By Jacob Stockinger
But during its Madison debut appearance, the group will not be playing music by Vivaldi. The focus will shift to Handel, with some Bach and Telemann thrown in.
Red Priest (below) performs this Saturday at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater. Tickets are $27.50 to $42.50.
Compared to various rock groups such as the Rolling Stones and the Cirque de Soleil for its flamboyant presentation of centuries-old classics, the group’s program is called “Handel in the Wind” – recalling the famous song “Candle in the Wind” by chart-topping rocker Elton John.
But that seemingly unorthodox approach, according to Red Priest, fits right in with the true underlying aesthetic of Baroque music, which is too often treated as rigid and codified, predictable and boring.
For more information and background, including the full program, critics’ reviews and how to get tickets, visit:
Red Priest member and recorder player Piers Adams (below) — whom you can also hear talking about “Handel in the Wind” in a YouTube video at the bottom — recently took time from his very busy schedule to give a Q&A to The Ear:
What makes your approach to Baroque music unique and different from standard playing or from the early music approach that features the period instruments and historically informed performance practices?
Actually we do use period instruments and historically informed performance practices, albeit mixed in with some more modern aesthetics. The instruments are a mixture of originals (the cello dates from 1725, in original baroque set-up), close copies (violin and harpsichord) and modern instruments (most of my recorders, which are heavily “souped up” versions of baroque originals).
We differ from the mainstream baroque groups by doing everything we can to bring the music to life — not just in a “Here’s how they used to do it” sense, but rather by “This is how we’re going to do it!”
As musicians who like to live (or at least, to play) on the edge, that means we’re naturally drawn to some of the more extreme and colorful characters and performance practices from the Baroque era, mixed in with our own ideas drawn from interest in other musical genres, such as folk, world and rock music.
How and why did you come up with that approach? Why do you focus on Baroque music? Is there something special to say about Baroque music?
After years of bowing down to the authority of the early music movement — which has a habit of policing anyone who disagrees with its creed or who wants to show a bit of individuality — it was a wonderful realization that in fact it’s OK to do one’s own thing!
As soon as we made that break, we found ourselves on the edges of that rather safe (but dull) world of historically accurate re-creation and in a genre of our own, where anything goes as long as it’s musically satisfying to us and to the audience.
In fact, much of the most satisfying playing does come from “following the rules,” where the rules tell us to perform with wild abandon and heartfelt expression in every note!
Baroque music is a wonderful place for experimentation and co-creation -– perhaps more so than any other area of classical music, because so much is already left to the performer to decide, and because arrangement and transcription were such important aspects too.
Baroque music also has a harmonic and rhythmic structure that many people can relate to, perhaps closer to modern-day pop and rock than the more harmonically complex music of the later Classical and Romantic periods.
Why are you emphasizing George Frideric Handel in your Madison program? In your view, is his music underrated or underperformed? How important or great is Handel?
We have toured the US close to 40 times, and try to bring something new with us where possible. The latest creation is a transcription of music from Handel’s “Messiah,” which we’ve converted into a colorful instrumental journey, bringing out the drama in a very different way from the normal choral performance.
Handel is regarded as one of the greatest Baroque composers, but this is the first time we have created a project around his music. I don’t know why we waited so long, as he wrote some amazing tunes!
Handel’s music is in some ways simpler than Bach’s, which tends to be very dense and complex, but both can produce moments of high drama and great beauty.
Telemann was above all a great craftsman, and in his day was considered the greatest composer of all, but now is held in rather lower esteem than Bach and Handel – maybe partly because of his frequent reliance upon gypsy folk melodies in his works.
The pieces we have chosen bring out the characters of these three great Baroque masters.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
We’re greatly looking forward to this, our first visit to Madison!
By Jacob Stockinger
This week, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will open the second half of its indoor season with a program that plays to its strong suits.
The concert takes place this Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, 211 State St,
The program feature works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
There will be the Overture to the opera “Cosi Fan Tutte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Symphony No. 6 in C Major by Franz Schubert.
In between will come two rarely heard piano concertos that feature the return of soloist Adam Nieman (pronounced KNEE-man), who several years ago made a fine recording of early Mozart piano concertos with the WCO and its music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, who possesses a mastery of the Classical-era style and has a special fondness for French music.
Neiman will perform the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the Piano Concerto in C-sharp Minor by French composer Francis Poulenc.
Tickets are $15-$80 with $10 student rush tickets on the day of the concert. For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.
For more information about the concert, including a lengthy biography of Adam Neiman, visit:
Adam Neiman recently did an email Q&A with The Ear:
Can you briefly bring the public up to date with highlights about you and your career since you last performed here in 2008 with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and recorded the early Mozart concertos?
I have been very actively performing over the last several years, since my last appearance with the WCO in 2008. My touring schedule has encompassed roughly 100 concerts a year, and I have had the pleasure of presenting some epic solo recital tours throughout the United States.
Specifically I have been engaged in three monumental projects: the Complete Liszt Transcendental Études in 2011-2012; Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and Diabelli Variations in 2013-2014; and the complete Rachmaninoff Preludes and Études-tableaux in 2014-2015.
I have issued eight recordings since the Mozart piano concertos recording with the WCO, and three more solo records are on the way in 2017. In addition, I have founded a record label, Aeolian Classics, formed in 2014.
