The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Soprano Alyson Cambridge talks about mastering crossover genres and how to attract ethnically diverse audiences to classical music and opera. She sings with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in its annual Christmas concerts this weekend.

December 1, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend the Madison Symphony Orchestra, with guest groups and soloists all under the baton of music director John DeMain, will kick off the holiday season with traditional Christmas concerts in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday night at 7:30 p.m., Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

The concerts will celebrate the holidays with a wide range of music from Johann Sebastian Bach, Irving Berlin, George Frideric Handel, John Rutter and Franz Schubert to holiday favorites and rocking Gospel selections -– topped off with the audience adding its voice to carols at the end.

Concert highlights include:

Soloists soprano Alyson Cambridge (below top) and tenor Harold Meers (below bottom), who are accomplished national operatic singers.

Alyson Cambridge 1

Harold Meers

The Madison Symphony Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson), directed by Beverly Taylor, with 125 members, who come from all walks of life to combine their artistic talent.

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

The Madison Youth Choirs (below in a photo by Dan Sinclair), directed by Michael Ross, which combines young voices for a memorable experience.

Madison Youth Choirs Ragazzi HS CR Dan Sinclair

Mt. Zion Gospel Choir (below), directed by Leotha Stanley, which uses jazz, blues and gospel harmonies to “raise the roof” in creating captivating music.

Mt. Zion Gospel Choir

And, last but not least, the audience members who join in the singing.

Concertgoers are encouraged to arrive at the Overture Hall lobby 45 minutes before the concert so they can be moved by the Madison Symphony Chorus leading carols in the festively lit lobby.

MSO officials stress that these concerts typically sell out, so early ticket purchases are encouraged.

Single Tickets are $16 to $84 each, available at ww.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

New subscribers can receive up to a 50% discount. For more information and to subscribe, visit www.madisonsymphony.org/newsub or call (608) 257-3734.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush

Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.                                                           

Here is an especially insightful Q&A that soprano Alyson Cambridge kindly gave to The Ear:

Alyson Cambridge 2

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers, including how you first got involved in music including; when you started music lessons; the Aha! Moment when you knew you wanted to pursue music as a professional career; and your current projects and future plans?

I began voice lessons when I was 12 years old, but had always been musical and theatrical. I studied piano from age 4 to 14 and dabbled in violin and flute along the way.

In truth, I came to classical singing and opera because a neighbor overheard me playing around and impersonating an opera singer as a joke. (There were all types of music playing around my house — everything from classical, to reggae, to Calypso “soca” to jazz to pop — and I imitated all the singers I heard.)

However, my “opera singer voice” wasn’t half  bad and I was encouraged to start voice lessons, which I did. It was my first teacher who encouraged me to begin training classically.

In terms of pursuing it as a career, I think I was honestly split for a long time. I knew I loved singing and performing, but I also really enjoyed sports, my academic studies, being social, sort of “normal” teenage stuff.  As a result, I was a double-degree undergraduate at Oberlin College, earning degrees in both sociology/pre-law and Voice Performance.

My final year at Oberlin, I decided to apply only to the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute for my master’s studies, and said if I didn’t get it I would go to law school.  If I DID get into either school, I decided I’d consider it a sign to give a music career a real shot and five years to “make it.”

I ended up at Curtis, where I only spent one year, and the next year I was in New York, having won the Metropolitan Opera National Council  Auditions, and joining the MET’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.  The next year I made my MET debut … and that’s how it all happened! (Below is a photo of Alyson Cambridge playing Julia  in Jerome Kern’s “Show Boat.”

Alyson Cambdirge as Julia in Show-Boat

You will be singing in “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adam (below top and at the bottom in a YouTube video) and the “Gloria” by Francis Poulenc (below bottom). Talk about “crossover” singing. How does singing classical music help or hinder you in singing jazz, pop and holiday music, and vice-versa?

