ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in “Carmina Burana” in the MSO’s spectacular season-closing program. Read three rave reviews by local critics:
Here is what John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:
Here is what Greg Hettmansberger wrote for Madison Magazine and his blog WhatGregSays:
And here is what Jessica Courtier wrote for The Capital Times:
By Jacob Stockinger
Who says you can’t mix art and current events?
Especially if the current events also count as history, which has often been an inspiration for fiction and art.
But not all of the news has to do with politics, suicide bombings, increased troop commitments and fierce fighting in a civil war.
It also has to do with art.
Specifically, opera — that potent combination of theater and music.
The Long Beach Opera commissioned and recently premiered a new chamber opera based on the Iraq War and PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), and us based on the life and work of U.S. Marine Christian Ellis . It is called “Fallujah” and it is the first such opera to be written. (A photo below is by Keith Ian Polakoff for the Long Beach Opera.)
It makes The Ear wonder if it might find its way into an upcoming season of the Madison Opera, which tends to use its smaller winter productions to stage works that are newer, smaller, more adventurous and more exploratory.
Or maybe the University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music might find it a good choice for a student production?
By Jacob Stockinger
Talk about world-class honors.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison is one of only five venues worldwide — and the only one in the United States — selected to host, perform and participate in “Playing the Jewish Archive: Rediscovering Jewish Music, Literature and Theater.”
The ambitious project, launched by the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom, is designed to rediscover and revive Jewish and Yiddish music, and culture in general, that were threatened with extinction by World War II and the rise of Hitler and the anti-Semitism of the Nazis in Europe during the Holocaust.
A preview of the project happened last fall. Here is a link to a previous two-part posting about that event:
But this time the ticketed events (usually $10, $5 for students) – which start this Sunday, May 1, and run through Thursday, May 5 — are longer and more ambitious.
Here is a link to the preview and complete day-by-day programs of composers, works and performers that is on the website of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. It also has information about obtaining tickets and a lot of background and context:
And here are two links to other stories in Isthmus and the Wisconsin State Journal, which also highlight the pivotal role that Teryl Dobbs, a professor of music education and the department chair of music education at the UW, played in securing this prestigious as well as historically and artistically important event for Madison and the UW-Madison:
Finally, here is a link to a list of the many programs and performers with times and venues:
By Jacob Stockinger
Loyal readers know that The Ear is a big supporter of music education and amateur music-making.
All the more reason to honor Janet Jensen (below), then, who is retiring as the string pedagogue at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Jensen has spent almost 50 years teaching strings not only to specialists but also to music educators and amateur student musicians.
Her final concert with the All-University Strings (below) is this Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. in Mills Hall. It will also feature the Sonora Strings from the Suzuki Strings of Madison plus soloists John Povolny and Lili Kim as well as guest conductors Mikko Rankin Utevsky and Brandi Pease.
The FREE concert will feature string music by Johann Sebastian Bach (the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom); Antonio Vivaldi; John Rutter; Ernest Bloch; Edvard Grieg; Leonard Bernstein; and others.
In a prepared statement, Jensen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) said:
“This concert marks the 25th anniversary of my leadership. It also marks my retirement from the School of Music, where I’ve been a student, staff member and faculty member – an association spanning nearly 50 years.
“In my dual faculty roles of Professor of String Pedagogy and Associate Director I have had the opportunity to serve many populations – colleagues, music majors and non-majors – but I’ve found particular authenticity in the All-University String Orchestras and in bringing majors and non-majors together.
“That sense of authenticity derives from several sources. A former, and maybe future, public school music teacher, I realized that musical groups for non-music majors in fact serve the teachers, mentors and programs that produced them.
“I’m a product of public education and the beneficiary of tenets of the Wisconsin Idea and University Extension programs, so it also became clear to me that such musical groups extend UW’s impact beyond the campus to the state borders and beyond.
“Deeply influenced by the values inherent in community music programs and life-long learning in music, I realized that providing a musical setting that could be balanced with multiple degrees and academic loads would better ensure that non-majors would opt to keep music in their lives — and, as they themselves become voters, parents and advocates, in the lives of others.”
