The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Two new memoirs and a new recording are revealing but uneven in marking the centennial of Leonard Bernstein

July 28, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

We are only a month away from the centennial of the birthday of conductor, composer, educator and pianist Leonard Bernstein, which will be celebrated on Saturday, Aug. 25. Larry Wells, who is The Opera Guy for The Ear, recently assessed three of the many works – two new books of memoirs and one new recording — reexamining the life, career and legacy of Leonard Bernstein.

By Larry Wells

During this year commemorating the centenary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell), one need only consult https://leonardbernstein.com to find a day-by-day calendar of performances of his works.

As well as world-wide opportunities to hear his works -– even in Madison — there have been two recent books about Bernstein and a new recording of his final opera, “A Quiet Place,” that might be worth your time.

“A Quiet Place” was premiered in Houston as a sequel to his earlier opera “Trouble in Tahiti.” These first performances were conducted by our own John DeMain, the longtime artistic director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Madison Opera.

This nearly two-hour one-act opera dealing with incest, bisexuality, alcoholism and psychosis did not please the critics either for its libretto or for its music.

Soon thereafter Bernstein refashioned the opera by inserting “Trouble in Tahiti” in the middle and cutting some music. His subsequent recording has always baffled me because the music is so uninteresting and the casting is so haphazard.

The new recording on the Decca label (below) is of yet another version devised by Garth Edwin Sunderland. Reducing the orchestration to a chamber ensemble of 18 players, removing “Trouble in Tahiti,” and restoring some of the cuts, this recording by Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra allows us to hear most of the original version of the opera.

(To read Sunderland’s analysis of his edition, check https://leonardbernstein.com/uploads/pages/files/PFR_2013_FW.pdf.)

The new recording is a valiant attempt by Nagano (below) to breathe some life into this dreary work, but I remain unconvinced that “A Quiet Place” is any more than a failed, final stab by a composer most of whose work I admire very much.

Charlie Harmon was Bernstein’s personal assistant, and his recent memoir ”On the Road and Off the Record with Leonard Bernstein: My Years with the Exasperating Genius” (below) goes a long way in explaining the failure of “A Quiet Place.” (You can hear the Postlude to Act I of “A Quiet Place” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

To hear Harmon tell it, by this time in Bernstein’s life the maestro depended on drugs to go to sleep, drugs to keep himself awake, and alcohol in excess.  He also had a penchant for younger men.

The picture he paints of a troubled genius is rather pathetic, and Bernstein comes across as thoughtless, self-centered and exasperating. When Harmon (below, on the right with Bernstein) writes of his shock at being groped by Bernstein, I had to wonder what else he had expected. Still, it is an entertaining read.

Bernstein’s daughter Jamie Bernstein has recently published  “Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein” (below) Here we get a glimpse into Bernstein’s family life. The portrait of his troubled relationship with his long-suffering wife Felicia Montealegre is particularly interesting.

I heard Jamie Bernstein (below) speak recently in Tucson, and she told amazing anecdotes about Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and William Schuman.

Little of that appears in the book. She assumes that the reader is interested in her own love life and her failed pop music career. I would have preferred to read more about the many fascinating people who surrounded Bernstein and less about her privileged and entitled life.

I have always been a big fan of Bernstein. I admired him as a conductor, teacher and composer. Anyone who has even a nominal interest in the man will find both of the recent memoirs at least diverting. The recording of “A Quiet Place,” however, is only for the true devotees.

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Classical music: Tucson celebrates the Leonard Bernstein centennial. Why not Madison?

February 17, 2018
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Editor’s note: Larry Wells, better known as The Opera Guy who writes for this blog, recently spent time in Tucson, Arizona, where he attended many events celebrating the Leonard Bernstein centennial.

Tucson isn’t alone. This fall has seen many similar celebrations, including those in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Milwaukee. But curiously there has been little in Madison.

Perhaps that will change next season. At least this week will see a FREE concert by the UW-Madison Wind Ensemble this Wednesday night, Feb. 21, in Mills Hall. The mixed program with other composers features “Profanation” from Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1.

Here is a link with more information and the program:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wind-ensemble-2/

And here are observations about the Tucson celebration:

By Larry Wells

I recently spent a few weeks in Tucson. Part of that time happily coincided with the annual Tucson Desert Song Festival which this year commemorated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell).

I was able to attend 13 of the performances and was struck by the consistently intelligent programming, large audiences, and high performance standards.

