The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra concerts this weekend feature three local debuts — by a woman conductor, a Grammy-winning cellist and an immigrant composer

October 17, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Three local debuts will take place this weekend in the three “Epic Romance” concerts by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below).

Renowned Canadian guest conductor Tania Miller will lead the MSO while music director John DeMain makes his debut at the Liceu Theater in Barcelona, conducting the opera Candide in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth.

Grammy Award-winning American cellist Zuill Bailey will make his Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) solo debut in Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto.

And Canadian composer Michael Oesterle will be performed for the first time in Madison when his work Home” opens each concert.

The second half of the program is Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.

Performances will be held in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 2912 State Street, on Friday, Oct. 19, at 7:30 p.m.; on Saturday, Oct. 20 at 8 p.m.; and on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 2:30 p.m.

Here are more details:

Canadian Conductor Tania Miller has distinguished herself as a dynamic interpreter, musician and innovator, on the podium and off. She has been praised for “energy, grace, precision and restraint.” She has appeared as a guest conductor in Canada, the United States and Europe with such orchestras as the Bern Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Symphony, Oregon Symphony and the Vancouver Symphony, among others.

Over a 14-year tenure as the Music Director of the Victoria Symphony in Canada, Miller (below) gained national acclaim for her passion and commitment to the orchestra and community. Recipient of the 2017 Friends of Canadian Music award from the Canadian League of Composers for her acclaimed commitment to contemporary music in Canada, Miller has been an example of the impact of commitment and dedication to an orchestra and to the future of orchestral music through creative innovation and vision.

You can hear Tania Miller discuss women conductors in the informative YouTube video at the bottom.(But please be forewarned: YouTube was having major technical issues and glitches last night that affected all their videos on this blog, not just this one. If it doesn’t load when you try, wait and then try again.) 

Zuill Bailey (below), described by Classical Net as “easily one of the finest cellists today,” has been featured with symphony orchestras worldwide, including Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, Israel, Cape Town, and the Bruckner Orchestra in Linz, Austria. Bailey has also appeared at Disney Hall, the Kennedy Center, the United Nations, Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.

In 2017, Bailey won a best solo performance Grammy Award for his live recording of “Tales of Hemingway,” by composer Michael Daugherty. His celebrated “Bach Cello Suites” and recently released Britten Cello Symphony and Sonata CD with pianist Natasha Paremski immediately rose to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard magazine Classical Chart.

His Cello Concerto was the last notable work by Sir Edward Elgar (below), composed in 1919 in the aftermath of World Ear I. Upon regaining consciousness following a 1918 tonsillectomy, Elgar immediately asked for pencil and paper and wrote down the melody that would become the first theme in this concerto.

Despite today’s renown as a crowd favorite, the piece did not achieve wide popularity until the 1960s, when a recording by Jacqueline du Pré caught the public’s attention, and it became a classical favorite.

Michael Oesterle’s “Home” had its world premiere in November 2017 with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra and conductor Tania Miller.

The piece is an homage to the great geographical ebb and flow of humanity, also known as the immigrant experience. Oesterle (below) notes, “I wrote it through the filter of my personal impressions as an immigrant, and with the realization that this subject is humbling in its breadth.”

Composed between May and August 1888, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 was first performed in St. Petersburg at the Mariinsky Theatre with Tchaikovsky below) conducting.

Unlike its two predecessors, there is no known program for the Fifth Symphony, save for a recurring main theme heard throughout all four movements. Over the years this theme has become known as the “fate” motive; its original ominous character undergoes various metamorphoses, emerging triumphant in the score’s concluding pages.

ABOUT ATTENDING

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert. One hour before each performance, Madison Symphony Chorus Director and UW-Madison director of choral activities Beverly Taylor (below) will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience. It is free to ticket holders.

The MSO recommends concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the Prelude Discussion.

Program notes for the concerts are available online: http://bitly.com/oct2018programnotes

Tickets can be purchased in the following ways:

  • Single Tickets are $18-$93 each and are on sale now at: https://madisonsymphony.org/ax through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141. Fees apply to online/phone sales.
  • Groups of 10 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit, https://www.madisonsymphony.org/groups.
  • Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $15 or $20 tickets. More information is at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush
  • Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
  • Subscribers to 5 or more symphony subscription concerts can save up to 50% off single ticket prices. More information is available about the season at: https://madisonsymphony.org/18-19
  • Flex-ticket booklets of 10 vouchers for 18-19 symphony subscription concerts are available. Learn more at: https://madisonsymphony.org/flex

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

Find more information, go to madisonsymphony.org

Major funding for the October concert is provided by: Mirror 34 Productions and National Guardian Life Insurance Company. Additional funding is provided by John A. Johnson Foundation, a component fund of the Madison Community Foundation, Barbara J. Merz, Selma Van Eyck, and the Wisconsin Arts Board, with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


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Classical music: The Madison Summer Choir celebrates its 10th anniversary with one of the best concerts of the year

July 20, 2018
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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.

