The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera announces its 2016-17 season. It’s both reassuringly classical and adventurously jazzy

June 2, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Even as it prepares for the annual Opera in the Park gala on July 23, the Madison Opera has announced its 2016-17 season, which is a combination of both the classic and the adventurous, even the intriguingly experimental.

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/

Here is a list of productions with links to more details about the productions, cast, tickets and related events:

Nov. 4 and 6 in Overture Hall: “Romeo and Juliet” by Charles Gounod (below) with conductor John DeMain and members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/romeo-and-juliet/

Charles Gounod

Feb. 10 and 12 in the Capitol Theater: “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” by Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder (below) with John DeMain and members of the MSO:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/charlie-parkers-yardbird/

Daniel Schnyder

April 21 and 23 in Overture Hall: “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below) with guest conductor Gary Thor Wedow:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/

Mozart old 1782

The operas by Gounod and Mozart are well-known staples of the repertoire.

But “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” is new and will be a local, perhaps even regional, premiere and one of the earliest repeat performances of the new work.

The Ear thinks early Bravos are in order for such contemporary crossover programming that also focuses on race, diversity and African American culture. It also seems like a natural choice for John DeMain, who won a Grammy for the first all-black production of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”

The new opera opened recently to fine reviews at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in New York City. (Below, in a photo by Dominic Mercier for Opera Philadelphia, is tenor Lawrence Brownlee in the title role of alto saxophonist and jazz great Charlie Parker.)

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee in Charlie Parker's Yardbird CR Dominic Mercier for Opera Philadelphia

Here is a link to a background story about the work that appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog of National Public Radio, or NPR, which first broadcast it on All Things Considered:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/03/31/472431884/opera-and-jazz-mingle-in-charlie-parkers-yardbird

Here are members of the world premiere production talking about the work:

And here is a trailer with samples of the music and singing:


Classical music: Choral Arts Society Chorale of Madison performs music by Handel, Copland and John Rutter this Saturday night.

May 10, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement:

Madison‘s Choral Arts Society Chorale (below top), under the direction of artistic director Mark Bloedow (below bottom), will present “Choral Reflections and Celebrations!” on this Saturday, May 14, at 7 p.m., at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, Madison, the city’s near east side.

Choral Arts Society Chorale portrait Spring Concert 2015

Mark Bloedow

The program opens with “Hallelujah Amen” from the oratorio “Judas Maccabaeus” by George Frideric Handel (below).

Featured will be Handel’s complete “Chandos Anthem 9” (O Praise the Lord With One Consent) with chorus, soloists and guest orchestra. 

Handel_1733

Soloists from the chorale include Brigid Ryan, soprano; Abby Ryan, alto; John W. Webber, tenor; and Dean Schroeder, bass.

Other highlights include “Fill My Life with Spring” and “Where Dwells the Soul of My Love” by David Childs; “You Are My Music” by Laura Farnell for women’s choir; and “For the Beauty of the Earth” by John Rutter arranged for men’s choir; “All Things Bright and Beautiful” also by Rutter (heard conducted by Rutter in the YouTube video at the bottom); and “Stomp Your Foot” by Aaron Copland.

Choral Arts Society Chorale performing May 2015

Tickets are 10 for adults, $5 for children and students, and will be available at the door.

More information is available at the Choral Arts Society Chorale website: www.choralartsmadison.org.


Classical music: UW Choral Union sounds magnificent in Haydn’s “The Creation”

April 26, 2016
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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 for 12 years hosted 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. Barker also took the performance photos.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Choral Union and UW Chamber Orchestra (both below) again pulled off a choral spectacular on Sunday afternoon.

Choral Union and Chamber Orchestra Creation JWB

The one-time concert was devoted to the great Classical era oratorio by Franz Joseph Haydn, The Creation, which is too big a work to be performed very frequently. But Haydn modeled it admiringly on the great Baroque oratorios of George Frideric Handel, which we almost NEVER get to hear — let’s not talk about the quite unrepresentative Messiah — by comparison. So we can be grateful for the opportunities we do have.

As always, the campus and community Choral Union sounded magnificent. It is supposed to, with a complement of 116 listed singers, as against an orchestra of a mere 34 players. So it could not avoid overshadowing and overawing all other factors. And particular power, volume and homogeneity resulted from the practice of mixing the singers completely, instead of having them stand as members of vocal sections.