Many of the events were held at the Fred Fox School of Music at the University of Arizona. Some of these involved talented student and faculty singers performing Bernstein’s Broadway songs as well as his more serious vocal works. The venue also hosted outstanding recitals by Metropolitan Opera veterans Jennifer Johnson Cano (below top) and Lisette Oropesa (below bottom).

One of the highlights was a recital by dual pianists Steven Bleier (below top, on right) and Michael Barrett (below top, on left), founders of the New York Festival of Song. Their program included Bernstein’s final song cycle “Arias and Barcarolles” featuring the very talented Joshua Jeremiah (below middle) and Rebecca Jo Loeb (below bottom).

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra (below), under the direction of its new conductor José Luis Gomez,  filled the cavernous Tucson Music Hall for two performances of Bernstein’s underperformed Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish.” Joined by the symphony’s outstanding chorus, the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus, and soprano Kelley Nassief this monumental work was electrifying. The many percussionists were given a good aerobic workout, and the audience seemed hypnotized.

The only flaw was the narration rewritten and delivered by Bernstein’s daughter Jamie. The original narration by the composer is a monologue between a man and his god. Ms. Bernstein’s narration changed the tone to that of a daughter speaking about her father.

For someone familiar with the work, I felt somewhat cheated that I was not hearing the work as it had been composed. Still it was a total delight to hear a live performance of a work that should be heard far more often than it is.

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra offered a second program which featured a sparkling performance of Bernstein’s opera “Trouble in Tahiti” with the widely-praised, and rightly so, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke (below in a photo by Dario Acosta).

Ballet Tucson offered a somewhat strange program featuring Bernstein songs beautifully performed by Cadie Jordan (below top) and David Margulis (below bottom, in a photo by Kristin Hoebermann). Sometimes they were accompanied by dancers and sometimes not.

Then, after a number of these songs, a recording came on of portions of the suite from Bernstein’s score for the film “On the Waterfront” with dancers performing a sort of “Romeo and Juliet” narrative. It didn’t seem to make any cohesive sense, but it was fun to watch and the quality of the music never faltered.

Two other large events were the Arizona Opera’s “Candide” and Tucson’s resident chorus True Concord’s MASS.

I attended the premiere of “Candide” (below) which was also performed in the vast Tucson Music Hall. I had only seen it performed once before, and that was the charming, witty, and intimate Harold Prince version. The Tucson version was one of the overlong operatic versions that featured additional musical numbers, which was a good thing, but wordy spoken dialogue that was unfortunately under-amplified. Therefore, unless someone was very familiar with the work, the production was a long string of seemingly unrelated musical numbers linked by incomprehensible spoken dialogue.

The dialogues themselves are very witty, but since they were not accompanied by supertitles as was the singing, the performance was seriously flawed. Still the singing was excellent, with special praise for Katrina Galka’s Cunegonde, and the staging was colorful and often amusing. Hopefully the sound issues were rectified for the following four performances. (You can hear the famous Overture to “Candide”– conducted by the composer —  in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

MASS (poster with scenes is below) was performed in what is termed as the ‘Chamber Version.’ I was apprehensive that somehow the musical content would be diminished, but my worries turned out to be unfounded and the performance was uniformly dynamic and engaging. True Concord is an outstanding choral group, and its leader Eric Holtan led a thoroughly engaging and moving performance of this monumental work. I was so taken by the first performance that I attended the second as well. Both performances filled the huge Centennial Hall.

Besides the orchestra and chorus the work features a celebrant, in this case the appropriately named Jubilant Sykes, an ensemble of vocal soloists, a boys chorus and dancers. The choreographers decided to add an additional layer of complexity to an already complex work by having some of the dancers portray Rose, Jacqueline and Caroline Kennedy as well as what I think was supposed to be the spirit of JFK. This was not part of the original work, and I felt it was superfluous to an already multifaceted work. But the audience loved it all, and it turns out that Madison is not the only city that seems to give everything a standing ovation.

The takeaway moment of the festival occurred during a discussion involving composer Dan Asia, the festival director and conductor George Hanson, and Jamie Bernstein. When asked how younger audiences can be lured into concert halls, all three of them immediately concurred that the answer is to program 20th-century music. They claim that any time 20th-century music is programmed, ticket sales increase. My experience at this festival was that large venues were consistently filled with audiences of all ages.

This is something for Madison to think about.


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Classical music: Mozart masterfully melds the emotional and the intellectual, says maestro Gary Thor Wedow, who will conduct two performances of “The Magic Flute” this weekend for the Madison Opera. Here is Part 1 of his two-part interview with The Ear

April 18, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will stage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute this Friday night, April 21 at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, April 23, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. (Production photos are courtesy of the Arizona Opera, from which the Madison Opera got its sets and costumes.)

