The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Choral music and string music are in the spotlight during a busy week of concerts at the UW-Madison

April 16, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

With the end of the academic year less than a month away, the last concerts of the semester are stacking up at the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Mead Witter School of Music.

Below are major events. But there are many more, including a lot of noteworthy student recitals. For a complete listing, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

TODAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, the Ann Arbor-based Back Pocket Duo (below) of percussionist Colin McCall and pianist Annie Jeng will perform a FREE program that includes a commission by contemporary composer Ivan Travino. For details, go to:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-artists-back-pocket-duo/

TUESDAY

The spring program of Opera Scenes by University Opera, to be held at Music Hall, has been CANCELLED.

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Twisted Horn Ensemble, under the direction of UW professor Daniel Grabois (below) will perform a FREE concert. Sorry, no word on composers or works on the program.

THURSDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) will perform a FREE concert of string quartets. The program, features the String Quartet in G Minor, Op; 20, No. 3, by Franz Joseph Haydn; and the final String Quartet No. 15 in G Major, D. 887, by Franz Schubert.

FRIDAY

At 6 p.m. UW-Madison students in the Collegium Musicum will perform a FREE concert of early music under the direction of keyboard professor John Chappell Stowe (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot). Sorry, no word about composers or pieces on the program.

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. A combined choirs concert of the UW Women’s Chorus (below) and University Chorus will perform a FREE program.

Works to be performed under conductor Chris Boveroux include “Curse Against Iron” by Veljo Tormis; “Miniwanka” or The Moments of Water,” performed in North American Indian dialects, by R. Murray Schafer (below); and the world premiere of a work composed by UW student Brianna Ware.

For more information, go to:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/combined-choirs-concert-2/

SATURDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Concert Choir (below) performs the program “On a  Lark” under conductor Beverly Taylor graduate assistant conductor Chris Boveroux.

The program features the Wisconsin premiere of “A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass” by Dominick DiOrio (below), a 2012 four-movement setting of Amy Lowell’s poetry, featuring marimba and soprano soloist with the choir.

For more information, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/events/2018-04-21/

SUNDAY

At 4 p.m. (Part 1) and then 7:30 p.m. (Part 2) in Mills Hall, the UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra (both below), under Beverly Taylor, will perform the “St. Matthew Passion” by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Tickets (one ticket is good for both parts) are $15, $8 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/about-us/tickets/

Tickets will also be available at the door.

At 8:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, the Hunt Quartet, made up of UW graduate students, will perform a FREE concert.

This year’s members (below from left, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) are Kyle Price, cello.; Vinicius “Vinny” Sant’Ana, violin; Blakeley Menghini, viola; Chang-En Lu, violin.

The program offers the “Quartettsatz” (Quartet Movement) by Franz Schubert; the String Quartet in B minor, Op. 11 (with the original version of the famous Adagio for Strings) by Samuel Barber; and the String Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4, by Ludwig van Beethoven.

 

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Classical music: The King’s Singers will mark 50 years when they perform Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater

April 9, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The acclaimed a cappella singing group The King’s Singers (below) will be marking its 50th anniversary when it performs the annual Fan Taylor Concert – named to honor the first director of the Wisconsin Union Theater – on this Saturday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall.

Tickets are $25-$45 general admission, $20 for youths and $10 for UW students. For more information, including the complete program, background, audio-video samples and how to purchase tickets, go to  https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/the-kings-singers/. You can also phone 608-265-ARTS (2787) or go in person. See locations and hours here.

Celebrating their Golden Anniversary this year, The King’s Singers are widely acclaimed for the quality of their singing and diverse repertoire, which includes over 200 commissioned works from the world’s leading composers.

The commissioned arrangements come from a breadth of musical genres: jazz standards to pop chart hits, medieval motets to Renaissance madrigals, and new scores by young composers.

The upcoming concert is part of their 50th anniversary world tour, and the program showcases their signature blend, purity of tone, and diversity of repertoire, with selections ranging from Renaissance polyphony to brand new commissions celebrating the 50th anniversary.

This love of diversity has always fuelled The King’s Singers’ commitment to creating new music. A panoply of commissioned works by many of the greatest composers of our times – including Luciano Berio, György Ligeti, John Rutter, Toru Takemitsu, Sir John Tavener and Eric Whitacre – sits alongside countless bespoke arrangements in the group’s extensive repertoire.

