By Jacob Stockinger
This past week -– on Tuesday to be exact -– we celebrated the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born in 1756 and died in 1791.
It was his 259th birthday.
For all his fame, familiarity and popularity, Mozart is a curiously underestimated composer. His best work is so sublimely beautiful that it is easy to overlook how different and revolutionary it was in its day. Mozart changed music, and we don’t always appreciate that fact.
But one of the most interesting celebrations that The Ear saw came from BBC Music Magazine. It asked 10 celebrated Mozart performers — including pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim, conductor Sir Neville Marriner, pianist Dame Mitsuko Uchida, conductor Sir Roger Norrington and singer Barbara Bonney — to name their favorite work.
It covered the range of Mozart’s enormous output: piano music, string quartets, operas, symphonies, violin works, operas and of course choral works. And the website provided generous sound samples of the works.
Here is a link:
At the bottom is a YouTube video of one of my favorite Mozart works — the Piano Sonata in C minor, played by Daniel Barenboim. It was also a favorite of Ludwig van Beethoven who seemed to use some of it in the slow movement of the familiar “Pathetique” Sonata.
What is your favorite Mozart work?
What else do you want to say about Mozart?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Many of us remember when, more than a decade ago, soprano Julia Faulkner returned from her noteworthy career in Europe, which included many major opera and orchestral appearances as well as recordings on the Naxos and Deutsche Grammophon labels, to her native Wisconsin.
Then, once settled at home, she started teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music as an instructor, as adjunct academic staff. Eventually, she joined the department as a junior faculty member.
Two years ago, Faulkner went to do a guest teaching stint at the Ryan Opera School, an adjunct educational and professional development institution at the famous Lyric Opera of Chicago. Superstar diva Renée Fleming is an advisor to the school.
Now Faulkner is staying.
The gig is permanent and Faulkner is getting promoted.
This past week, Julia Faulkner was named Director of Vocal Studies at the school at the Lyric Opera of Chicago (below).
Here is a link to the story:
What can The Ear say?
Only: “Brava, bravissima!”
Plus, one can hope that Julia Faulkner’s departure is NOT a harbinger of things to come with other faculty and staff members under Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker‘s newly announced plan to implement huge cuts to the UW-Madison budget in exchange for more independence.
By Jacob Stockinger
Our friends at the outstanding local chamber music group “Con Vivo” (Music With Life), which made its Carnegie Hall debut last season, has sent the following word:
The Madison-based chamber music ensemble con vivo! … music with life (below) invites you to our debut performance at the Stoughton Opera House on this Sunday afternoon, Feb. 1, at 3 p.m.
The beautifully restored Stoughton Opera House (below, from the outside and inside) is located at 381 E. Main St. Stoughton. For more information, call (608) 877-4400.
You can get tickets at the door or by visiting www.stoughtonoperahouse.com The prices are $20 for regular admission and $10 for an obstructed view.
It’s sad that the Packers aren’t playing in Super Bowl XLIX — that’s 49 to normal people — but if you intend to watch the big game anyway, come spend your pre-game with us. You will be home in time for the kick-off!
We hope to see you this Sunday.
Here is the complete program:
Sergei Prokofiev: Overture on Hebrew Themes for piano, string quartet and clarinet, Op. 34
Max Bruch: Romance for Viola and Piano, Op. 85
Jay Ungar: “Ashokan Farewell” for violin and piano. (It was famously used in the Ken Burns documentary ‘The Civil War.” You can hear it in a lovely and moving YouTube video that features the composer at the bottom.)
John Williams: Air and Simple Gifts for violin, cello, clarinet and piano
George Gershwin: Preludes for solo piano
Andante con moto e poco rubato
Allegro ben ritmato e deciso
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet, KV 581
Allegro, Andante, Menuetto, Rondo
ALERT: This Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature flutist Peiyi Guan and pianist Zijin Yao playing music by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Henri Dutilleux and Chen Yi.
