The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What is the best Devil-like scary music for Halloween?

October 31, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Halloween.

Oh, so spooky.

Trick or Treat!!!!

What are the most scary pieces of classical music for Halloween that you can play for yourself – or perhaps in the background as you hand out your treats to Trick-or-Treaters?

halloween

In past years, I have chosen some favorites (Johann Sebastian Bach’s Organ Toccata and Fugue D Minor, Modeste Mussorgsky’s orchestral tone poem “Night on Bald Mountain” (at the bottom, in a popular YouTube video with almost 2 million hits), Maurice Ravel’s piano pieces “Le Gibet” (The Gallows) and “Scarbo” from “Gaspard de la Nuit,” Franz Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz” among others) and asked readers for their favorites.

Here are some links to the past:

2010: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/10/31/classical-music-poll-what-is-the-best-music-for-halloween/

2012:  https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/10/31/classical-music-happy-halloween-what-is-the-spookiest-classical-music-you-know/

Ghost

This year, I found a website devoted to the very topic.

Imagine! A sonic House of Horrors!

How many different pieces are there listed as Halloween favorites?

Why 13 – of course!

See how many you would choose or guess are on the list?

Here is a link:

http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/Article/278068,the-13-scariest-pieces-of-classical-music-for-halloween.aspx

Now be sure to leave a COMMENT with what you think is the best and scariest piece of classical music for Halloween!

Boo!

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music Q&A: Violinist Rachel Barton Pine talks about music education, her new projects, reaching new audiences, playing rock music and the Brahms Violin Concerto that she will perform Saturday night with the the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra.

October 30, 2013
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ALERT: Radio host Rich Samuels, whose show “Anything Goes” airs from 5-8 a.m. on Thursday mornings on WORT 89.9 FM (it can also be streamed live) sends the  following word: “I’ll be airing back-to-back recorded interviews on my Thursday (10/31) WORT show with violinist Rachel Barton Pine and conductor Kenneth Woods, in anticipation of their Mills Hall performance with the UW Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night. Tracks from their latest CDs with be included.”

By Jacob Stockinger

Both in recordings and in live concerts, the acclaimed Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below) has the gift of making the familiar seem new and unusual, unfamiliar and exciting.

Rachel Barton Pine

Pine will put that talent on display this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall when she performs Johannes Brahms’ justly famous and beautiful Violin Concerto with the University of Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra under the baton of returning native son conductor Kenneth Woods (below), who will also conduct Dmitri Shostakovich’s powerful Fifth Symphony and British composer Philip Sawyer’s “Gale of Life.” (For more about Woods, the The Ear’s Q&A with him that was posted Monday. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/classical-music-qa-native-son-and-uw-madison-alumnus-conductor-kenneth-woods-talks-about-returning-to-madison-to-open-the-wisconsin-union-theater-season-this-coming-saturday-night/

Kenneth_Woods

The concert is the season opener for the Wisconsin Union Theater, which is using Mills Hall while the regular historic and landmark hall is undergoing extensive renovations.

For more information here is a link to the Wisconsin Union Theater’s website:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season13-14/Rachel-Barton-Pine.html

For information and tickets, call the Box Office at 608-265-ARTS (2787) for more information. Tickets are: $25 General Public, $21 Union Members, UW-Madison Faculty & Staff, and non UW-Madison Students, $10 UW-Madison Students.  Buy online, call the Box Office at 608-265-ARTS (2787), or purchase in person at the Campus Arts Ticketing box office in Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave. 

Celebrated as a leading interpreter of great classical works, Rachel Barton Pine’s performances combine her gift for emotional communication and her scholarly fascination with historical research.  Audiences are thrilled by her dazzling technique, lustrous tone, and infectious joy in music-making.

Pine is a former violin prodigy who performed with the Chicago Symphony at the age of 10, and at numerous other important venues throughout her teens.  Her broad range includes classical and baroque music, but unexpectedly for a classical musician, Barton Pine also performs with a heavy metal band, Earthen Grave.

Along with her regular performance schedule, Barton Pine has also turned her attention to classical music advocacy. The Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation and Global HeartStrings are dedicated to promoting the study and appreciation of classical music. 

Barton Pine recently granted an email interview to The Ear:

Rachel Barton Pine portrait

Could you briefly introduce yourself, touching on some highlights include when you started violin lessons, honors and awards,

When I was three years old, I saw some older girls in beautiful dresses who were playing violin at church. I immediately stood up in the pew and announced, “I want to do that!”  That summer, my parents let me start lessons with a teacher in the neighborhood.

By age five, I knew this is what my life would be about.  I made my professional debut at age seven with the Chicago String Ensemble and my earliest appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra were at age 10 and 15.

Like many young violinist I took part in international competitions.  I was the youngest person (at age 17) and the first American to win a gold medal at the 1992 J.S. Bach International Competition in Leipzig, Germany, and I won top prizes in the Szigeti (Budapest), Paganini (Genoa), Queen Elisabeth (Brussels), Kreisler (Vienna), and Montreal international violin competitions.

Closer to home, I’ve been honored with the Great Performer of Illinois award and twice as a Chicagoan of the year. I had the pleasure of playing my own version of the Star-Spangled Banner for various events including Chicago Bulls playoff games. I’ve also received the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award for my work in music education.

Stradivarius violin

What are your current and future projects?

For the last two seasons, my tour dates included performances of two demanding cycles, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s five Violin Concertos and the Paganini’s 24 solo Caprices (see the YouTube video below), each cycle in a single evening. Exploring a composer’s entire output in a single genre gives extra insight to both the interpreter and the listeners. In August, I recorded the complete Mozart concertos with Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; the album will be released in the spring. This winter, I will record the Paganini caprices.

