The Well-Tempered Ear

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

May 24, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

First came the unforgettable.

Then came the unforgivable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chances are you don’t know the symphony.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solidarity through music!


Classical music: Globe-trotting conductor Edo de Waart bids farewell to Madison and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra this Sunday afternoon at the Wisconsin Union Theater with music by Mozart, Bloch and Elgar

May 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Music director and conductor Edo de Waart is coming to the end of his widely praised eight-year tenure at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, after which he will become a conductor laureate of the MSO.

The busy and energetic 75-year-old de Waart (below, in a photo by Jesse Willems) started  his career as a assistant principal oboist of the Concertgebouw and rose to become an acclaimed symphony and opera conductor. Currently, he is also the music director of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. In the past, he held major posts in Hong Kong, San Francisco, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Santa Fe, New York, Houston, Sydney, Rotterdam and Amsterdam among many others.

For more on de Waart, go to his Wikipedia entry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edo_de_Waart

Unless they go to Milwaukee on the following weekend — Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 26-28 — to hear de Waart conduct Gustav Mahler’s mammoth Symphony No. 3 as his final farewell, listeners in the Madison area will likely have their last chance to hear the formidable de Waart and the accomplished Milwaukee players (below, with concertmaster Frank Almond on the left) this coming Sunday afternoon.

At 2:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater, de Waart and the MSO will perform the Overture to the opera “Don Giovanni,” K. 527, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Ernest Bloch’s “Schlomo: A Hebraic Rhapsody” with MSO principal cellist Susan Babini (below); and Sir Edward Elgar’s Symphony No. 1, Op. 55.

There will also be a free pre-concert lecture at 1:30 p.m. by Randal Swiggum.

Tickets run from $15 to $49. For more information, including ticket prices and purchasing outlets, audiovisual links and links to reviews and background stories, go to:

https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/milwaukee-symphony-orchestra/

The Ear has always been impressed not only with the quality of de Waart’s conducting, but also with his choice of soloists and his creative approach to programming. He has fond memories of other performances in Madison by the MSO, which used to tour here regularly.

The distinguished de Waart, a native of the Netherlands, has enjoyed critical acclaim in his international career across Europe, Asia and North America. For a while, this acclaimed world-class musician who has made so many award-winning recordings and performed so many guest stints around the world, was even a neighbor who lived in Middleton, a suburb of Madison, where his wife is from.

Plus, de Waart has a fine philosophy of making music and leading an orchestra, as you can hear in the YouTube video below that was made when he first took over the reins of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra:


Classical music: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) gives an impressive display of how it continues to grow and develop.

June 24, 2015
7 Comments

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 took performance photos. 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

On Saturday night, in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Mikko Rankin Utevsky led his Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) in the first of this year’s two summer concerts. More than ever, it showed Utevsky in new degrees of bravery and enterprise.

MAYCO in MIlls June 2015 JWB

The program was organized around the idea of the Baroque concerto grosso, in various later transformations.

To begin, there was one of the “Morning, Noon, and Night” trilogy of Haydn’s symphonies, No. 6 in D, Le Matin. Haydn used the first of his symphonies composed for his new Esterhazy employer to show off the solo skills of his players.

The young MAYCO counterparts did themselves proud in both ensemble and solo playing, with particular flair displayed by first violinist Valerie Clare Sanders (below) in her virtuosic solos. And Utevsky’s care in have his string players totally avoid vibrato gave a good demonstration of 18th-century instrumental sound.

Valerie Sanders MCO 2015

The second work, by recent UW-Madison School of Music graduate in composition, Jonathan Posthuma (below), more explicitly recreated the old configuration in his Concerto Grosso No. 1 in E minor.

Jonathan Posthuma USE 2015

It presents indeed the proper concertino of two violins and cello, against a ripieno string orchestra. In place of the traditional continuo, however, Posthuma brought in four percussionists and a pianist. The percussionists are members of the local ensemble Clocks in Motion (below), currently making a name for itself as an avant-garde group.

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

The idea was fascinating, but in two of the three movements the results were confusing. In the first, the string orchestra was overwhelmed by floods of color worthy of a Busby Berkeley Hollywood spectacular, while the second movement was a long procession of pops and moans. All color and hardly any real musical ideas.

