The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: New Orleans seeks to once again become an American opera capital with an emphasis on diversity

May 31, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

When you think of opera in America, chances are good that you think of New York City with the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera; the Lyric Opera of Chicago; the Houston Grand Opera; the Santa Fe Opera; and countless other opera companies in many major cities.

And when you think of New Orleans, you understandably think of jazz.

But the truth is that for a long time, New Orleans was an American capital for opera, more important than many of the other cities mentioned above.

Consider the fact that the first opera performed in the United States was performed in New Orleans in 1796. And that at one point, New Orleans was home to five opera companies.

Plus, the opera that was performed there in the past brought racial, cultural and gender diversity to an art form that often lacked it and was largely Euro-centric. (You can hear the company sing “We’re Goin’ Around” from ragtime great Scott Joplin‘s opera “Treemonisha” in the YouTube video at the bottom,)

Now some singers and others (below) have formed an organization – OperaCreole — with the aim of correcting racism and restoring New Orleans’ reputation for opera,  especially that of the many African-American and Creole opera composers who were native to New Orleans.

A fine story, with an illuminating interview, recently appeared on NPR (National Public Radio).

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/05/28/530085480/a-new-orleans-company-shines-a-light-on-operas-diverse-history

Another excellent story, with more focus on repertoire and history, appeared in The New Yorker magazine:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/a-small-step-toward-correcting-the-overwhelming-whiteness-of-opera

And here is a link to OperaCreole’s own website with more information about the company and its productions:

http://www.operacreole.com

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Classical music: Here is music to mark Memorial Day. What pieces would you choose?

May 29, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day 2017, when those soldiers who died in war and service to their country are honored. (Below is an Associated Press photo of the National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.)

Many blogs, newspapers and radio stations list classical music that is appropriate for the occasion.

But one of the very best compilations that The Ear has seen comes this year from Nashville Public Radio.

Perhaps that makes sense because Nashville is such a musical city.

Perhaps it has to do with other reasons.

Whatever the cause, this list gives you modern and contemporary composers and music (John Adams, Joseph Bertolozzi and Jeffrey Ames) as well as tried-and-true classics (Henry Purcell and Edward Elgar, Franz Joseph Haydn and Frederic Chopin).

It even features some music that The Ear is sure you don’t know.

Take a look and many listens:

http://nashvillepublicradio.org/post/classical-music-remembrance-and-loss-memorial-day-playlist#stream/0

Do you agree with the choices?

Do you like them or at least some of them?

Which ones?

Which music would you choose to mark today?

Leave a name and, if possible, a link to YouTube in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Con Vivo concludes its 15th season with an outstanding concert of music by Spohr, Martinu and Dvorak with guest conductor John DeMain

May 28, 2017
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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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also took the performance photographs.

By John W. Barker

For the conclusion of its 15th season, the Con Vivo chamber music ensemble (below, in a photo by Don Sylvester) called out an unusual plethora of players.

And, as it did back in 2013, it brought back conductor John DeMain (below), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Madison Opera, to whip them into shape.

The program consisted of three very ample works.

The first was the Nonet, Op. 31, composed in 1813 by Louis Spohr (below, 1784-1859) — the first of its kind for this combination of strings and winds.

It’s in that no-longer-Classical-but-not-quite-Romantic idiom in which Beethoven was the big troublemaker. It is music of charm and imagination, altogether enjoyable as one appreciates the composer’s experimentation.

Following this was a contrasting work in the same form, the Nonet No. 2 (1959) by Bohuslav Martinu (below, 1890-1959). It dates from the last months of the composer’s life — note that, by coincidence, he died exactly a century after Spohr.

Using Spohr’s same combination of the nine instruments (below), it is a perky affair, in which Czech song and dance meet Igor Stravinsky, as it were. The second of its three movements is a particularly beautiful piece of coloristic writing. It can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The pièce-de-resistance was the final work, the Serenade, Op. 44 (1878), by Antonin Dvorak (below, 1841-1904).

I have to admit that this is one of my favorite works by one of my favorite composers. Composed for 11 players, it is really the composer’s tribute to Mozart, via a Romantic rethinking of the kind of wind serenades that Mozart wrote so wonderfully.

Thus, it is really a wind octet, with the addition of a third horn plus two string players (cello and double bass). Adding those two stringed instruments was a wonderful idea, allowing a significant enrichment of textures in the bass role.

The pool of 14 players involved in the program drew upon a lot of superlative talent active in the Madison area. Highly accomplished players individually, they join in full-bodied ensembles, given the added spirit brought by DeMain’s leadership.

While it would be unfair to single out individuals too much, I must say that I was greatly impressed by Olga Pomolova’s command of the fiendishly difficult violin parts in the two nonets, while I was also struck by the strong leadership of Laura Medisky, who played oboe in the nonets and first oboe in the serenade. (Valree Casey played second oboe in the serenade.)

The audience at First Congregational Church responded justly with an enthusiastic ovation at the end. Truly an outstanding concert!


Classical music education: Let us now praise music teachers and their legacy

May 26, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

By now, the school year is mostly over at all levels from kindergarten through undergraduate and graduate school at colleges and universities.

