The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: University Opera’s entertaining production of “Transformations” features a wonderful student cast and great resourcefulness. The last performance is TONIGHT at 7:30. Plus, the UW Chamber Orchestra performs a FREE concert Wednesday night.

March 15, 2016
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ALERT: The UW-Madison Chamber Orchestra, under its director James Smith, will give a FREE performance on this Wednesday night at 7:30 in Mills Hall. The program features the Divertimento for Strings by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara; the Divertimento, by Bela Bartok; and Elegy (string orchestra version), by the late American composer Elliott Carter.

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

Among the works of the prolific American composer Conrad Susa (1935-2013) were five operas. The last of them (1994) was The Dangerous Liaisons, after the scandalous 18th-century French novel by Choderlos de Laclos.

Susa’s first, Transformations (1973), was utterly different, a true novelty. He called it a “chamber opera” but one might wonder if it is really an opera at all, by conventional standards of lyric theater.

(NOTE: The last performance of the University Opera’s current production of “Transformations” is TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. Admission is $25 for the general public, $20 for seniors and $10 for students.)

To begin with, the work has no real libretto, but rather represents Susa’s settings of eight of the poems in a collection of the same title published in 1971 by the brilliant but mentally troubled Anne Sexton (below, 1928-1974). Her book contained 17 poems, each representing a reframing of one of the Grimm folk tales.

anne sexton

Of those 17, Susa (below) selected 10 for his Transformations, setting them as they stand and putting them in his own sequence.

Conrad Susa

The work is scored for eight singers, supported by an ensemble of eight instrumentalists.

Sexton’s saucy texts are both reflective and narrative, but they do not create consistent “roles.” Through solos and ensembles, the singers give out those texts, with selective opportunities for character representation.

The vocal writing is often quite daring, always very clever and witty, but hardly melodic in traditional ways, while the instrumental contributions are spikey, often provocative, and sometimes allusive. There is not a single melody to remember, but the effect of this “ensemble opera” is consistently absorbing, and entertaining.

Transformations has been Susa’s most successful and widely performed work. This 2016 production is in fact the third to have been given by the University Opera at the UW-Madison. The first was mounted under Karlos Moser in 1976, there years after the premiere performance by the Minnesota Opera and it was the second new production anywhere. Moser repeated it in 1991.

Now we have had the realization of it by interim University Opera director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio).

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

In the Minnesota Opera production, the successive episodes are launched in a set representing an insane asylum. Moser studiously avoided that in his productions.Ronis has used instead an urban office or room that serves as a space for a kind of group therapy session.

At first thought, it seems an unnecessary imposition. (Yes, Sexton, who is represented in the piece, did spend some time in mental institutions, before the last of her suicide attempts was successful.) In point of fact, however, little is made of such a setting as the production progresses, so it does not much matter one way or the other.

What marks this production, however, is Ronis’ unflagging resourcefulness in devising movements and gestures for his singers to constantly point up details in the story-telling.

And he has a simply wonderful cast of young singers to carry out his direction. Because of inevitable weekend schedule crunches, I had to attend the Sunday afternoon performance, at which Cayla Bosché was the robust portrayer of Sexton and some problematical mothers.

High soprano Nicole Heinen (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) represented Snow White and numerous princesses or virginal types. Mezzo-soprano Rebecca Beuchel was particularly delightful as the Witch to Hansel and Gretel.

Dress Rehearsal for "Transformations"

Tenor Dennis Gotkowsky was deliciously arch as Rumpelstiltskin, and tenor William Ottow (below, lying down, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) cleverly represented a number of princes. Tenor Michael Hoke, baritone Brian Schneider, and bass Benjamin Schultz were all admirable in their varied assignments.

Transformations William Ottow and Rebecca Beuchel CR Michael r. Anderson

Under the leadership of conductor Kyle Knox (below), a gifted and busy graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the instrumentalists gave pointed support throughout.

Kyle Knox 2

Not a big-hit item, then, as the rather thin attendance on Sunday afternoon suggested—not something for those who seek Mozart, Verdi and Puccini.

But it is a very enjoyable novelty that really does warrant presentation, as this new production amply demonstrated.

In this photo by Michael R. Anderson, cast members include Brian Schneider, Rebecca Buechel, Cayla Rosche (foreground, as Anne Sexton), William Ottow, and Nicole Heinen in Transformations.

