The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The gala opening this weekend of the UW-Madison’s new Hamel Music Center is SOLD OUT. What do you think of the building, the music and the event? Plus, veteran music critic John W. Barker has died

October 25, 2019
7 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

ALERT: Word arrived late last night that the respected longtime music critic John W. Barker, a retired UW-Madison professor of medieval history, died Thursday morning. He wrote locally for Isthmus, The Capital Times and this blog. Details will be shared when they are known. 

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, Oct. 25-27, marks the official gala opening of the new Hamel Music Center (below, in a photo by Bryce Richter for University Communications) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music. It is located at 740 University Ave., next to the new wing of the Chazen Museum of Art, which has a special exhibit relating to the new music center.

The impressive $58-million structure, which has taken many years to fund  (completely privately) and then to build, will celebrate its opening tonight, Saturday night (while the 14th annual Halloween FreakFest on State Street is happening) and Sunday afternoon.

The performers will include distinguished alumni, faculty members and students.

Here is a link to an overall schedule as published on the School of Music’s home website: https://www.music.wisc.edu/hamel-music-center-opening-schedule/

Thanks to an astute reader who found what The Ear couldn’t find, here is a complete schedule — long, varied and impressive — of works and performers: https://www.music.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/20191025-Hamel-Music-Center-Opening-Weekend.pdf

And here is a link to the official UW-Madison press release with more background and details about the building: https://news.wisc.edu/mead-witter-school-of-musics-hamel-music-center-opening-this-fall/

UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger (below) has been commissioned to write a Fanfare that will receive its world premiere tonight.

The opening promises to be a success, complete with receptions at the end of each performance.

In fact, the public has signed on enough that the FREE tickets to all events are SOLD OUT, according to the School of Music’s home website.

Taste is personal and varies, and The Ear has heard mixed reviews of the new building. (For the special occasion, you can hear “The Consecration of the House” Overture by Beethoven, performed by the La Scala opera house orchestra in Milan under Riccardo Muti, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Basically, people seem to agree that the acoustics are much improved over Mills Hall and Morphy Recital Hall in the old Humanities Building.

But public opinion seems more divided over other aspects, from the overall external architecture and interior design to the smaller size of the big hall, the seats and seating layout, and the restrooms.

So if you go – or have already gone – let the rest of us know what you think about those various aspects of the new building and about the various performers and programs.

As a warm-up preview, here are photos of the main halls or spaces, all taken by Bryce Richter for University Communications:

Here is the 660-seat Mead Witter Concert Hall:

Here is the 300-seat Collins Recital Hall:

And here is the Lee/Kaufman Rehearsal Hall:

But what do you say? You be the critic.

The Ear and others hope to see COMMENTS from listeners and especially performers. What is it like to perform there? Or to sit and listen?

What does the public think of the new building and concert halls? Are you satisfied? What do you like and what don’t you like?

Should some things have been done – or not done – in your opinion?

Does the building and do the concert halls live up to the expectations and hype?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Conductor Steve Kurr talks about the all-Beethoven program that the Middleton Community Orchestra performs this Friday night with pianist Thomas Kasdorf and the Madison Symphony Chorus.

December 14, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It is definitely not your typical program at holiday time.

But it sure is appealing — and timely too, given the birthday on this Wednesday, Dec. 16, of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

This Friday night – NOT the usual Wednesday night concert time — the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will perform a big and ambitious all-Beethoven program.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below, the exterior and interior) that is attached to Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton PAC1

The program features the Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major “Eroica” and the Choral Fantasy. Guest artists include the Madison Symphony Chorus and returning pianist Thomas Kasdorf.

Admission is $10; free for students. Advance tickets are available at a variety of outlets. The box office opens at 7 p.m. and the theater opens at 7:30 p.m.

