The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: For returning students, here is a lesson in the success of persistence

August 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Summer is close to over.

You can feel it the cooler morning air.

You can see it in the earlier sunsets.

And you can notice it with the return of students of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus as well as Edgewood College and other public and private schools.

Recently, NPR – National Public Radio — hosted a story, which Jeff Lunden first reported on All Things Considered, on its Deceptive Cadence blog about the success of persistence.

The Ear won’t say more other than it involves a timpani student, five tries, the Tanglewood Festival at the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and a stage crew.

It’s not a particularly important musical story. But it has a lot of human interest and some lessons through the personal experience of Miles Salerni (in a photo at bottom, by Hillary Scott for the Boston Symphony Orchestra).

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/11/489621299/if-at-first-or-fourth-you-dont-succeed-join-the-tanglewood-stage-crew

miles salerni hillary-scott- BSO

 


Classical music education: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra ends as it began — with an impressive display of young talent in both classic and contemporary music

August 23, 2016
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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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

On Friday evening, the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below in a photo by John W. Barker) gave, in the Atrium Auditorium at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, the concert that concluded its sixth season.

MAYCO Finale 2016 JWB

Founded in 2011, it has been a remarkable venture that has given student musicians of high-school level the chance to enjoy full-scale orchestral experience.

But the group’s founder and director, the versatile and multi-talented Madison native Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below), is apparently irreplaceable in this effort; and he has found that he must move on in his career. So, this latest and 10th concert was also the orchestra’s last.

Mikko Utevsky with baton

To mark the occasion, Utevsky, who just graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, is an enthusiastic champion of new music, and the orchestra commissioned a new composition, which then received its world premiere on Friday night.

The composer is the 25-year-old, Minneapolis-based avant-garde musician Ben Davis (below) who created a work with the not very helpful title of “is a is a is b is.” (I’m not making that up!) It is scored for a full ensemble of strings, winds and percussion plus an electronic screeching machine.

ben davis

It is, in truth, not a piece of music at all, but a 20-minute experiment in the kinds of unusual — and not particularly pleasant — sounds that a group of orchestral players can make with their instruments. There are passages of repeated unison notes (the same one over and over) at goodly volume. And the last three minutes or so is an unaccompanied solo for the screeching machine on a single, piercing tone.

Whether this made a worthy valedictory salute to MAYCO’s audience and supporters is, I suppose, a matter of taste.

Fortunately, this new work was cushioned on either side by much more familiar material.

Opening the program was the beloved Overture to the opera The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini. This was brought off with full-steam-ahead momentum by the players under Utevsky’s enthusiastic leadership.

And then, to conclude, came the same work that Utevsky included in the very first MAYCO program: Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

The players were clearly quite fired up at the chance to tackle this score and did themselves genuine credit. Utevsky provided fast and forceful leadership that stressed the dramatic power of this music—which was, in its day, as surprising and shocking as a lot of “new” music today, we must remember.

The audience shared with the performers a rousing experience.

Among his other functions, Utevsky also wrote admirably illuminating program notes for the Rossini and Beethoven works—contrasting with those contributed by Davis, which were as nose-thumbing as his composition.

It is sad to think that MAYCO is now a thing of the past. What a wonderful idea it has been, something that testifies to the remarkable quantity and quality of young musical talent here.

If his orchestra is now gone, we must certainly keep our eyes and ears open for what the gifted Utevsky moves on to next.


Classical music: This year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival celebrates local ecological restoration with “water music”

August 22, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is an overview of the upcoming 27th Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which starts this Saturday, Aug. 27, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 4.

TOKEN CREEK, WIS. – Years in the planning, summer 2016 marks the completion of a major ecological restoration project on the Token Creek Festival property in the northeast corner of Dane County, part of the watersheds vital to the hydrology of Madison and southeastern Wisconsin.

TokenCreekentrance

TokenCreekbarn interior

During the 1930s, one of the most important feeder streams in the area, and its only cold-water trout stream, was ruined when it was widened to support short-lived commercial interests and development. Now, decades later, in a monumental effort, that stream has at long last been relocated, restored and rescued.

