The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Savoyards did a disservice to itself and to Gilbert and Sullivan by using an “anime” or animation aesthetic for its production of “The Mikado.”

July 27, 2015
44 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

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

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

For its 53rd annual summer production, Madison Savoyards Ltd. offered its eighth presentation of the brilliant Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Mikado. It was certainly the most problematical of those eight.

Badgered by threats of protest against the “stereotyping” of Japanese culture in this work, the Savoyards decided to slither away from “traditional” presentations, abandoning the creators’ very respectful use of Japanese setting and imagery as a mask for satirizing English life.

The group has this time engaged as stage director Melanie Cain, whose ventures with Fresco Opera Theatre here have shown her commitment to presenting works of the lyric stage in anything but their original character.

Melanie Cain full face

But changes should be made to add something; hers detracted and distracted. The result, visible in a two-week run at Old Music Hall on the UW campus, was pretty anarchic in visual terms.

Working on a set that was a simplified Japanese stereotype in itself, the cast was decked out in a wild disarray of ditsy costumes and crazy wigs to create a new stereotype of pop absurdity — all in the name of supposedly following current Japanese “anime” or animation graphics.

MIkado anime 2 school girls CR Mark Frohda

Only the elaborate costumes for the Mikado himself and for Katisha, his “daughter-in-law-elect,” in their wildness, catch something of their characters, while that for Pooh-Bah, the pompous power-grabber and egomaniac, conversely suggests British spoofing.

The staging had wide ups and downs. The individual movements and the ensemble action displayed good ideas, even if they were not always executed smartly, while the chorus was given sloppy direction with inadequate drilling.

Mikado anime 4 Nanki-Poo and gentlemen CR Mark Frohda

The cast, likewise, was uneven, with only one or two soloists sub-par. Michael Ward’s Pish-Tush proved inept in both singing and movement, while Dennis Gotkowski as the romantic hero, Nanki-Poo (below left), was vocally weak and visually ridiculous — looking like a pirate.

As his beloved Yum-Yum, Angela Sheppard (below right) was visually disappointing but vocally strong. To her sidekick Pitti-Sing, Angela Z. Sheppard brought some good comic potential but her diction was uneven. Matt Marsland was too straightforward to be a successfully comic Ko-Ko.

Mikado anime 3 Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum CR Mark Frohda

Best were Anthony Ashley, who was excellent in both singing and acting as Pooh-Bah; Bill Rosholt as a majestic Mikado; and, despite some moments of blurred diction, Meghan Hilker as the dragon-lady Katisha (below center).

Mikado anime 1 Meghan Hilker as Katisha CR Mark Frohd 1

The chorus of eight or 10 women and only six men was pretty scrawny. The pit orchestra, on the other hand, was excellent under music director Blake Walter (below, in a photo by John Maniaci) of Edgewood College.

Alas, the needless use of projections during the overture (heard at bottom in a YouTube video) quite distracted the audience from listening to their fine playing of it.

blake walter john maniaci

Given the wackiness and color, the audience seemed generally entertained. But that is hardly the only proof of the pudding, when responsible fidelity to the character of the work is sacrificed for cheap effects.

As someone with my own long years of devoted involvement with Madison Savoyards, I find it painful to have to write so negatively. But let’s be frank: This was not one of the productions that, as so often otherwise, adds renewed honor to this proud company.

Will its production of The Gondoliers next summer be perverted by protests from Italian-Americans about stereotyping Venetians?

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin State Capitol will mark Earth Day this Saturday and next Wednesday with music by Wisconsin composer John Harmon plus words by Wisconsin figures responsible for the environmental tribute. Plus, the Edgewood College Chamber Orchestra performs Mozart, Debussy and Stravinsky this Sunday afternoon. And don’t forget about WYSO’s “Art of Note” fundraiser Saturday night and two performances on Friday night and Sunday afternoon of Rameau’s opera-ballet “Pygmalion” by the Madison Bach Musicians.

April 17, 2015
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REMINDERS: This Saturday night from 6 to 10 p.m., the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will hold its annual “Art of Note” fundraiser at CUNA Mutual. Auctions, fine food and live music will be featured.

For more information visit: http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/artofnote/ and https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/classical-music-education-wysos-art-of-note-benefit-on-april-18-seeks-to-raise-50000-to-benefit-music-education-in-greater-madison-area/

Art of Note logo copy

Also: The Madison Bach Musicians presents two performances of “Pygmalion” by Jean-Philippe Rameau It’s a 1784 Baroque opera-ballet done in the Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison.

