By Jacob Stockinger
The last two weeks of April look to be a busy time, with several world premieres of new music taking place – one in chamber music this week, then next week one in choral music and one by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in orchestral and piano music.
It is also a busy time for choral music, especially with back-to-back performances next week by the Concert Choir and the community-campus UW Choral Union.
All UW-Madison concerts scheduled for this week are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
Here — with an unfortunate lack of details about programs — is the UW-Madison lineup for this week:
At 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, the University Opera presents its spring program of “Opera Scenes” done by the UW-Madison Opera Workshop. Sorry, no word about specific operas, scenes or singers. Staging is minimal and accompaniment is done by a piano.
At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Pro Arte Quartet (below top) will give the world premiere of “The Cross of Snow,” written by John Harbison (below middle) and commissioned by local businessman William Wartmann in memory of his late wife.
The new work, scored for string quartet and voice, features guest mezzo-soprano Jazmina Macneil (below bottom).
For more information about the new work, including the text of the poem “The Cross of Snow” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, go to:
At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Chorale and the Madrigal Singers (below) team up for a joint concert under director Bruce Gladstone. Sorry, no word about composers or works.
At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the All-University Strings – an amateur group of non-music majors — will perform its annual spring concert. Sorry, no word on the program.
At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Women’s Chorus (below), Masters Singers and University Chorus will give a joint concert. Sorry, no word on the program.
From 2 to 5 p.m. in Mills Hall, University Bands will perform under directors Darin Olson, Nathan Froebe and Justin Lingre will perform. Sorry, no word on specific programs.
This week, The Ear also counts 10 different student degree recitals on tap, from piano and violin to percussion and voice. Some listings mention programs, but others do not. For more information, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
Jazz and classical music are not so different, says Swiss-born composer Daniel Schnyder.
For Schnyder, it is more than an academic matter. He puts his point of view into action in his acclaimed chamber opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” which deals with the life of the bebop saxophone player and jazz giant. (You can see the YouTube trailer for the productions by Opera Philadelphia and the Apollo Theater in Harlem at the bottom.)
The Madison Opera will offer the work’s Midwest premiere when it stages the chamber opera this Friday night (NOT Saturday night, as first mistakenly posted here) at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Both performances are in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. (Performances photos below are from the world premiere at Opera Philadelphia.)
Here is a link to more general information about the opera, tickets, the cast and the production:
Daniel Schnyder (below) — who will perform a FREE concert of the music of Charlie Parker and do a question-and-answer session on this Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOT 7 p.m. as mistakenly first stated here) in Morphy Hall on the UW-Madison campus — also agreed to an email interview with The Ear:
What was the work’s genesis and what gave you the idea for “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird”? Are you a big jazz fan and did you see the work as a way to meld the jazz and classical styles of music?
I am a jazz fan. I am also a jazz musician and I love to compose, play and improvise in the jazz idiom. I have recorded more than 30 jazz CDs.
I love to combine jazz and classical music. I just finished a symphony for orchestra and big band, a commission by the Temple University in Philadelphia.
The idea from the very beginning was to write an opera for Lawrence Brownlee, the great African-American tenor. Opera Philadelphia asked me to write a work for him and we tried several libretto options. After hearing a recital by Larry singing gospel songs, I came up with the idea to write an opera about Charlie Parker’s life.
How would you describe the musical style of the opera in terms of tonality and melody, and its accessibility to the general public? What were the audience reactions in Philadelphia and New York City?
In both places, the audiences were very moved by the story and the music. The topic hit a nerve, something our society has to reflect upon, a general issue that concerns us all as a nation.
The music itself is not hard to listen to and moves swiftly. For the orchestra and singers, the opera is rather challenging, since Charlie Parker (below) was a virtuoso. The music moves fast and often in off-beat rhythms that are unusual for classical musicians. There are also a lot of odd meters and tricky patterns that sometimes connect to Parker’s music and sometimes relate to the music that came after him.
The audience will have a ball. There are 12-tone music passages reflecting on new music and opera — mostly in Nica’s parts — but there are a lot of R&B influences and jazz and Latin music grooves.