In truth, I have only seen advantages to singing both classically and “crossover.”  Although I trained classically, I grew up singing and being exposed to pop, musical theater, jazz — you name it.  So, I have a natural affinity for the non-classical, and I also study with musical theater, jazz and crossover coaches as well as my classical/opera teachers and coaches.

I think it’s important to approach all styles with respect and not try to make a style sound only one way or use only one part of your vocal color or stylistic palette.  I love and enjoy both, so I sing both. And, in speaking with audiences following a performance in which I sing both, I find audiences love the variety too.

Adolphe Adam

Francis Poulenc

What is it that attracts you most in each genre? What is the most challenging part of each genre? Do they appeal to different parts of your personality? What do you think of holiday music and holiday concerts?

Both genres offer their own unique set of musical colors, and I like highlighting those when I am singing them.  You may, for example, get a glorious high-soaring melody over a full orchestra in a classical piece. In a traditionally more “crossover” or contemporary piece, you might highlight the intimacy and the nuance in the text and storytelling in the song (like “White Christmas,” for example) in a way you may not be able to do or that is applicable in a piece like Poulenc’s “Gloria.”

I love all kinds of holiday music, and think that’s what’s so great about the concert that Maestro DeMain (below, conducting in a Santa hat in a photo by Bob Rashid) has put together — there really is something for everyone, and it’s ALL wonderful!

DeMain Santa Bob Rashid

You have worked with John DeMain before in George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” and Jerome Kern’s “Showboat.” Do you have anything to say about your experiences with maestro DeMain? Have you performed before in Madison and do you have anything you want to say about performing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and John DeMain in Madison?

I adore John DeMain! When I was asked to do these concerts with him, I was thrilled for yet another opportunity to work with him.  We have visited some of the greatest pieces of American opera and musical theater together over the years, and to come together now on a program that celebrates the most wonderful classical and popular holiday music is something to which I am really looking forward.

This will be my first time performing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Having heard nothing but raves about them from friends, colleagues and Maestro DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad), I can’t wait!

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Do you have any suggestions about how to attract audiences that are more ethnically diverse to classical music?

This is a great question, and an answer that I think comes down to one simple idea: EXPOSURE!  I have yet to meet a child or adult, of any race, gender or socio-economic background who, upon seeing and hearing a live opera or classical concert or performance, no matter how grand or small, who hasn’t been moved, touched or curious to hear or learn more.

I have an upcoming television appearance on Nov. 30 in which I will be the first opera singer ever to be a featured performer on Black Entertainment Television (BET) and Centric TV’s Soul Train Awards. The first broadcast on Sunday is estimated to reach over 4.5 million viewers, and I know that the viewership will not be the “typical” opera audience…and I think it is GREAT, and I can’t WAIT for it to happen!  We taped the show on Nov. 7 in Las Vegas, and the reaction from the 3,000 people in attendance at the show taping was awesome.

An audience filled of primarily R&B, rap, hip hop and soul artists and fans, got to hear and see opera in a whole new light, one that was much different from the stereotypes perpetuated in ads and rooted in outdated ideas of what opera and classical music are. It was a wonderful thing to be a part of, and I think more opportunities and advantages should be taken and can come from exposure like that. (Below is a photo by Richard Termine of Alyson Cambridge singing in George Gershwin’s short jazz opera “Blue Monday.”)

alyson cambridge as Vi in Gershwn's jazz opera Blue CR richard termine

Is there anything else you would like to add or say?

I am appreciative of the curiosity that comes with crossing genres and reaching new audiences, and the conversations that come with it.  It’s having these conversations that I think helps pique interest in new potential listeners and concert-goers.

I am also immensely thankful for my family, without whose constant support and encouragement to follow my slightly less-than-traditional opera singer path has meant more than words can express!  I’ve never been one to “color inside the lines,” and having wonderful colleagues and mentors like John DeMain and so many others, and friends and family who support and respect that is an invaluable thing!