What things do you think make you special or unusual?

I like to think that every violin soloist is individual and unique; hearing my Brahms Concerto will be a little different from any other Brahms you’ve heard before because I’m a different person.

With that being said, I believe I’m the only international violin soloist who also plays in a doom/thrash metal band! When I’m not off playing concertos and recitals, I love rocking out (below) with my band Earthen Grave, playing my electric six-string flying V violin.

On the other end of the spectrum, I love indulging in early music when I get a chance. In fact, in 2009, I performed on the rebec (an ancestor of the violin from the 1200s) for a concert of medieval music at the Madison Early Music Festival.

Rachel Barton Pine  goth nails

You have recorded the Brahms Violin Concerto along with a concerto by Brahms’ friend and mentor Joseph Joachim. Can you explain what makes the Brahms a special work for you?

I have been fascinated with the Brahms Concerto since my earliest violin lessons. I began studying it when I was 14, and it rapidly became a mainstay of my repertoire. It was with the Brahms Concerto that I won several of my international prizes and made many of my debuts in Europe and America. It remains one of the most fulfilling works I perform.

My teacher in Berlin, Werner Scholz, was a student of a student of Joachim. I feel fortunate to have gained knowledge about the Brahms Concerto from one so close to the original source. In my lessons, Professor Scholz would say, “My teacher said that Joachim said that Brahms said to play it like this!”

In addition, I have been playing a very special violin since 2002, the 1742 “ex-Soldat” Guarneri del Gesu (below), on loan from my generous patron. In the 19th century, it was chosen by Brahms for his protégé, Marie Soldat. She was one of the first champions of the Brahms Violin Concerto, which became her signature piece. Marie Soldat and Brahms frequently played chamber music together, with Brahms at the piano, which means that my violin actually got to jam with Brahms! It’s amazing to play the music of Brahms on an instrument whose voice he personally selected.

Rachel Barton Pine with violin

I will be performing my own cadenza for the Brahms. Playing my own cadenza is the most organic way I can express my feelings about the music. I’m very honored that my cadenzas to great violin concertos such as Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini and Brahms have been published in “The Rachel Barton Pine Collection” along with others of my compositions and arrangements and editions. This sheet music book is part of Carl Fischer’s Masters Collection series; I am the only living artist (other volumes are the collections of works by Kreisler, Heifetz, etc.)

In 2004, I had the great pleasure of releasing my recording of the Brahms Concerto with my “hometown” orchestra, the mighty Chicago Symphony. That was really a dream come true, to do one of my favorite concertos with one of my favorite orchestras! For that album, I recorded both my own cadenza as well as that by Brahms’s friend and collaborator Joachim.

What was the relationship between Brahms and Joachim?

When Joseph Joachim and Johannes Brahms met in 1853, the 21-year-old Joachim was already an established violin virtuoso and composer. The extremely gifted Brahms, two years younger, was virtually unknown. They quickly became close friends and began a musical interchange that lasted throughout their lives.

Brahms and Joachim challenged each other constantly, trading counterpoint exercises along with their correspondence. In 1853, they roomed together in Göttingen, and Brahms began to study orchestration with Joachim. Joachim served as a mentor to Brahms, introducing him to Schumann and other leading musicians of the day.

Throughout their friendship, Joachim was unwavering in his support of Brahms’s compositions. He performed Brahms’s chamber works, premiering many of them, and conducted Brahms’s symphonies. Joachim was particularly fond of the Brahms Violin Concerto. He described the work, which Brahms dedicated to him, as one of “high artistic value” that roused in him “a peculiarly strong feeling of interest” (Joseph Joachim and Andreas Moser, Violinschule, 1902-05).

Brahms (below) began composing his Violin Concerto in the summer of 1878, during a vacation on Lake Wörther in Pörtschach, Carinthia (Austria). On August 22, Brahms sent the manuscript of the violin part to Joachim with this note: “Naturally I wish to ask you to correct it. I thought you ought to have no excuse – neither respect for the music being too good nor the pretext that orchestrating it would not merit the effort. Now I shall be satisfied if you say a word and perhaps write in several: difficult, awkward, impossible, etc.” Thus began one of the most intriguing musical exchanges in history.

brahms-1

By the time Joachim (below) premiered the concerto in Leipzig on January 1, 1879, the piece had undergone considerable changes. Two middle movements had been removed and replaced by a newly written Adagio, resulting in the three-movement concerto we know today. (Both of the original middle movements are now lost. Many scholars think that the Scherzo may have been converted into the Allegro appassionato of the Second Piano Concerto.) The score was passed back and forth at least a half-dozen times before the premiere, and the two friends’ debate over revisions, which is clearly evident in the surviving manuscript, has been left for posterity. In the end, Brahms incorporated most of Joachim’s suggested orchestral changes but considerably fewer of his revisions to the solo violin part.

Joseph Joachim

How do you feel about performing with a student orchestra such as the UW Symphony? Do you see advantages or drawbacks?

There is nothing more energizing than youthful talent and enthusiasm, and I always welcome the opportunity to perform with young people. These student musicians may not be as experienced with the Brahms Violin Concerto as older artists, but I’m sure they’ll learn it quickly and play it with great spirit. (Below are the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Choral Union under the direction of conductor Beverly Taylor.)

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

Do you have any experience with conductor Kenneth Woods or know his reputation?

I was not previously familiar with Maestro Woods. One of the great pleasures of being a touring soloist is performing in a different city or country every week, experiencing the wonderful variety of reuniting with musicians with whom I have previously worked and collaborating with new colleagues. Fresh perspectives are always inspiring, and I really look forward to exploring the Brahms with Maestro Woods in a few weeks.

