The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society again brings its surefire summery approach to serious classical chamber music when it starts its 28th annual series this weekend

June 11, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s not just the calendar that makes the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society the official start of the increasingly busy summer classical musical season in Madison.

The real reason is that the summer chamber music series, about to start its 28th annual summer this Friday night, June 14, is downright summery in its approach.

Say “summer,” and you think of lightness, of fun, of playfulness. And those are the very same qualities – along with serious, first-rate performances of great music by outstanding musicians – that BDDS brings to its six programs spread out in 12 concerts over three weekends and three venues during the month of June.

By now both the performers (below, in a photo by Dick Ainsworth for BDDS) and the audiences know that the formula works, however finely tuned or slightly changed it is from one summer to the next.

WHAT’S THE SAME

This year much remains.

There are still door prizes, spoken introductions and stories, mystery guests and a colorful art installation by UW-Madison designer Carolyn Kallenborn.

The titles of the six programs for 12 concerts over three weekends still have groan-inducing puns — “Name Dropping” in the theme for this summer — that are based on the musicians’ names like “Founteneau of Youth” after the San Francisco cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau (below top) and “Quadruple Axel” after the Montreal-based violin virtuoso Axel Strauss (below bottom).

There are still the usual venues: the Playhouse in the Overture Center (below top); the Stoughton Opera House (below middle); and the Hillside Theater at Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright compound in Spring Green.

There are still the many distinguished and accomplished musicians among the many imported guest artists and the many local musicians, including the co-founders and co-artistic directors flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes (below). The Ear can’t recall ever hearing a bad BDDS performance, even of music he didn’t like.

And there is a mix of older well-known and classic repertoire along with newer and neglected composers and works.

WHAT’S NEW

But some things are different too.

The first concert this Friday will have a post-concert reception with free champagne and dessert to celebrate the 28th season.

This summer, unlike recent ones, there is no vocal music. All music is instrumental.

At both Stoughton and Spring Green, you can get food. Go to the home website for details.

Especially new and noteworthy is that the Russian virtuoso accordion player Stas Venglevski (below), from Milwaukee, will also perform on programs. Venglevski performs on the bayan, a Russian-style accordion noted for its deep bass sound and range and purity of tone.

Venglevski will be featured in works that range from polkas and heart-on-the-sleeve tangos by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky; down-and-dirty original works by Russian master Tatyana Sergeyeva and arrangements of favorite pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach and others.

This Wednesday night, June 12, from 7 to 9 p.m., Venglevski and Jutt will perform “Bayan-o-rama” at the Arts and Literature Lab, 2021 Winnebago Street. Tickets are $10 at the door. Refreshments will be served.

Here is a summary of the first weekend:

WEEK ONE

The elegance, charm, and finesse of French cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau is displayed in a program called “Fonteneau of Youth.”

It includes music written by great composers in their youth, including the ravishing Elegy for cello and piano of French composer Gabriel Fauré; the rhythmically exciting Trio for flute, cello and piano of living American composer Ned Rorem; and the astonishing D’un soir triste (One Sad Evening) and D’un matin de printemps (One Spring Morning), both for piano trio, of 21-year old Lili Boulanger (below), who was the Prix de Rome-winning composer sister of famed teacher Nadia Boulanger and who died very young. (You can hear both pieces by Lili Boulanger in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The great Franz Joseph Haydn—always the most youthful of composers, even into his late years—is represented by the masterful Piano Trio no. 28 in E major, in honor of BDDS’ 28th season.

“Fonteneau of Youth” will be performed at The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts on this Friday, June 14, at 7:30 p.m. A free champagne and dessert reception will be held following the performance to celebrate the 28th season opener. It will also be performed in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 16, at 2:30 p.m.

Audience favorite Axel Strauss—not just a virtuoso violinist, but a virtuoso musician and artist of the highest distinction—will brave gravity-defying musical heights in “Quadruple Axel.” Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Trio Sonata in D minor for violin, flute, cello and piano starts the program on an elegant note. Johannes Brahms’ fiery Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101, raises the temperature significantly. And all sorts of hijinks are on display in Maurice Ravel’s extraordinary and ravishing Sonata for Violin and Piano.

“Quadruple Axel” will be performed at The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 15, at 7:30 p.m. and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, Sunday, June 16, at 6:30 p.m.

