The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Native son pianist Thomas Kasdorf talks about playing solo recitals, chamber music and the Grieg Piano Concerto with the Middleton Community Orchestra, which also closes out its fourth season on Wednesday night with Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations, a Romance for violin and orchestra by Dvorak, and a suite by de Falla. | June 2, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Wednesday night, June 4, at 7:30 p.m. the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will close out its fourth season.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The concert will take place in the comfortable Middleton Performing Arts Center (below), located at 2100 Bristol Street and attached to Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC1

The program is very appealing and ambitious. It features some popular works that are also first-rate music: the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg; a Romance for violin and orchestra by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak; the enthralling “Enigma” Variations by the British composer Sir Edward Elgar; and a suite of dances from “The Three-Cornered Hat” by Spanish composer Manuel de Falla.

The conductor is Steve Kurr. The soloists are both graduates of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music: pianist Thomas Kasdorf, who hails from Middleton and who is returning to perform with the MCO; and concertmaster Alice Bartsch.

Tickets are $10 general admission. All students get in free.

Tickets are available at Willy St. Co-op West three weeks prior to each concert and at the door on the night of the concert.

Student tickets are available at the door only on the night of the show. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m.

A free informal reception, where you can meet and greet the performers, follows the performance.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

Here is a link to the website with information about the MCO, how to support it, how to join it and what its next season will offer:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org/home

And here is a link to a previous review by me -– guest critic John W. Barker has done many other reviews for this blog and you can use the blog’s search engine to find them. My review will help to explain why The Ear so looks forward to the upcoming concert:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/classical-music-review-let-us-now-praise-amateur-music-makers-and-restoring-sociability-to-art-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-liked-and-you-should-attend-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

Pianist Thomas Kasdorf recently answered an email Q&A for The Ear:

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

Can you briefly introduce yourself, your achievements and current or future plans, and your personal history including how and when you started playing the piano and the Aha Moment (artist, piece) when you knew you wanted to do it professionally?

I am 27 years old. I grew up in Middleton and completed my Bachelor’s of Music in Piano Performance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music where I studied with Professor Christopher Taylor.

I was an inaugural member of the Perlman Piano Trio (below), which gives scholarships to musicians at the UW-Madison with a particular interest in chamber music.

Currently, I am working as co-Artistic Director and Musical Director for Middleton Players Theatre on their summer 2014 season productions of “Rent,” which plays June 27–July 5, and “A Chorus Line,” which runs August 8-16.

In the fall I will begin my graduate studies with Professor Martha Fischer at the UW-Madison studying Collaborative Piano as a Paul Collins Fellow.

I started playing piano in the first grade. My grandmother was a choir director at our church and so I was constantly hearing music. One day, I decided that I wanted to play and sat down at the piano to try to fake my way into it alongside her.

Regarding an Aha! moment, I had several. The first time I played in recital, I was so at ease with the whole process and enjoyed the fact that people were listening to everything I was doing, the control and the demonstrative ability to express myself for an audience. It was something I knew I would never be able to give up.

Perlman-Trio Thomas Kasdorf piano, Eleanor Bartsch violin and Maureen Kelly cello

How does playing the piano differ for solo repertoire, chamber music and concertos, all of which you have done? Do you have a favorite genre and advice to other pianists about each kind of playing?

That’s an interesting question.

I’m not sure how to express what is different when I approach these genres, or if I even do think of them differently. I think the scale of audience expectations changes between them.

If you are playing a full-length solo recital, there is less room for hiding. It is you, the music and an audience.

But in chamber music and concertos, which I find to be very linked, there is direct communication between you and the other musicians, or between you and a conductor and the other musicians, and that communication is linked to the audience’s perception.

I think that when I approach any piece of music, I think about the soundscape of it, the soundscape for me at the keyboard, the soundscape for the audience in whatever seat in whatever venue.

My advice to other pianists is to listen intently to what you are producing, and to what is being produced around you, and not to settle for a single sound that you do not feel fully expresses what you want — in any genre. (Below, Thomas Kasdorf is seen playing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488, with the Middleton Community Orchestra.)

Middletopn Community Orchestra Thomas Kasdorf playing

What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto by Edvard Grieg (below)? Why is it so popular?

I fell in love with the Grieg a long time ago. One of my first teachers and I played this old piano, four-hands version of the themes from the first movement, eased off in technical difficulty but retaining the grandeur and emotion.

The first movement of Grieg (Editor’s Note: Readers can hear it played by Arthur Rubinstein in a YouTube video at the bottom) was the first piece that I performed with an orchestra, when I won the Madison Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition, and that experience has a lingering memory of pride; performing in the then Oscar Mayer Theater  in the then Madison Civic Center (where I was constantly hearing and seeing events all through my childhood), with the orchestra so dear to my heart, the MSO.

I think that there exists a public familiarity with the Grieg, and its popularity is probably due to the fact that it really does possess such a wide array of colors and textures. There are so many different mood shifts over the course of the piece, and juxtapositions between repose and struggle, lyricism and percussiveness, between the soloist and the orchestra. Plus, it seems so accessible and consistently intense for the audience.

edvard grieg

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

I urge people to come and listen to the Middleton Community Orchestra. This is my third time as a soloist with them, and I can honestly say that there is something unique happening in Middleton with this organization.

The orchestra is made up not only of a fabulous bunch of musicians, but also of people who really do their all to express their passion for the music for their audience.

Also on this program is the phenomenal violinist Alice Bartsch (below), their concertmaster, soloing on an incredible “Romance” by Anton Dvorak that I just heard in rehearsal for the first time last night and was blown away by.

Hearing the two soloists is well worth the admission. But the two orchestral works in this concert –- British composer Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations” and the dance suite from “The Three-Cornered Hat” by Spanish Manuel De Falla — are also amazing and challenging, and a lot of fun for both players and audience.

Alice Bartsch

 

 

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4 Comments »

  1. Thomas Kasdorf will also be performing with MAYCO (the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra) on Friday, July 11 at 7:30 PM in the Atrium of First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive. He will perform the Haydn Piano Concerto in D major. Also featured will be the World Premiere of Olivia Zeuske’s Chamber Symphony No 1 and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 5 in D minor, the Reformation.

    Comment by Steve Rankin — June 16, 2014 @ 12:56 pm


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