By John W. Barker

The Madison Summer Choir (below) celebrated its 10th anniversary on Wednesday night at the First Congregational United Church of Christ.

Each year’s program has had a theme, and for this one it was “Old Wine in New Bottles”— though it might as well have been the other way ‘round.

The idea, though, was that the selections showed their composers looking back to the techniques and tastes of earlier generations while writing new music. Conductor Ben Luedcke (below) introduced each work to explain how such approaches worked out.

The first half of the program was devoted to four works, dating from three different centuries.

Two were by contemporary composers. A setting in English of the Psalm text “By the Waters of Babylon” by Sarah Riskind (below top) was followed by Amor de mi Ami, a tribute to his wife, in Spanish, by Randall Stroope (below bottom).

Each work had instrumental additions — in the first, piano with cello, in the second, just piano) which personally I found unnecessary. Riskind’s choral writing is attractively full and quite idiomatic, while Stroope achieves a natural lyricism. I would be interested to hear just the choral parts alone for each work. (Editor’s Note: You can hear the work by Randall Stroope in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

These two items were framed by music of earlier epochs. The Geistliches Lied (Spiritual Song) by Johannes Brahms showed his ability to create his own version of both pre- and post-Baroque polyphony. And Mozart’s Psalm setting Laudate pueri, from one of his Vespers collections (K. 339), showed his assimilation of Baroque counterpoint.

Bruce Bengtson played the part Brahms included for organ (or piano), and he also played the organ reduction of the orchestral part for the Mozart.

It was partly the acoustics, but also a weakness in diction that made the words in those four pieces all but indistinguishable, in whatever language was being sung—my one serious criticism of the performances.

The second part of the program was devoted to the first of the numbered Mass settings by Anton Bruckner. In some ways, such large-scale sacred works were studies for his majestic symphonies yet to come.

In this Mass No. 1 in D minor, Bruckner saw himself in the line of earlier Austrian church music, but anyone expecting bald imitations of Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven would be disappointed.

In his dense and highly chromatic writing — something like a step beyond Schubert — Bruckner created some very fascinating music. It reached really exciting power in the Credo, and the words “dona nobis pacem” at the conclusion had a deeply moving sense of serenity.

The choir, of 68 mixed voices, was joined for the Bruckner by four soloists — Chelsie Propst, Jessica Lee Timman, Peter Gruett, Christian Bester (below on the left) — who sang their parts handsomely, and by an orchestra of 30 players, who provided strong and sturdy support.

Luedcke deserves particular praise for giving a chance to hear the Bruckner Mass, which was thought to be its Madison premiere. It climaxed a really enterprising event, one that I think will stand as among the Best Concerts of the Year.


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Classical music: Should the Madison Symphony Orchestra program more 20th-century music?

April 14, 2017
21 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

A friend and reviewer for this blog – his specialty is opera but he also is very experienced with the symphonic repertoire — sent in the following opinion piece.

It is being posted in the wake of the announcement by the Madison Symphony Orchestra of its 2017-18 season.

For reference, here is a link to the lineup of the next season’s concerts that was posted yesterday:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/classical-music-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-announces-its-2017-2018-season-of-nine-concerts-of-favorites-combined-with-firsts/

By Larry Wells

I received my subscription renewal package for the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a  photo by Greg Anderson) a couple of weeks ago, and I was struck then by how conservative and prosaic most of the offerings are.

I’ve mentioned my feelings to acquaintances, and one of the prevailing arguments is that they have to fill the seats.

The assumption seems to be that the patrons will only tolerate music written before 1850.

I’m 70 and I grew up with Stravinsky. I can recall the world premieres of Shostakovich’s final three symphonies. I once eagerly awaited recordings of Britten’s latest works. And I heard the first performances of several works by John Adams (below) while living in San Francisco in the 1980s.

