The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will perform music by Cimarosa, Delibes, Mozart and Sibelius this Sunday afternoon

February 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following note from Edgewood College (below):Edgewood College 1000

The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Blake Walter (below, in a photo by John Maniaci) will perform a concert on this Sunday, February 21 at 2:30 p.m. in St. Joseph Chapel, 100 Edgewood College Drive.

blake walter john maniaci

Included on the program are: the Secret Marriage Overture by Domenico Cimarosa; the incidental music from “Kuolema” by Jean Sibelius (heard at bottom in as YouTube video); the ballet suite from “Le Roi s’amuse” (The King Has Fun) by Leo Delibes, and the Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504, “Prague,” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Founded in 1993 with a generous endowment established by benefactors William O. Hart and Vernon Sell, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra fulfills a unique role in the Madison community, providing high-quality performances and unique educational opportunities.

The ensemble is the permanent, in-house chamber orchestra of the College, and is known for featuring world-class soloists and distinctive programming.

Admission for this event is $5, with tickets available at the door, and is free with an Edgewood College ID.


Classical music: Grace Presents offers a FREE violin and piano concert of music by Mozart, Schumann and Fritz Kreisler this Saturday from noon to 1 p.m.

February 18, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

A FREE concert this weekend by Grace Presents features violin and piano music played by local musicians.

The concert takes place from noon to 1 p.m. this Saturday at Grace Episcopal Church, where West Washington Avenue runs into the Capitol Square.

grace episcopal church ext

Grace Episcopal harpsichord

The performers are violinist Kangwon Kim and pianist Seungwha Baek.

The program is: Sonata for Piano and Violin in A major, K. 526, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791); Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano in A minor, Op. 105, by Robert Schumann (1810-1856); and “Liebesleid” (Love’s Sorrow, performed by Anne Akiko Meyers in a YouTube video at the bottom) and “Liebesfreud” (Love’s Joy) by Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962).

Kangwon Lee Kim (below) is a versatile violinist with repertoire ranging from baroque to 21st century using both Baroque and modern violins. She performs with the Madison Bach Musicians.

Kangwon Kim earned her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also holds degrees from the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, the Manhattan School of Music and Temple University.

Kangwon Kim close up

A native of Seoul, Korea, pianist Seungwha Baek (below) is currently working towards the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in collaborative piano at the University of Wisconsin-­Madison under Professor Martha Fischer.

Seungwha Baek

For more information about upcoming concerts in a variety of genres and style, plus a chance to let Grace Presents know what you think of a specific concert or performers, go to:

http://gracepresents.org


Classical music education: Let us now praise WYSO — the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) as they celebrate their 50th anniversary this Saturday night. The concert is SOLD OUT, which is both good news and bad news

February 17, 2016
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ALERT and CORRECTION : The Ear just learned that the WYSO concert will be streamed LIVE on Wisconsin Public Television. View the broadcast live at 7 p.m. on this Saturday, February 20, by clicking on the following link: http://wpt.org/watch/liveevent

By Jacob Stockinger

It seems like one of those situations that put you between a rock and a hard place.

This year, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras founded by the late Marvin Rabin, is celebrating the organization’s milestone 50th anniversary. (Below top is a photo of WYSO rehearsing in 1966; below bottom is a photo of WYSO today.)

WYSO Youth Orchestra Marvin Rabin conducting 1966-7

WYSO Youth Orchestra

Plans for the celebration have been ambitious. Events have included: mounting a special art display at Dane County Regional Airport; publishing a special book; undertaking a foreign concert tour; and holding other events, including special receptions and breakfasts as well as playing opportunities for WYSO alumni who are flying in from all over the country.

Perhaps the single biggest event is the special concert that will take place this Saturday night from 7 to 9 p.m. at Overture Hall in the Overture Center.

The concert features five world premieres of pieces commissioned by WYSO for five different groups or ensembles.

Here are the details from WYSO:

“This concert will be the first time all WYSO orchestras are on stage to perform at the same concert. This concert is generously sponsored by Jerome Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland.

