The Well-Tempered Ear

The Madison Early Music Festival joins the UW-Madison School of Music’s regular program and undergoes a major revamping. There will be no more separate summer events, and the two directors will retire next spring

March 10, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

After refining the format over the past 20 years, the Madison Early Music Festival (below) has grown into a popular event that is recognized regionally, nationally and internationally. It usually takes place for about 10 days in July.

But no longer.

The Ear has received the following updates from the two co-founders and co-directors, singers Cheryl-Bensman Rowe and UW-Madison Professor Paul Rowe.

Curiously, no reasons or causes are given for the major changes and revamping, or for the cancellation of the event this summer.

The Ear suspects it has something to do with the lack of funding and the reorganizations and consolidations being carried out because of the budgetary effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the UW-Madison, the whole UW System and the performing arts scene in general.

But that could be completely wrong. We will probably find out more details in the near future.

For more information and background, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/2021/02/01/memf-school-of-music-announce-administrative-partnership/

And to sound off, please leave your reactions to the news in the comment section.

Here is the letter from the Rowes (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot):

Dear MEMF Supporters,

It is difficult to believe that February is over and spring is on its way. We hope everyone is having luck scheduling coronavirus vaccines, and that you have all stayed healthy throughout this past year. 

We are writing to give you advance notice of the latest MEMF news before you read it in an upcoming press release.

Due to programming realignment in the UW-Madison Division of the Arts, the Madison Early Music Festival will become a program of the Mead Witter School of Music, which will be our new administrative home.

After much discussion with the Director of the School of Music and the Interim Director of the Division of the Arts, the details of the move have been finalized. 

The School of Music is excited to bring MEMF into its programming, and would like MEMF to be an integral part of the academic year so more students can have an opportunity to work with professionals in the field of early music.

At this point, in order to focus on this goal, the decision has been made to discontinue the summer festival in its current (pre-pandemic) format.(You can hear a sample of that in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

We know this is disappointing news, but at the same time we are excited that MEMF concerts, lectures and classes will now be offered in some capacity throughout the year. 

Although MEMF will be taking a different direction than the one we have all known and loved over the past 20 years, we are thrilled that it will continue to provide early music learning and presentation opportunities through this new collaboration.

We also want to announce that the two of us will be retiring from MEMF in the spring of 2022 and new leadership will take the helm. 

Current plans are to present a celebratory MEMF concert and workshop next spring with School of Music students and faculty and former MEMF participants and faculty.

We want all of you to know that we appreciate everything you have done for MEMF. Some of you have been involved for 21 years! 

We are grateful for your support, the friendships we have made, and all the beautiful music we have heard and made together. The success of the festival would not have been possible without each and every one of you.

This is an exciting new journey for MEMF, although different from what we have known and experienced. We hope that you will continue to be involved in MEMF in its new format, and we hope to see you in the spring of 2022!

Thank you for all your generosity in so many ways,

Cheryl Bensman-Rowe and Paul Rowe, co-founders and co-artistic directors of the Madison Early Music Festival


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This Saturday afternoon, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir presents a free online parking lot concert of “Car Carols” with an emphasis on African-American composers

December 11, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

Join the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) this Saturday afternoon, Dec. 12, at 2 p.m. for Car Carols, a unique holiday concert featuring live, socially-distanced performances of music by African-American composers and seasonal favorites.

Choir members will sing from their individual cars using wireless microphones (below), listening to the sound of the whole choir via their car radios. The audience is invited to join our Facebook event or listen in live on YouTube.

There is no charge to view the live-stream, but donations would be welcome. 

You can find the concert on this Saturday, Dec. 12, a 2 p.m. via the following links: live on YouTube at  https://youtu.be/ZonVn1cvgb8, or on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1561155960751974/

This unusual concert format was necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic, but the WCC is grateful for the opportunity to continue singing together in safe ways.