Dress Rehearsal for "Transformations"


Classical music: Violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky performs Samuel Barber’s beautiful and popular Violin Concerto this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, which also celebrates spring with works by Beethoven and other composers. Plus, University Opera’s production of “Transformations,’ which ends Tuesday night, gets a rave review from Isthmus

March 14, 2016
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ALERT: University Opera’s production of “Transformations,” with dark and adult takes on fairy tales by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Anne Sexton and music by Conrad Susa, gets a rave review from critic Jay Rath writing for Isthmus. It calls the production breath-taking and an astonishing success. It also gives you tasty morsels of the show to whet your appetite.  The last performance is this Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m in Music Hall. Here is a link:

http://isthmus.com/arts/stage/university-opera-transformations/

And here is a link to the A Tempo blog, with more information, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) will perform a captivating concert this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO lobby

As usual, longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below) has pulled together an arresting program of both well-known and rarely heard works.

Indeed, Sewell seems to have an endless knack for finding modern music that is not well-known but nonetheless appeals on first hearing.

andrewsewell

Not that he neglects tried-and-true masterpieces.

Take the famous Violin Concerto by American composer Samuel Barber — most famous for his “Adagio for Strings” – which will feature the return of the young European prize-winning soloist Alexander Sitkovetsky (below).

alexander-sitkovetsky

The Ear always finds the work by Barber (below) absolutely riveting. It takes all of about 10 seconds before you realize you are hearing a beautiful masterpiece that will endure. And then it just gets better. (You can hear the slow second movement — performed by James Ehnes who has played with the Madison Symphony Orchestra — in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Samuel Barber

The concert opens with a work by Irish composer, Joan Trimble (below), specifically her ethereal Suite for Strings from 1955.

joan trimble

That work proves a perfect complement to the popular Pastorale by Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larsson (below).

Lars-Erik Larsson

The Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, by Ludwig van Beethoven (below) is like his Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” in that it celebrates the joy, fullness and robust qualities of life. The slow movement has an other-worldly beauty. With its driving finale, the symphony packs a punch.

Yet wedged in between the three of Beethoven’s most famous symphonies – Nos. 3 “Eroica,” 5 and 6 “Pastoral” – the Symphony No. 4 often gets overlooked. Sewell’s mastery of the Classical style should bring it to life in a memorable performance.

Beethoven big

Tickets are $15-$80 with student rush tickets for $10, available on the day of the performance. For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at 608 258-4141 or visit www.wcoconcerts.org

ABOUT ALEXANDER SITKOVETSKY

Alexander Sitkovetsky, 32, was born in Moscow into a family with an established musical tradition and made his concerto debut at the age of eight. That same year he went to study at the Menuhin School in England.

Lord Yehudi Menuhin (below) was his inspiration throughout his school years and they performed together on several occasions, including the Double Concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach and Duos for Two Violins by Bela Bartok at the St. James Palace, and he played the Violin Concerto by Felix Mendelssohn under Menuhin’s baton.

Yehudi Menuhin

Since then, Sitkovetsky has gone on to perform with the Netherlands Philharmonic, the Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic, London Mozart Players, Konzerthaus Orchester Berlin, Brussels Philharmonic, the European Union Chamber Orchestra, Malmo Symphony Orchestra, Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Mulhouse Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, St. Petersburg Symphony, Welsh National Opera and the BBC Concert Orchestra among many others.

This season, Alexander Sitkovetsky will make his debut in Brussels, Poznan, Santa Cruz in Bolivia and St. Petersburg and will go on two nationwide tours of the UK with the Brussels Philharmonic and St. Petersburg Symphony. He will also tour Australia with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and perform with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Sitkovetsky will return to the Kuhmo and Cheltenham Festivals and make debuts at the Verbier and Lockenhaus Festivals

Sitkovetsky, an avid chamber musician, has recorded for Angel/EMI, Decca, Orfeo, Onyx, BIS and Avanti Classics including the Bach Double Concerto with Julia Fischer.


Classical music: University Opera will stage three performances of “Transformations” this Friday night, Sunday afternoon and next Tuesday night.

March 8, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Take children’s fairy tales – such as “Sleeping Beauty” (below) — and recast them through adult reinterpretations. You can get some pretty weird and dark and humorous results.

Henry Meynel Rheam painting Sleeping Beauty

That is not only the formula for Stephen Sondheim’s popular Broadway musical and later Hollywood movie “Into the Woods.”

It also worked for the Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Anne Sexton, who grew depressed and killed herself at age 45. Her versions then became an opera.

anne sexton

The music, described as tonal and accessible, is by Conrad Susa (below), who taught at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The contemporary opera has been popular and widely staged.

Conrad Susa

This weekend and early next week, University Opera – the opera program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music – will give three performances in Music Hall of the work on Friday night at 7:30 p.m., Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. (NOT 3:30 as first posted here mistakenly) and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOTE: An ad on Wisconsin Public Radio erroneously lists the performance times on Friday and Tuesday nights as 7 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.)