Do you have an opinion of Madison and its audiences? Do you have any personal or professional history here? Or will this be your local debut?

I have performed in Madison a number of times over the last decade as soloist with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top). Maestro Andrew Sewell (below bottom), his wife and children have become close family friends. In fact, his son (six years old at the time, now a teenager) was the ring bearer at my wedding. I always enjoy visiting Madison. I’m looking forward to returning this month, and coming back to the WCO again next season.

My daughter Sylvia has been touring with me since she was three weeks old; she just turned two. This will be her first trip to Madison, and I’m sure she’ll enjoy it, too.

WCO lobby

andrewsewell

Was there an Aha! Moment that told you – a piece or performance or performer – that let you know that you wanted to be a professional concertizing violinist?

I began violin lessons at age three, and by the time I was five, I was signing my kindergarten papers “Rachel, Violinist.” I didn’t consider myself to be someone who played the violin; rather, being a violinist was my entire identity. It was through playing in church that I had come to the belief that creating music and sharing it was others to uplift their spirits is my calling, and that’s what I still believe.

What advice would you give to young violinists?

Commit to a daily minimum amount of practice and stick to it; inconsistency will slow your progress. Be focused, observant and goal-oriented when practicing; merely logging in the hours won’t magically cause improvement. Structure your practice sessions to include a balance between technical work and expressive work … and don’t forget to include a little creative time too, such as writing your own music, jamming along to the radio, or trying out a fun non-classical style of playing.

violin practice

And how do you think classical music can attract bigger and younger audiences?

Much has been written about this important topic. Traveling around the U.S., I’ve observed many efforts that have been successful in different communities. Being creative with programming and concert presentation is important, while always preserving what makes classical special in the first place.

It’s also important to find creative ways to connect with others so we can express our passion for classical music and get them excited about it, too. I do this in a variety of ways: visiting schools, participating in pre-concert talks, being accessible through social media such as Twitter and my Violin Adventures podcast, and playing classical pieces on rock radio stations or in alternative venues such as bars and cafes.

It’s the best feeling in the world when someone comes up to me after a concert to say that it was the first time they ever attended an orchestra performance and they loved it!

What else would you like to say or add?

I’m very excited to have just released my latest album, the Mendelssohn and Schumann Violin Concertos along with both Beethoven Romances. My last album, Violin Lullabies (see the YouTube video at the bottom to hear Rachel Barton Pine play Brahms’ Lullaby) debuted at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s classical chart, which was a thrill. With all of my recordings, I hope that they will be enjoyed by classical music connoisseurs as well as by those who might be newly discovering the joys of classical music.


Classical music Q&A: What makes for a good villain? Baritone Nmon Ford talks about playing Scarpia this weekend in the Madison Opera’s production of Puccini’s “Tosca.”

October 29, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Few villains in opera are as villainous and hated by audiences as Baron Scarpia in Giacomo Puccini’s  ever popular “Tosca.” (At bottom is a very popular YouTube video  with over one million hits, that features soprano Angela Gheorghiu singing the opera’s most famous aria, done by Tosca, “Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amor” (I lived for art, I lived for love).

So The Ear thought it might be interesting and informative to ask baritone Nmon Ford what it takes to play a good villain on stage. He plays Scarpia, who tortures and kills for love, in this weekend’s two performances of the Madison Opera’s production of “Tosca.” (Below is a YouTube video of the “Te Deum” aria from “Tosca” that Ford sang at the Madison Opera’s “Opera in the Park” preview last July.)

Performances are in Overture Hall at the Overture Center on this Friday night at 8 p.m. and this Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. “Tosca” will be sung in Italian with English surtitles. Maestro John DeMain will conduct members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The stage director is A. Scott Parry, who returns to the same company where he directed acclaimed productions of Philip Glass’ “Galileo” and Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”

Soprano Melody Moore sings the title role of Tosca, and tenor Scott Piper sings the role of her lover Mario Cavaradossi.

Tickets are $18-$121. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141 for information and reservations. The show runs 2 hours 45 minutes with two intermissions. For more information about the production and the entire opera season, visit:

http://madisonopera.org/performances-2013-2014/tosca/index.aspx

It is a special production as it will also give Madison audiences their first chance to sample Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith in her first foray here into Puccini, one of the great staples of the opera repertoire.

The handsome  articulate and charismatic Nmon Ford (below) – whose robust and unabashed physicality is featured regularly on the blog “BariHunks” — generously gave The Ear an email interview that comes after a link to his own website with details of his biography and career:

http://www.nmonford.com/home.html

Nmon Ford

What is it like to play The Bad Guy or The Villain? What is the best part and what is the least favorable part of playing such a role, the part you like and the part you dislike?

It’s a great deal of fun because I gravitate toward proactive characters that energize plot development, which the Bad Guy generally does. He’s usually the source of conflict, and therefore the source of forward motion in the story.

The best part is that the roles are written to reflect this sort of dramatic propulsion, which makes them vocally and dramatically more substantial; there’s more meat on the bones, so to speak.

Since villains normally aren’t constrained by rules, the roles themselves involve more freedom of interpretation, whereas a romantic lead is pretty much onstage the way he is the book, script, play, or score.

Moreover, my personal sense of justice is always served since most villains end up dead by the end of the opera, so I feel even more liberated to take their evil natures as far outside the box as possible.

The worst part is … well, as long as the role is reasonably well-written, there really isn’t a bad part.