 

 


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra announces its new 2014-15 season. It includes programs from Bach to Hollywood exiles from Hitler and the Nazis, acclaimed soloists and ticket prices with only modest increases.

March 19, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) has just announced its next season for 2014-15.

MSO-HALL

It strikes The Ear as both deeply interesting and tightly cohesive, a good blend of sure-fire hits and unknown or rarely heard repertoire. It also features some fine local talent and some unusual repertoire, though, unlike the past several seasons, no new or contemporary music is included. After all, this is a business with seats to fill, not some theoretical exercise in programming.

“You can’t have everything, especially when you are playing only eight concerts,” lamented MSO maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) when he discussed the new season with me.

But, DeMain added, the MSO is exploring doing another Chicago Symphony Orchestra “Beyond the Score” format concert — like this season’s presentation of Antonin Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, which sold out — probably in January and probably with more than one performance, if they can find a sponsor to front the $50,000 cost. Then he will decide on what work out of more than 20 possibilities would be right.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Concerts take place in Overture Hall in the Overture Center on Friday nights at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday nights at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m.

The deadline for subscriptions renewals and keeping your current seat is May 8.

Here is the official press release that unveils the new season. The Ear also talked at length one-on-one with MSO music director and conductor John DeMain. Since the announcement is long enough for one post, DeMain’s insightful comments will appear a bit later in another post.

mso from above

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA ANNOUNCES 2014-15 SEASON

Maestro John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will deliver a diverse and exciting season of composers and guest artists for 2014-2015.

Beginning with a September program that focuses on the highly-talented musicians in the orchestra, DeMain will lead the audience through an exhilarating variety of themes and cultures throughout the season.  Russia, Scandinavia, and Golden-Age Hollywood are just a few of the sound worlds the MSO will explore, while monumental works central to the orchestra, such as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, will anchor the year.

A world-class roster of guest artists has been invited to Madison for the season’s performances, including violinist Sarah Chang, pianist Olga Kern, violinist Daniel Hope, pianist Ingrid Fliter and University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music pianist Christopher Taylor.

SEPTEMBER 19, 20 and 21, 2014

“Orchestral Splendor,” John DeMain, Conductor

RICHARD STRAUSS, “Also sprach Zarathustra”

FRANK MARTIN, Concerto for Seven Winds

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS, Symphony No. 3 (“Organ” Symphony)

German composer Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra was once among his least performed works, but it is now firmly established as standard orchestral repertoire.  The trumpet theme and thunderous timpani entrance (heard in Stanley Kubrick’s epic film “2001: A Space Odyssey”) are unmistakable.

Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds was written in 1949.  It features seven solo instruments, exploring differences in sonority and expression.  The virtuosic and conversational writing in these piece results in a playful, sportive character.

French composer Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3, known also as the “Organ” Symphony, draws on elements of both the conventional symphony and the tone poem. Formally unusual in its own time, yet popular from its conception, the work features virtuosic piano and organ passages and a masterful display of the vast colors possible in the symphony orchestra.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

OCTOBER 17, 18 and 19, 2014

“The Russian Spirit” with John DeMain, conductor, and Olga Kern (below), piano

PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY, Suite from “Swan Lake”

SERGEI RACHMANINOFF, Concerto No. 1 for Piano

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH, Symphony No. 6

The Suite from “Swan Lake” tells the magical tale of a young prince enchanted by a swan maiden under the moonlight.  Peter Tchaikovsky’s charming work utilizes haunting melodies, captivating waltzes, Russian and Hungarian folk themes, and a Spanish dance.

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano displays a youthful freshness and an assertive, extroverted personality.  Indeed, the composer began this work when he was 17!  For audience members who delight in keyboard fireworks, this piece will thrill.

Symphony No. 6 by Dmitri Shostakovich, written as war clouds were gathering in Russia, was quite a contrast to Symphony No. 5.  Lopsided movement lengths, a lack of obvious theme, and characters of anxiety and desolation reflect the intriguing political situation of the time, as well as Shostakovich’s own remarkably wide emotional compass.

