The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera scores a big artistic and commercial success with the Midwest premiere of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.” How about seeing and hearing more new music and new operas?

February 15, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a guest review by The Opera Guy, who is himself a senior and who has followed opera for many decades and across several continents, including North America, Europe and Asia. Performance photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.

By Larry Wells

On Sunday afternoon I attended the second, and final, of two sold-out performances of Daniel Schnyder’s “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” presented by Madison Opera, which gave the Midwest premiere of the new work.

Although it is a chamber opera featuring only 16 instrumentalists and running a little over 90 minutes, it was an engaging, satisfying and often hypnotic operatic experience.

The orchestral and vocal music were readily accessible.  As a compliment to the composer, I was reminded of the later work of the great British composer Michael Tippett.

The plot features Charlie Parker’s mother, three of his wives, his friend Dizzy Gillespie and his current patroness, the fascinating Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter, as they confront Parker’s spirit after his death but before his removal from the morgue and burial.

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(Below, standing in front of the photo-portrait set of the Birdland jazz club, are the major cast members, many of whom were in the original world premiere productions at Opera Philadelphia and the Apollo Theater of Harlem in New York City. From the left, they are: Angela Brown as Addie Parker; Will Liverman as Dizzy Gillespie; Rachel Sterrenberg as Chan Parker; Angela Montellaro as Doris Parker; Joshua Stewart as Charlie Parker; and Krysty Swann as Rebecca Parker.)

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A pioneer and innovator of bebop in the world of jazz, saxophonist Parker died young and dissolute, destroyed by drugs and alcohol. Portrayed by Joshua Stewart (below), Parker is unsympathetic and weak, desperate to create but distracted. Stewart is a fine, convincing actor. His singing was often compelling, but his voice was too thin in the higher reaches demanded by the score.

madison-opera-joshua-stewart-as-charlie-parker-cr-james-gill

The other characters were ably portrayed and consistently strong vocally. Will Liverman’s Dizzy Gillespie was a standout – lyrical and touching.

Likewise, Krysty Swann (below center with a baby) was solid vocally and emotionally convincing as Parker’s abandoned first wife Rebecca Parker.

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Rachel Sterrenberg was moving and gripping vocally as Parker’s final wife Chan.

Julie Miller as Baronness Nica commanded the stage whenever she appeared, perhaps because of her bright red dress in a sea of black garments but also because of her powerful portrayal and expressive singing.

Whenever Angela Brown (below right, with Joshua Stewart as Charlie Parker) was onstage as Parker’s mother, Addie, she was the focus. She owned the role, she sang beautifully, and she had some of the best material to sing.

(You can hear Angela Brown, who has appeared here before with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera, in the world premiere production in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

madison-opera-joshua-stewart-as-charlie-parker-angela-brown-as-addie-parker-cr-james-gill

One of the finest moments in the opera was an orchestral interlude followed by a vocalise by another of Parker’s wives, Doris, sung by Angela Mortellaro (below). I was totally captivated, as I was by the quintet toward the end with Dizzy, the three wives and Parker’s mother.

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Such are the moments for which an opera aficionado waits – several minutes of total aural delight.

Maestro John DeMain was, as always, in full command of the score as he led members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. I was in a position to watch him conduct, and he was always totally involved in the moment. I repeat what I have said before: Maestro DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) is a treasure for which Madison should be constantly grateful.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

I personally like newer music and always welcome the chance to hear something other than the tired Brahms overtures, Tchaikovsky symphonies and Mozart piano concertos.

The argument in Madison seems to be that to fill seats, you have to give the audience what it wants; and the belief is that it wants music that is tried, true and safe.

The fact that this new work sold out both performances in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center and that the audience was not entirely made up of seniors seems to suggest that the halls can be filled if the programming is more adventurous.

I say let’s hear more music of the 20th and 21st centuries, draw in a new audience and give the seniors a little thrill.

What do you think?


Classical music: This Friday night, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performs Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” with guest guitarist Ana Vidovic as well as the Symphony No. 3 by Bruckner and the Symphony No. 30 by Mozart

January 24, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) opens the second half of its season with a promising concert that has both sunny lyricism and dark drama.

WCO lobby

Tickets run $10 to $80. Here is a link to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s website with information about the concert, the soloist and how to get tickets:

http://www.wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-ii-2/

As usual, WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) has created a program that mixes music of different moods from different eras.

AndrewSewellnew

The guest artist is classical guitarist Ana Vidovic (below top), who performed with the WCO two years ago to critical and audience acclaim.

This time Vidovic will perform the popular “Concierto de Aranjuez” by the 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo (below bottom), who took inspiration from Baroque music for this work. (You can hear the gorgeously tuneful slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Jazz great trumpeter Miles Davis also used to play the slow movement from the Rodrigo concerto.

ana-vidovic-2017

joaquin rodrigo

The concert will open with the Symphony No. 30 in D Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and will close with the Symphony No. 3 in D minor by the Austrian late Romantic composer Anton Bruckner (below), who is often coupled with Gustav Mahler.

Anton Bruckner 2

For many listeners, the big draw is the Bruckner symphony since Bruckner does not get heard often here.

