The Well-Tempered Ear

Longtime friends organist Greg Zelek and Madison native and award-winning trumpeter Ansel Norris team up for a FREE live-streamed concert this Tuesday night

April 26, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Two longtime friends and fellow musicians will team up this Tuesday night, April 27, to close this season’s organ concert series, sponsored in the Overture Center by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

It will be live-streamed online because of the pandemic restrictions on attendance.

The concert features the critically acclaimed MSO organist Greg Zelek (below left) and Ansel Norris (below right), an award-winning trumpeter who is a native of Madison.

The program includes works by Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn and Samuel Barber among others.

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. CDT. It is FREE but you must register. The concert will be available to registered listeners for unlimited access through May 31.

Here is a link to the MSO website where you can register. It also has more information about the program and biographies of the two performers: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/norris-zelek-2021-streamed/

Here is more background. It appeared in the latest issue of the email newsletter of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), of which Norris was a member for many years:

Ansel Norris and Greg Zelek first met in 2010 as high school seniors who had both been selected as finalists in the YoungARTS Awards. The YoungARTS Award is a big competition with just a small percentage of students selected for the $10,000 prize from the thousands of high school applicants. In classical music that year, 12 students became finalists and assembled in Miami for a week of master classes with internationally recognized arts leaders.

Ansel Norris attended as an outstanding trumpeter from Madison East High School and Greg Zelek attended as an outstanding high school organist from the New World School of the Arts in Coral Gables, Florida. 

We hit it off right away and it came to me later what a great story this was,” Norris (below) mused. “Greg had grown up in south Florida and now was living in Madison, and I had grown up in Madison and was now living in south Florida.

“You know, there really is a synergy with trumpet and organ. The sounds are produced in a similar way and the way the sounds blend together is really special. Even then, I imagined a concert together.” 

Ten years later, the two friends were dreaming up this concert when Greg was in Miami in February, 2020. And then the world shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Norris has distinguished himself as a solo, orchestral and chamber musician.

After graduating from East High School in Madison, he attended Northwestern University, from which he received a Bachelor’s degree in Music in 2016.  From there he attended Rice University in 2019. Twice he was the first-prize winner at the National Trumpet Competition and a winner of the New World Symphony’s Concerto Competition. Then, at 26 years old, he became the first-ever American prizewinner in the International Tchaikovsky Competition’s Brass division. (You can hear Norris perform in the competition’s semi-finals in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Playing as soloist with orchestras is a special pleasure for Ansel, and he has enjoyed performances in front of the Mariinsky Orchestra, New World Symphony and his hometown Madison Symphony Orchestra, to name a few. Also a chamber musician, Ansel won a Bronze Medal at the Fischoff International Competition with his friends from the Lincoln Chamber Brass.

Ansel Norris currently resides in Naples, Florida, where he enjoys an eclectic musical career with the Naples Philharmonic. In a place without cold weather, the Naples orchestra could potentially play music safely outside all winter. But Ansel shook his head, “For the most part we’ve been indoors. The orchestra gets tested for COVID each week and we play on a stage with musicians spaced 10 feet apart. HEPA filters are positioned everywhere. Playing 10 feet apart is just crazy. You absolutely cannot depend on the musical cues you were trained to depend on.”

Norris remembers growing up in Madison where there was a “fine legacy for trumpet players. It was so great I didn’t want to go away to Interlochen, even with a full scholarship.” He studied privately with John Aley and attended WYSO rehearsals on Saturdays, which he absolutely loved. 

And now this Tuesday, this 2009 Bolz Young Artist Competition finalist will be returning to the Overture stage with his good friend Greg Zelek, who are both amazing and accomplished young musicians.

As Greg Zelek (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) writes: “Concerti of Bach and Haydn will bookend this program filled with music that is both written and arranged for this electrifying pairing of instruments. Mr. Norris’ remarkable technique and soaring lyricism will be on full display while our Mighty Klais both supports and shimmers in this exhilarating performance you won’t want to miss!” Register here for Tuesday’s concert! 


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Library of Congress streams UW pianist Christopher Taylor’s online Liszt-Beethoven symphony recital for free this Thursday night

December 16, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Thursday night, Dec. 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. CST, University of Wisconsin-Madison virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor (below) will close the celebration of the Beethoven Year, marking the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth, at the Library of Congress. After the concert’s premiere, it will stay posted online.

