The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra, with solo violinist Paran Amirinazari, closes its seventh season with rousing and intense performances of Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky

June 9, 2017
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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. 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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

On Wednesday night, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) closed its seventh season with a rousing program offering three contrasting Russian works.

The opener was the Overture to Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor, as realized by Alexander Glazunov. It served to show off the orchestra’s ever-developing string band, solid in tone, if still lacking a little in warmth.

A real gem was the second work, the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev. By contrast with the composer’s first venture in that form — a taut, aggressive affair — this one is more relaxed and jovial, if no less demanding technically.

The soloist was Paran Amirinazari (below), stepping out of her usual concertmaster’s slot into the full spotlight. She handled admirably the great technical demands of her solo role, full of quirky and tricky writing.

But, amid all the spikiness she pointed up handsomely the real and almost neo-Romantic lyrical sweetness that Prokofiev infused into the showiness. (Just listen to the gorgeous second movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This is one of the truly great violin concertos, and Amirinazari — the brilliant artistic director of the fabulous Willy Street Chamber Players — demonstrated that adroitly.

The final work was a grand effort: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. This is, of course, one of those “warhorses” about which The Ear has been debating lately. It is thereby the more challenging for an orchestra to present to an audience likely to be familiar with it.

Its calculated lavishness has made it a masterpiece beloved by the public, but it is still fascinating to encounter with close listening. The composer pulled out all his tricks of dazzling orchestration and melodic invention, but in the service of a grand-scaled structure that skillfully manipulates cyclical and cross-referential transformation of themes through the score’s totality.

Maestro Steve Kurr (below) by now has nurtured remarkably solid resources for an orchestra of this kind. The potent brass choir is really well consolidated, backing fine-sounding woodwinds. Kurr made the most of these resources, in a well-rehearsed performance in which the stress on intensity of playing resulted in highly dramatic results, culminating in a truly noble ending.

This was a richly satisfying program, showcasing an ensemble of which Middleton should be button-burstingly proud.


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra closes it seventh season on next Wednesday night with violinist Paran Amirinazari and an all-Russian program featuring music by Borodin, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev

June 1, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The largely amateur but highly competent and very accessible Middleton Community Orchestra (below top) will present the final concert of its seventh season.

The performance by the critically acclaimed ensemble , under the baton of Steven Kurr, is on next Wednesday night, June 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below top and bottom) that is attached to Middleton High School, 2100 Bristol Street.

MCO concertmaster and violinist Paran Amirinazari (below), who studied at the UW-Madison and who also plays with the Willy Street Chamber Players and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will be the soloist in the Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor by Sergei Prokofiev. (You can hear the exquisite second movement, played by Maxim Vengerov, from one of The Ear’s favorite violin concertos in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Also on the all-Russian program is the Overture to the opera “Prince Igor” by Alexander Borodin (below top) and the Symphony No. 5 by Peter Tchaikovsky (below bottom).

General admission is $15.  All students are admitted free of charge. Tickets are available at Willy St. Coop West and at the door on the night of the show.

The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. and doors open at 7 p.m.

There will be a meet-and-greet reception after the concert.

Here is an older post, which The Ear stands by, about why attending MCO concerts is so rewarding:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/classical-music-review-let-us-now-praise-amateur-music-makers-and-restoring-sociability-to-art-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-liked-and-you-should-attend-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

For more information about the Middleton Community Orchestra, including how to join it and how to support it, go to:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org


Classical music: Have a beer with that chamber music

February 3, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

A friend of The Ear and a fan of this blog writes:

Hi Jake,

I want to alert you and your readers that in February we have two performances scheduled at The Malt House (below), 2609 East Washington Avenue, on the corner of Milwaukee Street.

Malt House exterior

Malt House party drinking

The Yahara String Quartet (below) plays on this coming Saturday, Feb. 4, from 4 to 6 p.m.  YSQ says they will play “among others … music by Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Holst, Haydn, Vivaldi … and more.” For information, go to:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1843806762501124/

yahara-string-quartet

The Cello and Bass Duo of Karl von Huene (cello, below) and John Dowling (contrabass) will play on Saturday, Feb. 11, from 3 to 5 p.m.

Adds Karl von Haene: “We play short pieces by Sebastian Lee (1805-1887) that are obscure enough that I will buy a beer for anyone who knows them. You see, there’s no opus number, they’re just “melodic studies/etudes.”

You can hear the first of Sebastian Lee’s “40 Melodic and Progressive Studies” in the YouTube video at the bottom. For information about Sebastian Lee, who performed and taught in France and Germany, go to:

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

For information, go to:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1834517800147308/

Karl von Huene cello

Performances are FREE, and the full bar is open for business. We open at 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

For more information about the highly rated tavern that specializes in artisan beers and ales, and also presents other forms of music, go to:

http://malthousetavern.com

Cheers,

Bill Rogers, The Malt House

malt house interior


Classical music: It’s spring. Can you pass this quiz from NPR about flower songs in opera?

May 9, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s a funny kind of spring where The Ear lives in the Midwest.