One of these is called “To Stand in This House” by Nico Muhly (below), which sets various texts by scholars who originated at King’s College, Cambridge, where The Kings Singers were founded.

The program, GOLD, charts a journey through the music that has defined The King’s Singers so far, from Renaissance polyphony to art song to, naturally, close harmony favorites.

The group also looks toward the future with several commissions for the 50th season from composers and arrangers with who they have ties, including, in addition to Nico Muhly’s work, “We Are” by composer/conductor Bob Chilcott, himself a former member of The King’s Singers; and “Quintessentially” by Joanna and Alexander L’Estrange (below), which humorously tells the story of The King’s Singers’ past 50 years.

The King’s Singers was founded in 1968 at King’s College in Cambridge, England. They continually wow audiences across the globe in over 125 concerts a year. The group has won two Grammy awards and was inducted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame for its vocal artistry and excellence. (You hear a sample from the group’s new anniversary album, “Gold,” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Madison concert is presented by the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Performing Arts Committee.

This concert is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. WORT-FM 89.9 is the media sponsor.


Classical music: You Must Hear This: Violinist Hilary Hahn plays “Mercy” by Max Richter

March 26, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the gems in the 27 encores that violinist Hilary Hahn commissioned from 27 different composers a couple of years ago is “Mercy” by the German-born British composer Max Richter.

Hahn has played here several times, mostly at the Wisconsin Union Theater but also with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Although Max Richter’s Minimalist music has not been played in Madison as far as The Ear remembers, you might already know his name from the popular recording of his take on Vivaldi in “The Four Seasons Recomposed” or his more ambitious and most current project “Sleep,” which provides music for eight and a half hours of sleeping.

But The Ear confesses he had not heard this moving miniature called “Mercy” until recently, even though Hahn recorded it along with the other 26 encores with pianist Cory Smithe.

He likes it.

And so apparently do a lot of other listeners.

So it is something that is well worth using five minutes of your time to sample.

Write your comments, positive or negative, below.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: This weekend the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Grammy-winning guitarist Sharon Isbin will perform Spanish music and a new concerto by Chris Brubeck

November 13, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO), with music director John DeMain conducting, will present the third concert of its 92nd season.

“Troubadour: Two Faces of the Classical Guitar” features Grammy-winning guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin (below) playing two works: one written for Isbin by American composer Chris Brubeck; and the other by the Spaniard Joaquin Rodrigo. (Isbin will also give a FREE and PUBLIC master class on Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon in Morphy Recital Hall on the UW-Madison campus in the Humanities Building on North Park Street.)

In addition the MSO will perform two 20th-century ballet suites — The Three-Cornered Hat by Spanish composer Manuel De Falla and Billy the Kid by American composer Aaron Copland.

The concerts (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) are in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, 201 State Street on Friday, Nov. 17, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 18, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 19, at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $18-$90. Details are below.

Invoking a sense of the American heartland, Billy the Kid was written by Copland (below) as a ballet following the life of the infamous outlaw. This piece is most well-known for the memorable “cowboy” tunes and American folk songs that paint a vivid picture of the Wild West.

The virtuosity and versatility of multiple Grammy Award-winner Sharon Isbin is on display in this program of contrasts: the jazz idioms of the American composer Chris Brubeck’s “Affinity: Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra,” written for Sharon Isbin, alongside the lush romanticism of the Spaniard Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez.” (You can hear Sharon Isbin play the beautiful slow movement of the Rodrigo concerto in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The piece by Brubeck (below) contains strong hints of the jazz influence of his father, noted pianist and composer Dave Brubeck. Inspired by the gardens at Palacio Real de Aranjuez, Rodrigo’s composition attempts to transport the listener to another place and time through the evocation of the sounds of nature.

Isbin’s performances of Chris Brubeck’s “Affinity: Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra” have received wide acclaim: “The concerto takes off with Isbin delivering rapid-fire virtuosity with infectious themes. The slow middle is a tender jazz-based tribute to Dave Brubeck, and Isbin played with heartfelt warmth and tenderness. The finale was an infectious rhythmically driven journey through myriad styles. It was as intriguing as it was moving … Isbin is much more than a virtuoso; she is an artist of depth.”

The Three-Cornered Hat by De Falla (below) is based on a story written by Pedro de Alarcón about a Corregidor (magistrate) who tries, without success, to seduce the pretty wife of the local miller.