I have simultaneously kept an active teaching profile, and in 2015 I was awarded the position of Assistant Professor of Piano at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. As a full-time member of the faculty, I have since relocated to Chicago, so now I am a fellow Midwesterner!
Composition has always played a major part in my musical life, and since 2008 I have written a number of works for premieres, including my Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra, which can be viewed on my YouTube channel at:
You have chosen an unusual program. What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich? What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto by Francis Poulenc? Why do you think both concertos are not programmed more often? Why do you perform them and what do you like about each one?
The Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich (below) is one of my favorite works of all time, and when Andrew approached me about the possibility of performing it in conjunction with another concerto, I immediately suggested the Piano Concerto by Francis Poulenc.
Both works share certain core qualities, namely irony, humor, radiant beauty and spirited fun. These are works that do not disparage the concept of beauty, though they were both written during a post-war generation.
As such, rare moments of absolute Romanticism are intertwined with musical jokes, sardonic twists of phrase, and ridicule, rendering the messages of each piece complex and ironic. (You can hear Neiman perform the opening of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
At one point, during the last movement of the Poulenc, he spontaneously quotes George Gershwin’s “Swanee” in a moment of jazz ease, in between sparkly, jaunty sections of impish humor. In a sense, you could describe both pieces as tonal expressions of longing for a bygone era from the perspective of a bleak machine age.
From a compositional perspective, both works are solidly grounded in classical form, and both are ingeniously orchestrated, making use of each instrument’s range and dynamic qualities to draw out a maximum of character possibilities.
The piano writing is virtuosic, powerful, and expressive, and the combination will take the audience by storm – I think the WCO audiences will walk away from this performance humming passages of the works, and they will be delighted by the wit and charm that wins out in the end.
As to why the Poulenc is rarely performed, I can offer no other possible explanation than the innate closed-mindedness of many people in the music world.
Poulenc (below) is a composer who deserves a place at the very center of the main repertory. Yet due to the prejudices of the ignorant critics of his day who preferred to elevate the splendors of Germanic music to an Olympian height above the “avant-garde” of Russia and France, he, among others, garnered an undeservedly poor following.
What would you like to say about performing in Madison with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Andrew Sewell, with whom you seem to share a deep musical affinity? Do you have plans to record something else with them?
Each performance I have played with the WCO stands out as a musical highlight for me. The orchestra is as fine as they come, and I am inspired by the love of music that seems to be the keystone of the ensemble.
Andrew Sewell (below) is not only a very fine conductor and exemplary musician, but I am lucky to count him as a close friend. We have a musical rapport that is powerful, with a long history, and it would be a privilege to keep performing and recording with him and the orchestra in the future.
There are no current plans in place to record together, but the experience of making the Mozart concertos CD in 2008 was so sweet, that I would be happy to do it again! Maybe a Shostakovich/Poulenc disc, hmmm?
What else would you like to say?
I feel truly honored to be a part of the 2016 performance season of WCO, and I cannot wait to say hello to all my Madison friends!
For more information about me, please visit my website at www.adamneiman.com
By Jacob Stockinger
Three items deserve attention today.
J.S. BACH TURNS 330 ON SATURDAY
This Saturday is the 330th birthday of composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). That means you can expect to hear a lot of Bach played on Wisconsin Public Radio and streamed by other radio stations and music institutions from around the country and world.
To mark the occasion, the program “Grace Presents” – which takes place at Grace Episcopal Church, 116 West Washington Avenue, on the Capitol Square – is presenting a FREE concert by the early music group the Madison Bach Musicians from noon to 1 p.m.
Explains MBM founder and director Trevor Stephenson: “Madison Bach Musicians (MBM) was formed to foster a love of music and to provide education about great music within the community. MBM is dedicated to presenting the music of Bach-as well as works by other great composers of the Baroque, Renaissance and Classical periods — to both the general public and to educational institutions through performances, lectures, and workshops.
“Bach’s music was chosen as a focal point because of its outstanding beauty, variety and profundity, and because it speaks with urgency to modern audiences.
In pursuit of the greatest clarity of musical texture, MBM performs primarily on period instruments, using historically informed performance practices, and the ensemble sizes are typical of those used by Bach himself. MBM provides a unique forum for experienced professional and exceptionally talented young professional musicians to work together in an exciting period performance style.”
Grace Presents is a FREE monthly concert series that takes place in the historic Grace Church on Madison’s Capitol Square. The series features a diverse range of music, everything from classical and folk to jazz and bluegrass.
Members of the Madison Bach Musicians (below) include: Kangwon Kim, baroque violin; Martha Vallon, viola da gamba and baroque cello; Chelsea Morris, soprano; and Trevor Stephenson, harpsichord.
Here is the program for Saturday’s concert:
Sonata No. 4 in D major from Sonatae unarum fidium by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (below, 1623-1680)
Sonata in G Major, BWV 1027, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Adagio; Allegro ma non tanto; Andante; Allegro moderato
Prelude & Fugue in E-flat minor, from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I by Johann Sebastian Bach
Violin Sonata in F major, HWV 370, by George Frideric Handel (below, 1685-1759)
Adagio; Allegro; Largo; Allegro
Aria from “Gott, wie dein Name, so ist auch dein Ruhm” BWV 171, by J.S. Bach
The harpsichord (below) to be played in Saturday’s concert was made by area instrument builder Norman Sheppard in 2009 and is modeled on a circa 1720 German double-manual instrument by Michael Mietke of Berlin, one that Bach bought and used.