For the past several years, Taylor has been performing the solo piano transcriptions by Franz Liszt of Ludwig van Beethoven’s nine symphonies both in Russia and at the UW-Madison. 

Here is more from the website of the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music:

“It takes extraordinary skill as an orchestrator to condense an entire symphony by Beethoven (below top) into a version for a solo instrument, but that is just what Franz Liszt (below bottom) accomplished in his piano transcriptions. (You can hear a sample, along with a visual representation, of the Fifth Symphony transcription in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“Hear virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor perform three of these transcendent symphony transcriptions, works he describes as a “new perspective on something familiar.” (The Ear, who has heard Taylor’s impressive performances of almost all nine symphonies, finds that comparing the two versions is like looking at the same photograph in color and then black-and-white. Color emphasizes details while black-and-white emphasizes structure. You hear new things by comparing the two.)

The performance was pre-recorded in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall of the Hamel Music Center.

The program is:

BEETHOVEN/LISZT

Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21

Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36

Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

You can find more details at: https://loc.gov/concerts/christopher-taylor.html

You can Register on Eventbrite

Hailed by critics as “frighteningly talented” (The New York Times) and “a great pianist” (The Los Angeles Times), Taylor has distinguished himself throughout his career as an innovative musician with a diverse array of talents and interests.

He is known for a passionate advocacy of music written in the past 100 years — Messiaen, Ligeti and Bolcom figure prominently in his performances — but his repertoire spans four centuries and includes the complete Beethoven sonatas, the Liszt Transcendental Etudes, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and a multitude of other familiar masterworks.

Whatever the genre or era of the composition, Taylor brings to it an active imagination and intellect coupled with heartfelt intensity and grace.

Taylor has concertized around the globe, with international tours taking him to Russia, Western Europe, East Asia and the Caribbean. 

At home in the U.S. he has appeared with orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony, the Madison Symphony and the Milwaukee Symphony. As a soloist he has performed in New York’s Carnegie and Alice Tully Halls, in Washington’s Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Ravinia and Aspen festivals, and dozens of other venues.

In chamber music settings, he has collaborated with many eminent musicians, including Robert McDuffie and the Borromeo, Shanghai, Pro Arte, and Ying Quartets.

His recordings have featured works by Liszt, Messiaen and present-day Americans William Bolcom and Derek Bermel. 

Throughout his career, Taylor has become known for undertaking memorable and unusual projects.  Examples include: an upcoming tour in which he will perform, from memory, the complete transcriptions of Beethoven symphonies by Liszt; performances and lectures on the complete etudes of Gyorgy Ligeti; and a series of performances of the Goldberg Variations on the unique double-manual Steinway piano (below) in the collection of the University of Wisconsin.

Numerous awards have confirmed Taylor’s high standing in the musical world. He was named an American Pianists’ Association Fellow for 2000, before which he received an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1996 and the Bronze Medal in the 1993 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. In 1990 he took first prize in the William Kapell International Piano Competition, and also became one of the first recipients of the Irving Gilmore Young Artists’ Award.

Taylor lives in Middleton, Wis., with his wife and two daughters. He is a Steinway artist.

For more biographical information — including his piano teachers and his education as well as his interest in mathematics and engineering — go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/christopher-taylor-concerts-from-the-library-of-congress/

 


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Classical music: UW-Madison piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor performs a free virtual recital of impromptus by Schubert and Scriabin this Wednesday afternoon

August 4, 2020
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A note from The Ear: Thank you to the many blog followers who left a message of encouragement when I had computer troubles last week. The problem seems to be solved, at least temporarily. And I am healthy, despite the fears that some of you expressed that I was covering for coming down with the coronavirus virus or Covid-19.

By Jacob Stockinger

A friend has passed along the following note from Christopher Taylor, the piano virtuoso who won a bronze medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and who has been teaching for many years at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music.

Taylor (below) writes:

“Despite having my performance schedule ravaged, like everyone else, I do actually have one positive morsel of news to relay regarding a “recital” coming up in the near future, which I wanted to you know about.

“It is being hosted by the Chautauqua Institution, where I’ve performed a few times in the past. Unsurprisingly, they’ve had to switch to an online format this summer.

