The Well-Tempered Ear

Songs by Black composers trace their cultural realities in a free online UW performance TONIGHT of “Verisimilitudes.” Plus, the five winners of this year’s Beethoven Competition perform Sunday.

April 24, 2021
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ALERT: This Sunday, April 25, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. the five winners of this year’s Beethoven Competition at the UW-Madison will perform in a winners’ concert. Included in the program are the popular and dramatic “Appassionata” Sonata, Op. 57, and the famous and innovative last piano sonata, No. 32 in C minor, Op 111. Here is a link to the YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMF0Hd1MJwMg. Click on “Show More” and you can see the full programs and biographical profiles of the winners.

By Jacob Stockinger

The concert could hardly be more timely or the subject more relevant.

Think of the events in and near Minneapolis, Chicago and elsewhere in the U.S.; of the Black Lives Matter movement and social protest; of the political fight for D.C. statehood and voting rights – all provide a perfect context for an impressive student project that will debut online TONIGHT, Saturday, April 24, at 7 p.m.

The one-hour free concert “Verisimilitudes: A Journey Through Art Song in Black, Brown and Tan” originated at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. It seems an ideal way for listeners to turn to music and art for social and political commentary, and to understand the racial subtexts of art.

Soprano Quanda Dawnyell Johnson (below) created, chose and performs the cycle of songs by Black composers with other Black students at the UW-Madison.

Here is a link to the YouTube video: https://youtu.be/-g5hjeuSumw

Click on “Show More” to see the complete program and more information.

Here is the artist’s statement: 

“Within the content of this concert are 17 art songs that depict the reality of the souls of a diasporic people. Most of the lyricists and all of the composers are of African descent. In large part they come from the U.S. but also extend to Great Britain, Guadeloupe by way of France, and Sierra Leone.

“They speak to the veracity of Black life and Black feeling. A diasporic African reality in a Classical mode that challenges while it embraces a Western European vernacular. It is using “culture” as an agent of resistance.

“I refer to verisimilitude in the plural. While syntactically incorrect, as it relates to the multiple veils of reality Black people must negotiate, it is very correct. 

“To be packaged in Blackness, or should I say “non-whiteness” is to ever live in a world of spiraling modalities and twirling realities. To paraphrase the great artist, Romare Bearden, in “calling and recalling” — we turn and return, then turn again to find the place that is our self.

“I welcome you to… Verisimilitudes: A Journey Through Art Song in Black, Brown, and Tan”

Here, by sections, is the complete program and a list of performers:

I. Nascence

Clear Water — Nadine Shanti

A Child’s Grace — Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson

Night — Florence Price (below)

Big Lady Moon — Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

II. Awareness

Lovely, Dark, and Lonely — Harry T. Burleigh

Grief –William Grant Still (below)

Prayer — Leslie Adams

Interlude, The Creole Love Call — Duke Ellington

III. The Sophomore

Mae’s Rent Party, We Met By Chance –Jeraldine Saunders Herbison

The Barrier — Charles Brown

IV. Maturity

Three Dream Portraits: Minstrel Man, Dream Variation; I, Too — Margaret Bonds (below)

Dreams — Lawren Brianna Ware

Song Without Words — Charles Brown

Legacy

L’autre jour à l’ombrage (The Other Day in the Shade) — Joseph Boulogne (Chevalier de Saint-Georges, below)

The Verisimilitudes Team

Quanda Dawnyell Johnson — Soprano and Project Creator

Lawren Brianna Ware – -Pianist and Music Director

Rini Tarafder — Stage Manager

Akiwele Burayidi – Dancer

Jackson Neal – Dancer

Nathaniel Schmidt – Trumpet

Matthew Rodriguez – Clarinet

Craig Peaslee – Guitar

Aden Stier –Bass

Henry Ptacek – Drums

Dave Alcorn — Videographer

Here is a link to the complete program notes with lyrics and composer bios. And a preview audio sample is in the YouTube video at the bottom: https://simplebooklet.com/verisimilitudesprogramnotes#page=1


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NPR names relevant classical albums in a musical Diary of the Plague Year of the pandemic, racial protests, wildfires and hurricanes

December 29, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

For an unusual and difficult year, NPR (National Public Radio) and critic Tom Huizenga have found a new and unusual way to recommend this past year’s top classical music recordings.

