The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The fall concert series by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras starts this Saturday and includes the Wisconsin premiere of Martinu’s Symphony No. 3

November 6, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras have sent information about their upcoming fall concert this coming Saturday and the following Saturday:

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) opens their fall concert series on Saturday, Nov. 11, and Saturday, Nov. 18, with the WYSO Youth Orchestra performing Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu’s Symphony No. 3.  (You can hear the opening movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“All our orchestras and ensembles have been digging deep into some amazing repertoire this fall,” said Interim Artistic Director Randal Swiggum (below).  “WYSO fans will love these concerts—a great mix of beloved classics like Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Capriccio Espagnol” and the Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, and some compelling new works.  The students are super-excited to share it.”

Martinu’s fiercely energetic Symphony No. 3 was originally premiered by the Boston Symphony in 1945 while the composer (below) was a refugee from the Nazis; but the piece has not been performed by any orchestra in Wisconsin in 72 years.

“This is a remarkable piece,” Swiggum said, “Always rhythmic and exciting, it has really challenged the kids with its unusual colors and ideas.”

Tickets for the fall concert series are available at the door, and are $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and under.

The full concert repertoire is available at www.wysomusic.org/fall-2017-repertoire/.

Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concert Dates

  • Saturday, November 11:
    1:30 pm – Percussion Ensemble (below), Harp Ensemble, Philharmonia Orchestra
    4:00 pm – Concert Orchestra, Opus One, Sinfonietta
    Mills Concert Hall, 455 N. Park St., Madison, WI
  • Saturday, November 18
    7:00 pm – Youth Orchestra
    Middleton Performing Arts Center, 2100 Bristol St., Middleton, WI

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Classical music: It is commencement weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and at many other schools. Here are two pieces by Brahms and Elgar to celebrate the event

May 13, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

School is out!

This weekend is Commencement Weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Wisconsin System and many other colleges and universities across the nation.

Undergraduates will graduate in Camp Randall Stadium (below) today starting at noon.

And continuing students can at last put the hard work of classes and final papers and semester-end papers behind them.

So some celebration seems in order.

The Ear knows of two pieces that are surefire in the way they capture the spirit of the event.

For overall mood, The Ear thinks it is hard to top the upbeat energy of the “Academic Festival” Overture — heard below conducted by Leonard Bernstein in a YouTube video — which Johannes Brahms wrote on the occasion of receiving an honorary degree. It even includes an old Latin student drinking song.

The other piece is the “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 1 (of 5) by Sir Edward Elgar — heard below in a YouTube video with a chorus singing “Land of Hope and Glory.”

Sure, it is overplayed for everything from elementary school to graduate school. But that is only because it fits the occasion so perfectly and captures the stately poignancy of the moment when you leave one life behind and turn to face another.

Are the two pieces “warhorses”?

Probably.

Make that certainly.

But The Ear thinks some old standards remain standards because they are just that good, not just that old.

Yet if you have other favorite works or you know of other worthy pieces – say, Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Oxford” Symphony that he wrote when he received an honorary degree –please leave word and a YouTube link in the COMMENT section.

Cheers and congratulations to all!


Classical music: On Monday night, the Middleton Community Orchestra, with Madison Symphony Orchestra clarinetist Joe Morris as soloist, offers a holiday break from holiday music with works by Brahms, Gerald Finzi and Beethoven.

December 19, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Thank you, Middleton Community Orchestra.

Surely The Ear can’t be the only person who is starting to feel unpleasantly overwhelmed with holiday music — to say nothing of holiday shopping and holiday cards, with holiday this and holiday that.

Holiday music seems ever-present this time of the year. It  is in stores and malls, on the radio and TV, in the churches and even in the many concert halls. And it has been going on for weeks, if not months.

So coming into the home stretch of Christmas Week, The Ear is feeling particularly grateful to the Middleton Community Orchestra (below), a largely amateur group that also includes some very accomplished professionals.

Middleton Community Orchestra by William Ballhorn

The MCO rarely, if ever, disappoints me. But this upcoming concert, which is NOT billed as a “holiday” concert, seems especially inviting since it promises to offer the gift of music –- not just holiday music, but real music.

Coming into Christmas Week, I find this to be a very welcome offering, a pitch perfect program.

The concert not only features terrific music but also the right length at the right cost, and includes some post-concert meet-and-greet socializing so you can meet the musicians and other audience members.

