The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This Friday night, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra closes its season with a dark and unorthodox symphony by Shostakovich as well as lighter suites by Bizet and Debussy

May 6, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top) ends its winter Masterworks season this coming Friday night, May 10, at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

And it is going out in a big, eclectic way.

The WCO will perform under the baton of music director Andrew Sewell (below).

Sewell and the WCO will be joined by two guest singers: soprano Mary Mackenzie, a former Madison resident and member of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO); (below top); and the Grammy-nominated bass Timothy Jones (below bottom).

Both critically acclaimed singers are familiar to Madison audiences from past appearances with the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, the Madison Opera, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and previous appearances with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

They will all join in the major work that opens the concert, the Symphony No. 14, Op. 135, by Dmitri Shostakovich (below), his penultimate symphony that runs about 50 minutes and is highly unorthodox in its form.

Shostakovich wrote his symphony in 1969, and dedicated it to the British composer Benjamin Britten.

Perhaps to avoid more confrontations with the government of the USSR and perhaps to critique global events such as war,  the composer gave it a very international flavor.

Written for strings and percussion with vocal soloists, the symphony is composed in 11 movements. It is also set to poetry by the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire (below top), the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca (below middle) and the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (below bottom). In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear a live recording of the first movement from the work’s world premiere in Moscow in 1969.

In the late work, Shostakovich (below, in 1950) – always suspect by the Soviet state and in danger during the Stalinist Terror — seeks to portray the idea of unjust and premature death that aroused deep feelings of protest in him. Shostakovich emphasized, however, that it was not out of pessimism that he turned to the problem of mortality but in the name of life on this earth.

The concert concludes on a lighter, more upbeat note by celebrating the innocence and joy of youth in two charming suites: “Jeux d’enfants” (Children’s Games), Op. 22, by Georges Bizet and the “Petite Suite” (Little Suite) by Claude Debussy.

Tickets are $12-$80. To buy tickets and to see more information about the program and detailed biographies of the performers, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-v-4/


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Classical music: Don’t miss tango weekend at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society

June 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

If there was ever a genre of music created specifically for the talented, eclectic and fun-loving musicians of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, it is surely the tango.

It is hard to imagine a more perfect kind of music because it seems so suited to the temperament of the BDDS and its participants. The tango and BDDS simply seem made for each other.

BDDS 25th poster

The sexy and sensual tango has become both a popular and populist form of South American dance music. It started in brothels and then went mainstream. Then it crossed over into the classical repertoire, thanks to composers Astor Piazzolla, Carlos Guastavino and others.

If you have heard the BDDS perform tangos before, you know how captivating the performances are.

This weekend, the BDDS Silver Jubilee season will feature two programs with tangos, arranged by Pablo Zinger (below), a Uruguayan native who now calls New York City home.

Pablo Zinger at piano

Last time they performed, Zinger and his BDDS colleagues were absolutely terrific. The Ear will never forget the BDDS version of Piazzolla’s “Oblivion,” a fantastic, soulful and heart-breaking piece of music. (You can hear another version of “Oblivion” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here are links to the program with tango this weekend to be performed at the Playhouse in the Overture Center and in the Hillside Theatre (below) at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org/schedule.php

taliesin_hillside2

Besides tangos, there will also be music by Maurice Ravel (Piano Trio); Arnold Schoenberg (Chamber Symphony); Franz Schubert (Piano Trio No. 1); Joseph Haydn (Piano Trio No. 25, “Gypsy Rondo”); and movie music by Nino Rota, Henry Mancini and Luis Bacalov.

But featured prominently are tangos by Uruguayan composer Miguel del Aguila (below top) and by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla (below bottom), who turned to the tango of his native land at the advice of Nadia Boulanger, the famous French teacher of Aaron Copland, Philip Glass and others.

Miguel del Aguila

astor piazzolla

If you are looking for a preview sample, you can of course go on YouTube. But you could also listen to the new CD of South American tangos by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Stephanie Jutt, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who is also principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Not long ago, Jutt (below) spent a sabbatical year in Argentina, if The Ear recalls correctly. She clearly fell in love with tango music and is anxious to share her enthusiasm with others. That enthusiasm and her flair for the dance form show in the terrific performances on the CD.

Stephanie Jutt with flute

The new CD (below), on the Albany label, features pianists Elena Abend and the versatile arranger-pianist Pablo Zinger, whom you can hear live this weekend. It features 20 modern Latin American and Spanish works by Piazzolla and Guastavino as well as by Angel Lasada, the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and the Basque composer Jesus Guridi. (It is on sale at BDDS concerts for $15.)