“The collage concert will feature the following performing ensembles: Youth Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Concert Orchestra, Sinfonietta, Brass Choir, Percussion Ensemble and a chamber ensemble.

“Each orchestra along with the Percussion Ensemble will perform a world premiere work that was commissioned especially for them.

“Composers of these commissions include Ben Whalund, Olivia Zeuske, Reynard Burns, Donald Fraser and WYSO alumni Andrew Kinney.

“The Percussion Ensemble (below), under the direction of Vicki Jenks will perform Credo by Ben Whalund. Mark Leiser, conductor of Sinfonietta, will lead his young string orchestra in Sonata for Sinfonietta by Olivia Zeuske, Haydn’s La Chasse, and Duke Ellington’s Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. The Brass Choir, under the direction of Brett Keating will then take the stage.

WYSO percussion Ensemble 2013

“Following the Brass Choir, Concert Orchestra, under the baton of Christine Mata-Eckel, will perform Biciclette by Reynard Burns, and Del Borgo’s Romany Dances. One of WYSO’s chamber ensembles will perform next. Michelle Kaebisch, conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, will lead her ensemble as they perform In Time by Donald Fraser and Throne Room Scene from Star Wars by John Williams.

WYSO 50th Photo 1

The Youth Orchestra, led by music director James Smith, will give the penultimate performance of the evening by performing A Radiant Spirit by Andrew Kinney a and Symphony No. 2, Finale: Moderato assai-Allegro vivo by Tchaikovsky.

WYSO 50th Photo 2

“Following these performances the evening will feature a grand finale, arranged by Donald Fraser, with a performance by all nearly 400 members of WYSO, including the WYSO Music Makers Honors Ensembles as they perform Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

Following the concert, all audience members are invited to attend a post-concert reception in the lobby of Overture Center. This reception will be sponsored by the current WYSO Parent Leader Committee

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

So what is the problem or conundrum The Ear is talking about?

Just this: The main concert by the five orchestras and ensembles with five world premiere commissions is SOLD OUT.

That is good news because the hall and events are expensive to put on, especially at the Overture Center. So congratulations to the hard work that went into such success.

But that is also bad news because The Ear bets that most of the seats understandably went to family, friends and alumni. That, in turn, means that a new public, especially families with young children as potential members, for the ever impressive WYSO – which has trained thousands of middle school and high school students since its inception — will not be reached. And as a provider of music education, the pioneering WYSO simply has no peers in the area. 

So The Ear hopes that CDs and DVDs of the concerts will be available after the event. Maybe it will even be aired on Wisconsin Public Television or Wisconsin Public Radio or some other broadcast outlets. (See the correction at the top: The concert will; be streamed live on Wisconsin Public Television )That would certainly reach a wide public with the inspiring mission and outstanding results of music education through WYSO.

WYSO Logo blue

And if you want to know more information about WYSO and its 50th anniversary celebration, go to:

http://www.wysomusic.org/50th/

In the meantime, The Ear sends hearty and heart-felt congratulations to all the students, teachers, alumni and supporters of WYSO students, who in the YouTube video at the bottom perform the celebratory and triumphant “Great Gate at Kiev” from Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

Cheers to the next 50 years!


Classical music: Just a reminder that Friday night the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra again hosts virtuoso flutist Dionne Jackson in music of Bach and Carl Nielsen plus works by Respighi and Haydn

February 16, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is a very busy week for classical music in Madison.

But today The Ear wants to remind you of a stand-out concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) on Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

Tickets are $15-$80.

WCO lobby

The virtuoso flutist Dionne Jackson (below) — who now teaches at the University of Connecticut — will solo with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under the baton of its longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell.

This marks Jackson’s first return to the WCO since her debut in 2000, when she wowed the crowd with her performance of the snappy and colorful Flute Concerto by the French composer Jacques Ibert.

This time she is performing the Flute Concerto by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen as well as the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 by Johann Sebastian Bach. (You can hear it performed in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Dionne Jackson

To top off the varied program of 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century composers – such eclecticism is a hallmark of Sewell’s programming – the WCO will perform the “Ancient Airs and Dances” Suite No. 1, based on lute music of the 16th century, by the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi.