For more information about the full BDDS season and how to purchase tickets ($43 and $49), go to: https://bachdancing.org


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Classical music: Prize-winning harpsichordist Joseph Gascho will perform J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Scarlatti and Rameau this Saturday night

February 23, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Joseph Gascho will give the Fourth Annual Mark Rosa Harpsichord Recital at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday night, Feb. 24, in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

Gascho (below), who won the Jurow International Harpsichord Competition in 2002, will perform works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Domenico Scarlatti and Jean-Philippe Rameau. (Except for the three-part “Ricercar” from J.S. Bach’s “The Musical Offering” — heard in the YouTube video at the bottom — no specific works have been mentioned.)

The featured instrument is the elegant 18th-century style French double-manual harpsichord made by Mark Rosa in Madison in 1979.

Admission is at the door: $20 for the genera public, $10 for seniors and students.

In 2014, Gascho joined the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance in 2014 as an assistant professor. Gascho enjoys a multi-faceted career as a solo and collaborative keyboardist, conductor, teacher and recording producer.

Featuring his own transcriptions of Bach, Handel, and Charpentier, his recent debut solo recording was praised in the American Record Guide for “bristling with sparking articulation, subtle but highly effective rubato, and other kinds of musical timing, and an enviable understanding of the various national styles of 17th and 18th century harpsichord music.”

As a student of Webb Wiggins and Arthur Haas, he earned masters and doctoral degrees in harpsichord from the Peabody Conservatory and the University of Maryland, where he also studied orchestral conducting with James Ross.

Recent highlights include performing with the National Symphony at Carnegie Hall, the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra, and conducting Mozart’s “Idomeneo” for the Maryland Opera Studio.  He has also conducted numerous operas from Monteverdi to Mozart for Opera Vivente.

At the Oberlin Conservatory’s Baroque Performance Institute, Gascho conducts the student orchestra, coaches chamber music, and teaches basso continuo. A strong proponent of technology in the arts, he has used computer-assisted techniques in opera productions, in a recent recording with the ensemble Harmonious Blacksmith and percussionist Glen Velez, and in his continuo classes.


Classical music: What is it like to play music with a spouse? Local wife-and-husband violinist and cellist open the winter Masterworks season of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with the Brahms Double Concerto this Friday night

January 22, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 7:30 p.m. — NOT 7 as first stated here mistakenly — in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, 201 State Street, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top) and music director-conductor Andrew Sewell (below bottom) will open the WCO’s winter Masterworks season.

The program is typical of Sewell’s eclecticism. It features well-known and lesser-known works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

It includes the Sinfonia in A minor by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach; the Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9, by Arnold Schoenberg; and the Double Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor, Op. 102, by Johannes Brahms.

Tickets run $15-$80 with $10 student tickets available.

For more information about the concert, the performers, tickets and pre-concert dinners, call (608) 257-0638 or go to the website:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-i-3/

The highlight of the concert is sure to be the wife-and-husband team who are soloists in the Brahms concerto. They are violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, and cellist Leonardo, or Leo, Altino, who teaches full-time at the Wheaton College Conservatory near Chicago and occasionally privately in Madison.  Together they have also recorded for the MSR Classics label the CD “En Voyage” with sonatas for violin and cello by Zoltan Kodaly, Maurice Ravel and Paul Desenne.

If a small ensemble such as a string quartet or piano trio has special personal dynamics to contend with, imagine how intense a husband-and-wife pairing can be.

What is it like for spouses to make music together?

That is what The Ear wanted to explore and the two soloists (below) graciously responded with the following Q&A:

Is playing together any different from playing separately or alone? How so?

Soh-Hyun: Playing together and separately are completely different experiences because of the types of listening that are involved. When we play together, our ears are immediately drawn to how our playing is matched or not in terms of articulation, shape, and decay of the notes and phrases.

We have different strengths and weaknesses that we’re now well aware of after 16 years of playing together, and we naturally rely on each other’s strengths in preparing for performances.  We have played together a lot in string quartets, piano trios  and also as a duo; I definitely feel at ease if Leo is part of the ensemble.

Leo: Absolutely! Allow me to explain it this way. Preparing for a concert is much like preparing a great meal. There are a lot of steps that go into it. You must have a clear idea or vision of what dishes you want to serve, how they complement each other, what ingredients to get, the quality of the ingredients, the proportions when combining, prepping the ingredients and on and on.