Stephanie Jutt tango CD

Dance has always inspired classical music. Historically, the tango seems a natural modern progression from the Baroque minuets and allemandes of Johann Sebastian Bach, the Classical landler of Haydn, the Romantic waltzes of Franz Schubert and Frederic Chopin, the Hungarian Dances of Johannes Brahms and the Slavonic Dances of Antonin Dvorak.

But don’t take The Ear’s word for it.

Go listen for yourself. And be captivated, be transported. You won’t be disappointed.


Classical music: The Ear praises UW student recitals but offers four suggestions to help them reach the public.

October 30, 2015
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ALERT: This Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Chamber Orchestra will perform a FREE and PUBLIC concert under the baton of UW-Madison professor James Smith. The program features the Chamber Symphony for Strings, arranged by Rudolf Barshai from a string quartet, by Dmitri Shostakovich and the Serenade for Strings by Antonin Dvorak.

By Jacob Stockinger

A week ago, The Ear went to a terrific piano recital by Sara Giusti (below), a graduate student who is pursuing her doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who studies with UW virtuoso Christopher Taylor.

Sara Giusti bowing

It took place, as most student recitals do, in Morphy Recital Hall (at bottom), and was a fine performance that both she and her teacher can be proud of.

The Partita No. 4 in G Major by Johann Sebastian Bach was articulated well and was pedaled beautifully and very judiciously. The Sonata in B Minor by Franz Joseph Haydn had the right touch of lightness and humor to its minor-key pathos. The later sonata, Op. 78, by Ludwig van Beethoven was lyrical where it needed to be and structural where it needed to be. And the rarely heard Sonata No. 4 by Sergei Prokofiev had the requisite bite, at the same time melding both Romanticism and Modernism.

Sara Giusti playing

But the event got The Ear thinking, as did the relatively small audience of two to three dozen listeners.

We are lucky there are so many good student recitals at the UW. They are usually high in quality, plus they are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

The Ear is especially pleased that they are now being listed on the School of Music website and Calendar of Events, which allows listeners to choose and plan. Here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

BUT:

Too many of the student programs say the performances will feature music by such-and-such composers. They don’t give you the actual pieces.

The Ear finds that frustrating. The actual program would help him, and he presumes others, to decide about which concerts to attend. For example, he ended up going to Sara Giusti’s recital as a leap of faith since the advance notice listed only works by Bach, Beethoven, Haydn and Prokofiev –- and all were prolific composers. Luckily, someone else recommended her.

Take the examples of two upcoming student recitals.

Pianist Jason Kutz (below), who performs on Friday, Dec. 4, at 6:30 p.m., gets it right. His advance notice says he will perform the 24 Preludes, Op. 34, by Dmitri Shostakovich and the “Davidbundlertanze” by Robert Schumann. What a terrific and unusual program of contrasting styles. The Ear will be going.

jason kutz at piano

Chan Mi Jean, who will perform on Monday, Nov. 23 at 8:30 p.m., gets it wrong. Her notice says she will “perform chamber pieces by Brahms, Ravel, Bernstein and Previn.” That offers some help but, without specifics, not enough. What pieces? What are the other instruments — cello, violin viola, voice? The Ear needs to know more to decide about attending, though he is leaning towards going.

So here are four suggestions for students -– and even for faculty members — offered in a spirit of enthusiasm and helpfulness, from The Ear:

PLEASE GET YOUR RECITAL LISTED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE ON THE SCHOOL OF MUSIC WEB SITE CALENDAR. THE SOONER, THE BETTER.

PLEASE DO NOT BE VAGUE, BUT INSTEAD LIST SPECIFIC COMPOSERS AND SPECIFIC PIECES ON YOUR PROGRAM.

PLEASE THINK ABOUT THE PUBLIC AND, WHENEVER POSSIBLE, CHOOSE BETTER, MORE CONVENIENT TIMES FOR YOUR RECITAL. 8:30 SEEMS LATE. 6:30 IS DINNER HOUR. SOMEHOW 7 OR 7:30 OR 8 SEEMS PREFERABLE. I’M SURE LOGISTICS AND COMPETING EVENTS ARE INVOLVED. BUT BETTER TIMES, ESPECIALLY ON WORK DAYS, WILL BRING A BETTER PUBLIC TURNOUT.