So The Ear thought it might be useful to read comments about Bruckner by the world-famous maestro Daniel Barenboim, who was the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for many years.

This week, Barenboim (below top conducting and below bottom in an informal portrait photo by Andrea Gjestvang for The New York Times) is leading the Staatskapelle Berlin in a complete cycle of Bruckner symphonies — coupled with Mozart piano concertos played and conducted by Barenboim himself from the keyboard — in Carnegie Hall in New York City. He also recently recorded all the Bruckner symphonies with the same orchestra. And just yesterday he got rave review from The New York Times for the first two Bruckner-Mozart concerts.

daniel barenboim with baton

daniel-barenboim-portrait-ny-times-andrea-gjestvang-2017

Here is a link to the interview and story in The New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/13/arts/music/a-long-party-of-concerts-to-celebrate-anton-bruckner.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FBarenboim%2C%20Daniel&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection&_r=0


Classical music: Madison Opera will present the Midwest premiere of ‘Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.’ Here are the many impressive preparatory events for the public that start this Friday

January 17, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information to post about a local opera production that is both exciting and an inspired choice to mark February as Black History Month:

Madison Opera will present the Midwest premiere of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” on 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 10, and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12, in the Capitol Theater at Overture Center for the Arts.

charlie-parkers-yardbird-logo-for-maidson-opera

For more information about the cast and the production as well as about purchasing tickets ($25-$114), go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/charlie-parkers-yardbird/

With music by Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder (below top) and a libretto by writer and poet Bridgette A. Wimberly (below bottom), the acclaimed opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” tells of the legendary jazz musician and the people closest to him.

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bridgette-wimberly

The opera, which melds jazz and opera, is set on the day that saxophone great Charlie Parker died in 1955. As his body lies unclaimed in a New York City morgue, Parker returns in spirit to the jazz club Birdland, determined to compose a final masterpiece. Family and friends blend in and out of his memories, including his three wives, his mother, his friend Dizzy Gillespie and even his drug dealer.

Charlie Parker’s Yardbird premiered in June 2015 at Opera Philadelphia (below is tenor Lawrence Brownlee, in a photo by Dominic Mercier, in the title role of Charlie Parker in the Philadelphia production) and was subsequently presented by the company at the Apollo Theater in New York City in April 2016. (You can hear an excerpt in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The New York Times praised it for its “pulsing, jazz-infused score,” while the Wall Street Journal said, “its rhythms snap and swing, its melodies – including real arias – seize the ear, its ensembles crackle with energy.”

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee in Charlie Parker's Yardbird CR Dominic Mercier for Opera Philadelphia

Madison Opera will be only the second company to present this work, which is sung in English with projected text and runs 90 minutes without an intermission.

“I saw Charlie Parker’s Yardbird when it premiered in Philadelphia and instantly knew it would be a perfect opera for Madison,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director. “The very American story and the exciting jazz-inflected music fit perfectly into our ever-expanding range of repertoire.”

She adds, “It’s not a straightforward narrative of Parker’s life, but rather elements of his life as refracted through his memories and imagination, and particularly his relationships with the women in his life.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

Madison Opera’s cast includes both debuts and returning favorites, as well as a number of singers who created their roles in the world premiere.

Joshua Stewart (below), a young American tenor who has sung at La Scala, Bayerische Staatsoper, and Opera de Lausanne, debuts in the tour de force role of Charlie Parker.

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Angela Brown (below) returns following her performance at Opera in the Park 2016 as Addie Parker, Charlie’s mother, a role she created in Philadelphia.

Angela Brown 2016

Will Liverman, who sang Figaro in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville here in 2015, sings jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, a role he created in Philadelphia.

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Krysty Swann debuts as Rebecca Parker, Charlie’s first wife. Angela Mortellaro, who sang Galatea in Handel’s Acis and Galatea in 2013, returns as Doris Parker, Charlie’s third wife, a role she created in Philadelphia.

Rachel Sterrenberg debuts as Chan Parker, his final wife, a role she created in Philadelphia. Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, in whose hotel suite Parker died, is sung by Julie Miller in her Madison Opera debut.

Directing this production is Ron Daniels (below), who staged the world premiere and was the opera’s dramaturge, involved in the creation and workshop process. 

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John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) conducts, with members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra in the pit.

DeMain says:  “I am so happy to be a part of Madison Opera’s Midwest premiere of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird. Parker was consumed with music, breathing it day and night. All of us who are passionate about performing and listening to music can identify with this phenomenal musician and will not want to miss this jazz-infused opera, the perfect expression of Parker’s range and depth as a musician.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Composer Daniel Schnyder will attend the opening night performance and join Smith for the Pre-Opera Talk that evening at 7 p.m. in the Wisconsin Studio.

In addition to the performances, Madison Opera and its community partners are hosting a series of related events, collectively known as “Extending the Stage,” which culminate in a concert of Charlie Parker’s music with composer Daniel Schnyder and the UW-Madison’s Blue Note Ensemble.

These events include Opera Novice; community previews; Opera Up Close; discussions of the life and music of Charlie Parker (below); and presentations of rare jazz films.

