The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This will be a busy and historic week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

October 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week will be a busy one at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which is now funded in large part by the Mead Witter Foundation.

The big event is the long-awaited groundbreaking for the new performance center. That, in turn, will be celebrated with three important and appealing concerts.

Here is the lineup:

FRIDAY

From 4 to 5:30 p.m., an official and public groundbreaking ceremony for the new Hamel Music Center will take place at the corner of Lake Street and University Avenue. (Below is an architect’s rendering of the completed building.)

uw hamel performance center exterior

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, pianist Christopher Taylor (below) will perform the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach on the two-keyboard “Hyperpiano” that he has invented and refined. (You can hear the opening aria theme of the “Goldberg” Variations played by Glenn Gould in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more information about the concert and the innovative piano, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2016/09/13/pianist-christopher-taylor-to-debut-new-piano/

Tickets are $18 and are available at the Wisconsin Union Theater box office. Last The Ear heard, the concert was close to a sell-out.

Christopher Taylor with double keyboard Steinway

SATURDAY

At 7 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison faculty bassoonist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill), who studied and worked with the recently deceased French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, will lead a FREE “Breaking Ground” concert of pioneering music from the 17th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

Composers represented include Ludwig van Beethoven, Michelangelo Rossi, Alexander Scriabin, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Helmut Lachenmann and Morton Feldman.

For more information and the complete program, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/breaking-ground-with-marc-vallon-and-sound-out-loud/

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

SUNDAY

At 3 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet will give a FREE concert.

For more information about the group and the program, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/the-wisconsin-brass-quintet/

Wisconsin Brass Quintet

Wisconsin Brass Quintet


Classical music: Mixing old and new music. Violinist Hilary Hahn talks about the works she commissioned and will play alongside classics when she performs Sunday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater

April 20, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger 

There are many great violinists playing today. But arguably the most important and innovative is 36-year-old Hilary Hahn (below), the thoughtful virtuoso who returns to perform a MUST-HEAR recital in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater at 7:30 p.m. this coming Sunday night.

The last two recitals there by Hahn were two of the most memorable live chamber music performances The Ear has ever heard.

Hilary Hahn 2016

Tickets are $27.50 to $50.50. UW-Madison students are $10.

Here is a link to information about tickets, the program and audio samples:

http://uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season15-16/hilary-hahn.html

During her 20-year career, Hahn – who often mixes the old and new both in live performances and on recordings — has consistently turned in astounding performances of the violin repertoire, including classics. Those works include concertos and sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Niccolo Paganini, Johannes Brahms, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Charles Ives, Jean Sibelius, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Samuel Barber, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Leonard Bernstein and others.

But she also frequently commissions and adds new works to the repertoire, including a concerto by Edgar Meyer and a Pulitzer Prize-winning concerto by Jennifer Higdon, who teaches composition at the Curtis Institute of music where Hahn studied. Plus, she is a talented and charming “postcard” blogger and interviewer.

Both sides of Hilary Hahn’s artistry – the classic and the contemporary — will be on display during her Madison recital. The very busy Hahn (below, in a photo by Peter Miller) recently agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:

Hilary Hahn 2016 CR Peter Miller

You have long been known as an innovative artist. What are your new and upcoming projects, including recordings and commissions?

I’m in the middle of a 14-month-long artist residency at the Vienna Konzerthaus. It’s my first such experience, so I feel like a kid in a candy store, getting to try out ideas sequentially that I would otherwise have to stretch over several years.

I’m excited to include among my residency performing as soloist with five different orchestras in the same hall, as well as giving a recital there and developing local initiatives to bring the community and classical music even closer together. Next year, I will be in residence in Seattle and Lyon. It’s been fun seeing what residency activities I want to carry over and what I can add that is specific to each city.

As far as commissions go, over this season and next, I’m world-premiering and touring a significant new contribution to the solo violin repertoire, Six Partitas by Antón García Abril (below), written for me.

