EDITOR’S NOTE: Please note that some reviews of productions last weekend are being delayed to make room for previews of the many upcoming concerts and musical events this week.
By Jacob Stockinger
The prize-winning and critically acclaimed young Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan will make his Madison debut this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall for the Wisconsin Union Theater, which has been closed for two seasons while being renovated.
Barnatan’s MUST-HEAR program is ambitious and appealing; Franz Schubert’ late Sonata in G Major, the one that the young critic Robert Schumann praised so effusively; Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata, which was premiered by Vladimir Horowitz; the “Prelude, Chorale and Fugue” by the late French Romantic composer Cesar Franck that was a favorite of Arthur Rubinstein; and Maurice Ravel’s dazzling “La Valse” for solo piano.
Tickets are $25 for the general public; $10 for University of Wisconsin-Madison students. For more information about Inon Barnatan and his recital, including reviews, program notes, audio clips and ticket information, visit:
You might recall that Inon Barnatan won raves this past winter for his last-minute appearance with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under Edo de Waart when he stepped in to substitute for an ailing Radu Lupu and played the titanic Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor by Johannes Brahms.
In 2009, he won a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, and he has been recognized by the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.
The Ear has been listening to his recordings: from violin works (the last Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven and a Fantasy by Schubert) and his impressive readings of the famous last three sonatas and final impromptus and sonatas by Schubert to his performances of “Darkness Visible” by the contemporary British composer Thomas Ades. They all demonstrate his virtuoso technique but also his abundant musicality, subtle interpretations and full tone. Most impressive is his ability to play softly and lyrically. It leaves no doubt: Inon Barnatan is a major poet of the piano.
Clearly, Inon Baranatan is someone to watch, as his career continues to be extremely promising. You can listen to his interview for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in a YouTube video at the bottom. And here is a link to his own website:
And here is the email Q&A that Inon Barnatan did for The Ear:
You were just named the first-ever Artist in Association at the New York Philharmonic for the 2014-15 season. What plans do you have for that position? How could it affect your career?
What is so special for me about this position with the New York Philharmonic is that it is stretched over several seasons, so I will be performing with the orchestra both in New York and on the road for three consecutive seasons — which enables me to build a real relationship with this great orchestra as well as the audience. It removes a little of the pressure of the debut– since I know I will be coming back the following season and the one after that.
Of course there is pressure to live up to the expectations and the faith that the orchestra and Alan Gilbert (both below) have shown in me, but it feels wonderful to know that the organization is behind me from the get-go. This appointment has only recently been announced but has already had significant effect on my career. New York is the center of so many things and when the New York Philharmonic does something, people take notice! I really couldn’t be more thrilled with it.
How would you describe your approach to playing and interpreting music? Are there other musicians, and especially pianists, either historical or current, whom you admire and why?
I feel that we classical performers are like actors — we have a text that we try to internalize and bring to life, but ultimately it is not ourself that is being presented, but the character, or, in our case, the music, that is being communicated. A great actor like Meryl Streep becomes whichever role she is playing, embodying it in such a way that she herself disappears and becomes the role.
That is what I think my job as a performer is. I don’t want an audience to listen to me playing a piece — I would love for them to feel like the piece is being created at that very moment, the same way I would want to believe an actor IS the person that they are playing, not merely reading the text convincingly.
There are great performers, as well as actors, that are compelling not because they disappear in a role, but because of the very force of their personality. There are phenomenal actors and musicians that don’t change much with different roles or pieces, but bring their particular magnetism and virtuosity to every role.
When the performer is great both types can be very compelling, but I tend to gravitate towards the former. (Below is Inon Barnatan performing at Carnegie Hall in a photo by The New York Times.)
Your terrific and critically acclaimed new recording for the Avie label is an all-Schubert recital. But here you will perform a different big work, the G Major Sonata. What do you want to say about that particular work and its place in Schubert’s overall body of works? Why does Schubert hold particular appeal for you, and will you do more recording of his works, perhaps even a Schubert cycle?
Thank you! Back in 2004 I participated in a Schubert workshop with the great Leon Fleisher (below) at Carnegie Hall, and in some ways that was the start of my love affair with Schubert. I was familiar with his pieces, of course, but delving into the late sonatas as we did, I became intoxicated with the beauty and depth of the music.
The music of Schubert (below), and especially the music he wrote later in his short life, became a staple of my repertoire. I even curated a project of solo, chamber and vocal music from the miraculous last year — and both the Schubert CDs I’ve recorded so far feature pieces from that year.
That said, the G Major sonata, even though it was not written in the last year but a couple of years before, stands proudly amongst the greatest. It is one of his most lyrical and poetic pieces. It is not played nearly as often as the last three, and I am excited at the prospect of some audience members discovering it for the first time.
As for a possible Schubert cycle, it has been a dream of mine for a long while — perhaps I will keep playing his works one by one until I discover that I have recorded the whole cycle!
What would you like the public to know about your Madison program, which includes Franck, Barber (below) and Ravel?
This is a very special program to me. The pieces are magical: They manage to be at once very emotional and very intellectual, without compromising one for the other. The pieces all have a sense of nostalgia about them, in different ways.
The composers of the pieces in the first half take Baroque and Classical forms, such as fugues, chorales, sonatas, etc. and imbue them with their own innovation and emotion. The second half has more of a sense of fantasy, a sense of light that by the end of the recital turns to dark. I guess the second half goes from the sublime to the grotesque.
