ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features harpist Linda Warren and cellist Carol Wessler in the music of Harper Tasche and Laura Zaerr.
By Jacob Stockinger
Two promising band and choral concerts are on tap this weekend at Edgewood College.
Both will take place in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.
The Edgewood College Concert Band, under the direction of Walter Rich (below), will perform a benefit concert for Luke House on Friday at 7 p.m.
Admission is FREE with a freewill offering to benefit the Luke House community meal program.
Included on the program are Flourish for Wind Band by Ralph Vaughan Williams; “Serenity” by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo; “Chorale and Capriccio” by Caesar Giovanini; “Jerusalem” by Hubert Parry; “I’m Seventeen Come Sunday” by Percy Grainger; “Daybreak” by Carl Strommen and “Children of Gaia” by Robert Sheldon.
The Music Department at Edgewood College has hosted benefit concerts for Luke House since 1994.
Two vocal ensembles will perform a concert at 2:30 p.m., Sunday in St. Joseph Chapel. Admission is FREE.
Featured will be the Chamber Singers (below), under the direction of Sergei Pavlov (center at the bottom of the stairs). The group has just returned from performances at the International Sacred Music Festival in Quito, Ecuador.
The Chamber Singers will perform excerpts from the Mass in F by Domenico Zipoli; “Usnijze mi, usnij” by Polish composer Henryk Gorecki; “Holy, Holy” from the Gospel Mass by Robert Ray; and a Victor Johnson arrangement of “Bonse Aba,” a traditional Zambian work. Todd Hammes, adjunct faculty member in the Music Department, will assist on percussion.
Also performing will be the Women’s Choir (below top), under the direction of Kathleen Otterson (below bottom). The Women’s Choir will perform Israeli and Jewish folk songs, a spiritual, and the “Domine Deus” from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in G major, also featuring Victoria Gorbich on violin. (You can hear the glorious Bach piece performed in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received word about an intriguing and appealing performance this weekend:
On this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., Cantus (below top, in a photo by Curtis Johnson), the critically acclaimed, nine-voice men’s vocal ensemble based in the Twin Cities, will perform at the Stoughton Opera House (below middle and bottom), known for its historical restoration and its fine acoustics.
Love has been the inspiration for artistic expression since the dawn of time. It is such a complex idea that the ancient Greeks broke it down into four different kinds: romantic, familial, friendly and unconditional or spiritual love.
Weaving together repertoire and interstitial remarks, Cantus regards this unquantifiable emotion from all sides.
The program spans multiple historical eras and cultural traditions.
Each of those works is paired with newly commissioned works exploring each of the four loves (romantic, familial, friendly and spiritual) by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang (below top, in a photo by Peter Serling) as well as Roger Treece (second below), Joseph Gregorio (third below) and Ysaye Barnwell (below bottom).
The program brims with Cantus’s trademark programming juxtaposition, including pairing the Beach Boys’ “Their Hearts were Full of Spring” with “Wedding Qawwali” by the Grammy Award- and Academy Award-winning Indian composer A. R. Rahman (below) and Michael McGlynn’s setting of the traditional Gaelic “Ceann Dubh Dilis (Her Sweet Dark Head)” in a set about romantic love.
While seemingly disjointed on its face, the variety of repertoire throughout blends seamlessly and highlights the universality of Love – our greatest and most fragile gift.
For more information about Cantus, including biographies, photos, videos and audio samples, visit this link:
Here is a YouTube video about the program, with musical samples, to be performed in Stoughton:
By Jacob Stockinger
World-renowned pianist Garrick Ohlsson returns to the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) this Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon.
The program, conducted by longtime MSO music director John DeMain, features dramatic music by Johannes Brahms and Richard Strauss. The concert will also feature a first-ever performance by the MSO of a symphony by the recently deceased Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Steven Stucky.
Garrick Ohlsson (below, in a photo by Paul Body) will perform one of the best-loved pieces in the Romantic piano concerto repertoire, Johannes Brahms’ powerful Piano Concerto No. 1. Ohlsson impressed Madison audiences in 2008 and 2012 with his thrilling performances of concertos by Sergei Rachmaninoff and Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky.