PLEASE NOTE: Madison Bach Musicians will repeat the FREE concert on this Sunday, March 22, at 3 p.m. in the West Middleton Lutheran Church, 3763 Pioneer Road in Verona.
WISCONSIN BRASS QUINTET PERFORMS SATURDAY NIGHT
The Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below, in a photo by Megan Aley) performs a FREE concert SATURDAY night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall — NOT tonight as incorrectly first stated here.
The program includes music by William Mathias, James Stephenson, Anders Hillborg and Malcolm Arnold.
Here is a link to background about the members of the faculty ensemble that was founded in 1972 at the UW-Madison School of Music:
Here is link to the program:
ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON, MADISON-BORN PIANIST KATHRYN ANANDA-OWENS STREAMS MOZART’S D-MINOR PIANO CONCERTO WITH HER OWN CADENZAS
The following news has come to the attention of The Ear: Pianist Kathryn Ananda-Owens (below), is a graduate of James Madison Memorial High School on Madison’s far west side and the first winner of Wisconsin Public Radio’s Neale-Silva Young Artists Competition. She was promoted to full professor at St. Olaf College in February.
On this Sunday at 3:30 p.m., with the St. Olaf Orchestra, she will perform the dark, dramatic and lovely Piano Concerto in D Minor, K. 466, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below) — with her own cadenzas. (The concert will be live-streamed. St. Olaf officials say to tune in 10 minutes ahead).
For anyone who might be interested, here is the link to the streaming part of the website, and scroll to March 22:
By way of background, the Mozart piano concerto cadenzas were the study of Ananda-Owens’ doctoral dissertation and lecture recital at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore that is attached to Johns Hopkins University.
Mozart wrote cadenzas for some, but not all, of his 27 piano concertos. No one else has analyzed the topic in-depth, and she is more than halfway through turning her dissertation into a book, thanks to a sabbatical during academic year 2012-13. She annually lectures at the Juilliard School (and occasionally at some other places, including internationally) on this topic.
By Jacob Stockinger
This Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater on the Overture Center, pianist Shai Wosner returns for a third time to perform with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under its longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell.
The program is largely from the Classical era. Wosner will perform two piano concertos by Haydn – No. 4 in G Major and No. 11 in D major – and the orchestra will perform the Symphony No. 2 in B-flat Major by Franz Schubert. In addition, a 1955 Prelude and Fugue by the accessible, 20th-century neo-Romantic composer Vittorio Giannini (below) will be performed.
Tickets are $15-$75. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.
The critically acclaimed Wosner, an Israeli native who studied at the Juilliard School with Emanuel Ax and who is now based in New York City, has previously performed Classical-era concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven with the WCO.
Wosner recently agreed to a Q&A about this new program.
The prize-winning American composer John Harbison has said that Haydn is the most underappreciated and most under-performed of the great composers. If you agree with that, why do you think that is and how do you feel about Haydn?
It is probably true. I can only guess what the reasons might be. Perhaps, over the centuries, his name has been eclipsed by that of Mozart (below), as the two are often lumped together in spite of the profound differences in their biographies and their music.
Where Mozart has irresistible melodies all over to disarm you at first hearing, with Haydn sometimes you have to get into the “groove” of the music first — perhaps a remnant from earlier music — and then once you do, you can find both great melodies as well as all kinds of twists and turns that can be just as gripping.
Humor, of course, is central to Haydn’s world and one can sometimes mistake that for lightheartedness. But the fact is that it is often just one layer of meaning and by all means not the only one.
If you open up to it, you quickly realize the depth and sincerity with which Haydn (below) speaks — just like spending time with a really great person who likes to tell jokes a lot, but whose immense life experience and understanding of the world soon comes through as well.
What are your plans for performances and recordings? Do your plans include performing or recording more Haydn, maybe concertos, sonatas and chamber music works?
Yes, I hope to record concertos along with a few other pieces as well in the near future.
What would you like the public to know about the two piano concertos by Haydn — who always composed at the keyboard — that you will perform here and their individual character? How do they compare to each other?
The G Major concerto is somehow the more “earthy” one — perhaps it’s the association of the key itself, which tends to relate to all things “rustic.” (For example, Mozart’s peasants and servants tend to sing in G Major). It seems to have a rough edge to it, a certain naughtiness.
The popular D Major concerto, on the other hand, is more patrician — even with the Hungarian finale. It shimmers with golden light like the interior of some idyllic palazzo in midday. (In a YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the D Major concerto performed by famed pianist Paul Badura-Skoda, who was an artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music in the 1960s, and conductor Frans Bruggen.)
How does Schubert go with Haydn? On your program, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will also perform Schubert’s early Symphony No. 2 and you have recorded two CDs for the Onyx label that feature the music of Schubert. Clearly you feel a strong affinity with Schubert and have a point of view about him.
Schubert and Haydn are an interesting combination because early Schubert was very much influenced by Viennese Classicism, before Beethoven’s influence became much more dominant in his music.
At the same time, while Schubert (below) was using the same forms as Mozart and Haydn, they tend to come out very different under his hands, as if he couldn’t help it.