Here are an introduction and some details, courtesy of the Madison Opera:

Written in the last year of his life, Mozart’s opera is part fairy tale, part adventure story, and is filled with enchantment.

Set in a fairy-tale world of day and night, the opera follows Prince Tamino and the bird-catcher Papageno as they embark on a mission to rescue Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night. Pamina had been kidnapped by Sarastro, the leader of a religious order. But it turns out that exactly who is “good” and who is “evil” is not always what it appears.

Along the way to happily-ever-after, Pamina, Tamino and Papageno face many challenges, but are assisted by a magic flute, magic bells, a trio of guiding spirits and their own clear-eyed sense of right and wrong.

“The Magic Flute has been beloved around the world since its 1791 premiere,” says Kathryn Smith (below in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director. “It has been called a fairy tale for both adults and children, with a story that works on many levels, all set to Mozart’s glorious music. I’m so delighted to be sharing it again with Madison, with an incredible cast, director and conductor.”

The opera runs about 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

Tickets are $18 to $130.

“The Magic Flute” will be sung in German with English supertitles.

For more about the production and cast, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/

And also go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/cast/

Dan Rigazzi, who has been on the directing staff at the Metropolitan Opera for 10 years, makes his Madison Opera debut with this beautiful production that incorporates some steampunk elements into its fairy-tale setting.

Gary Thor Wedow, a renowned Mozart conductor, makes his mainstage debut with this opera, after having conducted Opera in the Park in 2016 and 2012.

Conductor Wedow (below) recently agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers?

Hello! I’m an American conductor, born in LaPorte, Indiana. A faculty member at The Juilliard School, I spend a lot of time with music of the 18th century — Handel and Mozart and often earlier, like Monteverdi, Purcell and Cavalli. But I conduct everything and grew up in love with the Romantics. I’ve also always done a lot of contemporary music. I love it all.

Mozart’s music sounds so clear and easy or simple, but the reality is quite different, musicians say. What do you strive for and what qualities do you think make for great Mozart playing?

Mozart engages both the brain and the heart. He challenges your intellect with amazing feats of counterpoint, orchestration and structure while tugging at your heart, all the time pulling you along in a deep drama.

Mozart was an Italian melodist with a German contrapuntal, harmonic engine – like an incredible automobile with an Italian slick body and a German motor.

Do you share the view that opera is central to Mozart’s music, even to his solo, chamber and ensemble instrumental music? How so? What is special or unique to Mozart’s operas, and to this opera in particular?

From all accounts, Mozart (below, in his final year) was a huge personality who was full of life and a keen observer of the human condition; his letters are full of astute, often merciless and sometimes loving evaluations of family, colleagues and patrons.

Mozart’s music speaks of the human condition: its passions, loves and hopes— no matter what genre. His music is innately dramatic and primal, going immediately to the most basic and universal human emotions with breathtaking nuance, variety and depth. (You can hear the Overture to “The Magic Flute,” performed by the Metropolitan Opera orchestra under James Levine, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Tomorrow: Tricks to conducting Mozart and what to pay special attention to in this production of The Magic Flute.


Classical music education: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras performs “Sounds of the Season” with area high school choirs on TV once again on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Plus, WYSO names Randal Swiggum as its new interim music director

December 23, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras has two pieces of news to report:

As in past years, WYSO will perform its popular one-hour, commercial-free “Sounds of the Season” concerts on TV on NBC 15 this weekend. 

Three WYSO groups will be featured: the Youth Orchestra (below top), the Youth Brass Choir (below middle) and the Percussion Ensemble (below bottom).

WYSO Youth Orchestra James Smith conducting 2015

WYSO Brass Choir

WYSO Percussion Ensemble 2012

There will be one performance on Christmas Eve at 10 p.m., and then two performances on Christmas Day at 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

The orchestra and ensembles will also be joined by choirs from area high schools. Sorry, but The Ear can’t find word of which ones.

You can hear part of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” as performed by WYSO on “Sounds of the Season” in the YouTube video at the bottom.

For more information, photos and audiovisual clips from a last year’s “Sounds of the Season,” go to:

http://www.nbc15.com/content/misc/NBC15-Sounds-Of-The-Season-2016-406076915.html

wyso-sounds-of-the-season-logo

In addition WYSO has named an interim replacement for outgoing music director James Smith (below), who is retiring from WYSO as well as from the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the end of this season.

james smith Jack Burns

Here are details from WYSO’s executive director Bridget Fraser:

“WYSO is very pleased to announce that Randal Swiggum (below) has been appointed WYSO Interim Artistic Director and Youth Orchestra Conductor for the 2017-2018 season.