Playing together is like cooking with someone whom you’ve cooked with for decades. We anticipate each other’s moves a lot better. There is little explaining needed. We have performed together during the entirety of our marriage, and it has brought us closer together musically and emotionally. We come easily to agreement on musical issues, but we also agree philosophically – why we play and how we view each performance. We also support each other a lot and have become each other’s best teacher.

How do you resolve differences of interpretation and other issues in a given work or score?

Leo: We try each other’s ideas wholeheartedly. We make sure to give our best effort to each other’s ideas, make suggestions and try again if necessary, and often record ourselves playing so that we can be more objective. Then we make the decisions together. Sometimes, we simply go with the person with the stronger opinion about a passage.

Soh-Hyun: In the beginning of our relationship, we used to talk a lot to explain our interpretations and how to play them. Now we are convinced that the end results that we want in any passages are pretty similar; therefore, there is less talking and more trusting.

From time to time when our ideas do seem different, we go straight to recording ourselves and listen to it together. That usually stops any further arguments.  On a practical level, as parents of a seven-year-old, rehearsing together is often costly; we either need a babysitter or rehearse late in the evening. This encourages us to be efficient in our discussions and listen better in order to resolve our differences.

What role has making music together played in your relationship and your marriage?

Leo: Because we’ve played so much together, we have learned a lot about one another – how we think, what we value, each other’s pet peeves, etc. Music has helped us learn to talk – even resolve conflicts – about things that we each feel passionate about in a constructive way. (You can hear them play part of the Piano Trio No. 2 by Felix Mendelssohn in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Soh-Hyun: We are both teachers of music, and that means that we are in the business of helping others listen and play better. I think in the first several years of our relationship, I used to struggle a lot with receiving constructive criticism from Leo. I guess I felt as though I should have been able to fix the problems myself.

But now I feel lucky that I can have a free lesson whenever I want. It’s common that I will pop into the kitchen and say, “Which sounds better?” and play a few different versions of a passage. Leo gives me his preference and even tries out the passage holding my violin like a cello (which, by the way, I don’t always feel at ease about).

What else would you like to say about performing together, the Brahms Double Concerto, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or any other topic?

Leo: This was the first piece we performed together after we got married. It’s wonderful to go back to it after all these years. Writing a concerto for two solo instruments is a big challenge for any composer. The way Brahms (below) wrote for the violin and cello is almost like describing the relationship between two people who know each other deeply. Each has a unique personality. The two argue, but ultimately discover how to have a unified voice.

For example, the concerto begins with a dramatic cadenza in the cello, which winds down at the end to prepare for the more introspective entrance of the violin. The two instruments exchange ideas, raise their voices, and soon culminate in a unified manner at the end of their cadenza to invite the orchestra in.

It is a powerful and beautiful piece. I also think that great composers like Brahms wrote pieces like this almost like a tone poem in that every voice has a very significant role. Often during the concerto, even while the soloists are playing, other instruments may have equal or more important parts.

BOTH: It’s an honor to perform the Double Concerto with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and conductor Andrew Sewell, and we’re really looking forward to our working together this week.


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Classical music: Two performances of the annual Winter Choral Concert, to benefit the homeless, are this Sunday afternoon at 2 and 4. Other UW groups also perform during a busy end-of-semester week

November 29, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

As always happens towards the end of a semester, the tempo of the performances at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music picks up and accelerates.

One highlight this week is two performances of a traditional choral concert.

Under conductor and UW choral program director Beverly Taylor (below), six of seven UW-Madison choirs — Chorale, Concert Choir, Madrigal Singers, University Chorus, Women’s Chorus, Masters Singers – will perform their annual winter concert twice this Sunday afternoon.

The two performances, at 2 and 4 p.m., will be at Luther Memorial Church, located at 1021 University Avenue.

Consider arriving early since these concerts are often very well attended.

Choirs will perform choral works as individual ensembles and jointly.

Holiday carols are part of the program and concert-goers are invited to sing along.

Sorry, but no composers or titles of works have been provided.

Professor John Chappell Stowe (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) will perform organ music for the season.

