By Jacob Stockinger
Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Rankin Utevsky. The young violist, baritone and conductor is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and conductor James Smith, plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra, and sings with the University Opera.
Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO – www.MAYCO.org), which will perform its sixth season this summer. He also directs a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra (www.disso.org).
You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.
I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.
Also, his latest venture was the successful recent launch of the Impresario Student Opera at the UW-Madison.
Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below) with production photos by James Gill for the Madison Opera:
By Mikko Rankin Utevsky
A great opera can be memorable in many ways. You might remember how you felt at the climaxes of the music, or walk out humming the Big Tune from the showstopper aria, or leave with an image fixed in your mind’s eye of the most dramatic moment in the first-act finale.
In an opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Giuseppe Verdi or Giacomo Puccini, you might remember all of these. But in American composer Mark Adamo’s debut opera, “Little Women,” there’s nothing to remember — no great moving moments, no thrilling stage pictures, no hummable tunes.
There are motifs, certainly, and recurring lines. But “Things change, Jo” (song by acclaimed mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in the YouTube video at the bottom) can hardly hold a candle to “O soave fanciulla” in Puccini’s “La Bohème,” the first-act Trio in Mozart’s “Figaro,” the parents’ sextet in Jake Heggie‘s “Dead Man Walking,” or the quartet from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”
It’s all technically correct, but it’s not great opera — neither great storytelling nor great music.
I left the Sunday performance by Madison Opera with the unshakeable feeling that Adamo’s score had been performed far better than it deserved.
Part of the problem is that Mark Adamo (below) is too clever for his own good. The libretto, from the classic 19th-century American novel by Louisa May Alcott, is stronger than the music — never quite moving, but full of evocative and witty phrases.
The music displays a clear command of naturalistic settings of the text, rising to peaks when it should and creating compelling atmosphere. But it always seems to pull back just when a lyrical melody might break forth, or when an emotional climax draws near.
Several times he uses the gambit of two conversations on stage at the same time, talking about the same things. But the pacing is never quite right, and the unison lines are predictable and trite rather than powerful. He lacks the confidence to let people talk over one another unless we’ve already heard half of the lines. (Whether the lack of trust is in the audience or stems from his own compositional skill is a matter of conjecture.)
The dramatic and musical tricks are all “correct” — Adamo knows his business — but none of them make an emotional impact, a point driven home by their success in last season’s “Dead Man Walking,” which employs all the same devices to far greater effect. When the opening scene came back at the end of the show, I was ready to walk out. Enough already!
It is a sad fact that the most moving part of the whole affair was only half Adamo’s — a setting of Goethe’s “Kennst du das Land” (Do You Know the Land) thrown into the second act that almost approached melody, and tugged at the heartstrings in a way no other scene of the opera managed to do.
Beth’s death scene – below top with Chelsea Morris Shephard as Beth (left) and Heather Johnson as Jo — was a close second, admittedly.
And the lovely wedding vow — below bottom with, from left, Alexander Elliott as John Brooke; Courtney Miller as Meg; Rick Henslin as Gideon March; Elizabeth Hagedorn as Alma March — was marred only by Rick Henslin’s intonation.
The minimal set cheated the opera out of the lush visual setting it deserved. If the realism of the story had been played up, with painted walls and structures, the human elements of the story might have been more believable in a setting that doesn’t feel as though a strong wind might knock it all down.
Instead, a few flown-in flats with cheap-looking projections stood in for the occasional wall, and some rather cool shifting images on the scrim in front of the orchestra highlighted the apparent supernatural elements of the story — not that I thought there were supposed to be any in “Little Women.”
This is not to say the visuals were all misses — costumes, wigs, and makeup (Karen Brown-Larimore and Jan Ross) were excellent, particularly in establishing distinctive characterizations for the four sisters, who could easily have been hard to tell apart in a less careful production.
