The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society offers an clever program that mixes outstanding performances of “primitivistic” modern music with rarely heard cabaret songs

June 19, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This review is by guest contributor Kyle Johnson (below), who also took the performance photographs. As a pianist since elementary school, Kyle Johnson has devoted most of his life to music. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, he is now a doctoral candidate in piano performance at the UW-Madison, where he studies with Christopher Taylor and specializes in modern and contemporary music. He participates in many festivals and events around the U.S. and Europe. Recently, he co-founded the Madison-based ensemble Sound Out Loud, an interactive contemporary music ensemble. For more information, visit: www.kyledjohnson.weebly.com

By Kyle Johnson

If the rule of real estate is “location, location, location,” perhaps the rule for concert planning is “programming, programming, programming.”

Until the finale of Friday night’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society performance, the directors lived up to that mantra.

The first half of the program was primarily devoted to greats of the modernist chamber music repertoire: Chansons madécasses (Madagascan Songs) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and the Contrasts by Bela Bartok (1881-1945).

For the former, Emily Birsan, a Chicago-based soprano who was educated at the UW-Madison, provided a dynamic, sensuous rendition even in the score’s most economical, lithe moments.

At the end of the work, Ravel’s inclusion of piccolo (played by Stephanie Jutt) and cello harmonics (played by Jean-Michel Fonteneau at a much higher than the fingered pitch) created an evocatively primitive effect, as the songs detail life in newly colonized Madagascar

The final line of the piece, “The evening breeze rises; the moon begins to shine through the trees of the mountain. Go, and prepare the meal,” received nervous chuckles from several audience members.

(You can hear the Ravel songs performed by Christa Ludwig in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The effect was also a transition to the Contrasts (1938), a trio for clarinet, violin and piano that was commissioned by jazz great Benny Goodman. As the title aptly describes, the three-movement work cycles between jovial, intense and playful moods.

Most striking in this rendition — played by Axel Strauss on violin, Alan Kay on clarinet and Christopher Taylor on piano (below) — was the second movement, entitled “Relaxation.” Moments of hushed and moody tones created an atmosphere that historians have referred to as Bartok’s “night music.” 

The audience responded with excitement, applauding through two curtain calls, to the climactic and frenzied close of the piece.

The theme this year is “Alphabet Soup” for the 26 letters marking the BDDS’ 26th anniversary. So after intermission, BDDS directors Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sikes introduced the audience to Madison’s four-time Spelling Bee Champion, Martius Bautista).

The soon-to-be eighth-grader at Edgewood Campus School tested his spelling of a variety of musical terms like crescendo (growing louder) and sforzando (marked emphasis) while Jeffrey Sykes played the theme from Jeopardy on the keyboard. Bautista (below) was successful and, when given a paper crown, turned to place it on the head of Samantha Crownover, who is celebrating her 20th year as executive director of the BDDS.

Sykes and Birsan served the audience a collection of cabaret songs by English composer Benjamin Britten, American composer William Bolcom and Austrian-American composer Arnold Schoenberg. The only thing missing from this portion of the program was chinking wine glasses and swirling smoke.

The programming of cabaret songs with the musical “primitivism” of Ravel and Bartok was a clever idea, and one that had similar roots at a recent concert at the UW-Madison, in which the Chansons madécasses were paired with Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire (while some consider Pierrot a feat of highbrow expressionism, a strong case can be made for its cabaret nature – however grotesque and dark it may be).

Anyone weary of Arnold Schoenberg’s oftentimes deterring development of 12-tone and atonal music need only look as far as his own cabaret songs, which are as melodious and lush as music heard in the great black-and-white musicals of early film.

The programming of the final work, Johannes Brahms’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Op. 87 (1880-1882) – played by the San Francisco Trio (below) — was problematic in a number of ways.

The monolithic nature of the work – a staple of high Romanticism you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom – seemed off-putting, after the intimacy of works such as the Ravel songs, the Bartok Contrasts, and especially the cabaret numbers.

In a perfect world, Friday evening’s concert would have foregone an intermission and ended with the cabaret hodgepodge. The quirky and understated close would have certainly left the audience charmed and ever-enticed to attend the remainder of BDDS’s programs – the final weekend, of which, runs June 23-25.