A free-will offering is accepted at the end of the program with proceeds after expenses donated to “The Road Home,” an organization that provides housing and food to homeless families.

THURSDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, guest artists flutist Patricia Surman (below) and pianist Michel Keller will give a FREE recital. There is no word on the program, but if you want to know more background about the two musicians, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-recital-patricia-surman-flute/

FRIDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW bassoonist Marc Vallon (below top, in a photo by James Gill) will perform a FREE program called “Breaking New Ground” that features the music of Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, Anton Webern and Yannis Xenakis among others. UW pianist Christopher Taylor (below bottom) will also play the last piano sonata, No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111, by Ludwig van Beethoven.

For the complete program, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/breaking-ground-with-marc-vallon-and-friends/

 

SATURDAY

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the All-University Strings (below in a photo by Jeff Miller of the UW-Madison), which is made up of students from all fields and not just music, will perform a FREE concert under conductor Matt Chan. No word on composers or works on the program.

SUNDAY

At 12:30 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3 of the Chazen Museum of Art, the Wingra Wind Quartet will perform on “Sunday Live at the Chazen.” Admission is free.

The program includes: “Piano Piece” by Richard Strauss and arranged by Marc Vall0n; Wind Quintet by Theodor Blumer; “Eight Etudes and a Fantasy for Woodwind Quartet” by Elliott Carter; “Opus Number Zoo” by Luciano Berio.

Members (below, from left, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) are: Marc Vallon, bassoon; Timothy Hagen, flute;  Alicia Lee, clarinet; Aaron Hill, oboe; and Joanna Schulz, horn.

You can digitally stream the concert live by going to this website: https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/sunday-afternoon-live-with-the-wingra-wind-quintet/

For more background about the Wingra Wood Quintet, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/wingra-woodwind-quintet/

At 1 p.m in Mills Hall, the UW Concert Band (below top), under conductor Scott Teeple, will perform a FREE concert.The program features UW trombonist Mark Hetzler (below bottom). The program includes “Psalm for Band” by Vincent Persichetti (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom)  “Silver Lining” by Anne McAninch, a UW doctoral student in composition; and “Falling” by Mark Hetzler.

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, University Bands will perform a FREE concert. No word on the program.

MONDAY

At 8:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, the UW Early Music Ensemble, under director Jeanne Swack will mark the 250th anniversary of the death of Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann (below) by performing music of Telemann, Johann Joachim Quantz, Barbara Strozzi and Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre. No word on a specific program. For more information, go to: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/early-music-ensemble-3/


Classical music: On Saturday, the UW-Madison hosts a FREE and PUBLIC day of workshops, master classes and performances for pianists and other keyboard players

March 1, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Attention all pianists– amateurs, professionals and students — as well as other keyboard players.

This Saturday brings the first University of Wisconsin-Madison “Keyboard Day.”  The focus is comprehensive, having the title “From the Practice Room to the Stage: The Pathway to Artistry.”(The official logo is below.)

pathways-to-artistry-logo

The underlying reason may be to attract and recruit talented undergraduate students to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. But the net effect is that a lot of wisdom about keyboard playing – from practicing to performing — will be on display to be shared with those who attend.

All events are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Steinway Grand Piano

The event takes place in Morphy Recital Hall from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Here is a schedule:

9:30-10 a.m. Coffee and Pastries (Mills Lobby)

10 a.m.-noon UW-Madison Keyboard Faculty Workshops

Strategies for Learning a New Piece with Professor Martha Fischer (below top) and Professor Jess Johnson (below bottom)

Getting Inside a Composer’s Head with Professor John Stowe

Beyond Repetitive Drilling: Custom Exercises for Every Difficult Passage with Professor Christopher Taylor

Mindfulness and Self-Compassion in the Practice Room with Professor Martha Fischer and Professor Jess Johnson

Martha Fischer color Katrin Talbot

jessica johnson at piano

1:30-3:30 p.m. Master class for high school students with UW-Madison keyboard faculty

Etude in E major, Op. 10, No. 3 by Frederic Chopin; Yunyao Zhu, a student of Kangwoo Jin

Sonata in G major, Op. 49, No. 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven. George Logan, a student of Liz Agard

Sposalizio, by Franz Liszt. Owen Ladd, a student of  William Lutes

Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31, by Frederic Chopin. Jacob Beranek, a student of Margarita Kontorovsky

Morphy Hall 2

3:30-4 p.m. Reception in Mills Lobby

4-5 p.m. Recital featuring UW-Madison Keyboard Faculty

Sonata, Wq. 49 No. 5 by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788). From Sei Sonate, Op. 2 (1744). John Chappell Stowe, harpsichord (below top)

Quasi Variazioni. Andantino de Clara Wieck by Robert Schumann (1810-1856) from Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 14. Jess Johnson, piano. *Performed on a Steinbuhler DS 5.0 TM (“7/8”) alternatively-sized piano keyboard.