The ghostly vocal quartet that opens the opera — and haunts various scenes in the middle, although I’m told they were intended to be offstage — felt like nothing so much as discount Eric Whitacre: cascading clusters and whole-tone scales with no particular narrative purpose, illuminating nothing about the plot. I did find myself wondering if we were supposed to think Jo had gone insane, between that and the drifting projections on the set, but I’m sure that wasn’t the intended effect.
Despite all this, the voices themselves were superb, and married to strong acting skills to boot. Time and again Madison Opera has shown a knack for finding up-and-coming young singers with tremendous talent, and this cast was no exception.
The four Little Women themselves (below, from left, with Eric Neuville as Laurie; Courtney Miller as Meg, Heather Johnson as Jo; Chelsea Morris Shephard as Beth; Jeni Houser as Amy), aided by sure-handed direction from Candace Evans, mustered warm, credible camaraderie and sisterly love.
They, and their paramours, baritone Alexander Elliot and tenor Eric Neuville, all displayed rich and even vocalism, with clear and precise English diction rendering the supertitles mostly superfluous.
As the aloof Aunt March and the mother Alma, Brenda Harris and UW-Madison guest professor Elizabeth Hagedorn were secure and confident in their roles as well.
As the German teacher Friedrich Bhaer (below left, with Heather Johnson as Jo), Craig Verm’s accent faded in and out, but his aria, the aforementioned setting of Goethe’s famous “Kennst du das Land,” was the highlight of the show despite this.
Guest conductor Kyle Knox (below), a graduate student at the UW-Madison, led musicians of the Madison Symphony Orchestra capably through a score mired in complexity and made the result sound natural — not an easy feat.
I admire general director Katherine Smith (below) and the Madison Opera for taking a chance on contemporary American opera, and I dearly hope they do so again next season, and the season after that.
In a tremendously conservative industry, it takes guts to put on something by a living composer when everyone else is picking the safe options to sell out the house. And I’d rather see a contemporary opera and hate it than sit through a mediocre “Bohème” (though this fall’s “Bohème” by the Madison Opera was quite excellent).
Modern opera is a gamble, both for the box office and for the musicians. Sometimes you find “Dead Man Walking.” And sometimes you don’t. I hope the next contemporary piece to grace the Capitol Theater stage is one for the ages, even if this one, well, wasn’t.
NOTE: For purposes of comparison, here are links to two other reviews of the Madison Opera’s production of “Little Women”:
This is the review John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:
And this is the review by Greg Hettmansberger, who used to write for Madison Magazine and now has his own blog WhatGregSays as well as monthly appearances on WISC-TV:
And here is a link to an interview with Mark Adamo:
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to take place from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, features classical guitarist Naeim Rahmani (below) who will perform music by Domenico Scarlatti, Johann Sebastian Bach, Heitor Villa-Lobos and more.
By Jacob Stockinger
You can celebrate Valentine’s Day this coming Sunday afternoon with “five musical conversations,” a collaborative faculty recital presented by six faculty members from the Music Department at Edgewood College.
The concert is at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.
Performers include mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson, guitarist Nathan Wysock, violinist Laura Burns, percussionist Todd Hammes, and pianists Susan Gaeddert and Jennifer Hedstrom.
Below in the Edgewood College photo are (from left): music department faculty and staff Jennifer Hedstrom (piano), Todd Hammes (percussion), Laura Burns (violin), Nathan Wysock (guitar), Susan Gaeddert, (piano) and Kathleen Otterson (mezzo-soprano).
The six performers will present five musical sets featuring a variety of styles and chamber combinations.
Included on the program are a set of lute songs by John Dowland, performed by Otterson and Wysock; three works by Santiago de Murcia, performed by Wysock and Hammes, a set of modern works by Chick Corea and Todd Hammes, performed by Hammes on vibraphone with Jennifer Hedstrom on piano; Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite (heard at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that features Argentinean Martha Argerich and Chinese Lang Lang in a subtle and colorful performance) for piano, four hands, performed by Hedstrom and Susan Gaeddert; a set of Lieder or art songs by Louis Spohr, sung by Kathleen Otterson with Susan Gaeddert on piano and Laura Burns on violin.
