The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra and solo trumpeter Jessica Jensen score big with an unusual program

March 2, 2019
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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. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

The concert by the largely amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by Margaret Barker) on Wednesday night presented a novel program at the Middleton Performing Arts Center.

In the relatively brief first part, it presented two unusual items.

The first was by Nebojsa “Neb” Macura (b. 1982, below right with conductor Steve Kurr), a local musician of Serbian background, who has been particularly identified with Russian folk music and ensembles. But he also plays viola in the MCO, which gave him this opportunity in the spotlight.

His piece, Polar Night, is quite brief, but in this version for full orchestra (with piano), it is grounded with secure melodic flow, and it unfolds into a tonal picture full of beautiful colors. My only reservation was that I wanted more of it — either more music in this piece or other sections around it.

Macura is obviously talented, and he has a confident sense of orchestral writing. I really look forward to hearing more of him. Indeed, the MCO might well serve as exactly the laboratory in which he can develop new creations.

The second item was only a bit longer, a Trumpet Concerto by Russian composer Aleksandra Pakhmutova (b. 1929, below). Her long career has involved her in jazz, and also in extensive scoring for films. But she has a feeling for Russian traditional song, and that could be heard in this concerto.

It is cast in only a single movement, but it proceeds episodically.  There is certainly much flashy writing for the solo instrument, and local trumpeter Jessica Jensen (below) brought off her role dashingly.

The longer second part of the concert was devoted to the Symphony No. 3, the “Rhenish,” by Robert Schumann. This splendid work was inspired by observation of life along the Rhine River.

It is unusual in being written in five movements, not the conventional four. (Oddly, their individual markings were not printed in the program, but conductor Steve Kurr (below) gave a clever spoken introduction that outlined the score for the audience.)

This is a very extroverted work, calling for a lot of orchestral sonority. I suspect that a little more rehearsal time would have helped the avoidance of some blemishes: rapid passages, especially in the first movement, were roughly articulated, and there were some tiny gaffes all along.

But the players were devoted in responding to maestro Kurr’s rather propulsive tempos. This score gives a lot to do particularly to the horn section, which played with ardent splendor.

As always, then, the MCO earned further laurels for presenting this very adventurous program.


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Classical music: University Opera’s “Poppea” proves engaging, satisfying and timely. Performances remain this afternoon at 2 and Tuesday night at 7:30 

November 18, 2018
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

Larry Wells – who is The Opera Guy for The Well-Tempered Ear blog – went to the recent production of the University Opera and filed this review, with rehearsal photos of students, who alternate roles in different performances, by Michael R. Anderson.

By Larry Wells

The only other time I attended a performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea” (1643) was in the early 1980s at The San Francisco Opera. Despite the appearance of Tatiana Troyanos as Poppea, I remember being baffled by both the static nature of the music and the grandness of the production of what seemed should be an intimate opera.

That memory, in addition to my being a fan of 20th-century music, made attending the opening performance of University Opera’s performance Friday evening fraught with foreboding.

Despite the production being a lengthy three hours, I must praise the ensemble and director David Ronis — who never disappoints — for keeping my attention throughout the evening as I witnessed an intimate retelling of the passion between Nero and Poppea (portrayed below by Benjamin Hopkins and Anja Pustaver).

The opera was staged in Music Hall on a semicircular platform with the small instrumental ensemble directly to the front side of the audience. Stunning lighting and beautiful costumes made up for the minimal set. I was seated in the center of the first row of the balcony and must say that the sightlines and the sound were superb, even though it was very hot up there. (Below is the coronation scene with Hopkins and Pustaver in the center.)

The ensemble was conducted by Chad Hutchinson (below) whom I had heard conduct the UW Symphony Orchestra the night before in a rousing Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. The plucked instruments – harp, guitars, theorbo (I had to look it up, too) and harpsichords – were the backbone of the accompaniment. Strings and recorders completed the orchestra, and they were a delight to the ear – totally delicate and restrained.

The plot of the opera involves love triangles and political intrigue. The supertitles created by David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Dalalio) were amusing and colloquial. So much of the political posturing by Nero, whose main motivation is consistently self-interest, seemed to be pertinent to our time.

