The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: FREE Handel aria concert by area high school singers is this Saturday afternoon at Capitol Lakes

January 23, 2019
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature flutist Marilyn Chohaney, of The Oakwood Chamber Players, with pianist Joseph Ross and clarinetist James Smith. The program is salon music by Arnold Bax, Florent Schmitt, Claude Debussy and Dmitri Shostakovich. Sorry, no titles have been given. The concerts run from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

On this coming Saturday afternoon, Jan. 26 at 2 p.m. at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street – two blocks off the Capitol Square — there will be an hour-long program featuring five young singers performing Handel arias.

There will also be a guest performance of a Handel duet by the Handel Aria Competition’s new artistic director Sarah Brailey (below top) and founding artistic director Cheryl Bensman-Rowe (below bottom).

You can hear Brailey, who won the Handel Aria Competition in 2015  and is now doing graduate work at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music while pursuing her growing career, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Karlos Moser, professor emeritus of the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music’s opera program, will accompany on the piano.

The performance is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

“Our goal is to encourage high school singers in the Madison, Wisconsin area to explore works from Handel’s vocal repertoire,” says Brailey.

All participating high school singers will receive a $100 Handel Aria Competition scholarship towards voice lessons or membership in the Madison Youth Choirs.

The high school singers who will perform are: Allana Beilke from Madison West High School; Daphne Buan from Verona Area High School; Ava DeCroix from Middleton High School; Cecilia League from McFarland High School; and Virginia Morgan from Madison West High School.

The students are all very active in the local arts scene and have participated in Wisconsin Badger All-State Choir, the Madison Opera Youth Apprentice Program, the Madison Symphony Chorus, the 50th anniversary Wisconsin School Music Association State Honors Treble Choir, and have won numerous awards in the National Association for Teachers of Singing Student Auditions and the State Solo and Ensemble Festival.

The program will include selections from operas and oratorios “Agrippina,” “Joshua,” “L’Allegro,” “Semele” and “Solomon.”


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Classical music: The Ear gets totally immersed in two-piano music by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, and loves it. Now he looks forward to “drowning” this weekend in European concertos and South American tangos, then piano trios and works for piano, four-hands.

June 18, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear thinks of it as the Berlitz Method of learning a language, only applied to music.

It’s called “Total Immersion.”

Each June, the Madison-based chamber music ensemble the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society always offers a lot of variety of outstanding music over three weekends, each featuring two different programs in three different venues. (This year’s theme, for the 23rd annual season is “23 Skiddoo.”)

23Skiddoo logo

But one thing I especially look forward to is that usually there is a chance to immerse yourself in a special style or genre or sub-category that you often don’t hear. That allows for added enjoyment and informative comparisons.

This summer’s immersion started this past opening weekend. This coming weekend and the weekend after that promise an immersion in Western European classics, especially concertos, and in Latin American music, especially Argentinian tangos.

For more details and information, including programs and tickets, visit:

www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

Some of that kind of immersion stems from the BDDS programming philosophy. Some of it probably also comes from the fact that BDDS hires guest artists for a weeklong stint and so must seek out repertoire to spotlight them.

In any case, this is the summer not only of Latin American music but also of two-piano works.
This is not to say I didn’t love the outstanding performance of Claude Debussy’s sublime Violin Sonata, his last work, by New York violinist Yura Lee (below) because I did.

Yura Lee in Debussy Sonata BDDS 2014

And I also liked the BDDS debut of Icelandic soprano Disilla Larusdottir (below) in her superb readings of “Five Popular Greek Melodies” by Maurice Ravel and especially contemporary American composer Aaron Jay Kernis’ Renaissance-based “L’arte della danssar” (“The Art of the Dance,” 2011).

Disella Larusdottir at TRaliesin BDDS 2014

I also thoroughly enjoyed the vivacious and captivating Introduction and Allegro for Flute and Piano by Carlos Guastavino with BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Stephanie Jutt (below), who is also principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Stephanie Jutt in Gustavino at Taliesin BDDS 2014

Personally, The Ear is generally less enthusiastic about harp music, so the Celtic-themed sonata by Arnold Bax left him feeling half-hungry, despite a terrific performance (below) by Stephanie Jutt and the gifted guest harpist Heidi Krutzen. Even the Quartet by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach struck me as not especially inspired, but rather a pretty run-of-the-mill Classical work that, despite a fine performance, has charms but not genius.

