The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Middleton Community Orchestra and cellist Andrew Briggs succeeded beautifully in music by Rossini, Dvorak and Mendelssohn but a public reading of short essays by Matt Geiger seemed out of place

March 3, 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. He also took the performance photos for this review.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Despite nasty weather and icy conditions, a quite substantial audience turned out for the concert Wednesday night by the Middleton Community Orchestra  (below).

steve-kurr-and-mco-marc-2017-jwb

There was an unusual element to the program.

The mostly amateur orchestra opened with an exuberant performance of Rossini’s overture to his opera Il turco in Italia (The Turk in Italy).

Then the normal procedures were interrupted by a local writer, Matt Geiger (below), reading two of his short essays from a recently published collection, which was sold in the lobby.

This appearance was based on his long and valiant boosting of the orchestra in his journalism, but it would have been more appropriate at some community festival than in the midst of an orchestra concert. His essays were not without wit, but had absolutely nothing to do with music.

matt-geiger-at-mco-march-2017-jwb

Back to business with guest soloist Andrew Briggs (below), a young cellist who played two miniatures for his instrument, with orchestra, by Antonin Dvorak.

Silent Woods, Op. 68, No. 5, is sometimes heard as a foil or filler for the composer’s great cello concerto, especially in recordings. Still less familiar is a Rondo in G minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 94. It is a work of charm and imagination.

Briggs played both of these with affectionate sensitivity. Currently finishing his doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, he is an artist with an already expanding reputation and a great future.

andrew-briggs-mco-march-2017-jwb

The second half of the concert was devoted to Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, the “Reformation.” Composed to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, it was offered here as a gesture to this year’s 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s launching of his Reformation movement with the posting of his 95 Theses. This is a score full of Lutheran symbolism, particularly with the prominent use of Luther’s chorale, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (“A Mighty Fortress is our God”). 

NOTE: You can hear how Mendelssohn uses the Luther hymn in the symphony’s final movement by listening to the YouTube video at the bottom.

Commentators have sometimes shrugged off this work, and it has been overshadowed in audience favor by the composer’s popular third and fourth symphonies. But it is a well-wrought score, full of fine musical interest. Conductor Steve Kurr (below) led the orchestra through a sturdy and solidly played performance, ending the concert on a triumphant note.

Steve Kurr conducting


Classical music: Middleton Community Orchestra and UW-Madison cellist Andrew Briggs perform music by Mendelssohn, Rossini and Dvorak this Wednesday night. Also, University Opera’s David Ronis discusses Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw” at noon on Wisconsin Public Radio

February 27, 2017
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ALERT: Today at noon on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday,” host Norman Gilliland will interview artistic director David Ronis about the University Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw,” which will be performed this Friday night, Sunday afternoon and next Tuesday night.

By Jacob Stockinger

The mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by William Balhorn), under the baton of Steve Kurr, will perform the winter concert of its seventh season on this Wednesday night, March 1, at the Middleton Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m.

Middleton Community Orchestra by William Ballhorn

The Middleton PAC is attached to Middleton High School and is attached to Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton Community Orchestra CR Brian Ruppert

General admission is $15.  Students are admitted free of charge. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. and the auditorium doors open at 7 p.m.

The program includes the “Turk in Italy” Overture by Gioachino Rossini; “Silent Woods” and Rondo in G minor, two rarely performed cello pieces by Antonin Dvorak; and the Symphony No. 5 (“Reformation”) by Felix Mendelssohn. (You can hear Dvorak’s “Silent Woods,” with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)  

Cello soloist Andrew Briggs (below), is returning to perform with the MCO for a second time. 

You can hear last season’s performance of the Dvorak cello concerto by Briggs with the MCO here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wc1WLWhtb4

Briggs (below) is completing his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this spring, so this may be your last chance to hear him in Madison.

Andrew Briggs

SOMETHING NEW

This concert will open with a special guest, Middleton Tribune writer, Matt Geiger who will read two short stories from his new book (below).

Here is a sample from the cover of this book collection: “His little sister joins the circus. His parents buy a nerdy horse. He’s surrounded by hundreds of men dressed up as Ernest Hemingway. He tries to order a monkey through the mail. And now his baby is eating dog food.”

GC-BookCoverFinal

Matt Geiger’s award-winning stories reveal the sublime in the mundane and the comical in the banal. There is existential dread. There is festivity amid detritus. There are moments of genuine introspection on what it means to be human. And it’s all laugh-out-loud funny when told by a humorist who is determined to live an examined life, even if he’s not always entirely sure what he’s looking at.

Matt Geiger (below) was born in Brunswick, Maine, in 1979. He studied philosophy and religion at Flagler College and went on to write for newspapers and magazines in Florida, Wisconsin and the United Kingdom. He is the winner of numerous journalism awards. He currently lives in Wisconsin with his wife, his daughter, two dogs, a cat and a flock of chickens.