Festival-goers will be able to experience the project firsthand on the opening weekend, when each concert is preceded by an optional stroll along the new stream, with conversation guided by restoration ecologists and project managers.

Celebrating this monumental ecological project, the season theme of this year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival is: Water Music. Virtually all of the works programmed evoke brooks and streams and rivers and water in its many forms, with its ritual meanings, associations, allusions, and as metaphor.

In keeping with the theme, the Festival has adopted Franz Schubert (below) as the summer’s featured composer. His poetic, melancholic, ultimately organic and inevitable relationship to the natural world was expressed in composition after composition, wedded to his intense involvement with the poetry of his era, itself so infatuated with birds, fields, clouds and streams.

Franz Schubert big

The second program emphasis continues the festival’s most persistent theme: the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bach1

Three strands of Bach’s music previously explored at Token Creek will be taken up again. We will present our third complete cantata performance, O heiliges Geist und Wasserbad, a mysterious and poetic piece from early in the composer’s career, with soloists from the Madison Choral Project (below).

Madison Choral Project color

We will conclude our survey of the three Bach violin concertos, this year the E major, co-artistic director Rose Mary Harbison (below top) again as soloist. And we take up our sequence of fugues from The Art of Fugue, co-artistic director and composer John Harbison (below bottom), who has won the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur “genius grant,” adding three more to his personal odyssey with this work, due to conclude in 2030.

RosemaryHarbison

JohnHarbisonatpiano

NEW ARTISTS

Token Creek is pleased to introduce several new artists this season, including Grammy Award-nominated mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore, who has been praised for her “glorious instrument” and dubbed an “undisputed star…who has it all – looks, intelligence, musicianship, personality, technique, and a voice of bewitching amber color.”

Ms. Lattimore will offer works of Franz Schubert and John Harbison on the Festival’s opening concerts, By the Brook (August 27 and 28), where she will be joined by pianist Molly Morkoski.

www.margaretlattimore.net

Margaret Lattimore

Ms. Morkoski (below), who last appeared at Token Creek in 2013, consistently garners praise for her refined virtuosity and “the bold confidence and interactive grace one wants in a devoted chamber music maker.” In addition to the opening program, Morkoski will also be heard on the season finale in Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet (Sept. 2 and 4).

http://www.mollymorkoski.com/

molly morkoski

On that same concert, tenor William Hite and pianist Kayo Iwama join forces in Schubert’s devastating and tragic song cycle, Die Schöne Müllerin (The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter), in which a brook functions prominently as the protagonist’s confidante. (You can hear the legendary baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sing “The Miller and the Brook” from the flowing song cycle in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini has called Hite (below) a “breathtaking communicator of spoken nuance” for his ability to reveal the meaning and emotion embodied in the text and the music, solidifying his reputation as an engaging and expressive artist.

http://www.williamhitetenor.com/

william hite

Kayo Iwama (below) is associate director of the Bard College Conservatory of Music graduate vocal arts program, the master’s degree program for classical singers, and she also coordinates the vocal studies program at the Tanglewood Music Center. Her frequent concert partners include Dawn Upshaw and Lucy Shelton.

http://www.bard.edu/academics/faculty/details/?action=details&id=1838

Kayo Iwama

VIOLS AND WILLIAM WARTMANN

Finally, the “technically faultless and consistently sensitive and expressive,” consort of viols, Second City Musick (below), based in Chicago, will offer a guest recital on Tuesday, Aug. 30, anchored by John Harbison’s The Cross of Snow.

Craig Trompeter, Russell Wagner, Anna Steinhoff at the Planetarium, Chicago, May 30, 2013

Craig Trompeter, Russell Wagner, Anna Steinhoff at the Planetarium, Chicago, May 30, 2013

Commissioned by local businessman and philanthropist William John Wartmann (below) in memory of his wife, mezzo-soprano Joyce Wartmann, this evocative new piece, on texts of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, blends the ethereal lushness of violas da gamba with the haunting clarity of the countertenor voice, here Nathan Medley (below bottom), to explore the emotions of grief, loss and love.

wiiliam wartmann

Nathan Medley

At its first performance in Chicago last May, a local critic praised both the work and the musicians: “The Chicago-based ensemble was ideally suited to premiere this profoundly affecting work, and the shared sensibility between composer and performers was noticeable.”