It would be false to see the opera as a patchwork of different musical sequences and styles. It is my music that is based on all these influences. The opera can be described as a modern music carpet with lots of colors of today’s music, rather than a quilt.
In what ways do you see the characters and the story as offering lessons and being relevant to today?
I guess this is obvious: Our society has to understand that different cultures and different ethnic backgrounds enrich America and are fundamental to its culture and success.
If we go down the path of segregation, divisiveness and disrespect, we all will lose. Jazz is the great coming together of different heritages, the roots of America, and it conquered the world.
We still erect barriers in society and music that are detrimental to growth and innovation. Other contemporary issues are also important in the opera, such as being a single parent, drug addiction and faith.
The opera also highlights that jazz musicians at the time could not earn money from recorded music, something that is true again today. The stealing of royalties from Parker and Dizzie Gillespie were different from today’s issues of streaming, but the problem of jazz musicians not receiving money for their creative works stays the same.
In the opera, Parker discusses the very nature of music, its volatility and the fact that you cannot physically possess it. This is one of the reasons why he wants to write the music down on paper. He wants to make it abstract, but realizes that he loses some of the essence of what he wants to say. That is the dilemma of the composer.
He also reflects on the notation system, which was not designed for jazz. He sings: “How can I put down these black dots on white paper, how can I capture these sheets of sound?”
The opera reflects on American history, but it simultaneously relates to today’s world. This is not just some nice story about the past; it is about us.
Quite a few other productions have been planned. What do you think explains the work’s popularity? Do you think it attracts new audiences to opera?
There might be many different reasons for that:
1) There are very few operas using the modern jazz idiom.
2) There are very few operas in which the leading roles are African-American.
3) The opera is flexible; it can be produced with a moderate budget in a lot of different venues. It is mobile, which is similar to L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) by Igor Stravinsky. It also has a length of just over 100 minutes.
4) As mentioned above, the opera hits a nerve; it is about our time and about us.
5) Charlie Parker is a legend, but very few people really know about him and his music. People are intrigued.
6) The music is very accessible; it can be played on the radio without getting boring or incomprehensible. Some modern operas rely a lot on light, staging and special visual effects. This opera works more like Carmen or a Verdi opera, told through the music.
7) It is an opera, not a musical. It only uses a song format in a few instances. The opera is composed in an open and evolving format, connected by leitmotifs similar to Wagner’s operas.
The music definitely has a lot of jazz influences, but the format is mostly one not used in jazz music. That creates a new experience. It does not fit into one of the known “drawers” of music, so it can be tempting to try to compare it to their pieces but it sticks out as musically different.
8) The opera is composed very close to the sound and rhythms of the words. Hence you can understand a lot. The language is very direct and clear, close to spoken language. That helps. You can actually understand a lot of the lyrics without reading the supertitles.
I tried to avoid the Strauss or Wagner effect of creating something where the mix of complex language and complex music creates something beautiful but often incomprehensible. French and Italian operas are better in this regard. “Yardbird” has a message that needs to be understood.
9) There are many riddles in the opera – musical riddles, but also hidden messages and references in the text – that can be explored. The opera plays in a twilight zone between death and life. This is also intriguing.
Is there something else you would like to say about yourself and the opera?
I enjoyed writing the opera very much. It was a great pleasure and an honor to reflect on one of the great music geniuses in American history.
By Jacob Stockinger
It’s no secret that the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is strapped for money, especially for hiring staff and funding student scholarships — if less so for the construction of new buildings that are financed by selling naming rights.
Certain events, such as the UW Choral Union, have always charged admission. And most UW-Madison musical events, especially faculty and student performances, remain, thankfully, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
But under increasing financial pressure, a few years ago the UW started charging admission to more events: the UW Brass Festival, the UW Concerto Competition Winners’ Concert and the annual Schubertiade to name a few.
So one can well imagine the temptation to “monetize” — charge admission to – concerts by the popular Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), which typically draws both critical acclaim and large audiences.
Yet The Ear thinks that would be a mistake, even if the purpose or intent is the best.
