The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The 10th anniversary concert of the Middleton Community Orchestra hit all the right notes – including a surprise of high beauty

October 13, 2019
3 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Last Wednesday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, the mostly amateur but critically acclaimed Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by Brian Ruppert) celebrated its 10th anniversary.

The MCO hit all the right notes. And there were many of them, both big and small.

But perhaps the biggest one was also the quietest one.

It came during the repetition section near the end of the heart-rending slow movement of the Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622, by Mozart.

The Ear knows the piece and considers it one of the most perfect compositions ever written. But suddenly he heard the familiar work in a fresh way and with a new appreciation, thanks to the talented guest soloist J.J. Koh, who is principal clarinet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. (You can hear the slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The movement was going beautifully when suddenly, Koh (below) brought the dynamics down to almost a whisper. It felt prayer-like, so quiet was the sound. Yet it was completely audible. The tone was rich and the notes on pitch, even though Koh sounded as if he were barely breathing. It was a heart-stopping, breathtaking moment of high beauty.

It takes a virtuoso to play that softly and that solidly at the same time. And Koh was backed up with the same subtlety by the fine accompaniment provided by the scaled-down orchestra under conductor Steve Kurr.

The sublime result was nothing short of haunting, a musical moment that The Ear will remember and cherish as long as he lives.

And he wasn’t alone. A complete silence fell over the appreciative audience as Koh and the MCO were playing, and at intermission it was what everybody was talking about and wondering at. You just had to be there. It was the kind of musical experience that makes a live performance so engaging and unforgettable.

That moment of communion between soloist and ensemble by itself was enough to tell you how very much the MCO, which improves with each performance, has accomplished in its first decade.

There were other noteworthy moments too.

Of course tributes had to be paid.

So the evening started off with some brief background and introductory words from the co-founders and co-artistic directors Larry Bevic and Mindy Taranto (below).

Then Middleton Mayor Gurdip Brar (below) came on stage to read his official 10th anniversary proclamation and to urge people to applaud. He proved a jovial, good-natured cheerleader for the large audience of “good neighbors” that included many children.

When the music finally arrived, conductor Kurr (below) raised the curtain with his own original 14-minute episodic composition celebrating the “Good Neighbor City” of Middleton. It proved a fitting work for the occasion that evoked both the Midwestern harmonies of Aaron Copland and the brassy film scores of John Williams.

After intermission, the full 90-member MCO under Kurr returned and turned in a performance of Antonin Dvorak’s popular “New World” Symphony that did them all proud.

The tempo was energetic with a strong, constant pulse that didn’t falter. As usual, the string and wind sections proved outstanding – and still seem to get better each time.

But the real star this time was the brass, whose prominent part in the Dvorak symphony is hard to play. Playing consistently on pitch and expressively – they were clearly well-rehearsed — the brass boosted the whole performance and raised it to a new level. Which is exactly what the anniversary concert demanded and received.

The Ear wasn’t alone in being impressed.

A professional musician visiting from San Francisco said simply:  ”They are much better than our community orchestra.”

Is there better homage to pay to a 10th anniversary concert and to make listeners look forward to hearing more? If you aren’t going to MCO’s affordable and appealing concerts, you are only cheating yourself.

For more information about the complete season, including programs, performers, guest soloists and how to join or support the MCO, go to: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

If you went, what did you think of the opening anniversary concert?

Leave your opinions and good wishes in the comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: This weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra spotlights three of its principal players in music by Prokofiev, Debussy and Vaughan Williams along with works by Schubert and Gershwin

March 7, 2019
7 Comments

IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below in a photo by Peter Rodgers) will once again perform a program that highlights its principal artists as soloists.

 The program for “Orchestral Brilliance: Three Virtuosi” begins with Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8, “Unfinished.

Then the featured artists appear: concertmaster Naha Greenholtz performs Sergei Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 2 for Violin; principal clarinetist JJ Koh follows with Claude Debussy’s Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra; and principal tubist Joshua Biere concludes with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra. For more biographical information about the soloists, see below.

The program finishes with George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.”

Performances will be held in Overture Hall, 201 State Street, on Friday, March 8, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, March 9, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 10, at 2:30 p.m.