How do you think classical music can reach new and young audiences? And what advice would you give to aspiring young musicians and especially pianists?
That’s the million-dollar question. I think there are many things we need to do. It starts with education — putting an instrument in a child’s hand teaches them a lot about communications, listening and a huge variety of other important skills. It also encourages future curiosity about music and culture.
We also need to be more inclusive in some ways, make the concert experience something that would appeal to a young person as well as an older one. Nowadays, when there are so many ways to consume culture without leaving your home, the concert experience needs to have an energy and excitement to it that is unique to the live experience.
A great museum knows that in order to attract a variety of ages and stay relevant, they need to have not only great art, but great curating.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York, for example, is always teeming with people of all ages, newcomers, repeat visitors, young and old, experts and lay people. They have a collection of some of the great, established artists as well as new exciting art and they are always providing new and interesting ways to look at things. People who go there expect to be challenged as well as be entertained. You may come to see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (below) but it’s the new or unexpected stuff around it that keeps you coming back. It’s that combination of edge and quality that makes it cool.
We can learn a lot from that. As performers we need to strive for the highest possible quality of performance, and at the same time try to present it in a context that is interesting, and sometimes challenging or unexpected.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Please note that some reviews of productions last weekend are being delayed to make room for previews of the many upcoming concerts and musical events this week.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear hears:
The Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) may well be prevented from taking its long-planned centennial tour to its homeland Belgium next month because of a seemingly small but very significant government regulation designed to curtail the trade in illegal ivory.
Now, who can argue with the intent to protect elephants from being poached for their ivory tusks? But clearly there are unintended consequences that make the humane regulation look absurd and silly, if not mean-spirited, in its requirements for out-of-date documentation.
Take the Pro Arte Quartet, artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Music since 1940. It turns out that the acclaimed string quartet may not make its long-planned centennial tour to Belgium next month -– depending on what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which, with the help of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), inspects and confiscates or destroys musical instruments it deems in possible violation of the law at U.S. customs.
As for how it applies to the Pro Arte Quartet: It seems that ivory inlay on one old instrument –- a beautiful and full voiced viola -– and the ivory used in the tips of bows for one or more of the old instruments may violate the new ban and regulation.
It that seems an exaggeration consider the following stories about the difficulties that other musicians and other countries have faced in confronting the situation:
Here is a link to an overview story on NPR:
The problem is not so much getting out of the U.S., since other countries are taking a more lenient or understanding view. The problem comes at U.S. Customs when you leave or even, and especially, return.
Here is the story about one Canadian musician is being held hostage from seeking a professional job by the ban. Be sure to view the video:
Here is the take by famed critic Norman Lebrecht on his classical music blog “Slipped Disc:
As for the Pro Arte: People are reportedly working behind the scenes to secure a solution, which ranges from getting an exemption to using either a substitute instrument or a substitute player, to cancelling the tour. Stay tuned.
But while you stay tuned you have two chances tonight to hear the Pro Arte:
Thursday night at 9 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television’s main channel is the extremely we’ll done one-hour documentary about the Pro Arte and its Centennial celebration will air. It features great photos and historic footage, but it also features the quartet playing a studio concert of music by Darius Milhaud, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ernest Bloch, Samuel Barber (the famous “Adagio for Strings” that was originally a string quartet movement and that received its world premiere in Rome from the Pro Arte) and contemporary composer John Harbison. (Other airings are also scheduled. Here is a link:
But you can record that on a DVD or some other device. And here are other times on The Wisconsin Channel (21.2). The airdates are: April 18 at 8 p.m.; April 19 at 2 a.m.; and April 19 at 5 p.m. In addition, WPT will be offering this documentary program via web-streamibng at the same time as the broadcast, so people can see it globally. The link to the program page, on which the streaming link is also housed, is http://wptschedule.org/episodes/45015629/The-Pro-Arte-Quartet-A-Century-of-Music/
Here is the real treat: At 7:30 p.m. on this Thursday night in Mills Hall, the Pro Arte Quartet -– playing its own instruments — will perform a FREE MUST-HEAR concert of the same program that was requested by the Belgian hosts for whom they will play. Consider it a warm-up or run-through.
The program features one the Ear’s top all-time favorite string quartets: the so-called “Dissonant” Quartet, K. 465 (1785) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which was so advanced in its harmonies that early publishers actually changed some of the opening notes that Mozart wrote to make the work conform to the practices of the day. (The opening that gives it its nickname can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The program also includes the Quartet No. 1 (1909) by the pioneering modernist Bela Bartok (below top), and the Quartet in E Minor, Op. 44, No. 2, (1837) by the early Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn.
In its blend of the Classical, the Romantic and the Modern repertoire, the program seems quintessentially Pro Arte. And it should be a pure joy to hear.
Members of the current Pro Arte Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer and with links to biographies) are:Parry Karp, cello; Suzanne Beia, second violin; Sally Chisholm, viola; and David Perry, first violin.
If didn’t already know it, here is a capsule history of the quartet:
The Pro Arte Quartet was founded in 1911-12 by students at the Brussels Conservatory. Violinist Alphonse Onnou was the leader, and the other founding members included Laurent Halleux (violin), Germain Prévost (viola), and Fernand Auguste Lemaire (cello). The quartet made its debut in Brussels in 1913 and soon became known as an exponent of modern music.
The Pro Arte played their American debut in 1926, performing at the inauguration of the Hall of Music in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. They returned for 30 tours to the United States, as well as a tour of Canada, often under the auspices of the noted patron of chamber music, Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge.
