The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra concert shows Andrew Sewell is a born Bruckner conductor who uses a smaller orchestra to reveal structure

January 30, 2017
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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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served 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

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) gave the second concert of its season on Friday evening in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO lobby

The program opened with a rarely performed symphony, No. 30 in D Major, K. 202, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart did not muster in this score anything like the ideas he delivered in his symphonies on either side of this one.

Still, it is an engaging piece, and maestro Sewell always shows great sympathy for the Austrian Classical-era composers of the late 18th century, so the performance was nicely molded.

The guest soloist this time was Croatian-born guitarist Ana Vidovic (below). She was originally scheduled to play the Second Guitar Concerto by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, but for some reason she switched late on to the more substantial Concierto de Aranjuez by the 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo.

ana-vidovic-2017

Unfortunately, Vidovic followed other guitarists of today who feel they must fortify their performances with electronic amplification, so she brought her own rig with her. The result was a boomy, hollow sound, completely artificial, pitted in fake balance against the natural world of the orchestral writing that was rendered, by the way, with charm and delicacy.

The composer (below) was very careful about not allowing the orchestra to overwhelm the intimate guitar, and generations of guitar players have been able to perform this and parallel concertos without benefit of sonic hype.

Alas, the combination of technology with egotism! Vidovic is obviously a musician of genuine artistry, but she quite sabotaged her playing by use of this six-string howitzer. And the knobs were still on through an encore, a trivial Cavatina by one Stanley Meyer.

joaquin rodrigo

The evening was richly redeemed by the main work. Sewell has, in recent years, been working his way into the symphonies of the 19th century, late Romantic Austrian composer Anton Bruckner—a composer usually tackled by large orchestras. But he has brought off the first two numbered symphonies with aplomb, and now was the turn of the Third.

This is a work with a complex history of versions and revisions. Sewell bravely chose to use the 1874 revision of the original 1873 version, rather than the ill-fated revision of 1877 or the once-standard bowdlerization of 1889.

Sewell could command only 20 string players, but they proved quite sufficient, even with the occasional divisions of the violins. The reduced lushness resulting allowed inner parts to come through, and the rest of the orchestra played magnificently. Sewell understands Bruckner’s individual rhetoric, with its stop-and-start pacings and dramatic shifts between tremendous power and great delicacy.

Sewell (below) is indeed a born Bruckner conductor. The second movement in particular I have never heard played so eloquently. (You can hear the second movement of the 1874 edition in the YouTube video at the bottom.) I don’t know if Sewell plans to probe still further into Bruckner’s symphonies, but I am ready to follow him eagerly if he does.

AndrewSewellnew

Far from being put off by the often-maligned music of Bruckner, the very large audience gave the performance a justly deserved standing ovation. This was, I think, a genuine landmark in the WCO’s history.


Classical music: This Friday night, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performs Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” with guest guitarist Ana Vidovic as well as the Symphony No. 3 by Bruckner and the Symphony No. 30 by Mozart

January 24, 2017
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) opens the second half of its season with a promising concert that has both sunny lyricism and dark drama.

WCO lobby

Tickets run $10 to $80. Here is a link to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s website with information about the concert, the soloist and how to get tickets:

http://www.wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-ii-2/

As usual, WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) has created a program that mixes music of different moods from different eras.

AndrewSewellnew

The guest artist is classical guitarist Ana Vidovic (below top), who performed with the WCO two years ago to critical and audience acclaim.

This time Vidovic will perform the popular “Concierto de Aranjuez” by the 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo (below bottom), who took inspiration from Baroque music for this work. (You can hear the gorgeously tuneful slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Jazz great trumpeter Miles Davis also used to play the slow movement from the Rodrigo concerto.

ana-vidovic-2017

joaquin rodrigo

The concert will open with the Symphony No. 30 in D Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and will close with the Symphony No. 3 in D minor by the Austrian late Romantic composer Anton Bruckner (below), who is often coupled with Gustav Mahler.

Anton Bruckner 2

For many listeners, the big draw is the Bruckner symphony since Bruckner does not get heard often here.

So The Ear thought it might be useful to read comments about Bruckner by the world-famous maestro Daniel Barenboim, who was the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for many years.