One hour before each performance, Michael Allsen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), professor at UW-Whitewater, MSO trombonist and writer of MSO’s program notes, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

For more background on the music, please read Allsen’s Program Notes at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1718/3.Nov17.html.

The Symphony recommends concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the pre-concert talk (free for all ticket-holders).

Single Tickets are $18-$90 each and are on sale now at https://www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, go to: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $18 tickets. More information is at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush

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.

ABOUT SHARON ISBIN

Acclaimed for her extraordinary lyricism, technique, and versatility, Sharon Isbin has been hailed as “the pre-eminent guitarist of our time.” Recipient of numerous prestigious awards, her debut concert with the MSO comes after over 170 solo performances with orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, National Symphony, London Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Orchestre National de France, and the Tokyo Symphony.

Isbin is the subject of a one-hour documentary presented by American Public Television. Seen by millions on over 200 PBS stations throughout the US, it is also available on DVD/Blu-ray and won the 2015 ASCAP Television Broadcast Award. “Sharon Isbin: Troubadour” paints the portrait of a trailblazing performer and teacher who over the course of her career has broken through numerous barriers to rise to the top of a traditionally male-dominated field.

The following is a dedicated website where you can view the trailer, read rave reviews, and see detailed broadcast dates: www.SharonIsbinTroubadour.com

Major funding for the September concerts is provided by: NBC-15, the Madison Symphony Orchestra League, and Elaine and Nicholas Mischler. Additional funding provided by Scott and Janet Cabot, John DeLamater and Janet Hyde, Steven Weber, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


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Classical music: Today is Sept. 11. What music would you listen to, to commemorate the terrorist attacks on that day

September 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The news today will be filled with Hurricane Irma, Hurricane José and Hurricane Harvey as well as the wildfires raging out west.

But today is also Sept. 11, 2017.

That makes today the 16th anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in the Twin Towers in New York City (below top); the Pentagon in Virginia, close to Washington, D.C. (below middle); and that thwarted hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93, which passengers forced to crash in a field in Pennsylvania (below bottom)  before it could reach the Capitol or White House.

During the September 11 attacks, 2,996 people were killed and more than 6,000 others wounded. These immediate deaths included 265 on the four planes (including the 19 terrorists), 2,606 in the World Trade Center and in the surrounding area, and 125 at the Pentagon.

A lot of music could be played to mark the occasion.

At bottom, in a YouTube video, is “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a piece by the American composer John Adams that was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic specifically to mark the event. It ended up winning a Pulitzer Prize.

It uses both an orchestra and a chorus, and it incorporates voices and sounds, actual recordings and tapes, from the events of that day. It all makes for a moving tribute.

But other music, in smaller forms and in many other styles,  would also be appropriate.

What piece would you suggest?


Classical music: Madison composer Scott Gendel discusses the new piece he wrote to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It receives its world premiere this coming Sunday afternoon and Monday night in Spring Green

August 3, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

As The Ear posted yesterday, this coming Sunday afternoon and Monday night will see a special commemorative concert at the Hillside Theater of the Taliesin compound in Spring Green.

It will mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright (below).

Here is a link to an overview with more details about the concerts and program:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/08/02/classical-music-the-150th-anniversary-of-architect-frank-lloyd-wrights-birth-will-be-celebrated-with-two-concerts-on-this-coming-sunday-afternoon-and-monday-night-in-spring-green-they-featu/

Certainly the standout piece will be the world premiere of a work for chorus, string quartet and piano, commissioned by Taliesin from Scott Gendel, a Madison-based composer who studied at the UW-Madison.

Gendel recently commented on his work:

“When I first heard about this opportunity to write a musical work in honor of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th birthday, I had a lot of grandiose ideas about big architectural music, music that would be huge in sound and concept.

“But when Taliesin Director of Music Effi Casey (below top) took me on a tour of the house and the grounds (below bottom), what struck me more than anything else was the beautiful intimacy of the spaces, the way in which every room was designed to draw you in closer.

“And then when I learned of the Taliesin Community Chorus and their love of singing together to create community, I knew “That Which Is Near” was going to take a different direction than I’d originally thought, and really become a piece about intimacy and connections between people.

““Some Flowers For Frank Lloyd Wright” by Hendrik Theodorus Wijdeveld (below) felt like the perfect text to use for such a piece. It’s stunning in its descriptions of Wright’s work, but also has a charming sweetness about it, the way he’s just offering “some flowers” rather than a huge extravagant gift.