Here is a link to a website posting with the compete program plus a very informative and even moving set of remarks by Jensen who discusses the program, her personal background and her commitment to a broad music education:
ALERT: The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will offer a free hymn sing with Principal Organist Samuel Hutchison in Overture Hall, 201 State Street, in this Saturday, April 30, at 11 a.m. All ages are welcome to join in the singing with the Overture Concert Organ. No tickets or reservations are needed for the free Hymn Sing, which will last approximately 45 minutes.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus will close out the current season this weekend with three performances of Carl Orff’s popular 1937 secular or profane oratorio “Carmina Burana” and Ottorino Respighi’s “The Pines of Rome.”
Also participating are Boychoir members from Madison Youth Choirs, Michael Ross, Artistic Director; soprano Jeni Houser, who was acclaimed for her role in the Madison Opera’s recent production of “The Tales of Hoffmann”; tenor Thomas Leighton; and baritone Keith Phares.
The concerts are in Overture Hall, 201 State Street, on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
For more information, visit:
Single tickets are $16 to $85 each, available on the MSO website; 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% 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% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.
Here is a link to program notes by Michael Allsen:
Here is a link to translations of the Latin texts:
This season also marks the 20th anniversary of assistant MSO conductor Beverly Taylor, who also directs choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
The ever-busy Taylor agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear about her duties and the program:
You are the very busy director of choral activities at the UW-Madison. But this is your 20th anniversary directing the Madison Symphony Chorus and serving as assistant conductor of the MSO. Can you take us behind the scenes and tell us what your MSO duties are?
They are three-fold.
First, I’m a “cover” conductor, meaning I’m supposed to be prepared to take over for John DeMain on short notice in case he’s suddenly sick or injured. This hasn’t happened in 20 years, but I HAVE covered some rehearsals by schedule when he’s been out of town or we fear a delayed plane arrival.
Normally the cover conductor conducts the concert if the delay or injury occurs at the beginning of the concert. If it happens in the second half, orchestras often just end the concert—like calling a baseball game after the five official innings.
My second job is preparing the chorus to sing for John De Main. Our rehearsals are like any other chorus rehearsal at first. We focus on notes, intonation, rhythmic accuracy, pronunciation and diction, beautiful phrasing and appropriate tone and balance.
Then closer to the performance, I check with Maestro De Main (below, in a photo by Prasad) on any special markings or tempos he may want. During my early years he often came to our last chorus rehearsal, but we’ve worked together for so many years now that he trusts me to put his choices into the chorus’ training.
In the long term, my duties also include programming and conducting our non-orchestral concerts, auditioning new singers and ensuring that returning singers keep their abilities high.
My third job is challenging, interesting and fun. It’s to give Maestro Demain information from the audience’s point of view. That means balances between guest soloist and orchestra, balances and rhythmic acuity between sections of the orchestra, and any other notes or opinions that he might find useful.
His own hearing is acute, but anyone who conducts can tell you that the instruments right in front of you make so much noise, that you can’t always judge the relative balances of the orchestra as they project outwards.
Depending on how much time is available in the rehearsal, I make fast notes as the orchestra plays, and give him the notes after the Maestro has done most of his rehearsing. If we’re out of time, I give him the notes backstage and occasionally am asked to pass these notes on to the players involved – for example, a little more triangle, less cello and bass on measures 45-48, etc.)
How has the chorus changed over the past two decades?
I think the biggest way in which the chorus has changed is that it sight-reads better and is more acute with a cappella intonation. The main point in having good sight-readers is that it is a HUGE time saver in rehearsal and allows us to get deeper into musical decisions and development. Having said that, we do still take some people with fast ears and good voices who can prove they can keep up.
What do you think explains the immense popularity of “Carmina Burana” by Carl Orff (below)? How does it compare in popularity to other choral works, especially modern ones?