Details about tickets ($18-$93) are below.

“Our March concerts shine the spotlight on our own brilliant musicians that make up the Madison Symphony Orchestra,” says music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson). “It is important to me on the occasion of my 25th anniversary with the symphony to share this celebration in a special way with these artists, who make my musical life such a pleasure.”

Franz Schubert (below) began composing his “Unfinished Symphony” in 1822, but left the piece with only two movements despite living for six more years. For reasons that remain unclear, the score was shelved until 1860 when the owner finally realized he possessed a gem. He approached conductor Johann von Herbeck with assurances of a “treasure” on par “with any of Beethoven’s,” and Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony had its premiere in 1865.

The Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 63, by Sergei Prokofiev (below) is more conventional than the composer’s early bold compositions. It starts off with a simple violin melody and recalls traditional Russian folk music. The graceful violin melody flows throughout the entire second movement, and the third movement’s theme has a taste of Spain, complete with the clacking of castanets. (You can hear David Oistrakh play the gorgeous and entrancing slow second movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Composed between December 1909 and January 1910, the Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra by Claude Debussy (below) was written as one of two test pieces for the clarinet examinations at the Paris Conservatory. The piece is described as dreamily slow at the start, followed by a duple meter section that moves the music along until the joyous final section.

The Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra by Ralph Vaughan Williams (below)
was written in 1953-54 to mark the 50th anniversary of the London Symphony Orchestra.

“An American in Paris” by George Gershwin (below) is one of the popular composer’s most well-known and most beloved compositions. Written in 1928, it evokes the sights and energy of the French capital in the 1920s. As Gershwin explains, the work’s purpose is to “portray the impressions of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city, listens to the various street noises, and absorbs the French atmosphere.”

ABOUT THE SOLOISTS

Naha Greenholtz (below, in a photo by Chris Hynes) is concertmaster of both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Quad City Symphony Orchestra. Additional performance highlights include guest concertmaster appearances with the Oregon Symphony, Calgary Philharmonic, National Ballet of Canada, Omaha Symphony and Memphis Symphony, among many others. Additionally, she performs frequently with the Cleveland Orchestra both domestically and abroad. Greenholtz has also held positions with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, joining the latter as Associate Concertmaster at age 21.

JJ Koh (below) joined the Madison Symphony Orchestra as principal clarinetist in 2016. In addition, he holds a position with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Prior to joining the MSO, Koh was a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago. He is a founding member of the Arundo Donax Reed Quintet, and a winner of the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition. As principal clarinetist of KammerMahler, Koh participated in a world premiere recording project, which featured chamber versions of Gustav Mahler’s Fourth and Ninth Symphonies.

Joshua Biere (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) joined the Madison Symphony Orchestra as principal tubist in 2013. He also holds the principal tuba chair with the Kenosha Symphony and regularly performs with the new Chicago Composers Orchestra. Biere has also performed at the Grant Park Music Festival (Chicago), and with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. An established chamber musician, Biere is also a highly sought-after clinician and teacher, maintaining a studio of well over 35 tuba and euphonium students.

CONCERT AND TICKET DETAILS

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert. One hour before each performance, maestro John DeMain will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience. It is free to ticketholders.

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

Program notes for the concerts are available online: http://bit.ly/mar2019programnotes

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

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

Presenting sponsorship provided by the Kelly Family Foundation. Major funding provided by Madison Magazine, Louise and Ernest Borden, Scott and Janet Cabot, and Elaine and Nicholas Mischler. Additional funding provided by von Briesen & Roper, S.C., and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).


Posted in Classical music
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Classical music: Today is Valentine’s Day. What piece of music best celebrates love? Here are Limelight Magazine’s Top 10 Sexiest Moments in Classical Music. Leave some music and words for your Valentine right here. Plus, the University of Wisconsin School of Music has successfully reinvented the annual Concerto Competition Winners’ concert -– to loud approval and multiple standing ovations from a packed house.

