ALERT: Late news comes that pianist Joyce Yang will give a FREE and PUBLIC master class for the UW-Madison School of Music on Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Play Circle of the Wisconsin Union Theater. On Thursday at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater, Yang will perform a solo recital of music by Domenico Scarlatti, Claude Debussy, Isaac Albeniz, Alberto Ginastera and Sergei Rachmaninoff. For more information about Yang, the concert and tickets, visit:
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 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) opened its new season in Madison with a fine concert at the Gates of Heaven on Saturday night.
As always, the program was varied in contents and in performer involvements.
Running as a thread throughout was the artistry of University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music professor and soprano Mimmi Fulmer (below center left, in a photo by John W. Barker) and mezzo-soprano Consuelo Sañudo (below center right), a familiar team.
At intervals, they sang a pair of madrigals by Girolamo Frescobaldi (most familiar as a keyboard composer); an extended setting by Marc-Antoine Charpentier of the Miserere Psalm, with concluding lines added from the Lamentations of Jeremiah; and an Ave Maria by the really obscure Dutch composer Benedictus Buns (c.1642-1716), also known as Benedictus a Sancto Josepho.
The instrumentalists (Nathan Giglierano, Mary Parkinson, violins; Brett Lipshutz and Monica Steger, flutes; Eric Miller, gamba; plus cellist Anton TenWolde and Max Yount, harpsichord, as continuo) joined with them variously as appropriate, to lovely effects.
At one extreme of texture, violinist Perkinson, supported by continuo, played a richly demanding sonata by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. At the other extreme, all the players joined in for a vivacious finale with excerpts from the Suite in E minor from the first book of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Musique de Table anthologies.
For me, however, and I think for a lot of the good-sized audience, the real high point of the program came just after the intermission, when the two violinists, with continuo, gave an absolutely smashing rendition of the Follia Sonata, the last of the 12 Trio Sonatas, Op. 1, by Antonio Vivaldi. (Below in an ensemble shot by John W. Barker.)
In this tour de force of writing, Vivaldi surpassed his model, Arcangelo Corelli’s Violin Sonata Op. 5, No. 12, whose 19 variations, cascade one virtuosic extravagance after another. (You can hear the Vivaldi’s “La Follia” sonata in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Fabulous Late Baroque music, fabulously played!
The WBE has been giving these concerts for the past 18 years. They continue to be unpretentious but thoroughly satisfying programs of Baroque chamber music in an appropriate chamber setting. Long may they continue!
The group’s next concert in Madison will be on Sunday, Nov. 29, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.
For more information visit: http://www.wisconsinbaroque.org
By Jacob Stockinger
Ehnes will play Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra, a piece that blends rustic folk tunes and tender themes to convey the stark Scottish landscape.
Opening the program will be Joseph Haydn’s spirited Symphony No. 85, nicknamed “La Reine” (The Queen) because it was the favorite of French Queen Marie Antoinette. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances will close out the concert.
The concerts are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street, on Friday, Oct. 16, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 17, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 18, at 2:30 p.m.
James Ehnes made his major orchestral solo debut with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (Montreal Symphony Orchestra) at age 13 and was awarded the Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2005. Today, he is a sought-after chamber musician, recitalist and soloist with the world’s finest orchestras. (You can hear his astonishing playing in Antonio Bazzini’s “Dance of the Goblins” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
One hour before each performance, Tyrone Greive, retired MSO Concertmaster and Professor of Violin at University of Wisconsin-Madison, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.
Background about the music can also be found in the Program Notes by bass trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen at: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/ehnes
Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available at www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
Groups of 15 or more can save 25 percent by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups
Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.
Seniors age 62 and up receive 20 percent savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts can NOT be combined.
Find more information at www.madisonsymphony.org.
Major funding for the October concerts is provided by Margaret C. Winston, Kenneth A. Lattman Foundation, Inc., Capitol Lakes, the Madison Symphony Orchestra League, and Peggy and Tom Pyle. Additional funding is provided by Dr. Stanley and Shirley Inhorn and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.