All events are open to the public and the majority are free of charge.

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RELATED EVENTS: EXTENDING THE STAGE

Opera Novice: Jazz Opera?
 Friday, Jan. 20 | 6-7 p.m. The Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center, 335 W. Mifflin Street. FREE and open to the public

New to opera? Passionate about Puccini, but not sure about a jazz opera? Join General Director Kathryn Smith for a short, fun, and informative evening exploring the history of jazz and opera, including a live performance of an aria from Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.  With plenty of time to ask questions, it’s the perfect jump-start for the opera-curious.

Community Preview of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,
 Tuesday, Jan. 24 | 7-8 p.m. Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 W. Main St. FREE and open to the public

Join a Madison Opera staff member for a multimedia look at Charlie Parker’s life, the history of the opera Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, and some insights into Madison Opera’s production.

Opera Up Close, Sunday, Feb. 5 | 1-3 p.m. The Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center, 335 West Mifflin Street. Admission: $20; free for full-season subscribers and full-time students with ID; $10 for two-show subscribers.  Tickets available at the door.

Come even closer with a behind-the-scenes preview of Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.  A multimedia presentation on Charlie Parker and the history of this opera will be followed by a roundtable discussion with the leading artists of Madison Opera’s production.  There is no better way to get “up close” to this acclaimed new opera.

A Charlie Parker Concert and Discussion with Daniel Schnyder and the Blue Note Ensemble Thursday, Feb. 9 | 7:30 p.m. Morphy Recital Hall, UW-Madison. FREE and open to the public

Composer Daniel Schnyder joins UW-Madison’s Blue Note Ensemble for an evening featuring music by Charlie Parker, with solos performed by both Schnyder and UW-Madison saxophone students. The evening includes an aria from Charlie Parker’s Yardbird and a discussion about Parker and the opera with Schnyder, UW-Madison Professor of Saxophone Les Thimmig, and General Director Kathryn Smith.

Pre-Opera Talks: Friday, Feb. 10 |7 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 12 | 1:30 p.m. Wisconsin Studio at Overture Center. FREE to ticket holders

Attend an entertaining introduction to Charlie Parker’s Yardbird one hour prior to curtain. On Friday night, composer Daniel Schnyder will join General Director Kathryn Smith to talk about the piece. Be sure to arrive early, as space is limited.

An Evening of Rare Jazz Films: Alicia Ashman Library. Friday, Feb. 3 | 7 p.m.; Goodman South Madison Library. Tuesday, April 11 | 6 p.m. FREE and open to the public (Below is footage of Charlie Parker playing and of people discussing the man and his artistic achievement.)

Jazz archivist Gary Alderman will present and explain films of the historically significant innovators of modern jazz, including the only two known existing videos with sound of Charlie Parker.

Among the other musicians shown will be those relevant to Parker’s music and career, including Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.

The Life and Music of Charlie Parker: DeForest Area Public Library: Monday, Feb. 13, 6:30 p.m.; Alicia Ashman Library: Friday, Feb. 24, 7 p.m.; Fitchburg Public Library: Sunday, Feb. 26, 2 p.m.; Oregon Public Library:  Friday, March 10, 6:30 p.m. FREE and open to the public

UW-Madison Professor of Saxophone Les Thimmig (below) will talk about Charlie Parker’s life and music, as well as the history of bebop.

More information is available at www.madisonopera.org/education.

Les Thimming


Classical music: Madison Opera gets a $20,000 grant from the NEA for its February production of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird”

December 22, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera has some good news to share:

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $30 million in grants as part of the NEA’s first major funding announcement for fiscal year 2017.

Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $20,000 to Madison Opera to support the Midwest premiere of Daniel Schnyder’s Charlie Parker’s Yardbird on Friday night, Feb. 10, and Sunday afternoon, Feb. 12, 2017.

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The Art Works category focuses on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts.

“The arts are for all of us, and by supporting organizations such as Madison Opera, the National Endowment for the Arts is providing more opportunities for the public to engage with the arts,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Whether in a theater, a town square, a museum, or a hospital, the arts are everywhere and make our lives richer.”

Madison Opera will be only the second company to present Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, which premiered in spring 2015 at Opera Philadelphia (below, with Lawrence Brownlee in the title role on the right and the real Charlie Parker on the left). You can see and hear the trailer for the Opera Philadelphia production in the YouTube video at the bottom.

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Set on the night that saxophone great Charlie Parker died, the opera begins with Parker returning in spirit to the jazz club Birdland, determined to compose a final masterpiece. Family and friends blend in and out of his memories in an acclaimed new work that tells of his tortured, brilliant life “with a pulsing, jazz-infused score” (The New York Times).

Madison Opera’s performances take place in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center and are directed by Ron Daniels and conducted by John DeMain.

The cast features Joshua Stewart, Angela Brown, Will Liverman, Rachel Sterrenberg, Julie Miller, Angela Mortellaro, and Krysty Swann.