Tuesday’s program will also include works of Henry Purcell, William Byrd, John Jenkins and Johann Sebastian Bach.

www.secondcitymusick.org

Other festival artists this season include vocalists Rachel Warricke, Sarah Leuwerke, Daniel O’Dea, and Nathan Krueger; violinists Rose Mary Harbison, Laura Burns, and Isabella Lippi; Jen Paulson, viola; Karl Lavine, cello; Ross Gilliland, bass; Linda Kimball, horn; and John Harbison, piano.

HERE ARE FESTIVAL PROGRAMS AT A GLANCE:

Program 1: By the Brook – Schubert, Bach and Harbison

Saturday, Aug. 27: 6:45 p.m. – optional guided stream stroll*; 8 p.m. – concert

Sunday, Aug. 28:  2:45 p.m. – optional guided stream stroll*; 4 p.m. – concert

*(The stream stroll is free, but reservations are recommended)

Program 2: Music for Viols, Then & Now

Tuesday, Aug. 30, at 7:30 p.m.

Program 3: Water Colors = Two Schubert Masterworks

Friday, Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 4 at 4 p.m.

Concert tickets are $32 (students $12). The preview stream stroll on opening weekend is free to concertgoers, but advance reservations are recommended.

Reservations can be made in several ways:

  • Online:    https://www.eventbrite.com/e/token-creek-chamber-music-festival-2016-tickets-26070692142
  • Website (printable order form): www.tokencreekfestival.org
  • Phone: 608-241-2525 (voicemail only, please leave a message)
  • Email: info@tokencreekfestival.org
  • U.S. mail: P.O. Box 5201, Madison WI, 53705

Performances take place at the Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison) with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small—early reservations are recommended.

Token Creek 2011 Mozart Trio, Levin, Harbison, Ryder

More information about the Token Creek Festival and all events and artists can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling 608 241-2525.


Classical music: On the eve of his performance at The Proms, meet Ivan Fischer – a modest maestro who gets great results from his orchestra

August 21, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

In less than a week from now, on this coming Friday night, Hungarian maestro Ivan Fischer (below) will make his debut at the famed British BBC Proms with the Budapest Festival Orchestra.

Ivan Fischer big headshot

In an age of jet-set, millionaire celebrity maestros, The Ear finds that the modest Fischer – a pianist by training who is also the music director of the Konzerthaus in Berlin, Germany — shows a refreshing lack of ego and ambition.

Fisher — who has also challenged the conservative right-wing government of Hungary –seems to have a healthy perspective on making music, which depends on taking the long view, with the acclaimed Budapest Festival Orchestra (below), which he founded and still leads.

Fischer is also extremely thoughtful and articulate in words as well as music, as you seen in his insightful remarks about the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Fischer is also well know for his recorded interpretations of Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner, Antonin Dvorak, Peter Tchaikovsky, Bela Bartok and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

In short, Ivan Fischer seems a model non-superstar musician.

Ivan Fischer with Budapest Festival Orchestra

The Ear hopes you agree.

Here is a terrific profile that appeared in The Guardian newspaper in the UK:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/aug/12/how-ivan-fischer-found-greatness-with-the-budapest-festival-orchestra


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS — On a cool and rainy weekend, here is a touch of summer

August 20, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The weather predictions that The Ear has seen say today and tomorrow will be cool and rainy with possible storms.

So here is a touch from the composer who The Ear thinks is the most summery composer in history. His work has just the right touch of breezy lightness and bright sunshine.

He is the 20th-century French composer Francis Poulenc, so severely underestimated in his lifetime,  and here– in the YouTube video at the bottom — is his Sonata for Oboe and Piano, which The Ear often finds Mozart-like its simplicity, clarity and beauty.

Hope you enjoy.


Classical music: Did she know or didn’t she? Here is the factual background about a flawed diva if you go to see the movies “Florence Foster Jenkins” or “Marguerite”

August 19, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This week, The Ear saw the movie “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a story about the amateur singer Florence Foster Jenkins (below, in the 1920s in a photo from Getty Images), who was famous in the early- to mid-20th-century for singing terribly, painfully and laughably off-key but who nonetheless pursued performing in public and sold a lot of records.

