The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Longtime musical partners singer Kathleen Otterson and pianist Jamie Schmidt close out the season of FREE Noon Musicales this Friday.

May 11, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear received the following note from Edgewood College faculty singer Kathleen Otterson and thought it worth passing along because of its timeliness and local interest:

I’d like to share a little information about the final Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison on this Friday, May 13.

I’m sorry that I don’t have a photo of pianist Jamie Schmidt and me together, but I’ve included a photo of myself and a collage of some of our printed programs (below) from over the years.

Kathleen Otterson Jamie Schmidt programs

Here is our background:

Mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson and pianist Jamie Schmidt met while students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, and gave their first collaborative concert in 1996 at UW-Oshkosh, where Otterson was a member of the voice faculty.

Over the next 13 years, there were many more concerts for the duo around Wisconsin and in the Chicago area after Schmidt moved there to serve as Music Director at the American Girl Place Theater.

Kathleen Otterson (below) has been a member of the Edgewood College faculty since 1999, and Music Director at Christ Presbyterian Church since 2001.

Kathleen Otterson color

Jamie Schmidt (below) has been touring all over the country, along with his wife and two young children, with “The Lion King,” which arrived in Madison on May 9 for a lengthy run at the Overture Center.

jamie schmidt

The two musicians will reunite to present the final Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, on Friday, May 13.

The program includes favorites from the years of their concertizing together:  German Lieder, or art songs, by Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler; and American songs by Ned Rorem, Samuel Barber, Chris DeBlasio, Dominick Argento and others.

A very special part of the program is an excerpt from the song cycle “No Place, No Time,” composed by University Opera founder and UW-Madison Professor Emeritus Karlos Moser (below left, with his wife Melinda Moser), to texts of the Persian poet Rumi. Otterson and Schmidt commissioned this work from their teacher and mentor, which also features bassist, Ben Ferris.

Karlos and Melinda Moser

The Friday Noon Musicales run from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium, 900 University Bay Drive, and are open to the public, FREE of charge.

 


Classical music: Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” is a second-rate opera that got a first-rate production from the Madison Opera

February 12, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Rankin Utevsky. The young violist, baritone and conductor is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and conductor James Smith, plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra, and sings with the University Opera.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO – www.MAYCO.org), which will perform its sixth season this summer. He also directs a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest review of this past weekend’s performance of Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” by the Madison Opera.

I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Also, his latest venture was the successful recent launch of the Impresario Student Opera at the UW-Madison.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below) with production photos by James Gill for the Madison Opera:

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Rankin Utevsky

A great opera can be memorable in many ways. You might remember how you felt at the climaxes of the music, or walk out humming the Big Tune from the showstopper aria, or leave with an image fixed in your mind’s eye of the most dramatic moment in the first-act finale.

In an opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Giuseppe Verdi or Giacomo Puccini, you might remember all of these. But in American composer Mark Adamo’s debut opera, “Little Women,” there’s nothing to remember — no great moving moments, no thrilling stage pictures, no hummable tunes.

There are motifs, certainly, and recurring lines. But “Things change, Jo” (song by acclaimed mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in the YouTube video at the bottom) can hardly hold a candle to “O soave fanciulla” in Puccini’s “La Bohème,” the first-act Trio in Mozart’s “Figaro,” the parents’ sextet in Jake Heggie‘s “Dead Man Walking,” or the quartet from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”

It’s all technically correct, but it’s not great opera — neither great storytelling nor great music.

I left the Sunday performance by Madison Opera with the unshakeable feeling that Adamo’s score had been performed far better than it deserved.

Part of the problem is that Mark Adamo (below) is too clever for his own good. The libretto, from the classic 19th-century American novel by Louisa May Alcott, is stronger than the music — never quite moving, but full of evocative and witty phrases.

The music displays a clear command of naturalistic settings of the text, rising to peaks when it should and creating compelling atmosphere. But it always seems to pull back just when a lyrical melody might break forth, or when an emotional climax draws near.

Mark Adamo

Several times he uses the gambit of two conversations on stage at the same time, talking about the same things. But the pacing is never quite right, and the unison lines are predictable and trite rather than powerful. He lacks the confidence to let people talk over one another unless we’ve already heard half of the lines. (Whether the lack of trust is in the audience or stems from his own compositional skill is a matter of conjecture.)