More than giving us a steady spring, the weather seems to bounce back and forth between winter and summer. One week we have high in the 80s. The next week — like the one coming up – we’re in the 50s or lower.

Add in all the rain and gust wind, and this spring has been hard on the flowers in my yard. The daffodils have hardly blossomed and are already shriveling up, while the newly sprouted tulips are already dropping petals.

tulips and daffodils

Oh well, at least we haven’t had tornados—not so far.

But it is still worth s celebrating the greening out and other bright colors we see after the long, gray winter.

How well do you know your flowers from opera? (Below, in a photo by Cory Weaver, is mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili in a field of red poppies that was used in the production of the 19th-century Russian composer Alexander Borodin‘s opera “Prince Igor” by the Metropolitan Opera.)

Mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili in Met's Pricne Igor by Borodin CR Cory Weaver MET

Here is a seasonal puzzler — with only five multiple choice questions — from the exceptional blog Deceptive Cadence on NPR or National Public Radio.

The Ear found it not so hard but tricky.

Still, it seems that celebrating flowers in music is universal. At the bottom is a YouTube video with an excerpt from the Chinese operaJasmine Flower,” which is NOT included in the quiz.

But hard or not, the quiz was fun and educational.

See how you do and let The Ear know.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/05/06/404499920/flower-songs-a-springtime-opera-puzzler


Classical music: University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Kipperton String Quartet will open the Rural Musicians Forum’s summer season on Monday night, June 9, in Spring Green at Unity Chapel with a FREE concert of Borodin, Britten and Shostakovich.

June 4, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you think you have to live in a big city to hear fine classical music, think again.

Blog friend Kent Mayfield, who lives in Milwaukee but works with rural musicians, writes:

“Known for its high energy and musical depth, the Kipperton String Quartet (below) will open the 2014 summer concert season for the Rural Musicians Forum with a FREE concert in Spring Green on Monday, June 9.

Kipperton String Quartet playing

“The Kipperton String Quartet performs at 7:30 p.m., at Unity Chapel. The Chapel (below top is the exterior and below bottom is the interior)  is located on County Road T, just east of Hwy 23. The chapel is a living testament to the simple and contemplative lives early settlers created for themselves in southwest Wisconsin. While famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright did not design the building, he did help in its planning and it seems to reflect at least some of his early designs and influence.

“There is no ticket charge but a freewill offering to support the concert series will be taken. For more information: www.ruralmusiciansforum.org OR contact Kent Mayfield ruralmusiciansforum@yahoo.com

Unity Chapel in Spring Green exterior

Unity Chapel in Spring Green interior

“The Kipperton String Quartet includes (from left) violinists Timothy Kamps and Wes Luke; violist Paul Alan Price-Brenner; and cellist Kevin Price-Brenner.

Kipperton String Quartet 1

“Music for a Summer Evening” for June 9 will feature three string quartets from the 19th and 20th centuries.

“The most familiar of these is surely the String Quartet No. 2 in D Major by Russian composer Alexander Borodin (below), who was also a professional chemist. The quartet was well-received during Borodin’s life but managed to “cross-over” into the mega-popular realm when at least two of its themes (heard at bottom in a popular YouTube video) were used as part of the 1953 musical “Kismet.” Robert Wright and George Forrest used several of Borodin’s compositions to accompany a story set in the times of the Arabian Nights. Two songs in particular, “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” and “This is My Beloved” are based directly on lyrical and exotic themes from the second and third movements of Borodin’s quartet.

Alexander Borodin

“The Kipperton String Quartet will also perform Three Divertimenti for String Quartet by Benjamin Britten (below). Britten is one of the great 20th-century composers and certainly among the greatest British composers of all time. The Three Divertimenti are a set of three individual character pieces meant as “pleasing entertainment.” The bristling rhythms, and colorful sounds are broadly appealing. Britten was a composer of great skill and imagination who wrote for the wider public.

Benjamin Britten

“The third work on the Kipperton program for RMF’s “Music for a Summer Evening,” is the String Quartet No. 1 in C major for Strings, Op. 49, by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (below). It is a short piece, in four movements of compact, classical form: a slow opener, then variations on a folk-style melody, followed by a rushing scherzo and an exuberant, dancing finale – a progression from unease to exhilaration taking not much more than a quarter of an hour. The atmosphere is, he said, spring-like. Some of the music came from one of his film scores, for “The Girl Friends,” about three girlhood friends growing up before World War I who eventually become nurses.”

dmitri shostakovich

The quartet first met in the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra and quickly coalesced into the premier string quartet of the tri-state area. In addition to the DSO, the members also play in other orchestras such as the LaCrosse Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, and the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Symphony Orchestra.

The quartet was the very first String Quartet in Residence at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.

According to RMF Artistic Director, Kent Mayfield, “The Kipperton String Quartet creates a shimmering sound full of energy and virtuosic skill that pleases both the casual listener and more serious students of the classics. This is a perfect way to welcome summer to the Wisconsin River Valley.”

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