“It is an honor to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and be recognized for our artistic work on a national level,” says Madison Opera General Director Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill). “The NEA’s funding will not only help us share this thrilling new opera with our region, but also support an array of Charlie Parker-related events, allowing true community engagement with the opera and its subject.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

In addition to the public performance on Feb. 10 and 12, 2017, Madison Opera’s “Extending the Stage” activities include “Jazz at the Opera Center,” a concert with Richie Cole and the Alto Madness Orchestra on Jan. 8; Opera Novice on Jan. 20; Opera Up Close on Feb. 5; “A Charlie Parker Concert and Discussion” with the Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder and UW-Madison’s Blue Note Ensemble on Feb. 9; and a variety of previews and presentations on Charlie Parker, jazz, and the opera at various libraries and retirement communities.

For more information on any of these events, got to: madisonopera.org.

For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, go to arts.gov/news.

Madison Opera is a non-profit professional opera company based in Madison, Wisconsin. Founded in 1961, the company grew from a local workshop presenting community singers in English-language productions to a nationally recognized organization producing diverse repertoire and presenting leading American opera singers alongside emerging talent.

A resident organization of the Overture Center for the Arts, Madison Opera presents three productions annually in addition to the free summer concert Opera in the Park and a host of educational programming.


Classical music: Do we need smaller concert halls?

August 13, 2016
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Recently, senior New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini wrote a column in which he praised the intensity and intimacy that listeners feel in a smaller concert hall.

His remarks come in the context of the $500-million remodeling of David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center and the opening of the Mostly Mozart Festival.

And he offers the suggestions as a solution not only for solo recitals and chamber music performances but also for symphony orchestras and operas.

The Ear compares, say, the intensity of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below top), with the audience at the edge of the stage) in the Playhouse at the Overture Center to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in the Capitol Theater to the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below bottom) and Madison Opera in Overture Hall.

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

You can indeed hear intense performances in all three venues. But overall The Ear has to agree that being closer to the musicians also brings you closer to the music.

Here is a link to Tommasini’s column:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/04/arts/music/review-mostly-mozart-big-music-doesnt-need-huge-halls.html?_r=0

What does your own experience tell you?

What is your favorite concert hall or venue?

Let us know.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and soloist Ben Beilman deliver the best Beethoven Violin Concerto that The Ear has ever heard live

October 8, 2015
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Many people see the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) as competitors.

WCO lobby

But that’s not how The Ear sees them.

The Ear sees symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras not as competitors but as complements.

The two can serve as role models for each other. A symphony orchestra can aim to achieve the transparency and clarity of the smaller group; the chamber orchestra can aim to achieve the richness and bigger sound of the larger ensemble.

Almost two weeks ago, that is exactly what the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) and conductor John DeMain did with the “Leonore” Overture No. 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven, the Clarinet Concerto by Aaron Copland and especially the big, loud and brassy Ethel Merman-like Symphony No. 4 by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky.

Here is how The Ear heard that performance:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/classical-music-heres-why-the-opening-concert-of-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-proved-a-stunning-success/

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

So how did the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra do in meeting the challenge?

In a word — superbly.

The WCO did so last Friday night in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater under its longtime music director Andrew Sewell.

The program started with one of those welcome rarities that Sewell has a knack for unearthing. This time the native New Zealander played the piece “Landfall in Unknown Seas” by Douglas Lilburn (below), whom Sewell described as the Kiwi Copland.

Well, maybe, though The Ear finds Aaron Copland’s music more interesting and emotionally moving than the clearly modern but tonal and accessible music by Lilburn, whose centennial is this year.

douglas lilburn

The piece — written to commemorate the tricentennial of the discovery of New Zealand — was hobbled with one of those puffily pretentious and over-the-top occasional celebratory poems, which was recited by actor James Ridge (below) of American Players Theatre in Spring Green. It treated navigation and discovery as metaphors of something much bigger than the discovery of New Zealand.

All in all, it proved an interesting but not arresting piece, a curiosity worth hearing but not repeating.

 

James Ridge

Then came the rarely played Symphony No. 2 in A minor by Camille Saint-Saens. It is a kind of Late Romantic pastiche that reminds one of the “Classical” Symphony by Sergei Prokofiev. One could hear strains of earlier composers such as Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn in this charming work that once again is worth hearing but maybe not repeating or at least not soon.

To be fair, critic John W. Barker disagreed in his review for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/arts/stage/wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-opens-2015-season/

In both cases, Sewell (below) and the various sections of the WCO brought not only the kind of transparency or clarity that one expects from the WCO but also a robustness that made the orchestra seem bigger than it looked.

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Yet it was in the second half where the WCO really showed its stuff.

The piece was the formidable Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The soloist was the 25-year-old Benjamin Beilman (below), making his Madison debut.

Benjamin Beilman close up playing

Together, Beilman and Sewell delivered what is the finest and most exciting live performance of the famous and famously difficult concerto that The Ear has ever heard. It possessed intimacy as well as heroics. (You can hear Itzhak Perlman and Daniel Barenboim conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in the last movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Sewell shaded the piece and brought both chamber orchestra transparency and symphony orchestra heft to the work. He also emphasized Beethoven’s mastery of counterpoint, a legacy from his days as a student of Franz Joseph Haydn. This time the often thorny Beethoven score seemed smoother and more decipherable.