If the assumption is that most reliable patrons are in their 70s and 80s, this seems like a dead-end (pardon the pun). There will be no audience in 20 years.

I believe that audiences can tolerate music of the 20th century — look at the glowing reviews of and enthusiastic ovations for last week’s performances of Witold Lutoslawski’s “Concerto for Orchestra’’ — and attracting younger patrons with bolder musical choices seems an economic necessity.

How can the MSO not be commemorating the centenary of Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell)? The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is performing several of his pieces in its upcoming season.

Why do we have to endure another Brahms symphony when we could hear Dmitri Shostakovich’s 11th or 15th or Jean Sibelius’ Fourth or Fifth or even Anton Bruckner’s 8th?

On a positive note, I was heartened to see that Benjamin Britten’s “Sinfonia da Requiem” is scheduled next season since that has been on my wish list for years. Likewise, Leos Janacek’s “Glagolitic Mass” is a nice surprise.

However, when will we hear Britten’s “War Requiem,” Bernstein’s “Mass” or “‘Songfest,” a symphony by Walter Piston (below top) or William Schuman (below middle) or Alan Hovhannes (below bottom)?

I’m really tired of going to concerts where only one of the works is of interest to me and the others are historic artifacts. I’d like to see a reversal wherein Brahms, Mozart and Beethoven are brought out occasionally, but the bulk of the music performed comes from the rich source of the 20th century.

What do you think?

Leave word in the COMMENT section.


Classical music: What is the greatest symphony ever written? And what are the other nine in the maestros’ list of the Top 10 symphonies?

September 9, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The BBC Music Magazine recently surveyed 151 conductors about their favorite symphonies. (Below is a photo of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Of course, the maestros – who were asked to name their Top 3 symphonies to generate a master list — might well disagree with the public. One suspects that conductors like BIG, difficult and complex works that challenge them.

Here’s a big surprise — NOT: the list is heavily weighted toward German and Austrian composers. And The Ear doesn’t mean Haydn, Schubert or Schoenberg.

Now making such rankings and lists is certainly a subjective experience, some say, silly.

Still, it can be informative as well as fun.

Here are the results, as reported in The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/aug/04/beethoven-eroica-greatest-symphony-vote-bbc-mozart-mahler

Do you agree with the maestros?

What modern and contemporary symphonies would you name?

What great symphony, from any period, do you think is missing from the Top 10 and would you add?

The Ear – who confesses his special fondness for the Symphony No. 1 “Titan” by Gustav Mahler — wants to hear.


Classical music: Conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who pioneered an originality and difference that changed our appreciation of early music, has died at 86

March 12, 2016
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ALERT: The UW Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of music director UW-Madison Professor James Smith, will perform a FREE concert on this Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program features “Mathis der Mahler” by Paul Hindemith and the Symphony No. 1 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

By Jacob Stockinger

The pioneering conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt (below) died this past week.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt portrait

He was 86. He had been ill, and died only three months after his last public appearance on the concert stage.

He leaves behind a huge recorded legacy, some 560 entries — including many multiple-disc boxes — according to a search at Amazon.com.

Harnoncourt started as a concert-level cellist who was especially well-known for who conducting early music. But he also worked with more modern orchestra groups and soloists in a lot of big mainstream music. (Below, in photo from Getty Images, he is seen conducting in 2012.)

Nikolaus Harnoncourt rehearsing in 2012 Getty Images

True, it for his Johann Sebastian Bach, his Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his Ludwig van Beethoven — done with the group he and his wife Alice founded, the Concentus Musicus Wien — that The Ear will most remember him for. They were strong and forceful. No music box Mozart for Harnoncourt!

But Harnoncourt refused to be pigeonholed into smaller Baroque ensembles.

The Ear also likes him with much larger modern groups in mainstream Romantic fare such as the symphonies and concertos by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner and Antonin Dvorak with the Royal Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic. He even conducted Johann Strauss waltzes for the New Year’s Concerto from Vienna.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting

Harnoncourt often found beauty in unexpected places, in music that we thought had nothing new to say after so many performances and such a long history. But he loved vibrancy and modernity. He did what Ezra Pound advised poets to do: Make it new.

And boy, did Harnoncourt — a thoughtful and passionate advocate — ever make music new, whether it was Baroque, Classical or Romantic! Although he was not a pioneer of new music per se, he always seemed to turn early music or whatever else he touched into new music.