Don Quixote a Dulcinea (1933) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) Poetry by Paul Morand. Paul Rowe, baritone, and Martha Fischer, piano

The Banjo by Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869). Christopher Taylor, piano (below middle). You can hear the piece in the YouTube video at the bottom. Taylor will also play “Ojos criollos” (Creole Eyes) and “Pasquinade” by the American composer Gottschalk.

Nature Boy by George Alexander “eden ahbez” Aberle (1908-1895) Johannes Wallmann, jazz piano (below bottom)

BATC2 John Chappelle Stowe and Edith Hines

Christopher Taylor new profile

johannes wallmann playing


Classical music: Minimalist pioneer Steve Reich turns 80 and now finds his music in the mainstream. Plus, here is the program for the clavichord concert on Sunday

November 5, 2016
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ALERT: The Ear has received late notice of the program for the clavichord concert on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. in the Gates of Heaven Synagogue in James Madison Park.

The music, to be played by early music specialist David Schrader of Roosevelt University in Chicago, includes the Partita No. 5 in G Major, BWV 829, by Johann Sebastian Bach; the Sonata in C Major, K. 330, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Sonata No. 44 in G minor by Franz Joseph Haydn; and the Sonata in A minor by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach.

For more information about the unusual concert, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/classical-music-a-rare-early-music-recital-on-a-locally-built-clavichord-is-this-sunday-afternoon-at-the-gates-of-heaven-synagogue/

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is another better-late-than-never posting.

Composer Steve Reich, along with Philip Glass, was one of the pioneering giants of minimalism in classical music, which in turn influenced even pop music icons such as David Bowie and Brian Eno. (You can hear Part 1 of his influential and hypnotic work “Drumming” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

steve-reich-2016

Last month Steve Reich turned 80.

Here is a story that traces the evolution of Reich’s career and art — including his reliance on rhythm, his use of percussion and words, and his exploration and rediscovery of Judaism — from the Deceptive Cadence blog for National Public Radio (NPR):

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/10/09/496552301/steve-reich-at-80-the-phases-of-a-lifetime-in-music

And here is another story from The New York Times that covers Reich past, present and future:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/02/arts/music/steve-reich-at-80-still-plugged-in-still-plugging-away.html?_r=0

Enjoy!


Classical music: It’s easy but wrong to underestimate Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann.” It is literally fantastic but NOT light. It will be performed by Madison Opera on Friday night and Sunday afternoon. Part 2 of 2.

April 13, 2016
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the historic Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature music for baroque and modern flute and strings  with Iva Ugrcic, Thalia Combs, Biffa Kwok, Joshua Dierigner, Mikko Rankin Utevsky, Andrew Briggs and Satoko Hayami. They will play music by Georg Philipp Telemann, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, Salvatore Sciarrino and Andre Jolivet.

By Jacob Stockinger

As The Ear posted yesterday, the Madison Opera will present Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann” this weekend.

The production will be performed twice in Overture Hall of the Overture Center: on Friday at 8 p.m.; and on 
Sunday at 2:30 p.m. It will be sung in French with projected English translations

Tickets are $18-$129. Student and group discounts are available. Tickets can be purchased at the Overture Box Office, 201 State St., Madison, and by calling (608) 258-4141 or visiting www.madisonopera.org

For more information, here is a link to yesterday’s post with a plot synopsis and information about the cast:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/classical-music-jacques-offenbachs-fantastical-masterpiece-the-tales-of-hoffmann-will-be-performed-by-madison-opera-performs-friday-night-and-sunday-afternoon-here-is-part/

Today, The Ear asked the same questions to the two main figures in the production: Artistic and music director John DeMain and guest stage director Kristine McIntyre.