That is a meaningful project for me, because I sensed that Mr. García Abril would write a fantastic set of pieces if I could convince him to take on the assignment. He decided to do it and the music turned out to be more wonderful and inspiring to play than I could have imagined. It feels like those phrases breathe with me and the notes fit in my hands.

In addition, I am in the process of wrapping up the original trajectory of my project, In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores. After some concerts on this upcoming tour, as encores, my recital partner Cory Smythe and I will be giving world premieres of the Honorable Mentions from my Encores contest.

Finally, in the fall, the complete edition of the sheet music for all 27 original works will be published as a single edition, with my fingerings, bowings and performance notes.

Anton García Abril BW

Is there an underlying unity or purpose to your program of works by Mozart, Bach, García Abril, Copland and Davidson?

I hope the listeners will find their own versions of unity and purpose in the program. The pieces weren’t assembled randomly, but then again, everyone listens differently.

García Abril’s Six Partitas, of which I will play No. 1, entitled “Heart,” are solo polyphonic works. The violin alone carries multiple melodic lines, as well as providing its own harmonies. Johann Sebastian Bach (below top) wrote his polyphonic Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin in 1720. I felt it was important to carry forward this particular type of composition into the present day, so I commissioned Mr. García Abril (below bottom, in a photo by Julio Ficha) to create this set of works. (You can hear Hilary Hahn interview Anton Garcia Abril in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

His writing for violin is compelling, fluid, emotional, clever and expressively rich in a way that I felt needed to be explored further. Especially as this is the premiere tour of his Partita No. 1, I wanted to juxtapose the new work with one of Bach’s, namely the Third Sonata with its complex and multifaceted fugue.

As for the duo pieces on the program, the compositional styles — though they span 250 years — have a certain openness in common: the writing is not densely layered, leaving lots of room for imagination.

Bach1

Anton García Abril CR Julio Ficha

What about the works by Mozart and Copland?

Mozart’s set of sonatas for keyboard and violin is one of the most extensive for this instrumentation, and since I was a student, I’ve been adding at least one to my repertoire annually. It’s wonderful to explore such a prolific composer’s work over a long stretch of time. This particular sonata vacillates among stormy drama, lyricism and playfulness.

The piece by Aaron Copland (below) is gorgeous, revealing. In this sonata, Copland’s musical language is clearly recognizable, but the texture is more sparse than in his famous larger-ensemble works, making it boldly direct and engrossing to listen to.

aaron copland

And the music by Tina Davidson?

The work by Tina Davidson (below) follows on the tonality of the Copland, but the composer’s treatment of the music goes in an entirely different direction. “Blue Curve of the Earth” was written in Wyoming during an artist residency, and was inspired by a photo of the edge of the Earth from space. The music is dreamy yet dimensional, angular yet lush. “Blue Curve of the Earth” is from the Encores project.

Tina Davidson

What would you like the public to know about composers Antón García Abril and Tina Davidson and their violin music or music in general?

I like to picture where pieces were written; the surroundings can add another dimension to the music. Environment influences the creative process. The studio is the private stage. Antón works in a studio outside of Madrid that his son, the architect by the same name, designed for him. Tina is based out of a refashioned church in Pennsylvania, with vaulted ceilings and a garden.

Both write beautifully for voice. Since violin can be a lyrical instrument and is tonally varied, capable of both sustaining and articulating, the ability to write expressively for voice transfers to the violin. Also, I have the impression that both composers start from a strong conceptual point with their works. When I play their music, the big line is the first thing that jumps out at me; the myriad fine details support the gestures.

Hilary Hahn playing 2 horizontal

If you play an encore or two, will they be from the ones you commissioned a couple of years ago and won a Grammy for?

That’s the plan! I feel very close to those pieces. Great encores exist from previous centuries, too; I never rule out the classics.

Why did you commission 27 short encores?

I began to notice that new encore pieces were not being showcased as much as other types of contemporary works. Shorter pieces remain a crucial part of every violinist’s education and repertoire, and I believed that potential new favorites should be encouraged and performed as well.

How successful have they been with the public and with other artists?

