The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear names The Willy Street Chamber Players as “Musicians of the Year” for 2016

December 30, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It can’t be easy to start a new classical music group in a city that already has so many outstanding classical music groups and events.

Yet that is exactly what The Willy Street Chamber Players (below) have done – and with remarkable success.

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

To be honest, The Ear thought of awarding the same honor to them last year.

But that was their inaugural year. And launching a new enterprise is often easier than continuing and sustaining it.

But continue and sustain it they have – and even improved it.

The main season for The Willy Street Players is in July,, usually around noon or 6 p.m.

But they also usually offer a preview concert in the winter, and will do so again at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21, and Sunday, Jan. 22, when they will perform string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, Felix Mendelssohn, Astor Piazzolla and Daniel Bernard Roumain at A Place to Be, 911 Williamson Street. Admission is $20.

Willy Street Chamber Players string quartet cr JWB

For tickets and more information about that concert as well as the group in general, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

The Ear finds so much to like about The Willy Street Chamber Players.

To start, the quality of the playing of the mostly string players and pianists — most of whom are products of the UW-Madison — is unquestionably superb. So are their guest artists such as Suzanne Beia. They have never disappointed The Ear, and others seem to agree. 

Willy Street audience

The programming is ideal and adventurous, combining beloved classics, neglected works and new music from contemporary composers. And it all seems to fit together perfectly.

The ensemble’s repertoire ranges from the Baroque era through the Classical, Romantic and modernist eras to today. They have performed an impressively eclectic  mix of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Pietro Mascagni, Arnold Schoenberg, George Crumb, Philip Glass, Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw and UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger

The concerts are very affordable.

The concerts are short, usually running only about an hour or 75 minutes. That allows you both to fully focus or concentrate on the performance but then also to do something else with your precious leisure time.

The group of sonic locavores stays true to its name and mission, playing at various venues on or near Williamson Street on Madison’s near east side – including the Immanuel Lutheran Church (below) on Spaight Street and at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center on Jenifer Street. But they have also collaborated with the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

Willy Street Mozart Ave

At the post-concerts receptions, they even offer outstanding snack food from local purveyors in the Willy Street area. And it’s there that you can also meet the performers, who are fun, informative and congenial whenever they talk to the public, whether before and after a performance.

Willy Street snacks 2016

Most of all, The Ear has never heard anything dull or second-rate from the Willy Street Chamber Players. They are a fantastic breath of fresh air who invest their performances of even well-known works, such as the glorious Octet by Mendelssohn, with energy and drive, zest and good humor.

They are exactly what classical music – whether chamber music or orchestral music, choral or vocal music –needs to attract new and younger audiences and well as the usual fans. They have just the right balance of informality and professionalism.

The many musicians, all of them young, work hard but make the results seem easy. That is the very definition of virtuosity. Small wonder that many of them play with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Middleton Community Orchestra and the Madison Bach Musicians among other groups. But this group seems special to them, and it shows.

If you don’t already know the Willy Street Chamber Players, you should get to know them. You should attend their concerts and, if you can, support them. They are a new gem, and constitute an outstanding and invaluable addition to Madison’s music scene.

NOTE: The Ear offers one piece of advice to The Willy Street Chamber Players: Since he can’t find a sample of you in action, please post some of your outstanding performances, which have been recorded by radio host Rich Samuels and broadcast on WORT-FM 89.9, on YouTube. The public needs a way to hear them and whet its appetite for your live performances.

Willy Street Chamber Players logo

In any case, The Ear wishes them well and hopes that, despite the inevitable personnel changes that will surely come in the future, The Willy Street Chamber Players stay on the Madison music scene for many years to come.

The Ear sends his best wishes for the New Year and another great season, the group’s third, to The Willy Street Chamber Players as Musicians of the Year for 2016.

 


Classical music education: Retiring UW-Madison and Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras maestro James Smith gets the monthly ‘Making a Difference’ award from NBC TV Channel 15

December 29, 2016
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ALERT: In yesterday’s post about the upcoming house concert of keyboard music by Trevor Stephenson, The Ear listed the wrong date in the headline. It was corrected, but The Ear apologizes and feels a correction is still needed for those who missed it: The concert is on Friday, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m. For more information, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/28/classical-music-trevor-stephenson-will-use-a-variety-of-period-keyboard-instruments-to-perform-a-house-concert-of-music-by-baroque-classical-romantic-and-impressionistic-composers-on-jan-7/

By Jacob Stockinger

It comes as welcome and heart-warming news at a time when so much news is negative, accusatory and depressing.