The dramatic and musical tricks are all “correct” — Adamo knows his business — but none of them make an emotional impact, a point driven home by their success in last season’s “Dead Man Walking,” which employs all the same devices to far greater effect. When the opening scene came back at the end of the show, I was ready to walk out. Enough already!

It is a sad fact that the most moving part of the whole affair was only half Adamo’s — a setting of Goethe’s “Kennst du das Land” (Do You Know the Land) thrown into the second act that almost approached melody, and tugged at the heartstrings in a way no other scene of the opera managed to do.

Beth’s death scene – below top with Chelsea Morris Shephard as Beth (left) and Heather Johnson as Jo — was a close second, admittedly.

Little Women 143 Beth dies GILL

And the lovely wedding vow — below bottom with, from left, Alexander Elliott as John Brooke; Courtney Miller as Meg; Rick Henslin as Gideon March; Elizabeth Hagedorn as Alma March — was marred only by Rick Henslin’s intonation.

LIttle Women 101 wedding GILL

The minimal set cheated the opera out of the lush visual setting it deserved. If the realism of the story had been played up, with painted walls and structures, the human elements of the story might have been more believable in a setting that doesn’t feel as though a strong wind might knock it all down.

Little Women 58 GILL

Instead, a few flown-in flats with cheap-looking projections stood in for the occasional wall, and some rather cool shifting images on the scrim in front of the orchestra highlighted the apparent supernatural elements of the story — not that I thought there were supposed to be any in “Little Women.”

Little Women Jo 40 GILL

This is not to say the visuals were all misses — costumes, wigs, and makeup (Karen Brown-Larimore and Jan Ross) were excellent, particularly in establishing distinctive characterizations for the four sisters, who could easily have been hard to tell apart in a less careful production.

The ghostly vocal quartet that opens the opera — and haunts various scenes in the middle, although I’m told they were intended to be offstage — felt like nothing so much as discount Eric Whitacre: cascading clusters and whole-tone scales with no particular narrative purpose, illuminating nothing about the plot. I did find myself wondering if we were supposed to think Jo had gone insane, between that and the drifting projections on the set, but I’m sure that wasn’t the intended effect.

Despite all this, the voices themselves were superb, and married to strong acting skills to boot. Time and again Madison Opera has shown a knack for finding up-and-coming young singers with tremendous talent, and this cast was no exception.

The four Little Women themselves (below, from left, with Eric Neuville as Laurie; Courtney Miller as Meg, Heather Johnson as Jo; Chelsea Morris Shephard as Beth; Jeni Houser as Amy), aided by sure-handed direction from Candace Evans, mustered warm, credible camaraderie and sisterly love.

They, and their paramours, baritone Alexander Elliot and tenor Eric Neuville, all displayed rich and even vocalism, with clear and precise English diction rendering the supertitles mostly superfluous.

Litlle Women 22 GILL

As the aloof Aunt March and the mother Alma, Brenda Harris and UW-Madison guest professor Elizabeth Hagedorn were secure and confident in their roles as well.

As the German teacher Friedrich Bhaer (below left, with Heather Johnson as Jo), Craig Verm’s accent faded in and out, but his aria, the aforementioned setting of Goethe’s famous “Kennst du das Land,” was the highlight of the show despite this.

Little Women 130 GILL

Guest conductor Kyle Knox (below), a graduate student at the UW-Madison, led musicians of the Madison Symphony Orchestra capably through a score mired in complexity and made the result sound natural — not an easy feat.

Kyle Knox 2

I admire general director Katherine Smith (below) and the Madison Opera for taking a chance on contemporary American opera, and I dearly hope they do so again next season, and the season after that.

In a tremendously conservative industry, it takes guts to put on something by a living composer when everyone else is picking the safe options to sell out the house. And I’d rather see a contemporary opera and hate it than sit through a mediocre “Bohème” (though this fall’s “Bohème” by the Madison Opera was quite excellent).

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

Modern opera is a gamble, both for the box office and for the musicians. Sometimes you find “Dead Man Walking.” And sometimes you don’t. I hope the next contemporary piece to grace the Capitol Theater stage is one for the ages, even if this one, well, wasn’t.