I think the work is easy to understand. The rhythms are clear, pulsing, repetitive and engaging, and the melodies are memorable and singable. In many ways, it has the appeal of musical comedies. The use of percussion instruments also is appealing and is familiar to people used to bands or popular music. (You can hear the mesmerizing opening in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
While perhaps not the most profound work, it is well crafted. And who hasn’t heard the opening tune in commercial after commercial?
The “modern” style today can’t be well defined because so many composers do so many things. I giggle a bit when audiences say they don’t like dissonance when five minutes in a movie theater with eyes closed will make the listener aware of FAR more dissonant music than in most modern concerts.
Many modern works can be understood at first hearing. Others yield more with a little study. It’s not really different from sports. You may have one person go to a baseball game for the weather, popcorn and home runs who will be disappointed if they miss those. Others will go noticing bad calls for strikes and balls, the stance of the batter, and will quote statistics from past games. They may have a richer experience because they know more, but it doesn’t mean people can’t go and get what they want out of it. Just go to concerts with open minds!
Are there special things you would like to point out to the public about “Carmina Burana” in general and about this performance in particular?
There are three basic sections to “Carmina,” with an introduction and ending. The opening is based mainly on the subject of Fortune (the introduction) and songs that come out of the monk’s life—some of them were obviously sent to the monastery without a vocation!
The second section is for tenors and basses only—“At the Tavern,” and it’s operatic in its depiction of the fun of mocking life at the monastery, concluding in the great drinking song sung by the men in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan — excuses to toast everyone of every shape and size, and listing who drinks, which is everyone!
The third section, known as the court of love, is beautiful and emotional as the women who know the off-duty monks think about love and if they should yield or not. We finish off with the monumental “O Fortuna” — if Frank Sinatra was singing it would be “sometimes you’re up, sometimes you’re down.”
There are techniques commonly and cheekily attributed to late Romantic works, especially Tchaikovsky: fast is good, loud is better, fast and loud is best. Orff follows this: his pacing builds steadily so that you are swept up in the excitement.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
This isn’t the only thing on the program. Most people will adore the gorgeous “Pines of Rome” by Ottorino Respighi (below), full of color, majesty and the sound of trumpets all through the hall!
Plus, I give the pre-concert lecture this weekend. It’s free for all ticket-holders and is held in the hall an hour before the performance, lasting for half an hour. This means on Friday, it’s 6:30-7 p.m.; Saturday 7-7:30 p.m.; and Sunday 1:30-2 p.m.
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. Barker also took the performance photos.
By John W. Barker
The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Choral Union and UW Chamber Orchestra (both below) again pulled off a choral spectacular on Sunday afternoon.
The one-time concert was devoted to the great Classical era oratorio by Franz Joseph Haydn, The Creation, which is too big a work to be performed very frequently. But Haydn modeled it admiringly on the great Baroque oratorios of George Frideric Handel, which we almost NEVER get to hear — let’s not talk about the quite unrepresentative Messiah — by comparison. So we can be grateful for the opportunities we do have.
As always, the campus and community Choral Union sounded magnificent. It is supposed to, with a complement of 116 listed singers, as against an orchestra of a mere 34 players. So it could not avoid overshadowing and overawing all other factors. And particular power, volume and homogeneity resulted from the practice of mixing the singers completely, instead of having them stand as members of vocal sections.
This follows the pernicious gospel preached, going way back, to Robert Fountain, who founded the UW Choral Union many decades ago. One argument for it was that each singer should become more self-reliant, less dependent on the one next to him or her.
But if this practice makes for blockbuster, socko sound, it does so at the cost of part-writing clarity, especially in fugal segments. It misrepresents musical texture by exchanging its definition for a power-oriented blend, a hyped-up sludge.
It strikes me as strange that advocates for applying this doctrine to choruses do not also demand it for orchestras. Think of it: each violin individually next to a trombone, each viola mixed in with the trumpets. Now there would be a chance for socko homogeneity!
The UW Chamber Orchestra’s winds were strong enough, but the strings were woefully understaffed. At times, the ensemble sounded just a tad under-rehearsed, but on the whole it did well under its handicaps.