Since September, the choir has been rehearsing as a Parking Lot Choir, generating local media coverage from WKOW-TV at https://wkow.com/2020/10/13/wisconsin-chamber-choir-making-adjustments-to-prepare-for-performance/ and Madison Magazine, whose story was headlined “Forget tailgates, parking lots are for choir practice: https://www.channel3000.com/forget-tailgates-parking-lots-are-for-choir-practice/

This past September and October, smaller groups from the WCC assembled on Saturday mornings at the Warner Park Pavilion to rehearse in widely spaced formations. 

They wore specially designed singers masks, and occasionally harmonized with nearby sandhill cranes that seemed unsure what to make of the a cappella music floating through their habitat. 

Recordings by five distinct small ensembles  — minus the cranes — will be aired during the Dec. 12 Car Carols broadcast, in addition to live singing by the Parking Lot choristers. 

The Car Carols repertoire highlights music by African-American composers spanning nearly a century. Idiomatic pieces in the style of spirituals and contemporary gospel alternate with “non-idiomatic” motets and anthems by Nathaniel Dett (below top), William Dawson, Undine Smith Moore (below middle) and Carlos Simon (below bottom, with an oral self-portrait in the YouTube video at the bottom).

 

The remainder of the Parking Lot Choir selections consists of carol arrangements by WCC favorites — the late Stephen Paulus (below) and Peter Blotch — and feature virtual harp and violin accompaniment.

Live and virtual performers will also unite to sing Craig Hella Johnson’s moving arrangement of the songs I Love You and What a Wonderful World

Interspersed between the live Car Carols will be a wide variety of pre-recorded selections, including the world premiere of WCC member Linda Palmer’s arrangement of Sussex Carol, plus music by Johannes Brahms, John Rutter, 17th-century female composer Chiara Cozzolani (below), and Tleycantimo choquilia, a carol from colonial-era Mexico, sung in Spanish and Nahuatl. 

Founded in 1998, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Handel, Mozart and Brahms; a cappella works from various centuries; and world-premieres.

Artistic director Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who heads the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, has been hailed by critics for his vibrant and emotionally compelling interpretations of a wide variety of choral masterworks. WCC members have acknowledged Gehrenbeck for his intrepid conducting in freezing temperatures during Parking Lot Choir rehearsals.

 


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Classical music: Here is the complete concert program for the Madison Opera’s Digital Opera in the Park. It premieres online TONIGHT at 8 and stays up until Aug. 25

July 25, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The 2020 edition of the Madison Opera’s annual summer event Opera in the Park (below, a photo from the past) will be virtual and online due the coronavirus pandemic and the COVID-19 public health crisis.

The concert – which can be viewed indoors or outdoors, anywhere in the country or the world — begins at 8 p.m. CDT TONIGHT, Saturday, July 25. It will remain available online until Aug. 25.

Here are links to the portals where you can watch and listen to the opera program and also join the post-concert Q&A with performers: https://www.madisonopera.org and https://vimeo.com/437164679

For more information about the 90-minute concert, and related events, as well as the performers and the donors, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/07/23/classical-music-madison-operas-virtual-opera-in-the-park-goes-online-for-free-this-saturday-night-and-stay-up-until-aug-25-listen-to-it-indoors-or-outdoors-to-enhance-the-experience/

HERE IS THE COMPLETE PROGRAM FOR THE EVENING

Overture | The Marriage of Figaro (W.A. Mozart; 1786)

Suzanne Beia, violin; John DeMain (below) and Scott Gendel, piano

“Quel guardo, il cavaliere” | Don Pasquale (Gaetano Donizetti; 1843)

Jasmine Habersham, soprano (below); Rolando Salazar, piano

“Un’aura amorosa” | Così fan tutte (W.A. Mozart; 1789)

Andres Acosta, tenor (below); Marika Yasuda, piano

“Ernani, involami” | Ernani (Giuseppe Verdi; 1844)

Karen Slack, soprano (below); Laura Ward, piano

“Vision fugitive” | Hérodiade (Jules Massenet; 1881)

Weston Hurt, baritone (below); Bethany Self, piano

“Aber der Richtige” | Arabella (Richard Strauss; 1933)