This follows the pernicious gospel preached, going way back, to Robert Fountain, who founded the UW Choral Union many decades ago. One argument for it was that each singer should become more self-reliant, less dependent on the one next to him or her.

But if this practice makes for blockbuster, socko sound, it does so at the cost of part-writing clarity, especially in fugal segments. It misrepresents musical texture by exchanging its definition for a power-oriented blend, a hyped-up sludge.

It strikes me as strange that advocates for applying this doctrine to choruses do not also demand it for orchestras. Think of it: each violin individually next to a trombone, each viola mixed in with the trumpets. Now there would be a chance for socko homogeneity!

The UW Chamber Orchestra’s winds were strong enough, but the strings were woefully understaffed. At times, the ensemble sounded just a tad under-rehearsed, but on the whole it did well under its handicaps.

The soloists played a multiplying game. In Parts I and II, the three Angels, Gabriel (soprano), Uriel (tenor) and Raphael (bass), who narrated and celebrated the stages of the Creation, were taken by a fixed trio (below).

Choral Union Creation Trio JWB

The familiar Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below top) has a strong and beautiful soprano voice. Faculty tenor James Doing (below middle) is also a valued local standby. Baritone Benjamin Schultz (below bottom) has a pleasant voice, but it lacks a true bass range.

Jamie Rose Guarrine 2016

James Doing color

Benjamin Schultz 2016

In Part III, when Adam and Eve come on the scene, Guarrine shifted to the latter role, and another baritone weak in the low-register, Benjamin Li (below top), took over as Adam. For the final ensemble, a choral alto slipped in to round out the solo quartet (below bottom).

Benjamin Li 2016

Choral Union Creation Quartet JWB

I note the title of the work as The Creation, rather than giving its original title, Die Schöfung, because the performance was sung in a modernized English translation.

Once in a while, those English words came through, but much of them were simply lost in mixed diction values. It might have been better — if not easier for the singers — to have kept to the original German. But all praise for an unusually ample program booklet, containing the full English text as sung.

Beverly Taylor (below), the conductor of the choir and orchestra, led with consistent energy and enthusiasm. Certainly the audience responded with great enthusiasm. (You can hear the famous chorus “The Heavens Are Telling” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

This was, to be sure, not an ideal performance, even a lopsided one. But, after all, the point of these events is to give the choristers a chance to participate in this wonderful music, and to give the audience a relatively rare opportunity to encounter it. On those counts, this was a highly successful event.

Now, even if we are not likely to get a follow-up with Handel, we at least have Haydn’s own successor oratorio, Die Jahreszeithen, or The Seasons. That would be wonderful to hear in its turn.


Classical music: The third annual Schubertiade at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music was so popular and so successful, it should serve as a model for other collaborative concerts featuring other composers. Plus, a FREE concert at noon on Friday offers music of Philip Glass, Zoltan Kodaly and others

February 4, 2016
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features Danielle Breisach, flute; Jeff Breisach, horn; Peter Miliczky and Clare Bresnahan, violins; Josh Dieringer, viola; Andrew Briggs, cello; and Jana Avedyahn, piano in music by Philip Glass, Jonathan Russ, Robert Ward and Zoltan Kodaly.

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday night, The Ear attended the third annual Schubertiade in Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

In case you aren’t acquainted with what a Schubertiade is, you should know that it is patterned after the kind of informal soirees, held in private homes and salons, where the early Romantic composer Franz Schubert (below, 1797-1828) often premiered to friends his latest songs, piano works and chamber music. The UW-Madison Schubertiades celebrate the composer’s Jan. 31 birthday and usually kick off the second semester of concerts.

Franz Schubert big

Below is a link to a previous posting — with the complete program and list of performers — about this year’s Schubertiade.

It featured an informative interview with pianist and singer Bill Lutes (below right). Lutes, along his wife Martha Fischer (below left) – a professor of collaborative piano at the UW-Madison who also sings – co-founded and co-directs the event. Both of them also performed throughout the event:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/classical-music-why-schubert-just-ask-pianist-singer-bill-lutes-and-go-to-the-uw-madisons-third-annual-schubertiade-this-saturday-night-at-8-p-m/

martha fischer and bill lutes

And you can use the search engine on this blog to check out the Schubertiades in 2014 and 2015.