Beilman, for his part, is already a master of the kind of small details that make a huge difference. He is also not afraid to play softly.

Beethoven (below) was a master crafter but not a great melody writer, and often the opening movement can often seem little more than a patchwork of scales and runs, chords and arpeggios.

beethoven BW grim

But not this time. Beilman made this often flat-sounding violin part exciting with the subtleties he brought to it. He found hidden melodies and camouflaged suggestions of a theme, all delivered with a great tone from his modern 2004 violin.

One unusual touch was the cadenzas. Beethoven didn’t write any for the violin. When he transcribed this work for the piano he composed piano cadenzas. And those were the basis of what Beilman, the top winner of the Montreal International Violin Competition and the recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, used for his exciting cadenzas.

Tempi mattered too. This long, dense concerto moved right along, and when it was done, the performance drew an immediate standing ovation from the audience of 900 or so.

And here’s the thing: At no point did the chamber orchestra seem to lack the horsepower needed to drive this big and iconic piece of music. Sewell and Beilman were well matched in projecting a big, rich sound and intense interpretation that engaged and excited you from beginning to end.

The audience even drew two encores from Beilman, both solo pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach (below), the ultimate test of a violinist. One was the songful slow movement from the Solo Sonata in C Major; the other was the lively Gavotte from the Solo Partita in E Major that almost seems a mirror image of the last movement of the Beethoven concerto.(ATTENTION ALL SOLOISTS: Please announce your encores!)

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The first Bach movement, by the way, was also the piece that Beilman played at the wedding this summer where his sister married Joe Morris, the gifted principal clarinet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra who so stood out in the Copland concerto two weeks ago.

Plus, Beilman’s parents and grandparents hail from Madison.

So young Benjamin Beilman has roots in and ties to Madison.

Could that mean he will return soon?

The Ear sure hopes so.

 


Classical music: This will be an outstanding semester for piano fans in the area. But it starts with a “train wreck” this Friday night with dueling piano concerts by Christopher Taylor and Ilya Yakushev.

January 20, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

For piano fans, the first semester in Madison proved a bit underwhelming, even disappointing when compared to many past falls.

But that is about to change this semester, starting this weekend.

Of course this piano-rich week comes complete with the inevitable piano “train wreck,” as The Wise Critic terms such scheduling conflicts and competition.

Farley's House of PIanos MMM 20141

CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR OR ILYA YAKUSHEV

For many area listeners, the big annual piano event is on this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. That is when the UW-Madison School of Music virtuoso Christopher Taylor (below) — whom The Ear hears other schools are trying to lure away from the UW — performs his annual solo faculty recital.

Taylor, famed for his prodigious technique and fantastic memory, has won praise nationwide and even internationally for his performances of all kinds of difficult music, from Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven to Olivier Messiaen and Gyorgi Ligeti as well as contemporary musicians like Derek Bermel.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Taylor’s program this time is an unusual one that mixes old and new.

It features another of the dazzling two-hand transcriptions by Franz Liszt of the symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven, which Taylor has been performing elsewhere in a cycle. This time he will perform the famous Symphony No. 6 in F Major, “Pastoral.”

Also on the program are seven of the 12 etudes by the contemporary American composer William Bolcom, who taught at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and the Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5, by Johannes Brahms — a wondrously dramatic and beautiful work that you can hear performed by Van Cliburn International Piano Competition winner Radu Lupu in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Tickets are $10 and benefit the UW-Madison School of Music Scholarship Fund.

For more information, including some national reviews of Taylor, here is a link to the UW website:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/christopher-taylor-piano-faculty-recital/

But, as I said, there is a problem.

At exactly the same time on Friday night, in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, is a terrific concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev (below), who last performed Prokofiev and Gershwin concertos with the WCO.

This Friday night’s program includes Yakushev in two well-known concertos: the keyboard concerto in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor by Felix Mendelssohn.

ilya yakushev 3

Also on the program – typically eclectic in the style that conductor Andrew Sewell (below) favors — is the English Suite for Strings by British composer Paul Lewis and the Chamber Symphony No. 2 by Arnold Schoenberg.

For information, go to: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/77/event-info/

andrewsewell

But this piano weekend doesn’t stop there.

On Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., Ilya Yakushev will open the new season of the Salon Piano Series when he plays a solo recital in the concert room (below) at Farley’s House of Pianos, on Madison’s far west side.

The program includes the famous Sonata in C minor “Pathétique,” Op. 13, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the Sonata No. 2 by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev and “Carnival” by Robert Schumann. A reception will follow the recital.

Farley Daub plays

Here is a link with more information:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

And as background, here is a Q&A that The Ear did in 2011 with Ilya Yakushev:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/classical-qa-russian-pianist-ilya-yakushev-discusses-prokofiev-and-gershwin-which-he-will-play-at-the-opening-concert-of-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-on-friday-night/

ilya yakushev mug

MORE TO COME

Of course this is just the beginning of Piano Heaven.

There is still the concerto competition for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) to come, along with the UW-Madison concerto competition, the Bolz “Final Forte” Concerto Competition of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and others.