The public embraced the project. The music contained within the Encores is varied and imaginative. Each composer had a different concept of what an encore can add to today’s musical landscape.

I think every listener can find at least one work that is particularly poignant. I want the audience to discover these pieces for themselves. It is thrilling to listen to music that you have never heard before and, uninfluenced by other people’s opinions, be free to feel your own response.

This project is something I’ve been working on for a long time; I would estimate that my direct involvement in all of the different parts will wind up having a 15-year arc. What I have learned on musical and creative levels from working with the composers will stay with me for my whole career, and the logistical lessons from organizing such a big project will influence my future work.

Most importantly, I hope the Encores themselves will continue in the active repertoire beyond my lifetime. That will be up to other performers, of course.

Hilary Hahn Encores CD cover

You have played here several times, both concertos and solo recitals. Is there anything you would like to say about performing in Madison and about Madison audiences?

I really enjoy Madison itself. It’s in a beautiful part of the country. I’ll never forget the first time I visited, in the winter, when the city was covered by snow and one of the sidewalks featured a table topped by a tower of knit hats and sweaters. As for the Madison audience, their curiosity and involvement are energizing.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

Hello, everyone!


Classical music Q&A: What should newcomers and old-timers know about this year’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society concerts? What has changed and what has stayed the same? How do co-founders and co-artistic directors Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes measure the success of a BDDS season? Part 2 of 2.

June 10, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Some people might refer to it as one of the highlights of the summer music season in Madison.

The Ear prefers to think of it as a high point of the entire season in Madison. He waits all fall, winter and spring to find out the next theme, the next repertoire, the next performers.

I am talking about this Friday night when the Madison-based chamber music group the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society will open “23 Skiddoo,” its new six-concert, three-weekend and three-venue season at 7:30 p.m. in The Playhouse at the Overture Center. (Below is the poster for the 23rd annual season.)

23Skiddoo logo

And this summer series shows no sign of disappointing.

Much of the BDDS concert format or formula will remain the same: familiar classics of the repertoire mixed in with rarely heard artists and works, including commissions and a world or local premiere; familiar local performers mixed in with imported top-flight imported musicians; and the signature atmosphere that combines chatty levity with serious first-rate music-making.

Am I excited? You bet! And should you be too.

Some of my favorites are the piano trios, quartets and quintets performed by the San Francisco Trio. They will be playing here again, including one trio by Dmitri Shostakovich and another by Antonin Dvorak.

Other favorites of The Ear are the symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn and the piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the long-neglected chamber music reductions intended to be performed as “house music” in private homes. This summer includes one of the most popular Mozart piano concertos –- again.

I love the string works that BDDS plays – and this summer I will get to hear Claude Debussy’s phenomenal Violin Sonata, the last work he composed, and Maurice Ravel’s unusual Sonata for Violin and Cello.

BDDS cello duo

I especially love piano music: the more, the better. This summer I will get to hear two of the best: Jeffrey Sykes, who possesses the chameleon-like gift of Richard Goode in that he can sound absolutely natural and at home in just about any musical style, from Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern. But this summer is a twofer. Sykes will also perform two-piano pieces by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Witold Lutoslawski and Maurice Ravel with the celebrated University of Wisconsin-Madison virtuoso Christopher “Kit” Taylor.

BDDS piano jumbotron

Then there is the fabulous new clarinetist,  Alan Kay, of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, performing the sublime Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms.

You can hear all that plus a lot more, including a generous serving of South American music — tangos by Astor Piazzolla and songs by Carlos Guastavino — that flutist Stephanie Jutt brought back from her sabbatical year in Argentina.

But you can check out the programs for yourself. I challenge you to find one that just doesn’t interest and impress you.

Here is a link to the compete new season:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/classical-music-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-announces-its-23rd-season-23-skiddoo-this-june-with-an-emphasis-on-latin-american-chamber-music-a-midwest-premiere-by-american-co/

You might recall that The Ear has been so impressed with consistent high quality of the BDDS programs and performances that he named the group Musician of the Year for 2012. Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/classical-music-madisons-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-is-musician-of-the-year-for-2012/

And here is a link to the BDDS website with full details about the dates, time, venues, programs and performers’ bios.

http://bachdancinganddynamite.org

The co-founders and co-artistic directors flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes, agreed to an email Q&A that has run in two parts.

The first part ran yesterday. Here is a link to Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/classical-music-qa-how-do-you-make-chamber-music-both-fun-and-fine-co-directors-stephanie-jutt-and-jeffrey-sykes-discuss-this-summers-23rd-annual-three-weekend-three-venue-season-of-t/

Here is Part 2:

bddsjuttandsykesjpg

What would you like young people and newcomers to know about BDDS?

SJ: This is the perfect concert to go to if you haven’t been to a concert since grade school. It’s a perfect concert to take a date to – he’ll think you’re smart and artistic. She’ll think you’re thoughtful and edgy. The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is perfect for novices and connoisseurs alike.

JS: We are VERY user-friendly. We know that classical music concerts, and chamber music concerts in particular, can sometimes feel as if they are designed for the “initiated.”

We promise to give you an experience that makes great music FUN to listen to, not a chore, and certainly not like listening to a sermon at church. Whether you’ve been to a thousand chamber music concerts or none, you are welcome at our concerts, and we have something for you. (Below top, playful playing card uniforms are worn for a “Jokers Are Wild” program.)

BDDS 6 2013 Card costumes

What would you like fans and longtime audience members to know?

 JS: We are so inspired by your loyalty, your generosity, your roll-up-your-sleeves offers to help in hundreds of ways, big and small. We get many of our best ideas from our audience, so keep talking to us, because we are listening! If I could ask a favor, please bring a friend or two to a BDDS concert – someone that hasn’t been before. That’s the way we build our audience, one listener at a time.

SJ: We love you and we wouldn’t be here without your incredible enthusiasm and generosity! But if we could ask you a favor: bring someone new to a concert, someone who has never been to hear BDDS — or chamber music — before. Our very best advertising has always been word-of-mouth.

BDDS 4 ovation

Do you any favorite repertoire or programs? What are the virtues of each of the three different venues, and which one is the most popular venue with public? How do you measure the success of a season?

SJ: Oh dear – my favorite concert always is the one I’m currently playing, and our concerts are on such a level that I’m captivated by virtually everything. I don’t mean to gush, but since I’m the flutist, I’m not in all the pieces, so I get to watch and listen as some of them get put together.

It’s thrilling to watch the development of ideas and the intense communication between the artists, which the audience can truly appreciate in the small venues in which we perform. At Taliesin, the audience can literally read the notes on the page, and sometimes they do! We love that aspect of our performances, and it’s something our audiences only experience at BDDS.

JS: I love all our programs, so it’s hard to pick a favorite. During the process of putting together the season, any music we don’t like almost always gets weeded out 🙂

As for what I’m actually playing, again I’m happy about everything I’m playing—but I suppose if pressed, I’ll say that I’m especially looking forward to playing two-piano music with Kit Taylor again. Ravel’s “La valse” and Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances”—they are such juicy masterpieces, both originally written for two pianos, and really, really fun to play.

I’m also very self-indulgently looking forward to playing the Mozart concerto in Week Two. We pianists are so lucky—27 concertos by Mozart, and 19 of them absolute masterpieces. I hope to play one every year until I make my way through all of them.

I’m also very much looking forward to the Dvorak Piano Trio in F minor in Week Three. (Editor’s note: You can hear the Boston Trio play the first movement of the Dvorak Trio in F minor at the bottom in a YouTube video.) I’ve never played it before, and I love it so much. It’s music of such incredible depth and emotional honesty. (Below is the San Francisco Piano Trio with pianist Jeffrey Sykes, violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau.)

San Francisco Trio 1

Venues:

They are all great. Each has its pluses and minuses. I’d suggest you try them all on for size! (Below top is The Playhouse at the Overture Center; below middle is the Stoughton Opera House; and below bottom is the Hillside Theater at famed architect’s Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green.)

BDDS Playhouse audience

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

taliesin_hillside2

Measuring the success of a season.