“And so “That Which Is Near” is two things at once: First, it’s a celebration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s incredibly masterful work, and how wonderfully persistent and evergreen that work still is, 150 years after his birth.

“But second, it’s a celebration of the community at Taliesin, and the ways in which the place brings people together and fosters human connection.”

ABOUT  SCOTT GENDEL

Here are some impressive biographical details about Gendel (bel0w):

Scott Gendel is a composer, vocal coach, theatrical music director and pianist living in Madison, Wisconsin. As a composer, his music has a wide-ranging scope, but Scott is particularly fond of all things vocal, and of the artistry of the human voice in all its forms. As a performing musician, Scott collaborates on vocal recitals around the country, and is the official pianist and vocal coach for Madison Opera.

Recently, he recorded his piece “At Last” with soprano Camille Zamora and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as part of “An AIDS Quilt Songbook: Sing For Hope,” a recording released on Naxos Records and GPR, benefiting amfAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. (You can hear “At Last” in the YouTube video at there bottom.)

Last year, his song “Advice to Those Like Me, With Hearts Like Kindling” was premiered by soprano Melody Moore in her Carnegie Hall debut recital.

This spring, Gendel’s choral-orchestral oratorio “Barbara Allen,” based on the traditional Appalachian folk song, was premiered by the Santa Clara Chorale and San Jose Chamber Orchestra.

In 2005, the same year he received his doctoral degree from UW-Madison, Gendel was awarded first prize in the ASCAP/Lotte Lehmann Foundation Song Cycle Competition, a juried national award in its inaugural year.

More recently Scott was the second prize winner of the 2016 NATS Art Song Composition Award, and winner of the 2017 Ortus International New Music Competition.

His music is published by Classical Vocal Reprints, ECS Publishing, and the Tuba/Euphonium Press. His art songs have been recorded on Albany Records, GPR Records and Naxos.

Upcoming commissions include the original opera “Super Storm!” for Opera for the Young’s 2018-2019 season, which will be performed in nearly 200 schools around the Midwest; and a song cycle for soprano, cello and piano on the poetry of Emily Dickinson, to be premiered and recorded in her hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts by UW-trained soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below), cellist Karl Knapp and the composer at the piano.

Gendel will also perform some of his art songs with soprano Emily Birsan (below), another UW-Madison graduate who also attended classes and sang at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, at the Friday night concert, Aug. 11, of the Madison New Music Festival.

Go to http://www.scottgendel.com for more information.


Classical music: The second week of programs by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society offers vocal and instrumental music that spans four centuries and includes a world premiere

June 15, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last weekend, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opened its 26th season with two programs in three venues that all proved highly successful.

Building on that success, the chamber music festival with top local and guest performers, now turns to vocal and instrumental music that ranges from the late 18th century up to today, including a world premiere.

As usual, the BDDS venues are suitably intimate for chamber music: The Playhouse (below top) at the Overture Center at 201 State St.; the jewel box historic Stoughton Opera House (below middle) at 381 East Main St.; and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside Theater (below bottom) at Taliesin on County Highway 23 in Spring Green.

Concerts are spiked with stories about the music, mystery guests and even door prizes.

This season’s theme is Alphabet Soup, because it’s BDDS’ 26th year and there are 26 letters in the alphabet. Each program is named after a combination of letters used in everyday language. Sometimes the musical interpretation of those letters is literal and sometimes it’s quite loose.

The second weekend of concerts features the San Francisco Piano Trio (below) Axel Strauss, violin; Jean-Michel Fonteneau, cello; and Jeffrey Sykes, piano).

They are joined by UW-Madison’s pianist Christopher Taylor, soprano Emily Birsan (another Madison favorite and a graduate of the UW-Madison and Lyric Opera of Chicago) and internationally acclaimed clarinetist Alan Kay.

TWO PROGRAMS

Two Bs or not Two Bs includes evocative songs by Maurice Ravel for soprano, flute, cello and piano and an entertaining bouquet of earthy cabaret songs by composers Benjamin Britten, William Bolcom and Arnold Schoenberg, sung by Emily Birsan.

The program also features Bela Bartok’s “Contrasts” for clarinet, violin and piano, a work commissioned by the legendary jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman (below), and Johannes Brahms’ epic Piano Trio in C Major, Op. 87. (You can hear a historic recording of Benny Goodman performing the Bartok work, with the composer playing the piano, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Two Bs or not Two Bs will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts, on Friday, June 16, 7:30 p.m., and at the Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green, on Sunday, June 18, 2:30 p.m.