Tickets are available at the door.
Admission is $7, or free with Edgewood College ID.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following invitation from the Madison-based percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion (below), which has released a CD, is building quite the reputation and is receiving a lot of critical acclaim:
In addition, we will be joined by composer/guest artist Marc Mellits (below), in performing his mallet quintet “Gravity.” (You can hear Clocks in Motion performing the Minimalist and hypnotic “Gravity” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
You might also want to check out our all new concert TEASER video here: https://youtu.be/WYxMELVVQEg
Tickets are $15 and are available at the door or for advanced sales online HERE
Even if you can’t make the concert, could you please help spread the word or just let your friends, family, students, and colleagues know about the event?
Sean Kleve, Clocks in Motion Percussion
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following news and invitation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:
“SYMPHONY SHOWCASE” BRINGS OUT THE BEST, LITERALLY
They’ve prepared for months and now are ready to show off a bit on the stage of Mills Hall.
Our annual Symphony Showcase is a concert featuring the winners of our annual concerto competition in solo performances with the UW Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Smith.
This year’s winners are all graduate students with impressive worldwide résumés; one is a composer whose new work will be premiered by the orchestra. (Below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson, they are, left to right: Kangwoo Jin, piano; Luis Alberto Peña, piano; Garrett Mendelow, percussion; and Paran Amininazari, violin.)
Please join us on Sunday, February 14, at 7:30 p.m. for our concert and reception in Mills Hall.
Please Note: Parking is FREE on Sundays in Grainger Hall.
Concert tickets are $10, but are free for students of all ages. You can Buy in advance (with a $4 handling fee) or in person in the lobby of Mills Hall.
Here are the winners:
Pianist and Collins Fellow Kangwoo Jin is a doctoral student of Professors Christopher Taylor and Jessica Johnson. He will perform the third movement of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18, by Sergei Rachmaninoff. (you can hear it played by Yuja Wang at the bottom in a YouTube video.)
Garrett Mendelow is doctoral percussionist and Collins Fellow studying with Professor Anthony Di Sanza. He will play the Arena Concerto by Swedish composer Tobias Brostrom.
Yunkyung Hong (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) is a doctoral composer studying with Professors Laura Schwendinger and Stephen Dembski. Her work is titled “Transluceny.”
Read their full biographies here: http://www.music.wisc.edu/2015/12/17/showcase-concerto-winners-announced/
We also encourage you to read our full newsletter, complete with photos and additional links, at this site:
By Jacob Stockinger
ALERT: TUESDAY is the last day for the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s special sale — two tickets for the price of one — for its Valentine’s Day concerts coming up this weekend. Read more about the players and program below.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following press release from the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below). To be honest, he cares less about the Valentine’s Day tie-ins – some of which seem tenuous – than about hearing the Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova in the Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.
The Ear had heard all the of the Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano played by Ibragimova, with Belgian pianist Cedric Tiberghien, and thinks they rank right at the top of recorded versions. Plus, they are live!
She is clearly something very special, so The Ear says: Don’t miss her. (You can hear Alina Ibragimova and her forceful but subtle style — perfectly suited to Beethoven — in the first movement of Beethoven’s famous “Kreutzer” Sonata in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Now on to the overview, written under the headline:
“Music, the food of love” permeates Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Valentine’s Weekend Concerts on Feb. 12, 13 and 14
Love’s attractions and dilemmas infuse the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Valentine’s weekend concerts Feb. 12, 13 and 14. They feature the Madison debut of Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova in Overture Hall.
Guest conductor Daniel Hege will lead the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and substitute for music director John DeMain. (NOTE: John DeMain is in Washington, D.C., conducting a production of Kurt Weill‘s “Lost in the Stars” for the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It opens next week.)