For more information about the concluding BDDS weekend and its dates, times, venues, programs and performers, go to:

http://bachdancing.org

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Classical music: The second week of programs by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society offers vocal and instrumental music that spans four centuries and includes a world premiere

June 15, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last weekend, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opened its 26th season with two programs in three venues that all proved highly successful.

Building on that success, the chamber music festival with top local and guest performers, now turns to vocal and instrumental music that ranges from the late 18th century up to today, including a world premiere.

As usual, the BDDS venues are suitably intimate for chamber music: The Playhouse (below top) at the Overture Center at 201 State St.; the jewel box historic Stoughton Opera House (below middle) at 381 East Main St.; and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside Theater (below bottom) at Taliesin on County Highway 23 in Spring Green.

Concerts are spiked with stories about the music, mystery guests and even door prizes.

This season’s theme is Alphabet Soup, because it’s BDDS’ 26th year and there are 26 letters in the alphabet. Each program is named after a combination of letters used in everyday language. Sometimes the musical interpretation of those letters is literal and sometimes it’s quite loose.

The second weekend of concerts features the San Francisco Piano Trio (below) Axel Strauss, violin; Jean-Michel Fonteneau, cello; and Jeffrey Sykes, piano).

They are joined by UW-Madison’s pianist Christopher Taylor, soprano Emily Birsan (another Madison favorite and a graduate of the UW-Madison and Lyric Opera of Chicago) and internationally acclaimed clarinetist Alan Kay.

TWO PROGRAMS

Two Bs or not Two Bs includes evocative songs by Maurice Ravel for soprano, flute, cello and piano and an entertaining bouquet of earthy cabaret songs by composers Benjamin Britten, William Bolcom and Arnold Schoenberg, sung by Emily Birsan.

The program also features Bela Bartok’s “Contrasts” for clarinet, violin and piano, a work commissioned by the legendary jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman (below), and Johannes Brahms’ epic Piano Trio in C Major, Op. 87. (You can hear a historic recording of Benny Goodman performing the Bartok work, with the composer playing the piano, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Two Bs or not Two Bs will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts, on Friday, June 16, 7:30 p.m., and at the Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green, on Sunday, June 18, 2:30 p.m.


Special K is a showcase for Alan Kay, principal clarinetist of the renowned Orpheus Chamber Ensemble.

It includes “The Shepherd on the Rock” for soprano, clarinet and piano by Franz Schubert; the hip tour-de-force “Techno Parade” by Guillaume Conneson (below) for flute, clarinet and piano; and the Midwest premiere of “Living Frescoes” for clarinet, violin, cello and piano by American composer Kevin Puts.

Many will remember that Kevin Puts (below) was the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer BDDS commissioned for the song cycle “In At The Eye” in its 25th season last summer.

The program is rounded out with Mozart’s Piano Trio in E Major and three songs by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (below) sung by Emily Birsan, accompanied by Jeffrey Sykes.

Special K will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts, on Saturday, June 17, 7:30 p.m., and at the Hillside Theater, Taliesin, in Spring Green, on Sunday, June 18, 6:30 p.m.

Photos by Dick Ainsworth of BDDS performances and behind-the-scenes will be on exhibit in The Playhouse through Sunday, July 9.

Single general admission tickets are $43. Student tickets are always $10.

For tickets visit: http://www.overture.org/events/bach-dancing

For more information about the programs, performers, performances and background, visit www.bachdancinganddynamite.org or call (608) 255-9866.

Tickets can also be purchased at Overture Center for the Arts, (608) 258-4141, www.overturecenter.org (additional fees apply).

Tickets are also available at the door at all locations.


Classical music: Here’s why the opening concert of the Madison Symphony Orchestra proved a stunning success.

October 1, 2015
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ALERT: This Sunday afternoon the UW Chamber Orchestra, playing under conductor James Smith, will give a FREE concert at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program includes the Serenade for Strings by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky and the “Death and the Maiden” string quartet by Franz Schubert as arranged by Gustav Mahler.

By Jacob Stockinger

The critics and audiences all agreed: The season-opening concerts last weekend by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) proved a stunning success.

MSO playing

As The Ear heard it, here’s why.