NOTE: For purposes of comparison, here are links to two other reviews of the Madison Opera’s production of “Little Women”:

This is the review John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/arts/stage/madison-opera-little-women/

And this is the review by Greg Hettmansberger, who writes for Madison Magazine and now has his own blog WhatGregSays as well as monthly appearances on WISC-TV:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2016/02/06/madison-opera-stands-tall-for-little-women/

And here is a  link to an interview with Mark Adamo:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/classical-music-it-always-starts-from-the-singing-line-composer-and-librettist-mark-adamo-talks-about-creating-his-popular-opera-little-women-which-will-be-perfo/


Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players offer an appetizing preview of its second summer season with masterful performances of string quartets by Mozart, Webern, Shostakovich and Philip Glass. Plus, the Pro Arte Quartet concert on Feb. 3 has been CANCELLED

January 26, 2016
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ALERT: The concert on next Wednesday night, Feb. 3, by the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet has been CANCELLED due to an injury of one of its players.

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 photo.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Willy Street Chamber Players have already awakened us to Madison’s East Side as a promising new locale of our musical life. And in presenting their program in A Place to Be, the old store converted into a conversation haven at 911 Williamson Street, they have given us further reminder of that area’s lively community life and activities.

On last Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the Willys offered an hour-long program, admission-free but by reservation. (I attended the Saturday performance.)

The small space was certainly the kind of intimate venue ideal for music by string quartet: indeed, it made for virtually an in-your-face confrontation.

Four members (below) of the Willys’ core ensemble were on hand. Violinists Eleanor Bartsch and Paran Amirinazari (alternating in second and first chairs), violist Beth Larson and cellist Mark Bridges made up a well-balanced string quartet.

Willy Street Chamber Players string quartet cr JWB

Their program of four works displayed anew the level of enthusiastic music-making these players have set for themselves, but also of their wide-ranging mix of repertoire.

The opening piece was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s beloved Serenade, Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music). As first violinist, Bartsch – who won honors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — set an exuberant tone for what became a newly fresh masterpiece.

The second work, Anton Webern’s early Langsamer Satz (Slow Movement), can sometimes seem too extended for its 9-minute length. But these players imparted a forward-moving pulse to its heavily Late Romantic character that made it a lovely experience. And I must say that Larson made me aware for the first time of just how significant a role the viola part has in holding together the dense texture.

The contemporary American composer Philip Glass (below) is inevitably typecast as the arch-exponent of minimalist repetition. His 9-minute String Quartet No. 2 “Company” certainly reflects such techniques, but its four short movements allow a dispersion of their effects without making them unwelcome.

I found myself impressed, too, at least by Glass’s awareness of the characters of the four instruments—their different ranges and potentials for interaction. (You can hear Philip Glass’ String Quartet No. 2 performed by Brooklyn Rider in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Phlip Glass 2015

Finally, Dmitri Shostakovich’s 15-minute, four-movement String Quartet No. 1, dating from 1938, revealed a composer enjoying energy and affirmation, with only traces of the deeper, darker, more introverted writing that would come about in his subsequent 13 quartets. Particularly striking was the nostalgic second movement, largely dominated by the viola, the role of which Larson brought off to eloquent perfection.

These two concerts served as mid-season reminders of the projected second summer season by the ensemble (below), to come in July. Full announcement of its program details and other news will come in a week or so. But the teasing hints about the repertoire ahead sounded fascinating. I, for one, found my mouth watering at many of them.

Willy Street Chamber Players group color

So you are all on notice, then, that this exciting ensemble, bursting with youthful talent, will once again bring special novelty and artistry to another summer’s musical life.


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s 10th anniversary FREE “Final Forte” concert of young concerto winners is this Friday at 7 p.m. in Overture Hall. It will also be broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio and rebroadcast by Wisconsin Public Television.

January 25, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

It is described as “Wisconsin Young Artists Compete.”

“The Final Forte” event is the final round of the Bolz Young Artist Competition in which the four finalists perform in a FREE concert with the Madison Symphony Orchestra that is broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and rebroadcast by Wisconsin Public Television (WPT).