Jasmine Habersham, soprano; Karen Slack, soprano; Scott Gendel, piano (below)

“Au fond du temple saint” | The Pearl Fishers (Georges Bizet; 1863)

Andres Acosta, tenor; Weston Hurt, baritone; Scott Gendel, piano

“Deh vieni, non tardar” | The Marriage of Figaro (W.A. Mozart; 1786)

Jasmine Habersham, soprano; Rolando Salazar, piano

“Il balen del suo sorriso” | Il Trovatore  (Giuseppe Verdi; 1853)

Weston Hurt, baritone; Bethany Self, piano

“Anvil Chorus” | Il Trovatore (Giuseppe Verdi; 1853)

Madison Opera Chorus via Zoom (below); Anthony Cao, conductor and piano

“Vissi d’arte” | Tosca (Giacomo Puccini; 1900)

Karen Slack, soprano; Laura Ward, piano

“Asile héréditaire” | William Tell (Gioachino Rossini; 1829)

Andres Acosta, tenor; Marika Yasuda, piano

“Meditation” | Thaïs (Jules Massenet; 1894)

Suzanne Beia, violin (below); John DeMain, piano

Spiritual “Scandalize My Name” | arranged by Johnnie Dean

Jasmine Habersham, soprano; Karen Slack, soprano; Scott Gendel, piano

“No puede ser” | La Tabernera del Puerto (Pablo Sorozabal; 1936)

Andres Acosta, tenor; Marika Yasuda, piano

“Vanilla Ice Cream” | She Loves Me (Jerry Bock; 1963)

Jasmine Habersham, soprano; Rolando Salazar, piano

“Some Enchanted Evening” | South Pacific (Richard Rodgers; 1949)

Weston Hurt, baritone; Bethany Self, piano

“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” | arranged by Margaret Bonds

Karen Slack, soprano; Laura Ward, piano

SING-ALONG FINALE: It’s a Grand Night for Singing | State Fair (Richard Rodgers; 1945)

 


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Classical music: Madison Opera’s virtual Opera in the Park goes online for FREE this Saturday night and stays up until Aug. 25. Listen to it indoors or outdoors

July 23, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Madison Opera’s Opera in the Park isn’t in a park this year — as it has been in past years (below) — but it will be available for people to enjoy for free in their backyards, in their living rooms or anywhere else with an internet connection.

The digital concert will be released on this Saturday, July 25, at 8 p.m. CDT, and can be watched on Madison Opera’s website, www.madisonopera.org/digital, where you can find complete information and, soon, a complete program to download.

The annual free concert has moved online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a newly created program of opera arias and more.

Digital Opera in the Park features: soprano Jasmine Habersham; soprano Karen Slack; tenor Andres Acosta; and baritone Weston Hurt. (The last two will sing the justly famous baritone-tenor duet “Au fond du temple saint” from Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers,” which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Habersham (below) makes her Madison Opera debut with this unique performance, and will sing Susanna in the company’s production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro next April.

Slack (below) debuted with the company in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, and will be part of the company’s digital fall season.

Acosta (below) sang Timothy Laughlin in Gregory Spears’ Fellow Travelers with Madison Opera this past February.

Hurt (below) debuted as Germont in Verdi’s La Traviata last season and is part of the company’s digital fall season.

The four singers will be joined by several important local artists. They include violinist Suzanne Beia, the assistant concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the concertmaster of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the second violin of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet.

There will also be a fleet of eight pianists. They include MSO music director and Madison Opera’s artist director John DeMain (below top, in a photo by Prasad) and the UW-Madison graduate and composer Scott Gendel (below bottom). The two will play multiple numbers, including DeMain accompanying Beia on the beautiful “Meditation” from Thaïs.

Each singer recorded their arias with an accompanist in their home cities, and chorusmaster Anthony Cao (below top) both accompanies and conducts the Madison Opera Chorus (below bottom) in a virtual “Anvil Chorus” from Il Trovatore.

The evening will be hosted by Madison Opera’s General Director Kathryn Smith and by WKOW TV’s Channel 27 News co-anchor George Smith.

“Reimagining Opera in the Park in the pandemic era has been a challenge, but one we have happily embraced,” says Smith (below in a photo by James Gill). “Our wonderful artists were game to record themselves in their home towns, to sing duets with each other through headphones, and to share their artistry with our community in a new way. Over 40 choristers joined a Zoom call to get instructions, and then they recorded their parts of the ‘Anvil Chorus.’”

“While in some ways this concert has required more work than our live Opera in the Park in Garner Park, it is always a pleasure to present beautiful music for everyone to enjoy.”

Digital Opera in the Park features music from Verdi’s Il Trovatore, now canceled in live performance but originally slated to open Madison Opera’s 2020-21 season; Jerry Bock’s She Loves Me, which the company performs in January; and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, which will be performed in April.

The program also includes selections from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, Richard Strauss’ Arabella, Verdi’s Don Pasquale, Puccini’s Tosca, Massenet’s Hérodiade and Thaïs, Rossini’s William Tell, Pablo Sarozabal’s zarzuela La Tabernera del Puerto, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, and more.

The concert will be available beginning at 8 p.m. CDT on this Saturday night, July 25, and will remain online until Aug. 25, allowing for both repeated viewing and flexibility for people who are unable to watch on the first night.

While Digital Opera in the Park will be free to watch, it would not be possible without the generous support of many foundations, corporations and individuals who believe in the importance of music. Madison Opera is grateful to the sponsors of Opera in the Park 2020:

  • Presenting Sponsor: the Berbeewalsh Foundation
  • Sponsors: the John and Carolyn Peterson Charitable Foundation, Full Compass Systems, the Raymond B. Preston Family Foundation, University Research Park, Colony Brands, Johnson Financial Group, MGE Foundation, National Guardian Life, Wisconsin Arts Board, Dane Arts and the Madison Arts Commission.
  • Media Sponsors: WKOW, Madison Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, Magic 98, and La Movida.

RELATED EVENTS include:

OPERA ON THE WALL | JULY 25, 2020 | ONLINE

Madison artists Liubov Swazko (known as Triangulador) and Mike Lroy have created artwork around our community, including beautiful murals on State Street storefronts.

In an act of artistic cross-pollination, they will create an artwork that comes from their personal response to Digital Opera in the Park, offering a rare glimpse of visual artists responding to musical artists. Their creative process will be filmed in the Madison Opera Center, and shared online starting on July 25.

The finished artwork will be displayed in the Madison Opera Center. Go to Swazko’s website at triangulador.com (one work is below) and Lroy’s website at mikelroy.com to see their past work.

POST-SHOW Q&A | JULY 25, 2020, IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE INITIAL STREAM

Join Kathryn Smith and the Digital Opera in the Park artists for a post-concert discussion, including an opportunity to ask questions. Details on format and platform will be available closer to the date.

 


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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Opera, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Overture Center cancel their fall seasons. Plus, on Saturday cellist Cole Randolph performs a virtual concert for Grace Presents

June 26, 2020
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ALERT: The Saturday at noon, Grace Presents will offer the first in its series of HD Virtual Concerts online. Future performers include organist Mark Brampton Smith and the Willy Street Chamber Players.

The performer this time is the cellist and recent UW-Madison graduate Cole Randolph (below). The program is: the Sonata for Solo Cello by the American composer George Crumb; two of the “Seven Songs Heard in China” by Chinese composer Bright Sheng; and the Suite for Solo Cello No. 3 by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Here is where you can hear the 40-minute concert inside the church on the Capitol Square: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vaOCH53osk

You can also connect with Cole Randolph after the show by joining in a Zoom meet-and-greet immediately following the performance at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88001773181

The meeting ID is: 880 0177 3181

You can hear Randolph (below, in a photo by Michael Anderson) playing in the YouTube video at the bottom.

By Jacob Stockinger

With all the talk of a second wave of coronavirus coming in the fall — complicated by the seasonal flu – concert cancellations don’t come as a surprise, unfortunately.

In fact, The Ear suspects many more cancellations are to come, including those from the UW-Madison, the Wisconsin Union Theater and the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Here is the latest round: the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Overture Center have all canceled their fall seasons, with some qualifications.

The announcements came on Thursday morning in the wake of the Overture Center canceling all performances this summer and fall through Nov. 30.

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

The Madison Symphony Orchestra has provided a short statement and a more complete and detailed press release.

Here is the statement:

“The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s 2020-21 “Beethoven and Beyond” season concerts and Overture Concert Organ performances are now canceled from September 2020 through January 2021.

“The move is due to the Overture Center’s decision to suspend events through Nov. 30, 2020, and the requirements of Dane County’s “Forward Dane” Reopening Plan.

“The 2020-21 season performances in February, March, April and May 2021 are scheduled to take place as planned.

“All subscribers will be sent a refund for the value of their tickets for the September 2020 through January 2021 concerts.”

Here is a list on the five MSO concerts – including the Beyond the Score performance of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” on Jan. 25 — that will be canceled and the four that remain scheduled: https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/2020-2021-symphony-season-concerts/

Here is a link to the full press release about the cancellations by the MSO (below, in a  photo by Peter Rodgers): https://madisonsymphony.org/press-release-june-2020-concert-events-update/

MADISON OPERA

The Madison Opera is canceling the two in-person performances of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” (The Troubadour) but is planning on offering some kind of large digital event and smaller live events at its center.

Here is statement from the Madison Opera:

“Although the Overture Center for the Arts is closed until the end of November, we will not be going silent.

“We are creating a fall season that lasts from September through December, and includes both digital content and live performances at the Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center, our home in downtown Madison.

“Some of our signature engagement activities — such as Opera Novice and Opera Up Close — will have monthly editions that include artists from around the country.

“The Opera Center itself will be the site of “Live from the Opera Center,” a variety of streamed performances with a small live audience.

“Other performances will be created digitally and made available exclusively to subscribers.

“Artists involved include members of the original “Il Trovatore” cast: soprano Karen Slack, baritone Weston Hurt, bass Kenneth Kellogg, and stage director Fenlon Lamb. Other soloists include Wisconsin-based artists Jeni Houser (below), David Blalock, Emily Fons, Emily Secor and Kirsten Larson.

“We are working with our artists to create programming that is chosen from their passions: music they want to share, ideas they want to explore, and conversations they want to start. The challenges facing us will create new art, and new ways to make sure it is accessible to everyone.”

Marketing director Andrew Rogers told The Ear that the opera company is still deciding whether digital performances will be ticketed or free with suggested donations.

The full schedule will be announced in early August, after the digital online Opera in the Park takes place Saturday, July 25. For details, go to: https://www.madisonopera.org/2020/05/06/opera-in-the-park-is-going-digital/

To stay current about the regular opera season, you can sign up for the Madison Opera’s news updates via email by going to this website: https://www.madisonopera.org/fall2020/

WISCONSIN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

The Nov. 20 opening concert with pianist John O’Conor of the Masterworks Series has been POSTPONED with no new date set yet.

Music director Andrew Sewell says the Family Concert on is still on for Saturday, Oct. 10, at the Goodman Community Center but the WCO is looking for an alternative venue.

The concert on Nov. 7 at the Verona Area Performing Arts Center has been CANCELED.

Both performances of Handel’s “Messiah” — on Dec. 9 and Dec. 12 at the Blackhawk Church in Middleton and the UW’s Hamel Music Center on Dec. 12 – have also been CANCELED.

And this season the WCO will not play Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” from Dec. 17-27 because the Madison Ballet has canceled those performances.

For more information about the WCO (below, in photo by Mike Gorski), go to: https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/calendar

What do you think?

Do you think the cancellations are warranted?

Do you want to leave a message or comment encouraging and supporting the various groups and their many musicians?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: This summer, Madison Opera’s “Opera in the Park” will go virtual and be held online due to the coronavirus pandemic. Details will follow in early July

May 7, 2020
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from the Madison Opera about this summer’s annual Opera in the Park (below, in a photo by James Gill.)

“Madison Opera’s Opera in the Park will be moving online this summer in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since the first Opera in the Park concert in 2002, it has become a Madison summer tradition, a free concert that draws over 10,000 people to Garner Park for selections from opera, Broadway, operetta and zarzuela. The 19th anniversary of this concert had been scheduled for July 25.”

(Editor’s note: As you can see in the YouTube video at the bottom, the traditional encore has the audience and soloists singing “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” from the musical “Carousel” by Rodgers and Hammerstein.)

Opera in the Park is by far our most important performance,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), general director of the Madison Opera. “Sharing music under the stars is a highlight of every summer, but the health and safety of our community is our first priority. After careful discussion with local officials and stakeholders, we have decided to take the necessary step of moving from an in-person performance this summer to a digital one.

“Details on the digital performance will be solidified in the coming months and announced in early July.

“Soloists to perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra include: soprano Karen Slack (below top), who returns to Madison Opera as Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore (The Troubadour) this fall; soprano Jasmine Habersham (below middle), who makes her Madison Opera debut in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro next April; and baritone Weston Hurt (below bottom), who sang Germont in Verdi’s La Traviata last season and returns as Count di Luna in Il Trovatore next fall.

“While nothing will ever equal the magic of Opera in the Park when the hillside is full of people,” Smith says, “I know we can create something special to share, using the power of music to connect us even when we cannot gather in person.

“We look forward to returning to Garner Park next summer, and seeing a full display of everyone’s light-stick conducting skills (below).”

 


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Classical music: Four Madison Opera singers will collaborate with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) to perform Winterfest Concerts this Friday night and Saturday afternoon

March 10, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Each year, over a weekend, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) perform the Diane Ballweg Winterfest Concerts.

But this year a new collaboration will take place.

On this Friday night, March 13, at 7 p.m. in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall of the new Hamel Music Center, 740 University Avenue, the senior WYSO Youth Orchestra (below) will accompany four singers from the Madison Opera’s Studio Artist program in which they transition to a professional career by singing minor roles and being understudies for leading roles.

Tickets are $10 for adults, and $5 for youth under 19, and are available in advance through the Campus Ticket Office, and at the venue 30 minutes before the concert.

WYSO says the Friday night concert is close to selling out.

Here are some details: “Now in its eighth year, the Studio Artist Program is an important part of Madison Opera’s artistic and educational mission. The 2019-20 Studio Artists are four singers (below) in the transition between their education and their professional careers.

They are (from left, clockwise): baritone Stephen Hobe; mezzo-soprano Kirsten Larson; tenor Benjamin Hopkins; and soprano Emily Secor. They will sing duets, trios and quartets. There will also be an orchestral overture and a prelude.

WYSO music director Kyle Knox, who is also the associate music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will conduct both singers and instrumentalists. (You can hear WYSO members talking about playing and performing in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Says Knox (below): “Young instrumentalists rarely get to accompany soloists and singers. Playing opera in particular is something that tends to come much later in their careers, and for many of them, never at all.”

The program includes excerpts from favorite operas, including: arias by “Nabucco” and “Rigoletto” by Verdi; “La Clemenza di Tito” by Mozart; “The Barber of Seville” and “William Tell” by Rossini; “Lohengrin” by Wagner; “The Elixir of Love” by Donizetti; “Carmen” by Bizet; and “La Boheme” by Puccini. For a complete program with specific titles plus ticket information, go to:

https://www.wysomusic.org/diane-ballweg-winterfest-concerts/

For more detailed information about the Madison Opera Studio Atrists program and its WYSO collaboration, go to:

https://www.wysomusic.org/in-collaboration-with-madison-operas-studio-artists/

SATURDAY

On this Saturday, March 14, in Mills Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, the following groups will perform. No programs have been posted.

11:30 a.m. — Opus One and Sinfonietta (below)

1:30 p.m. — Harp Ensemble (below) and Concert Orchestra

4:00 p.m. — Percussion Ensemble (below) and Philharmonia Orchestra

The WYSO Winterfest Concert series is funded by: Diane Ballweg, with additional funding from the Wisconsin Arts Board; Dane Arts; Madison Arts Commission; American Girl’s Fund for Children; Eric D. Batterman Memorial Fund; and the Coe and Paul Williams Fund for New Musicians.

The performance in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall was made possible by an additional gift from Martha and Charles Casey. The appearance of the Studio Artists in this program has been underwritten by the Charles and Mary Anderson Charitable Fund, Charles and Martha Casey, and David Flanders and Susan Ecroyd.

 


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Classical music: The Madison Opera’s superb and sensual production of “Fellow Travelers” broke both hearts and new ground

February 14, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Walking out into the heavy snow last Sunday afternoon, The Ear left the Madison Opera’s production of “Fellow Travelers” – done in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center – feeling sad and moved, but also satisfied and proud. (Below is the full cast in a party scene. All performance photos are by James Gill.)

He was proud that the Madison Opera chose this 2016 work by composer Gregory Spears and librettist Greg Pierce — based on the 2007 novel of the same name by Thomas Mallon — for its annual winter staging of a modern or contemporary opera.

It was a brave choice.

For one, it focuses on a same-sex love affair in the oppressive political environment of the McCarthy era with its Lavender Scare, which, during the larger Red Scare, tied gays to communists and tried to purge and ruin them lest they be blackmailed.

In addition, the opera speaks to today’s politics of smear and fear, as practiced by President Donald Trump and conspiracy theory proponents on the far right. The Madison Opera wasn’t afraid to point out possible parallels in the program notes.

But the real affirmation of the opera’s contemporaneity came from the first-rate quality of this memorable production.

The cast of nine made a tight ensemble in which each member proved  equally strong in singing and acting.

The two leading men who played federal government workers – tenor Andres Acosta (below right) as the young Timothy Laughlin and baritone Ben Edquist (below left) as the older Hawkins Fuller – turned in outstanding performances from their first meeting on a park bench, through their sexual encounters, to the final breakup.

Particularly moving were the same-sex love scenes and moments of casual affection. Perhaps there are precedents in the history of other Madison Opera productions, but no one seems to know of any.

The two men in bed — wearing only boxer shorts while kissing and caressing each other — seemed like another brave first for the Madison Opera. The explicit scenes of the two men being intimate were tasteful but also sensual and realistic, erotic as well as poignant. (Below are Andres Acosta, left, as Timothy Laughlin and Ben Edquist, right, as Hawkins Fuller.)

Acting seems the real fulcrum of this chamber opera, with the appealing music underscoring the scenes and the acting rather than standing on its own. Yet the two men proved to be powerful singers, especially in their solos and duets. (You can hear Andres Acosta sing an aria in the Minneapolis production in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The haunting music was always accessible and atmospheric, disproving the notion that music in new operas is always discordant or hard to listen to. True, The Ear heard no tunes to take away from the opera, no earworm arias from a first hearing. But the singing by all the cast members was uniformly strong.

John DeMain’s conducting exuded both control and subtlety. He maintained a balance from the Madison Symphony Orchestra players in the pit and never overwhelmed the singers.

DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) knew exactly when to pull the music into the background and create a context for the action; and then when to push it to the foreground to accompany the singers or set a scene.

Stage director Peter Rothstein (below), who also staged the opera for the Minnesota Opera in Minneapolis with some of the same cast, kept the show moving at a brisk and engaging pace.

The 16 scenes moved quickly throughout the two-hour show, thanks in part to the austere and portable but convincing sets.

The atmosphere of the 1950s, for example, was believably evoked by a simple office setting — a desk, a few filing cabinets, an American flag and a portrait of President Eisenhower. (Below, from left, are Ben Edquist as Hawkins Fuller, Andres Acosta as Timothy Laughlin, and Adriana Zabala as Mary Johnson.)