The first performance is tonight with a 6:45 p.m. lecture and 7:30 p.m. concert. The second is on Sunday afternoon with a lecture at 2:45 p.m.  and a 3:30 p.m. concert.

Internationally recognized UW-Madison early-music specialist Marc Vallon will direct a full baroque orchestra, dancers and an outstanding vocal cast as they tell the tale of a sculptor who falls in love with his beautiful creation—and then, through the power of Venus, the statue comes to life. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door.

For more information, go to: http://madisonbachmusicians.org/concerts/current-concert-season/

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

ALERT: At 2:30 p.m. this Sunday afternoon, in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will give its Spring Concert.

Admission for the public is $5 and will benefit music scholarships. Admission is FREE with an Edgewood College ID.

The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will play under the director of Blake Walter (below, in a photo by John Maniaci). Included on the program are the Symphony No. 32 in G by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” by Claude Debussy and the Pulcinella Suite by Igor Stravinsky.

blake walter john maniaci

Also being performed is the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 19, K. 459, featuring pianist Stephanie Crescio (below), the winner of the Edgewood College Music Department Student Concerto Competition.

Stephanie Crescio

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison-based music publicist and activist Jon Becker writes:

Wisconsin’s Earth Day Heritage will be celebrated in music and words this Saturday, April 18, and on next Wednesday, April 22. (You can hear a short history of Earth Day in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Music broadcasts will feature the voices of the descendants of
John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Earth Day Founder U.S. Senator and former state Governor Gaylord Nelson, set to the symphonic music of Wisconsin composer John Harmon.

There will be several opportunities to hear a “sneak preview” of Earth Day Portrait, music celebrating Earth Day values, before its international release on CD later this year.

For the third year, the music will be “broadcast” in the Rotunda of Wisconsin’s State Capitol building (below). Listeners should gather at the bust of “Fighting Bob” La Follette (the East Gallery entry is closest).

Wisconsin Capitol

Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda

On Saturday, April 18, the music will be broadcast 10 times on the half hour, starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 2 p.m.

On Wednesday,  April 22 — which is Earth Day — there will be broadcasts at 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Earth Day 2015

Earth Day Portrait is a symphonic setting of eco-moral texts of John Muir, Aldo Leopold and Earth Day founder, former Wisconsin Gov. and U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson (below). For the CD recording, the words of these environmental legends were read by their descendants: William (Muir) Hanna, great-grandson; Nina Leopold Bradley, daughter; Gaylord Nelson Jr., son; and Kiva Nelson, grand-daughter.

Gaylord Nelson

Patty Loew, an enrolled member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe, narrated connecting texts that paint intimate, personal portraits of Muir, Leopold, and Nelson, while recalling their unique mutual connection to Madison, Wisconsin.

All this is woven together by the story of the passenger pigeon’s extinction. Members of the Madison Youth Choirs (below, in a photo by Karen Holland) recorded a call-and-response part that -– at concert performances -– is spoken by audience members.

Madison Youth Choirs boychoirs Purcell, Britten and Holst CR Karen Holland

Earth Day Portrait was composed in 2001 by John Harmon (below), who graduated from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis., and who makes his home on the Wolf River, near Winneconne.

Harmon’s music was recorded in Glasgow by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, led by conductor Marin Alsop, the first conductor to win a MacArthur “genius” Fellowship. London’s EMI-Abbey Road Studios produced the master recording. Voiceovers were recorded at Audio for the Arts in Madison and at Umbrella Studios in Los Angeles.

John Harmon

For the forthcoming Earth Day CD, Harmon’s composition will be paired with Hymn to the Earth, by American composer Edward Joseph Collins (1886-1951, below). Composed in Door County, and inspired by Wisconsin’s seasons and landscapes, Collins’s ode to nature also may well be the first Western classical composition to refer to our home planet as “Mother Earth.”

Edward Joseph Collins

 

 

 


Classical music: Here are some other concerts – featuring vocal, orchestral, band, wind and reed music – that are on tap this weekend.

February 18, 2015
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The big classical music events this week are the week-long residency at the UW-Madison of British composer Cecilia McDowall; the organ recital by Thomas Trotter in Overture Hall; and Friday night’s concert of Franz Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert and Vittorio Giannini by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with pianist Shai Wosner under conductor Andrew Sewell.