“The Final Forte” will take place this Friday night at 7 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center. Seating is FREE but you must register with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. John DeMain will conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

According to the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which organizes and conducts the competition:

“The Final Forte 2016 finalists (above) were selected from several young Wisconsin artists who competed in the Bolz Young Artist Competition’s two preliminary rounds. The event gave these four artists the chance to perform a movement from a concerto with the MSO.

The 2016 contestants are (below, left to right): Pianist Audrianna Wu of Madison, who will perform the third movement of the Piano Concerto in A minor by Edvard Grieg (you can hearing the famous concerto played by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes in a YouTube video at the bottom); pianist Liam Mayo of Green Bay, who will perform the first and third movement of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by German composer Felix Mendelssohn; violinist Tabby Rhee of Brookfield, who will perform the first movement of the Violin Concerto by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius; and marimbist Robert Rockman of Sun Prairie, who will perform the “Fantasy on Japanese Prints” by American composer Alan Hovhaness.

final forte 2016

This year’s anniversary event features special guest co-host, concert pianist Christopher O’Riley, who hosts NPR’s “From the Top” that airs here on Sunday night 8-9 p.m.

Christopher O'Riley

The most comprehensive information about the FREE concert, the live broadcasts, the biographies the four young contestants, the complete list of sponsors and a link to register to reserve a seat (you can also call 608 257-3734) can be found at the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s website:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/finalforte

According to the MSO: “This competition has captured an enormous following and numerous honors, including an Emmy nomination, First Place in the “Special Interest” category from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association in 2007, and fifth most-watched program in the February 2007 Nielsen ratings.

The 2008 WPT and WPR broadcasts reached more than 60,000 viewers and listeners in the Madison market alone and the 2009 broadcasts reached an estimated 200,000 statewide.”

This event will be broadcast on: Wisconsin Public Television: Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 7, at 12 p.m.

Milwaukee Public Television: Friday, Feb. 5, at 8 p.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 4 a.m.

Wisconsin Public Radio: Sunday, Jan. 31, at 12:30 p.m.

Here is a link to Wisconsin Public Television, which features introductory videos about each performer:

http://wpt.org/final_forte

And here is a link to Wisconsin Public Radio, where Thursday right after the noon news on The Midday, Christopher O’Riley, host of NPR’s popular classical music program From The Top, chats with radio host Stephanie Elkins (below) about his show and the young musicians from Wisconsin that have appeared on his show in the past. O’Riley is in town to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Bolz Young Artists Final Forte.

Elkins,Stephanie_100

http://www.wpr.org/search/site/final%20forte


Classical music: The local woodwind group Black Marigold will perform four FREE summer concerts at public libraries and the Chazen Museum of Art over the next two weeks.

August 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Madison-based woodwind quintet Black Marigold (below) -– founded in 2012 — write with the following information:

Black Marigold

The Marigolds are in bloom!

Join us for our fourth annual Summer Concert Series, featuring 20th- and 21st-century pieces by French, Czech and American composers.

The program includes: “Calder’s Circus” by Robert Cohen; Diversions for Wind Quintet by Lee Hoiby (below), who studied at the UW-Madison School of Music; Wind Quintet, Op. 10, by Pavel Haas; and Quintet No. 1 by Jean Francaix.

Lee Hoiby

All concerts are free and open to the public.

Here is a schedule:

MONDAY, August 24, 2015 – 7 p.m.

MonroeStreet Library

1705 Monroe St – Madison, WI

monroe street library

SATURDAY, August 29, 2015 – 7 p.m.

CapitolLakes Retirement Community – Grand Hall

333 West Main Street, Madison, WI

Capitol Lakes Hall

FRIDAY, September 4, 2015 – 7 p.m.

OakwoodVillage University Woods

6201 Mineral Point Rd – Madison, WI

Oakwood Village Auditorium and Stage

SundayAfternoon Live at the Chazen

Sunday, September 6, 2015 – 12:30 p.m.

Chazen Museum of Art

750 University Avenue

Madison, WI 53706

This performance will also be live streamed on the Chazen website.