Olga Kern, Mogens Dahl Konsertsal 26.1.2009

NOVEMBER 7, 8 and 9, 2014

“Scandinavian Wonders” with John DeMain, conductor, and Sarah Chang (below), violin

EDVARD GRIEG, Lyric Suite

JEAN SIBELIUS, Concerto for Violin

CARL NIELSEN, Symphony No. 4 (“The Inextinguishable”)

Over the course of his long career, Edvard Grieg composed 66 Lyric pieces for piano, strongly rooted in the songs, dances, mythology, and spirit of Norway.  He selected four of these fragrant and diverse miniatures for an orchestral suite, premiered in 1906.

 “…For…10 years it was my dearest wish to become a great virtuoso.” wrote Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in his diary.  Unfortunately the composer never reached great proficiency on the instrument, and his Concerto for Violin, awash in Nordic textures, expresses a melancholic farewell to that childhood dream.

As a philosophical guideline to his often raging Symphony No. 4, Danish composer Carl Nielsen said, “Music is life, and, like life, inextinguishable”.  Four interlinked movements of frequently agitated energy lead to a climax of ultimate triumph and grand 19th century symphonic tradition.

Sarah Chang playing

DECEMBER 5, 6 and 7, 2014

A Madison Symphony Christmas

With John DeMain, conductor; Alyson Cambridge (below), soprano; Harold Meers, tenor; the Madison Symphony Chorus, Beverly Taylor, director; the Madison Youth Choirs, Michael Ross, artistic director; and the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, Leotha Stanley, director.

John DeMain and the Madison Symphony don their Santa hats for this signature Christmas celebration. This concert is filled with traditions, from caroling in the lobby with the Madison Symphony Chorus to vocal performances by hundreds of members of Madison’s musical community. Christmas classics are interwoven with enchanting new holiday music. The culminating sing-along is Madison’s unofficial start of the holiday season!

Alyson Cambridge

DeMain Santa Bob Rashid

FEBRUARY 13, 14 and 15, 2015

“Fliter Plays Chopin” with John DeMain, conductor, and Ingrid Fliter (below), piano

BENJAMIN BRITTEN, Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge

FREDERIC CHOPIN, Concerto No. 2 for Piano

ROBERT SCHUMANN, Symphony No. 4

Frank Bridge, one of Benjamin Britten’s earliest composition teachers, was certainly responsible for the surpassing clarity, individuality, and discipline in Britten’s most cherished works.  Britten’s “Variations” on Bridge’s theme range from passionate to playful, capturing the heartfelt musical admiration of a pupil for his teacher.

From the moment he arrived in Paris at age 21, Frederic Chopin drew the admiration of both the public and esteemed critics, alike.  Concerto No. 2 was in fact his first concerto, displaying the composer’s prolific improvisatory and imaginative style.  

In composing Symphony No. 4, Robert Schumann departed significantly from the standard Classical form he previously employed, connecting all four movements with recurring musical ideas–a novel proposition at the time.

Ingrid Fliter playing

MARCH 6, 7 and 8, 2015

“Composers in Exile: Creating the Hollywood Sound” with John DeMain, conductor, and  Daniel Hope (below), violin

FRANZ WAXMAN, Sinfonietta for Strings and Timpani Ride of the Cossacks from “Taras Bulba”

MIKLÓS RÓZSA, Theme, Variations and Finale;  Parade of the Charioteers from “Ben Hur”;                          Love Theme from “Ben Hur”; Love Theme from “Spellbound”

ERICH KORNGOLD, Concerto for Violin and the  Suite from “Captain Blood”

This unique concert features the works of great classical composers before they fled Nazi persecution and also showcases their later brilliant contributions to Hollywood film scores.

