The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: New faculty conductor Chad Hutchinson makes an impressive and promising debut with the UW Symphony Orchestra

October 11, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday night, Chad Hutchinson (below), the new faculty conductor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, made an impressive and promising debut with the UW Symphony Orchestra.

The ambitious program that Hutchinson put together says a lot about his priorities and instincts, and about his confidence in himself and the abilities of his student players, who performed superbly.  

The varied works came from the early 19th century, the mid-19th century, the early 20th century and the 21st century. And it seemed that each piece in the ambitious program was chosen to put the spotlight on a different section – percussion, brass, strings and winds.

Curiously, The Ear found the most successful pieces were the most traditional ones.

The Prelude to the opera “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” by Richard Wagner received the right mix of horn pomp and string zest. It made The Ear realize again how much more he prefers Wagner’s instrumental music to his vocal music. Let’s hear more Wagner preludes, since we are unlikely to hear more Wagner operas.

The orchestral transcription by Leopold Stokowski (below) of the piano prelude “The Sunken Cathedral” by Claude Debussy was the least successful work of the night. This is the second overblown and bombastic Stokowski transcription that The Ear has heard performed live in a month.

Clearly, Stokowski’s aesthetic was Bigger is Better. This particular transcription strips away the mystery, sensuality and subtlety, the watery softness,  of the original. It works more as an etude for orchestra than as an authentic expression of Impressionism.  The Ear’s objections are to the transcription, not to the performance, which was well voiced, precise and tightly controlled.

“Mothership” by the popular American composer Mason Bates (below), who wrote the recent successful opera based on the life of the late Apple guru Steve Jobs, proved an interesting foray into contemporary music culture. It was also the Madison premiere of the 2011 work.

The electronic music in the pulsating and highly atmospheric score, including the computer-generated disco dance beat, highlighted the percussion section and the UW’s new Electro-Acoustic Research Space (EARS), which collaborated with the symphony orchestra.

The dramatic work, a novelty that is pop-infused and resembles music by John Adams a little too closely, has its pleasing and engaging moments. But overall it seems a triumph of style over substance. (You can judge for yourself from the performance with Michael Tilson Thomas in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

That said, Hutchinson nonetheless held the complex and coordinated score together, and the young audience seemed to take to the new music — a major achievement in itself.

Expect to hear many more contemporary works from Hutchinson, who says he is an unabashed champion of new music. He will include other living composers in many other concerts, including the next one on Nov. 4 and then again on Feb. 22.  

To these ears, the most impressive performance came in the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” by Ludwig van Beethoven. In its day, the difficult and long work proved revolutionary and perplexing. More recently, more than 100 conductors named it the best symphony ever written. You can’t get more establishment than that.

Yet despite being so mainstream, the “Eroica” remains a difficult and challenging work, both technically and interpretively. And this performance succeeded on both counts. That is no small feat for a new conductor and his young students to pull off in the first six weeks of school.

Especially impressive was Hutchinson’s choice to skip any pause between the third movement and the finale. It worked dramatically to maintain momentum. Such exciting attacks should be a more common practice in performing symphonies and concertos as well as chamber music.

Hutchinson seems a congenial and humorous concert hall host. His pre-concert talk (below), which he is slated to do at all performances, was helpful and informative, even if he repeated some major points when he introduced  the actual performances. Hutchinson, intent on expanding the audience for classical music, is worth listening to.

Hutchinson may not possess an especially graceful or fluid podium presence that is pleasing to watch, but he gets results. Certainly both the student players and the large audience (below) seemed pleased and excited by these performances.

In the end, the concert provided plenty of reasons to look forward to hearing more from Chad Hutchinson and seeing how he develops and leaves his mark on programming and performing at the UW.

Were you there as either a performer or an audience member?

What did you think of the concert and of Chad Hutchinson’s debut?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Let us celebrate Brit Grit after the Manchester terrorist attack with Elgar’s Symphony No. 1

May 24, 2017
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

First came the unforgettable.

Then came the unforgivable.