Most noticeable, I think, is the difference in energy.
In Haydn, to go back to the “groove,” there is a lot of raw rhythmic energy in fast movements and it helps to give shape to those movements as well.
In Schubert, on the other hand, even in fast movements, the overall shape tends to be much more contemplative, no matter quickly the notes go by.
This is your third appearance with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, with whom you have performed concerts by Mozart and Beethoven. What would you like to say about Madison audiences and the WCO?
I have been fortunate to meet very interesting people in Madison, and clearly the audiences are very dedicated and comprised of real music-lovers.
It is a wonderful thing that the city supports not only a symphony orchestra but also a chamber orchestra (below is a photo of the WCO) as well, which is, of course, a very different animal and unfortunately not a very common one any more.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
I look forward to visiting Madison, of course!
By Jacob Stockinger
The 2015 Grammy winners were announced Sunday night in a live three-hour broadcast.
The list of winners and nominees can be a good guide to new listening.
Of course most of the Grammy attention went to pop, rock, rap, country and the big selling music genres.
But here are the winners for classical music, along with the nominees and competition.
One thing to note: Producer of the Year again went to freelancer Judith Sherman (below).
Sherman will be in Madison again inn May to record the last two centennial commissions for the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet. (Below, she is seen recording the first four commissions with the Pro Arte in Mills Hall.) The new recording includes the terrific Clarinet Quintet based on Allen Ginsberg’s landmark Beat poem “Howl” by American composer Pierre Jalbert and Belgian composer Benoît Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3.
WINNER: Vaughan Williams (below): Dona Nobis Pacem; Symphony No. 4; The Lark Ascending. Michael Bishop, engineer; Michael Bishop, mastering engineer (Robert Spano, Norman Mackenzie, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus). Label: ASO Media
Adams, John: City Noir. Richard King, engineer; Wolfgang Schiefermair, mastering engineer (David Robertson & St. Louis Symphony); Label: Nonesuch
Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time. Dmitriy Lipay, engineer; Dmitriy Lipay, mastering engineer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony). Label: Seattle Symphony Media
Riccardo Muti Conducts Mason Bates & Anna Clyne. David Frost & Christopher Willis, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer (Riccardo Muti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra). Label: CSO Resound
PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, CLASSICAL
WINNER: Judith Sherman (below)
BEST ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE
WINNER: Adams, John (below): City Noir. David Robertson, conductor (St. Louis Symphony). Label: Nonesuch
Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time. Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony). Label: Seattle Symphony Media
Dvořák: Symphony No. 8; Janáček: Symphonic Suite From Jenůfa. Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra). Label: Reference Recordings
Schumann: Symphonien 1-4. Simon Rattle, conductor (Berliner Philharmoniker). Label: Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings.
Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7; Tapiola. Robert Spano, conductor (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra). Label: ASO Media
BEST OPERA RECORDING
WINNER: Charpentier (below): La Descente D’Orphée Aux Enfers. Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs, conductors; Aaron Sheehan; Renate Wolter-Seevers, producer (Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble; Boston Early Music Festival Vocal Ensemble). Label: CPO
Milhaud: L’Orestie D’Eschyle. Kenneth Kiesler, conductor; Dan Kempson, Jennifer Lane, Tamara Mumford, Sidney Outlaw, Lori Phillips & Brenda Rae; Tim Handley, producer (University Of Michigan Percussion Ensemble & University Of Michigan Symphony Orchestra; University Of Michigan Chamber Choir, University Of Michigan Orpheus Singers, University Of Michigan University Choir & UMS Choral Union). Label: Naxos
Rameau: Hippolyte Et Aricie. William Christie, conductor; Sarah Connolly, Stéphane Degout, Christiane Karg, Ed Lyon & Katherine Watson; Sébastien Chonion, producer (Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment; The Glyndebourne Chorus). Label: Opus Arte
Schönberg: Moses Und Aron. Sylvain Cambreling, conductor; Andreas Conrad & Franz Grundheber; Reinhard Oechsler, producer (SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden Und Freiburg; EuropaChorAkademie). Label: Hänssler Classic
Strauss: Elektra. Christian Thielemann, conductor; Evelyn Herlitzius, Waltraud Meier, René Pape & Anne Schwanewilms; Arend Prohmann, producer (Staatskapelle Dresden; Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden). Label: Deutsche Grammophon
BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE
WINNER: The Sacred Spirit Of Russia. Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (Conspirare). Label: Harmonia Mundi
Bach: Matthäus-Passion. René Jacobs, conductor (Werner Güra & Johannes Weisser; Akademie Für Alte Musik Berlin; Rias Kammerchor & Staats-Und Domchor Berlin). Label: Harmonia Mundi
Dyrud: Out Of Darkness. Vivianne Sydnes, conductor (Erlend Aagaard Nilsen & Geir Morten Øien; Sarah Head & Lars Sitter; Nidaros Cathedral Choir). Label: 2L (Lindberg Lyd).