Of course there are the usual reasons: One was the balanced program that MSO music director John DeMain chose to highlight his ensemble players without a guest soloist. It featured beautiful and dramatic music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Aaron Copland.

Beethoven’s “Leonore” Overture No. 3 was crisp and dark, dramatic but not melodramatic, befitting the opera “Fidelio” that it was originally intended for.

If you missed the opening movement of Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto — written for jazz great Benny Goodman — The Ear is sorry to report that you have already missed a high point of the new season.

It was that gorgeous and that elegiac, that moving and that unforgettable. It was nothing short of sublime. (You can hear the first movement in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Then there was the soloist — MSO principal clarinet Joe Morris (below), who showed in the Copland what an incredible talent he possesses, a talent that allowed him at 22 to beat out 45 other clarinetists in blind auditions for his post. His pitch and tone, his technique and expressiveness all make his playing the clarinet – not an easy instrument to master – seem as effortless as breathing.

Jennifer Morgan MSO oboe by Joe Morris

But The Ear found another reason for the concert’s success, one that he credits to longtime music director and conductor John DeMain, who is starting his 22nd season in Madison.

It has to do with the clarity and precision of the playing, the careful dynamic balances, tempi and the delineation of the structure of each work.

DeMain (below) made sure that each section of the orchestra and each part of every work could be heard distinctly, and that helped you to hear how one part or section, of the score or of the orchestra, related to others.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

No music event in Madison leaves The Ear with more food for thought than each summer’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.

And at the most recent one, co-founder and co-artistic director John Harbison who teaches at MIT and who, as a composer, has won both a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur genius grant, commented on the unsurpassed ability of Beethoven to allow listeners to understand the structure of the sound they were hearing in his compositions.

That, said Harbison (below), is a major reason why the music by Beethoven has survived and that of many of his contemporaries has not.

JohnHarbisonatpiano

Harbison’s analysis came to mind during the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s opening concert.

Since he took over, DeMain has brought each section up to an impressive level of performance The strings have been excellent for a long time; the winds and the percussion have also caught up.

But the brass really showed it stuff this time, especially in the Tchaikovsky Symphony No 4, which is a very brassy piece.

And DeMain (below) did something important. He illuminated structure by imparting order. He gave each section the kind of shading and space it needed by offering it time to breathe.

He allowed the audience to hear how parts related to the whole. He allowed you to get inside the score and the notes, to step inside the sound and hear the sense  it made and the logic it possessed.

John DeMain conducting 2

In short, John DeMain offered us music that was both deeply emotional and convincingly intelligent.

You felt that he was conducting you as well as the players.

The effect was to create clarity and color, distance and immediacy, all at the same time.

It’s not only the players who have grown during John DeMain’s 22-year tenure.

So has Maestro DeMain.

And, thanks to him and his players, so have we.

 


Classical music: Meet Joseph Morris, principal clarinet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. He solos in a concerto by Aaron Copland this weekend.

September 22, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Conductor John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will open the MSO’s 90th season this coming weekend.

The program includes the “Leonore” Overture No. 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven; the Clarinet Concerto by Aaron Copland with MSO principal clarinet Joseph Morris (below, in a photo by Cheryl Savan) as soloist; and the Symphony No. 4 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

joe morris playing CR Cheryl Savan

The concerts in Overture Hall in the Overture Center, 201 State St., are Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

One hour before each performance, Michael Allsen, UW-Whitewater Professor of Music, MSO Trombonist & MSO program notes annotator, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

More background on the music can also be found in the Program Notes at: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/tchaikovsky

Single Tickets, $16 to $85 each, can be purchased at www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25 percent by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734.

For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

Find more information at http://www.madisonsymphony.org.

Clarinetist Joe Morris (below, in a photo by Jennifer Morgan) recently agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

Jennifer Morgan MSO oboe by Joe Morris

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers and give some highlights of your education and career?

I grew up in Northern California before heading to Los Angeles where I did my undergraduate degree in Clarinet Performance at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. It was there that I began my studies with Yehuda Gilad (below), who has been, by far, the highlight of my musical education.

After graduating I continued my studies at the Colburn Conservatory of Music, where I received a Professional Studies Certificate in 2014.