Florence Foster Jenkins in the 1920s GETTY IMAGES

During the Wisconsin Film Festival, The Ear also saw a French movie, “Marguerite,” with a similar story line and main character.

Of the two, he much preferred “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Meryl Streep (below) plays the flawed diva with total commitment. The Ear suspects it will garner Streep, who did her own bad singing to perfection, her 20th Academy Award nomination, even if she doesn’t win a fourth Oscar.

British actor Hugh Grant might also be nominated for his supporting role as the British out-of-work actor who becomes her protector, promoter and caring love partner St. Clair Bayfield.

In additon, her piano accompanist Cosmé McMoon, played by Simon Helberg, who could also receive an Oscar nomination, develops into a memorable secondary character.

The English script — directed by the talented Stephen Frears –seemed more tightly written with better characters and dialogue than the French one, which dragged on too long and seemed forced in its ending, although both movies share similarities in their endings.

But to be honest, with both of the films The Ear had a major problem with suspending disbelief.

He just can’t believe that Jenkins didn’t know how badly she sang.

You can hear her butcher the famous and difficult “Queen of the Night” aria from “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Anyway, the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR, or National Public Radio, has provided an excellent background piece, a very factual biography of Jenkins, that also asks famous singers whether it is possible for Jenkins not to have known how flawed her singing was.

All The Ear knows is that if he played the piano that badly, he sure wouldn’t go perform a recital in Carnegie Hall.

Here is a link to the blog piece by Tom Huizenga:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/10/488724807/killing-me-sharply-with-her-song-the-improbable-story-of-florence-foster-jenkins

Now if you go to either or both movies, here is what The Ear wants to know:

Which film about Florence Foster Jenkins did you prefer, and why?

And do you think it is possible to sing as badly as Jenkins did without knowing it?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The time and place have changed for Friday night’s concert by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO)

August 18, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following note from Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below top), the founder and music director of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (below) bottom, which plays its last concert this Friday night.

Mikko Rankin Utevsky MAYCO 8-15

Hi Jake,

I have a major announcement to make to your readers:

The TIME and LOCATION for the final concert by MAYCO have been changed.

The concert is now in the Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, at 8 p.m. – NOT in Music Hall at 7:30 p.m., as previously announced.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

For more details about the concert, visit the post that appeared here earlier this week. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/08/16/classical-music-the-madison-area-youth-chamber-orchestra-mayco-closes-out-its-existence-this-friday-night/

And here are some brief remarks from Utevsky (below) about the concert’s program:

Mikko Utevsky with baton

“Our first concert five years ago ended with Beethoven’s monumental Fifth Symphony, and to bring things full circle with our tenth and final performance, I decided it was only right to program the piece once more.

“We’re opening with a light appetizer, Rossini’s effervescent overture to his opera “The Barber of Seville,” which calls to mind Bugs Bunny as easily as Madison Opera‘s vivacious staging two seasons ago.

“In between, we have a complex, experimental new work exploring the psychology of performance and the physical act of playing an instrument – by far the most adventurous work we’ve ever commissioned or premiered.

“I hope the public will join us for the performance, and a small reception afterward celebrating ten wonderful concerts.”

 


Classical music: Got questions? Got answers? Try using Quora – especially if you are a piano fan

August 17, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

A close friend recently recommended a chatroom called Quora, which has a regular website and also a mobile app, which The Ear downloaded from iTunes and uses every day.

Quora logo

You have to sign up for it, but membership is free. And I don’t recall seeing any ads.

Once you belong to Quora, you can check what topics interest you and then you get constant updates and entries. And you can choose from a lot of topics in all kinds of fields and disciplines from art and music to politics, economics and international relations.

One possible choice is, simply, Classical Music, and it is a good choice.

But The Ear has found the site a particularly good and helpful resource for questions about the piano.

piano keys

Here are some of the topics that have been featured recently:

Why do mathematicians appreciate Bach more than Beethoven?