Nero was sung by countertenor Thomas Aláan who has a voice of great agility and expressiveness. His lover, Poppea, who yearns to be his empress, was sung by Talia Engstrom. Hers is a voice of great suppleness and flexibility. Throughout the evening she acted and sang with great subtlety, and I admired her performance very much.

I had been primed for the opera’s very final duet (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom) to be the most sublime moment of the opera, but I was much more aroused by the farewell duet between Nero and Poppea toward the end of the first act. It was highly charged vocally and erotic in its beauty and delivery.

Other characters included Seneca, portrayed by bass Benjamin Galvin (below left front, surrounded, from left to right, by Eliav Goldman, Jack Innes, Jiabao Zhang, Jake Elfner and Noah Bossert.) The lower range of his voice is profound and impressive.

Kevin Green (below right with Pustaver) portrayed the hapless Ottone, and his baritone voice shows promise.

It was, however, a night for the female singers. Cayla Rosché’s Ottavia was beautifully sung. She was completely believable as the spurned wife of Nero. Likewise Kelsey Wang’s Drusilla, Ottone’s second choice, was also wonderfully sung.

In the first scene we were introduced to Fortuna, Virtù and Amore who shone vocally. Throughout the remainder of the opera they silently hovered in the background as visual reminders of the forces driving the plots. Love, portrayed by Emily Vandenberg, eventually triumphed and got to sing a bit more.

There were moments of humor sprinkled throughout the production. I do not know how historically informed they were, but they did help to lighten the heaviness of the political intrigue and amorous complexities.

Some were perhaps unintentional – particularly the absurdly amusing wig that Fortuna wore. But Professor Mimmi Fulmer, in the small role as Nutrice, had a moment of complete hilarity. Her performance – both vocally and as an actress – underlined the contrast between earnestly serious, focused students and a relaxed, confident professional. (Below is the final scene with Nero and Poppea).

Altogether, it was a surprisingly engaging evening. There remain chances to see it this afternoon and Tuesday evening. It is not a brief or light evening of entertainment, but it is wholly engaging, thought provoking, timely and certainly something out of the ordinary.

Two more performances take place in Music Hall: today at 2 p.m. and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. For more information including how to get tickets – adults are $25, seniors are $20 and students are $10 — go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-monteverdis-the-coronation-of-poppea/


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Classical music: The fifth annual Schubertiade is this Sunday afternoon at the UW-Madison and will chronicle Franz Schubert’s short but prolific career year by year

January 23, 2018
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CORRECTION: The concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra this Friday night in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center starts at 7:30 p.m. — NOT at 7 as was incorrectly stated in an early version of yesterday’s posting and on Wisconsin Public Radio.

By Jacob Stockinger

On this Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., the fifth annual Schubertiade — celebrating the music of Franz Schubert (1797-1828, below) will take place in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

The informal and congenial mix of songs and chamber music in a relaxed on-stage setting and with fine performers is always an informative delight. And this year promises to be a special one. (Performance photos are from previous Schubertiades.)

Tickets are $15 for the general public, and $5 for students. Students, faculty and staff at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music get in for free.

A reception at the nearby University Club will follow the performance.

For more information about the event and about obtaining tickets, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/schubertiade-with-martha-fischer-bill-lutes/

Pianist and singer Bill Lutes (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who plans the event with his pianist-wife and UW-Madison professor Martha Fischer, explained the program and the reasoning behind it:

“This year’s Schubertiade is a program that could never have actually occurred during the composer’s lifetime. It is in fact a year-by-year sampling of Schubert’s music, spanning the full range of his all-too-brief career.

“As with our previous programs, we still focus on those genres which were most associated with the original Schubertiades (below, in a painting) – those informal social gatherings in the homes of Schubert’s friends and patrons, often with Schubert himself presiding at the piano, where performances of the composer’s lieder, piano music, especially piano duets, and vocal chamber music intermingled with poetry readings, dancing, games and general carousing.

“Our hope on this occasion is to present the development of Schubert’s unique art in much the same way we might view a special museum exhibition that displays the lifetime achievements of a great visual artist.

“Thus we will follow Schubert from his earliest work, heavily influenced by Haydn and Mozart, and his studies with Antonio Salieri, to the amazing “breakthrough” settings of Goethe’s poems in 1814 and 1815, and on to the rich procession of songs and chamber music from his final decade. (Below is a pencil drawing by Leopold Kupelwieser of Schubert at 14.)