The WCO’s finale will be the Symphony No. 79 in F Major by Franz Joseph Haydn, whose underappreciated output is quickly becoming a specialty of Maestro Sewell (below) – something to rejoice over since Haydn is, according to American composer John Harbison, easily the most neglected on the great composers.

andrewsewell

Here is more information about the concert, the performers, tickets, the pre-concert dinner and the repertoire:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks-iii-1/


Classical music: String music and a piano for small hands, wind music and band music — This week brings varied FREE concerts at the UW-Madison

February 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

It will be a busy week in Madison and especially at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Here is a list to help you decide what you want to attend.

TUESDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Chamber Orchestra will give a FREE concert under its music director James Smith.

The program is: Rumanian Folk Dances by Béla Bartók; the “Holberg” Suite by Edvard Grieg; and Symphony for Strings, Opus 118a, by Dmitri Shostakovich (arranged by Russian violist Rudolf Barshai and based on Shostakovich’s well known String Quartet No. 8.)

UW Chamber Orchestra Stravinsky

FRIDAY

UW-Madison professor of chamber music and cellist Parry Karp, who performs in the Pro Arte Quartet, is a newly elected member of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.

On Friday night at 8 p.m. he will give a FREE recital in Mills Hall.

The program features: the Partita in A Minor for Solo Flute, BWV 1013 (1723?) by Johann Sebastian Bach, as transcribed for solo cello in C Minor by Parry Karp.

Sonata No. 1 in D Major Piano and Violin, Op. 12 No. 1 (1798) by Ludwig van Beethoven, as transcribed for piano and cello by Parry Karp. He will perform with pianist mother Frances Karp.

“Märchenbilder” (Fairy Tales) for Piano and Viola, Op. 113 (1851) by Robert Schumann, as transcribed for piano and cello by Robert Hausmann. With pianist Frances Karp.

Sonata in A Minor for Piano and Cello, D. 821, “Arpeggione,” (1824) by Franz Schubert. Pianist Bill Lutes will perform with Karp.

Parry Karp

SATURDAY AFTERNOON AND NIGHT

Attention all pianists and especially those with smaller hands!

UW pianist and pedagogue Jessica Johnson (below) will give an afternoon workshop and evening concert on “The Joy of Downsizing.”

All events are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC and take place in Morphy Recital Hall.

WORKSHOP — 2:30-3:45: “All Hands on Keys: Strategies for Teaching Students with Small Hands”

MASTERCLASS — 4:15-5:45 p.m.

TRY THE PIANO — 5:45-6:45 p.m.

FACULTY CONCERT — 8 p.m. Performed on a Steinbuhler DS 5.5™ (“7/8”) Size Piano; Tentative program includes: Thee Piano Pieces, D. 946, by Franz Schubert (played by Alfred Brendel in a YouTube video at the bottom); Ballad, Op. 6, by Amy Beach; Concert sans Orchestre in f minor, Op. 14, by Robert Schumann.

jessica johnson at piano

Here is a statement about the workshops and concert from Jessica Johnson:

“The hands of great pianists come in all shapes and sizes. Spending literally thousands of hours at the piano, we develop time-tested, proven strategies for learning repertoire in a way that suits our unique physiology. We know best that which we have experienced within our own bodies.

“How does this impact our ability to work with students with different hand sizes than our own?

“As a small-handed pianist, I have spent my entire professional career seeking creative strategies to adapt to playing conventional-sized piano keyboards.

“I have become a guru of innovative fingerings and have learned how to employ ergonomic movements and compensatory gestures in order to perform technically challenging repertoire on the conventional piano.

“Since the life-changing moment when I started practicing on an alternatively sized keyboard, I have experienced a whole new level of artistic and technical freedom.

“Research related to the use of Ergonomically-Scaled Piano Keyboards (ESPKs) suggests similar benefits for small-handed pianists, including less pain and injury, greater technical facility and accuracy, and ease of learning.

“Using a Steinbuhler DS 5.5TM (7/8) Size Piano Keyboard insert, manufactured by Steinbuhler & Company, that was custom-made for a Steinway B piano, this workshop will demonstrate effective strategies for teaching students with small hands and ways to exploit musical and technical choices that maximize artistry and biomechanical ease.”