The Ear recalls with relish some of the ways he put percussion and brass forward in early music, giving incredible rhythm and impulse or momentum to it. The same goes for using boy sopranos instead of women in the cantatas, oratorios and passions by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Harnoncourt always seemed less interested in authenticity as a justification than in the results he got from such changes or such different interpretations.

Often Harnoncourt had certain differences he wanted to emphasize. They were not always convincing, but they were usually convincing. And they were always interesting and illuminating, even if you disagreed with them.

nikolaus harnoncourt popeye conducting

In the special memorial  YouTube video at the bottom is the Sinfonia from J.S. Bach’s Cantata BWV 156 in a performance by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Concentus Musicus of Vienna:

Here are some illuminating obituaries:

From The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/07/arts/music/nikolaus-harnoncourt-conductor-and-early-music-specialist-dies-at-86.html?_r=0

From the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR (National Public Radio) by Anastasia Tsioulcas:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/03/07/469505636/remembering-nikolaus-harnoncourt

From The Guardian in the United Kingdom:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/mar/06/nikolaus-harnoncourt-obituary

From The Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/nikolaus-harnoncourt-conductor-of-international-renown-dies-at-86/2016/03/06/278280e4-e3df-11e5-b0fd-073d5930a7b7_story.html

And finally, here is a story from MTV, which called Harnoncourt the “punk genius of classical music,” a description The Ear likes and which he suspects Harnoncourt himself would have liked:

http://www.mtv.com/news/2750555/nikolaus-harnoncourt-was-classical-musics-punk-genius/

Do you have an observation about Nikolaus Harnoncourt to share?

Is there a specific composer, work or recording of his that you hold special?

Leave word in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: It’s Father’s Day as well as the Summer Solstice plus the second FREE Make Music Madison festival. What music would you play for your father?

June 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is a lot of things.

It is the summer solstice — the first day of summer — so a lot of people will be listening to “Summer” section (below in a popular YouTube video with more than 9 million hits) from “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi. Or perhaps they will celebrate the coming of summer with other music and other composers?

It is also the FREE citywide and mostly outdoor festival of Make Music Madison. Here is a link to the website, where you can find a search engine that feature genres and performers as well as locations:

http://makemusicmadison.org

Make Music Madison logo square

But because it is Father’s Day, I would like to hear what music you would play for your father. Leave your suggestion, with a YouTube link if possible, in the COMMENTS section.

My father liked his music less heavy. Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner and Richard Wagner were not for him.

But something like the Barcarolle to Jacques Offenbach’s opera “The Tales of Hoffmann” was exactly to his liking.

So here it is, for you Dad.


Classical music: This afternoon is your last chance to hear pianist Christopher Taylor and the Madison Symphony Orchestra in rave-receiving performances of concertos by Bach and Liszt and the Symphony No. 7 by Anton Bruckner. Then this Tuesday night, organist Samuel Hutchison will continue the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Overture Concert Organ with a recital of Bach, Mozart, Widor and other composers.

April 12, 2015
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear what may be the best concert of this season by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The program features UW-Madison virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor (below) in Keyboard Concerto No. 4 by J.S. Bach and Piano Concerto No. 1 by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt as well as a “landmark” performance of the Late Romantic Austrian composer Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7.

Here is a rave review by John W. Barker, the dean of Madison’s music critics who writes for Isthmus and for this blog:

http://www.isthmus.com/arts/stage/piano-virtuoso-joins-madison-symphony-orchestra-christopher-taylor/

Christopher Taylor new profile

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Organist and Curator Samuel Hutchison will mark a decade of memorable performances on the Overture Concert Organ (below) in a recital on this coming Tuesday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, 201 State Street.

Overture Concert Organ overview

The program will include music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Alexander Guilmant, Jehan Alain, Charles-Marie Widor and Charles Villiers Stanford. (You can hear one of the Bach works he will play — the Fantasy and Fugue in G  Minor, BWV 542, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

For the specific works on the program and more information, go to:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/hutchisonrecital

Hutchison (below) has presented many recitals in the U.S and in Europe in locations that include the Riverside Church, New York City; St. Paul’s Cathedral, London; and Notre Dame, St. Sulpice and St. Étienne-du-Mont, Paris.

Sam Hutchison with organ (c) JoeDeMaio

He also performed the complete works of J.S. Bach – himself primarily an organist — in a series of 11 weekly recitals for the 300th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 1985.

General admission for the concert is $20 and tickets can be purchased at www.madisonsymphony.org/hutchisonrecital, the Overture Center Box Office or (608) 258-4141.