Some highlights of my education included summers at the Aspen Music Festival, the National Repertory Orchestra and two summers at the Music Academy of the West studying with Richie Hawley.

I won the MSO’s Principal Clarinet audition out of 44 applicants in 2013 when I was 22 and still studying at Colburn.

This past winter, I joined the Sarasota Opera Orchestra in Florida as their Principal Clarinetist and I have spent the past two summers at the Clarinet Faculty at the Luzerne Music Center in the Adirondack region of New York.

Other highlights of the last few years have been returning to Colburn to perform John Adams’ Gnarly Buttons for solo clarinet and chamber orchestra with Mr. Adams conducting, and competing in the fifth Carl Nielsen International Clarinet Competition in Odense, Denmark.

Yehuda Gilad

How have your years in Madison with the MSO been?

I have enjoyed the past two seasons in Madison very much! Madison is a wonderful city and it has been very fun to get to explore all that it has to offer.

I love the sense of community in Madison and especially how that extends to the MSO (below). My colleagues in the orchestra are fantastic players as well as wonderful people. Everyone brings out the best in one another throughout the rehearsal and performance process.

It has also been a huge honor to receive the support of the MSO audiences who never cease to amaze me with their knowledge and enthusiasm for what we do on stage.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

What was your Aha! moment –- perhaps a performer or a specific performance or a piece of music — when you first knew you wanted to be a professional musician?

When I was 15, I spent a summer at the Interlochen Arts Camp (below) in Michigan. After a summer of intense study, I realized that I had to pursue music as a career. More than anything it was the shared experience with my peers, who felt the same intensity for music that I did, that brought me to that conclusion.

At the end of every summer at Interlochen the entire camp performs Franz Liszt’s Les Preludes together in an enormous musical collaboration. That specific performance will always remain in my memory as something that laid the foundation for my decision to go into music.

Interlochen Arts Academy

How do you compare the Copland Concerto to other well-known clarinet concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Carl Nielsen and Gerald Finzi (which you performed with the Middleton Community Orchestra). And what would you like listeners to know about the Copland Clarinet Concerto in terms of its structure, technical difficulties, melodies and harmonies, whatever?

One thing that always interests me about works for the clarinet is whom the composer had in mind when they wrote it. For Mozart, that was Anton Stadler; for Nielsen, it was Aage Oxenvad; for Johannes Brahms, it was Richard Muhlfeld; and for Copland, it was Benny Goodman. And Benny Goodman’s style, especially as a big band jazz musician, is extremely apparent in this concerto.

It opens with a first movement that is more typically Copland (below top) than Goodman (below bottom) — with huge interval leaps in the solo line over truly gorgeous string writing. It reminds me of the opening passage of his “Appalachian Spring,” which, coincidentally, was the first piece I ever performed with the MSO.

Following the lyrical “first movement” is an extended cadenza where Goodman starts to take over as the piece morphs into something much more lively and jazz based. After the cadenza the orchestra comes back in for a sort of “second movement” that eventually comes to a very frenzied and glissando-laden finish.

(You can hear the first movement played by Benny Goodman with composer Aaron Copland conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

aaron copland

Benny Goodman

Apart from concertos and chamber music specifically written for the clarinet, what orchestral works have your favorite clarinet parts?

I love the way the clarinet timbre can emerge from the orchestra with a sort of floating quality in a lyrical passage. For that reason two of my favorite orchestral works for the clarinet are Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 and Ottorino Respighi’s “Pines of Rome,” which the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) will perform at its April 29-May 1 concerts.

What else would you like to say?

I’m very excited for this upcoming concerto both because of the opportunity to perform this concerto with my marvelous colleagues, and also to then get to sit in the orchestra with them all for Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.

 


Classical music: Pianists Emanuel Ax and Garrick Ohlsson plus Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 and Carl Orff’s cantata “Carmina Burana” highlight the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s new 2015-16 season.

March 11, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra has just announced its next season for 2015-16. It is the 90th season for the MSO, and marks the 22nd season of music director and conductor John DeMain’s tenure.

Here is the press release that The Ear received.

More news and comments from music director and conductor John DeMain, who will conduct seven of the eight concerts, will follow. 