On the  “Deceptive Cadence” blog for NPR, Huizenga kept a personal month-by-month diary of “music and mayhem.”

For last February, for example, this ancient image of The Dance of Death inspired contemporary composer Thomas Adès to compose his own “Totentanz” or Dance of Death. (You can hear an excerpt from the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Some of the thematically-related music is modern or contemporary, some of it is from the Baroque or Classical era.

In June, as protests against the death of George Floyd (below top) flared up and spread worldwide, NPR names a recording of the “Negro Folk Symphony” by African-American composers William Dawson and Ulysses Kay (below bottom), thereby helping to rediscover Black composers whose works have been overlooked and neglected in the concert hall and the recording studio.

Devastating wildfires on the West Coast, Presidential impeachment and hurricanes on the Gulf Coast also found their way into the choices of music to listen to.

It is an unusual approach, but The Ear thinks it works.

See and hear for yourself by going to the sonic diary and listening to the samples provided.

Here is a link to the NPR album diary: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/12/21/947149286/music-and-mayhem-a-diary-of-classical-albums-for-a-troubled-2020

But many roads, if not all, lead to Rome, as they say.

What is also interesting is that a number of the NPR choices overlap with ones listed by music critics of The New York Times as the 25 best classical albums of 2020.

Some choices also are found on the list of the nominations for the Grammy Awards that will be given out at the end of January.

In other words, the NPR diary can also serve as yet another holiday gift guide if you have gift cards or money to buy some new and notable CDs, and are looking for recommendations.

Here is a link to the Times’ choices, which you can also find with commentary and a local angle, in yesterday’s blog post: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/17/arts/music/best-classical-music.html

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/12/27/the-new-york-times-names-the-top-25-classical-recordings-of-2020-and-includes-sample-tracks/

And here is a list to the Grammy nominations: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/11/28/for-holiday-shopping-and-gift-giving-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-63rd-grammy-awards-in-2021/

What do you think of the NPR musical diary of the plague year?

Do you find it informative? Accurate? Interesting? Useful?

Would you have different choices of music to express the traumatic events of the past year?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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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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Will using first names with Beethoven and Mozart help fight racism and sexism in the concert hall?

October 28, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Why do concert programs read simply Beethoven for Beethoven (below top), but Florence Price for Florence Price (below bottom)?

According to a recent controversial essay by Chris White (below), a professor of music theory at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, it reflects and reinforces sexism and racism.

White is calling for universal “fullnaming” to put women composers and composers of color on an equal footing with the traditional canon of dead white male composers. All people may be equal, but all composers and their music are not.

You can certainly make a case for his interesting argument against using “mononyns,” as he calls them. But it still seems less than convincing to many, including The Ear. It many ways it seems downright silly and arbitrary. Isn’t it obvious that not all composers are equal in quality of their work?

It is the latest dustup in the classical music world, coming right on the heels of, and logically linked to, the idea that Beethoven is responsible for sexism and racism in the concert hall and the so-called “cancel culture” that is allied with the social and political protest movements of the past year, including Black Lives Matter.

That was treated here in a previous post: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/09/19/did-beethoven-and-his-music-especially-the-iconic-fifth-symphony-foster-racism-exclusion-and-elitism-in-the-concert-hall-the-ear-thinks-that-is-pc-nonsense-what-do-you-think/

Here is a link to the complete article by White about the inclusion and absence of first names as it appeared on Slate: https://slate.com/culture/2020/10/fullname-famous-composers-racism-sexism.html

Funny, The Ear thinks of using only last names as little more than a function of: quality, importance and time; of fame and familiarity; and sometimes of promoting clarity and preventing confusion — not of race or gender.

It is why we say Bach (below) when we mean Johann Sebastian, and why we say Wilhelm Friedemann or Carl Philipp Emmanuel or Johann Christian when we mean one of his sons.

It is why we say Richard Strauss to distinguish him from Johann Strauss.