Their first visit to Madison was in 1938, where, two years later, the musicians were stranded by Hitler’s invasion of Belgium and the outbreak of World War II. Following their concert on campus, the University of Wisconsin chancellor offered a permanent home to the quartet.
It was the first such residency ever in a major American university, and became the model on which many other similar arrangements were developed at other institutions.
The Pro Arte became the faculty string quartet at UW-Madison in the late 1950s, an appointment that continues to the present day -– making the ensemble more than 100 years old, the oldest on-going string quartet ever in history.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Please note that some reviews of productions last weekend are being delayed to make room for previews of the many upcoming concerts and musical events this week.
NEWS: David Ronis (below) of Queen’s College and the Aaron Copland School of Music at the City University of New York (CUNY) has just been named as the interim one-year visiting director of University Opera, to succeed William Farlow. Here is a link to the official press release with his impressive resume on the blog Fanfare:
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 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 University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a long history of including rarities in its productions, rarities that audiences are not likely to see elsewhere.
For his farewell offering as he retires at the end of this academic year, director William Farlow (below, in a photo by Katherine Esposito) has put on a particularly enterprising novelty. That “Beatrice et Benedict: — is the last and most successful of the three operas by the early French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz.
Berlioz (below) wrote the libretto as well as the music, freely adapting his stripped-down version from the play “Much Ado About Nothing by” Shakespeare — an author whose works he adored. Berlioz cast it in the form of the opéra comique, combining set-piece musical numbers with spoken dialogue. It was the same form used not only by Jacques Offenbach, but also by Georges Bizet for his “Carmen.” Nevertheless, Berlioz infused the form with his own individual wit, imagination, and personality. The score is full of absolutely beautiful music, with a dip into satire as well. (You can hear the opera’s Overture performed by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields at Carnegie Hall in You Tube video at the bottom.)
The UW Opera presented this opera before, in 1988, in the days of Karlos Moser, in a semi-staged concert performance. This time, Farlow has given it a complete staging, employing mostly exemplars of the gifted vocal talent the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has been drawing lately.
(The last of three performances is tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall at the foot of Bascom Hill.)
In the performance I attended Sunday night, the feuding lovers, the two title characters, Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick, were sung by the agile soprano Lindsay Metzger and high tenor Daniel López-Matthews. (Below right and left, respectively, in a photo by Max Wendt). The other pair of lovers, Hero and Claudio, were portrayed by the powerfully voiced soprano Anna Whiteway and tenor Jordan Wilson. The local commander, Don Pedro, was taken by bass Erik Larson.
To these the cast added two veterans. Edgewood College teacher and mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson (below) is a long-standing veteran of UW Opera and Madison music-making, always welcome any time, in anything, including the role here of Ursula, Hero’s friend. And baritone Benjamin Schultz, a returned alumnus, sang the comic role that Berlioz invented, Somarone, as a caricature of the pompous rivals and academics who were the composer’s life-long opposition.
Following a frequent practice when this opera is presented outside of France, the vocal numbers were sung in the original French, while the revised dialogue was given in English. It’s a workable solution to a problem for singers who can sing in French, but really can’t speak it well. Fine as the singing was, it was clear that they were not uniformly comfortable singing French.
Still, many moments were truly gorgeous, notably the Hero-Ursula duet in Act I, and the ladies’ trio in Act II, as well as the offstage wedding chorus.
By and large, Farlow’s stage direction was careful: in the vocal set pieces often relatively static, though, that was certainly preferable to too much action. In the case of Somarone’s Act I scene, Schulz was made to go much too far beyond satire, into exaggerated silliness. And Beatrice’s over-acting in Act I really compromised the character’s self-assured sassiness before her “fall.”
Still, even with so much of the dueling wordplay of Shakespeare’s original removed, Metzger and López-Matthews engaged well as the couple who had to be tricked into discovering that their outward hostility covered a profound attraction.
A particular asset was the pit orchestra that conductor James Smith (below) was able to work up very successfully to Berlioz’s tricky requirements.
William Farlow departs leaving us with many debts to him, including this demonstration that Berlioz’s gem of a comic opera really deserves more regular presentation.
By Jacob Stockinger
Since then the MBM has turned in many memorable performances of cantatas and concertos by Bach and other early music on period instruments, including works by Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli and George Frideric Handel.
But this Easter weekend will bring a special treat.
The Madison Bach Musicians, will partner with the Madison Choral Project, under Albert Pinsonneault, to perform Bach’s magnificent and monumental Mass in Minor.
Performances are at on this Friday night at 8 pm. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ. And on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison at 900 University Bay Drive, near UW Hospital.
Advance tickets are $20 for adults; $15 for students and seniors over 65; at the door, $25 and $20, respectively. For more information about how to buy advance tickets, visit:
For more information about the music and the performers, visit:
Stephenson (seen below, in a pre-concert lecture in a photo by Kent Sweitzer), who is a knowledgeable, articulate and entertaining speaker about Baroque music, agreed to an email Q&A about the Mass in B Minor.
Musicians often talk about their “desert island piece”— the work they would most want to have at hand if they were forced to live on a desert island. For me, the B minor Mass has always been my desert island piece. (But if I could sneak in the Well-Tempered Clavier too, that would be great.)