As always we have chosen a number of Schubert’s best-known and loved favorites, along side of lesser-known, but equally beautiful gems.

We are also particularly delighted to work with a large number of School of Music students and faculty, as well as our featured guest, mezzo-soprano Rachel Wood (below), who teaches at the UW-Whitewater.

(D. numbers refer to the chronological catalogue of Schubert’s work by Otto Erich Deutsch, first published in 1951, and revised in 1978.)

SCHUBERTIADE 2018 – Schubert Year by Year: Lieder, Chamber Music and Piano Duets by Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

PERFORMERS

Rachel Wood (RW)

Katie Anderson (KA), Matthew Chastain (MC), James Doing (JD), Wesley Dunnagan (WD), Talia Engstrom (TE), Mimmi Fulmer (MFulmer), Benjamin Liupiaogo (BL), Claire Powling (CP), Cheryl Rowe (CR), Paul Rowe (PF), singers

The Hunt Quartet, Chang-En Lu, Vincius Sant Ana, Blakeley Menghini, Kyle Price (HQ)

Parry Karp, cello (PK)

Bill Lutes (BL) and Martha Fischer (MF), pianists (below)

PROGRAM

1811   Fantasie in G minor, D. 9 (MF, BL)

1812   Klaglied, D. 23 (Lament )– Johann Friedrich Rochlitz (MF, BL)

            Die Advokaten, D. 37 (The Lawyers, comic trio) after Anton Fischer)     (PR,BL, WD, MF)

1813   Verklärung, D. 59 Transfiguration – Alexander Pope (RW, BL)

1814   Adelaide, D. 95Friedrich von Matthisson (WD, MF)

            Der Geistertanz, D. 116 The Ghost Dance – Matthisson (MC, BL)

            Gretchen am Spinnrade, D. 118 Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel –         Goethe (CP, MF)

1815   Wanderers Nachtlied I, D. 224 Wanderer’s Nightsong – Goethe (MF, BL)

            Erlkönig, D. 328 The Erl-king – Goethe (TE, MC, WD, CP, MF, BL)

1816  Sonata for violin and piano in D Major, D. 384 (PK, below, BL)

           Allegro, Andante, Allegro vivace

1817   Der Tod und das Mädchen, D. 531 Death and the Maiden – Matthias   Claudius (RW, MF)

            Erlafsee, D. 586 Lake Erlaff – Johann Mayrhofer (CR, BL)

            Der Strom, D. 565 The River – anon. (PR, MF)

1818   Deutscher with 2 Trios in G (MF, BL)

            Singübungen, D. 619 Singing Exercises (CP, TE, BL)

Intermission

1819   Die Gebüsche, D. 646 The Thicket – Friedrich von Schlegel (RW, BL)

1820   String Quartet #12 in C Minor “Quartetsatz” (HQ)

1821   Geheimes, D. 719 A Secret – Goethe (TE, MF)

1822   Des Tages Weihe, D. 763 Consecration of the Day (KA, MF, WD, MC,BL)

1823   Drang in die Ferne, D. 770 The Urge to Roam – K.G. von Leitner (MC,BL)

             from Die Schöne Müllerin, Mein, D. 795 Mine – W. Müller (WD, MF)

1824   Grand March No. 6 in E major, D. 819 (MF, BL)

1825   Im Abendrot, D. 799 Sunset Glow – Karl Lappe (RW, MF)

             An mein Herz, D. 860 To my Heart- Ernst Schulze (BenL, MF)

1826   Am Fenster, D. 878 At the Window – J. G. Seidl (MFulmer, below, BL)

1827   from Winterreise Frühlingstraum, D. 911 Dream of Spring – Muller(RW,MF)

1828   Die Sterne, D. 939 The Stars – Leitner (KA, BL)

          from Schwanengesang (Swansong), D. 957

          Ständchen (JD, MF) –Serenade – Ludwig Rellstab

          Die Taubenpost (PR, MF)The Pigeon Post – J.G. Seidl

An die Musik, D. 547 To Music (below) – Franz von Schober

Everyone is invited to sing along. You can find the words in your texts and translations.


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