Franz Waxman (below) is responsible for a long list of memorable Hollywood scores, including “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Rebecca.”  His Sinfonietta, written for only strings and timpani, is comprised of three wildly different movements. Waxman also composed the soundtrack for the 1962 epic, “Taras Bulba.”  “Ride of the Cossacks” is the exhilarating theme to which Taras and his army gallop to Dubno.

Franz Waxman

According to Miklos Rózsa (below), his “Theme” was conceived in the manner of a Hungarian folk song, then treated in variations of contrasting feeling, and summarized in a wild and swift finale.  The 1934 work earned him his first international success. By the late 1940’s Rózsa was an Oscar-winning, film score composer, and joined the staff of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer.  His thrilling score for the 1959 film “Ben Hur” is one of his lasting achievements, earning him his third and final Oscar.

Miklos Rozsa

The Concerto for Violin, written by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (bel0w top) in 1945, perfectly blends the two musical lives of the composer, unapologetic in both its rigorous craftsmanship and its Hollywood charm. “Captain Blood” was a milestone for Korngold, as it was his first fully symphonic movie score.  Produced in only three weeks, the music evidences his most professional and imaginative effort.

erich wolfgang korngold at piano

savannah_french

APRIL 10, 11 and 12, 2015

“Piano Genius” with John DeMain, conductor, and Christopher Taylor (below), piano

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, Concerto No. 4 for Clavier

FRANZ LISZT, Concerto No. 1 for Piano

ANTON BRUCKNER, Symphony No. 7

Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach is part of a set of six concertos, dated to 1738.  The piece was originally written for harpsichord and is ripe with movement and ornamentation. Bach’s concertos laid a crucial formal and harmonic groundwork for centuries of composition to follow.

Franz Liszt’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano is more than a century-long leap forward in time. Liszt’s Romantic genius is unabashedly on display, with thick orchestration, cadenzas that range from delicate to thundering, and lush harmonies.

Anton Bruckner was a country man, transplanted into bustling cosmopolitan Vienna, and he and his music were unlikely successes with audiences and critics. His music was said to “compel the element of the divine into our human world”.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

MAY 8, 9 and 10, 2015

“Ode to Joy” with John DeMain, conductor; concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below top), violin; Melody Moore, soprano; Gwendolyn Brown, contralto; Eric Barry, tenor; Morris Robinson (below bottom), bass; and the Madison Symphony Chorus, Beverly Taylor, director.

LEONARD BERNSTEIN, “Serenade” (after Plato’s “Symposium”)

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN, Symphony No. 9 (“Choral”)

Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade” for violin and orchestra, resulted from a rereading of Plato’s charming dialogue, “The Symposium.”  The music dances through a series of inter-related “speakers” at a banquet (Phaedrus, Aristophanes, Erixymachus, Agathon, and Socrates), praising love.

Naha Greenholtz [playing

Ludwig van Beethoven’s last and monumental Symphony No. 9 stands apart from his other symphonies by virtue of its humanistic message, enormous scale and organic unity of design.  The mammoth fourth movement, operating like a symphony in miniature, is like nothing else in symphonic music.  Four soloists, full chorus, the entire orchestra, and the famous “Ode to Joy” theme will conclude the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s season. (You can hear a populist flash mob version of the “Ode to Joy” at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that had almost 4-1/2 million hits.)

Morris Robinson

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

Single tickets for individual concerts have increased slightly and are $16 to $84 each, and go on sale Aug. 16. They are available at www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

New subscribers can receive savings up to 50%.  For more information and to subscribe, visit www.madisonsymphony.org/newsub or call (608) 257-3734.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

You can also check out the official MSO website announcement of the new season by visiting:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/14-15

The Madison Symphony Orchestra engages audiences of all ages and backgrounds in live classical music through a full season of concerts with established and emerging soloists of international renown, an organ series that includes free concerts, and widely respected education and community engagement programs. Find more information at www.madisonsymphony.org.

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