SAL3

For more information, contact or visit blackmarigoldwinds@gmail.com

www.blackmarigold.com\

video


Classical music: Can you sing? Famed diva Jessye Norman thinks you can -– and should try. She says it is good for your physical health and mental health.

December 26, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

We have just come through Christmas and the holiday season where the instrument of choice – quite appropriately – is the human voice, both solo and in choruses.

Do you sing?

Can you sing?

The famous Grammy Award-winning soprano diva Jessye Norman (below) thinks you can -– and should, or at least try to.

In an interview with the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR (National Public Radio), Norman explains why all  people can sing.

She also explains why you should: Singing, she says, is healthy for your body and mind.

Jessye Norman

She may be 69, but Norman, who was born in Georgia but now lives in France, is not retiring from singing, even if she is cutting down on professional appearances. She is following her own advice and so continues to sing, as she recently did on The David Letterman Show in New York City.

The interview traces her career from her earliest years in Augusta, Georgia, through training at the famed Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It has samples of her fabulous voice, and also her remembrances of great voices she has admired in others, such as the great history-making African American contralto Marian Anderson (below, during her historic concert at the Lincoln Memorial).

anderson

She also names some favorite orchestral music and instrumental music, including a prelude from the opera “Lohengrin” by Richard Wagner, as conducted by James Levine (below top) of the Metropolitan Opera; a cello sonata by Johann Sebastian Bach performed by cellist Yo-Yo Ma (below middle); and a Beethoven piano concertos performed by pianist Alfred Brendel (below bottom) and the conductor Simon Rattle along with the Berlin Philharmonic.

James Levine conducting

yo-yo ma

Brendel playing BIG

Norman also singles out American jazz composer Duke Ellington (below) for praise.

Duke Ellington at piano

And the NPR interview includes some fine music audio samples.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/11/25/364758676/guest-dj-jessye-norman-from-augusta-to-valhalla

And here is one of my favorite and landmark or legendary performances by Jessye Norman: “Im Abendrot.” It is one of the “Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss that was recently used in the movie “The Trip to Italy” to such great and repeated effect:


Classical music: A special Madison Symphony Orchestra season subscription offer expires today. And MSO guest trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth heads up a new summer music festival.

July 25, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

In case you don’t already know, today is the expiration date of a special offer for subscribers to the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below).

MSO-HALL

Not only can you save up to 50 percent but you could also see the handling fee waived and also receive a free copy of a CD by John DeMain and the MSO that was done in Overture Hall of the Overture Center.

Here is a link for more information about the subscription and about the concerts in the 2013-14 season, including the special one-time only “Behind the Notes” performance of Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony:

http://madisonsymphony.org/13-14

As you may recall, this coming season is the celebration the 20th year that John DeMain (below) has been music director of the symphony. He has selected a lot of special programs – though some of us are disappointed that there is no Mahler symphony or song cycle and no Bruckner symphony on the list.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The programs include an all-Beethoven program with acclaimed pianist Yefim Bronfman (below) perform two piano concertos (Nos. 2 and 5); the fabulous violinist Augustin Hadelich in Lalo; the Mozart Requiem and an all-American concert with Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein among other composers.

Yefim Bronfman 1 by Oded Antman

But one big surprise was DeMain’s choice of a Norwegian trumpeter player – and a female trumpet player, which is rarer still – to appear as a new guest soloist in two trumpet concertos, including the famous one in E-flat Major  by Franz Josef Haydn.

Her name in Tine Thing Helseth (below).

Helseth (c) ColinBell EMI Classics

At the publicity launch of the new season last spring, DeMain explained to The Ear that he heard playing on Sirius Radio while he was driving in his car, and he was quite impressed.

He also said that he thought it would be interesting for MSO audiences to hear a different soloist, someone besides the usual pianist, violin, cellist or singer.

Time and the box office will tell how big the appeal of a brass player as soloist is.

But it turns out that DeMain isn’t the only one impressed with her talent.

In fact, Helseth has been put in charge of a new summer music festival.

Here is a link to the story:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/tine-thing-helseth-launches-new-festival

Here is a link to Helseth’s own website:

http://www.tinethinghelseth.com

And here is a sample of Helseth’s playing — in the last movement of the Haydn Trumpet Concerto that she will perform here in Madison —  in a YouTube video:


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