Later this semester, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will also feature two other returning pianists –- Shai Wosner (below top) and Bryan Wallick (below bottom). They will perform, respectively, two concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn and the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major “Emperor” by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Shai Wosner Photo: Marco Borggreve

Bryan Wallick mug

Here is a link to the WCO website:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/

And let’s not forget the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to the above piano events and others, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will feature the Irving S. Gilmore Competition winner Ingrid Fliter (below), a native of Argentina, in the lusciously Romantic Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor by Frederic Chopin on Feb. 13-15 – perfect fare for Valentine’s Day weekend.

Ingrid Fliter playing

That program which also includes the Symphony No. 4 by Robert Schumann and British composer Benjamin Britten’s “Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge” -– Bridge was Britten’s teacher — promises to be a memorable performance by a renowned Chopin specialist who last played a solo recital here ay the Wisconsin Union Theater.

And if you know of more. just add them in a Reader’s Comment for others to see,

 

 


Classical music: How hard is it to sing nine high C’s? Tenor Javier Abreu talks about the feat he will perform in the Madison Opera’s premiere production of Donizetti’s “La Fille du Regiment” this weekend.

February 3, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Friday night and Sunday afternoon, the Madison Opera performs its premiere production of Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment” in the Capitol Theater at the Overture Center for the Arts.

Performances are at 8 p.m. on Friday and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. The opera will be sung in the original French with English surtitles. The sets come from an acclaimed production by the Virginia Opera (below):

Madison Opera Daughter of the Regiment Virginia Opera song of the regiment

Tickets are $25-$107 with student and group discounts available. They are available at the Overture Center box office, 201 State St., Madison, WI; by calling (608) 258-4141; and by visiting http://www.madisonopera.org

As a Madison Opera press release says: “ “The Daughter of the Regiment” is a sweet romantic comedy, with vocal pyrotechnics and beautiful melodies interlaced with charm and humor.

“The plot is simple: Marie, an orphan who was raised by the 21st Regiment, is in love with Tonio, who joins the army so he can marry her. When Marie’s new-found aunt takes her away from her beloved regiment, she despairs. Fortunately, all ends happily ever after.

“I adore this opera,” says Kathryn Smith (below), Madison Opera’s general director. “Sometimes all we want from a night at the opera is entertainment, and  ‘Daughter’ delivers. I fell in love with the show’s music years ago, and it’s a pure delight to bring this work to Madison Opera for the first time in the company’s 53-year history. It’s a perfect show for everyone, from opera novices to opera omnivores, from 8-year-olds to 88-year-olds.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

“At last we are bringing Donizetti’s comic masterpiece to our audience, with its scintillating score and adorably zany plot,” says John DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad), Madison Opera’s artistic director who will conduct the performances. “I’ve so loved my encounters with this opera in the past and so look forward to Madison’s first outing with such a marvelous cast, the Madison Opera chorus, and the Madison Symphony Orchestra. This is the way to  escape from any winter doldrums.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Appleton native Caitlin Cisler, who charmed audiences as the page Oscar in A Masked Ball and at Opera in the Park last season, returns to Madison Opera as Marie.

Tenor Javier Abreu, described by Opera News as “a natural Rossini singer,” makes his local debut as the high-C-prone Tonio. Nathan Stark, who was a chilling Commendatore in “Don Giovanni” last season, displays his comic side as Sulpice, one of Marie’s many “fathers.”

Local favorite Allisanne Apple (below) returns as The Marquise of Berkenfield. She is joined by Douglas Swenson as Hortensius. Christopher Apfelbach plays a Corporal, Katrina Brunner is The Duchess of Krakenthorp, and Robert Goderich is a Peasant.

Alisanne Apple BW mug

David Lefkowich (below), who directed Handel’s “Acis and Galatea” here in 2013, directs this traditional staging, set in the Tyrol around 1820.

David Lefkowich 2013

The opera is also one which many tenor careers – occluding those of Luciano Pavarotti and Juan Diego Florez — have been built because of the nine high C the tenor must sing.

To find out more about such athletic singing, The Ear used an email interview to talk about it with tenor Javier Abreu (below):

Javier Abreu color mug 1

Can you briefly introduce yourself and your career? When did you start music lessons and how did you get into opera?

I started singing when I was a child in Catholic school. My parents were involved in church choir, and I started picking it up then. As I started getting into my teen years, and my voice started changing, my mom decided to let me take some voice lessons, to make the transition a little easier. I was interested in singing pop at that point, but my voice teacher made sure I know how to breathe, and not to push my voice to its limits.

I didn’t get into opera until I was a sophomore in college. I was in the university choir, and a lot of my friends were doing it. I wanted to see what it was all about. I had a fantastic voice teacher during my undergrad years, and some really talented coaches. I feel very fortunate to have had the formative years that I had.

La Fille du Regiment” is famous as a career-building opera for tenors, thanks to the 9 high C’s in “Ah, mes amis.” Luciano Pavarotti (below top) and Juan Diego Florez (below bottom) whose exciting show-stopping performance can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom) come immediately to mind. How hard is do you find to sing those high notes and how successful have you been with the aria?

I started working on the aria at the age of 22. I knew it was something I wanted to sing at some point, but I decided to not take it lightly. The great thing about this role is that can be sung by many types of tenor. Everyone has their own strength to showcase.