February 14, 2014
5 Comments

READER SURVEY: Today is Valentine’s Day. What is the best piece of romantic music you know of to listen to or to send to someone to celebrate this day? You can even leave a link to a YouTube video and a dedication in the COMMENT section. Here is a link to Limelight Magazine’s Top 10 Sexiest Moments in Classical Music:

http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/Article/371934,the-10-sexiest-moments-in-classical-music.aspx

Cupid

By Jacob Stockinger

Little things can add up to a big difference.

Take the annual concert given by the winners (below) of this year’s concerto competition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Here are links to background of the event and the performers in the preview story that was posted  on this blog and and a link to the performers’ biographies that appeared on “Fanfare,” the outstanding bog of the UW School of Music:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/classical-music-education-the-university-of-wisconsin-school-of-music-ramps-up-its-annual-student-concerto-competition-concert-this-saturday-night-with-a-gala-reception/

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/symphony-showcase2013-14/

UW concerto winners 2014 Michael R. Anderson

Someone at the SOM (as the School of Music is referred to by insiders) rightly decided that the event deserved a higher public profile. (Except where noted, performance photos are by The Ear.)

So they made a few adjustments.

They booked Mills Hall for a Saturday night – last Saturday night, in fact — the best night of the week for entertainment events.

Then they rechristened the event the Symphonic Showcase, since the UW Symphony Orchestra (below with graduate student and assistant conductor Kyle Knox) is the common denominator and accompanies all the concerto winners and also premieres the winning piece by a student composer. The Ear likes that emphasis on collective or collaborative music-making.

They started the concert early, at 7 p.m.

That was because they also added a small and informal dessert reception from 9 to 11 p.m. — with all the proceeds of a $10 ticket going to a student scholarship fund — at the nearby Tripp Commons in the UW Memorial Union.

Kyle Knox and UW Symphony Orchestra

And what were the results?

Nothing short of a spectacular success.

Mills Hall was packed just about full (see the photo below by Michael R. Anderson).

uw concerto winner 2014 big audience Michael R. Anderson

And the big, enthusiastic audience greeted each performer with cheers and a standing ovation. And they deserved that. All of the winners played well and all chose great works to perform.

Here a rundown by contestant.

If you weren’t there -– well, you probably should regret it, You missed out on a lot of fun and a lot of beautiful music-making by a very impressive group of talented students. Maybe some state legislators were in the audience and will stop clowning around trying to micro-manage and ruin the UW while they say they’re really trying to fix it.

The evening started out with an orchestral showpiece, a kind of Romantic tone poem-concerto grosso that highlighted each section. That might be expected since the “Russian Easter” Overture came from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, a master orchestrator who taught Igor Stravinsky the craft of scoring music.

Graduate student Kyle Knox (below) conducted and did a fine job of bouncing the music around to various sections and keeping a clear line.

Kyle Knox 2

Violinist Madlen Breckbill (below) confidently commanded the stage with an appropriately lyrical and heart-breaking reading of the first movement of Samuel Barber’s masterful Violin Concerto. It was a thoroughly convincing rebuff to those people and critics who say you need to hear a new piece of music several times to know it is great. This kind of greatness you get from the first notes.

Madlen Breckbill

Saxophonist Erika Anderson (below left) played and projected with absorbing conviction the new “Poema” (2014) by student composer 24-year-old Russian-born composer Daria Tennikova (below right), who writes in an impressively accessible yet thoroughly modern idiom.

Erika Anderson and Daria Tennikova

Clarinetist Kai-Ju Ho (below top) brought both lyricism and swing to Aaron Copland’s underperformed Clarinet Concerto, pleasing conductor James Smith (below bottom right), himself a very accomplished clarinetist who performed the same concerto five times under the composer.

Kai-Ju Ho

James Smith and UW Symphony Orchestra with clarinet soloist Kai-Ju Ho

SeungWha Baek (below top, playing; below bottom by Michael R. Anderson) brought out the sizzle and virtuosity in the dazzling first movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with its ingenious Hanon-like five-finger exercise motif – except that this is no work for beginners, as you can see and hear at the bottom in a YouTube video with pianist Martha Argerich and conductor Andre Previn.

SeungWha Baek playing

UW concerto winners SeungWha Baek Michael R. Anderson 2014

Flutist Mi-Li Chang brought beautiful tone and playfulness, even Gallic charm, to the Concerto for Flute by Jacques Ibert.