Steven Stucky’s intricate and intriguing Symphony No. 1 kicks off the concert program, followed by Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Juan, a work recounting the life and death of the eponymous fictional character through brazenly virtuosic flair matched by tender romantic melodies.
The concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For ticket details, see below.
Garrick Ohlsson (below) has been a commanding presence in the piano world since winning the Chopin International Piano Competition in 1970. A proponent of chamber music, Ohlsson has collaborated with the Cleveland, Emerson, Takács and Tokyo string quartets. Known for his masterly interpretations of Chopin, Ohlsson has over 80 concertos in his repertoire, including several commissioned for him.
Steven Stucky (below) composed his Symphony No. 1 as part of a joint commission by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and New York Philharmonic, and it premiered in 2012. Described by the composer as “a single expanse of music that travels through a series of emotional landscapes”, this concise work consists of four movements played without a break. Stucky just died on Feb. 14, 2016.
The tone poem Don Juan by Richard Strauss (below) opens in breathtaking fashion with a flurry of strings and brass, as the hero leaps to the stage. Technically challenging and theatrical, the work vividly recounts Don Juan’s exploits, as well as his downfall.
The first major orchestral work, Piano Concerto No. 1, by Johannes Brahms (below) casts the piano and orchestra as equal partners working together to develop musical ideas. Written in D minor, this piece captures the composer’s grief over the breakdown and eventual death in a mental asylum of his friend Robert Schumann. You can hear pianist Emil Gilels play the last movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.
One hour before each performance, Susan Cook (below), the director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and Professor of Musicology, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.
Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups
Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.
Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.
Major funding for the April concerts was provided by NBC15, Diane Ballweg, BMO Private Bank, and Fred and Mary Mohs. Additional funding was provided by Boardman & Clark LLP; Dan and Natalie Erdman; J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.; Nick and Judith Topitzes; WPS Health Solutions; and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear’s friends at Fresco Opera Theatre have sent the following information about the three performances of its intriguing and original production this coming weekend, April 1-3, in Promenade Hall at the Overture Center Promenade Hall.
Here it is:
One woman. Two men. A musical love affair. The story of the Schumanns and Brahms.
“Clara” is about the life of Clara Schumann, and centers around her skills as a performer, composer and most importantly her relationship with husband Robert Schumann and close friend Johannes Brahms.
It’s a 200-year-old “secret.” Schumann was the love of Clara’s life. Clara was the love of Brahms’ life. The music was their passion. Letters were burned in an attempt to erase history, but the historian will uncover the truth of this age-old love affair.
Fresco Opera Theatre has created an original production celebrating the life of Clara Wieck Schumann (below). Adapted from Boman Desai’s critically acclaimed novel, “Trio,” Fresco Opera will use the music of Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms to tell the story of the lives of these three great composers.
Admission is $30, and no children under 6 will be admitted. Performances are in Promenade Hall on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m.; and on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.
For more information about the company, you can visit: www.FrescoOperaTheatre.com
What is really exciting is the opportunity to perform works not often heard on the concert stage. Lieder or art songs by Clara and Robert Schumann (both below), as well as vocal works by Brahms, including the Alto Rhapsody, will be featured.
We will have solo piano and voice for this performance, to match the pieces we have chosen. It was important to us to employ a female pianist given the story of Clara, so we are fortunate to have Erin Crabb, one of the best pianists in the area, to accompany our singers.
Repertoire includes: “Liebeszauber,” “Lorelei,” “Am Strande,” “Liebst du um Schonheit” and “Der Wanderer” by Clara Schumann; “Ich bin dein Baum,” “Erste Begegnung,” “Tanzlied,” “Widmung” and “Du ring an meinem finger” by Robert Schumann; and Alto Rhapsody, “Dein blaues auge,” “Die Mainacht” and “Neckereien Quartet” by Brahms (below).
There are many more pieces by all three composers, which have been left out here for the sake of brevity. This will all be performed live, and was researched and arranged by director Melanie Cain.