That said, having the C’s in the aria is always essential.  I find that I need to treat this aria like any other piece. It’s just one more aria with a few high notes.  Giving too much importance to the fact that it’s high puts too much pressure on the moment.  It is, after all, only 60 seconds of a 2-1/2 hour show. There’s plenty of show left after that.

Luciano Pavarotti

Juan Diego Florez 2

What makes singing the high C’s so hard – the pitch, the length of the notes and breathing, whatever?

Tessitura certainly plays a big role in making this aria one of the most challenging in the repertoire. There is a certain finesse that bel canto requires, which takes plenty of effort. Add to that the fact that most roles don’t demand such fireworks from the tenor in such a short period of time.

The tenor in a Rossini opera will be required to sing plenty of C’s, but they are spread out through the show. The mere fact that it happens in such a short period of time requires from the tenor a certain stamina and control, making this sort of a specialized role.

What are the challenges of Donizetti’s “bel canto” style, versus say Baroque or Verismo opera, for you as a tenor and for the whole cast?

It is hard to compare all of these styles, because they are so different, though one is informed by the other. If we go chronologically, baroque certainly informed the bel canto style.  The beauty of lines, and the exposed vocal fireworks transitioned from the baroque into the bel canto style very smoothly. Verismo came later, as an answer to what had come before.

The focus in bel canto – of “beautiful singing” — is the beauty of line, and the finesse from passage to passage. It’s the great combination of vocal prowess, and story telling.  As a singer, I get to showcase what I do best, and cadenzas tend to be tailored to the specific abilities of the singer.

That is one of my favorite things about bel canto. It’s a great collaboration between, singer, stage director, maestro, and orchestra.  It can be some of the most thrilling theater-music combination there is.

What makes this opera popular with audiences in general? The happy endings? The characters? The plot? The impressive and accessible lightness of the bel canto style? Some other element?

People like light stories.  Add to that the fact that Donizetti was a masterful composer, and chose librettos that appealed to the masses. Who does not want to see the “good ol’ boy” get the girl?

There is a complexity to the show that is present in the great masterpieces by Donizetti (below). There are very light moments, in which you feel like you are in an operetta, in juxtaposition with moments of great sadness that are reminiscent of his great serious works. This show brings a lot of the elements that made Donizetti a master of his time.

donizetti

How would you compare your role and this particular interpretation of it to other roles and to what other tenors have done with yours?

What I love about live theater and opera is the fact that every person interpreting a role is going to bring something different to it. To me, comparing two tenors singing the same role is like comparing two different beers. While they have many of the same kind of qualities, they will never be the same.

That’s what makes it interesting to me. Every interpretation is informed by the single individual who gets to perform it at any given time.

What us your sense of the ensemble spirit in the cast and production so far? Is there anything you s want to say about the Madison Opera and this production? (Below is a set from the Virginia Opera’s production that will be used.)

One of the best things about this show is the fact that it has a small cast. That allows us to really get to work with each other in a more intimate way, and form bonds that make the show more interesting.

This production is a lot of fun, and each of the cast members has their own quirky take on their role.  That has made it more exciting, and hopefully it will translate as more fun for the audience.

As an audience member, I always enjoy a show in which the filial love of the cast is palpable. It makes a comedy really shine. Our director and conductor have done a great job at trying to use our individual strengths, and showcase them through out the show. It is full of tender moments, and I’m so excited to be a part of it. I think Madison will really like this beloved classic of the opera repertoire.

Madison Opera Daughter of the Regiment Virginia Opera singing lesson image 2

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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra shows its impressive mastery of many musical styles in a concert of Mozart, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Bruckner that marks again just how superb its music-making has become. Plus, read John W. Barker’s review for Isthmus.

January 19, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There are many ways to take the measure of a performing arts group. And by all the important measures you can think of, the concert Friday night in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) succeeded superbly.

WCO lobby

Not that we should be surprised. For many seasons now, the WCO, under the programming and baton of its longtime director Andrew Sewell (below) has been turning in higher and higher caliber performances in the Masterworks winter series.

andrewsewell

But this concert may well mark a new highpoint.

Do you like light and easy-listening fare? Then the opening work, Mozart‘s overture to “The Impresario,” proved a perfect curtain-raiser. It possessed the right energy and articulation to make it seem, at least for a few minutes more than the things that the young Mozart (below) could toss off pretty much without thinking.

mozart big

Do you like to hear the orchestra accompany a soloist? Then the Croatian guitarist Ana Vidovic (pronounced VIDO-vich, not vik) proved terrific in an ideal vehicle.

Ana Vidivic

It was the Guitar Concerto No. 1 by the early 20th-century Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, whose gift for accessibility, transparent structure and melody may be linked to his composing of movie scores. Take the bittersweet, heartbreaking song, Mozartean in its single-note simplicity, that opens the slow movement (at bottom, in a YouTube video).