Ludwig van Beethoven’s hugely influential Romantic-era Violin Concerto brings the concert to a thrilling close with technical fireworks.
The concerts are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on this Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Born in Russia, the young violinist Alina Ibragimova (below) rapidly established herself as a first-rate soloist and chamber musician with the world’s foremost ensembles. Britain’s The Guardian newspaper called her “one of the most technically gifted and charismatic instrumentalists of the age.” A highly flexible and adaptable musician, Ibragimova is equally at home on modern and baroque period instruments, and frequently tours as both soloist and director. She was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artist Award in 2010.
The concerts cover three different periods of music.
The program begins with the late Romantic period with the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (below). The work taps into the great Shakespearean play, contrasting the rivalry between the Capulet and Montague families, with the passionate music of the second theme clearly expressing the feelings of the two young lovers.
The Impressionistic period is represented the sensuous Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 by Maurice Ravel (below). It recounts the stirring fifth-century BCE Greek story of Daphnis and Chloe, who were abandoned as children and brought up by shepherds. The two fall in love, but Chloe is abducted by pirates. After Daphnis rescues Chloe, the couple pantomimes the tale of Pan wooing the nymph Syrinx as the sun rises. Ravel’s score originally accompanied a ballet premiered by the Ballets Russes in Paris in 1912.
Finally, the early Romantic period is featured with the technically challenging Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven (below top) which premiered in 1806. A work of beauty, the concerto did not become popular until several decades later, thanks to the advocacy of the legendary violinist Joseph Joachim (below bottom). Beethoven’s only violin concerto, this work paved the way for the great 19th-century German violin concertos by Felix Mendelssohn, Max Bruch and Johannes Brahms.
Known for his novel interpretations of standard repertoire, Colorado native Daniel Hege (below) is Music Director and Conductor of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and a frequent guest conductor of orchestras throughout the United States including the Houston, Detroit, Seattle and Indianapolis symphonies.
One hour before each performance, Randal Swiggum (below), artistic director of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, will lead a FREE 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.
More background on the music can also be found in the Program Notes by MSO trombonist Michael Allsen at: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/ibragimova
Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available at http://www.madisonsymphony.org/ibragimova and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call 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.
Major funding for the February concerts is provided by Irving and Dorothy Levy Family Foundation, Inc., Johnson Bank, and Cyrena and Lee Pondrom. Additional funding is provided by John A. Johnson Foundation, a component fund of the Madison Community Foundation, Gary and Lynn Mecklenburg, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
ALERT: The Ear has received the following note from University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music viola professor Sally Chisholm, who also plays with the Pro Arte Quartet: “Elias Goldstein, who has a doctorate from UW-Madison (2011) and was a Collins Fellow, is playing a concert of all 24 Caprices, originally composed for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini, on VIOLA this Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall. Admission is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
“On March 9, he will perform this program at Carnegie Hall in New York City, as the first violist ever to perform all 24 Caprices in one concert. This is such a feat that it is difficult to believe one of our own is accomplishing it. I was with him in Krakow, Poland when he performed 6 of them. He got standing ovations. He is professor of viola at Louisiana State University, won top prizes at the Primrose International Viola Competition and the Yuri Bashmet Viola Competition in Moscow in 2011.”
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is the 50th Super Bowl of the NFL, and will be played by the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos in the Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, near San Francisco.
It starts at 5:30 p.m. CST.
Lady Gaga will sing the national anthem. Coldplay, Beyoncé and Bruno Mars will perform in the half-time show. The Super Bowl will be broadcast live on CBS-TV.
So, one might ask in a society that loves competition, what constitutes The Super Bowl of classical music?
It is a source of endless discussion and often disagreement.
What classical music is the most mainstream, if not best?
Who are the big winners and champions in the concert hall?