“Randy is well-known to many WYSO students already, whether through Summer Music Clinic, the recent Wisconsin Middle Level Honors orchestra, or Suzuki Strings of Madison. He prepared the WYSO Youth Orchestra for its 2012 Overture Center performance of “To Be Certain of the Dawn,” and has subbed in with Philharmonia Orchestra and chamber music rehearsals.

Randall Swiggum

“Randy is in his 19th season as Artistic Director of the award-winning Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, a large program similar to WYSO, which draws students from 70 different communities in suburban Chicago.

“Under his direction, the EYSO has collaborated with renowned artists like Midori, Yo-Yo Ma and Rachel Barton Pine, as well as Grammy-winning chamber ensemble eighth blackbird. The EYSO has appeared on NPR’s “From the Top” and at the Ravinia Festival, where they will return to perform again in 2018.

“The Illinois Council of Orchestras has twice named him Conductor of the Year and awarded its prestigious Programming of the Year Award to the EYSO.

“A frequent guest conductor of orchestral and choral festivals, Randy recently conducted the Scottish National Youth Symphony in Glasgow, All-State Orchestras in Georgia and Illinois, the American Mennonite Schools Orchestra Festival, Northern Arizona Honors Orchestra, the APAC Orchestra Festival in Seoul, and both the Wisconsin Middle Level Honors Choir and Orchestra, among many others.

“Randy also works with a number of professional orchestras, designing and conducting concerts for young people. Last year, he led the Madison Symphony in his original “Symphony Safari: What Nature Teaches Us About the Orchestra,” attended by several thousand middle school students in Overture Hall.

“Next February, he returns for a fourth season with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in its acclaimed “Teen Partner” series, conducting the Gloria by Francis Poulenc.

“He also appears next spring with the Chippewa Valley Symphony, conducting his “Beethoven Superhero” concert, which has been popular with teachers, students and parents alike, with the Elgin Symphony and The Florida Orchestra (Tampa).

“As an author and lecturer, Randy works with teachers around the country and internationally, most recently with international school teachers in Hong Kong and at Carnegie Hall, where last summer he returned for a fourth season teaching its Music Educator Workshops, and leading members of the National Youth Orchestra of the USA.

“Randy is a proud UW-Madison graduate and lives in Madison, where you can find him on Monday nights working with the Madison Boychoir (in the Madison Youth Choirs) alongside colleague Margaret Jenks.

“WYSO is truly fortunate to have such a dedicated and tireless educator guiding its artistic vision next season.”


Classical music: Madison Opera’s “Tales of Hoffmann” proved a musical and theatrical delight from beginning to end. Plus, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble performs Saturday night

April 22, 2016
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ALERT: This Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Gates of Heaven Synagogue, 300 East Gorham Street in James Madison Park, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will perform a concert of music by Claudio Monteverdi, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Francois Couperin and others. Tickets at the door are $20 for the public, $10 for students. A free reception with the musicians follows at 2422 Kendall Avenue, second floor. For more information about the performers and the program, visit www.wisconsinbaroque.org

By Jacob Stockinger

Editor’s note: The Ear’s good friend and knowledgeable classical music fan Larry Wells offered the following review of last weekend’s production of Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann” by the Madison Opera. Production photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.

By Larry Wells

I had been looking forward to Madison Opera’s production of “The Tales of Hoffmann” by Jacques Offenbach (below) ever since it was announced.

Jacques Offenbach seated

The opera is a particular favorite of mine, and I’ve seen a number of productions in larger houses, most recently in Tokyo and most memorably a production at the San Francisco Opera 30 years ago with Placido Domingo and James Morris.

I was interested to see how Madison Opera would approach this somewhat theatrically difficult work, and Sunday’s performance was a delight from beginning to end.

First, the singing.

The cast was consistently strong, and each singer could be mentioned in a positive vein. So, I single out three who particularly stood out.