Nmon Ford half face BW evil

Are there other singers or stars whose bad guys you admire? Do you have a special personal take on Scarpia for this production?

Joe Morton (Eli Pope) in the TV series “Scandal.”  He’s clearly in it to win it; I see an Emmy in his future.

I see Scarpia the way he’s described in Sardou’s play:  elegant, cultured and extraordinarily dangerous. Unless both his class and his depravity are represented, he becomes a boring caricature rather than the multifaceted figure he is.

joe morton as eli pope in scandal-2

For you, how does Scarpia compare to specific famous villains in opera? Have you played others and do you have favorites to sing or to listen to?

I’ve sung Iago, Tonio, Emperor Jones, Wotan, Macbeth (below, for the Long Beach Opera) and Don Giovanni.  (The last three may not fit everyone’s definition of a villain, but they are definitely not good guys in my book.)

The main difference between Scarpia and other villains I’ve sung is that he makes no effort to disguise his nature; in fact, he’s a proud bully and everyone knows it. The other characters try to maintain at least a patina of decency, except for Wotan and Emperor Jones. So far, my favorite is either Iago or Scarpia, with Wotan a close third for his gorgeous music.

Nmon Ford Macbeth Long Beach Opera

Are there secrets or tricks to making such a portrayal convincing and effective musically and dramatically?

My number one rule is “never settle”:  however ruthless, mean, melancholy, violent, calculating or obsessed the character is on paper, that’s exactly what goes onstage. It’s not my job to make excuses for them, so I don’t.

I embody these characters as “anti-heroes,” rather than villains. They often possess the same traits as heroes — commitment, strength, drive, passion — but they’re dealing with some sort of internal psychological structure or conflict that renders them morally ambivalent.

One thing I always do — it’s just my thing — is to find something funny in any role I play, no matter what it is. Whether it’s intentionally or unintentionally comical, it’s my benchmark for the role’s humanity. (Below is an informal portrait of Nmon Ford by Guy Madmoni.)

Are there contemporary or modern real-life figures whom Scarpia represents -– perhaps Vladimir Putin or Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin or Saddam Hussein, Josef Stalin or Pol Pot? 

Offhand, I can’t think of anybody whose behavior is sufficiently both violent and psychosexual to qualify.

Nmon Ford  Photo Guy Madmoni

Is there anything else you would like to say?

Come see the show.  It’s gonna be GOOD!


Classical music Q&A: Native son and UW-Madison alumnus conductor Kenneth Woods talks about returning to Madison to open the Wisconsin Union Theater season this coming Saturday night.

October 28, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Madison-born and Madison-bred, Kenneth Woods is almost a one-man band of classical music. This coming year he will have out new six CDs, including performances both as an orchestra conductor, chamber music cellist, and also as a composer and a rock guitarist . And he still finds time to write a fascinating, critically acclaimed and popular blog with an insider’s view of making music called “A View From the Podium.”

Here are links to his main website and to his blog:

http://kennethwoods.net

http://kennethwoods.net/blog1/a-view-from-the-podium/

And check out his impressive biography:

http://kennethwoods.net/blog1/bio/

You should also read the excellent interview he gave UW School of Music concert manager and public relations director Kathy Esposito on the music school’s terrific new blog “Fanfare,” Here is a link; 

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/woods-pine/

Woods attended West High School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was also a member of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). He did undergraduate work at the University of Illinois Champaign–Urbana, and graduate work at the UW-Madison and the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

That makes him a perfect candidate to conduct the UW Symphony Orchestra this coming Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The concert, which features acclaimed Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine in the famous Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, also includes the famously powerful Fifth Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich, will open the Wisconsin Union Theater season.

For more details about the concert, including ticket prices ($10 for UW students up to $25 for the general public) and links to other sites and samples, visit:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season13-14/Rachel-Barton-Pine.html

Based in Wales, Woods — who can heard at the bottom in a YouTube video conducting Ralph Vaughan Williams’ haunting “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” performed by the Orchestra of the  Swan with a beautifully divided string section —  recently gave The Ear an email interview:

Kenneth Woods

You are a very busy man these days. Can you bring us up to date and fill us in briefly on your accomplishments over the past year or two?

Well, it’s been a very busy time, I must say. The most important step this year has been the beginning of my new partnership as artistic director and principal conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra.

When I last conducted here in Madison, I had just finished a long association with the Oregon East Symphony. Since then, I’ve basically been a freelance conductor without an orchestra to call my home. “It’s been an incredibly exciting time, but I’ve been wanting a chance to build something together with a group of colleagues I really respect.”

Otherwise, it’s been one of those years where you often feel like you are just holding on for dear life. At the Scotia Festival this summer, they told me I set some kind of record for most performances by a guest artist in the history of the festival. It has been that kind of year.

It’s all been very exciting but often quite draining. I’m hoping the next chapter, focusing more narrowly on building an orchestra, will be just as exciting but slightly less manic.

kenneth woods conducting english symphony orchestra

What does it mean to you to be returning to your alma mater to conduct the UW Symphony?

My father has been a professor in the Chemistry Department since just before I was born, so I pretty much grew up on and around the UW campus.

When I was growing up, the Madison Symphony Orchestra was not as well-established as it is now, and UW Symphony concerts were the big classical events in town, and I have so many memories of sitting in Mills Hall, where I first heard Bruckner, Mahler, Stravinsky, Brahms and any number of other composers.

The design of the Humanities Building — I’ve heard it described as a model for a dystopian prison — doesn’t tend to inspire much affection among people who work in it, but I’m very sentimental about the place.