Student rush tickets are $10 day of show with a valid student ID see http://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush).

This concert is sponsored by Friends of the Overture Concert Organ.

For more Overture Concert Organ information, including recital, hymn sings and community visit http://www.madisonsymphony.org/organseason

 


Classical music: Behold Bruckner! Conductor John DeMain explains the monumental beauty and major technical and interpretative challenges of Anton Bruckner, whose mammoth Seventh Symphony he will perform this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

April 8, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend brings what, for The Ear, is the most interesting program of the season from the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The combination of Baroque, Romantic and Late Romantic music includes the long-awaited performance of a major symphony—the Seventh—by Anton Bruckner (below).

Anton Bruckner 2

The program, to be performed under the baton of longtime MSO music director John DeMain, includes the Keyboard Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Franz Liszt. The soloist for both works is the dynamic and versatile Christopher Taylor (below), the resident virtuoso at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Here is a link to an interview with him that appeared here earlier this week:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/classical-music-uw-madison-pianist-christopher-taylor-says-bach-wouldnt-mind-being-played-on-the-piano-and-the-public-should-get-to-know-the-less-virtuosic-side-of-liszt-he-plays-concertos/

Christopher Taylor new profile

Performances are in Overture Hall in the Overture Center. Times are Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12-$84.

For details, go to https://www.madisonsymphony.org or call the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Maestro DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) recently agreed to do an email Q&A about Bruckner with The Ear:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Why has the MSO gone so long without playing a Bruckner symphony? Why did you choose the Symphony No. 7 as the first Bruckner symphony to be performed by the MSO during your tenure?

When I first came to Madison, I was so focused on Mahler that I didn’t think much about Bruckner. Doing so much Mahler in a short season of seven classical concerts, I felt that adding Bruckner to the mix was too much for our audiences from this period.

Now I can focus on other composers from the late Romantic period, most notably Anton Bruckner. The MSO performed Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony (“Romantic”) in the mid-1980s. So I felt the Seventh would be the right symphony to perform after such a long hiatus, and one the audience would have enormous pleasure listening to.

Do you plan to program other Bruckner symphonies in future seasons? What is the next one you would like to conduct?

I’m certainly interested in a reload at the Fourth Symphony as well as the Eighth and Ninth in some future year.

What makes Bruckner great and how does his music differ from that of his contemporaries such as Gustav Mahler? What are his musical signatures?

Bruckner’s music is monumental in structure. The music basks in tonal beauty. His melodic lines are long, and he loves sequences, modulating as he goes along, building to temporary climaxes, until the big ones come along. The slow movement of the Seventh Symphony is achingly beautiful and moving.

At times, he sounds like Mahler (below), and why not? They were both writing at the same time, so musical trends are going to creep into the composers’ writing in any given era. The lilting waltz in the middle of the slow movement and the scherzo are two such examples that call to mind the music of Mahler.

For me, Mahler’s music struggles more, from the depths of human misery to the glories of newfound salvation. Bruckner doesn’t do that. His music is more architectural in its dramatic unfolding, relying on sequential melodic and harmonic tension, and powerful eruptions from the brass sections of the orchestra.

Gustav Mahler big

What are the major challenges, technical and interpretive, for you and the MSO players in doing Bruckner?

Bruckner is not as explicit as Mahler or Richard Strauss in his directions to the interpreter. Often a movement will have one, or, at the most, two or three general tempo indications. This leaves enormous leeway for the conductor to interpret Bruckner’s intentions. Listening to a variety of past performances by some of our greatest German and Austrian conductors of the past reveals enormous differences regarding tempo, consistency of tempo and general shaping. My influences will be more recent to reflect the scholarship and musical sensibilities of our time.

The challenge for the orchestra will primarily be endurance, particularly for the brass, as Bruckner the loves repetition during his big climaxes, literally embracing the audience with rapturous sound. Also, the strings are asked to play tremolo a lot, and that can be fatiguing. The effect, however, is wonderful. (Note: You can hear that for yourself in a YouTube video at the bottom that features an excerpt from the Scherzo movement of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 as performed by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic.)

The biggest challenge for me will be the shaping of the symphony. Finding the right tempo, and knowing when to depart from it, so the music can breathe, are additional challenges, as well as paying strict attention to the long crescendos, diminuendos and sudden dynamic changes.