Heidi Krutzen at Taliesin BDDS 2014

Stephanie jutt and Heidi Krutzen in Arnold Bax sonata BDDS 2014

To The Ear, the true stand-outs stand-outs of the first weekend were Jeffrey Sykes, the pianist who co-founded and co-directs the BDDS  with Jutt and who teaches at the University of California-Berkley; and guest piano virtuoso and Van Cliburn Competition prizewinner Christopher Taylor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, who has a national and international reputation.

jeffrey sykes

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

And The Ear, himself a devoted amateur pianist, sure got an earful of great, first-class piano playing through four very difficult works for two pianos.

Such concerts are not easy to stage. To get two pianos on stage at The Playhouse in the Overture Center and the Hillside Theater famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green involves a lot of difficult and expensive logistics.

But it was done, and the results were terrific.

Critic John W. Barker thought so too. Here is a link to his review for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42978&sid=2d270176d08b03b104e01230f4e31d17

Two PIanos at Taliesin BDDS 2014

As almost always happens with BDDS, there were pleasant surprises.

I really didn’t think I would love Maurice Ravel’s popular and over-programmed “Bolero.”

But I did.

Jeffrey Sykes was completely right when he said that the two-piano version is drier and more modernistic, more like the work of Igor Stravinsky, than the better-known orchestral version, which has its more old-fashioned charms and colors as the melody bounces less percussively around various sections. (You can see for yourself in a YouTube video at the bottom. Let me know if you agree or disagree.)

On the other hand, it was something to see the insistent rhythms make the always physical and impressively dynamic Christopher Taylor  (below) rock out and to watch how a single repetitive note gradually worked up to five-finger chords.

Christopher Taylor rocks out

There was 20th-century Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski’s biting and percussive Variations on the famous theme by Niccolo Paganini that was also used by Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

There was Ravel’s “La Valse,” a grandly elegant and overblown nostalgia trip to the society embodied by the waltz as it came to its chaotic end in World War I.

And in the end there were Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, his last composition that is filled with luscious melodies, infectious rhythms, unusual harmonies and astonishingly virtuosic and precise playing. (The two-piano version was premiered by Rachmaninoff himself and Vladimir Horowitz. Now THAT would have been something to hear and see!)

Jeffrey Sykes and Christopher Taylor at Taliesin BDDS 2014

Now the two-piano part of the BDDS season is over. But The Ear can’t wait for this coming weekend, which will bring a Concerto for Two Cellos by Antonio Vivaldi as well as the lovely Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart plus the great Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms and selected tangos by Astor Piazzolla with tango pianist Pablo Zinger (below), who performed with Piazzolla’s band, from Argentina.

Pablo Zinger at piano

During the week there will be piano trios by Dmitri Shostakovich and Antonin Dvorak and performed by the exceptional San Francisco Trio; more tangos by Piazzolla; and works for one piano-four hands by Darius Milhaud and William Hirtz with Sykes and frequent guest pianist Randall Hodgkinson, who teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music.

San Francisco Trio 1

Randall Hodgekinson 1

The Ear intends not to miss any of the four programs in the two coming weekends. And neither should you.

They mean more immersion, even if it is not quite as total.


Classical music: Why am I turning off Wisconsin Public Radio more often? Too many second-rate composers and works? Too much harp music? Too many ads and promos? What do you think? Plus, UW baritone Paul Rowe sings Baroque cantatas this Sunday afternoon.

September 20, 2013
21 Comments

REMINDER: In a FREE concert this Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, University of Wisconsin-Madison baritone Paul Rowe (below) will perform a promising and appealing concert of cantatas for solo voice and instruments composed between 1600 and 1720. Performers include John Chappell Stowe, harpsichordist and organist; Eric Miller, cellist and viola da gambist; and Alice Bartsch and Madlen Horsch Breckbill, violinists.

The program includes: Small Sacred Concertos by: Ludovico da Viadana (1564-1645) “Salve, Regina” and “Cantemus Domino” from Cento concerti ecclesiastici (1602); Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672), “Ich liege und schlafe,” SWV 310 from “Kleine Geistliche Konzerte,” Op.9 (1639); Secular Cantatas by: Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764): “Thetis” (1718); George Frideric Handel (1685-1759): “Cuopre tal volta il cielo” (circa 1708); and J. S. Bach (1685-1750): “Amore traditore,: BWV 203 (circa 1720).