Maestro James Smith (below, in a photo by Michael Anderson) — who has been conducting the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, the UW-Madison Chamber Orchestra and the University Opera as well as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras for 32 years — has received a fine piece of community recognition.

UW Chamber Orchestra, James Smith, conductor

Smith has just received the monthly “Making a Difference” award from NBC TV Channel 15, which also broadcast once again three times WYSO’s traditional concert “Sounds of the Season” on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

james smith Jack Burns

Here is the 3-1/2 minute video, which includes an interview with Smith as well as testimony from a former student who has gone on to have a professional career in music, about the NBC award:

http://www.nbc15.com/content/news/Maestro-making-a-difference–408450735.html

Such recognition is nothing new for Smith, who has won many honors as well as the esteem of his colleagues, his students and his audiences.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Six years ago, The Ear named Smith as ‘Musician of the Year’ for 2010:

Here is that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/classical-music-uw-and-wyso-conductor-james-smith-is-“musician-of-the-year”-for-2010/

WYSO 50th James Smith conducting

More recently, The Ear talked about Smith’s upcoming retirement and his post-retirement plans in a post about four major people who will retire this spring from the UW-Madison School of Music:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/19/classical-music-four-major-retirements-this-spring-will-put-the-uw-madison-school-of-music-in-a-staffing-bind-and-could-further-hurt-the-standing-of-the-uw-madison/

The Ear loves Smith’s reply when he was asked by anchor John Stofflet of NBC for advice to his successor:

“Learn from the students,” said Smith, a trained professional and concertizing clarinetist who turned to conducting.

The Ear, who was a longtime teacher himself, knows the truth of that answer.

Thank you and bravo, Maestro Smith.

Bravissimo!!


Classical music: Trevor Stephenson will use a variety of period keyboard instruments to perform a house concert of music by Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Impressionistic composers on Friday, Jan. 6

December 28, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following word to share from Trevor Stephenson, the founder and artistic director of the Madison Bach Musicians who is also an accomplished keyboard player in addition to being an entertaining and informative lecturer about early music and period instruments:

Dear Friends,

We’re giving a house concert to celebrate the New Year, 2017.

On Friday evening, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m., I’ll play a program of solo keyboard music on harpsichord, fortepiano and the restored 1855 Bösendorfer concert grand piano (below). (NOTE: The Ear earlier mistakenly had said Jan. 7 in the headline only, and apologizes for the error.)

trevor-stephenson-with-1855-bosendorfer-grand

The program includes selections by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Domenico Scarlatti, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin and Claude Debussy. Sorry, no word about specific pieces. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Stephenson play the first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata on a fortepiano.)

Refreshments will be served.

Admission is $40.

Reservations are required. To let us know that you’d like to attend, please email trevor@trevorstephenson.com

Happy Holidays!

Trevor and Rose Stephenson


Classical music: National Public Radio (NPR) names its Top 10 classical recordings of 2016. The Ear compares it to other lists of the Best of the Year

December 27, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Got a Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa gift card to spend?

Want to take advantage of post-holiday and year-end and New Year sales?

Here is the list of the Top 10 classic music recordings from National Public Radio (NPR), which critic Tom Huizenga (below top) wrote for the blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

huizenga_tom_2011

npr

It emphasizes unknown performers – like soprano Barbara Hannigan (below in a photo by Elmer Haas) and contemporary or new music. But it features piano music, orchestra music, chamber music and opera. And it has generous sound samples from the chosen recordings:

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/12/22/504694907/a-year-of-listening-desperately-10-classical-albums-that-saved-2016

soprano-barbara-hannigan-cr-elmer-de-haas

Over the past month, The Ear has featured several other Best of 2016 lists. So here they are for purposes of comparison and crosschecking.