The Passions are incomparable investigations into the relationship between the human embodiment of divine spirit and the dark machinations of this world. The Passions are also Bach’s great statements on the importance of self-sacrifice for the greater good of love. (Jesus gave up his life for love of us, and we should in turn give of ourselves to that which we love.)
The Cantatas are the laboratory where Bach worked out–on a nearly weekly basis–the fusion of musical and textual material toward a spiritual end.
The Mass in B minor focuses more on the relationship between—and really the joining of–the metaphysical and the everyday. Just as an example, as Bach expert John Eliot Gardiner (below) points out in his wonderful new book, “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven,” look how the opening of the Credo fuses the gravitas, dignity, and mysticism of plainchant (in the voices) with the elegant, bubbling stride of the baroque bass line. And together these elements create a third thing, beyond themselves, a new joy. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the uplifting and joyous “Gloria” movement, performed by Karl Richter leading the Munich Bach Orchestra.)
Why did a devout Lutheran like Bach turn to a Roman Catholic musical form? Is it appropriate to the Easter season, like the Passions and certain cantatas? What kind of liberties does Bach take with it? How does he reinvent it, if he does?
In Bach’s family, the work was often referred to as “The great catholic mass”–precisely because it was not usual Lutheran practice to set the entire Latin mass. The first appearance of the Mass in B minor comes in 1733 when Bach and his family copied out a beautiful set of presentation parts for the Dresden court–which had not only one of the greatest orchestras and vocal ensembles in Europe, but was also a Catholic court.
I’ve always felt that Bach’s Mass in B minor is something of a reconciliation with the Catholic church after the spiritual and political upheaval of the 17th century and the devastation of the 30-years War.
The Mass in B minor, though it is certainly Christian, also points toward a more inclusive picture of humanity’s universal — the original meaning of catholic – spiritual quest. It is hard to quantify, but I feel there is something in this music that speaks to—and really helps and inspires–us all.
Why will Marc Vallon conduct it rather than you?
Marc and I have been working together for several years now. He has played several bassoon concertos with MBM; also with MBM he has conducted symphonies and concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus, Franz Joseph Haydn and Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach.
Marc, who now teaches and performs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, was principal baroque bassoon—for 20 years—with the internationally acclaimed Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra under Ton Koopman. And during that time Marc performed and recorded many of Bach’s Cantatas, Passions and the B minor Mass.
Marc’s tremendous performance background with the Mass, and his infectious enthusiasm for this timeless masterpiece make him perfectly suited to lead the rehearsals and the concerts. I really can’t wait to hear what happens on Friday and Saturday when these amazing musicians and Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) and a great audience gather for the Mass in B minor.
What are the special aspects (one-on-one versus larger chorus, for example, or the Madison Choral Project or the period instruments and practices) that you would like to point out about this performance?
The Madison Choral Project is providing a 17-voice choir for the Mass in B minor concerts. In this work, since Bach usually uses a five-part choral texture (soprano I, soprano II, alto, tenor, bass), this comes to about three voices per part, depending on how things are distributed in a particular moment.
In two movements of the Mass (first Credo and Confiteor), we’ll have the soloists sing one-voice-per-part.
The orchestra will consist of 25 players, all on period instruments: 12 strings, 2 baroque oboes, 2 baroque flutes, 2 baroque bassoons, natural horn, 3 baroque trumpets, timpani, and continuo organ, which I what I will play. The balance between choir, soloists and orchestra should work out beautifully. (Below is the Madison Bach Musicians performing the “St. Matthew Passion” in a photo by Karen Holland.)
What should the public listen for in the mass both musically and performance-wise?
I would say notice how Bach contrasts grandeur with intimacy, metaphysical inquiry and prayer with rollicking celebration, and yet makes an exquisitely coherent whole. I think the Mass in B minor is a miracle of form.
Also, these concerts will feature an entirely period-instrument orchestra of outstanding baroque performance specialists hailing from throughout the United States — Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
The wonderful thing about playing this incomparable baroque masterwork on instruments that Bach was familiar with, is that the sound becomes fresh and energized in a way that is readily apparent. It really is a way of going Back to the Present!
The 18th-century instruments typically speak faster than their modern descendants — that is, the pitch actually forms more quickly, often by just a fraction of a second. But in music-making—especially very intricate baroque music-making—that fraction of a second can be the critical difference.
Bach’s absolutely amazing counterpoint in the Mass in B minor, which he often weaves effortlessly in 4 and even 5 independent parts is much more transparent when played on period instruments. You can peer more deeply into the infinite world of Bach’s fugues.
Period instruments are also set up to articulate quite deftly, that is, baroque instruments help the players define the shorter musical groupings of connected and non-connected notes. This in turn assists the audience in assimilating the elegant rhetorical shapes of Bach’s lines.
I will also preface both the concerts starting at 6:45 p.m. with a 30-minute lecture on period instruments (below is Stephenson discussing the keyboard action of an 18th-century fortepiano), approaches to singing baroque music, and the structure and history of the Mass in B minor.
Is there anything else you would like to say or add?
I’d like to say a bit about the two venues where we’ll perform the Mass in B minor. “Where is it?” is one of the first questions most people ask when they hear of an exciting upcoming musical event. Because–particularly for classical music–the acoustics really matter. And the feel of the place, the vibe, needs to be right too.
The sound will be rich and the mood will be spiritually focused on Friday and Saturday as the Madison Bach Musicians and the Madison Choral Project collaborate in two performances of J. S. Bach’s monumental masterpiece the Mass in B minor, BWV 232.
