The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Vicki Powell talks about why she took to the viola rather than the violin. She returns to Madison to solo next Wednesday night with the Middleton Community Orchestra. Plus, cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s SOLD-OUT recital Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater will be WEBCAST LIVE and FOR FREE. | October 17, 2014

REMINDER: This Saturday night, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma (below right) will make his seventh appearance at the Wisconsin Union Theater at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall. His recital features works by Igor Stravinsky, Johannes Brahms, Olivier Messiaen, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Astor Piazzolla and others with piano accompanist Kathryn Stott (below left). The event is SOLD OUT to the general public, although some student tickets may remain. For more information, here is a link:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/season14-15/yoyoma-kathynstott.html

BUT: If you didn’t get a ticket to the sold-out Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott concert Saturday night, October 18, in Shannon Hall in the Wisconsin Union Theater, don’t fret. The concert will be webcast if you go to the page above at 8 p.m.

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear loves the sound of the viola, with its mellow mediating between the higher violin and the lower cello.

And he will have the chance to hear it in some unusual repertoire this coming Wednesday night, Oct. 22, when  the Madison-born violist Vicki Powell (below top) returns to solo with the Middleton Community Orchestra (below bottom, in a photo by William Ballhorn) under conductor Steve Kurr.

Vicki Powell, Viola

Middleton Community Orchestra by William Ballhorn

The MCO opens its fifth season at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the Middleton Performing Arts Center, 2100 Bristol Street, that is attached to Middleton High School. Tickets are $10 general admission; students get in for FREE. Advance tickets can be bought at the Willy Street Coop West.

Middleton PAC1

The program includes the Overture to “William Tell” (which contains the brass fanfare theme to TV show “The Lone Ranger”) by Gioachino Rossini; the Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra by Johann Nepomuk Hummel; the Romance for Viola and Orchestra by Max Bruch; and the Symphony No. 8 by Antonin Dvorak.

For more information about the amateur but very accomplished ensemble, including how to join it and support it and find out what the coming season will bring, call (608) 212-8690 or visit: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Violist Vicki Powell (below) recently gave an email interview to The Ear:

Vicki Powell 2

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers and tell us a bit about yourself, including when you started music lessons, your early preparation and your life in Madison as well as your personal interests (hobbies, etc.) and professional career plans?

Greetings from New York City, the city that never sleeps and that is certainly never lacking in cultural events. I am a native Wisconsinite, raised in Madison, but for the past eight years I have been living on the East Coast.

After earning my Bachelor’s of Music at the Curtis Institute, where I studied with Roberto Diaz and Misha Amory, I moved to New York City to pursue my Master’s at the Juilliard School, and have lived in the city ever since.

My life consists of a potpourri of musical activities, from performing with the Jupiter Chamber Players, to playing with the New York Philharmonic, to collaborating with ballet companies alongside my new music group Ensemble39. I’ve traveled across the globe and collaborated with many incredible musicians, but my most fond memories are from my time back home, the formative years of my musical being.

I began taking violin lessons with Maria Rosa Germain at the age of four after hearing my brother, Derek, play the violin. I have such a vivid memory of the moment when I decided that I wanted to play the violin: It was dusk, and I was curled up on the green shag carpet of our basement floor, the last bits of daylight leaking in through the windows above. Derek was practicing the Waltz by Johannes Brahms from Suzuki, Book Two a few feet away.

I was exhausted after an afternoon of monkeying around on the jungle gym, and the waltz was the most soothing lullaby to my ears, transporting me to that surreal state of half sleep where time seems to stand still. I felt so peaceful, so warm, so content, the effects combining to make the moment so magical that the only logical thing to me upon waking was that I would some day be able to recapture that sensation and make music as beautiful.

My main violin studies were with Eugene Purdue (below, in a photo by Thomas C. Stringfellow), of the famed “Buddy” Conservatory of Music, with whom I studied for nine years. Mr. Purdue also introduced me to the wonderful world of chamber music, taking on the role of devoted coach to my string quartet, the Élève Arte (wannabes of the Pro Arte String Quartet).

Eugene Purdue 2 by Thomas C. Stringfellow

The challenge to my string quartet was that there were three of us violinists, and no violist to speak of, so we took it upon ourselves to switch around our roles in order for us each to have a turn at playing the viola. As the years rolled on, it became clear to us that in order to compete at competitions, it was not practical for us to be lugging so many instruments onstage (there exists some comical video footage of this phenomenon).