We teamed up with Chicago author Boman Desai (below), and adapted his novel “Trio”to create this operetta on the life of the Schumanns and Brahms. “Trio” is highly regarded and provides a reference for those looking for the story behind these three composers.
Desai will conduct a pre-show talk one hour before each performance of “Clara.”
Plus, since the Madison Symphony will be performing the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist Garrick Ohlsson that same weekend, we are offering a 20 percent discount to anyone who has a ticket stub from that performance. It will certainly be a Brahms weekend at the Overture Center!
Here is the link to the Overture Center’s page about “Clara” where you can find more information and purchase tickets:
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is Easter Sunday, 2016.
You don’t have to be a believer to know that the events of Easter have inspired great classical music, especially in the Baroque era but also in the Classical, Romantic and Modern eras.
Of course, there is the well-known and much-loved oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, who wrote it for Easter, not Christmas as is so often assumed because of when it is usually performed. (NOTE: The Madison Bach Musicians will perform “Messiah,” with period instruments and historically informed performance practices, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ on Friday and Sunday, April 8 and 10.)
There is a lot of instrumental music, including the gloriously brilliant brass music by the Venetian composer Giovanni Gabrieli and the darker Rosary sonatas for violin by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and the “Lamentation” Symphony, with its sampling of familiar tunes and intended to be performed on Good Friday, by Franz Joseph Haydn.
Easter music cuts across all kinds of nationalities, cultures and even religious traditions: Italian, German, English, Scottish, American, Russian, French and Austrian.
But the occasion — the most central event of Christianity — is really celebrated by the huge amount of choral music combined with orchestral music – perhaps because the total effect is so overwhelming and so emotional — that follows and celebrates Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and then ultimately to Easter and the Resurrection from death of Jesus Christ.
For The Ear, the pinnacle is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below), especially his cantatas, oratorios and passions.
But today The Ear wants to give you a sampler of 16 pieces of great Easter music, complete with audiovisual clips.
Here is one listing that features music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Thomas Tallis, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Gustav Mahler, Francis Poulenc and James MacMillan:
And here is another listing that features music by Antonio Vivaldi, Hector Berlioz, Gioachino Rossini, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Bach’s “Easter Oratorio” (rather than his “St. Matthew Passion” or “St. John Passion”) and “The Resurrection” oratorio (other than “Messiah”) by Handel.
Curiously, no list mentions the gorgeous and haunting “Miserere” (below) by Gregorio Allegri. It was traditionally performed in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel on the Wednesday and Good Friday of Holy Week, but was kept a closely guarded secret. Publishing it was forbidden. Then a 12-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart heard it and copied it down from memory.
Finally, The Ear offers his two favorite pieces of Easter music that never fail to move him. They are the passion chorale and final chorus from the “St. Matthew Passion” by Johann Sebastian Bach:
What piece of music is your Easter favorite?
Do you have a different one to suggest that you can leave in the COMMENT section, perhaps with a link to a YouTube video?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
It may be known more for basketball, for March Madness and the Big Dance.
But March is also Women’s History Month.
Who are they?
Can you guess their names and match them to the photos?
Have you heard their works?
Read the story and see for yourself.
Here is a link:
And at bottom is a YouTube video with a beautiful and tuneful example of one woman composer as well as background about a great but unknown female American violinist, who is championed by the Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below), who herself has performed several times with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.
And leave what you think about a specific composer or women in music in general in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
All around The Ear, even very knowledgeable people were asking:
“What is that piece?”
“Who’s the composer?”
After a recent and superb performance of the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under its longtime music director John DeMain, the renowned American pianist Emanuel Ax (below), who received a well-deserved standing ovation, played an encore.
And he played it beautifully.
But he was negligent in one way.
He didn’t announce what the encore was.
So most of the audience was left wondering and guessing.
Now, The Ear knew the composer and piece because The Ear is an avid amateur pianist and knows the piano repertoire pretty well.