By Jacob Stockinger
There are two really notable MUST-HEAR concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music this coming weekend.
And they come in a way that you can think of them as preludes to Sunday evening’s Super Bowl XLIX — that is 49 to us non-Latins — because they don’t interfere with the overhyped sports event.
On Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is the second annual “Schubertiade” (below, a photo from 2014). It is a joyous evening of mixed musical genres that celebrates the birthday of Franz Schubert (below, 1797-1829), who used to unveil his new music at friendly social gatherings (below top). It all takes place on the informally set-up stage of Mills Hall (below bottom).
There will be many songs, of course, an art form pioneered by the most empathetic and human of composers. The songs will be performed by UW baritone Paul Rowe, soprano Cheryl Rowe and also many UW voice students. There will be chamber music (the famous “Arpeggione” Sonata) with guest cellist Norman Fischer (Martha’s brother, who will be performing with his sister in public for the first time and who teaches at Rice University in Texas) and with violinist Leslie Shank. Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes will also perform two pieces for piano-four hands.
Admission is $10 for the public; students get in for free. Tickets are available at the door and at the box office of the Wisconsin Union Theater.
Here is a link to the School of Music official announcement:
And here is a terrific story by arts reporter and features writer Gayle Worland for The Wisconsin State Journal. Particularly notable are the interviews with the event organizers and main performers — wife-and-husband team of UW professor and collaborative pianist Martha Fischer and local piano teacher and former Wisconsin Public Radio host and music director Bill Lutes.
And here is a review of last year’s Schubertiade that The Ear posted on this blog:
The special guest of honor is soprano Emily Birsan (below), a UW-Madison graduate who recently sang at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and whose first CD is about to be released on the Chandos label. (The recording is of the “Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf” by Sir Edward Elgar.)
The program includes the Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 71, No. 3, by Franz Joseph Haydn; the String Quartet in C Major, Op. 60, by Antonin Dvorak; and String Quartet No. 2 by Arnold Schoenberg that will also feature Emily Birsan. (The fourth movement of the Schoenberg quartet can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Here is a link to the UW School of Music announcement that has a lot of impressive background for the up-and-coming Emily Birsan and the Pro Arte Quartet, which has its own dramatic story of exile from Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its invasion of Belgium, the Pro Arte homeland:
And here is a link to a profile of Emily Birsan, who was born in Neenah and attended Lawrence University in Appleton for her undergraduate degree as well as the UW-Madison for graduate work. Birsan is the cover story on the latest issue of the magazine “Classical Singer”:
PLEASE NOTE: The Pro Arte Quartet program will be REPEATED on Sunday afternoon at 12:30 pm.. this SUNDAY at the Chazen Museum of Art, which has started its own concert program. But the concert will NO LONGER be broadcast by Wisconsin Public Radio. However, you can stream it live by going to the Chazen website (www.chazen.wisc.edu) at 12:30 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker, who also provided the performance photos for this review. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
I have, so far, not followed carefully the work of the Mosaic Chamber Players (below).
But I certainly will from now on.
They are, to put it simply, among the finest purveyors of quality chamber music in Madison just now.
The Mosaic group is currently in its second season. It was founded by pianist Jess Salek, along with four string-playing colleagues, and sometimes added guests. The group gives three performances each season, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. The latest one was on Saturday evening in the original Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium.
Salek was the anchor of continuity in all three of the works presented, playing with vigorous collegiality. At least the first two of the selections related to the concert’s announced theme of “The Gypsy Spirit!”
The first was Franz Joseph Haydn’s most familiar trio, the one in G major, for violin, cello and piano—most famous for its “Gypsy” rondo-finale. The performance was wonderful, and a particular showcase for violinist Wes Luke, who is himself emerging as one of Madison’s premier chamber musicians and who has been playing with the Ancora String Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the LaCrosse Symphony Orchestra and the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra. His tender, nuanced playing in the second movement was particularly distinguished.