At this point, I decided that my role in life was not that of diva (ahem, First Violin). Although I find the role of Second Violin extremely vital to the ensemble, challenging, thrilling and full of guts, I was drawn to the uniquely dark tone of the Viola.

To me the viola (below) represented the real meat and soul of the string quartet, and the tone of the viola was the perfect vehicle for expressing all of the rage, pain and suffering that I felt (Bela Bartok’s works were the perfect outlet for those emotions).

viola

Most violists also play the violin. What attracted you to the viola? What would you like the public to know about the viola, which seems less well-known and more mysterious than, say, the violin or the cello?

Having now overcome my teenage angst, I still adore the viola and its role in music -– to be entrusted with the core of harmony, the real color within every texture, gives me such a sense of quiet power with which I can subtly control the direction of a phrase and the shape of an entire work.

Mr. Purdue once shared a piece of wisdom relating to his wife, Sally Chisholm (below), who teaches at the UW-Madison School of Music and performs with the Pro Arte Quartet. She was my first formal viola teacher and the person responsible for expanding my creative horizon beyond the physical realm of music-making.

Those words of wisdom were: “People feel at ease when playing with Sally, and they easily credit themselves for sounding so magnificent. However, it is Sally who, through her playing, acts as such a strong guiding force that the flow of musical intention is undeniable.” That is a powerful statement that has stayed with me to this day, and which I strive to achieve every single day.

Sally Chisholm

Was there an Aha! Moment – an individual piece or composer or performance or recording, when you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career and be a violist?

I can’t imagine pursuing a life in anything unrelated to music and the arts, but it was not always that way.

As a teenager, I refused even to dream of becoming a musician –- I’m a very realistic person, and the idea of fighting my way through a world that is so competitive and which is not quite so financially lucrative was not one that appealed to my sensibilities. During my early high school years, I focused my attentions on math and the sciences, preparing myself for a life as a dentist or pathologist.

Then my “Aha!” moment came with my 16th birthday when I gave my debut as a solo violist on the nationally syndicated radio show From the Top on NPR (National Public Radio). It was the first time I had ever played for an audience to which I had no connection — the show was taped in Dallas, Texas — and I suppose the whirlwind story behind my debut as a violist sans string quartet helped to convince me that a life in music would never be boring.

I had such a blast meeting new people, and the thrill that came with being onstage was unforgettable that from that point forward I was hooked.

Benjamin Solomonow playing cello on NPR's %22From the Top%22

How do you think classical music can attract more young people?

We so often hear that classical music is dying, a sentiment with which I strongly disagree. Times have changed, and the world has turned to an era of short attention spans and an addiction to social media. I myself am victim to a few of these [shortcomings], but because of them, I am also aware of the enormous amount of interest in the classical world.

I believe that in order to attract more young (and old) fans of classical music, we must be conscious of providing inviting points of entry.

I am very fortunate to be privy to several hip events around New York City that target young people looking to be cultured and have a great time doing so. A few examples are: Groupmuse, Wine by the Glass, NYC House Concerts, the Le Poisson Rouge (below) nightclub. They all introduce music in a social setting where it’s cool to explore, and where you don’t feel constrained by rules of concert-watching etiquette.

Le Poisson Rouge

What can you tell us about Hummel’s Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra?

Hummel (below) was a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn, both of whom played the role of mentor for their younger counterpart. Hummel is most well-known for his fantasies, which are said to be “the peak and keystone of virtuosic performance.” The Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra takes on different operatic themes, three of which appear in the version that I will be performing with the Middleton Community Orchestra. (You can hear the Hummel Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra performed in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Hummelcolor

What can you tell us about the Bruch Romance for Viola and Orchestra

The Romance by Max Bruch (below top) holds a very special place in my heart. It was the very last work I performed — with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) — before departing Madison to begin my studies at the Curtis Institute of Music eight years ago! The lush, tonal soundscape will draw in any sucker for Romantic music.

max bruch

WCO lobby

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

I’m very much looking forward to performing at home again, with people that are like family to me. Mindy Taranto, cofounder of the Middleton Community Orchestra, has been such a great friend and supporter to me throughout the years, and I am thrilled to finally have the opportunity to collaborate with her and the orchestra.

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2 Comments »

  1. very glad to hear about the webcast. Tried unsuccessfully to get tickets. This is a classy move on the part of the Union music people.

    Comment by paul baker — October 17, 2014 @ 8:14 am


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