For example, on several lists you will find conductor Daniel Barenboim‘s recording of the Symphony No. 1 by Edward Elgar and pianist Daniil Trifonov‘s two-CD recording of the complete piano etudes by Franz Liszt — and justifiably so. (You can hear the trailer for Trifonov’s Liszt etudes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is the post-Thanksgiving guide from The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/classical-music-here-is-the-new-york-times-holiday-gift-guide-of-classical-music-for-2016/

Here is a list of nominations for the 2017 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/10/classical-music-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-2017-grammy-awards-they-make-a-great-holiday-gift-list-of-gives-and-gets/

And here is a link to a list by the critics of The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/classical-music-here-are-the-best-classical-recordings-of-2016-as-chosen-by-critics-for-the-new-york-times/


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra excels in its holiday concert of great non-holiday music and shows why it is attracting bigger audiences

December 26, 2016
1 Comment

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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT 89.9 FM. For many years, he served 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

Last Wednesday night, in the Middleton Performing Arts Center, the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below) gave what was billed as its “Holiday 2016 Concert.” Fortunately, it had no seasonal connection whatsoever—just a lot of good music.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

Opening the program was a sequence of three Slavonic Dances (Nos. 1,4 and 8) by Antonin Dvorak.  (You can hear the zesty and energetic first Slavonic Dance, performed by Seiji Ozawa and the Vienna Philharmonic, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The conductor this time, UW-Madison graduate student Kyle Knox (below), was able to point up lots of instrumental details that could be easily lost, and the orchestra played with a lusty vigor appropriate to the folk flavor of this music.

kyle-knox-2016

After that, Knox’s wife, Naha Greenholtz (below) — who happens to be the concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, among other things—joined the MCO in Felix Mendelssohn’s beautiful and very popular Violin Concerto in E minor.

naha

Greenholtz played from the score, and some occasional technical blurrings suggested that she does not yet have the piece securely in her fingers.

Still, she clearly understands the work’s shape and contours, and I particularly appreciated her flowing tempo for the middle movement, not as slow as we too often hear it. Her overall effect with this concerto was handsome and colorful.

naha-greennholtz-and-kyle-knox-with-middleton-community-orchestra

The main work was the Second Symphony by Brahms, which you can hear n the YouTube video at the bottom. This is a challenging work, especially when the important exposition repeat in the long first movement is honored, as Knox did.

Knox showed a thorough grasp of the score, and brought out its structures superbly. I found myself appreciating anew the wondrous way the composer is able to make his themes evolve to reveal unexpected beauties.

Well done, this is a richly satisfying work, and Knox drew out of his players (below, in a photo by Brian Ruppert) a truly satisfying performance.

Middleton Community Orchestra strings CR Brian Ruppert

The Middleton Community Orchestra continues to develop and progress. Just now, it is rather violin-heavy with 14 firsts and 18 seconds against only 9 violas and 13 cellos. These fiddlers need to blend better, and experience in working together will doubtless move them in that direction.

In general, the orchestra sounded quite healthy, fully supportive in the concerto and really accomplished in the symphony. All that is clearly the result of hard work, and Knox deserves a good deal of the credit for it.

Notable also was the large audience turnout. Middletonians can clearly be proud of their orchestra, and more and more of the Madison public is learning that a trip to the west side can be most rewarding.

MIddleton Community Orchestra audience

The MCO is by now, in its seventh season, a valuable and appreciated component of our area’s musical life.


Classical music: Today is Christmas Day. Here are many hours of classical music to help you celebrate the holiday.

December 25, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Day, 2016.

You may have your own collection of recorded holiday music.

But if you are looking for familiar or especially unfamiliar classical music to help you celebrate the holiday, The Ear has some suggestions as a sort of holiday gift.

There is always the reliable Wisconsin Public Radio and other affiliates of National Public Radio (NPR), which will feature holiday music throughout the day. And chances are pretty good that the local community-sponsored alternative radio station WORT-FM 89.9 will do the same.

But YouTube also is offering some other sources that you can stream while you are opening gifts, eating, mingling, gathering with others for the holiday or just enjoying it by yourself.

Plus the audio sites have timings so you can skip or find specific pieces or event movement within the pieces.

Here are two:

This is a 10-hour compilation that you could stream and play. It includes music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Pachelbel, Franz Schubert and Peter Tchaikovsky among many others:

And here is one of The Ear’s favorites, with over one million hits because it features more than three hours of music with a lot of music of the Italian Baroque, including works by Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, Giuseppe Torelli, Francesco Manfrediini and Pietro Locatelli as well as music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Hector Berlioz, Peter Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Astor Piazzolla:

Feel free to make other suggestions by leaving a composer, title and links, if possible, in the COMMENT section.

