The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Award-winning University Opera performs Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw” this Friday night, Sunday afternoon and next Tuesday night

February 28, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The black-and-white poster (below) looks fittingly eerie, spooky and creepy for one of the most famous ghost stories ever written. Look carefully at the blurry outlines of people – or are they spirits? The ambiguity is deliberate.

uw-turn-of-screw-posyter-2017

The poster advertises the opera “The Turn of the Screw,” which was written in 1954 by British composer Benjamin Britten (below, in a 1968 publicity photo by Decca Records taken by Hans Wild) and is based on a famous gothic novella by the 19th-century American writer Henry James. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear an excerpt from the production at the 2007 Glyndebourne Festival.)

benjamin-britten-london-records-1968-hans-wild

The production of Britten’s last chamber opera promises to be exciting, engaging and innovative. That is thanks to the University Opera’s new permanent artistic director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke DeLalio), a transplanted New Yorker who recently won national awards for two earlier productions at the UW-Madison when he was the opera company’s guest interim director for two seasons.

Below is a link to the complete story, with links to the awards story and other aspects. It also contains information about the cast and about tickets ($25 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for students).

The Ear wants to point out just a few important highlights:

Performances are in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill, on this Friday at 7:30 p.m., this Sunday at 3 p.m. and next Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.

After each performance, a talk-back for the audience to ask questions of the cast and the artistic staff will be held.

The running time is two hours with intermission.

The opera will be sung in English, but will also feature supertitles so the audience can easily understand the poetic libretto and follow the story.

The talented and experienced UW-Madison graduate student Kyle Knox (below) will conduct members of the UW Symphony Orchestra. Knox has conducted the UW Symphony and the University Opera many times before, and has also conducted for the Madison Opera and the Middleton Community Orchestra. Some mention him as a serious candidate to succeed his retiring and acclaimed teacher, Professor James Smith.

Kyle Knox 2

Here is the link to the full story, with many more details including cast members, on the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music’s website:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2017/01/31/university-opera-presents-benjamin-brittens-the-turn-of-the-screw/


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra and cellist Andrew Briggs turn in richly enjoyable performances of works by Mendelssohn and Dvorak.

February 28, 2016
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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 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

The concert by the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) on Wednesday night was one I might have designed myself: two of my favorite orchestral pieces, both by Felix Mendelssohn, and the world’s greatest cello concerto, by one of my favorite composers, Antonin Dvorak. (You can hear superstar Cellist Yo-Yo Ma play the first movement with the New York Philharmonic in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

For the concerto, the soloist was young Andrew Briggs (below), currently pursuing his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. He is clearly an artist with great promise. For so grand a work, he will grow in confidence and tonal richness with time. But he already has the measure of the piece, and I must say that he gave me about the most satisfying experience of it that I have ever heard.

Andrew Briggs

The reason for that is not only his playing skill but also his natural rapport with an audience: He communicates. His facial expressions, especially in orchestral passages, suggested he was in awe of the wonders of the work as he performed, while suggesting as well his joy at sharing this discovery of them with his listeners.

The standing ovation he received was not just perfunctory but a cordial, well-earned response to what he had given the audience.

This concerto is a big piece for the orchestra, too. And on top of that were the demands of the two other works, which framed the concerto.

Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” Overture and his Third Symphony, the “Scottish,” are extraordinarily evocative compositions, products of the composer’s experiences visiting the British Isles. They demand a lot from their performers.

There were, to be sure, rough spots here and there, especially in the symphony’s scherzo movement. But the playing was robust and committed. Maestro Steve Kurr (below) worked up an unusual degree of excitement in the overture, and differentiated nicely the differing moods of the symphony’s four movements.

Steve Kurr conducting

Earnest hard work with eminently listenable results makes a Middleton Community Orchestra concert like this one a genuine treat. Those who missed it lost out on a lot of pleasure.


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