The third movement, on the other hand, was a lusty fugue, given forth at first by only the strings, with the percussionists then integrated into a quite well-balanced texture. This is stated as the first in what will be a full set of 12 concertos, to make up a typical Baroque dozen.

It will be interesting to see how such a project unfolds. But one must credit Utevsky (below) for giving this first venture its world premiere performance.

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

Another premiere followed the intermission. Utevsky was able to secure from the contemporary British composer Cecilia McDowall (below) the rights to the first American performance of her piece for chamber orchestra, Rain, Steam, and Speed, inspired by J.M.W. Turner’s powerful painting of the same title, with its subtitle of The Great Western Railway.

Less literally conceived than Arthur Honegger’s famous railroad evocation, Pacific 231, this piece is an effort to suggest the kaleidoscopic contents of the painting, in what might be called a British neo-Impressionist style. A challenging work for the orchestra, which they brought off very effectively.

Cecilia McDowall 2

Finally came not a concerto grosso, but a Romantic solo concerto, the one for Cello and Orchestra by Robert Schumann. Not as often heard as it should be, it is a handsome and enjoyable work.

The soloist was Parry Karp (below), of the UW-Madison School of Music faculty, of the Pro Arte Quartet, and of so much else. He approached the piece not in bravura pretentiousness but with a kind of affectionate warmth that suited it admirably, while also allowing Utevsky the chance to give his players experience in collegial ensemble interaction with a soloist.

MAYCO Karp CR JWB

What these gifted young players of high school and college ages are able to do is really amazing. Utevsky grows better and better in giving them — and himself — marvellous training opportunity. Watch for the second concert, with music by Ernest Bloch, George Frideric Handel and Haydn (the famed “Surprise” Symphony) with piano soloist Jason Kutz, at 7:30 pm. on Friday, August 21, location to be announced.

You can find more information here: http://www.mayco.org


Classical music: The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) starts its current concert season this Saturday. Plus, Madison violinist Kangwon Kim performs a FREE recital of music by J.S. Bach, Dvorak, Chopin, Debussy, Kreisler and Rachmaninoff this Friday at noon.

November 13, 2014
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features violinist Kangwon Kim (below) and pianist Junghwa Moon Auer in music by Antonin Dvorak, Johann Sebastian Bach, Fritz Kreisler, Frederic Chopin, Claude Debussy and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Kangwon Kim

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will present its first concerts of the new season, the Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts, on this Saturday afternoon, Nov. 15, and then on Saturday afternoon, Dec. 13.

More than 350 young musicians will display their great talents to the community during the three concerts, which are dedicated to private and school music teachers.

These young musicians, who get into WYSO through competitive auditions, are really good.

They also play to some of the liveliest and most responsive and enthusiastic audiences in the city.

wyso violas

THIS SATURDAY

WYSO’s string orchestra, Sinfonietta (below), will kick off the concert series at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon with “Highland Cathedral” by Korb and Roever; the “Danse Infernal” by Del Borgo; Eureka! by Sharp; “Fantasia on Theme from Thailand” by Meyer; the “Haunted Carousel” by Newbold; and “Tuxedo Junction” by Hawkins, Feyne, Johnson and Dash.

Sinfonietta strings

The Concert Orchestra (below) will then take over with Washburn’s “St. Lawrence” Overture, Del Borgo’s “Meditation,” “A Pirate’s Legend” by Newbold and Slavonic Dances by Antonin Dvorak.

wyso concert orchestra brass

At 4 p.m. on Saturday, the popular Percussion Ensemble will perform “Spanish Point” by Ben Wahlund and the “Danse Bacchanale” from the opera “Samson and Delilah” by Camille Saint-Saens.

WYSO Percussion Ensemble

The Philharmonia Orchestra will then end the concert with Ernest Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1, the Danse Macabre, Op. 40, by Camille Saint-Saens; the “Pavane pour une infante defunte” by Maurice Ravel, featuring Logan Willis on piano; the fourth movement, “March to the Scaffold,” from the “Symphonie Fantastique” by Hector Berlioz; and the Hoedown from Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo,” featuring Moqiu Cheng on piano.

