The Well-Tempered Ear

Four local classical musicians perform Black women composers in a virtual holiday concert to benefit the health of Black women

December 23, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Ensemble (WE) Project, a quartet of local classical musicians, has announced that it will host a holiday concert to support Dane County-based non-profit, the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness (FFBWW, below).

The concert will be the first in a series of performances to benefit local and international organizations working for social justice and human interest. 

This unique effort is rooted in the quartet’s desire to not only delve deeply into chamber music repertoire, but also to address some of the many pressing social justice issues of our time. 

This recorded, virtual YouTube concert will be available at https://wisconsinensembleproject.com from 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 25, through 6 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 3. — times are CST — where contributions will be accepted via PayPal.

Viewers will hear the story and see the face of the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness woven through quality chamber music by Black women composers performed by WE Project artists violinists Leanne League and Mary Theodore (below ends, in a photo by Katrin Talbot); violist Christopher Dozoryst (second from right); and cellist Karl Lavine. The four play together in the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Pieces they will perform include Strum (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom) and Voodoo Dolls by Jessie Montgomery (below top, in a photo by Jiyang Chen); Modes by Dorothy Rudd Moore (below center); and String Quartet in G Major by Florence Price (below bottom).

“This production offers viewers a meaningful program which leads to direct impact,” says WE Project member Mary Theodore who has been working with Foundation staff to coordinate the benefit over the last few weeks.

”We felt strongly about the work of the Foundation as we learned more about their mission to eliminate the startling health and economic disparities Black women face in our community,” adds Theodore. “When you donate and tune in to our concert, you will be helping to cover basic production costs and getting funds directly into the hands of this very worthy organization”. 

Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness CEO Lisa Peyton-Caire (below), who launched the Black women’s health advocacy organization in 2012, says the concert is a beautiful example of how community and organizations can partner to drive social change together. 

“We are elated that WE Project chose us as their first benefit recipient, and that our mission and work to transform Black women’s health in Wisconsin resonated with them,” said Peyton-Caire. “We know that ultimately it takes all of our effort to solve the inequities in our community, and this benefit concert is a beautiful example of the loving and creative ways we can join forces to do this.” 

To learn more about the concert, visit https://wisconsinensembleproject.com, where you can contribute via PayPal anytime beginning now through Jan. 3.

To listen to a recent morning coffee chat between members of the two organizations, go to: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=431169757916539&ref=watch_permalink. Click on individual profiles to hear them.

To learn more about The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, visit https://ffbww.org


Posted in Classical music
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University Opera’s original online video project celebrates the life and music of American composer Marc Blitzstein. It will be posted for FREE on YouTube this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m.

October 21, 2020
2 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

This fall, University Opera presents its first project of 2020-21 in video format as it turns to the music of the American composer Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964).

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” will be released free of charge on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music’s YouTube channel this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m. CDT at the general site www.youtube.com/meadwitterschoolofmusic or the official specific link: https://youtu.be/77FXFZucrWc.

Director of University Opera David Ronis (below top) is the director of the original production and will give introductory remarks. UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom) is the musical director. The production lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes, and features four singer-actors, a narrator and a piano.

Marc Blitzstein’s life story parallels some of the most important cultural currents in American history of the mid-20th-century.

Known for his musicals — most notably The Cradle Will Rock in 1937 (you can hear Dawn Upshaw sing the lovely song “I Wish It So” from “Juno” in the YouTube video at the bottom) — his opera Regina and his translation of Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, Blitzstein was an outspoken proponent of socially engaged art. Like many artists of his time, he joined the American Communist Party. But he also enthusiastically served in the U.S. Army during World War II (below, in 1943).

Nevertheless, in 1958, long after he had given up his Communist Party membership, Blitzstein (below) was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where he “named no names.”

An extremely gifted yet underappreciated composer, he was a close friend of and mentor to Leonard Bernstein (below right, with Blitzstein on the left) and traveled in a close circle of American composers including David Diamond and Aaron Copland.

Although openly gay, he married Eva Goldbeck in 1933. Sadly, she died three years later from complications due to anorexia.

Blitzstein’s own death was likewise tragic. In 1964, while in Martinique working on an opera about the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, he was robbed and badly beaten by three Portuguese sailors whom he had picked up at a bar. He died the next day of internal injuries. 

Although throughout his life and afterwards, Blitzstein’s work was championed by Bernstein and others, many claim that neither the composer nor his stunning music and beautiful lyrics ever received the attention they deserved. So University Opera is proud to present this show celebrating his life and his works.

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” is a unique production put together by David Ronis. A biographical pastiche, it tells the story of Blitzstein’s life by recontextualizing 23 songs and ensembles from his shows, juxtaposing them with spoken excerpts from his working notes and letters, and tying it all together with a narration.

The result is a dramatic, evocative and enjoyable portrait of Blitzstein’s life and his art, according to Ronis.

“We’ve discovered a lot of “silver linings” while working on this production,” says Ronis. “We were disappointed at not being able to do a normal staged show. But working with video has had tremendous artistic and educational value.

“Our students are learning on-camera technique, not to mention how to work with a green screen (below, with soprano Sarah Brailey), which allows for post-production editing and digital manipulation of backgrounds. They’re also working with spoken text as well as sung pieces. Mostly, we’re just very grateful to have a creative project to sink our teeth into during the pandemic. 

“And the music of Blitzstein is so fantastic, we’re very happy to be able to share it with our audience. This project is like none other I’ve ever done and we’re thinking that it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Research on the project was completed at the Wisconsin Historical Society, where Blitzstein’s archives are housed. University Opera gratefully acknowledges the help of both Mary Huelsbeck of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Television Research, and the Kurt Weill Foundation for their assistance with this project.

The cast features five UW-Madison graduate students: Sarah Brailey, Kenneth Hoversten, Justin Kroll, Lindsey Meekhof (below) and Steffen Silvis.

The video design was done by Dave Alcorn with costumes by Hyewon Park.

Others on the production staff include Will Preston, rehearsal pianist; Elisheva Pront, research assistant and assistant director; Dylan Thoren, production stage manager; Alec Hansen, assistant stage manager; Teresa Sarkela, storyboard creator; and Greg Silver, technical director.

The video will be accessible for 23 hours starting at 8 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 23. Although there will be no admission price for access, donations will be gratefully accepted. A link for donations will be posted with the video. 

University Opera, a cultural service of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, email opera@music.wisc.edu or visit music.wisc.edu.

 


Posted in Classical music
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