Coming back to the UW for my Master’s was a great chapter for me. It was one of those miraculous moments in life when you have the good fortune to find exactly the mentors and teachers you need. Those years studying cello and chamber music with Parry Karp (below) were incredibly important to everything I’ve done since then, and I was also really lucky to work closely with David Becker, who gave me a good foundation as a conductor, and the late violinist Vartan Manoogian, who became a good friend and supported me a lot.

Parry Karp

David Becker full mug

What do you think about working with and conducting student orchestras?

Philosophically, I try to treat every orchestra the same. You go to the first rehearsal really well prepared, give an upbeat, and then see what happens.

What I admire most in any orchestra is preparation combined with flexibility, which, not coincidently, is what I always looked for in conductors when I was playing in orchestras.

Being truly flexible isn’t about, for instance, trying every possible version of a bowing- it’s something that happens more at the quantum level of playing. It’s listening to each other with such focus that you can all make the millions of tiny anticipations and adjustments needed to take the performance somewhere really special.

The playing level of student orchestras these days is always very high, so often my job is to help them develop the kind of ten-dimensional listening that lets them play as an ensemble. (Below is the UW Symphony Orchestra performing with the UW Choral Union under choral director Beverly Taylor.)

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

What would you like to say about the two staple works you will conduct, the Brahms Violin Concerto (have you ever worked with Rachel Barton Pine?) and the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony?

Well, the symphony by Shostakovich (below) is a very special piece, and one I have a very personal relationship with. It was, in fact, the first piece of orchestral music I ever heard played live. When I was three or four, my pre-school teacher, Barbara Goy, founder of the Preschool for the Arts, took us to a rehearsal of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) conducted by its founder Marvin Rabin – and they were working on it.

That morning in the Humanities Building changed my life. I’ve conducted it many times, given lectures on it, taught it and written at length about it, but doing it in the same building where I first heard it is going to be very, very special.

dmitri shostakovich

Brahms and Shostakovich make for an interesting pairing because they’re so completely different in some ways, and yet they have certain important qualities in common.

Shostakovich wrote so much, and could write in so many styles and so many genres- his versatility is almost unmatched in music history. Brahms (below) only left us a smaller body of work- so much of his music ended up in his fireplace- but it’s all so clearly the same voice, and so closely interconnected.

The large-scale orchestral music has this lovely symmetry- four symphonies, four concertos. That’s it! I just did the Violin Concerto back in June with Alexander Sitkovetsky, a favorite soloist with whom I’ve worked many times. I hadn’t done the piece in years and it was so humbling to come back to the score again after a break.

brahms3

Rachel Barton Pine (below) and I have never met, but I’ve certainly admired her work. Part of the joy of conducting concertos is in seeing how different each collaboration is going to be. My view of the Shostakovich symphony has developed over 30 years and doesn’t tend to change radically from one concert to another, but I might need to completely re-think the Brahms in order to suit Rachel’s take on it.

Rachel Barton Pine

And what do you want to say about the other composer Philip Sawyers (below) and the Overture to the “Gale of Life” piece by way of introducing them to readers?

Philip is one of the great composers of our time- someone whose music will, I’m sure, be discussed and performed and admired for generations to come. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to count him as a dear friend.

I first met Philip when I was conducting my first concert with Kent County Youth Orchestra in England, where he has coached the violins since the 1970s. Philip is a former member of the orchestra of Royal Opera Covent Garden.

Getting to know his music was a revelation.

I’ve just completed a recording of his Second Symphony, Cello Concerto and Concertante for Violin, Piano and Strings with the Orchestra of the Swan for Nimbus Records.

It’s a project I’m enormously proud of. I think the Concerto is probably the greatest British cello concerto since the one by William Walton, and the Second Symphony is a staggering masterpiece. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I believe it.

When I took up my new gig with the English Symphony Orchestra (below), one of my first decisions was to commission a Third Symphony from Philip, which we’ll premiere in 2015 and record for Nimbus.

“Gale of Life” is a proper concert opener – it’s not one of his more ambitious works, but it’s immensely satisfying to play and a great introduction to his language. All the great composers used to write overtures and other concert openers, but that has really died off in the last 40 years.

I always like to try to bring something with me when I guest conduct that I have a personal connection to, which will be new to either the musicians or the audience, or maybe both. Hopefully, a good number of folks will come away from the concert anxious to hear his other works.

Philip Sawyers


Classical music: Bluegrass mandolinist Chris Thile plays J.S. Bach – and earns raves.

October 27, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The brilliantly eclectic mandolin player Chris Thile (below, in a photo by Branley Gutierrez) ) is hot these days.

I recently heard Thile – who has been a member of the bluegrass bands Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers — live on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” and also saw that Wisconsin Public Radio was offering his new recording as a gift during its recently completed — and successfully completed — fall pledge drive.

Chris Thile CR Branley Gutierrez

Thile’s new album for Nonesuch Records features his playing of solo violin sonatas and partitas by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Thile says he was inspired directly by the recording that Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux did of the solo violin sonatas and partitas decades ago for Philips. It is performance that The Ear, along with so many other critics, put right on the top of the list.

Arthur Grumiaux

But Thile also says he was heavily influenced by Canadian pianist and legend Glenn Gould – well, which Bach player wasn’t, one way or the other? Thile especially names Gould’s second version of the famous “Goldberg” Variations as a milestone in his life and career.

Glenn Gould old

To be fair, I still prefer the original violin version to the mandolin version.

But I have to admit that Thile’s playing and interpretations of Bach’s difficult music are miracles unto themselves. And unusual transcriptions are perfectly in keeping with the aesthetic and practice of Baroque era composers as well as Romantics like Franz Liszt and Ferrucio Busoni. Just listen to the YouTube video at the bottom of Chris Thile playing Bach’s complete Sonata No. 1 in G minor on the mandolin.