Kudos and bravos are in order. There were so many things to like about the Schubertiade.

Here are a few:

  1. It remained an informal and very listener-friendly event with great pacing. The idea of sitting people on the stage (below top) to recreate a salon gathering is inspired. What’s more, it works and puts the audience in exactly the right mood. Plus, there was exactly the right amount of commentary — not too little or too much.
  2. The program, organized this year around the theme of nature, cohered. It also proved convincing as a vehicle for so many different kinds of Schubert’s music, mostly shorter works – solo songs, larger choral works, piano duets and chamber music.
  3. The quality of the performances was amazingly even and amazingly engaging. The audience was so quiet, you could tell that it was wholly absorbed and not distracted.
  4. The musical works were extremely well matched to the performers, and played to their strengths and temperaments.
  5. The imported guest artist – soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below bottom, in a photo by Peter Konerko), a graduate of the UW-Madison who sings opera and is now a professor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst – proved a complete success in both her charming presentation and her first-class performances.

Schubertiade 2016 stage

Jamie-Rose Guarrine Peter Konerko

  1. Despite the overall evenness and consistency, there were some standout moments. Judging from the applause, the audience clearly loved the song ”The Trout” followed by the theme-and-variations movement, based on the song, from the famous “Trout” Piano Quintet (below):

Scubertiade 2016 Trout Quintet

Another show-stopper was the superb rendition, both highly dramatic and subtly lyrical, of “Lebensstürme” (Life’s Storms) for piano, four hands, played by Lutes and Fisher.

And the closing number, the famous “Shepherd on the Rock” for soprano, clarinet and piano, brought the house to a standing ovation. (The Ear hopes that this and other moments were recorded and get posted for streaming from the UW School of Music’s website or SoundCloud.) In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear this sublime late work in a performance by soprano Barbara Bonney, clarinetist David Shifrin and pianist Andre Watts for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Schubertiade 2016 Shepherd on the Rock

In short, the third annual Schubertiade proved a completely enjoyable and thoroughly persuasive evening of performances that attested to the quality, empathy and variety of the music that Franz Schubert created in his short life of 31 years.

But perhaps the best, most memorable part of the event was to see the collaboration and cooperation that was so evident.

The Schubertiade featured an impressive lineup of faculty members, students and alumni. The many performers came from various departments: piano, voice, strings, brass, winds and opera.

Scubertiade 2016 performers

We see and hear far too little of that cooperation, it seems to The Ear.

And when he talked to another loyal fan of UW music and of the Schubertiade, that fan agreed that such single-composer events are popular with the public and should take place more often. They serve as samplers with both familiar and unfamiliar works.

So maybe the Schubertiade could serve as a model for similar events with other composers whose body of work is, like Schubert’s, both first-rate and very varied.

Some composers who come immediately to mind are Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. And there are no doubt others who could be featured.

Such collaborative events would also prove popular with the public, The Ear surmises. After all, this third Schubertiade seemed to draw the biggest audience yet – a two-thirds house of about 500 – even on the night when a UW-Madison hockey game was competing for attention.

If you didn’t go, it was your loss. But there will be another Schubertiade next January, one presumes. Don’t miss it!

And if you did go to this year’s Schubertiade, leave whatever you care to say in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The “Eroica” Symphony gets a heroic reading from the amateur Middleton Community Orchestra in a popular all-Beethoven program that also featured an outstanding performance of the “Choral Fantasy.”

December 22, 2015
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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 for 12 years hosted 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Happily avoiding all the holiday falderal this month, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) gave Ludwig Beethoven a slightly delayed birthday tribute in the form of an unusual concert program on last Friday night that drew a full house.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

Led by the bold and enterprising conductor Steve Kurr (below center), the orchestra plunged straightway into no less than Beethoven’s epochal Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica.”

NOTE: For more background, here is a link to The Ear’s interview with Steve Kurr about this program: 

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/classical-music-conductor-steve-kurr-talks-about-the-all-beethoven-program-that-the-middleton-community-orchestra-performs-this-friday-night-with-pianist-thomas-kasdorf-and-the-madison-symphony-choru/

MCO Beethoven Kurr and orchestra

The 50-minute long “Eroica” is a work that transformed the symphonic genre, and it continues to challenge performers. Provocative sounds, passages of complex counterpoint and assertions of tonal power—all these call for a disciplined and confident performance.