This week, Barenboim (below top conducting and below bottom in an informal portrait photo by Andrea Gjestvang for The New York Times) is leading the Staatskapelle Berlin in a complete cycle of Bruckner symphonies — coupled with Mozart piano concertos played and conducted by Barenboim himself from the keyboard — in Carnegie Hall in New York City. He also recently recorded all the Bruckner symphonies with the same orchestra. And just yesterday he got rave review from The New York Times for the first two Bruckner-Mozart concerts.

daniel barenboim with baton

daniel-barenboim-portrait-ny-times-andrea-gjestvang-2017

Here is a link to the interview and story in The New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/13/arts/music/a-long-party-of-concerts-to-celebrate-anton-bruckner.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FBarenboim%2C%20Daniel&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection&_r=0


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra sells out Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony tomorrow. Critic Greg Hettmansberger weighs in on the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. And NPR provides a terrific comprehensive look at the life and career of the late Italian conductor Claudio Abbado.

January 25, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

FIRST, SOME LOCAL NEWS:

1. The Madison Symphony Orchestra has scored a SOLD-OUT HOUSE with its inaugural “Beyond the Score” performance of the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak (below) this Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center. The official word comes from MSO marketing director Teri Venker.

That sellout –- the first in a while for the MSO, I think — bodes well for future success and repeat performances of the “Beyond the Score” format applied to different symphonic works.

Dvorak sepia photo

Here are two other links to posts I did about the concert.

The first post describes what happens during the multi-media “Beyond the Score” format that was pioneered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/classical-music-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-will-unveil-its-first-beyond-the-score-multi-media-performance-of-antonin-dvoraks-popular-symphony-no-9-fro/

The second link is to a Q&A with MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) who discusses how the “Beyond the Score” format came about and how likely it is that future such concerts will be programmed by the MSO:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/classical-music-conductor-john-demain-takes-listeners-behind-the-scenes-of-the-madison-symphony-orchestras-inaugural-beyond-the-score-concert-of-dvoraks-popular/

John DeMain full face by Prasad

All in all, The Ear is impressed with what seems a smart marketing move that will benefit the MSO (below), but will also attract new listeners and younger, inexperienced audiences. As for seasoned, symphony loyalists, the multi-media format sounds as if it will deepen anyone’s appreciation of the iconic work — or so DeMain promises.

But WHAT DO YOU THINK? Leave a comment that tells The Ear and the MSO.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

2. A week ago Friday, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top), under the baton of music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, (below bottom) turned in a superb performance as it opened the second half of the current season. I offered a review of my own and linked to a review by John W. Barker of Isthmus.

WCO lobby

andrewsewell

Here are links to those reviews:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/classical-music-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-shows-its-impressive-mastery-of-many-musical-styles-in-a-concert-of-mozart-castelnuovo-tesdeco-and-bruckner-that-marks-again-just-how-superb-its-music/

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=41864

But unfortunately, I overlooked another very positive and very perceptive review by Madison Magazine’s experienced classical music blogger Greg Hettmansberger (below top). Here is his review of the WCO with its guest guitar soloist Ana Vidovic (below bottom) and its program of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Anton Bruckner.

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/January-2014/Wisconsin-Chamber-Orchestra-Goes-Big-Small-and-Just-Right/

greg hettmansberger mug

Ana Vidivic

Finally, as you may have already heard, Italian conductor Claudio Abbado (below) died this past week at the age of 80.

Earlier, I provided some links to stories in The New York Times and The Washington Post. Here they are.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/arts/music/claudio-abbado-italian-conductor-dies-at-80.html?_r=1

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/claudio-abbado-age-italian-conductor-who-led-european-orchestras-into-modern-era/2014/01/20/d23c267c-30f7-11e3-8627-c5d7de0a046b_story.html

Claudio Abbado

But the best summary of Claudio Abbado’s career – which also included recommended recordings and even sounds clips from some of those recordings (include a symphony by Gustav Mahler and an opera  by Giacchino Rossini – came later, as it often does, on NPR’s outstanding classical blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

Here is a link that you how Abbado developed from a young man into a world-class star complete with compelling professional and personal information, including testimonials from musicians who loved performing under his direction of this refreshingly and even surprisingly humble and self-effacing master maestro.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/01/21/264506409/tracing-the-career-of-claudio-abbado-a-consummate-conductor

And here – to mark his passing — is Claudio Abbado’s memorial video on YouTube. He is conducting the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is the lovely, bittersweet and pensive Adagietto movement from Mahler’s Symphony no. 5, the same piece of music that was memorably used as the soundtrack to the film of Thomas Mann’s famous novella “Death in Venice.”