Here is a wonderful comprehensive and personal profile and background story to Chris Thile’s concert in Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, written by Steve Smith, that appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/22/arts/music/chris-thile-will-play-sonatas-and-partitas-at-zankel-hall.html?_r=0

Here is an illuminating link to a conversation that Thile had on NPR with host Rachel Martin:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/08/14/210524386/chris-thile-looks-back-to-bach

And here is a link to the New York Times’ review of that concert (below, in a photo by Tina Fineberg) by critic Vivien Schweitzer:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/24/arts/music/chris-thile-on-mandolin-at-zankel-hall.html

Chris Thile at Zankel Hall CR Tina Fineberg for NYT

What do you think of Chris Thile and his mandolin Bach?

Do you have a favorite solo violin partita or sonata by J.S. Bach?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The iconic Sydney Opera House turns 40 this week. A concert will celebrate the event.

October 26, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The upright, stacked and leaning white partial shells, located on a jetty and surrounded by water, have become iconic around the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The opera house is to Sydney, Australia, what the Empire State Building is to New York, the Eiffel Tower to Paris, the Coliseum to Rome.

The building is now synonymous with the place it was built.

True, right now the news focus Down Under Is on the devastating wildfires in New South Wales that surround Sydney and have left the city with colorful huge ash clouds (below in a photo from The  Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom).

But is good to take time out to remember the anniversary of the Sydney Opera House.

sydney fires ash cloud The Telegraph

But here are some links to help you explore the opera house and its history.

Here and at the bottom in a YouTube video are background stories about the architect, the design and the construction of the place where, I believe, the famous YouTube Symphony, recruited via the internet from around the world, meets and performs.

http://www.architectureanddesign.com.au/news/sydney-opera-house-turns-40

And here is a link to the concert that will take place this Sunday, Oct. 27. Can you guess what the main work on the program is?

http://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/whatson/40th_anniversary_concert.aspx

Here is a link so you can see the variety of programming and performers that use the famous venue:

http://40.sydneyoperahouse.com

And here is a comprehensive story about the past, present and future:

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/review/performance-anxiety-as-the-sydney-opera-house-turns-40/story-fn9n8gph-1226735636045


Classical music: To mark the World Series in Major League Baseball, two world-class symphonies post a YouTube smack down.

October 25, 2013
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, as a friend reminded me, it is here: Time for the World Series in Major League Baseball, of which Game 2 of a possible 7 will have been played by the time most of you read this.

Major League Baseball logo

And the two teams — the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals — that are vying for the world championship trophy (below) both come from cultured cities that boast world-class orchestras: The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

World Series Trophy

I am not really a fan of any baseball team — or of team sports in general —  but I do think baseball appeals to a lot of musicians. I know from personal experience that the superstar violinist  Itzhak Perlman (below) is a big fan who once announced the updated scores of a  world series games with the New York Yankees between pieces  and from the stage of the old Madison Civic Center.

Itzhak Perlman close

I wonder what the appeal of baseball to musicians is.

Maybe it has to do with the rhythm of the game.

For the member of a symphony orchestra or chamber music ensemble, maybe it is the team aspect.

For individuals, maybe what matters is the same kind of hand-eye coordination on which so much music-making on instruments depends – as does pocket pool, archery and target shooting, all of which I also like.

In fact, avid pianist that I am, I love watching baseball pitchers – like the great retired New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera (below)  —  but only at home on TV where I can see the pitches relatively close up and also check how the speed is measured and the contortions that batters have to go through to hit the ball.

Throw the ball. Catch the ball. Hit the ball.

Easy game, right?

Ha-ha.

baseball pitcher mariano rivera

Anyway here, at the bottom, is the World Series Symphony Smack Down is a link to a story — with some surprises — on The New York Times music blog and to the video (which has overtones of the gang warfare in Leonard Bernstein‘s “West Side Story”)  on YouTube.

Listen and tell me in the comments section why your think so many classical musicians like baseball?

And which city has the better symphony as well as baseball team? In other words, no matter who wins the series, I want to know who you think wins the Symphony Smack Down

The Ear wants to hear.

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/23/boston-and-st-louis-orchestra-musicians-play-up-the-world-series/?_r=0


Classical music: “Grace Presents” gets its own new website just in time for its FREE vocal concert of Hugo Wolf’s “Italian Songbook” this Saturday at noon. Plus, Karlos Moser and friends perform FREE Brazilian music at noon on Friday.

October 24, 2013
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison,  900 University Bay Drive, features Brazilian Song and Dance with retired University Opera director and pianist Karlos Moser and guests. It runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium (below).

FUS1jake

By Jacob Stockinger

There are quite a few free classical music organizations and concert presenters in Madison.

“Grace Presents” is one of the most up-and-coming. It provides an enjoyable and increasingly well-known a series of FREE and PUBLIC concerts of all kinds of music presented by Grace Episcopal Church (below), which is downtown at 116 West Washington Avenue on the Capitol Square.

grace episcopal church ext

The church itself is a fine place to hold a concert – classical, pop, folk and others. The dark wood and stained glass windows make for a beautiful venue, and the resonant acoustics add to the charm of the music.

MBM Grace stained glass window

MBM Grace cantatas ensemble

When she was appointed the new coordinator this summer, Kelly Hiser (below) , a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, said one of her first priorities was to generate a website for the series.