Here is the announcement from MCO co-founders Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic:

The Middleton Community Orchestra’s December concert is this coming Monday, Dec. 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, which is attached to Middleton High School, at 2100 Bristol Street, a simple right turn off University Avenue going west towards the Beltline a few blocks before Parmenter Street.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton PAC1

The MCO is excited to be sharing the stage with Madison Symphony Orchestra principal clarinetist Joe Morris (below top) who will be performing the Concerto for Clarinet and Strings by the 20th-century English composer Gerald Finzi.

Jennifer Morgan MSO oboe by Joe Morris

You’d be counting down the days if you have heard Joe play (below top, in a photo by Cheryl Savan), and the work by Gerald Finzi (below bottom) is a beautiful piece through which Joe’s amazing clarinet playing soars.

joe morris playing CR Cheryl Savan

Gerald Finzi 1

Don’t miss the chance to hear Joe, the MCO and this beautiful concerto. How many 24-year-olds do you know who have won an audition from among 60 other clarinettists vying for the job? Come hear one of our local treasures.

The concert will be conducted by Middleton High School music teacher Steve Kurr (below).

Steve Kurr conducting

The program starts with the popular and rousing “Academic Festival Overture” by Johannes Brahms (below), which uses tunes from German drinking songs and which Brahms composed to celebrate an honorary degree he received.

brahms3

Then, after the lovely Finzi concerto, please stay so you can experience the irresistible energy and drive of Symphony No. 7 by Ludwig van Beethoven (below), which concludes the program. It is many people’s favorite Beethoven symphony and was highly thought of by the composer and other famous composers including Richard Wagner who famously called it “the apotheosis of the dance” because of its lively rhythms.

(By the way, the well-known and haunting slow movement featured prominently in the Oscar-winning film “The King’s Speech” several years ago. You can hear it at the bottom in a popular YouTube video.)

Beethoven big

We hope to see you Monday. Tickets are $10, with students admitted free of charge. Advance tickets are available at Willy Street Coop West or at the door on the night of the show starting at 7 p.m. You can also call (608) 212-8690 to reserve tickets in advance.

There will be a reception (below) for the audience and musicians after the concert.

MCO June 2014 reception

 

For information about the Middleton Community Orchestra, including how to support it and how to join it, here is a link to its website:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

 

 


Classical music: It’s time to go back to the future. The classical music scene needs more professional groups to act like the Middleton Community Orchestra and break down barriers between performers and listeners.

June 7, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There was a time when no professional symphony orchestras existed, at least outside of royal courts. Even Ludwig van Beethoven had to hire freelance pick-up orchestras to premiere his monumental and iconic symphonies and concertos.

That meant that classical music was much more of a home activity and much more of a community affair that it usually is today.

But there are exceptions.

I was reminded of that on Wednesday night when – in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School — I attended the concert that closed the fourth season of the Middleton Community Orchestra (below).

MCO June 2014 orchestra

As I sat there, I realized I was simultaneously getting a glimpse of both the past and the future of classical music, which is under siege and needs some new strategies to thrive and prevail if it is to attract new and younger audiences.

I have written before about why I like the Middleton Community Orchestra so much.

Here is a link to a 2012 review with the nine reasons why I like them and think you should too:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/classical-music-review-let-us-now-praise-amateur-music-makers-and-restoring-sociability-to-art-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-liked-and-you-should-attend-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

But this most recent concert only deepened and expanded those convictions.

So here are some of my more recent thoughts, not necessarily deep but perhaps helpful and even insightful:

First and foremost, I liked the way the barriers between the performers and the audience members were broken down. I took some photos of what I saw: brass and string players talking with friends, family members, admirers and strangers both before the concert, during the intermission and then during the social dessert reception after the concert.

It all made the act of music-making seem more humane, more do-able, more central to daily life. Music seemed a cohesive bond for the entire community.

MCO trombonist and public 6-2014

MCO violinist and public 6-2014

I also liked that the community orchestra –- which used some professional members but also many amateur musicians — once again turned in convincing readings of great music.

And they did so by once again spotlighting local talent.

One was pianist and Middleton native, Thomas Kasdorf, who did his undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who returns there in the fall for a graduate degree.