Special K is a showcase for Alan Kay, principal clarinetist of the renowned Orpheus Chamber Ensemble.

It includes “The Shepherd on the Rock” for soprano, clarinet and piano by Franz Schubert; the hip tour-de-force “Techno Parade” by Guillaume Conneson (below) for flute, clarinet and piano; and the Midwest premiere of “Living Frescoes” for clarinet, violin, cello and piano by American composer Kevin Puts.

Many will remember that Kevin Puts (below) was the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer BDDS commissioned for the song cycle “In At The Eye” in its 25th season last summer.

The program is rounded out with Mozart’s Piano Trio in E Major and three songs by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (below) sung by Emily Birsan, accompanied by Jeffrey Sykes.

Special K will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts, on Saturday, June 17, 7:30 p.m., and at the Hillside Theater, Taliesin, in Spring Green, on Sunday, June 18, 6:30 p.m.

Photos by Dick Ainsworth of BDDS performances and behind-the-scenes will be on exhibit in The Playhouse through Sunday, July 9.

Single general admission tickets are $43. Student tickets are always $10.

For tickets visit: http://www.overture.org/events/bach-dancing

For more information about the programs, performers, performances and background, visit www.bachdancinganddynamite.org or call (608) 255-9866.

Tickets can also be purchased at Overture Center for the Arts, (608) 258-4141, www.overturecenter.org (additional fees apply).

Tickets are also available at the door at all locations.


Classical music: John W. Barker’s book on the history of UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet to be published this fall

June 8, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Local chamber music fans may recall that five or six years ago, the gala centennial of the Pro Arte Quartet, the string quartet-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was celebrated in many ways.

After all, the Pro Arte Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer) had by then become the longest-lived string quartet in the history of music.

Furthermore, the quartet and the UW-Madison established the model for chamber music group affiliations with universities, which has since become standard.

There were six commissions, later recorded in two volumes and three CDs (below) by Albany Records.

There were many free live concerts with the world premieres of the commissions.

There was a tour to Belgium (below is a concert at the Royal Conservatory), the home country of the quartet that was exiled in Madison while on tour in 1941, when Hitler invaded Belgium during World War II.

There was a terrific and impressive Pro Arte Quartet display at Dane County Regional Airport, put together with Tandem Press art publishers at the UW-Madison.

And there was a book, a complete history of the Pro Arte Quartet, commissioned from John W. Barker (below), a professor emeritus of Medieval history at the UW-Madison who is also the premier music critic in Madison. He writes for Isthmus and this blog.

Now his project, full of original research, has come to fruition and will be published in October.

Here is a link to information, including how to pre-order a copy, about the book and the author from the University of Rochester Press (Boydell and Brewer):

https://boydellandbrewer.com/the-pro-arte-quartet-hb.html

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra takes The Ear over the rainbow and turns in an impressive season-closing concert that leaves him looking forward to the next season

May 3, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

To The Ear, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) just keeps getting better and better, each concert building on the last one.

Take the final concert of this season last Friday night in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

It proved typical WCO fare in the quality of the soloists and orchestra players and in the variety of the program.

WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) continues to mold his group into the tightest of ensembles. You know you are hearing precision when the rests and silences become as important to the music as the sound. And when you are listening, you feel how relaxing it is to rule out worrying about raggedness.

Here’s a rundown:

The concert opened with a tried-and-true masterpiece, the “Le Tombeau de Couperin” by Maurice Ravel (below). Each of the five dance movements pays homage to a friend of Ravel who fell in World War I, the centennial of which, the gracious Sewell explained, is being marked this year. The Ear likes such tie-ins. (The Ear also loves the original piano version, which has a sixth movement, a fabulous toccata conclusion.)

The Symphony No. 2 in C Major by Romantic master Robert Schumann is not The Ear’s favorite Schumann symphony – that would be No. 4 – and The Ear thinks that Schumann’s orchestral writing is generally not up to his piano writing, his chamber music or his songs.

Indeed, long-form music was not Schumann’s strength, as his many miniature movements in his longer suites and his fragmentary esthetic attest. Perhaps it had to do with his mental illness; perhaps it was just his preference and temperament, much as was the case with his contemporary Chopin, who also preferred the miniature to the epic.