“I’ve spent most of my life thinking that I could not play with a big sound and that I was never going to be comfortable with large chords and octaves. Now I simply believe that I’ve been playing the wrong size piano keyboard.”

Small Hands photo

SATURDAY AFTERNOON

The University of Wisconsin-Madison clarinet studio will host a Clarinet Day on Saturday, Feb. 20, starting at 1:30 p.m. and running to 6 p.m. in Mills Hall at the School of Music.

clarinet

Wesley Warnhoff (below), visiting assistant professor of clarinet, and the UW-Madison Clarinet studio have invited all high school clarinetists to attend.

Wesley Warnhoff

The day includes concerts, master classes, chamber music, student performances and dinner with the UW-Madison clarinetists. It must be a popular idea because registration is now CLOSED.

But at 7:30 P.M. the group will end the day by attending a FREE concert – which is OPEN TO THE PUBLIC — by the UW Wind Ensemble (below top), conducted by Professor Scott Teeple (below bottom).

The program includes: “Spin Cycle” by Scott Lindroth; “Colonial Song” by Percy Grainger/Rogers; “Heavy Weather” by Jess Turner, featuring Tom Curry, adjunct professor of tuba; the Symphonies of Wind Instruments by Igor Stravinsky; and “Apollo Unleashed” by Frank Ticheli.

UW Wind Ensemble

Scott Teeple conducting

SUNDAY

The UW-Madison Concert Band will give two FREE concerts in Mills Hall at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. under band director Mike Leckrone  (below), best known for leading the acclaimed UW Marching Band. Sorry, no word about program.

Mike Leckrone BIG


Classical music: It’s Valentine’s Day 2016. What do you think is the most romantic piece of music ever written? Plus, this afternoon is the last performance of the Valentine program by the Madison Symphony Orchestra

February 14, 2016
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the Valentine’s Day program of works by Peter Tchaikovsky, Maurice Ravel and Ludwig van Beethoven performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra with guest conductor Daniel Hegge and guest soloist violinist Alina Ibragimova. The opening night performance received fine reviews.

Here is a link to the review by Jessica Courtier for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/concert-review-madison-symphony-dedicates-valentine-s-weekend-to-love/article_21d106c8-1011-5f6c-9346-f17c3d07b2e3.html

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Valentine’s Day.

Cupid

That makes it a good occasion to talk about romantic music – not necessarily Romantic music (with a capital R) since there is plenty of Baroque, Classical era and modern music that fits the bill.

Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Frideric Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, Johannes Brahms, Antonin Dvorak, Giuseppe Verdi, Gustav Mahler, Gabriel Faure, Maurice Ravel, Peter Tchaikovsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev – all of them, and many other composers, wrote some deeply moving romantic music.

And it comes in so many different forms: symphonies and concerto; sonatas and suites; orchestral music; choral music and songs; solo works for piano; chamber music for strings, winds and brass.

The Ear loves listening to and also playing romantic music. He thinks probably the most consistently romantic composer was the German composer Robert Schumann (1810-1856, below with his wife). So many of his greatest pieces — in so many different genres — were inspired by his steadfast and often thwarted, but finally victorious, love of his wife Clara Wieck Schumann.

An outstanding concert pianist, the much younger Clara outlived the mentally troubled Robert, and edited the publication of his works and popularized them through performing them.

Schumann_Robert_and_Wieck_Clara

But if you asked The Ear to pick the single most romantic piece of music he knows, it would have to be the opening arias from the opera “La Bohème” by Giacomo Puccini.

Every time he hears Rodolfo and Mimi sing to each other and fall in love at first sight, the little hairs on his neck stand up and often his eyes tear up.

You can hear that sung in the YouTube video at the bottom. It features the late superstar tenor Luciano Pavarotti. He could not  read music, but he sure could sing. And his voice has a special quality that adds to the romance and poignancy.

What do you think is the most romantic piece of music? What romantic music would you play for someone special or have played for yourself on Valentine’s Day?

