music, but time will tell.

John Stevens may not want an email reply, but you can leave a message for him or Marc Fink in the COMMENT section of this blog.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Pianist Stephen Hough talks about his outstanding new recording and why French music sounds lusciously French.

October 27, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Stephen Hough (below) is a much acclaimed, prize-winning pianist, the first instrumentalist ever to receive a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.” Hough has just released another recording. He is, to be sure, a prolific recording artist with so many titles and so few duds.

As often happens with Hough, it is in the sampler format. This one is called “The French Album.” (He has also done Spanish, English and  Mozart albums. Hmmm… what I wonder what he would include on The German Album?)

The mostly terrific new CD (below) features works by many composers you would expect as well as some you might not, including Ravel, Debussy and Faure to say nothing of Chaminade, Delibes and Chabrier. It also includes some non-French music that was arranged by the famous 20th-century French pianist Alfred Cortot, and some music by Massenet that Hough himself arranged. (Hough is a composer who recently premiered his own Piano Sonata No. 2.)

The Ear has listened to the CD and finds it typical of Hough’s excellence in the way he combines through absolutely first-rate technique and deep musical sensitivity, always bringing together clarity and lyricism.

There are only a couple of places where I think he went wrong. The biggest is wasting 8 minutes on the transcription by Cortot (below) of J.S. Bach’s famously dramatic and popular Toccata and Fugue in D minor for the piano.

Just the one Cortot transcription of the soulful but short slow movement from Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in F Minor would have done the job. And hearing the famous “Clair de lune” of Debussy by itself is a bit pandering and incomplete, though it will surely help the CD sell. Better that Hough should have played a Debussy prelude like “Sounds and Perfumes.”

Similarly, I really wonder whether the flashy Liszt concert paraphrase of melodies from the opera “La Juive” by Fromenthal Halevy qualifies as French music. I don’t think so, except perhaps in some distant etymological sense. Again, I would rather hear more of Hough’s exquisite Faure or Ravel or Debussy, or even maybe early French keyboard music like Couperin or Rameau, which would surely benefit for his clarity.

I would much rather have heard something else truly French and truly unknown. That is why I especially like his recording of relatively unknown works by Alkan (at bottom) and Poulenc.

Last weekend, Hough was interviewed by host Guy Raz (below) on NPR’s “Weekend Edition” and he spoke eloquently and humorously about the new recording for Hyperion. He even touched descriptively on what makes French music sound French to us – especially if, like The Ear, you are a devout Francophile.

That is, why is French music – like French Impressionist painting – always seems to us Americans, Brits and Germans so sexy or at least sensual, with just the right soupcon of illicitness and sin.

Well, what do expect from the same culture that brought us haute couture and haute cuisine as well as Proust and Baudelaire, French kissing and French cut underwear? It is all part of what The Ear calls “The Souffle Aesthetic” that relies on “more air than egg.” And stylistically it never fails to seduce and charm.

As retro-spy novelist and fellow Fracophile Alan Furst (below) has written, The French like three things: reason, beauty and little things done well.

Voila!!!!

It is an interview that you might want to hear, especially if you live in a city like Madison where Hough has played and conducted master classes several times. He is a supremely articulate thinker as well as a supremely gifted pianist.

Here is a link to that NPR interview with Raz:

http://www.npr.org/2012/10/21/163252853/stephen-houghs-french-album-a-musical-dessert-trolley

And here is a link to Hough’s personal blog of the British newspaper The Telegraph. Hough is a curious and exploratory being, an openly gay man who converted to Catholicism at 19 and who writes about many things besides music and piano playing, although he also is offering tips about playing the piano in an installment form.

It is all enough to make Hough perhaps the most interesting pianist on the planet since he also rises way above just wiggling his fingers well:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/author/stephenhough/

Enjoy!

And be sure to leave a COMMENT about what you like and don’t like about Stephen Hough; about his recordings including his new one; and about his blog.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Georg Solti conducted an orchestra the way Arthur Rubinstein played the piano: In a straight-forward, muscular and non-neurotic way while the recording industry was its peak.

October 26, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Friday marked the 100th birthday of famed conductor Sir Georg Solti. Decca will be issuing nine special multi-CD releases (including a deluxe edition of Wagner’s “Ring”) plus a special 2- CD set with previously unreleased recordings to celebrate the centennial event. And justly so. Solti (below, with a Grammy) won 32 Grammy awards – more than any other musician who was classical, pop, folk, rock, jazz, blues, whatever.

An import from Europe, where he was a refugee from Hitler and spent World War II exiled and jobless in Switzerland, the Hungarian-born Solti, who studied with Bartok, restored the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to world-class preeminence during his 22 years leading the ensemble.