Concerts are in Overture Hall on Fridays at 7:30 p.m; Saturdays at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m.

Single tickets for the Season 2015-16 will range from $16 to $85. (They are currently $16 to $84.)

Subscriptions to five or more concerts in Season 2015-16 are on sale now at www. madisonsymphony.org or by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. New subscribers can receive up to 50 percent off.

Single tickets from $16 to $85 will go on sale on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, at the Overture Center Box Office. You can also call (608) 258-4141 or go to  http://www.madisonsymphony.org 

mso from above

Madison Symphony Orchestra Announces 2015-2016 Season

The incomparable pianist Emanuel Ax and the soul-stirring orchestral/choral music of “Carmina Burana” are just two of the exciting highlights of John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) and the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s (MSO) 2015-2016 Season.

MSO Music Director DeMain said, “We want audiences to be moved with great classical music as we excite their imaginations, lift their spirits, and stir their emotions.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Beginning with a September program that focuses on the highly talented musicians in the orchestra, DeMain will lead the audience through an exhilarating variety of themes and cultures throughout the season. France and Scotland are just two of the sound worlds the MSO will explore, while monumental works central to the repertoire, such as Orff’s Carmina Burana and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, will anchor the year.

A world-class roster of guest artists will also join the season’s performances, including pianist Emanuel Ax, violinist James Ehnes, cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio, violinist Alina Ibragimova, and pianist Garrick Ohlsson.

The MSO’s own Principal Clarinet Joseph Morris will play a pivotal role in the September concert also.

The immeasurable talent set to perform in Overture Hall ensures that the coming season is not to be missed!

(* below denote first-time performances for the MSO under Conductor John DeMain.)

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Sept. 25, 26, 27, 2015: Tchaikovsky’s Fourth. John DeMain, Conductor. Joseph Morris, Clarinet (below)

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN       Leonore Overture No. 3

AARON COPLAND                  Clarinet Concerto*

PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY    Symphony No. 4

  • The most popular of the four overtures Beethoven penned for his opera Fidelio, Leonore Overture No. 3 packs more than its share of heroic energy into 13 minutes.
  • Commissioned by the clarinetist and legendary bandleader Benny Goodman, Copland’s jazz-infused Clarinet Concerto uses slapping basses and thwacking harp sounds to simulate a rhythm section.
  • Tchaikovsky’s monumental Symphony No. 4 unites blazing brass fanfares, dance-like passages, and aching melodies to explore ideas of fate, happiness, and longing.
  • joe morris playing CR Cheryl Savan

Oct. 16, 17, 18, 2015: Scottish Fantasy

John DeMain, Conductor, James Ehnes, Violin (below)

JOSEPH HAYDN                      Symphony No. 85 (La Reine)*

MAX BRUCH                          Scottish Fantasy*

SERGEI RACHMANINOFF        Symphonic Dances

  • Nicknamed “La Reine” because it was the favorite of French Queen Marie Antoinette, Haydn’s spirited Symphony No. 85 is one of six symphonies commissioned by the private concert society Les Concerts de la Loge Olympique in Paris.
  • Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra blends rustic folk tunes and tender themes to convey the stark Scottish landscape. Droning tones imitate bagpipes, while the violins mimic the sound of a country fiddle.
  • Written during World War II, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances features an extended saxophone solo, as well as quotes from Russian Orthodox chant and the Mass of the Dead. The piece was the composer’s final score, and he died believing that it would never be as popular as his earlier music.

M~ prv021405 EHNES 01

Nov. 20, 21, 22, 2015: French Fantastique. John DeMain, Conductor. Sara Sant’Ambrogio, Cello (below bottom)

MAURICE RAVEL                    Valses Nobles et Sentimentales*

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS            Cello Concerto No.1*

HECTOR BERLIOZ                    Symphonie Fantastique

  • Inspired by Schubert and originally written for piano, Ravel’s sensuous Valses Nobles et Sentimentales combines the classical simplicity of the waltz with the colorful aural array of the sounds of all the instruments in the orchestra.
  • Saint-Saëns eschewed standard concerto form in his Cello Concerto No.1 by interlinking the piece’s three movements into one continuous musical expanse, held together by the rich lyrical power of the cello.
  • Meant to depict the haunted hallucinations of an opium trip, Berlioz’s grand and imaginative Symphonie Fantastique is marked by an obsessive return to a striking theme symbolizing Berlioz’s beloved, Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson, who did not return his affections.