Still, the work proved enjoyable and moving, especially in the vivacious and energetic Scherzo that was executed so precisely and then in the poignant slow movement, which was beautifully shaped with the romantic yearning that Schumann (seen below, with his wife Clara Wieck Schumann) was peerless at expressing. (You can hear the third movement, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

And once again, the smaller size of the chamber orchestra — versus a full symphony orchestra — created transparency. Listeners got to hear inner voices and the interplay of parts in all sections of the orchestra that they might otherwise miss.

But the piece that everyone came to hear was the finale: The world premiere of a Two-Piano Concerto by American composer Thomas Cabaniss (below top). The WCO commissioned the piece with help from two local patrons (Jun and Sandy Lee) and the soloists, Michael Shinn and Jessica Chow Shinn (below bottom), who have ties to Madison.

The work and its three movements – “Surfaces,” “Disturbances” and “Revelation” — did not disappoint and received a rapturous reception from the large audience, which demanded and received a piano-four hands encore.

The concerto struck The Ear as perfectly fitting its title, “Double Rainbow.” You heard elements of Maurice Ravel and John Adams. But you did NOT hear the typical standout solo playing of, say, a piano concerto by Beethoven or Brahms, Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev.

This was a much more atmospheric ensemble work that shimmered and glittered, much like a rainbow. It almost seemed in many places similar to a Baroque concerto grosso, with the piano incorporated into the orchestral texture rather than standing out against it.

That is not to say the concerto, more mood than melody, wasn’t impressive. The score seemed very difficult, even virtuosic, and it certainly had moments that allowed the two soloists to show off their first-rate, Juilliard-trained chops.

Will this new concerto join other two-piano staples, such as the famous two-piano concertos by Poulenc and Mozart? It would take more hearings to be sure, but The Ear suspects not. It will surely get repeated hearings, especially from the Shinns, without becoming a go-to default piece in the two-piano repertoire. But he could well be wrong.

In any case, one would be hard put to find a better summary of the WCO approach to music-making than this outstanding concert that combined the old and the new, that mixed works from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and performed them with technical precision and moving interpretation.

Bravos to all.

And all the more reason to look forward, after the WCO’s six summer outdoor Concerts on the Square from June 28 to Aug. 2, to the next indoors Masterworks season, both of which you can find here:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances


Classical music: “I like tunes,” says Academy Award-winning composer Thomas Cabaniss, who talks about his “Double Rainbow” piano concerto. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and guest soloists will give the world premiere of the work this Friday night.

April 24, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Even for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), which likes to mix things and up during its winter season, the concert this Friday night is something special to close out the current season.

The WCO will give the world premiere of the “Double Rainbow” Piano Concerto by Thomas Cabaniss, which was commissioned for the WCO.

The performance will also feature husband-and-wife duo-pianists Michael Shinn and Jessica Chow Shinn.

The concert is Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

Also on the program is Maurice Ravel’s Neo-classical homage to World War I, “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” and the Symphony No. 2 by Robert Schumann.

Tickets are $10 to $80.

For more information about the program, the soloists and tickets, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-v-2/

Composer Thomas Cabaniss recently did an email Q&A for The Ear:

Can you briefly introduce yourself and your career to the reader?

I’m Thomas Cabaniss (below). I am a composer and teaching artist from Charleston, South Carolina. I have lived in New York for the last 30 years, and so I greedily claim both places as home. I teach at the Juilliard School — where I met Michael and Jessica Shinn — and I also lead arts education projects at Carnegie Hall.

After graduating from Yale in 1984, I was an assistant conductor on a variety of projects including Leonard Bernstein’s opera A Quiet Place at La Scala and the Kennedy Center. Setting out to forge a career as a composer, I moved to New yolk City, which had the added benefit of being the same city where my girlfriend was attending medical school. A few years later we married and settled in Manhattan.

To start, I worked primarily as a theater composer, but I was also writing piano and chamber music on the side, and doing arts education work in between shows. In 1990 I scored and arranged a short film called The Lunch Date, which won the Palme D’Or and the Academy Award. In 1995 I joined the New York Philharmonic education programs, eventually becoming the orchestra’s Education Director.

I kept composing, and wrote a chamber opera called The Sandman, which was premiered in New York in 2002 and revived again the following season. In 2004 I was appointed to special education position with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and at the same time I wrote a series of evening length dance scores that were premiered in New York.