And Solti’s career, which spanned more than 60 years, was aptly described and analyzed in a terrific story last Friday morning on NPR’s “Morning Edition” by musician and music critic Miles Hoffman. His main thesis was that Solti was as his height just as the recording industry was also at its height. The needed each other and complemented each other.

That made Solti’s complete recording of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle — which took several years and was the first in history — as well as of the complete symphonies and concertos by Beethoven (below), Brahms and Mahler something special, not just another addition or alternative. The same goes for his many opera recordings. He was the complete musician.

I would add only one more observation: The secret to Solti’s artistic and commercial success was that he allowed us as listeners to hear the music rather than himself.

That was why he could succeed in almost any period or composer or work, from the Baroque era through the Classical and Romantic periods and then into the 20th century,  and why soloists of so many different temperaments and styles liked to work with him. Solti was not a specialist, but a musical chameleon in the best sense.

An affable and dashing, cosmopolitan and compassionate figure who liked to socialize and who played tennis until well into his 80s, Solti seemed the epitome of the healthy musician. His style was marked by a certain naturalness and muscularity, though not by unbalanced brute force. His tempi never seemed exaggerated in either the fast or slow direction, and his use of flexible rubato always seemed judicious and never self-indulgent.

Moreover, he always made music exude both sense and beauty, qualities too rarely exhibited in some contemporary music and performances. As a result, he was not an unmistakable interpreter or egotistical stylist like, say, Vladimir Horowitz or Wilhelm Furtwangler. His performances never seemed fussy, precious or pretentious. Instead they just seemed, well … normal, the way that the music must have been meant to sound. In short, he was always both reliable and, with rare exception, exciting. I would put him in the company of someone like Bernard Haitink.

Let me put it this way: George Solti conducted the orchestra the way Arthur Rubinstein played the piano. You always felt secure and refreshed in the presence of the music’s greatness, not the player’s personality. The beauty he made just seemed so normal and such an integral part of life that it became part of the so-called “natural world.” And that is the way great art should be: inevitable and a force of nature.

Maybe you will agree with me, and maybe not. But in any case, you should read the story.

Here is a link to that NPR story about Georg Solti:

http://www.npr.org/2012/10/19/163224678/recordings-reissued-on-soltis-100th-birthday

Did you ever hear Solti live? What did you like or dislike?

What is your favorite recording with Solti conducting (he also played the piano)?

What do you think made Georg Solti a great conductor?

Leave your thoughts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley open Lawrence University’s guest artist concert season this Saturday night.

October 25, 2012
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

APPLETON, WIS. — Combining individual virtuosity into a musical collaboration that blends classical and pop music genres, cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley (below) open Lawrence University‘s 2012-13 Artist Series this Saturday, Oct. 27, at 8 p.m. in the historic Lawrence Memorial Chapel (exterior photo is below top; interior, in a photo by Frank S. Hada, is below bottom), located in Appleton, about 90 miles or a two-hour drive from Madison. 

Tickets, at $22-$20 for adults, $19-$17 for seniors, and $17-$15 for students. Tickets are available through the Lawrence Box Office in the Music-Drama Center, or by calling 920-832-6749.

The concert will showcase the award-winning talents of Haimovitz and O’Riley as collaborators and soloists in an eclectic program featuring works ranging from J.S. Bach to Astor Piazzolla, Igor Stravinsky to Radiohead.

Since making his musical debut at the age of 13 with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, Haimovitz (below) has established himself as a musical pioneer and visionary, widely known for his trademark solo cello recitals, performed with many of the world’s most prestigious musical ensembles, among them the Berlin Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic and the English Chamber Orchestra. 

Performing on a 1710 Venetian cello made by Matteo Gofriller, Haimovitz drew raves for his Bach “Listening-Room” tour in which he took Bach’s beloved cello suites from the concert hall to clubs – incluing the Cafe Carpe in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, and the High Noon Saloon in Madison  — across the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom.

O’Riley, who subscribes to the Duke Ellington adage, “there are only two kinds of music, good music and bad,” is one of the leading interpreters of popular contemporary music. His discography includes two CDs of his own versions of Radiohead songs, a tribute to the works of singer/songwriter Nick Drake and 2009’s “Out of My Hands,” which was inspired by the works of Nirvana, REM, Pink Floyd, Tori Amos and Portishead, among others.

O’Riley (below) began classical piano studies at the age of four but his interests eventually shifted to pop music and in the sixth grade he started his own band.

In addition to touring, O’Riley hosts the weekly National Public Radio program “From the Top” (below), which spotlights rising young classical musicians. (The NPR show airs on Wisconsin Public Radio on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.wpr.org. And Riley performed a recital of Shostakovich and Radiohead several years ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater.)

About Lawrence University

Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a world-class conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2013 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,450 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries. Follow Lawrence on Facebook.