“Just last week I made the actual recording, playing four impromptus by Scriabin, and Four Impromptus, Op. 142, by Schubert in the Mead-Witter Foundation Concert Hall (below, with the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra), which seemed like a propitious setting. (Editor’s note: In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the third impromptu in the set by Schubert performed by Vladimir Horowitz during his historic 1986 recital in Moscow.)

“Under the circumstances I think the video turned out pretty well. The actual streaming, which will include the 45 minutes of music plus a little live interview before and afterwards, takes place this Wednesday – Aug. 5 – at 3 p.m. CDT.

You can get there by way of the following link: https://porch.chq.org/ue/event/6518/

“Apparently there is a brief registration form one has to fill out prior to viewing the show, but basically getting in should be a free and painless process for all and sundry.

“Hope you get a chance to join in, and that you enjoy it!”

 


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Classical music: A veteran reviewer bids farewell with a rave review of this summer’s last concert by the Willy Street Chamber Players and UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor

July 29, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a very special posting, the final review that will be written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker.

Barker (below), who is dealing with medical issues, is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who wrote for The Capital Times, Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who, until two weeks ago, hosted an early music show once a month on a Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gave pre-concert lectures in Madison.

Please use the comment section to join The Ear in thanking Barker for his many years of public service and wishing him well.

By John W. Barker

I had to miss the first concert this summer by the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) on July 12; and the next one, on July 19, was cancelled because of power failures. But the final one, last Friday night, was well worth waiting for — one of the really memorable events of the year, I think.

The program, performed at the usual near East Side venue of the Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, began with some short items.

First, there was a set of Three Nocturnes (1924) for piano trio — violin, cello and piano — by Ernest Bloch. They contain elements of the Hebraic sound that Bloch cultivated but also had their own individualities, the first two contemplative and the third marked “tempestuoso.” Interesting was Bloch’s alternating uses of muting the strings.

After this came an example of the short pieces for string quartet by the contemporary composer Jessie Montgomery, her “Voodoo Dolls” (2008). Much is packed into this five-minute piece. A few lyrical touches aside, it sounded like a hoedown gone crazy, full of quite novel sounds, including rhythmic thumping on the wood of the instruments.

All that was a curtain-raiser to the big event of the program: the Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major, Op. 81, by Antonin Dvorak. This 40-minute work is one of the composer’s best-known chamber music compositions, and one of the standouts in the whole chamber music literature.

The very opening notes of the first movement bring a flood of warm well-being.  (After hearing just that, I commented, “I haven’t felt such happiness in months.”)

The fecundity and richness of invention pervaded the entire work. For me, its high point is the second movement, in which Dvorak (below) used the Czech formula of the dumka, a kind of folk music lament that is paced slow-fast-slow-fast. (You can hear the Dumka movement, played by the Jerusalem Quartet and pianist Stefan Vladar, in the YouTube video below.)

Dvorak liked to play viola in chamber music, and so he always wrote some good things for himself. The sublime passages for viola in this movement were played with such transcendent beauty by Rachael Hauser (below) – who is leaving Madison for New York City — that I felt I was hearing the composer’s voice directly. Put simply, this was one of the greatest examples of chamber-music performance that I have ever heard.

All of the players, many of whom play in the Madison Symphony Orchestra,  of course matched remarkable skill with humane vitality and vibrancy.

And a measure of the Willys’ standards was the fact that they were able to draw as a partner no less than that magnificent UW-Madison music school pianist, Christopher Taylor (below), who also performed the same Dvorak Piano Quintet in the 1993 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, where he won a bronze medal. Much of his excellence here was demonstrated by the fact that he did not play the star, but joined with the Willys in perfect collegial integration.

This ends the Willy Street group’s fifth summer season. As a symbol of vibrancy and fresh spirit, they are among the most important of Madison’s classical music world today. They have drawn steadily growing audiences, and the house was truly packed for this concert.  We can only hope that they will continue to brighten that world in the years ahead.

I am now ending my time as a music critic. I can think of no more satisfying a final review to write than of the Willy Street Chamber Players.


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Classical music: This weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra celebrates the legacy and works of Leonard Bernstein

November 5, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming weekend, Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell) will be remembered, honored and celebrated by his friend and Madison Symphony Orchestra music director John DeMain in a “Remembering Lenny” concert that explores Bernstein’s musical contributions as an American composer and conductor.