Kurr brought that off handsomely, to his and his players’ great credit. I had the feeling that he asked of these players more than they had first thought they could give, and he drew it out of them, to their obvious pride and satisfaction.

To be sure, there were some occasional smudges here and there, but the ensemble standards were otherwise consistently high. I am always interested to hear, in an orchestra that does not have overwhelming strings, the more balanced audibility of the winds, especially the woodwinds.

Here it was the brass (complete with four horns) that offered particular heroics. At times Kurr perhaps allowed them too much freedom when only filling out chords; but where they deserved prominence they sounded magnificent—notably in the scherzo’s trio section. In all, the overall mix really brought out the daring  use by Beethoven (below) of pungent dissonances and harmonic shocks.

Beethoven big

Kurr took the opening movement at a particularly brisk speed, while the second movement, the profound funeral march, was paced much more slowly than most conductors would take it — but to truly eloquent effect. (You can hear the astonishing Funeral March movement performed by the Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

I found the symphony’s finale sometimes was given a rather foursquare quality, but the enthusiasm maintained momentum.

It was a difficult act to follow. But the choice of the other item on the program was a brilliant one, bringing us a remarkable Beethoven work that is rarely ever heard in concerts.

How often can an orchestra afford to assemble a brilliant pianist, six vocal soloists and a chorus — all for one 25-minute work? But those are the demands of Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy,” a product of a time when concerts often brought together a whole circus of performers.

In a special way, this novelty made a perfect pairing with the “Eroica.” In the two works, we catch Beethoven in his two great instances of self-borrowing to the end of evolving perfection.

The finale of the “Eroica” was the fourth and final destination for a set of variations on a contradance tune. In its turn, the Fantasy, after opening with an improvisatory exercise for the pianist, turns into a concerto-like set of variations on a tune, which is finally taken up by solo vocalists and then the chorus.

That tune represents the second of three stages in what eventually became the triumphant “Ode to Joy” melody of the famous finale of the Ninth Symphony.

The brilliant and versatile Thomas Kasdorf (below), a familiar soloist around these parts who was raised in Middleton and studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — was the energetic pianist.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

Six young singers were the solo battery, and a corporal’s guard from the Madison Symphony Chorus (below top and bottom) provided the brief but telling final justification for calling this a “Choral Fantasy.”

MCO Beethoven MSO Chorus left

MCO Beethoven MSO Chorus right

(The singers, below but not in order, were sopranos Allison Vollinger and Kirsten Larson; alto Jessica Lee Kasinski; tenor Richard Statz; baritone Gavon Waid; and bass Robert Dindorff.)

MCO Beethoven 3 women singers

MCO Beethoven 3 male singers

The orchestra played its role with gusto, and it’s wonderful how, by the end, it almost sounds as if we are moving into the Ninth Symphony.

This was an exhilarating concert, and a wonderful achievement for all involved.

 


Classical music: Trevor Stephenson explains why Baroque music sounds so good at holiday time. His Madison Bach Musicians will perform their annual Baroque Holiday Concert of Bach, Corelli and Telemann this coming Saturday night. Plus, the Wingra Woodwind Quintet performs a FTREE concert Thursday night at 7:0 p.m. and at noon on Friday you can hear a FREE performance of two sonatas for violin and piano by Beethoven.

December 9, 2015
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ALERT: On Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall, the UW -Madison’s Wingra Wind Quintet will perform a FREE concert of 20th-century music by Henry Cowell, Irving Fine, Robert Muczynski, Alan Hovhaness and Elliott Carter. For more information, here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wingra-woodwind-quintet/

This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the meeting house of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features violinist Wendy Adams and pianist Ann Aschbacher in two sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven: Op. 30, No. 1, and Op. 96.

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Saturday night, the Madison Bach Musicians and guest soloists will perform their annual Baroque Holiday concert. (Below is a photo by Kent Sweitzer of the 2014 concert in the same venue.)

MBM Baroque Holiday Concert 2014 CR Kent Sweitzer

The concert is at 8 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave., near Camp Randall.