And also feel free to tell us what is piece is your favorite classical music for Christmas and why.

The Ear wants to hear.

And MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

 


Classical music: Here is classical music to help you celebrate both Christmas Eve and the start of Hanukkah

December 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is a double holiday.

It marks the start of the Jewish holiday Hanukkah and Christmas Eve.

As is true for most holidays, music is an integral part of the celebrations.

So without a lot of news to report, The Ear offers some links and YouTube videos with appropriate classical music to help you celebrate.

For Hanukkah music, go to this website. It features eight works, including an oratorio by George Frederic Handel with composers, titles and performances:

http://www.classicalite.com/articles/4041/20131126/classicalite-s-best-eight-musical-works-chanukah.htm

happy-hanukkah-logos

Some people celebrate Christmas mostly on Christmas Eve while others wait until Christmas Day.

For those of you in the former category, here is a link to a website with a list of classical Christmas music from Johann Sebastian Bach to Peter Tchaikovsky:

https://www.timeout.com/newyork/music/best-classical-christmas-music

And here is another list from The Telegraph in the United Kingdom. As you might expect, it seems slanted toward British composers. Nonetheless it includes some relatively neglected and even surprising Christmas-related music, including works by Francis Poulenc and Arnold Schoenberg, Franz Liszt and (one of The Ear’s favorites) Gerald Finzi:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalmusic/11294202/The-10-best-pieces-of-Christmas-classical-music.html

christmas-ball

Feel free to leave more suggestions and links in the COMMENT section.

Enjoy the music!

Enjoy your holiday!

HAPPY HANUKKAH!!!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!


Classical music education: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras performs “Sounds of the Season” with area high school choirs on TV once again on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Plus, WYSO names Randal Swiggum as its new interim music director

December 23, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras has two pieces of news to report:

As in past years, WYSO will perform its popular one-hour, commercial-free “Sounds of the Season” concerts on TV on NBC 15 this weekend. 

Three WYSO groups will be featured: the Youth Orchestra (below top), the Youth Brass Choir (below middle) and the Percussion Ensemble (below bottom).

WYSO Youth Orchestra James Smith conducting 2015

WYSO Brass Choir

WYSO Percussion Ensemble 2012

There will be one performance on Christmas Eve at 10 p.m., and then two performances on Christmas Day at 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

The orchestra and ensembles will also be joined by choirs from area high schools. Sorry, but The Ear can’t find word of which ones.

You can hear part of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” as performed by WYSO on “Sounds of the Season” in the YouTube video at the bottom.

For more information, photos and audiovisual clips from a last year’s “Sounds of the Season,” go to:

http://www.nbc15.com/content/misc/NBC15-Sounds-Of-The-Season-2016-406076915.html

wyso-sounds-of-the-season-logo

In addition WYSO has named an interim replacement for outgoing music director James Smith (below), who is retiring from WYSO as well as from the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the end of this season.

james smith Jack Burns

Here are details from WYSO’s executive director Bridget Fraser:

“WYSO is very pleased to announce that Randal Swiggum (below) has been appointed WYSO Interim Artistic Director and Youth Orchestra Conductor for the 2017-2018 season.

“Randy is well-known to many WYSO students already, whether through Summer Music Clinic, the recent Wisconsin Middle Level Honors orchestra, or Suzuki Strings of Madison. He prepared the WYSO Youth Orchestra for its 2012 Overture Center performance of “To Be Certain of the Dawn,” and has subbed in with Philharmonia Orchestra and chamber music rehearsals.

Randall Swiggum

“Randy is in his 19th season as Artistic Director of the award-winning Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, a large program similar to WYSO, which draws students from 70 different communities in suburban Chicago.

“Under his direction, the EYSO has collaborated with renowned artists like Midori, Yo-Yo Ma and Rachel Barton Pine, as well as Grammy-winning chamber ensemble eighth blackbird. The EYSO has appeared on NPR’s “From the Top” and at the Ravinia Festival, where they will return to perform again in 2018.

“The Illinois Council of Orchestras has twice named him Conductor of the Year and awarded its prestigious Programming of the Year Award to the EYSO.