The Friday concert will be given in the magnificent setting of the sanctuary at First Congregational United Church of Christ, at 1609 University Avenue, a landmark building in Madison’s cultural life.
The Saturday concert will be in the acoustically brilliant Atrium Auditorium (below in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. The performances will feature a 24-piece period-instrument baroque orchestra, 5 outstanding vocal soloists, and a 17-voice professional choir from the Madison Choral Project.
Bach composed the Mass in B minor during the final 18 years of his life; adding, editing, and re-working it into his final year, 1750. The result is about 100 minutes of music that is instantly engaging, highly varied in its variety of ensemble and style, unified to the Nth degree, and structurally perfect. And somehow the Mass in B minor it is at once both magnificent and intimate.
The First Congregational United Church of Christ, with its neo-Georgian design (begun in 1928), captures the 18th-century ideals of dignified ambiance and sonic balance that Bach understood. The sound has tremendous detail, yet everything contributes to the warm cumulative tonal glow.
The much more recent Atrium Auditorium (below), built in 2008, at First Unitarian Society brings out the immediacy of the music-making. The sight lines are direct, and the acoustics brilliant; the audience feels very connected with the performers.
Both venues are absolutely perfect for period-instrument performance, which emphasizes the detail and vitality of the music rather than sheer decibels.
Seating is limited at both venues, so purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended.
By Jacob Stockinger
There I was last Sunday afternoon, sitting in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, deeply engaged in and enjoying Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s glorious and poignant Requiem, incomplete as the original score is.
Now, I have my own personal reasons why the performance and music proved especially moving to me.
But suffice it to say that during the outstanding performance that was turned in by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top), the Madison Symphony Chorus (below bottom, in a photo by Greg Anderson), guest soloists including UW graduate soprano Emily Birsan and guest conductor Julian Wachner, from the famed Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City, I kept wondering:
Why isn’t Beverly Taylor conducting this program?
You may recall that Beverly Taylor has headed the choral department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music for 19 years. Before that, she was at Harvard. Plus, she regularly tours and does guest stints.
And if you are like The Ear, Beverly Taylor (below) has probably brought you more memorable moments of great choral music than any other musician in town since Robert Fountain, especially through her almost two decades at the UW-Madison during which she has directed the main community and campus group, the UW Choral Union, as well as various other UW groups, including the Concert Choir.
She has also conducted world premieres and Midwest premieres, and she has worked with some pretty big names, singers and instrumentalists (cellist Matt Haimovitz) as well as composers such as Robert Kyr (below top) and John Harbison (below bottom).
So then I started thinking:
When have I heard Beverly Taylor conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra -– of which she is the assistant conductor, the same kind of post that launched the meteoric career of Leonard Bernstein (below) when he was the assistant conductor to Bruno Walter at the New York Philharmonic? Assistants often get to fill in when the principal conductor is ill or out-of-town. Same thing happened to assistant conductor Seiji Ozawa when Bernstein was ill disposed.
Perhaps memory fails me, but I could not think of a single time when I heard Taylor conduct the MSO in a regular season subscription concert.
Can it be true that she is good enough to keep her post, but not good enough to perform its duties when the occasion arises. And if it is true, is it right? Would that happen to a man?
Now, it is true that Taylor’s many duties include preparing the MSO Chorus. And she performed that important duty in a fine manner for the Mozart Requiem, which was acknowledged both in critics’ reviews and in the loud applause when she came on stage to take a bow. One suspects she herself has conducted Mozart’s Requiem several times in her long career.
Not that guest conductor Julian Wachner (below top) was in any way a failure or proved unsatisfactory. He conducted just fine, even if the program was somewhat odd because it opened with a single Slavonic Dance by Antonin Dvorak, which is usually an encore instead of a curtain-raiser; and because it featured Joseph Jongen’s “Symphonie Concertante” for Organ and Orchestra with guest organist, and a real real virtuoso, Nathan Laube (below).
The Jongen is a work that wasn’t performed here at all until the Overture Center opened with its custom-built, million-dollar Klais concert organ; and now we have heard it twice in 10 years. I think I can go another 10 or 20 years without hearing this second-tier work again. It has its moments, but they are not very many and they are not very long.
Anyway, just to be sure, I checked the biographies of Julian Wacher and Beverly Taylor. I compared and decided that Taylor’s holds up just fine. See for yourself:
You will notice that Taylor, who has a good training pedigree, is not only the chorus preparer for the MSO, but also the Assistant Conductor -– the one who helps the main maestro and music director John DeMain help balance the orchestra during rehearsals and who consults with him on other occasions for other reasons.
And Beverly Taylor has certainly conducted her share of major chorus and orchestra masterworks with the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra: Requiems by Giuseppe Verdi and Johannes Brahms as well as Mozart; Benjamin Britten’s “War” Requiem’; Antonin Dvorak’s “Stabat Mater”; and many other works including Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and B Minor Mass, Mozart’s great C Minor Mass, Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” (below); Felix Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” George Frideric Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” (at bottom in a YouTube video performance by the UW Choral Union under the baton of Taylor), Franz Joseph Haydn’s “ Lord Nelson” Mass, the “Symphony of Psalms” by Igor Stravinsky and other works by Gabriel Faure, Anton Bruckner, Leonard Bernstein and Francis Poulenc.