So are music lessons, both public and private, and student recitals and concerts. (Below is Madison and UW-Madison violin teacher Eugene Purdue with student Thomas Stringfellow during a lesson in 2011.)

So now is the perfect time to talk about the legacy of creativity that music teachers have in our lives.

Here is an essay that The Ear finds to be one of the best appreciations of music teachers – even those famous teachers at Juilliard who taught violinists Itzhak Perlman, Anne Akiko Meyers and Midori — that he has ever read. It covers different methods and styles of teaching and learning. And it is filled with gratitude from students toward their teachers.

It appeared in The New York Times and was written by critic Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim.

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/12/arts/music/immortal-fingertips-music-teachers-live-on-through-their-students.html?_r=0

If you have an appreciation or memory of, or a tribute to, a music teacher and music lessons, leave word in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What is the difference between a “symphony” orchestra and a “philharmonic” orchestra?

May 25, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Do you know the difference between a “symphony” orchestra and a “philharmonic” orchestra?

Between the New York Philharmonic (below top) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (below bottom), for example?

Even if you do, you might enjoy the background given in a recent blog posting on the website of the famed classical radio station in New York City, WQXR.

Here is a link:

http://www.wqxr.org/story/what-difference-between-symphony-philharmonic-orchestra


Classical music: Let us celebrate Brit Grit after the Manchester terrorist attack with Elgar’s Symphony No. 1

May 24, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

First came the unforgettable.

Then came the unforgivable.

In the first case, I am talking about the woefully under-attended performance on Sunday afternoon at the Wisconsin Union Theater by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (below) under its outgoing maestro Edo de Waart.

The MSO played the Overture to the opera “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; “Schelomo: A Hebraic Rhapsody” by Ernest Bloch, with principal cellist Susan Babini as soloist; and the Symphony No. 1 by Sir Edward Elgar.

In each case, all sections of the orchestra performed stunningly well and the caliber of performance made you wonder: “Why don’t we hear this group more often?”

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra used to tour to Madison every year or so. It should do so again.

Then not long after the concert came word of the deadly terrorist attack by a suicide bomber at a pop concert in Manchester, England.

Sure, sometimes these things just happen. But coincidences can have power.

The Ear can’t think of a more stately and forceful statement of British fortitude and stoicism – the same grit that saw Britain through the Nazi blitz — than the poignant march-like opening of the first movement of Sir Edward Elgar’s Symphony No. 1.

Chances are you don’t know the symphony.

Chances are you know Elgar from his “Pomp and Circumstance” Marches, from his “Enigma Variations” for orchestra, from his Cello Concerto, from his Violin Concerto, from the violin miniature “Salut d’amour.”

But this is grand and great Elgar (below) who, like Brahms, turned to writing symphonies only late in his life.

We don’t hear Elgar’s first symphony often enough.

And this just happens to be the right time, both because of the world-class performance by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and because the symphony was premiered in 1908 — in Manchester — and then went on to be popular enough to have some 100 performances in its first year.

But it has fallen out of favor. The last time the Ear heard it live was years ago when the UW Symphony Orchestra played it under the baton of guest conductor and UW-Madison alumnus Kenneth Woods (below), who now leads the English Symphony Orchestra and the Colorado Mahler Festival.

So here, in the YouTube video at the bottom, is a complete recording from the BBC Proms in 2012. Perhaps you will only listen to the opening movement, or even just the opening of the opening movement, with its moving theme that recurs throughout and then returns at the end.

But however much you listen to — and you shouldn’t miss the glorious slow movement – it seems a fitting choice to share today.

After all, as Leonard Bernstein once said: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

If you have another choice of music to listen to on this deadly occasion, leave word and a YouTube link in the COMMENT section.

Solidarity through music!


Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players announce their expanded summer season. And it’s another appetizing winner

May 23, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Willy Street Chamber Players have done it again.

The relatively new local group (below), which The Ear named as Musicians of the Year for 2016, has come up with another fantastic lineup of concerts for its third summer season, which also includes other appearances.

True, they have a new color logo (below top) to go with the older, really cool map-like geographical one in black-and-white (below bottom):

But so much of the Willys’ successful formula remains the same.

As usual, the group will feature guest artists, including violinist Suzanne Beia (below top) of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Pro Arte Quartet; tenor J. Adam Shelton (below middle); and clarinetist Michel Maccaferri (below bottom).

As usual, the concerts mix old established repertoire with newer works. One program mixes Jennifer Higdon and Johannes Brahms. Another program mixes Osvaldo Golijov and Dmitri Shostakovich and Ralph Vaughan Williams. A third mixes rocker Elvis Costello and Franz Schubert and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

As usual, the chamber ensemble puts an emphasis on community outreach. Tickets prices remain affordable with a season pass of three concerts for $40; individual tickets which go on sale June 1, are $15 for adults  $10 for seniors and students. All tickets are available at the door and through Brown Paper Tickets at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2935203 

And yes, you can wear shorts or blue jeans, sandals or flip-flops. The summery atmosphere promises again to be informal and social, with snacks and treats provided by east side businesses for after the shorter programs (60 to 90 minutes) that begin at an early time (6 p.m.) and allow you to do other things that same evening.