Matt Geiger oif Middleton

As always, there will be a FREE reception for the musicians and the audience after the concert.

MCO June 2014 reception

For more information about the Middleton Community Orchestra, including its upcoming concerts and review as well as how to join it and support it, go to: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

mco-march-2017-poster


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra and cellist Andrew Briggs turn in richly enjoyable performances of works by Mendelssohn and Dvorak.

February 28, 2016
3 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The concert by the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) on Wednesday night was one I might have designed myself: two of my favorite orchestral pieces, both by Felix Mendelssohn, and the world’s greatest cello concerto, by one of my favorite composers, Antonin Dvorak. (You can hear superstar Cellist Yo-Yo Ma play the first movement with the New York Philharmonic in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

For the concerto, the soloist was young Andrew Briggs (below), currently pursuing his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. He is clearly an artist with great promise. For so grand a work, he will grow in confidence and tonal richness with time. But he already has the measure of the piece, and I must say that he gave me about the most satisfying experience of it that I have ever heard.

Andrew Briggs

The reason for that is not only his playing skill but also his natural rapport with an audience: He communicates. His facial expressions, especially in orchestral passages, suggested he was in awe of the wonders of the work as he performed, while suggesting as well his joy at sharing this discovery of them with his listeners.

The standing ovation he received was not just perfunctory but a cordial, well-earned response to what he had given the audience.

This concerto is a big piece for the orchestra, too. And on top of that were the demands of the two other works, which framed the concerto.

Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” Overture and his Third Symphony, the “Scottish,” are extraordinarily evocative compositions, products of the composer’s experiences visiting the British Isles. They demand a lot from their performers.

There were, to be sure, rough spots here and there, especially in the symphony’s scherzo movement. But the playing was robust and committed. Maestro Steve Kurr (below) worked up an unusual degree of excitement in the overture, and differentiated nicely the differing moods of the symphony’s four movements.

Steve Kurr conducting

Earnest hard work with eminently listenable results makes a Middleton Community Orchestra concert like this one a genuine treat. Those who missed it lost out on a lot of pleasure.


Classical music: The amateur and accomplished Middleton Community Orchestra and guest cellist Andrew Briggs perform music by Dvorak and Mendelssohn this Wednesday night.

February 22, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this Wednesday night, Feb. 24, the mostly amateur and very accomplished Middleton Community Orchestra (below top) will present the Winter Concert of its fifth anniversary season.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The concert will feature cellist Andrew Briggs (below) as soloist in the famously tuneful and dramatic Cello Concerto by Antonin Dvorak. (You can hear the opening that hooks you at once, played by superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Andrew Briggs

Also on the program, to be conducted by Steve Kurr (below) are two works by Felix Mendelssohn: the Hebrides Overture and the Symphony No. 3 “Scottish.”

Steve Kurr conducting

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below) that is attached to Middleton High School, 2100 Bristol Street. General admission is $10. All students are admitted free of charge. The box office and doors open at 7 p.m. For information call 608 212-8690.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton PAC1

A meet-and-greet informal reception (below) for the public and the musicians takes place after the concert.

MCO June 2014 reception

For more information about the Middleton Community Orchestra and its remaining concerts this season as well as how to join it – there are openings now in the string section — and support it, visit:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Here is some biographical information about the talented local soloist:

Cellist Andrew Briggs performs on an international scale, from giving recitals in his native Colorado to performing concerts in Italy and the UK. His travels have taken him to a growing list of prestigious music festivals, including the International Holland Music Sessions (NL), the Abbey Fontfroide Masterclasses (FR), and as a Fellow of the Aspen Music Festival (US).

Andrew Briggs playing

Recently moving to Madison from New York City, Andrew has performed in venues such as Alice Tully Hall (NY), the Guggenheim Museum, and Macky Auditorium (CO).

Briggs’ 2015-2016 season includes both solo and chamber engagements. Recent recitals include solo programs at the Remonstranse Kerke in Alkmaar, Netherlands; the Abbey Fontfroide in Narbonne, France; Morphy Hall at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and on the Sunday Recital Series at West Middleton Lutheran Church in Wisconsin.

Briggs is also a part of UW-Madison’s Hunt Quartet, a graduate string quartet that will give a recital in early March.

Andrew Briggs on bench in park

A dedicated performer of all eras of music, Briggs plays music from Baroque to contemporary. Studying Baroque cello with Phoebe Carrai at the Juilliard School, Andrew most recently performed with the Madison Bach Musicians and as a continuo cellist for University of Wisconsin-Madison’s opera production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro).

Briggs also enjoys playing music of contemporary composers, most recently playing with New Muse Ensemble and Domaine Musicale of Madison, Wisconsin. At Juilliard, he performed chamber music works of contemporary composers in the FOCUS! Contemporary Music Festival, ChamberFest, and with Axiom Ensemble.

You can learn more by visiting:

http://andrewbriggscello.com


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