For this, guest player Linda Bartley (below) was brought in. Former principal clarinetist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and a faculty member at the UW-Madison School of Music, Bartley is well-known for her artistry by now, and contributed pungent color to the performance.
But Luke again drew attention for his brilliant playing: in fact, in the third movement, alternating on two differently tuned fiddles (with backup from a delightful young lady), and replacing his missing mute with a folded dollar bill.
The final work was the Trio in A minor for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano by Johannes Brahms. The first of his late “autumnal” chamber works for the clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld, it is a warm, big-hearted piece, bespeaking personal closeness as well as professional admiration. (A performance from the 2010 International Chamber Music Festival of the Clarinet Trio can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
In this, cellist Michael Allen (below) was able to show off his robust and rich playing as full partner to Bartley’s finely tailored clarinet role.
This was, in sum, a superb program of music making, one to send the audience out into a winter night with a wonderful feeling of warm satisfaction.
The Mosaic Chamber Players give their next concert on April 25, with piano quintets by Johannes Brahms and Gabriel Fauré. Watch for it!
ALERT: Sad news has reached The Ear. Samuel M. Jones, a bass-baritone who was an exceptional performer and teacher at the UW-Madison School of Music for 37 years and who also served as the cantor at Temple Beth El and the Choral Director at Grace Episcopal Church, has died at 87. Here is a link to the obituary in the Wisconsin State Journal:
By Jacob Stockinger
On Friday night, The Ear couldn’t be in two places at once.
Being in the mood for some solo piano playing – because The Ear himself is an avid amateur pianist – he attended the solo recital of works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt, William Bolcom and Johannes Brahms performed by UW-Madison School of Music professor Christopher Taylor. But more about that will come in another post this week.
However, Larry Wells — a college classmate and good friend who is a longtime and very knowledgeable classical music follower and who has worked, lived and attended concerts in Rochester, San Francisco, Moscow, Tokyo and Seoul — went to the concert Friday night by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.
He filed this review:
By Larry Wells
The program opened with a short introduction by Maestro Andrew Sewell, the longtime music director and conductor of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, to the “English Suite” for string orchestra by the contemporary British composer Paul Lewis. (Sewell himself is a New Zealand native who also trained in England.)
Although the work was termed by Sewell as an obligatory form for British composers in the manner of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edward Elgar and the like, I found the rhapsodic opening and closing of the second section, “Meditation,” reminiscent of VW’s “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.” But the remainder of the piece seemed trite and forgettable.
Following was the Concerto No. 1 in D Minor for keyboard by Johann Sebastian Bach. In this case, a concert grand piano was used featuring soloist Ilya Yakushev, a Russian native who now lives in the U.S., who was making his second appearance with the WCO.
This familiar piece was played bouncily in the first movement, sweetly in the second, and really fast in the third. I enjoyed Yakushev’s playing, although from my seat the piano seemed slightly muffled and occasionally unheard over the orchestra.
The second half of the evening opened with the Chamber Symphony No. 2 by Arnold Schoenberg, which Maestro Sewell claimed to be in the manner of Richard Strauss. If so, Strauss was much more expressive and engaging.
The evening ended with the Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor by Felix Mendelssohn, again featuring Yakushev. I was unfamiliar with the piece, and found it immediately engaging and enjoyable throughout. (You can hear Ilya Yakushev perform the Mendelssohn piano concerto in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Altogether, it was a good evening of music.
But it was unfortunately marred early in the aforementioned “Meditation” movement when a woman two seats down from me decided to answer a text. The bright light from her cell phone was distracting, so I pointedly stared at her until her seat mate nudged her, and she put away the phone. The seat mate clearly felt that I was in the wrong and glared at me.
I noticed that there is no caution in the program about turning off cell phones, so I believe it would be a good idea for a brief announcement to be made at the beginning of the concert and at the end of the intermission for people to turn off their phones. That simple courtesy has still not become a part of all concertgoers’ routines.
And what is with the Madison tradition of giving everything a standing ovation? (Below is a standing ovation at a concert on the Playhouse by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.)
There have been perhaps a dozen times in my long concert-going life when I have been so moved by the moment that I’ve leapt to my feet. I think of a standing ovation as recognition of something extraordinary — not as a routine gesture that cheapens to the point of meaninglessness.
For purposes of comparison, here is a link to the review of the same concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and pianist Ilya Yakushev that veteran local music critic and retired UW-Madison medieval history professor John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:
By Jacob Stockinger
Our friends in the music program at Middleton High School have asked The Ear to announce the following fundraiser and benefit:
The Middleton High School Choral Boosters invite you to attend the 21st Annual Country Breakfast on Sunday, February 1, 2014, from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Middleton High School Student Center located at 2100 Bristol Street.
Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and children (10 and under), and can be purchased at the door.
The all-you-can-eat breakfast is not only for enjoying wonderful pancakes, eggs, sausage, fruit and beverages, but also for enjoying the incredible MHS talent showcased all day long from four choirs along with individual solos and ensembles.
(Below is a photo of the Middleton High School Concert Choir and Cantus performing together.)
Check out the schedule posted at http://tinyurl.com/mrmielke to see when your favorite MHS singer is performing!
Don’t forget the silent auction, too!
All funds benefit the MHS choral music program.
Your support is greatly appreciated!
By Jacob Stockinger
Talk about living a life that sounds like an opera.
Take opera diva Deborah Voigt (below).
Voigt is supremely talented.
And now it turns out that the opera star is also supremely honest. And boy, does she have some great stories to tell — stories that don’t always reflect well on the opera world, let alone herself.
In her new memoir, “Call Me Debbie: True Confessions of a Down-to-Earth Diva,” the opera star talks about her childhood, her career, her gastric by-pass weight-loss surgery in 2004 and other problems including her abuse of alcohol, her dangerous relationships with men she met online and of course her relationships with food and music.
Here is pre-surgery Fat Debbie:
Voigt also comes off as a thoughtful woman who does not shun her own individual responsibility for her problems, but who sees them in a social and even sexist context, such as the double standard in opera for heavy men like the legendary and obese tenor Luciano Pavarotti (below) and heavy women like herself.
The Ear offers you a roundup of reviews and interviews about the new book.
Here is a piece from The Wall Street Journal with a Q&A interview:
Here is the take in the popular People magazine:
And here is a nitty-gritty account in The New York Post:
But let’s not forget the talent and great voice that make all these other things noteworthy. So here is Deborah Voigt’s most popular video on YouTube:
By Jacob Stockinger
Bankrupt symphony orchestras and opera companies?
Highly trained but out-of-work classical musicians?
The unfortunate realities of classical music in contemporary American culture have made their way into a fictional comedy.
Fresh off its surprise win in the Golden Globe awards, Amazon Studios is broadcasting an unusual comedy series based on the behind-the-scenes problems and trials of classical musicians in New York City.
It is called “Mozart in the Jungle” – a title that reminds The Ear of the moving scenes in the classic film “Out of Africa” where recordings of works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — including the sublime middle movement of the Clarinet Concerto — are played by multiple Academy Award-winner Meryl Streep and Robert Redford on a phonograph in the midst of the African bush.
Below is a photo by Nicole Rivelli of Amazon Studios that shows Gael García Bernal (right), Bernadette Peters and Malcolm McDowell starring in the classical music comedy series “Mozart in the Jungle.” You can see the trailer, which has a lot of details and bacground and which already has more than 1 million hits, for the new streaming series in a YouTube video at the bottom.
But this urbane comedy take gets mixed marks for its realistic depiction of the difficulties of the classical music scene in New York City, which could easily apply elsewhere.
Here is the critique from NPR of National Public Radio by Anastasia Tsioulcas:
And here is the review by critic and reviewer Zachary Woolfe for The New York Times:
If you have watched “Mozart in the Jungle, let us know what you think.
The Ear wants to hear.