Leave your choice – preferably with some personal background or commentary or even a dedication to your Valentine plus, if possible, a link to a YouTube performance – in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: This is your brain on music! New scientific research shows that the human brain evolved special channels for hearing music. Read all about it!

February 13, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

What is your brain like on music? (The illustration below is by Marcos Chin.)

music and brain CR Marcos Chin

One of the most fascinating stories The Ear has ever read about music and science came last Tuesday in this week’s Science Times section of The New York Times.

The “Music Channel” story was reported by the acclaimed science writer  and journalist Natalie Angier (below), who won a Pulitzer Prize and has been nominated for a National Book Award She also included a sidebar story about her own experience undergoing the kind of MRI scan that helped researchers.

natalie angier

The upshot is this: No matter what kind of music you like – classical, jazz, folk, country, rock, pop – the human brain has developed special neural pathways to perceive the music.

In short, the human brain seems to have its own music room.

The story says this may help to explain why music seems a universal, cross-cultural phenomenon and why the first music instruments, such as the vulture bone flute found in Germany (below, in a photo by Jensen of the University of Tubingen) date back 42,000 years — some 24,000 years before the first cave painting appear in Lascaux, France.

Vulture bone flute CR Jensen:University of Tubingen

Plus, the story points out that the scientists and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) do not get the same result with non-musical noises. The special nerve pathways or circuits seem to have evolved specifically to receive musical information.

There is a lot more fascinating information in the story.

For The Ear, the bottom line is that we are closer to knowing why music has such deep appeal in so many different ways. And the researchers say that this study is just the beginning. (You can hear more about the effects of music on the human brain and body in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear looks forward to seeing more research about why music is special to the human brain: Is it the structure of music? The logic and intellectual content? Primarily the melody or harmony or rhythm? The emotional content?

Here is a link to the must-read story:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/science/new-ways-into-the-brains-music-room.html?_r=0

And here is the sidebar story, “Lending Her Ears to MIT Experiment,” about Natalie Angier’s own experience with the MIT research study about music and the human brain. It explains the research methods in details from a subjective point of view:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/science/lending-her-ears-to-an-mit-experiment.html


Classical music: Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” is a second-rate opera that got a first-rate production from the Madison Opera

February 12, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Rankin Utevsky. The young violist, baritone and conductor is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and conductor James Smith, plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra, and sings with the University Opera.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO – www.MAYCO.org), which will perform its sixth season this summer. He also directs a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest review of this past weekend’s performance of Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” by the Madison Opera.

I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Also, his latest venture was the successful recent launch of the Impresario Student Opera at the UW-Madison.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below) with production photos by James Gill for the Madison Opera:

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Rankin Utevsky

A great opera can be memorable in many ways. You might remember how you felt at the climaxes of the music, or walk out humming the Big Tune from the showstopper aria, or leave with an image fixed in your mind’s eye of the most dramatic moment in the first-act finale.

In an opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Giuseppe Verdi or Giacomo Puccini, you might remember all of these. But in American composer Mark Adamo’s debut opera, “Little Women,” there’s nothing to remember — no great moving moments, no thrilling stage pictures, no hummable tunes.

There are motifs, certainly, and recurring lines. But “Things change, Jo” (song by acclaimed mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in the YouTube video at the bottom) can hardly hold a candle to “O soave fanciulla” in Puccini’s “La Bohème,” the first-act Trio in Mozart’s “Figaro,” the parents’ sextet in Jake Heggie‘s “Dead Man Walking,” or the quartet from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”

It’s all technically correct, but it’s not great opera — neither great storytelling nor great music.

I left the Sunday performance by Madison Opera with the unshakeable feeling that Adamo’s score had been performed far better than it deserved.

Part of the problem is that Mark Adamo (below) is too clever for his own good. The libretto, from the classic 19th-century American novel by Louisa May Alcott, is stronger than the music — never quite moving, but full of evocative and witty phrases.

The music displays a clear command of naturalistic settings of the text, rising to peaks when it should and creating compelling atmosphere. But it always seems to pull back just when a lyrical melody might break forth, or when an emotional climax draws near.