The star of the show, for me, was coloratura soprano Jeni Hauser (below, center, in white) as Olympia, the doll. Her vocal pyrotechnics were sensational. She would be a wonderful Zerbinetta, and I would enjoy seeing her tackle Baby Doe. She is a very funny physical comic actress, and she was simply wonderful.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Doll Olympia Jeni Hauser CR James Gill

Morgan Smith (below) as Hoffmann’s four nemeses was excellent possessing a strong, deep bass-baritone. As a side note, he is the second singer I’ve seen and heard recently in Wisconsin who will be featured in Tucson Opera’s upcoming premiere of “Riders of the Purple Sage,” the other being Keith Phares who was in Florentine Opera’s recent production of Jake Heggie’s “Three Decembers.” It will be conducted by Keitaro Harada, who is a talent to watch.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Morgan Smith CR James Gill

The third standout was mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala (below) as Hoffmann’s Muse and attendant. She was outstanding vocally and fun to watch.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Adriana Zabala The Muse JAMES GILL

Hoffmann was sung by tenor Harold Meers (below right, in suit).  For an exhausting role, Meers toughed it out and, when singing full voice, was resonant and lyrical.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Harold Meers on right CR James Gill

The production was set in a well-stocked bar, and Hoffmann’s series of bad choices in love appeared fueled by alcohol.

Madison Opera Hoffmann set CR James Gill

The set, from the Virginia Opera, and costumes were dazzling, particularly in the Giulietta act, which in a departure from the productions I’ve seen, was the third act. I felt that the change of the order of the acts made a lot of sense dramatically.

And I loved the use by stage director Kristine McIntyre of the Roaring Twenties theme – flappers and Charlestons, along with gondolas, fog and a bit of German Expressionism. Total fun.

Madison Opera Hoffmann Gondola CR James Gill

Madison Opera Hoffmann Morgan Smith in cape CR James Gill

The Madison Symphony Orchestra was excellent throughout, and Maestro John DeMain is a treasure whom Madison is extremely fortunate to have. His sense of timing and dynamics is a wonder.

My favorite moment of the opera is the ensemble in the Giulietta scene “Hélas Mon Coeur,” and its performance Sunday nearly brought me to tears. In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear that music performed by Placido Domingo and the remarkable Agnes Baltsa.

So, bravo Madison Opera, for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the opera. I heard several people say that it was a long one — three hours — but for me the time flew.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since reviews are subjective, for purposes of comparison here is a link to John W. Barker’s rave review that just appeared in Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/arts/stage/tales-of-hoffman-madison-opera/


Classical music: Conservative Republican presidential candidate and Evangelical Christian Ted Cruz wants to ban the tritone – or Devil’s chord – from classical music. NOT. Then again, maybe he does

March 21, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the first day when you can vote early via absentee ballot for the presidential primary election in Wisconsin on Tuesday, April 5, when you can also vote to fill a seat on the state Supreme Court.

And tomorrow, Tuesday, brings more presidential primaries for both Republicans and Democrats in the Western states of Arizona and Utah. Plus, there will also be Democratic caucuses in Idaho.

So the following political piece — a pseudo-news report — seems timely and appropriate, especially given the drive by establishment Republicans to rally and choose the ultra-conservative U.S. Senator Ted Cruz from Texas (below) as a way to stop New York City businessman Donald Trump.

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Defending the American Dream summit hosted by Americans for Prosperity at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Defending the American Dream summit hosted by Americans for Prosperity at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Sure, it’s a satire.

But it is a very well done satire — about something that was indeed banned in the Renaissance and Baroque eras by the Roman Catholic  Church.

But like so much satire, it is fun that also cuts close to the bone and contains more than a grain of truth about Cruz and about his many “first day on the job” promises if he gets elected president.

Cruz, the son of an evangelical minister, is such a devout and intolerant Christian fundamentalist, it is almost as if he is waging his own jihad, much like the Islamic terrorist state ISIS, on any culture he considers unChristian and heretical to his personal faith and what he considers to be the inerrant and literal truth of the Bible.

Hmm. Does that qualify him as an extremist or radical?

To The Ear, what is really and truly scary is Cruz — not the music.

And it is hard to say who is more threatening as a potential president: Donald Trump or Ted Cruz?

Well, make up your own mind, fellow music-lovers.