“A frequent guest conductor of orchestral and choral festivals, Randy recently conducted the Scottish National Youth Symphony in Glasgow, All-State Orchestras in Georgia and Illinois, the American Mennonite Schools Orchestra Festival, Northern Arizona Honors Orchestra, the APAC Orchestra Festival in Seoul, and both the Wisconsin Middle Level Honors Choir and Orchestra, among many others.

“Randy also works with a number of professional orchestras, designing and conducting concerts for young people. Last year, he led the Madison Symphony in his original “Symphony Safari: What Nature Teaches Us About the Orchestra,” attended by several thousand middle school students in Overture Hall.

“Next February, he returns for a fourth season with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in its acclaimed “Teen Partner” series, conducting the Gloria by Francis Poulenc.

“He also appears next spring with the Chippewa Valley Symphony, conducting his “Beethoven Superhero” concert, which has been popular with teachers, students and parents alike, with the Elgin Symphony and The Florida Orchestra (Tampa).

“As an author and lecturer, Randy works with teachers around the country and internationally, most recently with international school teachers in Hong Kong and at Carnegie Hall, where last summer he returned for a fourth season teaching its Music Educator Workshops, and leading members of the National Youth Orchestra of the USA.

“Randy is a proud UW-Madison graduate and lives in Madison, where you can find him on Monday nights working with the Madison Boychoir (in the Madison Youth Choirs) alongside colleague Margaret Jenks.

“WYSO is truly fortunate to have such a dedicated and tireless educator guiding its artistic vision next season.”


Classical music: Madison Opera gets a $20,000 grant from the NEA for its February production of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird”

December 22, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera has some good news to share:

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $30 million in grants as part of the NEA’s first major funding announcement for fiscal year 2017.

Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $20,000 to Madison Opera to support the Midwest premiere of Daniel Schnyder’s Charlie Parker’s Yardbird on Friday night, Feb. 10, and Sunday afternoon, Feb. 12, 2017.

charlie-parkers-yardbird-logo-for-maidson-opera

The Art Works category focuses on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts.

“The arts are for all of us, and by supporting organizations such as Madison Opera, the National Endowment for the Arts is providing more opportunities for the public to engage with the arts,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Whether in a theater, a town square, a museum, or a hospital, the arts are everywhere and make our lives richer.”

Madison Opera will be only the second company to present Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, which premiered in spring 2015 at Opera Philadelphia (below, with Lawrence Brownlee in the title role on the right and the real Charlie Parker on the left). You can see and hear the trailer for the Opera Philadelphia production in the YouTube video at the bottom.

charlie-park-and-lawrence-brownlee

Set on the night that saxophone great Charlie Parker died, the opera begins with Parker returning in spirit to the jazz club Birdland, determined to compose a final masterpiece. Family and friends blend in and out of his memories in an acclaimed new work that tells of his tortured, brilliant life “with a pulsing, jazz-infused score” (The New York Times).

Madison Opera’s performances take place in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center and are directed by Ron Daniels and conducted by John DeMain.

The cast features Joshua Stewart, Angela Brown, Will Liverman, Rachel Sterrenberg, Julie Miller, Angela Mortellaro, and Krysty Swann.

“It is an honor to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and be recognized for our artistic work on a national level,” says Madison Opera General Director Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill). “The NEA’s funding will not only help us share this thrilling new opera with our region, but also support an array of Charlie Parker-related events, allowing true community engagement with the opera and its subject.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

In addition to the public performance on Feb. 10 and 12, 2017, Madison Opera’s “Extending the Stage” activities include “Jazz at the Opera Center,” a concert with Richie Cole and the Alto Madness Orchestra on Jan. 8; Opera Novice on Jan. 20; Opera Up Close on Feb. 5; “A Charlie Parker Concert and Discussion” with the Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder and UW-Madison’s Blue Note Ensemble on Feb. 9; and a variety of previews and presentations on Charlie Parker, jazz, and the opera at various libraries and retirement communities.

For more information on any of these events, got to: madisonopera.org.

For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, go to arts.gov/news.

Madison Opera is a non-profit professional opera company based in Madison, Wisconsin. Founded in 1961, the company grew from a local workshop presenting community singers in English-language productions to a nationally recognized organization producing diverse repertoire and presenting leading American opera singers alongside emerging talent.

A resident organization of the Overture Center for the Arts, Madison Opera presents three productions annually in addition to the free summer concert Opera in the Park and a host of educational programming.


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