James Ehnes kindly agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:
Could you bring readers up to date with your career and achievements – including future recordings and events — since your last appearance in Madison in 2012?
A lot has happened in my life since 2012! Most importantly, the birth of my second child in 2014.
Musically, I’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences. It’s hard to narrow it down, but some of the highlights were the BBC Proms last summer, a play-conduct recording of Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with the Sydney Symphony, and performances with all of the so-called Big Five orchestras here in the states (New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago).
What should people know about composer Max Bruch and his Scottish Fantasy? What distinguishes it from his concertos?
Bruch (below) was one of the great melodists of the Romantic era, but interestingly this piece uses “borrowed” Scottish tunes, hence its title.
I think the piece has just about the perfect combination of elements — virtuosity, beautiful melodies, and interesting and colorful orchestration (the harp plays a very major role). Unlike a “standard” concerto, there is an introduction and four movements in this piece, so it’s a bit unusual in a formal sense.
You are especially known for your interpretations of modern composers like Bela Bartok. What do you think of the Romantic composers and repertoire? Do you try to bring anything special to them?
I didn’t realize that was the case! I play lots of different styles of music, and having that variety in my career is probably my greatest inspiration. I love the Romantic repertoire. It is probably this music above all other that made me initially fall in love with the violin as a boy.
Is there anything else you would like to say about the music or Madison or the Madison Symphony Orchestra?
I’m very much looking forward to my return. The performances in 2012 were my first visit to Madison, and I really enjoyed the city. I look forward to having a bit more time to explore, and I’m delighted to be able to bring my family this time.
By Jacob Stockinger
Have cello. Will play.
Any style. Any place.
Last Wednesday, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, turned 60.
The unquestionable quality, astounding diversity and enviable longevity of his career will come as no surprise to Madison audiences.
After all, Ma (below, in a photo by Jason Bell for Sony Classical) has performed here many times, mostly at the Wisconsin Union Theater – he reopened the renovated Shannon Hall — but also at the Overture Center.
Ma has performed solo here. But he also has played with his longtime chamber music partner pianist Emanuel Ax and with the acclaimed Silk Road Ensemble and the bluegrass or roots music by violinist-composer Mark O’Conner.
And Ma has commissioned many works – including some by composers Osvaldo Golijov and John Adams – that have entered the mainstream repertoire. His influence on contemporary music will be felt for a very long time.
The Ear has met Ma in person a couple of times and found him to be as congenial and humorous as he is talented and original.
An iconic figure on TV and radio, Ma is a master of using the mass media although he never seems a crass self-promoter.
He is a veritable American cultural institution who also enjoys going on PBS for “Sesame Street” and “Live From Lincoln Center” as well as doing a cameo appearance playing unaccompanied Bach in the drama “The West Wing.” (You can hear him play the same piece in a YouTube video at the bottom that has more than 12 million hits.)
Perhaps you have also heard him live, maybe even more than once.
One thing is important but is overlooked by the NPR piece: The ever-reliable Ma is outstandingly successful at the box office. He is probably the most bankable and commercially successful American classical musician on the scene today. Ma’s career bodes well for the future of classical music that otherwise worries so many observers and participants.
Here is a link:
Do you have a birthday greeting for or memory of cellist Yo-Yo Ma?
Leave it in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: The UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble will perform a FREE program of new music this coming Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. It will play under the direction of UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger. The program includes two works by “post-tonal” American composer Cindy Cox (b. 1961, below in a photo by K. Karn), who teaches at the University of California-Berkeley.
By Jacob Stockinger
Club 201, a group affiliated with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below), will hold its first event of the 2015-16 season on this coming Friday, Oct. 16. (Club 201 is named after the address of the Overture Center, which is located at 201 State Street.)
Later this year, Club 201 will celebrate its 10th anniversary, fulfilling its mission as the premiere organization promoting classical music to the young professional community in Madison.