What should I do if I need to perform with a bad quality piano? (Answered by some who LOVES bad pianos)

I am 14 years old. Can I start playing the piano or is it too late?

Can you provide any recommendations of electronic pianos?

yamaha digital piano

How does the new Kawai grand piano GL series compare to other inexpensive baby grands like Yahama G series or the Baldwin BP series?

What should I keep in mind while learning the piano?

What are the features of good piano texture?

Who are some good contemporary classical piano composers?

What are the pros and cons of an electric piano to a classical piano? (None other than the legendary virtuoso Martha Argerich practices on a digital piano.)

What are some study strategies to memorize big piano pieces?

What qualities make for good Chopin play?

What would be a good piano practice routine?

quora Q&A

Well, you get the idea.

The questions run the gamut as do the answers.

But The Ear has learned that just because a question sounds obvious and simple, even amateurish, doesn’t mean that the answers aren’t valuable and informative.

As an avid amateur pianist, The Ear has learned many things.

And he may soon even start answering some of the questions.

Here is a link:

https://www.quora.com

Try it and let The Ear know what you think.
Good reading!

Good writing!

Good playing the piano!

 


Classical music: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) closes out its existence this Friday night.

August 16, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear notes with sadness the passing of a fine and inspiring institution that has fostered music education.

It is the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (below), also known as MAYCO, and this Friday night it will give its 10th – and final – performance.

MAYCO Aug. 2014 1

The concert is this Friday night at 8 p.m. (NOT 7:30 p.m. as originally announced) in the Artrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison (NOT Music Hall). Admission is $10 for the public, with students getting in for a free-will donation.

Much about the final concert follows a familiar pattern.

For one, old classics will be mixed with new music.

In this case, the old classics are the Overture to the operas “The Barber of Seville” by Giachino Rossini and the famously forceful Fifth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven. (You can get a taste of both the symphony and MAYCO in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The new work is the world premiere of “is a is a is b is” by Ben Davis (below), a graduate of the UW-Madison.

ben davis

Also in keeping with MAYCO’S past, it will conducted by its founder and music director Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below), who founded it while he was still a student at East High School in Madison.

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

Since then Utevsky graduated this past May from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he majored in viola, conducting and singing, even appearing in baritone roles in several University Opera productions and giving a lieder recital.

All that plus he proved a talented reviewer and writer for this blog, especially when he chronicled tour of Vienna, Prague and Budapest by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) several years ago. You can read his writing by using the search engine in this blog. Just type in his name.

Why is MAYCO coming to an end?

Utevsky says simply and without bitterness that it is time for him to move on. He is taking off a year before pursuing graduate studies.

You can see what an achievement MAYCO provided – with lists of repertoire, composers and performers –by going to its home website:

http://www.mayco.org/#!concerts/cnnz


Classical music: Where did the Mostly Mozart Festival go on PBS?

August 15, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear keeps reading The New York Times and finding features about and laudatory reviews of the 50th Mostly Mozart Festival that is being held at Lincoln Center in New York City from July 22 through August 27.

Mostly Mozart Festival logo

But he doesn’t recall seeing or hearing anything on PBS, or public television – even in a delayed broadcast.

Time was, it seems, that the gala opening concert was broadcast during prime time on either “Live From Lincoln Center” or “Great Performances.”

But for several years now it seems that it is no longer broadcast.

And The Ear misses it. They were almost always good concerts with memorable music, memorable performers and memorable performances. (You can get an idea from the YouTube video at the bottom.)

And music director Louis Langree (below) has instituted some great innovations, including new music, more music by other composers, and smaller alternative venues and programs.

louis langree

This year’s offerings are no different. Check out the schedule at the festival’s website:

http://mostlymozart.org

Is it The Ear’s imagination that the Mostly Mozart Festival has disappeared from the airwaves?

Why?

To be more mainstream?

To make room for more British mysteries or other more popular shows?

That would be a shame for the alternative broadcast company.

Does anybody else feel the same way?

Has The Ear just missed the broadcasts?

Or have they really been suspended or ended?

If so, does the credit go to PBS? Or to Wisconsin Public Television?

The Ear sure would appreciate getting some answers.

And seeing and hearing more of Mostly Mozart.


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