The encore in question was the Valse Oubliée No. 1 in F-sharp Major by Franz Liszt, which used to be more popular and more frequently heard than it is now. (You can hear it below played by Arthur Rubinstein in a YouTube video.)
On previous nights, Ax – who is a friendly, informed, articulate and talkative guy — also had apparently not announced the encores. But on Friday night it was the Waltz No. 2 in A minor by Frederic Chopin and on Saturday night is was the Nocturne in F-sharp major, Op. 15, No. 2, also by Chopin. Chopin is a composer who is a specialty of Ax, as you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom, which features his encore in an unusual setting pertaining to the Holocaust.
It’s a relatively small annoyance, but The Ear really thinks that performers ought to announce encores. Audiences have a right to know what they are about to hear or have just heard. It is just a matter of politeness and concert etiquette, of being audience-friendly.
Plus it is fun to hear the ordinary speaking voice of the artist, even if it is only just briefly to announce a piece of music, as you can hear below with Ax discussing the three concerts in Carnegie Hall that he did to celebrate the bicentennials of Chopin and Robert Schumann.
And it isn’t just a matter of big names or small names.
Emanuel Ax is hardly alone.
A partial list this season of performers who did NOT announce encores include violinist Benjamin Beilman, who played with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; violist Nobuko Imai, who performed with the Pro Arte Quartet; pianist Maurizio Pollini in a solo recital in Chicago; and a UW professor who played a work by Robert Schumann that even The Ear didn’t know.
Performing artists who DID announce encores — many of then by Johann Sebastian Bach — included pianist Joyce Yang at the Wisconsin Union Theater; violinist James Ehnes and cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio, both with the Madison Symphony Orchestra; UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor, who played sick but nonetheless announced and commented humorously on his encore by Scott Joplin, “The Wall Street Rag”; and violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky, who played recently with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.
So it seems like there is no consistent standard that concert artists learn or adopt about handling encores. The Ear’s best guess is that it is just a personal habit the performers get used to over time.
But the Ear sure wishes that all performing artists would announce encores, program changes or additions.
It just makes the concert experience more fun and informative as well as less frustrating.
Is The Ear alone?
Do you prefer that artists announce or not announce their encores?
Or doesn’t it matter to you?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
There was so much to like about last Friday night’s concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), including a fantastic performance of the sublimely beautiful Violin Concerto by the American composer Samuel Barber.
The concerto, with its soaring melodies, poignant harmonies and spiky perpetual motion finale, was played superbly by Russian-born, London-based virtuoso Alexander Sitkovetsky (below), who received a masterful accompaniment from longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell and the WCO. (As an encore and change of pace, Sitkovetsky played the soulful Sarabande from the Partita No. 2 in D Minor for Solo Violin by Johann Sebastian Bach.)
Here are two very positive reviews, written by John W. Barker for Isthmus and Greg Hettmansbeger for Madison Magazine, with which The Ear agrees:
But The Ear notes this: Perhaps the most touching moment came off-stage.
As you may have heard, last October Robin Fellows died of cancer at 66. For 26 years, he had been the principal flutist of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He also played and taught at many other places.
If you went to the indoor classical Masterworks concerts by the WCO, you heard him.
And if you went to the popular summertime Concerts on the Square, you heard him.
So it was right and fitting, as they say, for the WCO to dedicate the concert to Fellows (below). Indeed, the program seemed perfect in its homage.
We heard a new principal flutist and heard lots of prominent flute playing in works by Irish composer Joan Trumble, Swedish composer Lars-Eric Larsson and especially the Symphony No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven.
But the most stirring tribute happened off-stage.
That is because the family gave out a FREE memorial tribute CD of 20th-century flute music – with singers, bassoonists, clarinet, harp and piano — that was played by Fellows, recorded and released in 2002.
It includes music by Aaron Copland, Walter Piston, Albert Roussel, Ernst Toch, Daren Hagen (a UW-Madison alumnus) and Vincent Persichetti.
Out in the lobby of the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center was a table with not only the new season brochures for 2016-17, but also many stacks of FREE CDs. The audience was invited to take one by a current WCO flutist and oboist.