Admission is $25, $20 for seniors and $10 for students.

Members of the cast even posted an invitation video on YouTube:

For more information, visit the A Tempo blog of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which features remarks from interim opera director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio), who is based in New York City, and details about the pre-concert discussion on Friday night from 6 to 7 p.m. (There will also be talk back sessions after each performance.):

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/university-opera-presents-spring-show-transformations/

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

The music director is graduate student in conducting Kyle Knox (below), who recently conducted Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” for the Madison Opera and who conducts ensembles at the UW-Madison and the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Kyle Knox 2

For even more background, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2016/02/12/university-opera-presents-transformations/

Here is a sample, a YouTube video of the “Hansel and Gretel” section of “Transformations”:


Classical music: Broadway star and UW-Madison alumnus joins students for the University Opera benefit this Sunday afternoon.

January 14, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Students in the University Opera program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will perform a concert of songs and arias on this Sunday afternoon, Jan. 17, at 3:30 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison 900 University Bay Drive.

The concert will feature currently enrolled students as well as a 2008 alumnus, Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek(below), who is at the Overture Center this week through Sunday playing the role of Gaston in a national tour of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek baritone

A reception will follow this Opera Props benefit concert that is intended to help support University Opera.

Admission is $25 per person with a $10 charge for students.

Several of the UW-Madison student singers have already been featured in October’s production of The Marriage of Figaro (below in photo by Michael R. Anderson ) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and some will appear in March’s University Opera production of Transformations, by Conrad Susa and poet Anne Sexton.

Marriage of Figaro dress rehearsal. Tia Cleveland (Marcellina), Joel Rathmann (Figaro), Anna Whiteway (Susanna), Thomas Weis (Bartolo).

Marriage of Figaro dress rehearsal. Tia Cleveland (Marcellina), Joel Rathmann (Figaro), Anna Whiteway (Susanna), Thomas Weis (Bartolo).

The singers will be accompanied by pianist Chan Mi Jean.

Joining the students will be Broadway star and distinguished University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, baritone Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek, who praises his operatic training for enabling him to sing as many as three performances a day on this demanding tour.

Recently appointed to “barihunk” status by one blog (below), he is something of a crossover singer too, singing romantic ballads while playing his guitar. These multiple talents provide the young singer with a busy career.

Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek as barihunkHere is the program:

Chacun à son gout (Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss Jr.) – Meghan Hilker; Bella siccome un angelo (Don Pasquale by Gaetano Donizetti) – Gavin Waid; Ici-bas (Gabriel Fauré) and Der Blumenstrauss (Felix Mendelssohn) – Talia Engstrom; Tu che di gel (Turandot by Giacomo Puccini) – Anna Polum; Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix (Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saens) – Rebecca Buechel; Largo al factotum (Il Barbiere di Siviglia by Gioachino Rossini) – Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek; Sous le dôme épais (Lakme by Leo Delibes) – Tyana O’Connor (below) and Meghan Hilker; Emily’s Aria (Our Town – Ned Rorem) – Nicole Heinen; On the Street Where You Live (My Fair Lady – Lerner and Lowe) – William Ottow; Ah, non credea mirarti (La Sonnambula by Vincenzo Bellini) – Tyana O’Connor; Love’s Philosophy (Roger Quilter) – Anna Polum; The Lady is a Tramp (Rodgers and Hart) – Rebecca Buechel; Au fond du temple saint (Les Pêcheurs de Perles by Georges Bizet, sung by tenor Roberto Alagna and bass-baritone Bryn Terfel at the bottom in a YouTube video) – William Ottow (below) and Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek.

Tyana O'Connor soprano


Classical music education: Here are some highlights of Semester 2 during the upcoming season at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

August 14, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

The final schedules for the upcoming season by most major classical music groups in the area are now available.

Last but not least is the biggest of them all: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which offers some 300 events in a season, most of them FREE to the public.

UW logos

Some things are new. For example, you will note that the UW Choral Union has gone to just ONE performance instead of two, as in the past for many years.

Concert manager and director of public relations Kathy Esposito (below) writes:

Katherine Esposito

The UW-Madison School of Music is jazzed about its upcoming season and we’d like the world to know. Please make plans to attend!

Here is a link to the online calendar, which is now complete except for specific pieces on programs and last-minute changes: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Our events of 2015-2016 range from performances by a vocal dynamo (soprano Brenda Rae, Sept. 27) to an in-demand LA jazz woodwind musician (Bob Sheppard in April) plus an enterprising young brass quintet (Axiom Brass in October) and a dollop of world music in March (duoJalal). In addition, we offer ever-popular opera productions, faculty concerts and student ensembles ranging from classical to jazz to percussion.