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

DECEMBER 13

At 1 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, Dec. 13, the Harp Ensemble (below top) will perform before the Youth Orchestra (below bottom) closes out the concert series with “The Roman Carnival” Overture by Hector Berlioz; Excerpts from “Die Meistersinger” by Richard Wagner; and movements 1, 3 and 4 from the Symphony No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 13, by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

WYSO Harp Ensemble 2011

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

TICKETS AND OTHER INFORMATION

The Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the UW-Madison George Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street in Madison on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

WYSO concerts are generally about an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.

Tickets for each concert are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and under.

This project is supported by Dane Arts with additional funding from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation and the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation. This project is also supported by the Alliant Energy Foundation and by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

 


Classical music: The early music group Ensemble Musical Offering of Milwaukee will make its Madison debut this Sunday in an all-Handel program. Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s FREE “Final Forte” concerto competition is tonight at 7 on Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio, and University of Wisconsin-Madison violist Mikko Utevsky performs a FREE recital Thursday night at Capitol Lakes.

March 26, 2014
3 Comments

ALERTS:  Our good friend and frequent contributor Mikko Utevsky writes: Dear Friends, I am giving a viola recital this Thursday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m. in the Grand Hall of the Capitol Lakes Retirement Community (333 West Main Street, near the Capitol Square). The program includes works by Franz Joseph Haydn, Ernest Bloch (the Suite Hebraïque), and viola sonatas of Johannes Brahms (Op. 120, No. 2) and Darius Milhaud (No. 1). I will be joined by pianists Jeff Gibbens and Adam Kluck. I hope the short notice will not prevent some of you from joining me there. Best, Mikko

Also, The Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s “Final Forte” young artist competition will be broadcast LIVE tonight at 7 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio.

For more details, here is a link to a previous post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/classical-music-education-can-you-pass-nprs-bach-puzzler-also-wednesday-night-is-the-free-concert-and-live-broadcasts-of-the-madison-symphony-orchestras-final-forte-concert-of-high/

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

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 hosts 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 

Here’s a Handelian heads-up, and with a Madison accent!

The Milwaukee-based Ensemble Musical Offering is to make its first appearance in Madison on this Sunday afternoon, March 30, at 2 p.m., at the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s new and crisply designed Atrium auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) at 900 University Bay Drive.

Tickets are $15, payable at the door, and available in advance from www.ensemblemusicaloffering.org or by calling (414) 258-6133.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

The group, whose supplemental title is the Midwest Bande for Early Music, was founded in 2000 by harpsichordist and director Joan Parsley.  As she herself defines the ensemble: “Its mission is to foster appreciation for early music, circa 1580-1750, through professional performance on period instruments, educational activities, and community outreach.”

Winner of several grants, the ensemble not only performs regularly in its home city, but supports the Greater Milwaukee Baroque Festival, which is a competition for students of string and keyboard instruments, plus a one-week Summer Baroque Institute. 

The instrumental membership of the ensemble (below) consists of about 10 players — divided between strings and winds — including harpsichord.  All play baroque instruments, and use the one player per part approach.

Ensemble Musical Offering

For their Madison appearance, the EMO will present a program aptly titled “Hallmarks of Handel.”  It will contain a balanced survey of the great composer’s instrumental and vocal music. 

The most familiar music will be the G-major Suite, the third and last division of George Frideric Handel’s beloved and popular “Water Music” (at bottom in a YouTube video played on modern instruments by Sir Neville Marriner and the Acadmey of St. Martin in the Fields) — the set that features only woodwinds, without brass, against the strings.

handel big 3

There will also be no less than two of the Op. 3, Concerti Grossi, Nos. 4 and 6, which give strong roles to winds (as well as harpsichord in the latter).  It will be interesting to hear these works, usually treated as “orchestral,” in this more intimate chamber-music character.

One more instrumental work is a composite of music that Handel used in his opera “Ottone.”  Because of the prominence of the bassoon in the scoring, it will be presented in this program as a Sinfonia for Bassoon, Strings and Continuo.

The other side of the program is vocal, and touches upon what was, for Handel, his major areas of composition, his Italian operas and English oratorios.  There will be two arias drawn from Handel’s first London triumph, “Rinaldo,” composed in 1711.