A survey, compiled by a student at the UW-Milwaukee, of the most popular or frequently performed composers, works and soloists was recently conducted by the League of American Orchestras. The rest are for the 2010-11 season.
The No. 1 work is a YouTube video at the bottom. It is the Symphony No. 1 in C Minor by Johannes Brahms and is performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under its late music director and conductor Sir George Solti.
And on March 11, 12 and 13 the Madison Symphony Orchestra hosts TWO of the Top 10 winners: Pianist Emanuel Ax performing the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven. (The Symphony No. 4 by Gustav Mahler completes the program.)
Here is a link to the complete results along with the method used to gather data:
See what you think and leave a COMMENT.
Do they match up with your preferences and your choices of favorites?
In your opinion, what makes them so popular?
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: This Sunday night’s concert of new music for woodwinds and piano composed by UW-Madison professor of saxophone Les Thimmig, with UW-Madison pianist Jessica Johnson, has been CANCELLED.
By Jacob Stockinger
Tonight is the last debate for the Republicans before the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. It takes place at 7 p.m. CST in Manchester, and will be broadcast on ABC-TV.
This past week also saw both a town hall meeting and a debate between the Democrats – their last before the primary election (below, in a photo by Getty Images).
Here’s a question no one has asked them during the debates: What kind of classical music do you like?
I know, I know. The question has little relevance and little popularity.
The Ear notes a couple of trends.
No specific pieces were named.
No sonatas or concertos, no symphonies or operas.
All the names of composers were extremely mainstream except for Arcangelo Corelli by Dr. Ben Carson (below), who also named Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi. Others mentioned Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Bernie Sanders’ preferred composer echoes his own populist and defiantly anti-establishment, even rabble-rousing, sentiments. Can you guess which composer he favors?
Why is The Ear not surprised that Hillary Clinton remains vague about composers and pieces, but says YES of course she likes classical music and even has it on her iPod.
And former businesswoman Carly Fiorina (below, in a photo by Politifact) surprises one with her youthful plan to be a professional musician, a concert pianist. Does she still play? The Ear wants to ask.
The Ear also wonders:
Does Evangelical Ted Cruz consider classical music frivolous or even sinful?
The Ear bets that country music, rock and pop music draw many more voters and gets many more votes.
But doesn’t anyone else think that the irresistible opening thee of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony would be a great dramatic call to arms for a candidate?
But who knows for sure?
Anyway, here is a link tot he WQXR story:
Now, The Ear doesn’t expect that this survey will change anyone’s vote.
Still, it is interesting as a sidelight to the much bigger and much more important issues confronting the candidates and the electorate.
And perhaps more specifics about their taste in music will emerge during the rest of the primary campaign and the then the general election.
Their individual culture quotients must matter for something.
What are your reactions?
What do you think?
Let us know.
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: Kathryn Smith, the general director of the Madison Opera, which is presenting Mark Adamo‘s opera “Little Women” tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, writes: “One thing you might let your readers know is that Mark Adamo is doing the pre-show talk TONIGHT in tandem with me — meaning I’m going to ask him questions, so he can talk about his opera instead of me doing so as usual. That is at 7 p.m. in the Wisconsin Studio of the Overture Center, and is free to ticket holders.”
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following message that you may want to print out or write into your datebook:
The Chazen Museum of Art is pleased to announce the continuation of Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen for 2016.
On the FIRST SUNDAY OF EVERY MONTH, the Chazen presents chamber music performances in Brittingham Gallery III of the old Conrad A. Elvehjem Building.
This year marks the 38th season for Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen. Until 2015, the series took place weekly and was broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio.
When WPR stepped away, the Chazen took over the series.
Lori Skelton, the producer of Sunday Afternoon Live at WPR for many years, has again volunteered to program the concert series and act as its host. Without her musical expertise, as well as her generosity of spirit, the Chazen would not be able to continue this popular program.