Kasdorf  (below) gave an absolutely thrilling and gorgeous reading of Edvard Grieg’s popular Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16. Here is a link to an interview The Ear did with him:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/classical-music-qa-native-son-pianist-thomas-kasdorf-talks-about-playing-solo-recitals-chamber-music-and-the-grieg-piano-concerto-with-the-middleton-community-orchestra-which-also-closes-out-i/

MCO june 2014 Thomas Kasdorf plays Grieg

Kasdorf played with dynamism and lyricism, drawing a big sound out of the smaller-than-concert grand Steinway. He captured the many moods and beautiful tunes, the infectious rhythms, the long and songful phrases, and the stirring harmonies of Grieg’s evergreen concerto.

Not everyone agreed. Here is critic John W. Barker’s dissent for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/music/article.php?article=42912

No less than pianist-composer Sergei Rachmaninoff  (below) told Arthur Rubinstein that the Grieg Piano Concerto was the best and most effective piano concerto ever composed. And Rachmaninoff, who himself used the Grieg as a model, knew a thing or two about composing and performing piano concertos.

Rachmaninoff

Kasdorf wasn’t alone in excelling.

UW-Madison graduate violist Alice Bartsch (below) also turned in a sublime and moving reading of Antonin Dvorak’s soaringly lyrical Romance in F Minor, Op. 11, for Violin and Orchestra. It was all the more moving because it was her last concert as concertmaster of the MCO before she moves on to a professional job. (You can hear Dvorak’s lovely Romance at the bottom in a popular YouTube video. Tell me it doesn’t make you want to hear more of the tuneful Dvorak’s music.)

MCO June 2014 Alice Bartsch plays Dvorak

In fact, conductor Steve Kurr, who teaches at Middleton High School, also recognized other members of the orchestra who were moving on after this valedictory concert and asked them to stand up for applause — which they received:

MCO June 2014 players who will leave

I also loved the audience. I don’t know them by name, but enough people were there that the house seemed plenty full. Moreover, many of the listeners were very young or looked like people you don’t usually see at events like the Madison Symphony Orchestra or the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Well, one reason is that the price is right. WCO admission has two prices: $10 for adults and free for students. At that level, who can’t afford to take a chance? It might be nice if bigger groups tried cutting costs instead of increasing them. Affordability begets accessibility, The Ear suspects.

The orchestra, of course, also played on its own. It gave a respectable and at times moving reading to Sir Edward Elgar’s ambitious musical portraits in the “Enigma” Variations. As happened in also in the Grieg, I found especially the brass and percussion outstanding, though all sections, and especially the strings and winds, also held their own and had much to be proud of.

That’s not to say there weren’t mistakes or lapses or shortcomings. But, hey, this isn’t the Berlin Philharmonic. Besides, imperfection is an inherent part of most performing arts. But the orchestra clearly communicated the music’s emotion to the audience, and that is what matters most.

MCO June 2014 Orchestra stands up

The concert finished with the suite of three dances from Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s ballet score for “The Three-Cornered Hat.”

And there was my one criticism.

I am afraid the MCO has unfortunately expanded to imitate more professional organizations. I prefer the 90-minute, no intermission format. I think that could have been done if they had programmed this way: open with the Dvorak Romance; then do the Grieg Piano Concerto; and then finish with the Elgar Variations. (By my reckoning that would add up to about 85 minutes of music, with time left over for some stage changes.)

This concert was just a bit too long. People were tired, especially on a weekday night. And beside, it is nice to get in The Zone and then leave The Zone –- and not try to renter the Zone after intermission. It is also nice to get back home early when work is facing you the next day.

Then came the FREE desserts and the chat between hungry musicians and hungry audience members.

MCO June 2014 reception

But it seemed everyone left with their appetite for music satisfied.

So congratulations then to the MCO co-founders Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic plus conductor Steve Kurr. Over four seasons, they have grown an experimental project into a new tradition that seems to be attracting more people who appreciate them -– as you could tell from the cheers and hearty applause and prolonged standing ovations.

MCO June 2014 standing ovation

Next season promises very good things: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8; Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”; the famous “William Tell” Overture (the “Lone Ranger” theme) by Giacchino Rossini and the Academic Festival Overture and Tragic Overture by Johannes Brahms; plus Thomas Kasdorf again in the great Piano Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky (with, three cheers, Thomas Kasdorf as soloist in what The Ear jokingly calls the Van Cliburn Piano Concerto No. 1) and more.

It is something to look forward to.

All that music and all that fun for all that affordability.

See you then, see you there!

 

 

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