But there are other important events on tap too, events that should attract audiences.

FRIDAY

This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, which runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison at 900 University Bay Drive, features the Mad Reeds Trio. Members include Laura Medisky, oboe (below); Cynthia Cameron-Fix, bassoon; and Vincent Fuh, piano.

The trio will perform music by Madeline Dring, Dan Welcher and Jean Francaix.

Laura Medisky 1

SATURDAY

At 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater, the critically acclaimed and popular a cappella singing group Chanticleer will perform. The San Francisco-based group performs “Shenandoah” in a YouTube video at the bottom that has drawn more than 730,000 hits.)

Tickets are: General Public: $45, 25; Wisconsin Union Members and Non UW-Madison Students: $40; UW-Madison Faculty & Staff: $42; UW-Madison Student (with ID): $10. Prices do not include fees.

Here is a link with detail of the eclectic program that runs from early music and the Renaissance to jazz and Bossa Nova:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/press/Press%20Releases/14-15%20Season/Chanticleer%20Footlights%20Program.pdf

And here is a link to the concert announcement with video and audio clips:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/season14-15/chanticleer.html

Chanticleer

SUNDAY

At 1:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall on the UW-Madison campus GUEST ARTIST Laura Loge, soprano (below), with pianist Kathryn Ananda-Owens, a graduate of Memorial High School in Madison who teaches piano at St. Olaf College, will perform a recital featuring Norwegian songs by Edvard Grieg, Grondahl, Frederick Delius, Kjerulf, Christian Sinding and Alnaes.

Admission is FREE.

The concert is supported by funding from the Ygdrasil Literary Society of Madison, Vennelag Lodge, Idun Lodge #74 Sons of Norway, the Madison Torske Klubben, and by the Anonymous Fund.

Laura Loge

At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Concert Band, under director Mike Leckrone (below), will give a FREE concert. Sorry, no word about the program.

leckrone

At 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra, under director Blake Walter (below in a photo by John Maniaci), will give its Winter Concert.

Admission is $5 to benefit music scholarships; FREE with Edgewood College ID.

blake walter john maniaci

Included on the program is the aria “Come Scolio” from the opera “Cosi fan Tutte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, featuring soprano Angela Sheppard (below), winner of the Edgewood College Music Department’s Student Concerto Competition, as well as a three-time recipient of the Ken and Diane Ballweg Music Scholarship. Also on the program are the Overture to “L’isola Disabitata” by Franz Joseph Haydn and the Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major, D. 125, by Franz Schubert.

Angela Sheppard

At 3:30 p.m. in Mills Recital Hall, a FREE recital will present this year’s winners of the annual Irving Shain Woodwind-Piano Duo Competition at the UW-Madison School of Music.

A reception will follow the performance.

The competition and concert are made possible by retired UW-Madison Chancellor and chemistry professor Irving Shain (below).

Irving Shain

The 2014-15 WINNERS are

Kai-Ju Ho, clarinet and SeungWha Baek, piano.

Iva Ugrcic, flute  (below top, playing recently in the UW Concerto Competition winners’ concert) and Thomas Kasdorf, piano (below bottom).

Iva Ugrcic

Thomas Kasdorf

HONORABLE MENTION

Pedro Garcia, clarinet and Chan Mi Jean, piano.


Classical music: Which one of five trains will you ride into the upcoming super-wreck on this Sunday afternoon?

September 25, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There are “train wrecks,” as the Wise Critic likes to call competing or conflicting music events.

And then there are TRAIN WRECKS!!!!!!!!!

Take the afternoon of this upcoming Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014.

The best The Ear can figure, you have a choice of five trains to ride into the wreck, possibly two if you plan really carefully and everything — including the length of concerts, transportation time and the availability of parking —  falls into place.

There are just too many events and too few weekdays to do separate blog posts on all of them. Besides, it will probably be helpful for scheduling –- if discouraging –- to see them all listed together.

A-l-l-l-l aboard:

Here, in timetable order, we go:

PRO ARTE STRING QUARTET

The Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in photo by Rick Langer), which is wrapping up its centennial anniversary and six centennial commissions with a gala FREE world premiere concert and dessert reception at the Wisconsin Union Theater on this Friday night at 8 p.m., will repeat the program in a FREE concert at the Chazen Museum of Art on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3 (below middle).  It will be streamed live by Audio for the Arts. Go to www.chazen.wisc.edu on the day of the concert for a link.

