The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra closes its fifth season with a lively concert that featured fiery Marquez, subtle Brahms, lyrical Bruch and thrilling Tchaikovsky.

June 5, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Spring is officially over now, for the Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by Margaret Barker) has given the fourth and last concert of its fifth season — as usual, on a Wednesday night and before a sizable crowd at the Middleton Performing Arts Center.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

The opening work was a rarity from the little-known Mexican composer Arturo Marquez (b.1950, below), called Danzon 2. It is a piece that starts with promise of melodic expression, but soon slips into a piling up of the usual hard-driven Latin dance rhythms, for a large orchestra, playing very loudly. A kind of musical refried beans.

arturo marquez 3 USE

More substantial was the early orchestral masterpiece, the “Variations on a Theme by Haydn” by Johannes Brahms (below).

This is a very thickly scored piece, placing particular emphasis on the winds. I found myself, as I listened, appreciating more than ever how cunningly Brahms designed the seams and sutures among the instruments, taxing the skills of the players for subtlety. Fortunately, the Middleton musicians faced the challenges bravely and brought off a very sturdy and convincing performance.

brahms3

After the intermission, it was concerto time.

First, as MCO maestro Steve Kurr (below top) has regularly done, the young concertmaster was given a chance to tackle a solo assignment. Valerie Sanders (below bottom), a new graduate from the UW-Madison School of Music, took on the Violin Concerto No. 1 in G minor by Max Bruch, though only its slow movement. She played this lovely music quite sweetly, and one was tempted to wonder how she would have fared in taking on the two bolder wing movements, in the full concerto.

Steve Kurr conducting

MCO Valerie Sanders plays Bruch

The Big Event was, of course, local pianist Thomas Kasdorf playing the Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. This is a very warhorse of the warhorses, a work that some will be surprised to learn that predates Van Cliburn, whose recording of it was the first classical album to sell one million copies. (Vladimir Horowitz was once the exponent automatically brought to mind.)

It is a colossally demanding piece, technically, and a summit of virtuosic display — as you can see and hear in the popular YouTube video at the bottom.

Kasdorf (below), a locally born, raised and educated pianist and a well-established young Madison fixture of enormous talent and virtuosity, made this his latest entry into the warhorse corral.

MCO Thomas Kasdorf plays Tchaikovsky

Yes, he had the chops to bring it off, in an undeniably exciting performance. But I had the sense that his heart was really in the quieter passages, where he had some ideas of his own.

In the prevailingly bravura writing, by contrast, he was battling for survival. He certainly won the battle, on technical points alone. But this is not a work he has fully made his own—he played from score, rather than memory. It is an interpretation in progress, rather than one securely controlled.

And I hope this is not a career effort in progress. He is too fine a musician to be just a barn-storming, roof-raising virtuoso. He should pursue rather the great variety of roles he as developed, in which he has so much more that is personal and nuanced to offer.

The orchestra, with fewer perils to face than in the Brahms, sounded confident and full-voiced.

All in all, it was a lively and stimulating concert, as we have come to expect from Steve Kurr and his remarkable Middletonians.

 

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Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra closes out its fifth season next Wednesday night with music by Marquez, Bruch, Brahms and the never-fail Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1.

May 29, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will present its final concert of the season on Wednesday, June 3, at 7:30 p.m.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The concert will take place at the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below, exterior and interior), attached to Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton PAC1

This concert concludes MCO’s fifth year.

On the program is Danzon No. 2 by Mexican composer Arturo Marquez; the “Haydn” Variations by German composer Johannes Brahms; the slow Adagio movement from the Violin Concerto by Max Bruch with MCO concertmaster Valerie Sanders (below top) soloing; and the never-fail Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor by the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky –- the same exciting concerto that launched the career of Van Cliburn — by performed by the talented Middleton native, Thomas Kasdorf.

Valerie Sanders MCO 2015

Tickets are $10 for general admission.  Students are admitted free of charge.  Tickets are available at Willy St. Coop West and at the door. The box office opens at 7 p.m.

There will also be a meet-and-greet reception (below) after the concert.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

Here is information about pianist Thomas Kasdorf (below):

He is a recent graduate of UW-Madison School of Music with his Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance, where he studied with Christopher Taylor.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

He was an inaugural member of the Perlman Piano Trio, which awards scholarships and performance opportunities to talented undergraduate students to give performances of chamber music.

His work with the Perlman Trio (below, with cellist Maureen Kelly and violinist Eleanor Bartsch) has been featured in performances on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Live at the Midday” series and as part of Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society’s House Concerts series, as well as in Middleton Community Orchestra’s inaugural season performance of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto.

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

He was named co-winner of the Irving Shain Woodwind and Piano Duo Competition, with collaborative partner, flutist Morgann Davis. He was awarded the Bolz Prize of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Concerto Competition and performed Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor at their Spring Youth Concerts.

He has performed in master classes given by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenburg, Pinchas Zukerman, Sam Rhodes, Steven Isserlis, Ronald Leonard, Ralph Kirshbaum, Jonathan Miller, Timothy Eddy, Robert MacDonald, Jeffrey Siegel and Adam Neiman.

Thomas has worked in a variety of roles (both on and offstage) with a multitude of local theatre groups in over 100 different shows. With a specialty in the oeuvre of Stephen Sondheim, he has been called upon to arrange and perform reduced or solo orchestrations of Sondheim scores, including “A Little Night Music,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Putting It Together,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Side by Side by Sondheim,” “Into the Woods” and, most recently, “Company.” He proudly serves on the board of directors for Middleton Players Theatre, and was the director of the company’s recent production of “Les Mis.”

Last year’s performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto (below) was Thomas Kasdorf’s third performance with the Middleton Community Orchestra. He had performed the Triple Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven as part of the Perlman Trio, and the Piano Concerto in A major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

MCO june 2014 Thomas Kasdorf plays Grieg

He has just concluded a wildly successful collaboration with MCO to produce a staged production of “Carousel,” and he says he is looking forward to his performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the MCO. (You can hear Van Cliburn play the opening movement of the concerto in a YouTube video at the bottom. It has some great shots of hands and fingers.)

 

 


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