Mark Adamo

Several times he uses the gambit of two conversations on stage at the same time, talking about the same things. But the pacing is never quite right, and the unison lines are predictable and trite rather than powerful. He lacks the confidence to let people talk over one another unless we’ve already heard half of the lines. (Whether the lack of trust is in the audience or stems from his own compositional skill is a matter of conjecture.)

The dramatic and musical tricks are all “correct” — Adamo knows his business — but none of them make an emotional impact, a point driven home by their success in last season’s “Dead Man Walking,” which employs all the same devices to far greater effect. When the opening scene came back at the end of the show, I was ready to walk out. Enough already!

It is a sad fact that the most moving part of the whole affair was only half Adamo’s — a setting of Goethe’s “Kennst du das Land” (Do You Know the Land) thrown into the second act that almost approached melody, and tugged at the heartstrings in a way no other scene of the opera managed to do.

Beth’s death scene – below top with Chelsea Morris Shephard as Beth (left) and Heather Johnson as Jo — was a close second, admittedly.

Little Women 143 Beth dies GILL

And the lovely wedding vow — below bottom with, from left, Alexander Elliott as John Brooke; Courtney Miller as Meg; Rick Henslin as Gideon March; Elizabeth Hagedorn as Alma March — was marred only by Rick Henslin’s intonation.

LIttle Women 101 wedding GILL

The minimal set cheated the opera out of the lush visual setting it deserved. If the realism of the story had been played up, with painted walls and structures, the human elements of the story might have been more believable in a setting that doesn’t feel as though a strong wind might knock it all down.

Little Women 58 GILL

Instead, a few flown-in flats with cheap-looking projections stood in for the occasional wall, and some rather cool shifting images on the scrim in front of the orchestra highlighted the apparent supernatural elements of the story — not that I thought there were supposed to be any in “Little Women.”

Little Women Jo 40 GILL

This is not to say the visuals were all misses — costumes, wigs, and makeup (Karen Brown-Larimore and Jan Ross) were excellent, particularly in establishing distinctive characterizations for the four sisters, who could easily have been hard to tell apart in a less careful production.

The ghostly vocal quartet that opens the opera — and haunts various scenes in the middle, although I’m told they were intended to be offstage — felt like nothing so much as discount Eric Whitacre: cascading clusters and whole-tone scales with no particular narrative purpose, illuminating nothing about the plot. I did find myself wondering if we were supposed to think Jo had gone insane, between that and the drifting projections on the set, but I’m sure that wasn’t the intended effect.

Despite all this, the voices themselves were superb, and married to strong acting skills to boot. Time and again Madison Opera has shown a knack for finding up-and-coming young singers with tremendous talent, and this cast was no exception.

The four Little Women themselves (below, from left, with Eric Neuville as Laurie; Courtney Miller as Meg, Heather Johnson as Jo; Chelsea Morris Shephard as Beth; Jeni Houser as Amy), aided by sure-handed direction from Candace Evans, mustered warm, credible camaraderie and sisterly love.

They, and their paramours, baritone Alexander Elliot and tenor Eric Neuville, all displayed rich and even vocalism, with clear and precise English diction rendering the supertitles mostly superfluous.

Litlle Women 22 GILL

As the aloof Aunt March and the mother Alma, Brenda Harris and UW-Madison guest professor Elizabeth Hagedorn were secure and confident in their roles as well.

As the German teacher Friedrich Bhaer (below left, with Heather Johnson as Jo), Craig Verm’s accent faded in and out, but his aria, the aforementioned setting of Goethe’s famous “Kennst du das Land,” was the highlight of the show despite this.

Little Women 130 GILL

Guest conductor Kyle Knox (below), a graduate student at the UW-Madison, led musicians of the Madison Symphony Orchestra capably through a score mired in complexity and made the result sound natural — not an easy feat.

Kyle Knox 2

I admire general director Katherine Smith (below) and the Madison Opera for taking a chance on contemporary American opera, and I dearly hope they do so again next season, and the season after that.