Here are their answers:

JOHN DeMAIN (below)

DeMainOpera

“Tales of Hoffmann” has the reputation of being a “lighter” opera. How justified and accurate is that opinion in your view, and what do you think explains it?

Hoffmann is Offenbach’s grand opus. I’ve never thought of this work as a light opera. To me, light opera has spoken dialogue and the music is distinctly lighter in nature, like operetta.

Where the confusion lies here is, for me, no different than with George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Both composers use popular resources, at times, to tell the story.

Hoffmann is a serious themed piece. Two people are literally murdered, and the mechanical doll is also destroyed. Hoffmann’s soul is condemned to hell, as his pursuit of love is rebuffed at every term. The devil is present throughout as well.

What Hoffmann is, however, is highly theatrical. Magic is present, as well as the supernatural. It is at times ghoulish and macabre, but always entertaining. The Olympia scene with party guests and a mechanical doll — at bottom in a YouTube video — is the lightest scene in nature, as Hoffmann is being duped at a social gathering.

Move into Antonia, and from the beginning the music is serious and profound with two thrilling trios. Giulietta, which has always been the sketchiest act, because of missing music and an incomplete libretto, nevertheless is thrillingly operatic in scope.

Hoffmann is very much like Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata in design, particularly in the progression of Hoffmann’s loves, as embodied in the sopranos who sings all four roles. Olympia is coloratura, just like Violetta in the first act singing “Sempre libera.” Antonia is lyric, corresponding to Violetta in the second act, and Giulietta is the most dramatic, just as in the third act of the Verdi.

The beautiful final ensemble at the end of the Epilogue is also not the stuff of light opera. Offenbach, as a composer, is true to his musical style, but achieves the greatest depth of his writing in this wonderful grand opera.

Madison Opera Hoffmann set 1

What would you like the public to know about the opera and about the musical aspects of the Madison Opera production including the singers, the orchestra and the score?

The orchestra highlights the drama at every given turn, literally changing tempos on a dime. Leitmotifs are used throughout the piece.

The music is wonderfully melodic, with the entire cast having beautiful arias, duets and trios. It has long been a favorite opera of mine because it so accurately portrays the story in vivid and unmistakable musical terms.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

KRISTINE MCINTYRE (below)

Kristine McIntyre 2016

Jacques Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann” has the reputation of being a “lighter” opera? How justified and accurate is that opinion in your view, and what do you think explains it?

Well, “lighter” compared to what? Than Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking or Leos Janacek’s Jenufa, certainly. But it’s not a comedy either, and certainly any of the classic operatic comedies, such as Gioacchino Rossini‘s The Barber of Seville, feels perfectly frothy in comparison.

I think this is an easy opera to underestimate because the piece is so theatrical in its storytelling. But Offenbach (below) is actually exploring some very dark themes, as was E.T.A. Hoffmann before him.

E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original tales are fantastical and highly imaginative, but they are also vivid and insightful examinations of human psychology. He exposes our darkest fears and how that darkness intrudes into our everyday lives and our attempts to find love and happiness. I think E.T.A. Hoffmann is particularly insightful at revealing the fragility of his male protagonists and their insecurities where women and love are concerned.

The Olympia act, for instance, is really about a young man’s fear that he has been deceived, that he’s been made a fool of — that he can’t trust the girl he loves and doesn’t know what’s real or what’s not.

The story on which it is based, “The Sandman,” is even more horrifying than Offenbach’s setting: the young man simply can’t get over having fallen in love with the automaton, believes his very human fiancée is actually a machine, tries to kill her and eventually commits suicide by throwing himself from a balcony.

Jacques Offenbach seated

So one should not confuse creativity in storytelling with a lack of seriousness. There is a great tradition, stretching back to the early 19th century, of writers of fantastical literature and science fiction asking some of the hardest questions about human nature and providing some of the most compelling insights.

That tradition now extends to film and we’ve spent some time in rehearsal talking about how movies like Blade Runner and Ex Machina explore some of the same issues.

Offenbach is a man of the theater and gives us music that is just as compelling and theatrical as the tales themselves. This music is fun to stage and listen to, but while Offenbach is entertaining us with his delightful French melodies, his main character, Hoffmann, has his heart broken three times, causes the death of his fiancée, becomes an alcoholic, murders a rival and loses his soul. So the opera definitely has its tragic side.