Paul Rowe

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s a Friday morning as I am writing this.

And I just turned off “Morning Classics” on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Again.

WPR Logo

That saddens and disappoints me because I have long loved and listened to WPR, and I almost always write as a close friend rather than a critic. The WPR people I know and have met, from director Mike Crane to many of the show hosts, are all fine, intelligent and sensitive people.

But lately I find myself turning off Wisconsin Public Radio more than I ever have before.

Why is that? I began to wonder.

Some of it has to do with recent schedule changes.

Today is Friday and since a few weeks ago that means the 9-11 a.m. Morning Classics slot will feature the weekly Classics By Request show.

Alas!

Requests used to be on Saturday morning. That was a great slot in which smaller excerpts of usually well-known works set up the longer, often lesser well-known opera broadcasts. It also allowed children and students to listen to snippets of tried-and-true masterpieces.

True, the morning show’s new host Ruthanne Bessman (below) still seeks out requests from kids. But does anyone want to bet that most of the children are in school when the requests get played on Friday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.?

Sorry, like some other good and loyal WPR friends I know, I turn it off.

Ruthanne Bessman WPR

Then too I find that WPR is programming too much harp music these days, mostly in the morning but not exclusively. I mean, I like the harp probably as much as anyone — excepting harp players of course. But I the harp in its place, which is usually as an ensemble instrument with an orchestra or smaller chamber group, where it can add a distinctive texture and tone.

But I am hearing too many solo works for harp and too many goofy and thoroughy forgettable harp pieces, especially arrangements. One recent offering was J.S. Bach’s keyboard “Italian Concerto” arranged for Harp Ensemble. That is misusing such a fine member of the family of “brunch instruments.” Kind of like an arrangement I recently heard of Tomaso Albinoni’s famous Adagio for Strings and Organ that used the flute, played by the famous James Galway, to suck all the pathos out of the piece.

It turned the profound into the pleasant.

So once again I turned the radio off.

Harp

Maybe audience surveys and focus groups tell WPR executives that the public likes the harp and other members of the “brunch instrument” family that much. But I don’t. Do you?

It all makes me miss the former morning host Anders Yocom (below top), who used to play what he called “The Minimum Daily Requirement” of Bach (below bottom) every morning. And who else but Bach – serious Bach – can meet that daily requirement? Yocom also usually featured big and beefy concertos and symphonies and sublime chamber music .

I mean the kind of music I want to hear mostly is the kind of music you don’t want to live without.

It is the kind of music that led the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to proclaim” “Life without music would be a mistake.”

anders yocom studio  head shot cr Jim Gill

Bach1

WPR also seems to be airing more ads and acknowledgements, more teasers and promos, more fundraising appeals and mentions of corporate sponsors, than it used to. I suppose it needs to. But it seems to becoming more like the same mainstream commercial networks that it was originally designed to be an alternative to.

I realize that it is not easy being in public radio these days, when conservatives refuse to recognize their outstanding merits and want to defund PBS and NPR, and when competition for money is so fierce.

But still.

It also doesn’t help that some of the programmers and hosts seem more interested in airing rarities than in disseminating great and inspiring music that gets the pulse going and proves compelling or irresistible. Maybe these programmers know the masterpieces too well, but the rest of us like to hear great and music – not just obscure pieces and neglected composers that interest more than inspire.

So I would urge programmers and hosts to alternate the great and the obscure, and to keep the non-specialist listeners in mind. Some Bax is fine; but lots more Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, to say say nothing of lots more Handel and Vivaldi and Haydn and Mozart and Schubert and Chopin and Schumann and Dvorak and Tchaikovksy and Debussy and Ravel and Stravinsky and Prokofiev and Shostakovich and on and on — is even better.

But then again maybe all this carping comes back to me — to my own taste or personal preferences. So I want to know:

Does anyone out there share my concerns about Wisconsin Public Radio? Or do you think I am totally off-base?

the ear

While you consider the question, I think I’ll go to my library to pick out a CD to play instead of listening to the Classics By Request show.

Then I will try turning WPR back on again – and hope I don’t end up once again turning it off until the news comes on.

What do you think of Wisconsin Public Radio, and of its new schedules changes and the music it plays?

Leave something in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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