Sara Sant-Ambrogio

Dec. 4, 5, 6, 2015. A Madison Symphony Christmas. John DeMain (below top), Conductor. Emily Fons, Mezzo-soprano. David Govertsen, Bass-Baritone. Madison Symphony Chorus, Beverly Taylor, Director. Madison Youth Choirs (below middle), Michael Ross, Artistic Director. Mt. Zion Gospel Choir (below bottom), Tamera and Leotha Stanley, Directors.

John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra don their Santa hats for this signature Christmas celebration. This concert is filled with traditions, from caroling in the lobby with the Madison Symphony Chorus to vocal performances by hundreds of members of Madison’s musical community. Christmas classics are interwoven with enchanting new holiday music. The culminating sing-along is Madison’s unofficial start of the holiday season!

MSO John DeMain in Santa Hat

Madison Youth Choirs Scotland Tour CR Jon Harlow

MtZion

Feb. 12, 13, 14, 2016: Music, the food of love…

Daniel Hege, Guest Conductor (below top). Alina Ibragimova, Violin (below bottom)

PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY    “Romeo and Juliet” Fantasy Overture

MAURICE RAVEL                    “Daphnis and Chloe” Suite No. 2

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN       Violin Concerto

Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture tells the story of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers through thunderous passages portraying the conflict between the Montagues and the Capulets and a rapturous love theme.

  • With music from a ballet premiered by the Ballet Russes in Paris in 1912, Ravel’s lush Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 depicts lovers Daphnis and Chloe reuniting at daybreak, followed by a Bacchanalian dance.
  • Beethoven’s technically challenging Violin Concerto premiered in 1806. The composer’s only violin concerto, this work paved the way for the great 19th-century German violin concertos by Mendelssohn, Bruch, and Brahms.

Syracuse Symphony Orchestra

alina ibragimovic

Mar. 11, 12, 13, 2016. John DeMain, Conductor. Emanuel Ax (below top), Piano. Alisa Jordheim, Soprano (below bottom)

DMITRY KABALEVSKY             Colas Breugnon Overture*

CÉSAR FRANCK                     Symphonic Variations*

RICHARD STRAUSS                Burleske

GUSTAV MAHLER                            Symphony No. 4

  • Composed in 1938 in Russia, Dmitry Kabalevsky’s dynamic Colas Breugnon Overture preceded the opera glorifying a working man’s struggle against a corrupt aristocracy—an unsurprising theme in the time of Stalin.
  • Knit together by themes presented in the introduction, Franck’s tightly polished Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra became better known after his death due to the efforts of the composer’s adoring students.
  • Richard Strauss wrote his showy and seductive Burleske for piano and orchestra at the age of 21. When the composer presented it as a thank-you gift to his mentor, Hans von Bülow, the prominent conductor and pianist pronounced the work “unplayable”!
  • Sometimes referred to as Mahler’s pastoral symphony, Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 is light, sunny, and childlike. The finale features a soprano singing a text based on folk poetry.

Emanuel Ax playing LA Times

Alisa Jordheim

Apr. 1, 2, 3, 2016. John DeMain, Conductor. Garrick Ohlsson, Piano (below)

STEVEN STUCKY                     Symphony No. 1*

RICHARD STRAUSS                Don Juan

JOHANNES BRAHMS               Piano Concerto No. 1

  • Described by the composer as “a single expanse of music that travels through a series of emotional landscapes”, Steven Stucky’s Symphony No. 1 is one of the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer’s most recent works.
  • Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Juan recounts the life, and death, of the eponymous fictional character through brazenly virtuosic flair matched by tender romantic melodies.
  • Brahms’ first major orchestral work, Piano Concerto No. 1, casts the piano and orchestra as equal partners working together to develop musical ideas. Written in D minor, this piece captures the composer’s grief over his friend Robert Schumann’s breakdown and eventual death in a mental asylum.

Garrick Ohlsson

Apr. 29, 30, May 1, 2016. John DeMain, Conductor. Jeni Houser, Soprano. Thomas Leighton, Tenor. Keith Phares, Baritone. Madison Symphony Chorus (below), Beverly Taylor, Director.