The soloists played a multiplying game. In Parts I and II, the three Angels, Gabriel (soprano), Uriel (tenor) and Raphael (bass), who narrated and celebrated the stages of the Creation, were taken by a fixed trio (below).
The familiar Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below top) has a strong and beautiful soprano voice. Faculty tenor James Doing (below middle) is also a valued local standby. Baritone Benjamin Schultz (below bottom) has a pleasant voice, but it lacks a true bass range.
In Part III, when Adam and Eve come on the scene, Guarrine shifted to the latter role, and another baritone weak in the low-register, Benjamin Li (below top), took over as Adam. For the final ensemble, a choral alto slipped in to round out the solo quartet (below bottom).
I note the title of the work as The Creation, rather than giving its original title, Die Schöfung, because the performance was sung in a modernized English translation.
Once in a while, those English words came through, but much of them were simply lost in mixed diction values. It might have been better — if not easier for the singers — to have kept to the original German. But all praise for an unusually ample program booklet, containing the full English text as sung.
Beverly Taylor (below), the conductor of the choir and orchestra, led with consistent energy and enthusiasm. Certainly the audience responded with great enthusiasm. (You can hear the famous chorus “The Heavens Are Telling” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
This was, to be sure, not an ideal performance, even a lopsided one. But, after all, the point of these events is to give the choristers a chance to participate in this wonderful music, and to give the audience a relatively rare opportunity to encounter it. On those counts, this was a highly successful event.
Now, even if we are not likely to get a follow-up with Handel, we at least have Haydn’s own successor oratorio, Die Jahreszeithen, or The Seasons. That would be wonderful to hear in its turn.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following notice:
The final SoundWaves event of the year will be on this Friday, April 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Center of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discover (WID), 333 North Orchard Street, across from the Union South.
SoundWaves events explore a broad theme through different lenses from the sciences and the humanities, ending with a related performance.
The title of Friday’s event is “Let’s Start at the Very Beginning: Origins in Science and Music.”
The presenters are John Yin, speaking about the COOL (Chemical Origins Of Life) Project; Clark Johnson speaking about the first billion years of the Earth’s history; Elizabeth Hennessy on the interaction of man and animal in a pristine environment (the Galapagos) and about Darwin; and the School of Music’s own composer Laura Schwendinger (below), speaking about the inspiration for the creation of new works.
Then, SoundWaves Curator Daniel Grabois (below, in a photo by James Gill), horn professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Music, will speak about the process of creating a new CD recording.
The event will conclude with a performance by School of Music pianist Christopher Taylor (below). He will be playing a dual-manual piano (a piano with two keyboards).
This is an instrument that creates whole new possibilities in piano performance, and Professor Taylor will be performing selections from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations as well as his own arrangement of Liszt’s “Paysage” (“Landscape” from the Transcendental Etudes) made for this instrument.
(You can hear the haunting opening Aria from Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, from the second recording made by Glenn Gould, in a popular YouTube video at the bottom that has almost 1.9 million hits.)
Admission is free.
Cash bar opens at 7 p.m.
Registration is suggested at www.discovery.wisc.edu/soundwaves
By Jacob Stockinger
If you suffer from stage fright when you perform in public, you are not alone.
Some of the biggest names in the performing arts share that same fate.
And there seem to be many ways to deal with stage nerves, from eating potassium-rich bananas just prior to performing to taking beta-blocking drugs to doing all sorts of meditation and adopting new attitudes.
But here is an essay form the Internet by professional cellist Miranda Wilson (below) with a point of view and helpful hints that might prove useful:
Do you have tips abut dealing with stage fight?
Please leave your suggestions in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
He is generally acknowledged as the greatest writer of all time and of any culture.
The English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (below) died 400 years ago today – on April 23, 1616 — in his hometown of Stratford-on-Avon where he returned to after his stage career in London. He was 52 years old.
You may have heard that a touring copy of the rare 1623 First Folio edition of his plays, on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., will be on display this fall at the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dates of the exhibit are Nov. 3-Dec. 11, 2016.
Here is a link with more information:
And this summer’s Madison Early Music Festival will focus on Shakespeare and music of the Elizabethan Age when it is held from July 9 to July 16.