And as usual, these first-rate sonic locavores remain true to their eastside roots.

So they will perform not only at their home basic of Immanuel Lutheran Church  (below) at 1021 Spaight Street, but also two FREE concerts at the Marquette Waterfront Festival on Saturday and Sunday, June 10 and 11, plus a FREE family-friendly, one-hour noontime concert on Saturday, July 15, at the Goodman Community Center.

But the Willys are also catching on in the wider area and at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, June 12, The Willys will open the summer season for the Rural Musicians Forum with an appearance at the Hillside Theater (below) of Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright compound in Spring Green.

Here is a link to the Willys’ increasingly busy calendar. Click on the event to see the full programs:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/calendar.html

For other information, including reviews and how to support them by donating money, food or time to volunteer, here is a link to the website of the ovation-garnering Willys:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org


Classical music: Con Vivo closes its 15th season this Thursday night with a guest appearance by Madison Symphony Orchestra maestro John DeMain in chamber music by Dvorak, Spohr and Martinu

May 22, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Con Vivo (below, in a photo by Don Sylvester), or “Music With Life,” concludes its 15th season with a chamber music concert entitled “Czech Mix” on this Thursday, May 25, 2017 at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave. across from Camp Randall.

Convenient parking is only two blocks west at the University Foundation, 1848 University Ave.

Maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Madison Opera, will conduct the 14 musicians.

The program features large ensemble pieces by Czech composers Antonin Dvorak and Bohuslav Martinu, and by German composer Louis Spoor.

Specifically, the program includes two Nonets for winds and strings by Martinu (below top) and Spohr (below middle) and the Serenade for Winds and Strings, Op. 44, by Dvorak (below bottom).

NOTE: You can hear the opening movement of the Nonet by Spohr in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Tickets available in advance at Orange Tree Imports, 1721 Monroe St. or at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and students.

This concert marks Maestro DeMain’s third engagement with Con Vivo. Music critic John W. Barker observed during Maestro DeMain’s previous appearance “…this evening was my concert of the year…”(Isthmus 12/27/13)

Audience members are invited to join the musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss the concert.

In remarking about the concert, Con Vivo’s artistic director Robert Taylor said: “We are delighted and thrilled to have Maestro John DeMain return to conduct this seldom heard, but glorious music. This is a rare opportunity to hear and see Maestro DeMain work with a small ensemble. We are sure this will once again be a concert to remember.”

Con Vivo is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised 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.

For more information, go to: www.convivomusicwithlife.org or the group’s page on Facebook.


Classical music: Let us now praise — and program — Lou Harrison, the prophetic American composer who pioneered both personal and professional diversity in music

May 20, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has heard the name of Lou Harrison.

But he doesn’t recall ever actually hearing any music by Lou Harrison (below).

Maybe that will change, now that the centennial of Harrison’s birth is being marked.

Perhaps the UW-Madison or a smaller local group will do something, since neither the Madison Symphony Orchestra nor the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has programmed anything by Harrison in their next seasons.

The Ear certainly hopes to hear some of Harrison’s intriguing and prophetic music, which seems to be a harbinger of contemporary globalism and world music, performed live. Harrison’s work seems to presage Yo-Yo Ma‘s crossover and cross-cultural Silk Road Ensemble, but was way ahead of its time and without the commercial success.

In any case, it seems very few composers pioneered and championed both personal and professional diversity through Asian sounds and an openly gay identity. Completely genuine, Harrison seemed creative and imaginative in just about everything he touched and did.

If you, like The Ear, know little about the maverick Lou Harrison, an excellent background piece, recently done by Tom Huizinga of National Public Radio (NPR), is a fine introduction.

Here is a link to the story:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/05/13/525919082/lou-harrison-the-maverick-composer-with-asia-in-his-ears

Harrison composed a lot of music, including concertos for piano and violin, that shows Asian influences and combines them with traditional Western classical music. Below is a YouTube recording of his Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Javanese Gamelan from 1981-82.

Have you heard or performed Harrison’s music?

What do you think of it?

Would you like to hear it programmed for live performance more often?

Leave your opinion in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: A concert of rarely performed French Baroque chamber music with voice is this Sunday afternoon

May 19, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., a concert of French Baroque chamber music will take place.

Performers are UW-Madison alumna and current graduate student, soprano Chelsie Propst (below top); baroque violinists Nathan Giglierano and Laura Thompson; Eric Miller (below middle) on baroque cello and viola da gamba; and organist Sigrun Franzen (below bottom).

The concert will be performed at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below, exterior and interior), 1833 Regent Street, on Madison’s near west side.

Admission is $10.

The program includes “Médée” (Medea) by Louis-Nicolas Clérambault; “La Sultanne” by François Couperin (below in a YouTube video); “La mort de Didon” (The Death of Dido) by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair; and “Ditemi, o piante,” HWV 107, by George Frideric Handel.


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