Holst: First Choral Symphony; The Mystic Trumpeter. Andrew Davis, conductor; Stephen Jackson, chorus master (Susan Gritton; BBC Symphony Orchestra; BBC Symphony Chorus). Label: Chandos Records
Mozart: Requiem. John Butt, conductor (Matthew Brook, Rowan Hellier, Thomas Hobbs & Joanne Lunn; Dunedin Consort). Label: Linn Records
WINNER: In 27 Pieces – The Hilary Hahn Encores (below). Hilary Hahn & Cory Smythe. Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Dreams & Prayers. David Krakauer & A Far Cry. Label: Crier Records
Martinů: Cello Sonatas Nos. 1-3. Steven Isserlis & Olli Mustonen. Label: BIS
Partch: Castor & Pollux. Partch. Track from: Partch: Plectra & Percussion Dances. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.
Sing Thee Nowell. New York Polyphony. Label: BIS
BEST CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO
WINNER: Play. Jason Vieaux. Label: Azica Records
All The Things You Are. Leon Fleisher. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.
The Carnegie Recital. Daniil Trifonov. Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Dutilleux: Tout Un Monde Lointain. Xavier Phillips; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony). Track from: Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time. Label: Seattle Symphony Media
Toccatas. Jory Vinikour. Label: Sono Luminus
BEST CLASSICAL SOLO VOCAL ALBUM
WINNER: Douce France. Anne Sofie Von Otter; Bengt Forsberg, accompanist (Carl Bagge, Margareta Bengston, Mats Bergström, Per Ekdahl, Bengan Janson, Olle Linder & Antoine Tamestit). Label: Naïve
Porpora: Arias. Philippe Jaroussky; Andrea Marcon, conductor (Cecilia Bartoli; Venice Baroque Orchestra) Label: Erato
Schubert: Die Schöne Müllerin. Florian Boesch; Malcolm Martineau, accompanist. Label: Onyx
Stella Di Napoli. Joyce DiDonato; Riccardo Minasi, conductor (Chœur De L’Opéra National De Lyon; Orchestre De L’Opéra National De Lyon). Label: Erato/Warner Classics
Virtuoso Rossini Arias. Lawrence Brownlee; Constantine Orbelian, conductor (Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra). Label: Delos
BEST CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM
WINNER: Partch (below): Plectra & Percussion Dances. Partch; John Schneider, producer. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.
Britten To America. Jeffrey Skidmore, conductor; Colin Matthews, producer. Label: NMC Recordings
Mieczysław Weinberg. Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė, Daniil Grishin, Gidon Kremer, & Daniil Trifonov & Kremerata Baltica; Manfred Eicher, producer. Label: ECM New Series
Mike Marshall & The Turtle Island Quartet. Mike Marshall & Turtle Island Quartet; Mike Marshall, producer. Label: Adventure Music
The Solent – Fifty Years Of Music By Ralph Vaughan Williams. Paul Daniel, conductor; Andrew Walton, producer. Label: Albion Records
BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION
WINNER: Adams, John Luther (below): Become Ocean. John Luther Adams, composer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony). Label: Cantaloupe Music
Clyne, Anna: Prince Of Clouds. Anna Clyne, composer (Jaime Laredo, Jennifer Koh, Vinay Parameswaran & Curtis 20/21 Ensemble). Track from: Two X Four. Label: Cedille Records
Crumb, George: Voices From The Heartland. George Crumb, composer (Ann Crumb, Patrick Mason, James Freeman & Orchestra 2001). Track from: Complete Crumb Edition, Vol. 16. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.
Paulus, Stephen: Concerto For Two Trumpets & Band. Stephen Paulus, composer (Eric Berlin, Richard Kelley, James Patrick Miller & UMASS Wind Ensemble). Track from: Fantastique – Premieres For Trumpet & Wind Ensemble. Label: MSR Classics
Sierra, Roberto: Sinfonía No. 4. Roberto Sierra, composer (Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony). Track from: Sierra: Sinfonía No. 4; Fandangos; Carnaval. Label: Naxos
By Jacob Stockinger
By most polls and surveys, the most popular composer of classical music remains Ludwig van Beethoven (below). The surly, willful and influential musician bridged the Classical and Romantic eras, and his music retains much of its power and universal appeal even today.
All you have to do is mention the names of works in virtually all the various musical genres and forms — solo sonatas, chamber music, symphonic music, concertos, vocal music — that Beethoven mastered and pushed into new realms of expression:
The “Eroica” Symphony.
The Fifth Symphony.
The “Pastoral” Symphony.
The Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy.”
The “Emperor” Concerto for piano.
The “Razumovsky” and “Late” String Quartets.
The “Ghost” and “Archduke” piano trios, and the “Triple” Concerto.
The “Moonlight,” “Pathetique,” “Tempest,” “Appassionata,” “Waldstein” and “Hammerklavier” piano sonatas.
The “Spring” and “Kreutzer” violin sonatas.
The “Missa Solemnis.”
And on and on.
Such nicknames and so many! Talk about iconic works!
What more is there to be said about Beethoven?
Well, quite a lot, apparently, according to the acclaimed music historian Jan Swafford (below), who did his undergraduate work at Harvard University and his graduate work at Yale University and who now teaches composition and music history at the New England Conservatory of Music.
Swafford, who has also written biographies of Johannes Brahms and Charles Ives, has just published his 1,000-page biography of Beethoven with the subtitle “Anguish and Triumph.”
It is getting some mixed or qualified reviews. But before you look into that, better check into the pieces that NPR (National Public Radio) did on Swafford and his takes on Beethoven, some of which defy received wisdom and common sense.