The program includes the world premiere of the Clarinet Quintet “Howl” (based on the Beat poem by Allen Ginsberg) by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below bottom) by as well as String Quartet No. 2 in A Major (1824) by Spanish composer Juan Crisostomo Arriaga and the gorgeous Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Here is a link: http://proartequartet.org

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

SALProArteMay2010

Pierre Jalbert

ANCORA STRING QUARTET

Originally scheduled for Friday, Sept. 26, the Ancora Quartet (below top, in a photo by Barry Lewis), with guest violinist Wes Luke (below bottom, in a photo by Barry Lewis) filling in for Leanne League. The three regular quartet members are,  from left, violinist Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.

They will instead perform the Ancora’s opening concert of the season on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society where the quartet has been artists-in-residence. The program includes the “Sun” Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4, by Franz Joseph Haydn; the one-movement Quartet for Strings by Amy Beach, which uses Inuit tunes; and the final String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80, composed by Felix Mendelssohn in honor of the death of his beloved sister Fanny. A champagne reception is included. Tickets at the door are $15; $12 for seniors; and $6 for children under 12.

Other performances of this program will take place on Saturday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Eaton Chapel on the Beloit College campus, and on Sunday, Oct. 26, at 4 p.m. at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Fort Atkinson. In addition, the quartet has added the following dates: Monday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. at Oakwood Village West on Madison’s far west side at 6902 Mineral point Road, with FREE admission, followed by a Meet & Greet with the musicians; and on Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Loras College Visitation Center: Gallagher Hall, in Dubuque, Iowa.

http://ancoraquartet.com

Ancora 2014 2 Marika, Benjamin, Robin

Wes Color CR Barry Lewis

UW SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND SOPRANO ELIZABETH HAGEDORN

At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top, in photo by John W. Barker) with guest UW-Madison professor soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn (below middle) and conductor James Smith (below bottom) will perform a FREE concert.

The program includes the “Totenfeier” (Funeral Rites) music (the first draft of the First Movement from the Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”; and the “Rueckert Lieder,” both by Gustav Mahler; and also the Symphony No. 1 “Spring” by Robert Schumann.

UW Symphony Orchestra 2013 CR John W. Barker

Elizabeth Hagedorn 1

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

EDGEWOOD COLLEGE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

At 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, at Edgewood College, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra (below top, in an old poster), conducted by Blake Walter (below bottom, in a photo by John Maniaci), will perform the “Ojai Festival Overture” by Peter Maxwell Davies, “Historic Scenes,” Op. 66, by Jean Sibelius and Symphony No. 53 in D Major “Imperiale” by Franz Joseph Haydn. Tickers are $5 at the door, free with an Edgewood College ID.

Edgewood Chamber Orchestra poster Sept 12

blake walter john maniaci

SOPRANO CHELSEA MORRIS AND FORTEPIANIST TREVOR STEPHENSON

At 3 p.m. in Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street, there will be a voice concert and CD-release party with soprano Chelsea Morris  and fortepianist Trevor Stephenson (both are below), the founder and leader of the Madison Bach Musicians, to celebrate the release of their new CD of songs by Mozart, Haydn and Franz Schubert. This past summer, Morris won top spot in the second annual Handel Aria Competition during the Madison Early Music Festival.

Trevor Stephenson will bring his 5-octave, 18th-century German fortepiano to accompany Ms. Morris and he also will play solo fortepiano works by Mozart and Beethoven.

He will give a brief talk about the Classical style and discuss how the fortepiano creates a thrilling sense of theatrical immediacy in the music of the 18th-century masters. 
Selections on the concert from Morris and Stephenson’s new CD: Songs by Mozart, Haydn & Schubert. A CD autograph signing will be held after the concert.

http://madisonbachmusicians.org

Chelsea, Trevor CD cover shot

OVERTURE CENTER ANNIVERSARY

At 3:30 p.m. in the Overture Center for the Arts, “American Kaleidoscope,” the second performance of a multi-performing arts celebration of the Overture Center’s 10th anniversary, will take place, continuing from the all-day festival on Saturday.

All the resident performing arts companies — including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber  Orchestra, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society — will do a second performance (the first is Saturday night). Here is a link:

http://www.overturecenter.org/about/news/1016-you—ve-never-seen-a-concert-like-this-sep-12-2014

OvertureExteior-DelBrown_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85

 


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