Here is more information about that event:
Today, what The Ear wants to know is what is your favorite piece of music inspired by Shakespeare?
The Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Felix Mendelssohn? (The Ear loves that richly atmospheric work. You can hear it, complete with the braying of the “rude mechanical” human who is transformed into a donkey — in a YouTube video at the bottom)
The operas ”Otello” or “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi?
The opera versions of “Romeo and Juliet” by Hector Berlioz and Charles Gounod?
The incidental music to “Henry V,” “Hamlet” and “Richard III” by William Walton?
Franz Schubert’s song “Where is Sylvia”?
The “Romeo and Juliet” Fantasy Overture by Tchaikovsky?
Various setting of songs and ditties in Shakespeare’s plays?
If you need something to jog your memory about possible choices, here is a link:
Leave your choice, with a YouTube link if possible, in the COMMENTS section.
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: This Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Gates of Heaven Synagogue, 300 East Gorham Street in James Madison Park, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will perform a concert of music by Claudio Monteverdi, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Francois Couperin and others. Tickets at the door are $20 for the public, $10 for students. A free reception with the musicians follows at 2422 Kendall Avenue, second floor. For more information about the performers and the program, visit www.wisconsinbaroque.org
By Jacob Stockinger
Editor’s note: The Ear’s good friend and knowledgeable classical music fan Larry Wells offered the following review of last weekend’s production of Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann” by the Madison Opera. Production photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.
By Larry Wells
I had been looking forward to Madison Opera’s production of “The Tales of Hoffmann” by Jacques Offenbach (below) ever since it was announced.
The opera is a particular favorite of mine, and I’ve seen a number of productions in larger houses, most recently in Tokyo and most memorably a production at the San Francisco Opera 30 years ago with Placido Domingo and James Morris.
I was interested to see how Madison Opera would approach this somewhat theatrically difficult work, and Sunday’s performance was a delight from beginning to end.
First, the singing.
The cast was consistently strong, and each singer could be mentioned in a positive vein. So, I single out three who particularly stood out.
The star of the show, for me, was coloratura soprano Jeni Hauser (below, center, in white) as Olympia, the doll. Her vocal pyrotechnics were sensational. She would be a wonderful Zerbinetta, and I would enjoy seeing her tackle Baby Doe. She is a very funny physical comic actress, and she was simply wonderful.
Morgan Smith (below) as Hoffmann’s four nemeses was excellent possessing a strong, deep bass-baritone. As a side note, he is the second singer I’ve seen and heard recently in Wisconsin who will be featured in Tucson Opera’s upcoming premiere of “Riders of the Purple Sage,” the other being Keith Phares who was in Florentine Opera’s recent production of Jake Heggie’s “Three Decembers.” It will be conducted by Keitaro Harada, who is a talent to watch.
The third standout was mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala (below) as Hoffmann’s Muse and attendant. She was outstanding vocally and fun to watch.
Hoffmann was sung by tenor Harold Meers (below right, in suit). For an exhausting role, Meers toughed it out and, when singing full voice, was resonant and lyrical.
The production was set in a well-stocked bar, and Hoffmann’s series of bad choices in love appeared fueled by alcohol.
The set, from the Virginia Opera, and costumes were dazzling, particularly in the Giulietta act, which in a departure from the productions I’ve seen, was the third act. I felt that the change of the order of the acts made a lot of sense dramatically.
And I loved the use by stage director Kristine McIntyre of the Roaring Twenties theme – flappers and Charlestons, along with gondolas, fog and a bit of German Expressionism. Total fun.
My favorite moment of the opera is the ensemble in the Giulietta scene “Hélas Mon Coeur,” and its performance Sunday nearly brought me to tears. In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear that music performed by Placido Domingo and the remarkable Agnes Baltsa.
So, bravo Madison Opera, for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the opera. I heard several people say that it was a long one — three hours — but for me the time flew.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Since reviews are subjective, for purposes of comparison here is a link to John W. Barker’s rave review that just appeared in Isthmus: