The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Happy Halloween! Here is some spooky music along with a spooky way to listen to it.

October 31, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

BOO!

Today is Halloween 2015.

halloween

Trick or treat?

The Ear is giving out treats today.

Eeriness has played a role in classical music since its beginning.

So here are the 13 scariest pieces of classical music – with links to performances – as determined by Limelight magazine:

http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/features/13-scariest-pieces-classical-music-halloween

halloween black cat

And here is another selection of Halloween music, 10 pieces also with links to performances, from The Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/10/classical-music-pieces-for-halloween.html

Together the two websites offer a wide variety of composers: Camille Saint-Saens, Franz Liszt, Johann Sebastian Bach, Modest Mussorgsky, Hector Berlioz, Bela Bartok, Arnold Schoenberg, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Gyorgy Ligeti, Antonin Dvorak, Josef Suk, Jean Sibelius, Andre Caplet, Carl Maria von Weber and Franz Schubert.

You could stream them loudly as you do trick-or-treat with neighborhood children.

Halloween witch and haunted house

But The Ear also wants to share what he finds to be a fascinating and irresistible but nonetheless spooky way of listening to the famous Organ Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, a work that made both lists of music appropriate to Halloween.

The YouTube video uses an ingenious but spooky visual bar graph bar way to follow the music. Try it and see for yourself! Over 25 million people have!

Then leave any suggestions you have for Halloween music, along with a link to a YouTube or other performance if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The Ear praises UW student recitals but offers four suggestions to help them reach the public.

October 30, 2015
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ALERT: This Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Chamber Orchestra will perform a FREE and PUBLIC concert under the baton of UW-Madison professor James Smith. The program features the Chamber Symphony for Strings, arranged by Rudolf Barshai from a string quartet, by Dmitri Shostakovich and the Serenade for Strings by Antonin Dvorak.

By Jacob Stockinger

A week ago, The Ear went to a terrific piano recital by Sara Giusti (below), a graduate student who is pursuing her doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who studies with UW virtuoso Christopher Taylor.

Sara Giusti bowing

It took place, as most student recitals do, in Morphy Recital Hall (at bottom), and was a fine performance that both she and her teacher can be proud of.

The Partita No. 4 in G Major by Johann Sebastian Bach was articulated well and was pedaled beautifully and very judiciously. The Sonata in B Minor by Franz Joseph Haydn had the right touch of lightness and humor to its minor-key pathos. The later sonata, Op. 78, by Ludwig van Beethoven was lyrical where it needed to be and structural where it needed to be. And the rarely heard Sonata No. 4 by Sergei Prokofiev had the requisite bite, at the same time melding both Romanticism and Modernism.

Sara Giusti playing

But the event got The Ear thinking, as did the relatively small audience of two to three dozen listeners.

We are lucky there are so many good student recitals at the UW. They are usually high in quality, plus they are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

The Ear is especially pleased that they are now being listed on the School of Music website and Calendar of Events, which allows listeners to choose and plan. Here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

BUT:

Too many of the student programs say the performances will feature music by such-and-such composers. They don’t give you the actual pieces.

The Ear finds that frustrating. The actual program would help him, and he presumes others, to decide about which concerts to attend. For example, he ended up going to Sara Giusti’s recital as a leap of faith since the advance notice listed only works by Bach, Beethoven, Haydn and Prokofiev –- and all were prolific composers. Luckily, someone else recommended her.

Take the examples of two upcoming student recitals.

Pianist Jason Kutz (below), who performs on Friday, Dec. 4, at 6:30 p.m., gets it right. His advance notice says he will perform the 24 Preludes, Op. 34, by Dmitri Shostakovich and the “Davidbundlertanze” by Robert Schumann. What a terrific and unusual program of contrasting styles. The Ear will be going.

jason kutz at piano

Chan Mi Jean, who will perform on Monday, Nov. 23 at 8:30 p.m., gets it wrong. Her notice says she will “perform chamber pieces by Brahms, Ravel, Bernstein and Previn.” That offers some help but, without specifics, not enough. What pieces? What are the other instruments — cello, violin viola, voice? The Ear needs to know more to decide about attending, though he is leaning towards going.

So here are four suggestions for students -– and even for faculty members — offered in a spirit of enthusiasm and helpfulness, from The Ear:

PLEASE GET YOUR RECITAL LISTED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE ON THE SCHOOL OF MUSIC WEB SITE CALENDAR. THE SOONER, THE BETTER.

PLEASE DO NOT BE VAGUE, BUT INSTEAD LIST SPECIFIC COMPOSERS AND SPECIFIC PIECES ON YOUR PROGRAM.

PLEASE THINK ABOUT THE PUBLIC AND, WHENEVER POSSIBLE, CHOOSE BETTER, MORE CONVENIENT TIMES FOR YOUR RECITAL. 8:30 SEEMS LATE. 6:30 IS DINNER HOUR. SOMEHOW 7 OR 7:30 OR 8 SEEMS PREFERABLE. I’M SURE LOGISTICS AND COMPETING EVENTS ARE INVOLVED. BUT BETTER TIMES, ESPECIALLY ON WORK DAYS, WILL BRING A BETTER PUBLIC TURNOUT.

ALONG SIMILAR LINES, PLEASE DO NOT KEEP THE PUBLIC WAITING TO GET INTO THE HALL UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE. IF YOU ARE NOT WARMED UP OR REHEARSED ENOUGH BY A HALF-HOUR OR 15 MINUTES BEFORE SHOW TIME, ANOTHER 5 OR 10 MINUTES WON’T HELP. AND IT IS RUDE TO LEAVE THE PUBLIC WAITING OUT IN THE HALLWAY, WHICH GETS COLD IN WINTER AND ONLY HAS A FEW BENCHES TO SIT ON.

That said, The Ear wishes the best to the gifted students at the UW. They give successful recitals and he hopes that they want to share their talent and hard work, as well as the music, with the largest public possible.

Morphy Hall 2

 


Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players opens their new season with violin sonatas by Mozart, Grieg and Szymanowski this Friday night.

October 29, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Violinist Wes Luke and pianist Jess Salek will perform a “passionate program”of violin and piano music called “Sonatas and Myths” tomorrow night, Friday, Oct. 30, at 7:30 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The program includes: the elegant and intense Sonata in G Major K. 379, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (you can hear the sonata in a YouTube video at the bottom); the fiery Sonata in C minor, Op. 45, by the 19th-century Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg; and the extraordinary and unique “Myths,” Op. 30, by the 20th-century Polish composer Karol Szymanowski.

There will be a reception following the program.

Tickets are $15 for the public; $10 for seniors; and $5 for students. Check or cash only will be accepted.

Information about upcoming concerts can be found on Mosaic’s website http://www.mosaicchamberplayers.com/ or you can “like” or follow Mosaic Chamber Players on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Here is some background information about the performers::

Wes Luke (below) is a violinist and educator who performs and teaches across the upper Midwest.  He currently serves as the Concertmaster of the La Crosse (Wisconsin) Symphony Orchestra, the Principal Second Violinist of the Dubuque (Iowa) Symphony Orchestra, and a section violinist in the Madison Symphony Orchestra. He also regularly plays in the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Wisconsin Philharmonic, where he has also served as Concertmaster.

Wes Luke 2015

Jess Salek holds degrees from Lawrence University (Bachelor of Music in piano performance) in Appleton, Wisconsin, and State University of New York at Stony Brook (Master of Music in piano performance). He has worked as Music Theory Instructor at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and as a piano instructor at Prairie Music Academy in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. He also has served as a judge for piano competitions and music festivals throughout Wisconsin.

From 2009-2013, Salek (below) served as Music Director of Fresco Opera Theatre, which in 2013 received Bronze in the Performing Arts Group category in Madison Magazine’s “Best Of Madison” competition -– an award voted by fans.

He is the founder and owner of Salek Piano Studio, Inc., where he teaches a diverse group of over 45 students of all ages and levels on the west side of Madison.

jess Salek 2015

Salek performs as substitute keyboardist with Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra for Concerts on the Square and Madison Symphony Orchestra. He is also a member of Sound Ensemble Wisconsin (SEW), a non-profit chamber music organization in Madison, and serves as accompanist for Madison Youth Choirs, a non-profit performing group based in Madison.

Most recently, Salek founded the Mosaic Chamber Players, a professional group dedicated to performing varied chamber music programs throughout Wisconsin. The Mosaics were recently described as “among the finest purveyors of chamber music in Madison” in a review by John W. Barker for The Well-Tempered Ear blog.

Here is a poster about the upcoming season of the Mosaic Chamber Players (using the magnifying tool will help you read it):

Mosaic 2015-2016 season poster jpeg


Classical music: Con Vivo performs two masterpieces of German Romantic music to mark its recent cultural exchange tour of Germany.

October 28, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianist and organist Theodore Reinke in music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Edvard Grieg, Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt.

By Jacob Stockinger

“Con Vivo – Music With Life” (below) presents a chamber music concert entitled “German Romance” on this Friday, October 30, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, across from Camp Randall.

Tickets can be purchased at the door for $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students.

To celebrate the group’s recent cultural exchange tour to our sister county of Kassel, Germany, the concert program includes two masterpiece pillars of 19th-century German Romantic chamber music: the Trio for clarinet, cello and piano by Johannes Brahms and Franz Schubert’s String Quintet with two cellos, regarded as one of the greatest compositions in all chamber music. (You can hear the Schubert Quintet with the Juilliard String Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Audience members are invited to join the musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss this chamber music literature and to hear about their experiences on their concert tour in Germany.

Con Vivo 2015

Artistic Director Robert Taylor, in remarking about the concert said, “Our tour to Germany was a wonderful honor and great success. We return very excited to begin our 14th season with two of the great masterpieces for chamber ensemble. Our Madison audience will be able to welcome us home as we present some of our favorite repertoire in this concert.”

Con Vivo! is a professional chamber music ensemble composed of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.


Classical music: Presidential debates should include questions about funding and supporting the arts and humanities

October 27, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, well.

Tomorrow night — from 7 to 9 p.m. CDT on CNBC — there will be another presidential debate.

The always astonishing and amazing Republicans, led by the always astonishing and amazing Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson, will debate in Boulder, Colorado.

Republican presidential debate

The Ear has watched three presidential debates so far — two Republican and one Democratic.

But he still has no idea of where the various candidates on both sides stand when it comes to government support of the arts –- including music — and the humanities.

Please tell us, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, what you think?

bernie sanders and hillary clinton in presidential debate

And you too, Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum and Chris Christie and Jeb Bush and Rand Paul and John Kasich and ….

Do you want to defund PBS?

pbs logo in black

Or defund NPR?

npr

Or will you support these important and historic cultural commitments? Why or why not?

Along the same lines, do you want to defund, sustain or enhance the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities?

Why or why not?

Some funny reasoning is going on here. Some of the candidates want to eliminate all subsidies to the arts, which are a form of economic development after all – at a time when a lot of conservatives don’t mind funding big rich corporations in the same name of economic development.

The arts create a lot of jobs and spark a lot of spending and stimulus. Or don’t the culture-challenged charlatans realize that?

Stop and think a minute about the local situation. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Overture Center (below), public schools, the University of Wisconsin and its School of Music — all rely in part on public funding. They employ a lot of people and generate a lot of value.

OvertureExteior-DelBrown_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85

Don’t these issues deserve a public airing? Doesn’t the arts consuming public have a right to know where the various candidates stand on these issues? Shouldn’t voters know what they might be getting in those areas?

As The Ear understand its, one flank of the attack has to do with the so called left-leaning liberal or progressive bias and politics of PBS and NPR.

Plus, there is the view that the art that public taxpayer money is helping to create doesn’t defend the so-called family values that the most radically conservative Republicans and Christian fundamentalists and Evangelicals want defended.

The other flank of the attack has to do with the stance that government should be smaller and that therefore should be funding less in general.

Makes you wonder just how the radical “freedom coalition” and Tea Party people in South Carolina, Texas and California feel about having a smaller government when it comes to providing aid for victims of torrential floods and devastating wildfires. And how is that kind of help for those in need different from funding education or health care?

California wildfires 2015 nbcnews

AUSTIN, TX - MAY 25, 2015 Extreme flooding takes place in Austin, Texas May 25, 2015. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

AUSTIN, TX – MAY 25, 2015
Extreme flooding takes place in Austin, Texas May 25, 2015.
(Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

Anyway, wouldn’t it be appropriate for some of the panelists to question the candidates on the issues pertaining to the arts and humanities?

The Ear is reminded of Sir Winston Churchill’s comment during World War II. Some members of the British Parliament asked him if funding for the arts shouldn’t be cut and used instead to fight Hitler and the Nazis. He said no and added, “Then what would we be fighting for?”

winston churchill

Tell the Ear what you think. Leave a COMMENT.

Maybe, just maybe, someone else will read it and pass it along and we will finally get a substantive discussion from the candidates about where they stand on arts and humanities funding by the federal government.

 


Classical music: This week the UW School of Music offers two free classical concerts: two symphonies by Beethoven and a cello recital by Parry Karp.

October 26, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Friday night — Halloween Eve — will be a busy one.

So far, three fine classical music concerts compete for your attendance. They including a UW faculty cello recital, a program of Johannes Brahms and Franz Schubert by Con Vivo and a concert of violin and piano sonatas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Edvard Grieg and Karol Szymanowski by the Mosaic Chamber Players.

All will receive preview attention here.

But first things first.

The Ear tends to favor FREE and PUBLIC concerts. So he is starting with the two very appealing events at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

WEDNESDAY

On Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the strings (below) of the UW Symphony Orchestra will perform the Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven. Graduate student Kyle Knox (center right) will conduct.

Kyle Knox and UW Symphony Orchestra

For more information about the program and about clarinetist-turned-conductor Kyle Knox, here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-symphony-strings/

FRIDAY

On Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison cello professor Parry Karp (below left), who is also a member of the Pro Arte Quartet, will perform with pianist Eli Kalman (below right), who received his doctorate from the UW-Madison and now teaches at the UW-Oshkosh.

Parry Karp and Eli Kalman

The exotic program mixes the known and the unusual. It includes:

The “Ruralia Hungarica” for Cello and Piano, Op. 34/d (1923) by Hungarian composer Ernst Dohnanyi; the Violin Sonata in E-flat Major for Piano and Violin, Op. 12 No. 3 (1798) by Ludwig van Beethoven, as transcribed for piano and cello by Parry Karp; the Capriccio for Violoncello and Piano (1985) American composer William Bolcom; the First Rhapsody for Cello and Piano (1928) by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok (you can hear the work in a YouTube video at the bottom); and the Sonata in B-flat Major for Cello and Piano, Op. 8 (1899) by Ernst Dohnanyi.

PLEASE NOTE: Parry Karp and Eli  Kalman will also repeat their Friday night recital program this Sunday, Nov. 1,  for “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen.” The FREE and PUBLIC performance will start at 12:30 p.m. for the audience in Brittingham Gallery 3. The recital will be streamed LIVE on the website for the Chazen Museum of Art.

Here is a link:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-november-1-with-parry-karp-and-eli-kalm

 


Classical music: University Opera’s production of “The Marriage of Figaro” draws raves from two local critics. There are still two performances left to see and hear: Today at 3 p.m. and Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

October 25, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Unfortunately, The Ear didn’t get to see and hear the opening night performance on Friday night at Old Music Hall of the season-opening production by University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

The chosen opera is a beloved and beautiful classic: “The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below in a rehearsal photo by Michael R. Anderson).

Marriage of Figaro dress rehearsal. Tia Cleveland (Marcellina), Joel Rathmann (Figaro), Anna Whiteway (Susanna), Thomas Weis (Bartolo).

Marriage of Figaro dress rehearsal. Tia Cleveland (Marcellina), Joel Rathmann (Figaro), Anna Whiteway (Susanna), Thomas Weis (Bartolo).

But The Ear is going to today’s matinee performance.

And two local reviews, by critics The Ear respects highly, agree that is a very successful production and puts another feather in the cap of guest director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) from New York City.

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

But also praised highly are set designer Dana Fralick, the student singers-actors and the student orchestra players under UW-Madison professor and conductor James Smith (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson). You can hear the infectious Overture in a curious but eye-catching and mind-engaging “bar graph score” in a YouTube video at the bottom.

UW Chamber Orchestra, James Smith, conductor

That makes The Ear, who loved last year’s production of “The Magic Flute,” all the more pleased and excited about going today.

Here is a review by John W. Barker (below), who often reviews concerts for this blog, for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/arts/stage/a-delightful-marriage-university-opera/

John-Barker

And here is the review by Greg Hettmansberger (below) for his column “Classically Speaking” in Madison Magazine and for WISC-TV Channel3000.com:

http://www.channel3000.com/madison-magazine/arts-culture/University-Opera-marries-all-the-best-elements-of-a-Mozart-masterpiece/36026940

greg hettmansberger mug

If you want to go, tickets are $25 for the general public; $20 for seniors; and $10 for student.

Here is a link to details about the show and about getting tickets:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-the-marriage-of-figaro/

 


Classical music: Are arts audiences and presenters in Madison rude or inconsiderate? One loyal patron thinks so.

October 24, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Arts patron Larry Wells wrote to The Ear to get something off his chest that might also pertain to other audience members, including you. Here is what he said:

I moved to Madison a little over a year ago after spending the last 40 years in San Francisco, Moscow and Tokyo, all of which had vibrant offerings for symphonic music, ballet and opera as well as great performance venues.

I have been very pleased to find that Madison offers the same. I can think of four different symphony orchestras I’ve heard in Madison this past year as well as opera and ballet performances. (Below is Overture Hall.)

Overture Hall

The difference has been the audiences.

I do not believe I have been to a single performance this year where there hasn’t been someone who has decided to unwrap a cough drop. This usually happens during a quiet passage, and often the culprit realizes that he or she is making a noise, so decides that the solution is to unwrap the cellophane more slowly, thus lengthening my agony.

In San Francisco, someone at the symphony came up with the solution to supply cough drops with silent wrappers in bowls at each door to the hall. Problem solved.

cough drops

Another source of noise in the audience is whispering. Usually when someone starts speaking to his neighbor, annoyed audience members glare at the culprit, and then he starts to whisper. I assume that the underlying belief is that when you whisper, you cannot be heard. That is, of course, incorrect. You can still be heard, just not as clearly. In Japan, no one would dream of speaking during a performance.

Woman whispering in man's ear, close-up (B&W)

Woman whispering in man’s ear

I was at the ballet the other night at the Capitol Theater for which I had bought the priciest ticket in the center orchestra. There were five middle school girls seated directly behind me. Each had a plastic cup filled with a drink and crushed ice. Throughout the first act I kept hearing the ice being sloshed around in the plastic cups as every last drop of icy goodness was being extracted.

I asked an usher during the intermission about this, and she said that it was each ensemble’s choice as to whether drinks were allowed in the theater or not. For example, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra does not allow drinks but the Madison Ballet does.

This is the first time I have heard of drinks being allowed into a ballet — they certainly weren’t allowed at the Bolshoi where they had very stern ushers, I can tell you — and I wonder if popcorn and hot dogs will be next. Perhaps it has to do with the prevailing current American fear of becoming dehydrated, although I think most people can endure 40 minutes without dessicating.

soda in a plastic cup

The Ear believes that I am a curmudgeon, and I halfway believe it myself. But when my enjoyment of a concert is jeopardized by inconsiderate audience behavior, then I believe I have a right to be miffed.

Curiously, I have not been to a single performance of anything this past year that hasn’t ended with a standing ovation. Now, I understand that the audience is just trying to be nice. But shouldn’t standing ovations be reserved for truly sensational once-in-a-lifetime experiences? Otherwise, the whole idea is cheapened, and Madisonians end up coming across as provincial.

BDDS standing ovation

I will end this diatribe with one more aspersion to be cast, but this time toward the ticket office at the Overture Center.

Last weekend, I was at the Madison Symphony Orchestra and had a spare ticket that I was trying to give away when I was yelled at by a box office clerk who said: “That’s illegal here!” Thinking that she thought I was trying to scalp a ticket to the symphony — probably not a major problem in Madison — I told her that I was merely trying to give the ticket away. She repeated, “That’s illegal here.”

I was very embarrassed. I seriously doubt that there is a city ordinance against giving away concert tickets, and if I want to give away a $75 ticket as a good deed, I think that should be my prerogative.

MSO ticket

With declining attendance at arts events, I feel that the Overture Center should have its patrons’ good will in mind instead of demonizing them for doing a good deed.

 


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra, guest violinist Naha Greenholtz and guest conductor Kyle Knox excel in music by Igor Stravinsky and especially Maurice Ravel.

October 23, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Middleton Community Orchestra (below), made up of mostly amateur musicians, opened its sixth season with a challenging program on Wednesday night.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

Again replacing regular conductor Steve Kurr was Kyle Knox, expanding his podium apprenticeship as he continues his graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Kyle Knox 2

The opening selection was Aaron Copland’s glitzy El Salon Mexico, bursting with shifting rhythms and exploitations of Mexican musical elements. It got off to a tentative start, with some rather blurred work from the lower winds and brass. But even as the players settled into it, the suspicion remained that this piece had been under-rehearsed. If so, it was a bad decision for this fledgling ensemble.

Then came soloist Naha Greenholtz (below), familiar as concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, but who also happens to be Knox’s wife.

Naha Greenholtz [playing

Her bold choice for a solo vehicle was the Violin Concerto of Igor Stravinsky. This is a curious work, cast in the four-movement structure usual for a traditional symphony.

Stravinsky had already said all he had to say about his idea of solo violin writing in his brilliant music for L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale), and really had little to add to it in this concerto. You find spiky figurations in the fast movements, quasi-melodic efforts in the slow parts. This is, quite simply, not a major contribution to the violin concerto literature—a lesser effort by one of the giants of 20th-century music.

It was clear, too, that Greenhotlz (below top left, in a photo by Margaret Barker) was deeply involved in mastering the piece, playing from the score. Nevertheless, her devotion and the sensitivity she poured into it along with her stunning technique, was most impressive, and I had to admire her for taking on this work so off the beaten path.

Naha Greenholtz and Kyle Knox CR Margaret Barker 2

Knox clearly gave her loving and precise support.

Naha Greenholtz and Kyle KNox embrace at MCO 2

After the intermission, it was all the turn of Maurice Ravel (below, in 1910). His suite, Ma Mère l’Oye (“Mother Goose”) was an orchestration of much of a set of piano pieces. One of the supreme orchestrators of all time, Ravel showed just how many tricks and coloristic combinations he could pack into a relatively short space. This is supple music, and the Middleton players made a very credible account of its subtleties.

ravel

And then came the crowd-pleaser, Bolero. Ravel himself described this work as 15 minutes of sound without music. In that quip he was pointing out that the piece was a simplistic one, consisting only of a rather banal melody, repeated endlessly so that, one by one or in groupings, each instrument or combinations of them could play it as a display of a wide range of colors. For much of the piece, that meant the winds, so it was a set of calling cards for these players. They really did themselves quite proud.

Let’s face it, this is a pretty vulgar piece but it works, and the audience gobbled it up. (You can hear why — and see why — by listening to and watching a performance by Gustavo Dudamel and the Vienna Philharmonic in a YouTube video, which has more than 3 million hits, at the bottom.)

Not only did the winds come off well in their displays there, but through the whole concert I had the impression that the string band was making good progress towards a unity and warmth of sound.

Middleton Community Orchestra strings 2015

One can only admire, cheer and urge onward.


Classical music: The Ear hears the impressive young pianist Joyce Yang and thinks Madison needs more piano recitals. Plus, a FREE concert of female vocal duets is at noon on Friday.