As always, there will be an informal meet-and-greet reception for musicians and the audience after the performance.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

For more information about the Madison Community Orchestra, including its spring concerts and how to join it or support it, visit:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Conductor Steve Kurr took time out from his busy schedule of teaching and rehearsing to discuss the program via email with The Ear.

Steve Kurr.

The “Eroica” is one of Beethoven’s biggest, most famous and most popular symphonies. Why did you program it for an amateur orchestra?

I think you answered your own question. Our musicians and our audience are interested in experiencing a titanic work like the “Eroica.” We are having a spectacular time as we prepare the work–learning the ins and outs of this symphony and getting to know more about Beethoven and his compositional processes. And it has opportunities for each instrument to shine, so it is fun to play.

What kind of technical and interpretative challenges will the “Eroica” pose to you and to the players in the Middleton Community Orchestra?

One of the toughest parts of the “Eroica” is its size. Clocking in at around 50 minutes, this work can be taxing for players both physically and mentally.

In addition, there are some overarching ideas that Beethoven begins in the opening movement that are not resolved until the finale and we have to keep those in mind over the length of the whole symphony.

There are also some typical Beethoven gestures that add to this mix–such as the crescendo leading to a sudden piano–that shows up all over the place in the “Eroica.”

Middleton Community Orchestra Steve Kurr conducting

What special things should the public listen for in the “Eroica”?

  • The connection of this symphony to Napoleon is well documented.  Beethoven (below top) dedicated the work to the French leader, but was so incensed when Napoleon (below bottom) declared himself emperor that he scratched the dedication out on the cover page. But the original idea of the piece being “heroic” remains.
  • The work was composed around the same time as his ballet “The Creatures of Prometheus” and includes some similar thematic material.  Think about Prometheus as you listen.
  • The premier coup d’archet (“opening stroke of the bow”) at the very start calls the audience to sit up and pay attention–a very exciting way to start.
  • Tovey’s Cloud: The odd resolution to the opening phrase (heard in the cello just seconds into the first movement) was identified by musicologist Donald Francis Tovey back in the first half of the 20th Century as a cloud that hung over the work and is not resolved until much later in the work.
  • The accents throughout the opening movement obscure the meter and propel the movement forward, and there are some exquisite dissonances in the first movement that increase a tension that does not truly resolve until the finale. It is almost as if the Romantic Period is struggling, as we listen in, to emerge from the composer’s pen.
  • Right before we return to the opening material in the first movement, the strings become as quiet as they have ever been and the horn barges in with an “accidental” statement of the first theme. Publishers and conductors at first thought it was a mistake in the parts, but the sketches for the piece included that little gag from the very beginning.
  • For the first time, the dance movement (the minuet in earlier symphonies, the scherzo by this work) has taken on a scope and weight equal to the rest of the piece.
  • The da capo or repeat of the scherzo movement is completely written out (a major use of ink in his day) so that he could insert just a few measures of duple meter in one spot–definitely a curious and charming moment.
  • The theme upon which the finale is based is one of those Prometheus melodies, but it also shows up in a set of piano variations and in a contredanse.  Overall, the finale has a definite feeling of dance to it.
  • The finale combines the idea of a set of variations and the sonata form concept.

Beethoven big

Napoleon

What did you program the Choral Fantasy with the Eroica Symphony?

Pairing Beethoven works together has benefits. It puts us in a Beethoven frame of mind, which helps the musicians focus on the style.  And with the length of the “Eroica,” the “Choral Fantasy” fits so well into a concert program. It is also nice to pair a lesser-known work with the familiar “Eroica.”

Who will perform the choral part in the Choral Fantasy? And what should we listen for in the work?

We are extremely excited to be joining with the Madison Symphony Chorus (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) for this endeavor.  It will be one of our first times working with a chorus, and we are all looking forward to the chance to collaborate with this first-rate ensemble.

The piece is an unusual one: it begins with a large piano solo section followed by a section that trades back and forth between the soloist and the orchestra.