The oratorio realm will be represented indirectly.  The program will allow a rare opportunity to hear examples of some two-dozen chamber duets and trios, with continuo, that Handel composed over the years to Italian texts, following patterns set by role model Agostino Steffani.

Handel seemed to use these brief, three-movement mini-cantatas as tryouts of some vocal ideas, and he then incorporated many of those ideas into larger works. The two to be offered, composed in July 1741, contain musical germs that Handel allowed to blossom as three choral movements in “Messiah,” composed later that year.  Listeners will surely be surprised and delighted to recognize those inimitably Handelian ideas in their first form.

Though headquartered in Milwaukee, the EMO draws upon musicians from beyond their city, as, indeed, so many early music groups do — witness the Madison Bach Musicians.  For EMO, there is a particular reliance on personnel from around our state, and from Madison in particular.

Thus, two admired Madison early music players are involved: Baroque violinist Edith Hines (below top) as leader of the strings, and Teresa Koenig (below bottom), a specialist in Baroque wind instruments.

Edith Hines BW

Theresa Koenig

In addition, this program offers two sopranos for the vocal pieces, each with a Madison connection. Sarah Richardson is currently a doctoral candidate at the UW School of Music, studying with University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music professor and baritone Paul Rowe.  And Chelsea Morris Shephard, who has sung with the Madison Bach Musicians, will be remembered as a finalist in in last summer’s Handel Aria Competition for the Madison Early Musical Festival.

Sarah Richardson

CHELSEA Shephard

Such a rich menu of Handel is bound to appeal to lovers of this fabulous composer’s wonderful music, and attract those who should be such lovers.

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Classical music: Sound Ensemble Wisconsin performs music and poems about love and night this Sunday evening. Plus, three guitarists perform new music for FREE this Friday at noon.

February 12, 2014
1 Comment

ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark auditorium of the historic First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright will feature guitarists Jamie Guiscafre (below), Chris Allen and Chris Murray in new music of Margaret Brouwer, Dan Cosely, Guiscafre and Justin Merritt.

Jaime Guiscafre

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement violinist and SEW founder Mary Theodore about an appealing and unusual combined concert and poetry reading that is coming up this Sunday afternoon:

“Sound Ensemble Wisconsin (below are some SEW musicians) follows November’s highly successful opening to their second season, “Sound Stories,” with a concert on Sunday, Feb. 16, at 5:45 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, the historic landmark designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Performers for this concert are SEW musicians violinist Suzanne Beia, violist Chris Dozoryst, Jen Paulson, violinist Mary Perkinson, pianist Jess Salek, violinist Mary Theodore, Maggie Townsend, and guest artists cellist Karl Lavine and soprano Rachel Eve Holmes.

SEW group

“Sound Stories:  Of Love and Night” features 60 minutes of vocal and instrumental works based on nocturnal themes, many based on love poems or ballads. It seems like a program matched to Valentine’s Day weekend.

The program includes Ernest Bloch’s Nocturnes for Piano Trio (1924); Ralph Vaughan Williams‘ Nocturne and Scherzo for String Quintet (1906); and songs by Franz Joseph Haydn and Claude Debussy. The concert features Arnold Schoenberg‘s “Verklarte Nacht” (Transfigured Night) for String Sextet (1898), based on Richard Dehmel‘s poem of 1896. (The work can be heard performed under the direction of Pierre Boulez in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

Poems by Richard Dehmel and Walt Whitman will be read by Katrin Talbot (below), a Madison violist and poet and SEW’s Artist-in-Residence for the 2013-14 season.  Talbot will also read the English translation for Debussy’s “Nuit d’Etoiles” (Starry Night).

Katrin Talbot face on

The performance will take place in the new Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) at the First Unitarian Society.  Beginning at 5:45 p.m., the event will be timed with the sunset and last a little over an hour with intermission.

Tickets are $10 with cash, check or charge at the door.

Please note: Coming soon, SEW will be collaborating with Chef Dan Bonanno and Katrin Talbot for a truly unique and delicious event at “Pig in a Fur Coat” on Sunday, March 2, at 6 p.m.  More information and tickets are available at www.sewmusic.org.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

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