If you have a favorite Abbado performance – operatic or symphonic – leave a comment to direct the rest of us:

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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra shows its impressive mastery of many musical styles in a concert of Mozart, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Bruckner that marks again just how superb its music-making has become. Plus, read John W. Barker’s review for Isthmus.

January 19, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There are many ways to take the measure of a performing arts group. And by all the important measures you can think of, the concert Friday night in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) succeeded superbly.

WCO lobby

Not that we should be surprised. For many seasons now, the WCO, under the programming and baton of its longtime director Andrew Sewell (below) has been turning in higher and higher caliber performances in the Masterworks winter series.

andrewsewell

But this concert may well mark a new highpoint.

Do you like light and easy-listening fare? Then the opening work, Mozart‘s overture to “The Impresario,” proved a perfect curtain-raiser. It possessed the right energy and articulation to make it seem, at least for a few minutes more than the things that the young Mozart (below) could toss off pretty much without thinking.

mozart big

Do you like to hear the orchestra accompany a soloist? Then the Croatian guitarist Ana Vidovic (pronounced VIDO-vich, not vik) proved terrific in an ideal vehicle.

Ana Vidivic

It was the Guitar Concerto No. 1 by the early 20th-century Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, whose gift for accessibility, transparent structure and melody may be linked to his composing of movie scores. Take the bittersweet, heartbreaking song, Mozartean in its single-note simplicity, that opens the slow movement (at bottom, in a YouTube video).

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

True, Vidovic amplified her guitar And while purists might object to that, from where The Ear sat, the amplification helped maintain balance and kept the orchestra from holding back and the guitarist from forcing her sound. Plus, I am not sure the acoustics of the old refurbished Capitol Theater (below) allow for unamplified playing of the classical guitar. (Check out the microphone in the YouTube video at the bottom that comes from a live recording at a prestigious international guitar competition.)

Capitol Theater

Cutting an attractive figure with her long brunette hair, bright yellow dress and gracious stage presence, Vidovich also offered approving fans a beautiful solo encore, Francisco Tarrega‘s haunting “Remembrances of Alhambra.” The Ear expects, and hopes, we will be hearing her again in a couple of seasons, maybe in a concerto by Antonio Vivaldi or Joaquin Rodrigo.

Ana Vidivic

Do you like music that is “red meat,” as a close friend of The Ear described the Symphony No. 2 in C minor by the late 19th century Romantic Anton Bruckner (below)? Then you wouldn’t have been disappointed either. In fact, this work that lasted over an hour was the only one that brought the audience to its feet -– and in a town renowned for easy standing ovations.

This particular standing ovation, I suspect, was more for the performance than for the demanding music. The audience recognized effort, force and precision when they heard them. The WCO poured itself, heart, soul and body into this work, which was clearly rehearsed long and in careful detail under Sewell’s guidance.

Anton Bruckner 2

The work itself is early and somewhat disjointed, lurching from the dramatic to the lyrical and back again. Clearly Bruckner relies more on rhythm and pulse than on melody. I do not find that he sings all that naturally or all that much. But he certainly does engage you by the way works over the music, and especially by the way he uses the brass and percussion as well as nthe strings and winds. Bruckner sure was sone kind of orchestrator!

Bruckner’s sound is his own, whatever its historical roots or influences. I am reminded of the scratched out scrawls one sees in Beethoven’s notebooks. I suspect Bruckner, an endless reviser, worked the same way.

The deeply religious Bruckner (below) does not seduce you; sensuality is not his strong suit. Instead he forcefully grabs you and compels you to listen. We should hear more of him, and conductor Sewell, pretty much by himself, seems to be making sure that we do. And his efforts are appreciated.

bruckner2

Not for nothing did that the WCO, on a cold and snowy winter night, play to a full house of about 1,200. At this rate, and with this kind of mastery, one hopes that perhaps the WCO can one day justify doing double performances, maybe a matinee. The quality of the WCO’s music-making certainly deserves it. And so do we listeners.

If you want to compare and see what another critic thought, here is a link to the review the John W. Barker did for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=41864

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