In the first case, I am talking about the woefully under-attended performance on Sunday afternoon at the Wisconsin Union Theater by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (below) under its outgoing maestro Edo de Waart.

The MSO played the Overture to the opera “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; “Schelomo: A Hebraic Rhapsody” by Ernest Bloch, with principal cellist Susan Babini as soloist; and the Symphony No. 1 by Sir Edward Elgar.

In each case, all sections of the orchestra performed stunningly well and the caliber of performance made you wonder: “Why don’t we hear this group more often?”

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra used to tour to Madison every year or so. It should do so again.

Then not long after the concert came word of the deadly terrorist attack by a suicide bomber at a pop concert in Manchester, England.

Sure, sometimes these things just happen. But coincidences can have power.

The Ear can’t think of a more stately and forceful statement of British fortitude and stoicism – the same grit that saw Britain through the Nazi blitz — than the poignant march-like opening of the first movement of Sir Edward Elgar’s Symphony No. 1.

Chances are you don’t know the symphony.

Chances are you know Elgar from his “Pomp and Circumstance” Marches, from his “Enigma Variations” for orchestra, from his Cello Concerto, from his Violin Concerto, from the violin miniature “Salut d’amour.”

But this is grand and great Elgar (below) who, like Brahms, turned to writing symphonies only late in his life.

We don’t hear Elgar’s first symphony often enough.

And this just happens to be the right time, both because of the world-class performance by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and because the symphony was premiered in 1908 — in Manchester — and then went on to be popular enough to have some 100 performances in its first year.

But it has fallen out of favor. The last time the Ear heard it live was years ago when the UW Symphony Orchestra played it under the baton of guest conductor and UW-Madison alumnus Kenneth Woods (below), who now leads the English Symphony Orchestra and the Colorado Mahler Festival.

So here, in the YouTube video at the bottom, is a complete recording from the BBC Proms in 2012. Perhaps you will only listen to the opening movement, or even just the opening of the opening movement, with its moving theme that recurs throughout and then returns at the end.

But however much you listen to — and you shouldn’t miss the glorious slow movement – it seems a fitting choice to share today.

After all, as Leonard Bernstein once said: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

If you have another choice of music to listen to on this deadly occasion, leave word and a YouTube link in the COMMENT section.

Solidarity through music!


Classical music: Read the reviews. This afternoon is your last chance to hear — and, thanks to NASA, to see — Holst’s “The Planets.” But ARRIVE EARLY! The Madison Symphony Orchestra has alerted its audiences about new security measures at the Overture Center

September 25, 2016
6 Comments
 

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra has sent out the following note, via email and regular mail, about new security measures at the Overture Center.

They will be in effect for the three MSO concerts this weekend, including the performance today, Sunday, Sept. 25, at 2:30 p.m.

For more information about the program, visit this link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/09/21/classical-music-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-opens-its-new-season-this-weekend-with-music-by-holst-and-photographs-by-nasa-in-the-planets-an-hd-odyssey/

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

“Due to changes in the Overture Center’s security procedures, there will be only THREE main entry points into the building (below) as you come for your concert. When you arrive, please enter at:

 The main Overture Center entrance on State Street

 An entrance on Fairchild Street (one door only)

 The “back” entrance on Henry Street

Security stations will be placed at each entrance where Overture staff will conduct a bag search on bags larger than a small purse, including backpacks.

OvertureExteior-DelBrown_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85

We anticipate that the process will be smooth and proceed quickly, although we do recommend you come early for peace of mind so you can enjoy the concert from start to finish!

For more information on the Overture Center’s security measures, please visit the website at overturecenter.org/about/security

The Ear wonders what effect these new security measures will have on attendance at the symphony, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra concerts, the Madison Opera, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and other non-musical events.

The Ear would like to know if the new security measures come in response to an actual terrorist threat or are simply a new standard operating procedure. The published explanation leans to the latter and says the Overture Center was to take the same precautions that big presenters in, say New York City and Washington, D.C., do.

But The Ear wonders: Will similar measures now be adopted by the Wisconsin Union Theater, the University of Wisconsin School of Music and other major local venues?