And we shouldn’t forget that Offenbach balances the fantasy of the tales with the framework of the Prologue and Epilogue and the completely recognizable, human story of Hoffmann’s doomed relationship with his girlfriend Stella. They’ve had a fight and he’s terrified of losing her. In the tales, he is actually telling us Stella’s story over and over again as he tries to make sense of what has happened.

The opera could easily end in tragedy and despair, but instead Offenbach offers us a glass of champagne and a balm for the human condition. (Below is the Roaring 20s set.)

Madison Opera Hoffmann set 3

What would you like the public to know about the opera and about the theatrical aspects of the Madison Opera production including acting, costumes, sets, etc.?

Almost everyone in our cast is doing their roles for the first time, so we’re having a great time in rehearsal exploring every moment of the piece.

This will be a very high-energy, inventive and creative telling of the opera. The production is updated to the 1920s, which is great fun – beautiful costumes and lots of wonderful inspiration from art and cinema of the period.

For instance, we’ve been looking at the paintings of Otto Dix, which capture the élan and decadence of the 1920s, and classic horror films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu to find the darker side of things for the Antonia act. It’s a very rich period visually and offers us a great deal of style as well as the chance to make something that feels very alive and fresh.

I think it will be very entertaining and also very moving.

Madison Opera Hoffmann set 2


Classical music: Starting off the New Year, can you identify the opening of certain works of music? Here is an NPR puzzler to open 2015.

January 10, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

What is a good way to start off the New Year musically?

There are always the New Year’s Day celebrations from Vienna with the Vienna Philharmonic. They get broadcast on PBS and also National Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here is a link to a preview of this year’s celebrations:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/classical-music-dance-into-2015-this-morning-and-tonight-with-waltzes-and-more-from-vienna-on-public-radio-and-tv/

Golden Hall in Vienna

But this year sees another way, an intriguing and original way, to mark the new year: A quiz about how great works of classical music begin and whether you can recognize them right away.

Female Orchestra Conductor With Baton

So here is The New Year Puzzler from the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR.

Go ahead.

Take it and see how well you do.

The Ear wants to hear.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/01/06/375127303/getting-off-to-a-good-start-a-new-years-puzzler

And below is a popular YouTube video, with 2.5 million hits, of one of my favorite and most inspired and dramatic openings that should be immediately recognizable:

 

 


Classical music: Need gift suggestions? NPR names its Top 10 classical music albums of 2014. Plus, though Dec. 24 the Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering cut-rate holiday tickets for four spring concerts.

December 14, 2014
2 Comments

ALERT: The Madison Symphony Orchestra has started its annual holiday cut-rate ticket sale. And you can get some great deals. Between now and Christmas Eve (Dec. 24), you can buy seats for $20 (with a value up to $44) and $45 (valued up to $88). The spring has four concerts, two of which feature piano concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt plus a concert of music by exiles from Nazi Germany in Hollywood during World War II and the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven and a violin concerto by Leonard Bernstein. For more information, visit: http://www.overturecenter.org/events/madison-symphony-orchestra/

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, today is another Shopping Day left before Christmas and other holidays.

With that in mind, The Ear usually offers lists that other media suggest about the best classical music recordings of 2014.

If you recall, I have already posed a link to the 57th annual Grammy Award nominations, which can be useful when it comes to holiday gift-giving.

Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/classical-music-the-57th-annual-grammy-award-nominations-provide-a-useful-guide-to-holiday-gift-giving/

grammy award BIG

And below is a link to the Top 10 classical albums that appeared on the appeared on the NPR (National Public Radio) blog Deceptive Cadence over the weekend. It is an eclectic list that features early music, well-known classics and new music.

You will find music by composers John Dowland, John Adams (below and at bottom in a YouTube video), John Luther Adams and Thomas Adès as well as Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen.

John Adams

Performers include violinist Augustin Hadelich (below), who has played twice with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and Leon Fleisher, who performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater; mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato; the New York Philharmonic under music director and conductor Alan Gilbert; and the Danish String Quartet playing works by Danish composers.