Kelly Hiser

Now her promise has become a reality – just in time for the FREE vocal concert by soprano Marie McManama and tenor Daniel O’Dea of Hugo Wolf’s “Italian Songbook” this Saturday from noon to 1 p.m. (To what your appetite, an excerpt of alive performance by Lucia Popp and Hermann Prey is at the bottom in a YouTube video.)

The work by Hugo Wolf (below, in a  1902 photo) is a song collection of 46 Italian vignettes translated into German, divided between male and female perspectives. wolf

Hugo Wolf 1902 photo

Writes Hiser: I’m happy to let you know that Grace Presents now has a website, which you can find at http://gracepresents.org/

The concert itself offers sanctuary, a perfect short respite from the crowds and business of the Dane County Farmers’ Market, which will hold its to last market on the Square for this season on Saturday, Nov. 9.

Here is more about the performers, who have local ties, this Saturday.

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Marie McManama (below) is an accomplished opera singer and stage performer. Trained in classical voice at CCM in Cincinnati with both Bachelor’s and Masters degrees, McManama has performed in recital halls, concert halls, and operatic stages all over the country with the Madison Choral Project, Cincinnati Opera, St. Louis Symphony, San Francisco Festival Chorus, SongFest in Malibu, California, and the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson, Wyoming.

Though her background is in performance, she completed her music education licensure in December 2012 and has been teaching in the Madison area since January. In addition to her singing, she grew up studying violin and ballet and has recently added piano, guitar, and flute to her solo instrument skills. She teaches private voice in Waunakee and elementary general music in Madison.

Marie McManama

Daniel O’Dea (below) is a tenor from Chicago, Illinois. He is currently working towards his Doctor of Musical Arts in Voice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he is the recipient of the Paul Collins Wisconsin Distinguished Fellowship. In Madison he has recently performed with Madison Choral Project and the role of Jean Valjean in “Les Mis” with Middleton Players Theater. He has recently performed with the Chicago Lyric Opera Chorus, Chicago Bach Project, Grant Park Symphony Chorus, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Rockford Symphony Orchestra. He has also performed in The Crossing choir in Philadelphia and with VAE Cincinnati.

He received his Artist Diploma in Opera from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), Masters of Music in Voice from CCM and Bachelor’s of Music in Vocal Performance from Westminster Choir College. He was an Apprentice Artist with Des Moines Metro Opera and is an alumnus of the Aspen Opera Theater Center, Brevard Music Center and the Chautauqua Institute.

Daniel O'Dea headshot


Classical music: There is a lot of FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC classical music for guitar, cello, trombone, flute and piano trio this week and weekend at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

October 23, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

It is only Wednesday, and already twice this week I have already spotlighted two big and important upcoming music events at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

On Friday night is the second SoundWaves lecture-concert at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/classical-music-qa-science-and-music-will-meet-again-this-friday-night-at-the-second-soundwaves-concert-at-the-wisconsin-institutes-for-discovery/

Also on Friday night is the first of three performances of George Frideric Handel’s opera “Ariodante.” The performance marks the opening production of this season at the University Opera. Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/classical-music-handel-is-hot-and-his-ariodante-opens-university-operas-fall-season-this-friday-and-sunday-and-next-tuesday/

But you know the semester is starting to wind towards its end when you start seeing the concerts pile up.

So consider what else in the way of smaller events is happening – what other FREE and PUBLIC concerts – at the UW-Madison during the rest of the week.

CLASSICAL GUITAR

Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW guitarist Javier Calderon (below) will give a FREE and PUBLIC recital on the UW Faculty Concert Series.

The program includes: “Ancien Lute Dances” by Abel Carlevaro;
 Variations, Op. 9, 
by Fernando Sor; 
Suite for Lute No. 1 BWV 996, by Johann Sebastian Bach;

”Cafe 1930” by Astor Piazzolla; “Three pieces” by Manuel Ponce; “Aire de Bolivia’ by Gaston Caba; “Torre Bermeja,” “Pavana Capriccio” and “Sevilla” by Isaac Albeniz.

Javier Calderon color

When Javier Calderon played his solo recital debut at Carnegie Hall, The New York Times called him “…a virtuoso with poetic sensibility.” Since then many composers, including the eminent American Alan Hovhaness and Lawrence Weiner, have been writing and dedicating guitar concertos and solo pieces to Calderon.

At age 17 Javier Calderon thrilled the audience of his native city of La Paz, Bolivia the evening he played with the Bolivian National Symphony Orchestra. Then he was invited to the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont.

Soon after, the legendary Andres Segovia awarded the young guitarist a scholarship to study under his tutelage in Spain. Calderon, who is also an accomplished cellist, studied interpretation with Janos Starker.
 Javier Calderon now tours extensively in the United States, Europe, South America and the Far East.

He appears regularly as concert soloist with orchestras including the St. Louis and Atlanta symphonies and the Minnesota Orchestra and in solo recitals throughout the world. Javier Calderon has performed chamber music concerts with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and has been featured at numerous international music festivals.

Professor Calderon (below) founded and heads the UW-Madison guitar program.

javier calderon informal color

TROMBONE AND PIANO

On Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. in Mills hall, UW-Madison trombonist Mark Hetzler (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) and UW pianist Martha Fischer (below bottom) will present a special program – FREE and open to the PUBLIC — on the Faculty Concert Series.

It is called “Meditations and Visions: The Music of Anthony Plog and Anthony Barfield” and consists of two modern works that feature lyricism and technical virtuosity in a rich romantic language.

Mark Hetzler 2011 BIG COLOR Katrin Talbot

Martha Fischer color Katrin Talbot

FLUTE TRIOS

On Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW saxophonist Les Thimmig will perform the second of three installments presenting the late-period Trios of American composer Morton Feldman. It is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Also performing will be Jennifer Hedstrom, keyboards; and Sean Kleve, percussion. This performance will present Feldman’s “Crippled Symmetry” (1983). The next concert in the series is February 2, 2014.