In 2009, I began working as composer-in-residence for the LinkUp program at Carnegie Hall, which has grown in that time to serve over 95 orchestras around the world and across the U.S. – including the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

I also helped to create the Lullaby Project at Carnegie Hall, which serves young parents in shelters, hospitals and prisons, and we are working hard to extend that work across the country through a series of partnerships.

How would you describe your musical style in general and the style of the new two-piano concerto specifically? Accessible? Tonal or atonal? Modernist or Neo-Classical? Melodic or percussive? Are there composers or works that have influenced your style?

I like tunes. I like to write songs, and I like to sing, so my music tends to value melody. My works are generally tonal, often spiked with cluster chords and other atonal devices, but I am always interested in the musical gravity of tonal centers. (You can hear a sample of Thomas Cabaniss’ music in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This piece is inspired by its soloists, Michael and Jessica Shinn (below), and by the image of a Double Rainbow (also the work’s title). I have written Michael and Jessica pieces for piano-four hands, and there is one piece they have championed called Tiny Bits of Outrageous Love. Something about the chemistry of their relationship as musicians (and as husband and wife) has inspired me to create music that is particularly exciting and intimate.

And yes, I suppose most composers embed hints of the music they love in the music they write, and I am no different. Tiny Bits was a kind of homage to the Brahms Waltzes for piano-four hands, and Double Rainbow nods to Leonard Bernstein, Olivier Messiaen, Leos Janacek and John Adams. I’m sure listeners will hear other influences, too.

What would you like listeners to know about and listen for in the piano concerto? What were the special challenges of writing for duo-pianists?

This is from the program note I wrote for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra:

DOUBLE RAINBOW is based on an experience I had with my family on the Isle of Palms, South Carolina, about 20 years ago. On this particular August day, there was a huge rain in the early afternoon, many dark clouds, thunder (but no lightning). After the storm, from the porch of our beach rental house, we saw not one, but two rainbows (below). My sister-in-law is an avid photographer, and so she coaxed us all down onto the beach so she could get a pristine angle. That alone might have been enough inspiration for a piece of music, but when we got to the water’s edge, as Julia was snapping her photos, a dolphin jumped out of the water in a vertical launch, the tail clearing the water’s surface. It was one of those moments that seemed so unbelievable that none of us said a word. 

I have always been fascinated by the search for the elusive “perfect moment,” and DOUBLE RAINBOW is a sort of study of that kind of exploration. It is all bound up in the idea of “doubleness,” represented by the two pianos. It is divided into three movements: “Surfaces” (exploring the accumulation of drops of water from tiny, atomized particles), “Disturbances” (exploring imbalances and the storms that result from them), and “Revelation” (of the Double Rainbow). Not surprising in a double concerto, there is a great deal of dialogue between the pianos, and the orchestra has more of an accompanying role in the first two movements. The final movement is different, though. Everybody is in, and the music pulses with magic. The movement seems to be headed for a big climax, but at the last moment, it suddenly slows down and there are stars.

The main challenge for me in writing a double piano concerto is all those fingers! Twenty of them, and they are capable of so much. The music I write does not usually focus on virtuosity, and yet I also wanted it to be a vehicle for them to be expressive and dynamic. I worked hard to achieve a balance between the lyricism and the fireworks – we’ll see how audiences experience it.

What else would you like to say?

I am especially excited to be able to visit Madison for the premiere. I’ll get to meet members of the family of Jessica Chow Shinn (below, she is a Madison native), and I have a former student in the orchestra (Midori Samson, Second Bassoon). My Carnegie Lullaby Project collaborators include another Madison native (Ann Gregg) and Elizabeth Snodgrass, who is originally from Appleton (I think) but recently moved to Madison. I will get to meet WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) in person. We have been doing some Skype rehearsals and phone consultations. It will be great to watch Andrew in action.

While we are here, my wife Deborah will be giving Grand Rounds at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, and my son Will leads an a cappella group at University of Chicago (Voices In Your Head), and this year they have been singing frequently with a wonderful University of Wisconsin group (Fundamentally Sound).

The last few seasons the Madison Symphony Orchestra has been offering Carnegie Hall LinkUp concerts to kids in grades 3-5, and this year is no exception. They will perform The Orchestra Moves in May, for which I wrote two of the works (Come To Play and Away I Fly) and arranged another (Cidade Maravilhosa).

This project has been a few years in the making, and so for Michael and Jessica and me, this is a kind of celebration. We can’t wait to share DOUBLE RAINBOW with you.


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