In fact, you can hear Beverly Taylor in action TONIGHT at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, when she conducts the UW Concert Choir and the UW Chamber Orchestra in Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” (tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for seniors and students); and again on Saturday night, April 26, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, when she will conduct the UW Choral Union in the large-scale a cappella “Vespers” by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below) for one performance only. Admission for the “Vespers” is $10 for the public, free for seniors and students.
So I am again left with the question: Why didn’t Beverly Taylor get to fill in on the podium for MSO conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), who is also the artistic director of the Madison Opera and who was off in Virginia guest conducting Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen.” It sure seemed like her kind of program.
I want to give the MSO the benefit of the doubt and not jump to the conclusion that Taylor didn’t get the podium to herself because of sexism, especially since the MSO has booked guest women conductors, including the Finnish firecracker Anu Tali (below top), and hired a woman concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz (below bottom), whom it has often highlighted as a soloist.
But then I also remembered that the MSO used Taylor’s colleague at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, instrumental conductor James Smith, for this year’s “Final Forte” Bolz Young Artist Competition concert and broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television.
And I also read a New York Times story about how even the great and high-profile Metropolitan Opera has had only three -– yes, count them, three -– women conductors (below top is Anne Manson leading the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra) in its entire history, even during the time when women conductors like Marin Alsop (below middle) and JoAnn Falletta (below bottom) are much in the news. Here is a link to that story:
So what about our own hometown woman conductor? Maybe it really is a question of sexism, perhaps the unconscious or subconscious kind, or the kind that is camouflaged under other concerns like incompetence and low public appeal. Or maybe it is just a question of the orchestra’s history, habit and tradition in action. Or perhaps it is something as simple and innocent as a schedule conflict or an overbooked schedule. But it looks suspiciously like the old vicious circle: She is inexperienced, so we can’t give her the experience.
I raise the question more than I claim to I have the answer. But I also want to know if I am alone in my curiosity and concern.
I want to hear what other readers and musicians in the area and elsewhere have to say, even though they may be reluctant to speak up using their real names to question or criticize such a major player as the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
But Beverly Taylor (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) is a major player in Madison too. And she deserves a chance to move from behind-the-scenes and once in a while have her talents place in the public spotlight for the same organization that she has served so well for so long.
Who knows, she might even have saved the MSO some money in booking fees and her local fans might even have helped filled some of the empty seats I saw last Sunday afternoon.
So The Ear says: Come on, MSO, give Beverly Taylor the chance she has earned to stand alone and conduct by herself after almost 20 years of being a team player. Please shine the spotlight on her when the chance next presents itself.
What do readers and audience members think?
Don’t be shy.
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: On Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Beverly Taylor will conduct the University of Wisconsin-Madison Concert Choir (below) and the UW Chamber Orchestra with guest soloists in Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion.” (Tickets are $15 for the public and $8 for senior citizens and students.)
By Jacob Stockinger
It is daunting for any pianist to play all 32 of the piano sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven, usually over several days or weeks.
But then Stewart Goodyear (below) is not just any pianist.
He performs all the Beethoven sonatas in a single day, much like a marathon.
Moreover, Goodyear, who hails from Toronto, Canada, is also a composer who has written his own Piano Concerto.
Tonight at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, Stewart Goodyear will perform both Beethoven and his own work.
For the Beethoven, the choral part will be sung by the WCO Choir that is made up of the University of Wisconsin Madrigal Singers and the Festival Choir of Madison (below). The choir will also perform Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s sublime “Ave Verum Corpus,” which should complement some of the tone of Goodyeas’s piano concerto.
The closing the program will be Beethoven’s famed Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica,” which radically changed the course of the modern symphony.
Tickets are $15 to $67. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141. For more information, you can also visit:
Goodyear (below) agreed to an email Q&A that for various reasons got delayed. But good sport that he is, he answered the questions after a strenuous rehearsal. Clearly this is a intense artist who approaches both music and writing in an articulate and athletic way.
You have performed — in marathon one-day sessions — and recorded all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and I believe you play all the concertos. What is it about Beethoven’s works that attracts you so deeply, and what is your view of how to best play him?
I was three years old when I first heard the music of Beethoven. It was that moment when I knew I wanted to be a musician. Beethoven’s music spoke to me as a child more profoundly than any other artist.
Even now, I feel that Beethoven expresses the complete human experience: the passion, the rage, the humor, the vulnerability, the courtship, the love, the defiance, and, finally, the spiritual awakening. I lived with Beethoven’s music my whole life, but I only felt ready to perform his music when I finally experienced every aspect of the human experience. It was at that point where I had a profound thirst to perform Beethoven’s music.
I was 32 when I first performed the complete 32 sonatas, and I knew that my first solo recording had to be those masterpieces. The sonatas, to me, are a very intimate diary communicated with the listener.
I think the best way to play Beethoven (below) is from a very personal place in one’s heart. Like a great actor, one has to live every moment, feel every emotion deeply, and play every note like it was a last opportunity. The audience must be seized at every second. Rage must be raging; pain must be painful. Raw emotion cannot be tamed.
How do you place the Choral Fantasy among his works –- just a sketch for the Ninth Symphony or a work in its own right?
The “Choral Fantasy” is quite an interesting piece. The last time I performed this piece was with Yannick Nezet-Seguin and Orchestra Metropolitan, on a program that re-enacted the historic 1808 concert that saw the premiere of the Fifth Symphony and Sixth (“Pastoral”) Symphony, the Piano Concerto No. 4, and the “Choral Fantasy,” among other works.