Tickets are $23-$28 and can be purchased at the door, with discounts in advance at certain outlets or online.

For more information, visit the MBM website at:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/december-12-2015/

Trevor Stephenson, who is a master explainer and who will give a pre-concert lecture at 7:15 p.m., recently spoke via email to The Ear:

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

This is the fifth annual Baroque Holiday Concert by the Madison Bach Musicians. Generally speaking, what is your goal when you program for it?

The idea of the Baroque Holiday Concert is to present an interesting and varied program of Baroque and Renaissance music, some of which pertains to the holiday season and to winter itself.

More importantly we try to program outstanding pieces that Madison audiences may not have had a chance to hear very often in live performance, particularly, played on period instruments and with historically informed performance practices.

MBM Baroque Holiday Concert 2012

Why is Baroque music so popular at the holidays? What is it about the music itself that makes it feel so appropriate to the occasion?

Baroque music, whether it is written specifically for the holidays or not, does indeed sound terrific this time of year. I think the baroque style really strikes the right balance between energy and form — a perfect marriage of theater and church.

The Bach cantatas, two of which we’ll be playing on this upcoming concert, are perhaps the strongest examples of this fusion. The bearing of these pieces is always devotional, while the compositional technique—the process of invention in them—is always searching, exploratory, even avant-garde.

Look at the opening of Cantata 61, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (Now Come Savior of the Heavens) where Bach (below) begins by firing up a martial-sounding dotted-rhythm French overture and then layers in the voices, one at a time, in long moaning tonally-veering chant lines. And yet, this all seems to operate within a framework that can accommodate it.

Bach1

Briefly and in non-specialist terms, what would you like the public to know about each of the works?

In addition to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata 61, the more grand-scale Advent Cantata discussed above, we’ll also be presenting the more intimate Cantata 151, Süßer trost, mein Jesus kömmt (Sweet Comfort, My Jesus Comes) composed for the third day of Christmas), which opens with an elegant and extended aria for soprano and obbligato baroque flute. We’re thrilled that this will be performed by outstanding soprano Chelsea Morris and baroque flutist extraordinaire Linda Pereksta.

We’ll also perform the rightly beloved “Christmas” Concerto in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8, by Arcangelo Corelli. The melodic material, the sequential dance-movement structure and the unsurpassed beauty of the string writing in this concerto grosso are perfect in the extreme. MBM concertmaster Kangwon Kim will lead this from the first violin.

By the way, if you’re familiar with Peter Weir’s 2003 movie Master and Commander you’ll notice that the Corelli “Christmas” Concerto pops up a couple of times in the movie score. (You can hear the “Christmas” Concerto, conducted by Trevor Pinnock, in the Youtube video at the bottom.)

Also on the program is Telemann’s E minor quartet from Tafelmusik. Tafelmusik, literally “table music” refers to the domestic and unassuming everyday quality of the writing. Chelsea Morris (below) will also perform three movements from George Frideric Handel’s Gloria.

Chelsea Morris soprano

Other musicians featured on the program are alto Margaret Fox, tenor William Ottow, bass Luke MacMillan, violinists Brandi Berry, Nathan Giglierano, and Olivia Cottrell, violists Marika Fischer Hoyt and Micah Behr, cellists Martha Vallon and Andrew Briggs, and (yours truly) harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson.

I’ll also give a pre-concert lecture at 7:15 p.m. about the music, the composers and the period instruments.

Is there something else you would like to say about the works or the performers?

I’d also like to mention that the concert will be given in the wonderful sanctuary of Madison’s First Congregational United Church of Christ. The acoustics there are absolutely terrific. Wisconsin Public Radio will be recording the concert and will broadcast it later in the holiday season, date to be announced.


Classical music: Madison’s maestro John DeMain and others preview and review the world premiere by the Santa Fe Opera’s production of Jennifer Higdon’s opera “Cold Mountain.”

August 10, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

First it was a best-selling and prize-winning novel.

Then it became a popular Oscar-winning Hollywood movie.

Now it is an opera that received its world premiere at the Santa Fe Opera this past week and is proving so popular with audiences that an extra performance has been added and regional premieres are already booked around the country. (The Minnesota Opera will give the Midwest premiere.)