And as you entered and left the theater, there was a large poster with a picture of Fellows and a paragraph about his life and accomplishments.
The Ear is still sampling all the pieces on the CD.
So far, it is both enjoyable and enlightening. The Ear would include a sample, but unfortunately he doesn’t see that any tracks have been uploaded to YouTube.
Still, one cannot imagine Fellows — or any musicians, for that matter — wishing for a better tribute.
The Ear says: Kudos to the Fellows family and to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra for providing such memorable memorials.
ALERT: UW-Madison professor and baritone Paul Rowe has sent in the following note: “There is a great, free “concert” or performance on this Friday at Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue, from noon to 3 p.m. Singers Chelsie Propst and Christina Kay with organist Bruce Bengtson will be performing François Couperin’s “Leçons de ténèbres” or “Lessons in Darkness.” This work is rarely heard in performance at all, much less in this complete form. It is a fabulous piece and a great way to spend a Good Friday afternoon before Easter with its contemplative mood and its beautiful solos and duets. There will also be appropriate readings and some other music as part of the service. It is definitely worth hearing.”
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is some good news for amateurs and semi-professionals who participate in community music-making and community theater.
“It is an exciting next step for the organization, and will help us attract the best possible talent,” says newly installed Savoyards board president Shane Magargal. “For over 50 years, the Savoyards has kept these comic operas by Gilbert and Sullivan alive in Madison. This move will help us continue to remain a vibrant part of the local theatrical community for years to come.” (Below, are photos of W.S. Gilbert on the left and Arthur Sullivan on the right.)
Auditions for the Savoyards’ summer production, The Gondoliers, will be held at Edgewood College on Monday, April 4 from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (Room Regina R5), and on Saturday, April 9 from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Mazzuchelli Hall, Room 208).
To schedule a time, send your request via email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Information about what to prepare can be found at www.madisonsavoyards.org on the “Auditions” page.
There will be pre-performance dinners both Fridays at the University Club.
The Madison Savoyards, Ltd. has been presenting Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas to Madison audiences since 1963, and is pleased to offer The Gondoliers for the fourth time in its production history. (At bottom is YouTube video with a brief excerpt from “The Gondoliers.”)
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 took the performance photos.
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
The Mosaic Chamber Players gave their final concert of the season at the First Unitarian Society of Madison on Saturday night.
The program was irresistible—all Schubert.
In fact, just two works, both among his last compositions, as he faced imminent death at 31 in 1828. The two are highly individual, but have in common a free use of theme-with-variations techniques.
The first was the rarely heard Fantasy in C, D. 934, the last of only some six compositions by Schubert (below) for violin and piano—not an idiom with which we identify him.
It is a long sequence of contrasting sections, which defies sonata form and stretches on to a degree that puzzled its first hearers. A great deal of it follows a familiar mixture popular in the early 19th-century, music more for piano with violin accompaniment than the other way around. After all Schubert did play the piano himself, but not the violin.
This poses a challenge for the violinist, but Laura Burns (below left) met it valiantly, playing with great feeling and strength—though I wondered if she could have been helped by having the piano lid only half-opened, rather than fully.
(In a YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the Fantasy for Violin and Piano, performed live by violinist Benjamin Beilman, who turned in a riveting performance last October of the Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.)
Joining her was the Mosaic group’s founder and director, Jess Salek (below right), whose formidable pianism was the anchor of the whole concert and the clear inspiration for his partners.
The second, and even longer work was the Trio No. 2 in E-flat major, D. 929, in which Salek was joined by violinist Wes Luke (below left) and cellist Michael Allen (below right).
This is an expansive work, stretching forms and tonalities to their utmost, in music that ranges from melting beauty to frightening power. The three players gave it their all in a performance of gusto and intensity.
This was chamber music playing of the first rank and a great gift to Madison music lovers by instrumentalists who perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Youth Choirs.
And it was a compelling tribute to Schubert.
It made me feel as if, somehow, I might hug the young dying genius and whisper in his ear: “Take cheer—you will live beyond your life!”