Classical music: Here is the lowdown on concerts — with vocal, flute and wind music as well as string quartets — this week and weekend at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

October 24, 2012
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s no secret that the University of Wisconsin School of Music is experiencing a few challenges, now that Rick Mumford, the former concert manager, has retired and been temporarily replaced by a student who is doing an outstanding job with limited experience and hours.

And The Ear also hears that various hiring freezes and state budget cuts are taking their toll.

As a result, I am often getting less information and later information – especially specific pieces on concert programs — to pass on as soon as I would like, as you probably are if you go the Events Calendar at www.music.wisc.edu.

But everyone is doing the best they can.

So here is a catch-up post with updates for this coming end of the week and weekend:

THURSDAY, OCT. 25

From 6 to 7:45 p.m., there will be a School of Music Reception in the main Lobby of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (below) in the Overture Center.

Friends of the UW School of Music, participants in the Wisconsin Music Educators Association conference, State Honor Concert participants, faculty, staff, alumni and community members are invited to network and celebrate the success of this year’s conference and concerts. For more information, visit the School of Music Calendar page at music.wisc.edu/calendar.

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW flutist Stephanie Jutt performs a FREE concert on the Faculty Concert Series. Jutt is also principal flutist with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and is a co-founder and co-director of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

Jutt will be joined by UW pianist Christopher Taylor and cellist Trace Johnson.

The program features Sonata in A minor, D. 821, “Arpeggione” by Franz Schubert; “Pres-ent for flute and cello” by Efrain Amaya; “Nancye’s Song” by Paul Moravec; and Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 18 by Richard Strauss.

Also on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, two UW alumni — soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below, in a photo by Peter Konerko) and pianist Scott Gendel — will perform a FREE recital.

Guarrine will perform with pianist and harpsichordist Scott Gendel to present “Il primo ardor” from “Ariodante” by George Frideric Handel; “Ich bin vergnügt in meinem Leiden” from Cantata BWV 58, by Bach; “Gott versorget alles Leben” from Cantata BWV 187; “Su le Sponde del Tebro” by Alessandro Scarlatti; as well as selections from Bellini, Donaudy, Donizetti, Wolf and more.

FRIDAY, OCT. 26

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the FREE Wind Ensemble Collage will be performed under director Scott Teeple (below). Sorry, no details yet about the program.

SATURDAY, OCT. 27

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) will perform a FREE and MUST-HEAR concert.

The program features “Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, K. 546″ by Mozart; String Quartet in F Major, Op. 77, No. 2″ by Haydn; and the famous String Quartet in D Minor, D. 810, “Death and the Maiden'” by Schubert (at bottom).

SUNDAY, Oct. 28

The free concert at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall; by the UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (below), under the direction of UW composer Laura Schwendinger, has been CANCELLED.


Classical music: The City of Tomorrow wind quintet will perform contemporary music during its Madison debut concert this Thursday night at the Brink Lounge.

October 23, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

The City of Tomorrow wind quintet (below top) is coming to Madison for is local debut concert this Thursday night at 8 p.m. at the Brink Lounge (below bottom), 701 East Washington Avenue.

The concert is sponsored by the Madison chapter of Classical Revolution, the growing national and international movement to present classical music in non-traditional venues.

The City of Tomorrow — which specializes in  contemporary music, especially contemporary classical music,  and offers many world premieres (at bottom) — is the only wind quintet to have won the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition in the last 10 years. The Madison concert will include yet-unrecorded works by David Lang and Esa-Pekka Salonen (below), former music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The program features “Memoria” by Esa-Pekka Salonen; the 1948 wind quintet by Elliott Carter; “Breathless” by David Lang; and the Wind Quintet No. 3 by David Maslanka.

Admission is $11 for adults; $6 for students with ID; and $5 for members of Classical Revolution. For information, call (608) 661-8599.

The City of Tomorrow wind quintet (below) is a long-distance ensemble. Members live in four different cities (New York, Chicago, Portland, Oregon and San Antonio) and have intensive rehearsal residencies throughout the year. The quintet will perform in 17 cities in nine states this season as well as make its Canadian debut with New Music Edmonton and record its first CD while at the Banff Centre.

Madison has had rich season of wind quintets, as the Imani Winds were just in town for the Wisconsin Union Theater, and the University of Wisconsin’s Wingra Woodwind Quintet performs regularly. So this will be a memorable season for wind fans and students.

A complete calendar and bio of the quintet can be found at www.thecityoftomorrow.org.