For a $45 ticket – a savings of $36-$56 — young professionals, aged 22 to 40, will have access to outstanding seats in Overture Hall to hear the 7:30 p.m. performance by violinist James Ehnes (below), conductor John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra perform three highly regarded staples of the classical repertoire: Symphony No. 85 “La Reine” by Franz Joseph Haydn; the “Scottish Fantasy” for violin and orchestra by Max Bruch; and the Symphonic Dances by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
The ticket also includes access to an exclusive post-performance party in the Promenade Lounge on the second floor of the Overture Center with food, one drink ticket and a cash bar.
Conductor John DeMain, as well as young musicians who play in the symphony, will be attending to mingle with Madison’s young professionals.
The deadline to purchase tickets is this Wednesday, Oct. 14. Tickets can be purchased for this event, as well as the other three events throughout the 2015-16 season at the Club 201 website: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/club201.
Additionally, interested parties can stay up-to-date by liking the Club 201 Facebook page:
By Jacob Stockinger
But that’s not how The Ear sees them.
The Ear sees symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras not as competitors but as complements.
The two can serve as role models for each other. A symphony orchestra can aim to achieve the transparency and clarity of the smaller group; the chamber orchestra can aim to achieve the richness and bigger sound of the larger ensemble.
Almost two weeks ago, that is exactly what the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) and conductor John DeMain did with the “Leonore” Overture No. 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven, the Clarinet Concerto by Aaron Copland and especially the big, loud and brassy Ethel Merman-like Symphony No. 4 by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky.
Here is how The Ear heard that performance:
So how did the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra do in meeting the challenge?
In a word — superbly.
The WCO did so last Friday night in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater under its longtime music director Andrew Sewell.
The program started with one of those welcome rarities that Sewell has a knack for unearthing. This time the native New Zealander played the piece “Landfall in Unknown Seas” by Douglas Lilburn (below), whom Sewell described as the Kiwi Copland.
Well, maybe, though The Ear finds Aaron Copland’s music more interesting and emotionally moving than the clearly modern but tonal and accessible music by Lilburn, whose centennial is this year.
The piece — written to commemorate the tricentennial of the discovery of New Zealand — was hobbled with one of those puffily pretentious and over-the-top occasional celebratory poems, which was recited by actor James Ridge (below) of American Players Theatre in Spring Green. It treated navigation and discovery as metaphors of something much bigger than the discovery of New Zealand.
All in all, it proved an interesting but not arresting piece, a curiosity worth hearing but not repeating.
Then came the rarely played Symphony No. 2 in A minor by Camille Saint-Saens. It is a kind of Late Romantic pastiche that reminds one of the “Classical” Symphony by Sergei Prokofiev. One could hear strains of earlier composers such as Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn in this charming work that once again is worth hearing but maybe not repeating or at least not soon.
To be fair, critic John W. Barker disagreed in his review for Isthmus:
In both cases, Sewell (below) and the various sections of the WCO brought not only the kind of transparency or clarity that one expects from the WCO but also a robustness that made the orchestra seem bigger than it looked.
Yet it was in the second half where the WCO really showed its stuff.
The piece was the formidable Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.
The soloist was the 25-year-old Benjamin Beilman (below), making his Madison debut.
Together, Beilman and Sewell delivered what is the finest and most exciting live performance of the famous and famously difficult concerto that The Ear has ever heard. It possessed intimacy as well as heroics. (You can hear Itzhak Perlman and Daniel Barenboim conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in the last movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Sewell shaded the piece and brought both chamber orchestra transparency and symphony orchestra heft to the work. He also emphasized Beethoven’s mastery of counterpoint, a legacy from his days as a student of Franz Joseph Haydn. This time the often thorny Beethoven score seemed smoother and more decipherable.
Beilman, for his part, is already a master of the kind of small details that make a huge difference. He is also not afraid to play softly.
Beethoven (below) was a master crafter but not a great melody writer, and often the opening movement can often seem little more than a patchwork of scales and runs, chords and arpeggios.
But not this time. Beilman made this often flat-sounding violin part exciting with the subtleties he brought to it. He found hidden melodies and camouflaged suggestions of a theme, all delivered with a great tone from his modern 2004 violin.
One unusual touch was the cadenzas. Beethoven didn’t write any for the violin. When he transcribed this work for the piano he composed piano cadenzas. And those were the basis of what Beilman, the top winner of the Montreal International Violin Competition and the recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, used for his exciting cadenzas.
Tempi mattered too. This long, dense concerto moved right along, and when it was done, the performance drew an immediate standing ovation from the audience of 900 or so.
And here’s the thing: At no point did the chamber orchestra seem to lack the horsepower needed to drive this big and iconic piece of music. Sewell and Beilman were well matched in projecting a big, rich sound and intense interpretation that engaged and excited you from beginning to end.
The audience even drew two encores from Beilman, both solo pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach (below), the ultimate test of a violinist. One was the songful slow movement from the Solo Sonata in C Major; the other was the lively Gavotte from the Solo Partita in E Major that almost seems a mirror image of the last movement of the Beethoven concerto.(ATTENTION ALL SOLOISTS: Please announce your encores!)
The first Bach movement, by the way, was also the piece that Beilman played at the wedding this summer where his sister married Joe Morris, the gifted principal clarinet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra who so stood out in the Copland concerto two weeks ago.
Plus, Beilman’s parents and grandparents hail from Madison.
So young Benjamin Beilman has roots in and ties to Madison.
Could that mean he will return soon?
The Ear sure hopes so.
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature tenor J. Adam Shelton and pianist Rayna Slavova in music by Robert Schumann, Lee Hoiby, Ricky Ian Gordon and Richard Hunley.
By Jacob Stockinger
The very accomplished musicians and friends at what is probably the oldest early music, period instrument and historically informed performance group in the area write to The Ear:
The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble invites you to a concert of baroque chamber music on this Saturday night, Oct. 10, at 8 p.m. in the Gates of Heaven historic synagogue, 300 East Gorham Street, in James Madison Park in downtown Madison.
Members (below) include Mimmi Fulmer, soprano; Nathan Giglierano, baroque violin; Brett Lipshutz, traverse; Eric Miller, viola da gamba; Mary Perkinson, baroque violin; Consuelo Sañudo, mezzo-soprano; Monica Steger, traverse; Anton TenWolde, baroque cello; and Max Yount, harpsichord.
The program includes:
Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643): “Occhi che sète” and “Begli occhi, io non provo”
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (ca. 1620–1680): Sonata Quarta
Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704): Miserere à deux dessus, deux flûtes et basse continue H 157
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Suanate da Camera, Due Violini e Violone e Cembalo, Sonata XII (Folia), opus 1 nr 12; Theme with 19 variations
Benedictus Buns (1642-1716): Ave Maria, Due Cantus cum III Instrumentis
ALERT: This Saturday night at 7 p.m., voice students from the UW-Madison School of Music will give a FREE and PUBLIC concert of opera arias at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, off the Capitol Square.
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 12 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.
By John W. Barker
The Madison Bach Musicians gave the first of their three concerts of this season on Saturday night. And this time they did so in a novel venue, Immanuel Lutheran Church (below is the exterior). This handsome space on the near East Side has emerged in recent months as a concert site of growing popularity.
The program was devoted to “Baroque Concertos,” and it was introduced by MBM founder and director Trevor Stephenson (below) with his usual wit and insight. (Performance photos are by John W. Barker.)
Of the four works presented, the first one was not a concerto at all, but an extraordinary ensemble piece by Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704, below). Many Renaissance and early Baroque composers had created sound paintings — both vocal and instrumental evocations of battle. But Biber’s Battaglia, with its polytonalities, went far beyond anything before, and perhaps since, all the way down to Charles Ives.
The second of its eight short movements evokes a military encampment of an army of very mixed personnel, each celebrating its individuality in a quodlibet or medley piece of eight separate song tunes played simultaneously, in willful chaos. And the penultimate seventh represents the battle itself with surging textures and wild string plucking to suggest gunshots.
The 11 string players, plus Stephenson on the harpsichord, made a whale of a show out of it, all on their elegant “early instruments.”
Throughout the program, the concertmaster, violinist Kangwon Kim (below), played a notable role as the true leader of the ensemble. But she was also given her place as a brilliant soloist — first in the Violin Concerto in A Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, the most familiar selection in the concert. This she played with her usual sensitivity and stylistic confidence.
The most novel work was a Cello Concerto in A Major by Leonardo Leo (1694-1744, below top), the leader of the important Neapolitan School of instrumental and vocal music in the early 18th century. The least familiar music on the program, this four-movement work gave soloist Steuart Pincombe (below bottom, seated in center) a chance to display a blazing virtuosity.
Finally came a rarely heard work by a well-known composer, Antonio Vivaldi. His Concerto for Violin, Cello, Strings and Continuo, in B-flat (RV 547) gave the vivacious Kim and the fiery Pincombe a perfect duet vehicle for display of their talents. The final movement was dazzling, and if they had repeated it as an encore — which I wish they had done — they would have raised the roof. (You can hear the double concerto by Vivaldi in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Clearly, Immanuel Lutheran has a growing future as a concert site. And the Madison Bach Musicians are off to a brilliant season. Watch for the annual Christmas concert on Dec. 12, and the correctly scheduled Easter (NOT Christmas) performance of George Frideric Handel’s Messiah on April 8 and 10; all of these will be at the First Congregational Church.
By Jacob Stockinger
A fanfare, please!
The brassier, the better!
Last year’s inaugural Brass Fest at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music proved so successful that another will take place later this week.
This year’s Brass Fest – which seems on its way to becoming an annual event — will run from this coming Friday, Oct. 9, through Sunday, Oct. 11.
The organizer and director of the festival is the virtuoso trumpeter John Aley (below), who teaches at the UW-Madison and is also principal trumpet with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. He also gives workshops at schools and festivals around the country, including the Interlochen Center for the Arts.
Some festival events are FREE while others -– concerts on Friday and Saturday nights — require admission that benefits the scholarship fund at the UW School of Music.
The lineup of performers is impressive.
It includes trumpeter Adam Rapa (below top) and singer Elisabeth Vik (below bottom):
And it includes the UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below):
But the details are so many and the impressive biographies of performers so long that The Ear thinks it is better not to duplicate them. So instead I am directing readers right to the UW-Madison School of Music’s website and A Tempo blog where you can find out all the details.
Here are three links:
By Jacob Stockinger
They are two of the most high-profile jobs in the world of classical music and they are both in New York City: the music director of the Metropolitan Opera and the music director of the New York Philharmonic.
And right now candidates are being examined as possible successors to their current heads, James Levine and Alan Gilbert respectively.
According to a story in The New Yorker magazine, one major player reportedly is the acclaimed firebrand and openly gay French-Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin (below, in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for Getty Images), who currently heads the Philadelphia Orchestra. Guess which post he is a candidate for?
Another major candidate seems to be the conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below). Can you guess for which post?
The Ear asks: Whatever happened to American candidates?
Are we going backwards from the Leonard Bernstein achievement of putting American maestros on a par with European or other foreign conductors?
To be fair, though, some report that Bernstein protégée Marin Alsop, currently music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, could be a contender for the New York Philharmonic post.
Anyway, the recent New Yorker magazine had a very good take on the game of musical chairs being played around the two major vacancies.
The story shows careful research and excellent deep sourcing. But it also reads a bit like an engagingly conversational gossip column.
Maybe that is because it is written not by music critic Alex Ross but by Russell Platt, who is the classical music editor for the Goings On About Town column that starts the magazine.
Here is a link to an excellent read and what seems to be a pretty good crystal ball about the future leaders of the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.
It’s great reading for a Sunday afternoon. Enjoy!