It is “Cold Mountain,” a Civil War story about a Confederate soldier’s return home that is loosely based on Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey.”

cold mountain cast and set

Here is a review, posted on Facebook, by our own John DeMain, the music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera, who attended the world premiere performance. DeMain came to Madison, by the way, from his post as director of the Houston Grand Opera, where he gave the world premiere of John Adams’ “Nixon in China.” So he is a fan of new operas.

DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) writes:

“How wonderful “Cold Mountain” was last night at its world premiere in Santa Fe. Jennifer Higdon is simply a wonderful composer and her piece with Gene Scheer‘s compelling libretto, soared to great heights. Great directing from Leonard Foglia, with a brilliant design concept, and a great cast. Emily Fons was magnificent as Ruby. Fabulous orchestral writing, beautiful choral work, and compelling duets and ensembles. A very sad, grim piece given a dynamic treatment by all involved.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Such discerning enthusiasm makes you wonder if DeMain and the Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith might not be looking to bring “Cold Mountain” to Madison in a couple of seasons. (The male lead Nathan Gunn has already sung in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and  with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, by the way.) One can hope! (Below are the leads mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as Ada and baritone Nathan Gunn as Inman in a photo by Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera.)

Cold Mountain Nathan Gunn as Inman and Isabel Leonard as Ada CR Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera

You can hear the creators of the opera discuss it in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Here are some other sources for previews and reviews:

Here is a story from NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/08/05/429370329/cold-mountain-takes-civil-war-odyssey-to-the-opera-stage

cold mountain by ken howard

The PBS NewsHour aired a lengthy feature by Jeffrey Brown that includes lots of video and interviews with the cast; with Charles Frazier (below right), who wrote the best-selling novel; and with Jennifer Higdon (below left), the composer of the opera who teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/civil-war-tragedy-cold-mountain-inspires-opera/

Jennifer Higdon and Charles Frazier

And here is a short news story and a longer, more negative or critical review from Zachary Woolfe of The New York Times:

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/16/santa-fe-opera-adds-performance-of-cold-mountain/?_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/arts/music/review-cold-mountain-at-santa-fe-opera-recounts-a-separated-lovers-arduous-journey-only-one-half-makes-the-journey.html


Classical music: Brass ensemble from UW-Platteville performs a FREE concert Monday night at Taliesin in Spring Green. Plus, the Willy Street Chamber Players perform living composers tonight at 6.

July 24, 2015
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ALERT: A reminder that tonight at 6 p.m. in the Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, the newly formed group the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) — whose members also play in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and other groups — will present a concert of works for strings and piano by living composers, including Paul Schoenfield (you can hear the first movement of his “Cafe Music,” which is on the program, in a YouTube video at the bottom) and UW-Madison School of Music students. Admission is $12, $8 for students and seniors. For more information, here is a link to the group’s website:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

Willy Street Brahms Sextet

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Rural Musicians Forum write:

The University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s faculty brass ensemble, Ensemble Nouveau, takes the stage at Hillside Theater in Spring Green, at famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s compound Taliesin, as part of the Rural Musicians Forum summer concert series, on this coming Monday night, July 27 at 7:30 p.m.

The Hillside Theater (below) is located at 6604 Highway 23 in Spring Green.

The concert is not ticketed and is open to the public.  A free-will offering will be taken to support the concert series.  For additional information and driving directions see www.ruralmusiciansforum.org.

taliesin_hillside2

The ensemble’s performance will be held in the fashion of the quickly growing trend called “Classical Revolution,” where audiences hear classical music in a setting that is different and more accessible than typical concert venues and settings. Since the ensemble formed in 2009, it has performed at community centers, schools and radio stations in northern Illinois, Chicago, northeast Iowa and all across Wisconsin.

“The novelty of the group is that each member plays at least four different instruments when we perform,” said David Cooper, associate professor of trumpet and chair of the Department of Performing and Visual Arts. “Another unique feature of the group is that we arrange all of our own music because no musical arrangements exist with parts written for our unique combination of instruments.”

The group began as a quartet of four UW-Platteville faculty members and held its first concert in 2009. The group soon attracted the attention of Wisconsin Public Radio because of the quality of the members’ musicianship.