I see this work as the perfect finale for this program, first showcasing Beethoven’s improvising skills, then showcasing different members of the orchestra, and after variations of the hymn, showcasing the vocalists and chorus who participated in the mammoth 1808 program.
This piece was written specifically for that concert as a showstopper, but I firmly believe that this powerful, moving work is a masterpiece in its own right.
How and when did your own Piano Concerto come about? How would you describe it to the general public? Is it tonal and accessible, or melodic and appealingly harmonic? Rhythm-wise, does it have unusual aspects? How many tines have you performed it, and how has it been received before by the general public?
My piano concerto was commissioned by the Peninsula Music Festival (below) in Wisconsin’s Door County and premiered there in 2010. The architecture of this work is very much inspired by the Mozartian concerto, but it is also inspired by my own ethnic musical background: Classical, calypso and English folk music. (Goodyear talks about his own concerto in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The piano writing is lyrical but intensely rhythmic, and the harmonies are tonal and accessible with spicy dissonances.
I was delighted by the warm response of my concerto at the world premiere, and I hope the audience in Madison enjoys it. This will be my second performance of the concerto., but the world premiere of a revised version of it I did specifically for chamber orchestra.
Is there anything you would like to say about performing for a third time with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top) and conductor Andrew Sewell (below bottom) before a Madison audience?
It is always a great pleasure to work with Andrew Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. I look very much forward to tonight’s concert.
By Jacob Stockinger
This weekend’s performances by the University Opera of the charming Shakespeare-based opera “Beatrice et Benedict” by the early and influential French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (below top) are notable for several reasons.
Some of the rotating cast of student performers include (below bottom, in a photo by Max Wendt) Daniel López-Matthews as Bénédict; Lindsay Metzger as Béatrice, in purple; and Anna Whiteway as Hero, in red.
The new production is the final production by UW Opera director William Farlow (below, in a photo by Katherine Esposito) before he retires at the end of the semester.
NOTE: From what The Ear understands, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is currently looking to replace Farlow with an interim director for one year, and then next year the school will launch a national search for Farlow’s successor.
Performances will be sung in French with English surtitles created by Christine Seitz. They will be held in the Rennebohm Auditorium of Music Hall (below), at the foot of Bascom Hill, on this Friday at 7:30 p.m., this Sunday at 3 p.m. and next Tuesday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets for general admission are $22; $18 for senior citizens and $10 for students. See below for more details.
I was hoping and planning to have a longer story about the production, but things just didn’t work out.
I did have a brief Q&A with Bill Farlow when he announced his retirement. Here is a link:
But then I thought: Why re-invent the wheel?
It turns out that two terrific sources -– the UW School of Music blog “Fanfare” and critic John W. Barker (below), who writes for Isthmus and for this blog — both had previews and interviews that provided excellent background for seeing and hearing this production.
So here they are, both forming a kind of primer on “Beatrice et Benedict” (below, in a another photo by Max Wendt), which features a lovely duet that you can hear at the bottom in a YouTube video:
Here is a well done general appreciation by John W. Barker for Isthmus that appeared on that publication’s website The Daily Page:
And here is a link to details about tickets:
Here is another story about the production, with details about the production staff as well as the music staff — including conductor and music director James Smith (below) with the UW Chamber Orchestra – on “Fanfare”:
And here another story about Farlow’s tenure at the University Opera, with lots of photos, which also appeared on the Fanfare blog:
By Jacob Stockinger
This is a crazy busy weekend for classical music fans in Madison.
On Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra closing out its season with pianist Stewart Goodyear playing his own Piano Concerto and Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Choral” Fantasy (plus the “Eroica” Symphony) on Friday night.
On Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is also the University of Iowa Center for New Music in a FREE concert.
Also on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall is the University Opera’s first of three performances of Hector Berlioz’ opera “Beatrice and Benedict.” It is the farewell production of director William Farlow, who is retiring this spring.
Then on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall is the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music’s Perlman Piano Trio, in a FREE concert of Franz Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert and Antonin Dvorak. At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is the UW-Madison Concert Choir and Chamber Orchestra performing Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” under conductor and director Beverly Taylor.
And on Sunday at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. is the First Unitarian Society of Madison performing Gabriel Faure’s lovely and calming Requiem. Admission is FREE and open to the public. And the on Sunday evening at 7 p.m., the UW Chorale Concert, under Bruce Gladstone, will perform a FREE concert in Mills Hall.
But two concerts on Saturday by smaller local groups presenting old music and new music should also not be overlooked.
On Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church (below) at 1021 University Avenue, there is a FREE concert featuring new music by two local groups.
“New Music Concert and Conversation” is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC and features new works for the percussion group Clocks in Motion (below top) and the woodwind quintet Black Marigold (below bottom) by student composers across the country. Two of the four winning composers will be in attendance to speak about their work and answer questions from the audience.
Immediately following the performance, Clocks in Motion and Black Marigold members will speak about the challenges and rewards of performing new music.
The New Music Concert is part of the 18th annual conference of the Midwest Graduate Music Consortium (MGMC), which will take place at UW-Madison on April 11 and 12. MGMC is a joint venture organized by graduate students from Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and UW-Madison. MGMC encourages the presentation of original research and the composition of new music by graduate and advanced undergraduate students.
Details about the conference, including a full schedule and list of abstracts, can be found at the MGMC website. The conference includes papers by students from MGMC sister schools and institutions across the U.S. and Canada. Tamara Levitz, UCLA, will give a keynote lecture, “Riot at the Rite: Racial Exclusion and the Foundations of Musical Modernism.” Registration is FREE. Please send an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org if you plan to attend. (No registration is necessary for the New Music Concert).