1. Well, one measure is certainly financial—this is the “butts in seats” measure. We want a butt in every seat! Aside from meaning we’ve had great ticket sales, the energy of a full house is incredibly exciting.

2. Another measure of success is whether the season as a whole, and the concert programs individually, have a successful narrative arc. I think (hope) they do (will). Of course, you never really know until you actually do the programs…

3. Yet another measure of success is fairly internal—how the chemistry works for these artists playing these pieces together. It’s always a risk mixing musicians and pieces. We’ve had a pretty good success rate with this, but we do make mistakes now and again. We’re all pros, and we will pull it out for performance whatever has happened in rehearsal, but there is something fundamentally satisfying about great chemistry in the rehearsal process.

4. And yet another measure of success is the effect everything has on the audience. We all love a thunderous, spontaneous standing ovation. But even more than that, I love it when a piece ends and is followed by a very pregnant silence in the audience, like you’re so caught up in the moment that you forget to breathe. THAT is a sure sign of success. I think we have possibilities for a couple of these this season.

BDDS standing ovation

What else would you to say or add?

SJ: We have a wonderful FREE children’s concert on Saturday morning, June 14, at 11 a.m. in The Playhouse of the Overture Center. It is called, “Getta Move On, Kids!” and is sponsored by CUNA Mutual, and that is getting a large and enthusiastic audience. It is friendly for children of all ages -– so please join us!

Hightail it to the Overture box office or our BDDS website and buy a season ticket. Student tickets are only $5 and we’d love to see more music loving students in our audience. BDDS comes only once a year and it means to me that summer’s here!

JS: Thank YOU, Jake, for being such a loyal fan and supporter of BDDS!

 

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Classical music: Here are some suggestions for summer music festivals from NPR, the BBC and The New York Times that may help you plan your summer vacation.

June 5, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear admits it: He is more of an armchair traveler than a true explorer of the globe and its many cultures and cultural events.

But that approach has its compensations. At least it gives me a certain satisfaction that my carbon footprint is smaller than many “eco-friendly” people and “greens” who say they worry about global warming and climate change but think nothing of hopping on a jet to travel thousands of miles.

Jumbo jet taking off

But if I were to go on big trips, I might well plan some of them around the many wonderful classical music festivals that have sprung up in the area, the regional, the nation and the world.

Here is a link to 10 “can’t miss” classical music festivals. They include the always intriguing Bard Festival (below) that takes place near New York City on the Hudson River and in a concert hall (below) designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry. Here is a link to the list on the terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence” on NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/05/01/307968750/10-cant-miss-classical-music-festivals

Bard Music Festival Frank Gehry Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts hall

The New York Times has a more international list that includes the Salzburg Festival (below top) in Austria and the self-consciously hip Bach Festival (below bottom and at the bottom in a YouTube video) in Leipzig, Germany:

Salzburg Festival outdoors

Bach Festival in Leipzig 2013

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/23/arts/international/a-summer-feast-of-classical-music.html?_r=0

The list of festivals from the BBC Music Magazine is understandably heavy on festivals in the United Kingdom:

http://www.classical-music.com/festival-guide-2014

The Ear also found it helpful to Google “2014 summer classical music festivals.” He found quite a few festivals that were not listed in the other guides.

Of course, you still have to pay attention to the local media for word of local music festivals. This month, for example, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below) kicks off its annual three-weekend season of chamber music on Friday, June 13.

BDDS Haydn symphony 85 La Reine

In July, to offer another example, the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) will take place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. This year it is devoted to Italian music from 1300 to 1600, and will take place July 12-19. MEMF (below) made the New York Times listing last year, if I remember correctly, but not this year.

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences/madison-early-music-festival/index.html?source=madisonearlymusic.org

MEMF 2012 left stage

And then in late August the annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which takes place in a renovated barn (below), will happen. The 2014 season is the 25th anniversary season. Specific programs of composers and works are not listed, although performers and concert titles or themes are given. The site says to check back soon for details:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

TokenCreekbarn interior

 

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