Mi-Li Chang

And pianist Sung-Ho Yang brought the show to a close with a surprising subtle reading of Franz Liszt’s flashy and bombastic Piano Concerto No 1. The whole work is like one long cadenza – not one of the Ear’s favorites — so it was refreshing to hear Yang emphasize the quiet passages and subtlety, all the while bringing out the dialoguing back and forth between the piano and the orchestra.

Sung-Yo Yang playing

And after the music, we went to a quiet but friendly reception that featured coffee and tea as well as chocolate cake and pumpkin bars (below), set out much like a Wayne Thiebaud painting. It was a chance to meet the musicians and thank them for a splendid evening.

Chocolate cake al a Wayne Thiebaud

Pumpkin bars a la Wayne Thiebaud

Bravo to all.

The Ear is betting and hoping that next year will find the new format repeated.

Tinkering with failure is one thing.

But why tinker with success?

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Classical music education: The University of Wisconsin School of Music ramps up its annual student concerto competition concert this Saturday night with a gala reception.

February 4, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

For years, the University of Wisconsin School of Music has held a student concerto competition. The winners then get to perform a  movement (or, in some cases  opera arias ) from a large concerto or a complete short concerto with the UW Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by John W. Barker), which in recent years also premieres a new composition by a student composer.

UW Symphony Orchestra 2013 CR John W. Barker

This year, however, the UW School of Music is heightening the public profile of the FREE concerto concert and turning it into an important event.

It has scheduled the performance on a Saturday night instead of a weekday night. And it has added a paid post-concert reception, with hors-d’oeuvres and a cash bar, to be held at Tripp Commons in the UW-Madison Memorial Union from 9 to 11 p.m. All proceeds will fund student scholarships. Tickets are $10 and can be bought here. http://www.arts.wisc.edu/

In short, the annual concerto competition winners recital, has been renamed the “Symphony Showcase.”

Says Susan C. Cook (below, in photo by Michael Foster), the new director of the UW School of Music: “The artistry and hard work of our students is something we wanted to celebrate — not only as a School of Music but with our enthusiastic concert-goers as well.”

Susan C. Cook UW SOM BW CR Michael Forster Rothbart

The concert will take place at an early start this coming Saturday night, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m. – NOT 7:30 or 8 p.m. – in Mills Hall. Admission is FREE.

This year’s concert has a very appealing and diverse program, and will feature five instrumental soloists (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson).

UW concerto winners 2014 Michael R. Anderson

Pianist Sung Ho Yang (above middle), who studies with Christopher Taylor, will perform in its entirety Franz Liszt’s exciting and virtuosic Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat Major. (You can hear Lang-Lang perform its on the last night of the BBC Proms Concerts in 2011 in a popular YouTube video at the  bottom.)

Seungwha Baek (above, second from right), who studies with Martha Fischer, will perform the first movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s dazzling Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major.

Flutist Mi-li Chang (above far left), who studied with Stephanie Jutt, will perform the first and second movement of Jacques Ibert’s playful Flute Concerto.

Clarinetist Kai-Ju Ho (above far right), who studies with Linda Bartley, will perform in its entirety Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, composed for jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman.

Violinist Madlen Breckbill (above second from left), who studied with David Perry (first violinist of the UW’s Pro Arte Quartet) will perform the first movement of Samuel Barber’s neo-Romantic Violin Concerto.

A sixth winner, composition undergraduate Daria Tennikova (below top, inn a photo by Kathy Esposito), who studies with Stephen Dembski and Laura Schwendinger, was added to the program in late December. Tennikova’s original work, “Poema” for Saxophone and Orchestra, will be performed by soloist Erika Anderson (below bottom).

Daria Tennikova CR Kathy Espoito

 Erika Anderson

All pieces will be accompanied by the UW Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra will perform under the direction of conductors James Smith (below top) and graduate assistant Kyle Knox (below bottom). The orchestra will also play Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Russian Easter” Overture.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Kyle Knox 2

You can read more (including biographies of each performer and the pieces they will perform) on the UW School of Music’s outstanding new blog Fanfare!

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