October 22, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held 12:15-1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature sopranos Susan Savage Day and Rebekah Demaree with pianist Sharon Jensen in duets by Gabriel Faure, Jacques Aubert, Jules Massenet, Claudio Monteverdi, UW-Madison alumnus Lee Hoiby and more.

By Jacob Stockinger

There he was last Thursday, sitting in the lower balcony in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The Ear was in Piano Himmel, listening to a masterful performance.

The occasion was a solo piano recital by Joyce Yang (below), an up-and-coming, prize-winning Korea-born and America-trained pianist, still in her late 20s, who was making her Madison debut.

Joyce Yang

And the same thought haunted The Ear, himself an avid amateur pianist, that also came to him during a fine student piano recital this summer.

That thought was simply this: Madison needs to have many more solo piano recitals.

The piano is perhaps the one most commonly studied musical instrument and is a staple of music education, so the potential audience should be there. The repertoire is vast and wonderful. And the piano just hasn’t been receiving its due compared to the many new choral groups and chamber music ensembles that always seem to be proliferating in the area.

The Wise Teacher recalls years ago when almost a dozen solo piano recitals happened during a single season. This season there are only three -– and two have already taken place.

One was the recital of Mendelssohn, Franck and Chopin by Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino (below top)  on Oct. 4 at Farley’s House of Pianos on its Salon Piano Series. (The Ear couldn’t go because he is was in Chicago that afternoon hearing a piano recital by Maurizio Pollini.) The second was by Joyce Yang. The third one will be the performance by UW-Madison virtuoso professor Christopher Taylor (below bottom) on Friday, Feb 26. (No program has yet been announced.)

Daniel del PIno square

Christopher Taylor new profile

Here is an afterthought: Maybe the Madison Symphony Orchestra could start a piano series like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra offers on Sunday afternoons?

Let’s be clear: This is a matter more of pleasure and education than of justice.

Take Yang’s performance, which drew an unfortunately small house of only 300-400.

The first half was remarkable for both the clarity and color she possessed. Ethnic themes, folk songs and folk dances, especially Latin American and Spanish in nature, united the first half of her program.

She opened with two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, the three “Estampes” or Prints by Claude Debussy and two pieces from “Iberia” by Isaac Albeniz and three virtuosic “cowboy” dances by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera.

In all those works, Yang proved a complete and mature keyboard artist. Her technique is rock solid, but it is her musicality that most impresses the listener. The Ear was particularly struck by Yang’s command of dynamics, her ability to play softly and still project, and to delineate and balance various voices.

The second half, all works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, proved less satisfying to The Ear, if not to the audience. It featured two transcriptions of vocal works or songs — “Dreams” and  “Vocalise”  — by the late American virtuoso pianist Earl Wild (below).

earl wild

Unfortunately, Wild himself possessed a Lisztean (or Horowitzean) command of keyboard technique. And like Franz Liszt (or Vladimir Horowitz), Wild just couldn’t resist adding Liberace-like flourishes, flash and trash to his transcriptions in places where simplicity rather than Big Chords would have more than sufficed.

At certain points in a Wild transcription, the work inevitably sounds louche or decadent and over-the-top, like something you might hear at a piano bar or in a cocktail lounge. In short, they are more piano than music. (You can listen to Earl Wild himself performing his own transcription of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Then came  the Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor by Rachmaninoff (below) in its revised 1931 edition. To be honest, this is a Big Piece that is full of sound and fury signifying not very much that The Ear can discern. (The Ear much prefers Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos, preludes and Etudes Tableaux.)

To be sure, the bombastic sonata requires impressive and powerful piano playing, which must explain the muscular work’s popularity among professional pianists and certain segments of the public. It is a Wower and wow us it does, although many of us would rather be seduced than wowed.

Rachmaninoff

The sonata surely is effective in live performance and brought an immediate standing ovation. That, in turn, was rewarded with another Earl Wild transcription this time of George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Too bad the love once again seemed overpowered by difficult but flawlessly executed scales and runs.

But putting those shortcomings aside, the sound of an amazingly played piano recital was such a welcome experience.

The Ear hopes that many more of them are somehow in store.

 


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