In a tremendously conservative industry, it takes guts to put on something by a living composer when everyone else is picking the safe options to sell out the house. And I’d rather see a contemporary opera and hate it than sit through a mediocre “Bohème” (though this fall’s “Bohème” by the Madison Opera was quite excellent).

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

Modern opera is a gamble, both for the box office and for the musicians. Sometimes you find “Dead Man Walking.” And sometimes you don’t. I hope the next contemporary piece to grace the Capitol Theater stage is one for the ages, even if this one, well, wasn’t.

NOTE: For purposes of comparison, here are links to two other reviews of the Madison Opera’s production of “Little Women”:

This is the review John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/arts/stage/madison-opera-little-women/

And this is the review by Greg Hettmansberger, who writes for Madison Magazine and now has his own blog WhatGregSays as well as monthly appearances on WISC-TV:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2016/02/06/madison-opera-stands-tall-for-little-women/

And here is a  link to an interview with Mark Adamo:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/classical-music-it-always-starts-from-the-singing-line-composer-and-librettist-mark-adamo-talks-about-creating-his-popular-opera-little-women-which-will-be-perfo/


Classical music: Edgewood College features a musical collaboration by faculty members to mark Valentine’s Day this Sunday afternoon. Plus a FREE guitar recital of Bach, Scarlatti and Villa-Lobos is at noon on Friday.

February 11, 2016
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to take place from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, features classical guitarist Naeim Rahmani (below) who will perform music by Domenico Scarlatti, Johann Sebastian Bach, Heitor Villa-Lobos and more.

Naeim Rahmani

By Jacob Stockinger

You can celebrate Valentine’s Day this coming Sunday afternoon with “five musical conversations,” a collaborative faculty recital presented by six faculty members from the Music Department at Edgewood College.

The concert is at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Performers include mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson, guitarist Nathan Wysock, violinist Laura Burns, percussionist Todd Hammes, and pianists Susan Gaeddert and Jennifer Hedstrom.

Below in the Edgewood College photo are (from left): music department faculty and staff Jennifer Hedstrom (piano), Todd Hammes (percussion), Laura Burns (violin), Nathan Wysock (guitar), Susan Gaeddert, (piano) and Kathleen Otterson (mezzo-soprano).

Edgewood College Five Musical Conversations - media

The six performers will present five musical sets featuring a variety of styles and chamber combinations.

Included on the program are a set of lute songs by John Dowland, performed by Otterson and Wysock; three works by Santiago de Murcia, performed by Wysock and Hammes, a set of modern works by Chick Corea and Todd Hammes, performed by Hammes on vibraphone with Jennifer Hedstrom on piano; Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite (heard at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that features Argentinean Martha Argerich and Chinese Lang Lang in a subtle and colorful performance) for piano, four hands, performed by Hedstrom and Susan Gaeddert; a set of Lieder or art songs by Louis Spohr, sung by Kathleen Otterson with Susan Gaeddert on piano and Laura Burns on violin.

Tickets are available at the door.

Admission is $7, or free with Edgewood College ID.


Classical music: Clocks in Motion will perform percussion works in Stoughton this Saturday night

February 10, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following invitation from the Madison-based percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion (below), which has released a CD, is building quite the reputation and  is receiving a lot of critical acclaim:

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

Hi everyone!

I would like to cordially invite you to Clocks in Motion’s upcoming concert at the historic Stoughton Opera House (below) at 7:30 p.m. on this coming Saturday, February 13.

Stoughton Opera House ext

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

We have a great program including music by Steve Reich, Marc Mellits, John Cage and James Tenney (below).

James Tenney

In addition, we will be joined by composer/guest artist Marc Mellits (below), in performing his mallet quintet “Gravity.” (You can hear Clocks in Motion performing the Minimalist and hypnotic “Gravity” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

marc mellits 1

You might also want to check out our all new concert TEASER video here: https://youtu.be/WYxMELVVQEg

Tickets are $15 and are available at the door or for advanced sales online HERE

Even if you can’t make the concert, could you please help spread the word or just let your friends, family, students, and colleagues know about the event?

Sincerely,

Sean Kleve, Clocks in Motion Percussion


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