It ends with the piano, orchestra and chorus joining together for a rousing finish that foreshadows the last movement (“Ode to Joy”) of the Ninth Symphony.

The piece was premiered on Dec. 22, 1808 (with the composer at the keyboard) at a concert that also included the Fifth and Sixth (“Pastoral”)  Symphonies. Listen for the improvisatory quality of the opening piano solo and for the text, written by Christoph Kuffner, which extols music and its great powers. (NOTE: In a YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear it performed live at the BBC Proms by Norwegian pianist and conductor Leif Ove Andsnes with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the BBC Singers.) 

Madison Symphony Chorus women CR Greg Anderson

Thomas Kasdorf, a talented Middleton native and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, is the piano soloist in the Choral Fantasy. He has done a number of concertos by other composers such as Edvard Grieg, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky with you. Will he become a regular with the MCO? Might you do a cycle of Beethoven piano concertos with him?

We always enjoy having Mr. Kasdorf as our soloist. He is an excellent musician and he is what I might call a low-maintenance soloist–working with him is effortless. I sincerely hope to continue our collaborations, but I hesitate to speculate on any future repertoire. But the Fourth Piano Concerto of Beethoven is a favorite of mine, so Thomas and I may have to chat.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

Is there anything else you would like to say?

It is such an honor to work with these marvelous people in the Middleton Community Orchestra.  This is our sixth season and we continue to enjoy spending our Wednesday evenings making music together.

 


Classical music: What would be a good April Fool’s joke about classical music? But it is no joke that April will bring a lot of major choral music by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Faure and Rachmaninoff among others.

April 1, 2014
2 Comments

READER SURVEY: Today is April Fool’s Day! So in keeping with tradition, here is what The Ear wants to know: What would be a really good April Fool’s joke about classical music? Discovering a 10th symphony or sixth piano concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven? Finding one of the many lost cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach? Unearthing a letter from Arnold Schoenberg disavowing his own 12-tone or atonal music as a dry and boring experiment? Use the COMMENT section to leave your April Fools treat. Be creative, original and unexpected, and have some fun.

Here is a link to one year’s entries:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/classical-music-news-the-discovery-of-beethovens-tenth-symphony-wins-first-prize-for-the-best-april-fools-day-story/

april fools day

By Jacob Stockinger

April is the “choralist month,” to paraphrase — with a badly twisted pun — a famous opening line from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland.”

Is it because of Easter? The end of the semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison? Or maybe the arrival of spring? Or perhaps the closing on some current seasons?

All play a role, The Ear suspects, but so does coincidence. Besides, after such a hard winter, singing out seems healthy and almost normal.

During this April, local audiences will have the chance to hear more than half a dozen major choral works –- and that doesn’t even include the Russian and Baltic concert performed this past weekend by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.

Many of the events will have more detailed postings on this blog. But here is a summary roundup to help you fill in your datebooks and make plans.

It will kick off this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Symphony Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) and guest soloists when they perform the famously storied Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Guest conductor Julian Wachner will be substituting for the MSO music director John DeMain, and the program also includes guest organ soloist Nathan Laube in Jongen’s “Sinfonia Concertante.” For more information, including program notes and ticket information, visit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/laube

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

On Friday, April 11, at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with guest pianist Stewart Goodyear and the Festival Choir (below), under WCO music director Andrew Sewell, will perform Mozart’s late, short and sublime “Ave Verum Corpus” (heard at the bottom with conductor Leonard Bernstein in a popular YouTube video that has over 2 million hits) and Beethoven’s rarely heard “Choral Fantasy,” which is a sketch with solo piano of the famous last chiral movement, with the famous “Ode to Joy,” of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Stewart Goodyear’s own Piano Concerto is on the program, as is Beethoven’s epic Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.” For details, visit: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/72/event-info/

festivalchoir

On Saturday, April 12, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will see a FREE performance on Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” performed by the Concert Choir (below) and the UW Chamber Orchestra).