Augustin Hadelich 1

The list also shows CD covers and feature sound snippets and samples.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/12/11/370067981/best-classical-albums-of-2014

 


Classical music: The venerable early music group Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble celebrates the 300th birthday of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach with fine style and revealing contexts that anticipate Mozart and Beethoven. Plus, many UW-Madison choirs perform two performances of a one-hour seasonal program in FREE “Choral Prism” concert this Sunday afternoon at 2 and again at 4.

December 5, 2014
2 Comments

ALERT: Two one-hour performances of the FREE Choral Prism Concert, featuring all of UW-Madison choral choirs, will take place on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church (below), 1021 University Ave. Performing short pieces of seasonal music — winter,  Christmas, Hanukkah — under conductor and director Beverly Taylor are the UW Chorale, UW Concert Choir, UW Madrigal Singers, UW Masters Singers and Women’s Chorus Opera and Voice. There is an optional sing-along for the audience. Sorry, The Ear has received no word on specific composers and works.

luther memorial church madison

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 20 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

After almost 25 years, as the first and longest-surviving group bringing early music to Madison on a regular basis, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) is still going strong.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble 2014

And two days after Thanksgiving, on the tail end of a University of Wisconsin-Madison football game, it came up with a remarkably rich and generous program, performed at a familiar venue, the historic Gates of Heaven synagogue (below) in James Madison Park.

Gates of Heaven

Part of the richness was the idea of a partial theme: commemorating the 300th anniversary year of the birth of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (below, 1714-1788).

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in 1733 painted by Gottfriend Friedrich Bach, a relative

Of eight program slots, three were devoted to C.P.E.’s music.  The opening item was a Trio Sonata in D minor, for two flutes and basso continuo, played by flutists Brett Lipshitz and Monica Steger, with cellist Anton TenWolde cellist (below) and harpsichordist Max Yount. (You can hear the Trio Sonata in D minor at the bottom in a YouTube video.)

anton tenwolde

Written during C.P.E.’s service to the flute-obsessed Frederick the Great of Prussia, it is a conservative piece that still looks back to the late Baroque styles of the composer’s famous father, Johann Sebastian Bach. On the other hand, three short practice Sonatinas from the very end of C.P.E.’s life (played by Yount) can be related to the piano sonatas that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was writing exactly at the same time.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

Most fascinating of all, however, was a Sonata for Viola da gamba and Harpsichord obligato, dating from 1759.  An intricate and demanding work, it has its own musical substance, the opening of which Eric Miller (below, in photo by Katrin Talbot) brought off brilliantly, with Yount.  But clearly as a duet for two equal instruments (abandoning the old keyboard continuo function), it gave hints of Ludwig van Beethoven’s cello sonatas, to come a half-century and more later.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble Eric Miller USE THIS by Katrin Talbot

As against the works of the birthday boy, instrumental pieces by three other composers were offered, composers roughly parallel in lifespan to C.P.E., but whose individual differences made nice contrasts to the latter’s style.

Rather conventionally post-Baroque was a sonata for cello and bass by the Dutch composer Pieter Hellendaal (1721-1799).  But pre-Classical virtuosity was the hallmark of a Sonata for traverse flute and continuo by Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721-1783), played with wonderful flair by Lipshutz, with Steger shifting to the harpsichord as partner.

Particularly interesting, though, was a chamber work by a dimly remembered French composer of the day, Louis-Gabriel Guillemain (1705-1770). The scoring of this sonata pitted a seemingly unbalanced trio of two flutes and gamba against the basso continuo: the manipulations of color and texture were full of wit and cleverness, especially in the last of its four movements.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble flutist Brett Lipshutz and Monica Steger BW

There were also two vocal works, for some added contrast.  Soprano Consuelo Sañudo (below) sang a cantata, on a text about tempestuous love by slightly earlier Baroque French master Michel Piglet de Montéclair.  She displayed in this her usual combination of precision and stylistic flair.

Consuelo Sañudo

And then, for the program’s closer, she sang a Spanish “villancico” by Juan Hidalgo de Polanco, whose life span (1614-1685) was almost exactly identical with C.P.E. Bach’s, by one century earlier.  This was, in fact, composed for four vocal parts with basso continuo, but for this the other three vocal parts were rendered instrumentally, thus bringing the full group of six performers together in a grand finale.

This was, in all, an unusually long program, but one filled with surprises, discoveries and delights. It proved another reminder of the WBE’s endless gifts to Madison’s musical life.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble BW 2013

 


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