Does anyone have more information or an opinion?

What do you think about the necessity or desirability of such measures ?

And what was your experience like with the new procedures?

Stay tuned.

The Ear wants to hear.

In the meantime, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the program that generally gets very positive reviews.

Here is the review that John W. Barker (below) wrote for Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/music/beautiful-music-distracting-backdrop/

John-Barker

And here is the review that Jessica Courtier wrote for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/music/concert-review-mso-takes-audience-on-a-stunning-trip-to/article_6dd45c4d-c11b-5c77-ae54-35a3e731b1cb.html


Classical music: Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television again ring in the New Year with music — but too late. Plus, tomorrow morning WORT broadcasts a recording of the Willy Street Chamber Players

December 30, 2015
2 Comments

ALERT: The Ear’s friend and radio host colleague Rich Samuels writes: “I’ll be airing the performance of Felix Mendelssohn‘s Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, by the Willy Street Chamber Players (below)  on this Thursday morning (Dec.  31) at 7:14 on my “Anything Goes” broadcast on WORT-FM 88.9.  (It was recorded July 31, 2015 by WORT at Madison’s Immanuel Lutheran Church). I think this was the high point of the ensemble’s inaugural season. It’s nice to know WSCP will be back next summer and that they have a special event scheduled on Jan. 23 and 24.” 

willy street chamber players b&w

By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s post is just a simple reminder of the various programs that Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television will soon air to once again ring in the New Year with classical music.

Both organizations are outstanding friends of classical music, although sometimes The Ear wishes there was more music and fewer British mysteries — which this year interfere with arts programming and push music broadcasts later.

NEW YEAR’S EVE

On Thursday night from 10 to 11:30 p.m., Wisconsin Public Television will air an all-French program from New York City with Alan Gilbert (below top) conducting the New York Philharmonic and guest soloist mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (below bottom). “Live From Lincoln Center” will broadcast “La Vie Parisienne” (Parisian Life) program includes music by Jacques Offenbach and Camille Saint-Saens.

New York Philharmonic

Susan Graham USE

Also featured are classical pianist Inon Barnatan (below top), who performed a recital for the Wisconsin Union Theater, and jazz pianist Makoto Ozone (below bottom) in “The Carnival of the Animals.”

Inon Barnatan

makoto.ozone.01

The Ear likes the program and wonders if it was decided before or after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

However, The Ear is very disappointed by the late hour of the airing. It would be better if young people and children could hear and see it. He would much prefer prime-time broadcasts from 8 to 9:30 p.m. or maybe 9 to 10:30 p.m.

What do readers think?

La vie parisienne

NEW YEAR’S DAY

On Friday morning from 10 a.m. to noon, Wisconsin Public Radio will air a broadcast from Vienna’s Golden Hall (below) of “New Year’s Concert From Vienna,” with waltzes and polkas by the Strauss family as well as some other music.

New Year 2015 Golden Hall

This is the 75th anniversary of the event that will be broadcast to more than 90 countries and seen by some 50 million people. It is billed as the world’s largest classical music event.

Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons, who leads the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam and appears regularly with major orchestras around the world, is returning for his third stint as the conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic for this program.

mariss jansons 2015

Here is a link with more information, which is hard and confusing to find on the website (look under Seasonal Programming, not the regular schedule):

http://www.wienerphilharmoniker.at/en

In the afternoon from 1:30 to 3 p.m. and in the evening form 10 to 11:30 p.m., the 32nd annual television version of “Great Performances” will be broadcast by Wisconsin Public Television. Actress Julie Andrews (below) returns to host for the seventh time, and dancers from the Vienna State Ballet will be featured along with great landscape shots of Vienna and its historical landmarks.

And of course there will be the final clap-along encore: The Radetzky March, which you can hear conducted by Daniel Barenboim in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Julie Andrews

Once again, The Ear recalls that it used to air at a much earlier, more family-friendly hour.

For more information, go to:

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/from-vienna-the-new-years-celebration-2016/4440/

Maybe next year will see earlier broadcast times and more information about the programs and broadcast’s duration on the web and the regular radio schedule.


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