Full concert calendar link: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Other social media connections include:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/

https://www.facebook.com/UWMadisonSchoolOfMusic

https://twitter.com/UWSOM

Our Newsletter, A Tempo!

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/

Hear our sound: https://soundcloud.com/uw-madisonsom

Here’s a partial list with highlights.

Semester 1 was posted yesterday, and here is a link to that:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/08/13/uw-highlights-semester-1/

Here are highlights of Semester 2:

SEMESTER 2

January 19-24: Student Recital Festival. The public is invited to our first free weeklong feast of music performed on all instruments by many of our students, both undergraduate and graduate. Morphy and Music Halls. Times and programs to be announced in late fall.  All events free. (Below is the scholarship-winning Perlman Piano Trio from several years ago.)

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/student-recital-festival/

Perlman-Trio Thomas Kasdorf piano, Eleanor Bartsch violin and Maureen Kelly cello

January 30: Our third “Schubertiade” (below) with pianists Martha Fischer, Bill Lutes, students, faculty and guests. Songs, chamber music and four-hand piano works, all composed by Franz Schubert.

Mills Hall, 8 PM.

Tickets $12.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/schubertiade-2016-the-music-of-franz-schubert/

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

February 12: Jazz singer Sharon Clark (below) with the UW Jazz Orchestra. Washington, D.C. standout Sharon Clark has brought festival and concert audiences to their feet across the U.S. and Europe. Her New York run drew raves from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and she won New York’s Bistro Award for Best Vocalist.

Music Hall, 8 PM. Free concert.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-artist-jazz-singer-sharon-clark-with-the-uw-jazz-orchestra/

Sharon Clark

February 14: Symphony Showcase Concerto Winners Solo Recitals. The best performers of 2015-2016, graduate and undergraduate, from the UW-Madison School of Music. Bring your Valentine! Click the link below to watch videos. (Below top is the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra; below bottom are the concerto winners in 2015.)

Mills Hall, 7:30 PM.

Tickets $10.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/symphony-showcase-concerto-winners-solo-recital/

uw concerto winner 2014 big audience Michael R. Anderson

2014 Concerto Winners

February 26: Pianist Christopher Taylor in solo recital.  “We in Wisconsin are privileged to call Christopher Taylor (below) one of our own,” wrote reviewer Jessica Courtier in the Capital Times following his performances last spring with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Taylor is also known for his work inventing a digital double keyboard piano, now being built.

Mills Hall, 8 PM.

Tickets $15.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/christopher-taylor-piano-faculty-concert/

Christopher Taylor new profile

March 11-13-15: University Opera presents “Transformations” (Conrad Susa (below top)/Anne Sexton below bottom). Directed by David Ronis, music conducted by Kyle Knox. Susa’s chamber opera for eight singers and eight players, is an adult re-telling of 10 classic fairy tales (among them, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel) as seen through the eyes of poet Anne Sexton. Sexton’s struggle with mental illness frames the darkly humorous, and audaciously recounted tales, filled with mid-20-century references, both literary and musical. (You can hear excerpts and a summary in a YouTube video at the bottom;)

Music Hall.

$25/$20/$10

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-transformations/

Conrad Susa

anne sexton

March 14: duoJalal (below) with Kathryn Lockwood and Yousif Sheronick, the wife-and-husband viola and percussion global chamber music duo. From their chamber music foundation, duoJalal moves from Classical to Klezmer, Middle Eastern to Jazz, with a skillful confluence that is natural, exploratory and passionate.

Morphy Hall, 7:30 PM.

Tickets $15.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/duojalal-viola-percussion-guest-artists/

Kathryn Lockwood and Yousif Sheronick

April 26-28-29: Jazz Immersion Week. A weeklong residency with LA-based Bob Sheppard (below), worldwide multi-woodwind performer, recording artist, and jazz musician. Also featuring UW Jazz Ensembles, the UW Jazz Orchestra, the UW High School Honors Jazz Band, and the Johannes Wallmann Quintet.

April 26: Bob Sheppard with the UW-Madison Composers Septet & Contemporary Jazz Ensemble. Free concert.

April 28: Bob Sheppard with the Johannes Wallmann Quintet. Tickets $15.

April 29: Bob Sheppard with the UW Jazz Orchestra & High School Honors Jazz Band. Tickets $15.

Buy tickets for both concerts for $25.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/jazz-bob-sheppard-guest-artist/

Tickets sold through the Campus Arts Ticketing Box Office online or in person. You may also buy day of show.

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/location.html

bob sheppard

 


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