Les Thimming

DUO-CELLISTS

On Sunday at 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall, duo-cellists German Marcano (a UW-Madison alumnus, below top) and Pablo Mahave-Veglia (below bottom), will present a FREE and PUBLIC program on the Guest Artist Series.

The program 

includes “Tonadas,” by Diaz and Galindez, arranged by German Marcano; 
Suite in C Major, BWV 1009 by Johann Sebastian Bach;
 “Sonsoneo” by Alvarez;
”Cello Tango” by Federico Ruiz; and Sonata for Two Cellos by Jose Maria Castro.

Marcano and Mahave-Veglia will also be giving a FREE and PUBLIC master class on Monday October 28 at 12:15 p.m. in Mills Hall.

German Marcano

Pablo Mahave-Veglia

PIANO TRIOS

On Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW cellist Parry Karp (below), who heads the chamber music program at the UW-Madison School of Music and who performs with the Pro Arte Quartet, will be featured in a FREE program of piano trios.

Parry Karp

Karp will perform violinist Suzanne Beia
 and pianist Thomas Kasdorf, who is also a UW alumnus.

The program includes:
 the Piano Trio in G Major, Op. 1 No. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven;
 the Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 26, by Antonin Dvorak; and
 the Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 32, by Anton Arensky. (Its gorgeously lyrical and Romantic slow movement — an elegy — is below in a YouTube video.)


Classical music: Handel operas are hot again and his “Ariodante” opens University Opera’s fall season this Friday and Sunday, and next Tuesday.

October 22, 2013
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a terrifically informative press release about the opening production — with three performances — this coming weekend of the new season at University Opera, an opening that features George Frideric Handel, the famous and prolific Baroque composer who has undergone a major revival and is perhaps the hottest opera composer being performed these days.

“One of the most virtuosic operas by George Frideric Handel (below) takes the stage in University Opera’s fall production of Ariodante. (Editor’s note: At bottom is a YouTube video with an aria from the opera “Ariodante” sung by Anne Sophie von Otter.)

Handel etching

“Sung in Italian with English surtitles by Christine Seitz, the work will be given three performances — Friday, October 25 at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, October 27 at 3: p.m. and Tuesday, October 29 at 7:30 p.m.  All shows will be presented at the Carol Rennebohm Auditorium in Music Hall (below) on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus at the base of Bascom Hill.

MusicHall2

“Although Ariodante has a happy ending it is a complex, dark work,” says director William Farlow (below, in a photo by Kathy Esposito), who will retire at the end of this season. “Stunningly beautiful music accompanies the characters as they search for the truth. It is a captivating story of betrayal and reconciliation.”

William Farlow by Kathy Esposito

“Farlow’s cast includes undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, supported by the UW Chamber Orchestra under the direction of James Smith (below).

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

“The role of Ariodante is shared by Lindsay Metzger (October 25 and October 29) and Susanna Beerheide (October 27). The role of Ginevra is also double cast with Anna Whiteway (October 25 and October 29) and Caitlin Ruby Miller (October 27), as is the role of Dalinda, performed by Christina Kay (October 25 and October 29) and Lydia Rose Eiche (October 27). Spencer Schumann (October 25 and October 29) and guest artist and IW alumnus countertenor Gerrod Pagenkopf (below bottom, October 27) share the role of Polinesso. Other cast members include Daniel López-Matthews as Lurcanio, Erik Larson as the King, and William Ottow as Odoardo.

Gerrod Pagenkopf

“Production and music staff includes assistant conductor Kyle Knox (below), costume designers Sydney Krieger and Hyewon Park, technical director Greg Silver, lighting designer Steven M. Peterson, set designer and scenic artist Liz Rathke, vocal coach and musical preparation Thomas Kasdorf, and chorus master Susan Goeres.

Kyle Knox 2

“Tickets are $22 for the general public, $18 for senior citizens and $10 for UW-Madison students, available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at music.wisc.edu.  Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. and Saturdays, noon–5 p.m. and the Vilas Hall Box Office, Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., and after 5:30 p.m. on University Theatre performance evenings. (Below is a photo by Brent Nicastro of singers in title roles in the opera. They are Lindsay Metzger as Ariodante, Anna Whiteway as Ginevra, and Spencer Schumann as Polinesso.)

Ariodante photo Brent Nicastro 1

“Because shows often sell out, advance purchase is recommended.  If unsold tickets remain, they may be purchased at the door beginning one hour before the performance.  The Carol Rennebohm Auditorium is located in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on Park Street.

“In an effort to help patrons find parking on campus, the Campus Arts Ticketing office is offering prepaid parking permits for a guaranteed parking spot on the evenings of ticketed UW arts events for $5.  Preorder your permit online at http://arts.wisc.edu/map (5 days or more in advance; $1 handling fee) or call (608)-265-ARTS (3 days or more in advance; $1 handling fee). “

For more information, including links to interviews, background stories and samples, visit Public Relations Director and Concert Manager Kathy Esposito’s outstanding blog “Fanfare” at the UW School of Music. Look for the Oct, 10 posting.

Here is a link: http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/ariodante/

University Opera is a cultural service of the School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Its mission is to promote professional training and practical performing experience for student singers, conductors and pianists and, when possible, provide opportunities for student designers, actors and dancers.  For more information, please contact Benjamin Schultz at bhschultz@wisc.edu or (414) 899-9570.  Or visit the School of Music’s web site at music.wisc.edu.


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