But it also why Haydn means Franz Joseph (below), not his less important brother Michael Haydn.

And why the American composer Henry Cowell is listed with his full name and not just Cowell.

Perhaps one day – if we hear enough of the music by the recently rediscovered Black female composer Florence Price often enough and like it enough – she will be known simply as Price. After all, the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu is not usually listed as simply Takemitsu. 

Actually, the Ear prefers using full names for all composers — famous or not, male or female, white or black — especially when it is for the general public. But it seems more a matter of politeness, respect and education than of sociopolitical change and social justice.

That is not to say that those of us in classical music don’t see a need to correct the racism and sexism of the past, to foster diversity and inclusiveness. White has a point. Still, the whole idea of using both names in all cases seems more than a bit naïve, superficial and simplistic as a solution to racism and sexism.

It sounds a lot like the kind of theoretical speculation and contrarian thinking you might expect from an assistant professor trying to get noticed and make his mark on big contemporary issues so that he can get tenure and become an associate professor. A high public profile certainly helps that.

But whatever you think of White’s motives or purpose, his essay is causing a “meltdown” on Twitter: https://mybroadband.co.za/forum/threads/‘fullnaming’-mozart-and-beethoven-to-fight-sexism-and-racism-twitter-squabbles-over-slate-article.1108776/

Should you want to know more about Professor White or to leave a message of either support or disagreement, here is a link to his home website: http://www.chriswmwhite.com

What do you think about the idea of using first names for all composers as a way to combat racism and sexism in classical music?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Madison Opera cancels its January production of “She Loves Me.” Will other groups follow suit? Plus, tonight is the last online concert by the LunART Festival of music by Black women

October 17, 2020
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ALERT: TONIGHT, Oct. 17, at 7 p.m. the third LunART Festival will wrap up with the second of its two FREE streamed “Human Family” concerts featuring the works of Black women (below). Due to popular demand, last week’s concert is still posted and available for viewing. This week’s concert will be followed by a virtual party. Here are links for information, programs and biographies: https://www.lunartfestival.org/2020virtualfestival and https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=LunART

By Jacob Stockinger

The coronavirus pandemic continues to slowly take its toll on local live productions during the current season.

The Madison Opera has now canceled its second production of the season, the Broadway musical “She Loves Me” by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, which was scheduled for late January in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

Here are details from Madison Opera: “We will replace She Loves Me with a Digital Winter season that lasts from January to March. Details will be announced in December. (She Loves Me will be part of our 2021/22 season, so it’s only a delay!)”

For more about Madison Opera’s digital fall season – which costs $50 per household to subscribe to – go to: https://www.madisonopera.org/Fall2020

The next digital event is at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday, Oct. 24, by Sun Prairie bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a photo by Lawrence Brownlee), who has performed around the world, including at the Metropolitan Opera.

He will perform a live-streamed concert from the Madison Opera Center that will be a tribute to the American bass Giorgio Tozzi (below), who was Ketelsen’s teacher at Indiana University. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Tozzi sing “This Nearly Was Mine” from “South Pacific” by Rodgers and Hammerstein.)

Here is Tozzi’s biography from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giorgio_Tozzi

Soprano Emily Secor (below top) and pianist Scott Gendel (below bottom) will perform with Ketelsen.

Here is a link to details of Kyle Ketelsen’s recital: https://www.madisonopera.org/class/liveketelsen/?wcs_timestamp=1603567800

___________________________________________________________________________

The cancellation makes The Ear wonder: Are local groups and presenters being too timid or too hopeful when it comes to future plans for the current season?

After all, this past week we learned that both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic have canceled the rest of the current season due to public health concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. And all indications are that it will be a very rough, unsafe winter and spring in Wisconsin and Madison.

That’s why The Ear suspects that, unfortunately, the rest of the season will either be canceled or be virtual and moved online. It even seems more than plausible that there will be no live performances until the winter or spring of 2022.

So you can probably expect further word pretty soon of more cancellations, postponements and virtual online performances from the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music, the University Opera and others.

What do you think? 

Will there be operas, orchestral performances and live chamber music sometime yet this season?

When do you think it will be safe to perform and attend live concerts?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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