ALONG SIMILAR LINES, PLEASE DO NOT KEEP THE PUBLIC WAITING TO GET INTO THE HALL UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE. IF YOU ARE NOT WARMED UP OR REHEARSED ENOUGH BY A HALF-HOUR OR 15 MINUTES BEFORE SHOW TIME, ANOTHER 5 OR 10 MINUTES WON’T HELP. AND IT IS RUDE TO LEAVE THE PUBLIC WAITING OUT IN THE HALLWAY, WHICH GETS COLD IN WINTER AND ONLY HAS A FEW BENCHES TO SIT ON.

That said, The Ear wishes the best to the gifted students at the UW. They give successful recitals and he hopes that they want to share their talent and hard work, as well as the music, with the largest public possible.

Morphy Hall 2

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and piano soloist Ilya Yakushev excel in a varied program. But audience members should do better at observing concert etiquette. Plus, retired UW-Madison bass-baritone Sam Jones dies at 87.

January 26, 2015
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ALERT: Sad news has reached The Ear. Samuel M. Jones, a bass-baritone who was an exceptional performer and teacher at the UW-Madison School of Music for 37 years and who also served as the cantor at Temple Beth El and the Choral Director at Grace Episcopal Church, has died at 87. Here is a link to the obituary in the Wisconsin State Journal:

http://m.host.madison.com/news/local/obituaries/jones-dr-samuel-m-jr/article_8a445e98-0cf3-5112-bd72-8840b58a0399.html?mobile_touch=true

Samuel M. Jones

By Jacob Stockinger

On Friday night, The Ear couldn’t be in two places at once.

Being in the mood for some solo piano playing – because The Ear himself is an avid amateur pianist – he attended the solo recital of works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt, William Bolcom and Johannes Brahms performed by UW-Madison School of Music professor Christopher Taylor. But more about that will come in another post this week.

However, Larry Wells — a college classmate and good friend who is a longtime and very knowledgeable classical music follower and who has worked, lived and attended concerts in Rochester, San Francisco, Moscow, Tokyo and Seoul — went to the concert Friday night by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

He filed this review:

WisconsinChamberOrchestrainCapitolTHeaterlobby

By Larry Wells

The program opened with a short introduction by Maestro Andrew Sewell, the longtime music director and conductor of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, to the “English Suite” for string orchestra by the contemporary British composer Paul Lewis. (Sewell himself is a New Zealand native who also trained in England.)

Paul Lewis composer

Although the work was termed by Sewell as an obligatory form for British composers in the manner of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edward Elgar and the like, I found the rhapsodic opening and closing of the second section, “Meditation,” reminiscent of VW’s “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.” But the remainder of the piece seemed trite and forgettable.

Following was the Concerto No. 1 in D Minor for keyboard by Johann Sebastian Bach. In this case, a concert grand piano was used featuring soloist Ilya Yakushev, a Russian native who now lives in the U.S., who was making his second appearance with the WCO.

This familiar piece was played bouncily in the first movement, sweetly in the second, and really fast in the third. I enjoyed Yakushev’s playing, although from my seat the piano seemed slightly muffled and occasionally unheard over the orchestra.

ilya yakushev 3

The second half of the evening opened with the Chamber Symphony No. 2 by Arnold Schoenberg, which Maestro Sewell claimed to be in the manner of Richard Strauss. If so, Strauss was much more expressive and engaging.

The evening ended with the Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor by Felix Mendelssohn, again featuring Yakushev. I was unfamiliar with the piece, and found it immediately engaging and enjoyable throughout. (You can hear Ilya Yakushev perform the Mendelssohn piano concerto in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Altogether, it was a good evening of music.

But it was unfortunately marred early in the aforementioned “Meditation” movement when a woman two seats down from me decided to answer a text. The bright light from her cell phone was distracting, so I pointedly stared at her until her seat mate nudged her, and she put away the phone. The seat mate clearly felt that I was in the wrong and glared at me.

I noticed that there is no caution in the program about turning off cell phones, so I believe it would be a good idea for a brief announcement to be made at the beginning of the concert and at the end of the intermission for people to turn off their phones. That simple courtesy has still not become a part of all concertgoers’ routines.

smart phone

And what is with the Madison tradition of giving everything a standing ovation? (Below is a standing ovation at a concert on the Playhouse by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.)

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation

There have been perhaps a dozen times in my long concert-going life when I have been so moved by the moment that I’ve leapt to my feet. I think of a standing ovation as recognition of something extraordinary — not as a routine gesture that cheapens to the point of meaninglessness.

For purposes of comparison, here is a link to the review of the same concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and pianist Ilya Yakushev that veteran local music critic and retired UW-Madison medieval history professor John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=44422&sid=6243d3d1e78139b69884d31c5c1126e2


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