Here is a summary of some common perceptions about Beethoven that may -– or may NOT –- be true, according to Swafford. It i s an easy and informative read.
And here is another piece on NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog that deals with how the powerful Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” reveals Beethoven’s personality. (You can hear the opening, played by the Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Some critics have questioned whether the book (below) is too long, whether it repeats things that are already well known and whether the writing style is accessible to the general public.
But nobody is ignoring it.
Here are two reviews by reputable media outlets.
From The Wall Street Journal:
From The New York Times:
Have you read Jan Swafford’s other work?
What do you think of his music histories and biographies?
Or of his new Beethoven book, if you have read it?
And what is your favorite work by Beethoven?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Can it really be 15 years already?
The Madison Early Music Festival began as a dream and an experiment. But it has endured, survived and prospered. This summer it marks its 15th anniversary with a focus on Italian music from 1300 to 1600. The theme is called “Italia Mia.”
This year’s installment starts on this coming Saturday, July 12, and runs through the following Saturday, July 19. It features many of the traditional things such as workshops, lectures and public concerts. But it also features new out-of-town groups and only the second annual Handel Aria Competition, which has been enhanced.
Venues are perhaps the biggest challenge this year, given the upgrading of Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Here is a link to the festival’s home website for information about tickets, events, programs and performers:
To get things straight, and to provide both some history and a larger context, The Ear asked baritone Paul Rowe and his soprano wife Cheryl Bensman Rowe -– who are the co-artistic directors of the Madison Early Music Festival -– to do an email Q&A for this blog.
They graciously agreed, and the results will be posted in two parts, today and tomorrow.
How successful is this year’s festival compared to others in terms of enrollment, budgets, guest performers, ticket sales, media interest, etc.? This is the 15th anniversary of MEMF. After 15 years, is MEMF clearly established now nationally or even internationally?
Cheryl: We have been getting more attention in the national press, and we continue to feature ensembles and artists from Europe and Canada. This year the Toronto Consort — seen below and heard at the bottom in a YouTube video of Italian music and art from the period that MEMF will cover — will open the festival with their program “The Da Vinci Codex,” which features Italian Music from the musical world of Leonardo Da Vinci.
In May, the blog Deceptive Cadence from NPR Classical mentioned MEMF 2014 as a “Can’t Miss Classical Music Festivals” in the Midwest region.
Besides the attention in the press, we are well-known in early music circles. Our performers and faculty are also hired by many well-established festivals, including the Berkeley Early Music Festival, Boston Early Music Festival (below), Amherst Early Music Festival, Oberlin Baroque Performance Institute and others.
What is new and what is the same in terms of format, students, faculty members and guest performers?
Paul: This year we are adding two new intensive workshops that will run concurrently with MEMF. One is focused on wind instruments that will form a loud band and be led by Robert Wiemken (below top) of Pifarro.
There are eight people in the loud band intensive class who play sackbut, shawm, dulcien and other instruments (below bottom). The other is a Baroque opera workshop that will be led by Drew Minter, Christa Patton and me.
We will use music from the operas “Orfeo” and “The Coronation of Poppea” by Claudio Monteverdi (below) as source material to explore Baroque gesture and dance as well as ornamentation and stylistic singing. We have 15 singers who will be taking this workshop. The two intensive classes will present an informal performance on Saturday afternoon, July 19, at 2 p.m.
Why was the topic of the Italian music 1300-1600 chosen for the early music festival? What composers and works will be highlighted?
Paul: We wanted to have a broader historical focus this year in order to include very early instruments and music as well as the larger format pieces that are a feature of the later Renaissance and early Baroque.
The most famous composer of this period is Claudio Monteverdi, but there are many others. Italy was really the hub of poetry and music for all of Western culture during the time period we are considering. The poetry of Petrarch (below) will provide the focus for the All-Festival Concert this year. This is the era of Boccaccio and Dante as well as Petrarch.
Tomorrow: What makes early music in Italy different? What will the All-Festival Concert next Saturday night be like? What is new about the second annual Handel Aria Competition and the new FREE noontime lectures?
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is Saturday, June 21, 2014.
It seems so soon for the longest day of the year to arrive. Much too soon, really.
Can it really be that from now on until Dec. 21 the days will start getting shorter and the nights longer? That we are on our way toward the winter solstice? Why, it hardly seems we had a spring.
Well, the good news is that today is also when the second annual FREE Make Music Madison celebration will take place.
The FREE event will take place CITYWIDE.
It takes place INDOORS and OUTDOORS.
It starts in the early morning and runs until almost midnight. It features some 394 individual and group performers — lots of amateurs and some professional musicians.
All kinds of musical genres will be heard.
The emphasis and quantity are clearly on jazz, pop, rock, folk, bluegrass, gospel, hip-hop and roots music and other genres. But classical music is also included – though no specific composers, works or programs are listed.
Here is a link to the Make Music Madison homepage:
And here is a link to the performers, venues, time and maps for direction:
From the homepage, you can clock on artists, times, venues.
Here are just a few hints of the offerings –- including string quartets and a performance by the Classical Guitar Quartet of Madison — that you might be interested in if you are a classical music fan:
The very young Suzuki Strings of Madison will perform:
Duo-cellists Kristin Scheeler and Angie Griffith (below) will perform.