Today, the group has grown to a sextet: Cooper, who plays B-flat, C, E-flat, flugel horn and piccolo trumpet; Matthew Gregg, associate director of bands, who plays French horn, mellophone, flugel and trumpet; Allen Cordingley, lecturer of saxophone and jazz studies, who plays soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophone; percussion instructor Keith Lienert, who plays an assortment of instruments including the drum set, marimba and steel pan; Corey Mackey, lecturer of clarinet, guitar, chamber music and music appreciation, who plays all members of the clarinet family; and David Earll, lecturer of music technology, chamber music and music appreciation, who plays different tubas and euphonium.

In the photo below, members of the Ensemble Nouveau are, from left to right, David Earll, Matthew Gregg, Keith Lienert, Corey Mackey, David Cooper, Allen Cordingley.

Ensemble Nouveau

Ensemble Nouveau now represents almost every musical member of a typical high school band program, and its program is widely varied.

“I’ve never played with a group like this before – where the literature varies so much, from Johann Sebastian Bach to Stevie Wonder to Astor Piazzola,” said Gregg. “We can play a multitude of styles: jazz, classical, funk, Latin – you name it, we play it.”

“I enjoy the challenge that comes from the uniqueness of the group,” said Cordingley. “This group is a small version of a concert band, involving all types of instruments and all types of music. During Renaissance times, consorts of musicians played in diverse locations. It almost feels like we’re old-time consorts playing contemporary music in our own diverse locations.”

In an important way, Ensemble Nouveau is also an attractive representation of what the UW-Platteville Department of Visual and Performing Arts has to offer.

As Cooper says: “We are part of this ensemble because we want to be. This group has a sincere camaraderie that reflects our passion for music and our appreciation for the opportunities we have at UW-Platteville.

“We want students at area high schools to know that they will have access to world-class players, musicians and singers at UW-Platteville. It’s important to keep music alive. Ensemble Nouveau is going to do everything in its power to do that.”

Ensemble Nouveau promises an evening of exuberant all-brass music. It will not be “all crashing cymbals and honking tubas,” Gregg insists.

For openers, two talented student flutists from the Wisconsin River Valley, Brenna Ledesma and Carly Stanek, will be featured. Each will play a solo selection followed by a duet.

 


Classical music: Did Beethoven borrow from Beethoven? And how do you think the Madison Symphony Orchestra did with Beethoven’s Ninth? Plus, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) finish up their spring concerts this weekend.

May 15, 2015
7 Comments

REMINDER: This weekend the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) finish up their spring concerts at Mills Hall and Overture Hall, where the music students will perform a Side-by-Side concert with the professional players of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Here is a link to more information and details:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/classical-music-education-wyso-spring-concerts-start-i-this-saturday-and-run-again-on-may-16-17/

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, you have to hand it to music director and conductor John DeMain as well as the orchestra players, the chorus members and the guest soloists: The Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) sure knows how to finish up a season with a bang.

A very Big Bang.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Last weekend in Overture Hall, they closed the current season with a stratospheric performance of Beethoven’s Ninth.

Sure, all parties — especially concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) — also did a terrific job in performing Leonard Bernstein’s violin concerto-like “Serenade” (after Plato’s “Symposium”), which preceded the iconic Beethoven symphony.

Naha Greenholtz [playing

But it was the Beethoven symphony that grabbed everyone’s ears and didn’t let go, earning a well-deserved and instant standing ovation.

This was Beethoven at his exciting best.

All the musicians played tightly and DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) managed to make the old radical piece sound radically new, with a driving rawness and roughness (lots of loud and highly accented percussion) coupled with flawless precision and great balancing of the winds and strings as well as the brass.

This interpretation was both dramatic and transparent in a way that both thrilled you and helped you to understand the music and its structure.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

A couple of years ago I remarked that DeMain – who came here from the Houston Grand Opera as primarily an opera conductor – had developed into a great Brahms interpreter.

Now I can say the same thing about his having become an outstanding Beethovenian.

But I did have one question:

Am I the only one who hears the slow movement of Beethoven’s early “Pathétique” piano sonata in the opening of the slow movement of his Ninth Symphony?

Listen for yourself and decide by using these YouTube videos:

First, here is the Pathétique’s slow movement, played by Daniel Barenboim, that has been used as a theme song by many musicians including Karl Haas:

And now here is the slow movement, also with Daniel Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra made up of Israeli and Palestinian students, of the Ninth Symphony:

Maybe I am hearing things that aren’t there.