During the intermissions, live stream listeners will hear an interview or conversation featuring the museum’s director, Russell Panczenko. Topics include current exhibitions and the permanent collection.
Concerts begin at 12:30 p.m.
All concerts are free and open to the public. However, seating is limited. Chazen Museum of Art members may call 608-263-2246 to reserve seating the week before the concert.
March 6: Pro Arte String Quartet
April 3: Clocks in Motion percussion ensemble
May 1: Pro Arte Quartet
June 5: Madison Bach Musicians
July 3 TBD
August 7 TBD
September 4: Black Marigold Wind Quintet
October 2: Pro Arte String Quartet
November 6: Parry Karp, cello
December 4: Pro Arte String Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer)
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, features Danielle Breisach, flute; Jeff Breisach, horn; Peter Miliczky and Clare Bresnahan, violins; Josh Dieringer, viola; Andrew Briggs, cello; and Jana Avedyahn, piano in music by Philip Glass, Jonathan Russ, Robert Ward and Zoltan Kodaly.
By Jacob Stockinger
In case you aren’t acquainted with what a Schubertiade is, you should know that it is patterned after the kind of informal soirees, held in private homes and salons, where the early Romantic composer Franz Schubert (below, 1797-1828) often premiered to friends his latest songs, piano works and chamber music. The UW-Madison Schubertiades celebrate the composer’s Jan. 31 birthday and usually kick off the second semester of concerts.
Below is a link to a previous posting — with the complete program and list of performers — about this year’s Schubertiade.
It featured an informative interview with pianist and singer Bill Lutes (below right). Lutes, along his wife Martha Fischer (below left) – a professor of collaborative piano at the UW-Madison who also sings – co-founded and co-directs the event. Both of them also performed throughout the event:
And you can use the search engine on this blog to check out the Schubertiades in 2014 and 2015.
Kudos and bravos are in order. There were so many things to like about the Schubertiade.
Here are a few:
Another show-stopper was the superb rendition, both highly dramatic and subtly lyrical, of “Lebensstürme” (Life’s Storms) for piano, four hands, played by Lutes and Fisher.
And the closing number, the famous “Shepherd on the Rock” for soprano, clarinet and piano, brought the house to a standing ovation. (The Ear hopes that this and other moments were recorded and get posted for streaming from the UW School of Music’s website or SoundCloud.) In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear this sublime late work in a performance by soprano Barbara Bonney, clarinetist David Shifrin and pianist Andre Watts for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
In short, the third annual Schubertiade proved a completely enjoyable and thoroughly persuasive evening of performances that attested to the quality, empathy and variety of the music that Franz Schubert created in his short life of 31 years.
But perhaps the best, most memorable part of the event was to see the collaboration and cooperation that was so evident.
The Schubertiade featured an impressive lineup of faculty members, students and alumni. The many performers came from various departments: piano, voice, strings, brass, winds and opera.
We see and hear far too little of that cooperation, it seems to The Ear.
And when he talked to another loyal fan of UW music and of the Schubertiade, that fan agreed that such single-composer events are popular with the public and should take place more often. They serve as samplers with both familiar and unfamiliar works.
So maybe the Schubertiade could serve as a model for similar events with other composers whose body of work is, like Schubert’s, both first-rate and very varied.
Some composers who come immediately to mind are Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. And there are no doubt others who could be featured.
Such collaborative events would also prove popular with the public, The Ear surmises. After all, this third Schubertiade seemed to draw the biggest audience yet – a two-thirds house of about 500 – even on the night when a UW-Madison hockey game was competing for attention.
If you didn’t go, it was your loss. But there will be another Schubertiade next January, one presumes. Don’t miss it!
And if you did go to this year’s Schubertiade, leave whatever you care to say in the COMMENTS section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Tickets to the opera, based on Louisa May Alcott’s famous 19th-century American novel of the same name, run $21-$101. You can call the Overture Center box office at 608 258-4141.