OTTORINO RESPIGHI               Pines of Rome

CARL ORFF                                     Carmina Burana

Respighi’s moving tone poem Pines of Rome illustrates four distinct scenes through music, and features one of the most stunningly beautiful melodies of the classical repertoire.

  • The epitome of “epic” music, Carl Orff’s spellbinding cantata Carmina Burana unites chorus and orchestra with rhythmic velocity and evocative lyrics. John DeMain calls it a “soul-stirring experience you’ll never forget” and “one of classical music’s most popular treasures.”

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

The Madison Symphony Orchestra starts its 90th season with the 2015-16 concerts. The MSO engages audiences of all ages and backgrounds in live classical music through a full season of concerts with established and emerging soloists of international renown, an organ series that includes free concerts, and widely respected education and community engagement programs. Find more information at www.madisonsymphony.org.

 

 


Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players excel in trios by Haydn, Bartok and Brahms. They are new, but they deserve your attention.

January 27, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker, who also provided the performance photos for this review. 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

I have, so far, not followed carefully the work of the Mosaic Chamber Players (below).

But I certainly will from now on.

They are, to put it simply, among the finest purveyors of quality chamber music in Madison just now.

Mosaic 1 John W. Barker

The Mosaic group is currently in its second season. It was founded by pianist Jess Salek, along with four string-playing colleagues, and sometimes added guests. The group gives three performances each season, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. The latest one was on Saturday evening in the original Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium.

Salek was the anchor of continuity in all three of the works presented, playing with vigorous collegiality. At least the first two of the selections related to the concert’s announced theme of “The Gypsy Spirit!”

The first was Franz Joseph Haydn’s most familiar trio, the one in G major, for violin, cello and piano—most famous for its “Gypsy” rondo-finale. The performance was wonderful, and a particular showcase for violinist Wes Luke, who is himself emerging as one of Madison’s premier chamber musicians and who has been playing with the Ancora String Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the LaCrosse Symphony Orchestra  and the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra. His tender, nuanced playing in the second movement was particularly distinguished.

Mosaic 2 CPJohn W. Barker

Béla Bartók’s spikey and spunky Contrasts for Violin, Clarinet and Piano, was composed for Benny Goodman and Joseph Szigeti.

For this, guest player Linda Bartley (below) was brought in. Former principal clarinetist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and a faculty member at the UW-Madison School of Music, Bartley is well-known for her artistry by now, and contributed pungent color to the performance.

Mosaic 4 Bartley clarinet John W. Barker

But Luke again drew attention for his brilliant playing: in fact, in the third movement, alternating on two differently tuned fiddles (with backup from a delightful young lady), and replacing his missing mute with a folded dollar bill.

Mosaic backup violin John W Barker

The final work was the Trio in A minor for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano by Johannes Brahms. The first of his late “autumnal” chamber works for the clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld, it is a warm, big-hearted piece, bespeaking personal closeness as well as professional admiration. (A performance from the 2010 International Chamber Music Festival of the Clarinet Trio can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

In this, cellist Michael Allen (below) was able to show off his robust and rich playing as full partner to Bartley’s finely tailored clarinet role.

Mosaic 3 John W. Barker

This was, in sum, a superb program of music making, one to send the audience out into a winter night with a wonderful feeling of warm satisfaction.

The Mosaic Chamber Players give their next concert on April 25, with piano quintets by Johannes Brahms and Gabriel Fauré. Watch for it!


Classical music education: The University of Wisconsin School of Music ramps up its annual student concerto competition concert this Saturday night with a gala reception.

February 4, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

For years, the University of Wisconsin School of Music has held a student concerto competition. The winners then get to perform a  movement (or, in some cases  opera arias ) from a large concerto or a complete short concerto with the UW Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by John W. Barker), which in recent years also premieres a new composition by a student composer.

UW Symphony Orchestra 2013 CR John W. Barker

This year, however, the UW School of Music is heightening the public profile of the FREE concerto concert and turning it into an important event.