Or maybe musicologists have long established the similarity between the early and the late work as fact -– though I cannot recall having seen it mentioned.

What do you think of the comparison?

Can you think of other pieces that sound as if they were twins separated at birth? Leave names – and maybe a YouTube link – in the COMMENTS section.

And what did you think of the final concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: John W. Barker finds the Wisconsin Chamber Choir “moving” and “overwhelming” in its performance of the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms.

April 21, 2015
2 Comments

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 for 12 years hosted 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. He also provided the performance photos for this review.

John Barker

By John W. Barker

Having already established an enviable level of achievement with his Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below), conductor Robert Gehrenbeck led it to new heights with the concert on Saturday night at Luther Memorial Church.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir with conductor Brahms 2015 JWB

The program opened with two examples of Gehrenbeck’s interest in promoting new choral works through commissions.

The first, sung by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Chamber Singers at his academic base, was by American composer Christian Ellenwood (below).

Entitled “Prairie Spring,” it set a poem by Willa Cather, celebrating the Nebraska landscape, scored for choir and string orchestra. This is a gentle piece, full of lyric grace, in a neo-Romantic style, and reflecting a confident command of choral texture. It made me think a little of the music of British composer Gerald Finzi. The words were somewhat obscured, but that may partly have been a function of the church’s spacious acoustics.

Christian Ellenwood copy

The second new work was by the older British composer Giles Swayne (below) that sets selected lines from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, under the title of “Our Orphan Souls.” Solo baritone Gregory Berg (below) delivered reflections of Captain Ahab, with chorus, alto saxophone, harp, double bass and percussion.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Ahab JWB (1)

The solo writing has strength, and might have been built into a more extended soliloquy—and baritone Gregory Berg delivered it with strength. But the choral writing — sung by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir itself — was unsettled and unidiomatic, running from word to word without much continuity of lines.

Giles Swayne

Ah, but the main event! Nothing less than the “German” Requiem (Ein deutsches Requiem), one of the greatest of choral works, by one of the greatest of choral composers, Johannes Brahms (below). Setting passages from Scripture in the Martin Luther translation, Brahms made this a big work, both in length and in performing demands.

brahms3

The chancel of Luther Memorial has only so much space, forcing a lot of crowding. The orchestra—37 players, familiar local performers—was arrayed through the center, while the two blended choirs were stationed on risers to either side: sopranos and tenors on the left, altos and basses on the right (below).

Wisconsin Chamber Choir, Brahms altos, basses JWB (1)

Such an arrangement could have strained ensemble coordination, but in fact it worked quite well. Indeed, it actually made it possible to follow the interaction of voice parts better than when the whole choir is in a single clump. German diction was a bit blurred, but, again, acoustics must take some blame. (I should note that I sat close and up front, so that what and how I heard may have been somewhat different from those in seating further back.)

The two soloists were both engaging. A last-minute replacement, soprano Catherine Henry (below left), was deeply expressive, a rich-voiced exemplar of the comforting mother we would all want to have.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Brahms Catherine Henry soprano JWB (1)

The baritone, Brian Leaper, was a deft guide to the mysteries of mortality.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Brahms Brian Leaper JWB (1)

The orchestra took on its large assignment with skill, and the choral singers were simply magnificent. But the highest praise must go to Gehrenbeck himself. His tempos were flexible, his balances neatly coordinated, and his sense of what each of the seven movements had to say was perfect. This is not only a superb choral conductor, but a musician of true artistry.

I write as someone for whom the Brahms Requiem has profound meaning. I have known and loved it since student days. I have sung in it several times, and listened to it in many recordings and performances. It is one of the musical threads of my life.

But I think I can honestly say that this was the most meaningful performance of the work that I have ever experienced. I often felt moved to tears by the beautiful, truthful messages that Robert Gehrenbeck (below) — who heads the choral program at UW-Whitewater — brought to realization out of it.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

There is a small lifetime list I keep of concerts and performances that I forever cherish, and this one is a rare addition—a presentation I will remember for the rest of my days.

One more reminder, then, of the riches Madison offers in choral music alone!


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