The production features guest conductor Kyle Knox (below), a busy and experienced musician who is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. His dramatic story was featured on this blog yesterday:
Candace Evans (below) returns as the stage director:
Heather Johnson (below) returns to sing the lead role of Jo March:
“Little Women” will be sung in English with projected surtitles.
The running time is 2-1/2 hours with one intermission.
Also, Mark Adamo is doing the pre-show talk on Friday night in tandem with the Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith. Says Smith: “That means I’m going to ask him questions, so he can talk about his opera instead of me doing so as usual. That is at 7 p.m. in the Wisconsin Studio of the Overture Center, and is free to ticket holders.”
For more information about the opera, tickets, the cast and the production as well as the pre-performance lecture and post-performance Q&A, visit:
Here is a link to Mark Adamo’s informative website, where you can also see what other music Adamo, who teaches composition at New York University, composes:
And here is link to his entry on Wikipedia:
Adamo – who will attend the Friday night performance — generously agreed to a recent email interview with The Ear:
Is there anything beyond what is on your website that you think readers should know about you, your background and your career, including your latest and upcoming projects?
The website has only a little detail about “Becoming Santa Claus,” which is my fourth opera and which was given a lovely premiere (below) in Dallas in December. I’m editing the soundtrack for an upcoming DVD of the piece even as we speak.
What attracted you to “Little Women” as a subject for an opera?
I actually resisted it up front. I thought it was charming, but too antique and undramatic even to speak, let alone sing.
I was drawn to it only when I realized the show was neither “Three Weddings and a Funeral” (that is, not a story of all the March girls, save Beth, growing up to marry) nor a story of a girl struggling to be an artist (her whole family supports her) but a startling, and startlingly proto-modern, story of a girl/woman who learns too late that the destinies of even those she loves are out of her control.
Once it occurred to me that it was the story of everyone who’s ever heard, or uttered, the words, “I love you, but I have to leave” — and didn’t know why it had to be so — I knew the piece could sing.
How difficult a challenge is it for you to do both the score and the libretto? Do you prefer doing one to the other or find one easier?
For me, it’s natural. I was trained not only as a musician but as a playwright and lyricist (and, less comprehensively, as an actor and director) and, temperamentally, I’m the sort of artist who likes to take the most various, and longest possible, view of the project first before I start it.
An opera is a structure of words and music designed to be acted So the more questions I ask myself up front, the clearer both the script and the score can become even before they’re created, because the piece has been conceived in toto first and then the words and music designed to express it.
So I ask myself: What is the story? How can the journey of this character tell it? What is the sound of this story as verbal diction? Vocal contour? Harmonic mass? Melodic line? (Below are the handwritten manuscript and published score to a work by Mark Adamo.)
How would you describe the style of your music to the general public?
It always starts from the singing line. But I let the emotion of the character and the flow of the story determine everything else.
If the character feels like she’s making beautiful discoveries as she falls in love, the harmonies open up, moving from key to key before it settles when she does. If the conversation is turbulent, unsettled, inconclusive, the music is similarly fugitive.
Technically, that means the music is tonal, except when it’s chromatic; harmonic, unless just a sound or an orchestral color can carry the meaning; rhythmically steady, unless rhythms careen every which way to follow the turns of argument. In sum, it is eclectic — but not arbitrarily so. (NOTE: In a YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear an example in Beth’s aria from the production of “Little Women” by the Fayetteville Opera.)
“Little Women” has been performed in more than 65 international productions. What do you think has made it so popular? What is the usual public reaction to the work?
It’s actually over 100 at this point. Obviously, the path of the opera begins with the novel, one of the most beloved in English since its publication. Obviously, you try, as an artist, to make a piece as true and clear and deep as you can. But you can’t control whether artists subsequently believe in that piece (or not), or whether audiences embrace it (or not.)
Eighteen years after its premiere, my only possible response is gratitude that this opera is still speaking so often and to so many.