Here is the satire from submediant.com. It’s a good read with lots of details, specific composers and food for thought.

http://www.submediant.com/2016/03/15/citing-evangelical-faith-ted-cruz-calls-to-ban-satanic-tritone/

And here is a YouTube lesson in music theory that offers an explanation with examples of the Satanic tritone:


Classical music: Award-winning British composer Cecilia McDowall to headline a three-day residency this week, with public workshops and concerts, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

February 17, 2015
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ALERT:  On this Wednesday, Feb. 18, at noon, British composer Cecilia McDowall will be featured live on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Midday” show with host Norman Gilliland (88.7 FM). On this Thursday morning on WORT Radio (89.9 FM), host Rich Samuels plans a half-hour special on McDowall that he pre-recorded with organizer UW-Madison professor of trumpet John Aley. It will be broadcast at 7:15 a.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

A major event involving new music and contemporary music is taking place this week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

Here is a round-up provided by the UW-Madison School of Music and concert manager Kathy Esposito: 

British composer Cecilia McDowall (below), who in December was awarded the 2014 British Composer Award  (BCA) for Choral Composition, will visit UW-Madison’s School of Music this week for a three-day series of concerts and discussions.

Cecilia McDowall

The visit, to take place Thursday through Saturday, marks McDowall’s first United States residency and will include one colloquium and two concerts, all open to the public.

McDowall won the BCA prize for “Night Flight,” a work for a cappella choir and solo cello that honors Harriet Quimby (below), an aviatrix who was the first woman to fly over the English Channel. Download a BCA news release here. 

Harriet Quimby

“Night Flight” was premiered by the Phoenix Chorale, an Arizona ensemble that included a McDowall work on its 2008 Grammy-award winning CD, “Spotless Rose: Hymns to the Virgin Mary.”

Cecilia McDowall’s music has been commissioned and performed by leading choirs and instrumental groups, including the BBC Singers, the Westminster Abbey Choir, the City of Canterbury Chamber Choir, and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. She came to composition later in life, after raising two children, teaching and singing in choirs for many years. She holds a master’s degree in composition from Trinity College in London and is now a composer-in-residence at the Dulwich College, a pre-college school in London.

Listen to selected McDowall works on SoundCloud.  

You can also listen to a sample in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Cecilia McDowall 2

Writes Guy Rickards of Gramophone magazine: “Cecilia McDowall is another of the new generation of highly communicative musicians who, though often inspired by extra-musical influences, favors writing which, without being in any way facile, is brightly cogent, freshly witty and expressive in its own right.

“She often uses minimalist ostinatos – the spirit of Steve Reich hovers – but constantly tweaks the ear with her range of spicy rhythms and colors, then suddenly produces a highly atmospheric and grippingly expressive interlude which is just as compelling. Each of the individual movements within her works is titled, sometimes descriptively, sometimes perhaps with tongue in cheek.”

On Friday, Feb. 20, in Mills Hall at UW-Madison, a student and faculty chamber orchestra (conducted by James Smith, below top), coupled with the university’s Madrigal Singers, conducted by Bruce Gladstone (below bottom), will perform the U.S. premiere of her work “Seventy Degrees Below Zero.” (Read a review here.)

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

BruceGladstoneTalbot

“Seventy Degrees” is a cantata for solo voice (to be sung by faculty tenor James Doing, below), which McDowall composed in 2012 to commemorate the voyage of British explorer Robert Falcon Scott to the Antarctic. Scott and crew members died while on that expedition; one hundred years later, the City of London Sinfonia and the Scott Polar Research Institute commissioned the music to honor Scott and his men.

James Doing color

As a twist, the concert will extend the polar theme with a slideshow and lobby presentation linking Antarctic research of yesterday with today’s, presented by Michael Duvernois (below) of UW-Madison’s IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center.

Michael Duvernois

McDowall’s residency will also feature the piano playing of UW-Madison’s Christopher Taylor (below) performing McDowall’s “Tapsalteerie,” described by Gramophone as “ingenious play with a cradle song by the turn-­of-the-­century Aberdeenshire fiddler James Scott Skinner.”

Many other UW-Madison faculty musicians will also perform. Here is a link with details about other performers:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/cecilia-mcdowall/

Taylor_Chris_piano01

Events include:

THURSDAY

At noon in Mills Hall.

Meet the composer at a free public colloquium.

The topic will be “The Effects of Extra-Musical Influences”: McDowall will discuss how she interweaves composition with events, past or present; with real, imagined or visual images; or as a response to the physical environment or written text.

FRIDAY

At 8 p,m. in Mills Hall.

Concert and Presentation: UW Madrigal Singers and Concert Choir, with a faculty/student chamber orchestra, featuring the U.S. premiere of “Seventy Degrees Below Zero.” With Michael Duvernois of the UW IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center.

Meet the composer and performers at a reception to follow in Mills Hall lobby.

Tickets: $20 adults, free for students. Tickets available via the Wisconsin Union Theater prior to show (online and in person) and on the day of show at Mills Hall.

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

SATURDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Concert: Cool It — The Chamber Music of Cecilia McDowall.