Original works by Bernstein will be performed by the MSO on the first half of the concert. The MSO starts with the Overture to Candide, then moves on to On The Town, and, finally, performs his Symphony No. 2 “The Age of Anxiety,” featuring Van Cliburn Competition bronze medal winner and UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor.

The second half of the program features Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, the last work that Bernstein (1918-1990) ever conducted during a concert at the summer Tanglewood Festival of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Performances will be held in Overture Hall, 201 State Street, on this Friday night, Nov. 9, at 7:30 p.m.; this Saturday night, Nov. 10, at 8 p.m.; and this Sunday afternoon, Nov. 11, at 2:30 p.m. Ticket information is below.

Says DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson): “To have my 25th anniversary with the MSO coincide with the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth is special for me personally because of the unique opportunities I had to work with this great American musician.” 

DeMain, who premiered Bernstein’s opera “A Quiet Place” in Houston, adds: “The first half of the concert celebrates Lenny the composer, culminating in the first performance by the MSO of his second symphony, The Age of Anxiety, which has a dazzling and at times jazzy part for the piano, and carries with it, still, a timely social statement. Christopher Taylor (below), a Madison favorite with whom I have often enjoyed collaborating, will perform the challenging and exciting piano part.”

DeMain describes the final work in the program: “The second half of the concert pays tribute to Lenny the conductor, and his life-long love of Beethoven. Since the Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92, was the last piece Lenny conducted, I thought it would be the perfect way to celebrate Lenny and his great contribution to American musical life.” (NOTE: You can hear Bernstein conduct the famous second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 during his last public performance, just two months before he died, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is some more background:

Bernstein’s operetta Candide is based on the 1759 novella by French philosopher Voltaire. The well-known Overture is quick-paced, with a feverish excitement that begins from the first breath of sound. Many of the meters are in seven beats, or of other non-traditional types, and quickly change. Each player of the ensemble is required to perform with simultaneously the utmost virtuosity and togetherness.

On the Town is a dance-centric musical scored by Leonard Bernstein based on Jerome Robbins’ idea for the 1944 ballet “Fancy Free.” The story depicts three American sailors on a 24-hour shore leave in New York City during wartime, where each man meets and quickly connects with the woman of their dreams. The musical is the source of the ubiquitously popular show tune New York, New York.

The Age of Anxiety was composed between 1948 and 1949, and is inspired by a poem of the same name by W.H. Auden (below). The 80-page poem follows four lonely strangers who meet in a wartime New York bar and spend the evening ruminating on their lives and the human condition. Subtitled “a baroque eclogue” (a pastoral poem in dialogue form), the characters speak mostly in long soliloquies of alliterative tetrameter, with little distinction among the individual voices.

Composed from 1811–1812, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 premiered with Beethoven (below) himself conducting in Vienna on December 8, 1813 at a charity concert for soldiers wounded in the Battle of Hanau.

The symphony’s dance elements, vitality and sense of celebration are conveyed principally through rhythm. It is not the melodies that are so striking and memorable as the general sense of forward movement.

The Overture lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert. One hour before each performance, Randal Swiggum (below) will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience. It is free to ticket holders.

The MSO recommends that concert attendees arrive EARLY for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the Prelude Discussion.

Program notes for the concerts are available online. Go to: http://bit.ly/nov2018programnotes

Tickets can be purchased in the following ways:

  • Single Tickets are $18-$93 each and are on sale now at: https://madisonsymphony.org/bernstein\through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141. Fees apply to online/phone sales.
  • Groups of 10 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit, https://www.madisonsymphony.org/groups.
  • Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $15 or $20 tickets. More information is at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush
  • Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
  • Subscribers to 5 or more symphony subscription concerts can save up to 50% off single ticket prices. More information is available about the season at: https://madisonsymphony.org/18-19
  • Flex-Ticket booklets of 10 vouchers for 2018-19 symphony subscription concerts are available. Learn more at: https://madisonsymphony.org/flex

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

Find more information at madisonsymphony.org

The Presenting Sponsor for the November concerts is Steinhauer Charitable Trust. Underwriting for Christopher Taylor is provided by Sharon Stark, “to Peter Livingston with love.” Major funding is provided by: Stephen D. Morton, The Gialamas Company, Inc., Myrna Larson, Madison Symphony Orchestra League, and Nancy Mohs. Additional funding is provided by Robert Benjamin and John Fields, Godfrey & Kahn, S.C., and Wisconsin Arts Board, with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


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