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

True, Vidovic amplified her guitar And while purists might object to that, from where The Ear sat, the amplification helped maintain balance and kept the orchestra from holding back and the guitarist from forcing her sound. Plus, I am not sure the acoustics of the old refurbished Capitol Theater (below) allow for unamplified playing of the classical guitar. (Check out the microphone in the YouTube video at the bottom that comes from a live recording at a prestigious international guitar competition.)

Capitol Theater

Cutting an attractive figure with her long brunette hair, bright yellow dress and gracious stage presence, Vidovich also offered approving fans a beautiful solo encore, Francisco Tarrega‘s haunting “Remembrances of Alhambra.” The Ear expects, and hopes, we will be hearing her again in a couple of seasons, maybe in a concerto by Antonio Vivaldi or Joaquin Rodrigo.

Ana Vidivic

Do you like music that is “red meat,” as a close friend of The Ear described the Symphony No. 2 in C minor by the late 19th century Romantic Anton Bruckner (below)? Then you wouldn’t have been disappointed either. In fact, this work that lasted over an hour was the only one that brought the audience to its feet -– and in a town renowned for easy standing ovations.

This particular standing ovation, I suspect, was more for the performance than for the demanding music. The audience recognized effort, force and precision when they heard them. The WCO poured itself, heart, soul and body into this work, which was clearly rehearsed long and in careful detail under Sewell’s guidance.

Anton Bruckner 2

The work itself is early and somewhat disjointed, lurching from the dramatic to the lyrical and back again. Clearly Bruckner relies more on rhythm and pulse than on melody. I do not find that he sings all that naturally or all that much. But he certainly does engage you by the way works over the music, and especially by the way he uses the brass and percussion as well as nthe strings and winds. Bruckner sure was sone kind of orchestrator!

Bruckner’s sound is his own, whatever its historical roots or influences. I am reminded of the scratched out scrawls one sees in Beethoven’s notebooks. I suspect Bruckner, an endless reviser, worked the same way.

The deeply religious Bruckner (below) does not seduce you; sensuality is not his strong suit. Instead he forcefully grabs you and compels you to listen. We should hear more of him, and conductor Sewell, pretty much by himself, seems to be making sure that we do. And his efforts are appreciated.

bruckner2

Not for nothing did that the WCO, on a cold and snowy winter night, play to a full house of about 1,200. At this rate, and with this kind of mastery, one hopes that perhaps the WCO can one day justify doing double performances, maybe a matinee. The quality of the WCO’s music-making certainly deserves it. And so do we listeners.

If you want to compare and see what another critic thought, here is a link to the review the John W. Barker did for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=41864

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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra kicks off the second half of this concert season with a performance this Friday night of orchestral music by Mozart and Bruckner and a guitar concerto by Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

January 13, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Event by event, The Ear sees that the winter intermission of the concert season is coming to an end.

To be specific: This Friday night, Jan. 17, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) will kick off the major performances of the season. Then next week comes the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and after that the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and the Madison Opera. And that doesn’t even begin to touch many other smaller chamber music ensembles and Edgewood College.

WCO lobby

At 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell will lead the orchestra with guest Croatian guitar soloist Ana Vidovic (below), who is making her Madison debut.

Ana Vidivic

The program includes the energetic “Impresario” Overture by Mozart from the 18th century; the accessible and Romantic guitar Concerto by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco form the 20th century; and the dramatically introspective Symphony No. 2 in C Minor by Anton Bruckner from the 19th century.

Anton Bruckner 2

Tickets are $15 to $67 and can be obtained by calling the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141 or by visiting:

http://ev12.evenue.net/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/SEGetEventInfo?ticketCode=GS%3AOVERTURE%3A13WCO%3ACT0117%3A&linkID=overture&shopperContext=&pc=&caller=&appCode=&groupCode=WCO_D&cgc=

The well-planned and eclectic program is a terrific combination of the light and the heavy, the lyrical and the dramatic. It is distinguished not only by the colorful guitar concerto by also by the second straight second season in which longtime WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below) has programmed a Bruckner symphony – while Bruckner has yet to find its way on a program of the Madison Symphony Orchestra for a couple of decades.

For a fine profile and interview with and on overview of Sewell’s achievements, you should read Sandy Tabachnick’s excellent story “The Malleable Maestro” in the Jan. 10 issue of Isthmus. Here is a link:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=41783

andrewsewell

Here is a link to an impressive biography of the guitar soloist Ana Vidovic. And you can hear her in a performance in a YouTube video at the bottom. She is playing Isaac Albeniz‘ popular “Asturias” and the video has over 6 million hits!

http://wcoconcerts.org/anavidovicbiography/?utm_source=FY14+MW2+Ana+Vidovic&utm_campaign=FY14+MW2+1.8.14&utm_medium=email

An addendum: I am not sure if the reservation deadline has already passed, but if you want to eat on the premises right before the concert, it can’t hurt to call right away if you are interested.

There is an appealing pre-concert dinner from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Studio of the Overture Center. And the menu of roast chicken with peach and walnut chutney or roast salmon with tomato chutney plus rice pilaf, green beans and chocolate mousse for dessert looks to The Ear to be pretty tasty and satisfying for a mid-winter meal. The cost is $33 per person. For reservations, call 257-0638.

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/2013-2014_pre-concert_dinners/

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