On Madison far west side, nest West Towne, Farley’s House of Pianos will host keyboard musicians:
If you attend Make Music Madison either to perform or to listen, let The Ear know what you heard and how it went. You can even include photos if you have them. (Please don’t forget IDs and the photo credits.)
Here is the promotional video for last year’s Make Music Madison.
Unfortunately, it gives short shrift to classical music, which The Ear finds to be an odd oversight. After all, Madison is a city that can boast of a very active classical music scene for its size: It is the home of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Pro Arte String Quartet, Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television and so many other fine classical individual and group classical performers and presenters.
It is posted on YouTube, where you can also find samples from last year’s performances.
The Ear thinks this year’s performance should have more YouTube videos posted, along with more videos of classical music to encourage other amateur and professional longhairs to participate:
By Jacob Stockinger
Some people might refer to it as a highlight of the summer music season in Madison.
The Ear prefers to think of it as a highlight of the entire concert season in Madison. He waits all fall, winter and spring to find out the next theme, the next repertoire, the next performers. But the waiting ends soon.
This Friday night the Madison-based chamber music group the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below top) will open its six-concert, three-weekend and three-venue season at 7:30 p.m. in The Playhouse (below bottom) at the Overture Center. Then it will move on to the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green and the beautifully restored Opera House in Stoughton, Wisconsin.
And this summer shows no sign of disappointing.
Much of the BDDS concert format or formula will remain the same: familiar classics of the repertoire mixed in with rarely heard artists and works, including commissions and a world or local premiere; familiar local performers mixed in with top-flight imported musicians; and the signature atmosphere that combines chatty levity with serious first-rate music-making.
Am I excited? You bet! And you should be too.
Some of my favorites are the piano trios, piano quartets and piano quintets performed by the San Francisco Trio. They will be playing here again, including one trio by Dmitri Shostakovich and another by Antonin Dvorak.
Other favorites of The Ear are the symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn and the piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the long-neglected chamber music reductions intended to be performed as “house music” in private homes. This summer includes one of the most popular Mozart piano concertos –- again.
I love the string works that BDDS plays – and this summer I will get to hear Claude Debussy’s phenomenal Violin Sonata, the last work he composed (you can hear it played by violinist James Ehnes, who has performed in Madison with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom), and Maurice Ravel’s unusual Sonata for Violin and Cello.
I especially love piano music: the more, the better. This summer I will get to hear two of the best: Jeffrey Sykes, who possesses the chameleon-like gift of Richard Goode in that he can sound absolutely natural and at home in just about any musical style, from Baroque, Classical and Romantic to Modern and New Music. But this summer is a twofer. Sykes will also perform two-piano pieces by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Witold Lutoslawski and Maurice Ravel with the celebrated University of Wisconsin-Madison virtuoso Christopher Taylor.
Then there is the fabulous new clarinetist, Alan Kay, performing the sublime Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms.
You can hear all that plus a lot more, including a generous serving of South American music — tangos by Astor Piazzolla and songs by Carlos Guastavino — music that flutist Stephanie Jutt brought back from her sabbatical year in Argentina.
But you can check out the programs for yourself. I challenge you to find one that just doesn’t interest and impress you.
Here is a link to the complete new season:
You might recall that The Ear has been so impressed with the consistent high quality of the BDDS programs and performances that he named the group Musician of the Year for 2012. Here is a link to that posting:
And here is a link to the BDDS website with full details about the dates, time, venues, programs and performers’ bios.
The co-founders and co-artistic directors flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes, agreed to an email Q&A that will run two parts. The first part runs today. The second part will run tomorrow.
Why is this summer’s season called “23 Skiddoo,” and what exactly does the term mean or refer to?
SJ: Jeff and I love old-fashioned American vernacular -– like “Deuces are Wild” for 2013, and now “23 Skiddoo” for 2014.
It’s a lot of fun trying to find out where words come from, what expressions mean, and how it defines a country’s style and idiom. As musicians, we are constantly doing this kind of detective work -– what does the composer intend? What else was going on when he wrote it? What are the references and the “inside jokes?”
JS: The following passage comes from the “preface” in our 2014 program booklet: “Popular legend has it that “23 skiddoo” was first heard in the area around the Flatiron Building at the intersection of 23rd Street, Fifth Avenue and Broadway in New York City. Because of the building’s triangular shape, winds swirl around it. During the early 1900s, groups of men would allegedly gather to watch women’s skirts get caught by the wind, revealing their legs, which were seldom seen publicly at that time. Local constables, telling such groups of men to take a hike, were said to be giving them the “23 skiddoo.” ”
Our 23rd season is appropriately entitled “23 Skiddoo” (see the poster below) and this year’s programs are inspired by energetic departures and exit strategies of all kinds.
Why would we choose a title that tells you to cut and run when we want you to flock to our concerts? We want to give the “23 skiddoo” to your expectations of what a chamber music concert ought to be. We aim to deliver an experience that makes your skirt fly up, reveals a little leg, and makes you hightail it to our next concert with a smile on your face. So getta move on and join in on the fun. Hasta la vista, baby!
Is there some overarching theme or continuity to the entire season, or to the various weekend programs?
JS: Absolutely. It’s an oblique theme and a surprising continuity, but it’s definitely there. Stephanie and I love word games of all kinds, and this comes into play when we pick season titles and concert titles.