Classical music Q&A: Former Metropolitan Opera stage director Kristine McIntyre talks about Verdi’s “A Masked Ball,” which opens the Madison Opera’s new season this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

October 22, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is Kathryn Smith’s second season as general manager of the Madison Opera. For more about her and her impressive background, here is a link to a story that appeared last week in The Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/stage-presence-impressive-career-guides-opera-director/article_99138d7a-1935-11e2-86c9-001a4bcf887a.html

But the Madison Opera’s 51st season will also be the first season that Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill) herself has selected and put together. Last year, she ended up being responsible for the three operas that her predecessor, Allan Naplan, chose before he left for the Minnesota Opera, from which he has since unexpectedly resigned. (Sorry, The Ear has no update. Can anyone out there help with news of Naplan?)

Smith’s inaugural season is an impressive one. It that starts this coming weekend with Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” (“Un Ballo in Maschera”) in Overture Hall on Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.; then moves on to the Madison Opera’s first-ever Handel opera, “Acis and Galatea” Jan. 10-13; and concludes with Mozart’s masterpiece “Don Giovanni” on April 26 and 28  before going on to Opera in the Park on July 13 for a peek at next season.

Tickets to “A Masked Ball” are $18-$118. Call the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Here are links to the Madison Opera’s website and to the page for “A Masked Ball” where you can find a lot of information about the various productions (casts, sets, program notes) and the organization and its history plus an opera blog:

http://www.madisonopera.org

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2012-2013/masked_ball/

Maestro John DeMain (below), the artistic director of the Madison Opera who also specializes in opera and conducts it around the US and world, will conduct members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which he also heads.

Stage director Kathrine McIntyre (below) recently gave an email interview to The Ear:

Can you briefly introduce yourself and your career?

I fell in love with opera when I was 16 and decided pretty young that I wanted to be an opera director. My educational background is English literature and theater, so my process is to really delve into both the text and the psychological reality of the characters.

I began my opera career at the San Francisco Opera and then worked at the Metropolitan Opera (below) for 8 years where I directed revivals of Verdi and Rossini and assisted on new productions. I left the Met in 2008 in order to focus on my own directing work, and now I direct all over the country. I’ve been fortunate to split my career between working on new and recent works and many new productions of classic opera repertory.

Where do you place “Un Ballo” in Verdi’s overall output and in the history of opera?

“Ballo” comes just after the period we refer to as Verdi’s middle years – after he composed “La Traviata” and “Il Trovatore” and “Rigoletto” so he was at the height of his dramatic and musical skills. It was a period in which he was also obsessed with Shakespeare and had spent years trying unsuccessfully to turn King Lear into an opera.

All of that impacts “Ballo” –– it is a very skillful piece, brilliantly constructed and so well characterized. Verdi (below) really pushed many of his composition ideas to the edge in “Ballo,” particularly his amazing ability to mix light and dark elements in the same scene. You could write a treatise just on his use of laughter throughout the piece. He took a lot of chances in “Ballo” and it’s a shame that it’s not done more in this country because it’s really extraordinary and very, very satisfying, both musically and dramatically. (See McIntyre’s further comments about “Ballo” as a neglected masterpiece in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

What do you see as the relevance of the opera – its plot, characters and music — to today’s public?

On one level, “Ballo”  (the set is below, in a photo by Douglas Hamer for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City) is about a classic love triangle: a man falls in love with his best friend’s wife. That’s certainly a timeless theme.

But at a larger level, it’s also about the conflict between public and private life, between duty and emotion. It’s about the nature of leadership, in this case about kingship, and it asks, “What duty does a sovereign or leader have to those he leads?”

Those are profound questions that we are still trying to answer. So Verdi is telling both a human story and exploring big themes –- in that way, the work is really Shakespearean in scope, and like a great Shakespeare play, it’s universal.

What specific aspects of this particular production or interpretation would you single out to the pubic as noteworthy or unusual and why?

This is going to be a very dramatically satisfying production. We have a cast who are not only great singers, but also great actors who are deeply invested in the dramaturgy of the piece. And amazingly, they are all doing their parts for the first time, so the energy of discovery and exploration will be a huge part of the production.

Ballo” takes great actors because the characters are much more complex and realistic than in many other operas of the same period. The piece is also based on a true piece of history and I always think it’s fascinating when real life is elevated to the level of grand opera.

What would you like to say about working with the Madison Opera and this production?

I’m thrilled to be back in Madison doing this opera, which is one of my favorites and one I’ve wanted to direct for a long time. I live in Portland, Oregon, so I actually feel very at home here in Madison. I’m having a great time working with the chorus, the local singers and the dancers who are in the cast.

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

If anyone is on the fence about opera, or about Verdi, then I think this is the piece for you. It has great music that will be extraordinarily sung, but it’s also very powerful dramatically – and really entertaining. Verdi never lets the story or music lag, so the piece just tears along and suddenly you are at a masked ball and it’s all about to go horribly wrong. It is a real evening of music theater.


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