Particularly effective and disturbing was the interrogation scene, from the embarrassing questions about whether Hawkins Fuller walks or talks like a homosexual to the lie detector test. (Below, from left, are Andres Acosta as Timothy Laughlin, Ben Edquist as Hawkins Fuller, Stephen Hobe as the Technician and Alan Dunbar as the Interrogator.)

One outstanding performance involved the resonant and expressive Sidney Outlaw (below) as Tommy McIntyre, the bureaucrat who knows all the secrets in the office of Senator Charles Parker (played by Andrew Wilkowske) and how to use them in order to get his way. (Below, from left, are Andres Acosta as Timothy Laughlin and Sidney Outlaw as Tommy McIntyre.)

Another outstanding performance came from Adriana Zabala (below) as Mary Johnson, the secretary who finally quits her job and leaves Washington, D.C., to protest the treatment of Timothy by the aptly nicknamed “Hawk” Fuller and the government inquisitors. (Below, from left, are Ben Edquist as Hawkins Fuller and Adriana Zabala as Mary Johnson.

Throughout the entire opera, the audience proved amazingly quiet, rapt in their attention as they laughed out loud at humorous moments and openly cried at the heart-wrenching plot.

At the end the audience — gay and straight, men and women, old and young – gave the singers and orchestra players a prolonged standing ovation and loud applause.

And walking out, you heard many people talking about the opera in the most positive and approving ways.

The underlying irony, of course, is that an opera with this much insight into both the human heart and the exploitative politics of oppression could never have been staged in the same era it depicts.

At least on that score, we can say we have made some progress in confronting and correcting the injustices and bigotry we witness in “Fellow Travelers.”

But in the end the opera tells us to keep traveling.

You can see what other critics thought of “Fellow Travelers”:

Here is the review that Jay Rath wrote for Isthmus: https://isthmus.com/arts/stage/forbidden%20love/

And here is the review that Lindsay Christians wrote for The Capital Times: https://madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/theatre/opera-review-fellow-travelers-is-a-certain-kind-of-wonderful/article_0ebc5a83-afbe-5f50-99eb-51e4baa4df0e.html

What did you think?

Leave your own review or reactions in the Comments section.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will sing a program of “Live, Laugh and Love” this Sunday afternoon. Music by Brahms, Puccini, Bizet, Sondheim, Lin-Manuel Miranda and others is featured

February 12, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday afternoon, Feb. 16, at 3 p.m. in the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s Landmark Auditorium, 900 University Bay Drive, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir will perform a varied program of vocal music.

The “Live, Laugh and Love” program includes Johannes Brahms’ Neue Liebeslieder Waltzes (New Love Song Waltzes) along with a wide variety of solos, duets and ensembles encompassing music by Giacomo Puccini, Georges Bizet, Clara Schumann, John Dowland, Stephen Sondheim and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The singers will accompanied by duo-pianists Mark Brampton Smith and Sherri Hansen.

Brahms (below) completed his second group of “Love Song Waltzes” in 1874, setting poems that are alternately passionate, brooding, fiery and contemplative. (You can hear some excerpts in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Building on the success of his first installment of Liebeslieder from five years earlier, Brahms’ music for the later set is more deeply emotional, mirroring the composer’s own complex romantic entanglements. Out of all Brahms’ female friends, he seems to have maintained the deepest affection for Clara Schumann (below), whose music appears on the first half of our program.

Classic arias and duets from the operas La Bohème, and The Pearl Fishers, and contemporary selections by Stephen Sondheim and Hamilton composer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, round out the program to be performed in the intimate setting of the historic auditorium designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

A wine-and-cheese reception will follow the concert.

Advance tickets are available online for $15 ($10 for students) from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org or Brown Paper Tickets, or from a member of the choir. The ticket price at the door is $20.

Founded in 1998, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Handel, Mozart and Brahms; a cappella works from various centuries; and world premieres.

Artistic director and conductor Robert Gehrenbeck (below) – who heads the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater — has been hailed by critics for his vibrant and emotionally compelling interpretations of a wide variety of choral masterworks.

 


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