The program includes:
Works for Clocks in Motion:
Kristina Warren, University of Virginia . . . Adelaide
Benjamin O’Brien, University of Florida . . . cadenceStudie
Works for Black Marigold (below):
Kenn McSperitt, University of Oklahoma . . . Eight
Matthew R. Durrant, University of Utah . . . Quintet No. 2
Then on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below), located at 300 East Gorham Street, in James Madison Park in downtown Madison, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will perform a concert of vocal and instrumental early music on period instruments.
The program includes:
1. Wilhelm Friedemann Bach – Duet No. 2 for two flutes in E-flat major, F. 55
2. Jean Baptiste Barrière – Cello Sonata No. 3, Book 2
3. Georg Philipp Telemann – Suite 1 from “Six Paris Quartets”
4. Johann Friedrich Fasch – Sonata for bassoon and continuo in C major
5. Benoit Guillement – Sonata No. 1 for two traversi
6. Johann Sebastian Bach – “Die Schätzbarkeit der weiten Erde” from cantata BWV 204 (heard at the bottom in a YouTube video featuring violinist Itzhak Perlman and soprano Kathleen Battle.)
7. Carl Friedrich Abel – Sonata a viola da gamba solo et basso, WKO 160.
8. Johann Christian Bach – Quartetto for traverso, violin, viola, and bass.
9. Joseph Bodin de Boismortier – Concerto a cing parties, from Op.37.
Tickets are available only at the door. Admission is $15, $10 for students. Feel free to bring your own chair or pillow. For more information, call (608) 238-5126 or visit www.wisconsinbaroque.org.
Members of the Wisconsin Barqoue Ensemble are: Theresa Koenig – baroque bassoon; Brett Lipshutz – traverse; Mary Perkinson – baroque violin; Consuelo Sañudo – mezzo-soprano; Monica Steger – traverse; Eric Miller – viola da gamba, baroque cello; Anton TenWolde – baroque cello; and Max Yount – harpsichord.
By Jacob Stockinger
This coming Sunday, April 13, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. the First Unitarian Society of Madison will offer one of its All-Music Sundays.
This time, the event – open to the public and not just FUS members — features two FREE performances on the lovely and consoling Requiem by Gabriel Faure at the historic meeting-house, (below) designed like a plow tilling the soil by Frank Lloyd Wright, at 900 University Bay Drive.
To The Ear, it seems a perfect choice for the upcoming Easter season – Sunday is, after all, Palm Sunday.
To be sure, a lot of sublime choral music has been or will be performed here in a short time, including Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” and Mass in B Minor, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s storied Requiem and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s a cappella Vespers.
I gave a rundown in this earlier post:
But there is something special in the quietude of the Faure Requiem that seems to marry the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions in away that also allows secularists to enter into the music.
I asked FUS music director Dan Broner (below), who programmed and will conduct the Requiem, to talk about it and he agreed to do an email Q&A:
Why did you choose to do the Requiem by Gabriel Faure?
Two years ago we did the Requiem by John Rutter. A singer at the time asked if we could do the Faure Requiem next and since I hadn’t conducted the entire work for some time, I thought it would be fun to do it again.
John Rutter (below) worked on a new edition of the Faure Requiem in the early 1980s, which inspired him to compose his own requiem. So I thought it would be fun for the Society Choir to sing it while the Rutter was still relatively fresh in their ears.
What do you think of Faure’s music in general and what do you especially like about it and what makes it appropriate for the Unitarians?
I think Faure’s music is underrated. He was comparatively prolific, having written over 100 songs, many piano solo works, and lots of wonderful chamber music. Yet he is best known for his Requiem and a few instrumental numbers (“Sicilienne,” “Pavane” and “Elegie”).
I think it may be because he didn’t write many large-scale works, and his piano solo repertoire is quite difficult technically. (Liszt pronounced it too difficult.)
Faure (below) was a terrific melodist on par with Schubert and Chopin and his life (1845-1924) spanned a period that began with the music of Chopin and Schumann and into the jazz era and the second Viennese school. An important educator, he taught many well-known composers including Maurice Ravel and Nadia Boulanger.
Faure worked for the Roman Catholic Church, and properly wrote his Requiem in Latin. But he eschewed the usual “Dies Irae” (Day of Wrath) movement with its emphasis on judgment and damnation for a gentler spirit that focused instead on eternal rest. I think this plays well with Unitarian humanist leanings.
How does it differ from other well-known Requiems?
In addition to the “Dies Irae,” Faure also doesn’t include the “Benedictus” portion of the “Sanctus.” And his “Agnus Dei” (heard at the bottom in a popular YouTube video) is in F major and is more lyrical than the typical big, minor key “Agnus Dei” movements of other Requiems.
Interesting is the similarities with the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms, written some 20 years earlier. Both are in seven movements and both use soprano and baritone soloists. I think it was Aaron Copland (below) who declared Faure “the Brahms of France.”
What else would you like to say or add about the work and the performances?
We will be using John Rutter’s chamber orchestration which lends itself for performing in a relatively small space: organ, harp, solo violin, divided violas and cellos, bass, two horns and timpani. The chorus will number a little over 60 singers. Soprano Heather Thorpe and baritone Bart Terrell are the soloists. And it will take place in the older Landmark Auditorium (below) because that’s where the organ is.