Free concert.

For a link to this festival on our website, please see: http://www.music.wisc.edu/cecilia-mcdowall/ 

For an interview:

http://www.boardroommum.com/interviews-archive/cecilia-mcdowall/


Classical music: What music would celebrate Super Bowl XLIX – that’s 49 in plain English – that takes place this afternoon? Plus, the Con Vivo chamber music concert this afternoon in Stoughton has been POSTPONED until next Sunday night.

February 1, 2015
3 Comments

ALERT: The administration of the Stoughton Opera House has decided to postpone the chamber music concert by Con Vivo (below) scheduled for this afternoon, Feb. 1, due to the anticipated snow storm.

The new concert date and time is: next Sunday, Feb. 8, at 7:30 p.m. at the Stoughton Opera House. Please help spread the word to anyone you know who might have been planning to come to the concert. Says the group: “We look forward to seeing you next week! Stay safe and warm. Thank you.”

Con Vivo core musicians

By Jacob Stockinger

Today, Super Bowl XLIX — or 49 to most of us — will be played between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots in Glendale, Arizona.

Super Bowl 49 social media logos

Kickoff time is 5:30 p.m., CST.

It will be broadcast on NBC.

The game is billed as the world’s largest single sports event.

Given the number of people it will reach via TV and other social media, and given the advertising price of $4.5 million for a 30-second spot, that description sounds pretty accurate.

Super Bowl XLIX no cactus

Here are some suggestions from past years:

Super Bowl 48 in 2014:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/classical-music-what-classical-music-goes-best-with-the-nfls-super-bowl-48-football-championship-today-plus-university-of-wisconsin-madison-singers-and-instrumentalists-movingly-celebrate-franz-s/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/classical-music-what-classical-music-goes-best-with-the-nfls-super-bowl-48-football-championship-today-plus-university-of-wisconsin-madison-singers-and-instrumentalists-movingly-celebrate-franz-s/

football

Super Bowl 47 in 2013, which drew a lot of reader suggestions and comments:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/classical-music-what-classical-music-goes-best-with-super-bowl-47-today-since-there-are-fewer-live-concerts-to-attend-that-conflict-with-the-football-game/

Let us know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Historic Steinway Hall in Manhattan to be torn down and moved.

December 29, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

I think of Steinway Hall the same way that some people think of and advertise Sedona, Arizona: A kind of navel to a spiritual world.

For many pianists, anyway, such is the case.

Steinway Hall (below is the hallmark rotunda of the famed building) is a landmark building where a historic meeting took place between composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff and keyboard virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz.

steinway hall

For generations it is where the greatest keyboard artists have gone to select the proper instrument for the Carnegie Hall and other solo recitals, chamber music concerts and concerto appearances at other venues such as Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center.

To be selected and named a “Steinway artist” was the highest professional accolade, whether you were Arthur Rubinstein or Van Cliburn or Emanuel Ax or Pierre-Laurent Aimard or Jeremy Denk or Daniil Trifonov. And there have been countless others.

But nothing can block “progress.”

Especially the progress officials call economic development.

So soon the old Steinway Hall will move to a new location, and the old Steinway Hall will be demolished to make room for upscale luxury condominiums.

Maybe it is just another example of the old real estate saying: Location, location, location.

After all, Steinway Hall is not very far from Carnegie Hall (below).

carnegie-hall-address

Talk about prime locations and reputable or prestigious addresses.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/12/27/372730314/steinway-bids-farewell-to-its-historic-hall

Here is a link to an earlier story and less complete story, with less background, from March 2013 in The New York Times. Be sure to read the Reader Comments:

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/03/26/steinway-to-sell-its-famed-showroom-building/?_r=1

 

 


Classical music: Allan Naplan, the former general director of the Madison Opera, has been named as executive director of the Arizona Musicfest based in Carefree (don’t you love that name), near Phoenix.

March 17, 2013
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ALERT: If you want to know about whether you should attend the performances today (at 3 p.m.) and Tuesday night (7:30) p.m. in Music Hall of University Opera’s production of Mascagni’s “L’Amico Fritz” (with Shannon Prickett and Aldo Perelli, below in a photo by Brent Nicastro), here is a review by John W. Barker written for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=39412&sid=d5dd06c8fbafef9a2cb026b18818c449

And here is a link to a Q&A with director William Farlow and some background, including which UW-Madison student sings what roles on what day:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/classical-music-qa-university-opera-director-william-farlow-talks-about-why-he-likes-mascagnis-rarely-staged-opera-lamico-fritz-which-will-get-three-performances-on-friday-night-sunday/

L'Amico Fritz 3 Also Perrelli and Shannon Prickett CR Brent Nicastro

By Jacob Stockinger

Last we heard of Allan Naplan (below), he had left his big new job with the Minnesota Opera just a year or so after taking it and leaving the Madison Opera after five years. That was two years ago.