Concert Choir

The next day Sunday, April 13 is Palm Sunday. It will see two performances (10 a.m. and 3 p.m.) of the gorgeously calm and reassuring Requiem by Gabriel Faure (below) at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, performed in the old historic Landmark Auditorium, where the organ is. FUS music director Dan Broner will conduct. Free-will offerings will be accepted.

faure

Then on Good Friday, April 18, in the First Congregational Church and on Saturday, April 19, in the Atrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, J.S. Bach’s landmark Mass in B Minor will receive two performances (both at 7:30 p.m. with a pre-concert lecture at 6:45 p.m.) from the Madison Bach Musicians, and guest soloists and the Madison Choral Project under conductor and UW bassoonist Marc Vallon.  

MadisonBachMusicians

On Saturday, April 19, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is also a FREE concert by the UW Madrigal Singers under conductor Bruce Gladstone (below, in a  photo by Katrin Talbot). Sorry, no word on the program yet.

BruceGladstoneTalbot

On Saturday, April 26, at 8 pm. in Mills Hall the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union (below) will perform the lovely and rarely performed Russian Orthodox, a cappella “Vespers” of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Beverly Taylor, who heads the UW-Madison choral program, will conduct the one-time only performance -– normally the UW Choral Union gives two performances. Tickets can be purchased for the concerts. Admission is $10 for adults and the general public; free for  students and seniors.
 Remaining tickets will be at the door. 
Call (608) 265-ARTS (2787) for ticket info.

UW Choral Union  12:2011

As an added bonus to April, and to wind up the spring semester, on Saturday, May 3, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is the FREE concert by the UW Women’s Chorus and University Chorus. On Monday. May 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall the UW Master Singers will perform a FREE concert.

I’m betting there are some others I am missing, especially at Edgewood College, which I haven’t heard from yet. Perhaps readers will leave word in a COMMENT. But even from what I have listed, you see that listeners are in store for a lot of choral treats.

 

 

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Classical music: The famed Westminster Choir will perform with organ in Overture Hall this coming Saturday night.

January 7, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Not being a close follower of choral music, I do not know a lot of choruses or choirs around the nation or world by name.

Like most Americans my age, I of course know about the mammoth and impressive Mormon Tabernacle Choir since I grew up on recordings and TV appearances by the group based in Salt Lake City.

And like most Madisonians, I know the name of the Festival Choir, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, the Madison Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the Madison Opera Chorus, among other local groups.

But the nationally known choir that I remember mostly fondly is the same one I heard decades ago with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Leonard Bernstein and with pianist Rudolf Serkin in Beethoven’s famous Symphony No. 9 “Choral” and his “Choral Fantasy,” which is a preliminary sketch-like work for the Ninth Symphony with a piano part thrown in.

The name of that first-rate choir is The Westminster Choir (below).

Westminster Choir 1

And it is REALLY good, as I was reminded again recently when I listened to their CD of holiday music.

No surprise, I suppose. After all, it is composed of specialists: of student from Westminster choir College in Princeton, New Jersey. Every summer it is in residence at the internationally renowned Spoleto Festival in South Carolina.

Its 40 members form the core of the 175-voice Westminster Symphonic Chorus that still performs regularly with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and other major European orchestras.

In any case, sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Westminster Choir is coming to town and will perform this Saturday night in Overture Hall at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $19.50. For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141. For more information about the performers and a complete program, visit www.madisonsymphony.org/westminster.

The concert’s generous program includes vocal music from the 15th through the 21st centuries, including works by J.S. Bach, Debussy, Gustav Holst, Benjamin Britten and Morten Lauridsen among others, and will also feature several works for solo organ, some quite virtuosic, played on the impressive custom-built Klais concert organ (below) in Overture Hall.

overture organ

Decide for yourself. Here is a sample, the most visited one on YouTube, with such lovely quality singing, of the Westminster Choir:


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