I can’t wait to get to work on it. Other aspects of orchestral playing are always present, like the intonation of the Wagner tubas that we will be using and strict adherence to dynamic changes that are bold, frequent and often extreme.

MSO-HALL

John DeMain conducting 2

What would you like the audience to pay special attention to in the symphony and your performance of it?

I think the audience should let the power and beauty of this symphony take them on their own personal journey. The Wagnerian and Mahlerian influences, as well as the Germanic nature of the music, should be immediately apparent to the listener and put them on familiar territory.

Is there anything else you would like to say about Bruckner?

I would just like to say to the audience, that if they haven’t had a chance to hear Bruckner live, or much at all, this is the perfect choice and chance to get closer to this major composer of 19th-century German Romanticism.


Classical music: The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble will use its 13th annual summer concerts to explore expressions of LOSS on this Friday night and Sunday afternoon. Plus, you can check Day 6 of WYSO’s tour to Argentina.

July 30, 2014
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ALERT: For the latest news from the 10-day tour to Argentina by the Youth Orchestra (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), here is a link to Day 6:

www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the many summer musical events that have become institutions to look forward to are the two concerts by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.

Here are the details, from a press release, for this weekend’s sets of two concerts:

ISTHMUS VOCAL ENSEMBLE RETURNS FOR ITS LUCKY 13TH SEASON

MADISON – When conductor Scott MacPherson –- a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — convened some of Madison’s top singers in 2002, he had no way of knowing that the newly formed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below) would begin one of Madison’s most anticipated summer musical traditions. (You can hear a stirring sample at the bottom in a YouTube video of a live performance by the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble.)

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble group concert dress

Now in its 13th year, the ensemble -– a professional-level choir of approximately 60 singers –- brings new life to over 500 years of choral music. Amazingly, the choir continues to do it all within a brief two-week rehearsal period.

This intense spirit of camaraderie produces a singular and remarkable experience, year after year.

Madison-area audiences have two opportunities to hear the 2014 program.

The traditional Friday night concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. on this Friday, August 1, at Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors; children 12 or under get in for free. Tickets can be bought at the door or on-line at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/802712

Christ Presbyterian Church

The program will be repeated at 3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, August 3, at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 326 South Segoe Road. General admission tickets are $15 for adults; $10 for students and seniors. Children under 13 get in free. Tickets can be bought at the door or on-line at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/802714

Covenant Presbyterian Church chancel

This year, the singers will tackle texts in Latin, French (medieval and modern), Russian, German, English and even a form of nonsense language, notated loosely in Finnish, inspired by both Scandinavian folk dance and the Muppets’ Swedish Chef (below).

Swedish Chef

This year’s performance includes introspective choral masterworks by Henry Purcell, Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner and others, exploring the labyrinth of emotions begat by LOSS.

Also featured are contemporary works by Andrew Rindfleisch and Lionel Daunais, and a rousing conclusion with spirituals arranged by Moses Hogan.

The French chanson “Mille regretz” by the 15th century composer Josquin des Prez (below top) is matched by a modern setting by Andrew Rindfleisch (below bottom). Here is a link top the home website for the Prix de Rome-winning composer Andrew Rindfliesch, who did his bachelor’s degree at UW-Madison:

www.andrewrindfleisch.com

Josquin Des Prez

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

The choir’s renowned low basses will be on display in Russian works including Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Tebé poyém (We Hymn Thee)” and Alexander Gretchaninoff’s stunning “Ñe rïdáy Meñé, Máti (Do not lament me, O Mother).”

Rachmaninoffold

Alexander Grechaninov in 1912

From the German tradition, Johannes Brahms’ Two Motets, Op. 74 (beginning with “Warum ist das Licht gegeben”), join Anton Bruckner’s classic “Virga Jesse.”

brahms3

Anton Bruckner 2

Other composers represented include Jaako Mäntyjärvi, Lionel Daunais, Henry Purcell (below), Imant Raminsh and the great spiritual arranger Moses Hogan.

purcell

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble is led by Scott MacPherson (below), director of choral activities at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, who trained at the UW-Madison.

Scott MacPherson older BW

The IVE’s members include professional singers and choral directors, professors, lawyers, students and passionate advocates for the arts. The choir has performed by invitation at the North Central Conference of the American Choral Directors Association, commissioned several world premieres and released two albums.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing with Scott MacPherson

For more information, visit www.isthmusvocalensemble.org or the choir’s page on Facebook.

 

 


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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