Allan Naplan 2

Rumors said his departure had to do with artistic differences, but no reasons or specifics were ever publicly given.

Then many people wondered what would happen to Naplan’s promising career, and The Ear heard nothing.

Until now.

A friendly source tells me that the talented and amiable Naplan has, not unexpectedly, landed on his feet – even if it is not in the field of opera. True, the news comes a little late — but it is still news to me and maybe news to you too!

Here is the press release:

Arizona Musicfest 
appoints
 Allan E. Naplan as Executive Director

“Wednesday, January 23, 2013 Carefree, Arizona – Ann Wallenmeyer, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Arizona Musicfest, today announced the appointment of Allan E. Naplan as Executive Director, effective February 1, 2013.

“Allan Naplan has enjoyed a 20-year career as a performing artist, composer, educator and arts administrator. Most recently, he served as President and General Director of Minnesota Opera.

“In making the announcement, Wallenmeyer said, “Speaking for the Board and our Artistic Director, Robert Moody, I am delighted that Allan Naplan will join Arizona Musicfest as our Executive Director. We are especially pleased that he will be able to be a part of our 2013 Festival and we look forward to introducing him to our patrons, partners, and audiences throughout the community.”

“Wallenmeyer thanked the members of the Arizona Musicfest Search Committee, led by Chuck Goldthwaite, former Chairman of the Board, for the excellent outcome of a national search.

arizona musicfest logo

“Robert Moody, Artistic Director of Arizona Musicfest, added, “I am thrilled that Allan Naplan is joining the Arizona Musicfest team as our new Executive Director. I’ve spent a good deal of time with him during the search process, and as a result I can’t wait to begin ‘scheming’ with him as we plan the next great chapter of the Festival. The future is incredibly bright for Arizona Musicfest with Allan Naplan at the administrative helm.”

“In accepting the position, Allan Naplan said, “I am honored to have been chosen to lead Arizona Musicfest and am excited by the breadth of musical experiences the Festival offers, as well as the excellence it achieves through its acclaimed performances and important education and youth programs.” (See the YouTube video at the bottom of the  “Music Minutes” the festival provides to public schools.)

“Naplan continued, “I look forward to forging important relationships with the Festival’s audience, dedicated volunteers and the community at large, as well as to working with the Arizona Musicfest Board, staff, artists and especially Maestro Moody in developing and enhancing the Festival.”

Arizona Musicfest cactus

“Arizona Musicfest 2013 (Jan. 28 – March 4) presents top artists of classical, chamber, jazz, blues, country, rock n’ roll and opera, such as Denyce Graves, Keb’ Mo’ and Parker Quartet, in exceptional programs (created especially for Arizona Musicfest) at venues throughout the scenic desert foothills of Scottsdale and Carefree.

“At the heart of the Festival is the 60-member Arizona Musicfest Orchestra (below), comprised of musicians from the nation’s finest orchestras, the 100-voice Arizona Musicfest Chorus, and the Arizona Musicfest Chamber Players.

arizona musicfest orchestra

“Allan Naplan began his career as an opera singer and transitioned to administration as a member of the staff of Houston Grand Opera. He served as Director of Artistic Administration of Pittsburgh Opera before being appointed General Director of Madison Opera, where he transformed the company through his leadership in fundraising, audience development, and financial management as well as repertoire and productions, educational programs, and community engagement.

“At Minnesota Opera, Naplan enhanced the company’s community engagement and education activities, oversaw major gift cultivation, and introduced enhancements to the company’s marketing and public profile. During his time with the company, the organization produced the world premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera by Kevin Puts, “Silent Night” (below).

Kevin Puts "Silent Night" Michal Daniel for Minnesorta Opera

“As a published composer, Naplan’s works, which are standard repertoire for children’s choirs, have been performed and recorded in over 40 countries, and have been featured at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the White House, and aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia.

“Naplan has a Bachelor of Music Degree from Ithaca College where he majored in vocal performance and music education. He and his wife Christina Harrop have two young sons, Jonah (age 4) and Elliot (age 2).”

For more information about Naplan and the southwest festival, here is a link:

www.azmusicfest.org

 


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