The expression “23 skiddoo” relates to the idea of “getting out while the getting’s good.” As it turns out, English is full of colloquialisms that express the idea of a rapid departure—expressions like “take a hike” or “cut and run” or “hightail it.” We thought of a bunch of expressions that relate to this idea—and from them, we chose expressions that could ALSO be read in a different way.
“Take a hike” can also mean “scram!” or it can mean to go wander out in the countryside. It fits in with our season theme because of its colloquial meaning. We used it as a program title with its literal meaning in mind — music that was inspired by the countryside, like Johannes Brahms’ Clarinet Trio and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488.
“Getta move on” can mean “scram!” or it can mean “to dance”—as in “get your moves on.” It fits with our season theme because of the first meaning, and its second meaning gave us a program of dance-inspired music.
One of our cutest titles (in my humble opinion) is “hightail it,” again, an expression that means to leave quickly. As I’m sure you know, many pieces of chamber music have very exciting codas, the coda being the last section of a movement or a piece. And “coda” is the Italian word for—you guessed it—”tail.” We picked pieces that have super-exciting codas for this program.
Of course, there are a lot of other considerations in picking music. Expense is certainly a big one.
We can only hire a certain number of artists each week, so we have to find programming that works with those artists and instruments.
We like variety, so you’ll never find us doing an all-Baroque program or an all-modern program.
(I actually find that such programming in the end marginalizes the music it’s designed to celebrate. Maybe it’s just me, but I find the Bach’s music actually benefits from being heard alongside Aaron Jay Kernis and Rachmaninoff and vice versa.)
Another big consideration is, of course, what we want to play. I really wanted to do another two-piano extravaganza with University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Christopher “Kit” Taylor; Stephanie really wanted to do this brand new piece by Aaron Jay Kernis, “L’arte della danssar” (The Art of Dancing), one of the few pieces he’s written that has a flute part. We figured out a way to do BOTH things in a single week of programming.
I’m very keen on the music of Osvaldo Golijov, especially this gorgeous piece he wrote for klezmer clarinet and string quartet called “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” When playing in a music festival in New York, I worked with this incredible clarinetist Alan Kay, co-principal of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. I wanted to have him come to BDDS. Turns out he’s played this piece—which is VERY hard—a lot.
Another thing I’ve been loving lately is playing arrangements of the Mozart piano concertos. Well, here we have a string quartet and a clarinet. Just add in Stephanie’s flute, and suddenly you’ve got a mini-orchestra for the Mozart concerto.
I often say that putting together the season is like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle—except the pieces change size and shape as you work with them, and you don’t know the picture you’re aiming for. The pieces of this season’s jigsaw puzzle have come together beautifully.
What have you changed for this season, and what have you kept and continued? Program elements? Repertoire? Artists ?
SJ: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society tradition is a blend of the hottest, cutting-edge compositions, combined with our love of the Baroque, Romantic and Impressionistic eras of music. When you take the huge breadth of musical expression and mix it with musicians of the loftiest caliber, you’ll always find “something for everyone” at our concerts.
Just like the weather in Wisconsin, if you don’t like one piece, that’s fine, because in ten minutes we’ll play something that will break your heart and make you fall in love all over again.
Sometimes we are asked, “Would you like to grow Bach Dancing and Dynamite into a larger festival, with more cities, more venues?” Our answer is an enthusiastic, “No!” The festival is just about perfect the way it is – small venues, intimate and profound music, a living room atmosphere, informality, surprises – these are the hallmarks of BDDS, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
JS: What we have changed: We have new artists and new repertoire for the season, combined in surprising, interesting and unusual ways.
What we’ve continued: We have new artists and new repertoire for the season, combined in surprising, interesting and unusual ways.
Maybe it’s funny answering two questions with the same answer, but it’s really true. I wouldn’t say we have a “formula.” That implies that we get the same result every season. We don’t. Our results vary widely. The result is always great (in my humble opinion), but it’s really different each time.
I guess you could say we are like chefs working with the crème-de-la-crème of ingredients (musicians and musical compositions). Using our skills, we can combine these ingredients into staggeringly different yet exciting meals: same high-quality ingredients, same well-honed chef skills, completely different meals.
A couple of people to watch out for:
The aforementioned clarinetist Alan Kay (below top) in Week Two. He’s amazing.
Soprano Disella Larusdottir (below middle) in Week One. She’s a gorgeous singer, and she sings Aaron Jay Kernis’ music beautifully.
The return of the San Francisco Piano Trio (me, Axel Strauss and Jean-Michel Fonteneau) playing Dvorak and Shostakovich.
Tango pianist Pablo Zinger (below bottom) from New York in Week Two. Authentic Argentine flair!
Repertoire to look out for:
Aaron’s new piece (Week One)
Golijov’s piece (Week Two)
Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” and Maurice Ravel’s “La valse” with me and Kit Taylor. (Fun!)
Darius Milhaud’s piano, four-hand version of “Le boeuf sur le toit,” which was originally conceived as a score for a Charlie Chaplin silent movie. We’re reuniting it with Chaplin’s classic “The Count”—a movie that culminates in an exceedingly well-timed cut-and-run.
Tomorrow: What should newcomers and old-timers know about this year’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society concerts? What has changed and what has stayed the same? How do Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes measure the success of a BDDS season?