It has scheduled the performance on a Saturday night instead of a weekday night. And it has added a paid post-concert reception, with hors-d’oeuvres and a cash bar, to be held at Tripp Commons in the UW-Madison Memorial Union from 9 to 11 p.m. All proceeds will fund student scholarships. Tickets are $10 and can be bought here. http://www.arts.wisc.edu/

In short, the annual concerto competition winners recital, has been renamed the “Symphony Showcase.”

Says Susan C. Cook (below, in photo by Michael Foster), the new director of the UW School of Music: “The artistry and hard work of our students is something we wanted to celebrate — not only as a School of Music but with our enthusiastic concert-goers as well.”

Susan C. Cook UW SOM BW CR Michael Forster Rothbart

The concert will take place at an early start this coming Saturday night, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m. – NOT 7:30 or 8 p.m. – in Mills Hall. Admission is FREE.

This year’s concert has a very appealing and diverse program, and will feature five instrumental soloists (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson).

UW concerto winners 2014 Michael R. Anderson

Pianist Sung Ho Yang (above middle), who studies with Christopher Taylor, will perform in its entirety Franz Liszt’s exciting and virtuosic Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat Major. (You can hear Lang-Lang perform its on the last night of the BBC Proms Concerts in 2011 in a popular YouTube video at the  bottom.)

Seungwha Baek (above, second from right), who studies with Martha Fischer, will perform the first movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s dazzling Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major.

Flutist Mi-li Chang (above far left), who studied with Stephanie Jutt, will perform the first and second movement of Jacques Ibert’s playful Flute Concerto.

Clarinetist Kai-Ju Ho (above far right), who studies with Linda Bartley, will perform in its entirety Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, composed for jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman.

Violinist Madlen Breckbill (above second from left), who studied with David Perry (first violinist of the UW’s Pro Arte Quartet) will perform the first movement of Samuel Barber’s neo-Romantic Violin Concerto.

A sixth winner, composition undergraduate Daria Tennikova (below top, inn a photo by Kathy Esposito), who studies with Stephen Dembski and Laura Schwendinger, was added to the program in late December. Tennikova’s original work, “Poema” for Saxophone and Orchestra, will be performed by soloist Erika Anderson (below bottom).

Daria Tennikova CR Kathy Espoito

 Erika Anderson

All pieces will be accompanied by the UW Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra will perform under the direction of conductors James Smith (below top) and graduate assistant Kyle Knox (below bottom). The orchestra will also play Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Russian Easter” Overture.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Kyle Knox 2

You can read more (including biographies of each performer and the pieces they will perform) on the UW School of Music’s outstanding new blog Fanfare!

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Classical music news: Con Vivo plays music by The Four G’s – NOT the more famous Three B’s – to end its 10th anniversary season this Saturday night

June 7, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Con Vivo! (below) – or “Music With Life” — will conclude its 10th anniversary season with a chamber music concert called “Gee, Isn’t That Grand!” The concert will be this Saturday night (June 9) at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave., across from Camp Randall.

Tickets can be purchased at the door for $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and students.  (Please note the date was changed from May 31.)

You probably know The Three B’s – Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. But when it comes to composers, can you name four G’s that don’t include Grieg?

Con Vivo’s concert will feature an eclectic selection with music by Gershwin, Gould, Glinka and Gigout.

The program includes eight jazzy Duets for Clarinet and Strings Bass written for Benny Goodman’s 70th birthday by Morton Gould (below), and “Three Preludes” for clarinet and piano by George Gershwin.

The early Romantic era is featured with the rarely performed Septet by Russian composer Mikhail Glinka.

And the “Grand Choeur Dialogue” in G major for solo organ by Eugène Gigout (below) will be played on the impressive organ at First Congregational Church.

Audience members are invited to join Con Vivo! musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss this chamber music literature and to celebrate our 10th season.

The ensemble’s artistic director Robert Taylor (below), in remarking about the concert said, “We have always strived to present chamber music in an enjoyable and enlightening manner.  This program shows how varied the chamber music canon can be.  With our 10th season, we continue the tradition of bringing to our audience works that are familiar and some that are perhaps new, as well as the occasional surprise piece!”

Con Vivo! (below) is a professional chamber music ensemble composed of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences. 

For more information including background, here is a link:

http://convivomusicwithlife.org/


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