The Pro Arte Quartet, which ended up here from its native Belgium when it was exiled here on tour during World War II when Hitler and the Nazis invaded and conquered Belgium, is a primary example of The Wisconsin Idea in action.
The Wisconsin Idea – under siege now by the governor and many legislators — is that the boundaries of the UW are the borders of the state and that the UW should serve the taxpayers who support it.
No single musical group at the UW does that job that better than the hard working Pro Arte Quartet, which has done it for many decades.
The quartet practices for three hours every weekday morning. It tours and performs frequently in Madison and elsewhere in the state, including Door County. It has played in Carnegie Hall in New York City and toured Europe, South America and Asia. It has commissioned and premiered many new works. It has made numerous outstanding recordings. It is a great and revered institution.
The Pro Arte Quartet is, in short, a great ambassador for the state of Wisconsin, the UW-Madison and the UW System. It has given, and will continue to give, countless listeners a start on loving chamber music.
If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Pro Arte Quartet, which is now over 100 years old and is the longest lived active quartet in the history of Western music, go to this link:
And you might consider attending or hearing one of the three FREE PUBLIC performances this week in the Madison area:
From 7 to 9 p.m., the Pro Arte Quartet will perform FREE at Oakwood Village Auditorium, 6209 Mineral Point Road on Madison’s far west side near West Towne. The program is the same as the one listed below on Saturday.
The Oakwood Village concert is OPEN to the public.
Here is a link to more information:
At 8 p.m., in Mills Hall, the Pro Arte Quartet, joined by University of Maryland guest pianist Rita Sloan (below top), will perform a FREE program that features the Fuga in E-flat Major, (1827) by Felix Mendelssohn; the String Quartet No. 20 in F major, Op. 46, No. 2 (1832-33) by the prolific but neglected 19th-century French composer George Onslow (below bottom); and the rarely heard Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84, (1919) by Sir Edward Elgar. (You hear the lovely slow movement from the Elgar Piano Quintet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
For information, go to:
At 12:30 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery III (below) of the Chazen Museum of Art, the Pro Arte Quartet will perform for “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” where over the years it has become the chamber music ensemble in residence.
The program is the same as the one on Saturday night.
Here is information about reserving seats and also a link for streaming the concert live via the Internet:
Do you have an opinion about the Pro Arte Quartet?
Should admission to Pro Arte concerts be started? Or should the quartet’s performances remain free?
Leave a COMMENT below with the why and your reasoning.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
This past week, on Tuesday night, the critically acclaimed Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, performed its third concert of the semester.
This time it was a terrific program of music by Hugo Wolf, Dmitri Shostakovich and Antonin Dvorak. (You can hear the Pro Arte perform Ernest Bloch‘s Prelude in the YouTube video at the bottom. Plus, YouTube has many more samples of the Pro Arte Quartet.)
The string quartet, which celebrated its centennial five years ago, is the longest lived string quartet in history. It has been at the UW-Madison ever since it was exiled here 75 years ago while on tour during World War II. That is when Hitler and the Nazis invaded the quartet’s homeland of Belgium. (Below is the Pro Arte Quartet in 1940.)
Yet despite such a distinguished history, the existence of the Pro Arte Quartet has had some close calls before and has even been on the endangered species list, only to get a reprieve.
Now, given the current state of steep budget cuts and tenure reforms at the UW by Gov. Scott Walker, the Republican-dominated Legislature and the Board of Regents, there are concerns about what will happen in the near future, especially if one or more of the quartet members leaves or retires.
One ambitious solution is now under way.
A fund at the UW Foundation has been started to endow a chair at the School of Music for each member of the quartet in the strings department. Rebekah Sherman is the Foundation’s liaison to the project.
The proposal needs to raise $4 million with an additional $1 million for other activities such as touring, new commissions, research, outreach, student activities and recordings. (Below is the Pro Arte Quartet, which has always pioneered new music) in 1928.)
If you want to know more about the project, contact Robert Graebner at email@example.com
The Ear will provide more information in the near future about how to join the project and receive updates as well as how to donate.
But at least now you know and can figure out how you can help if you want to help.
By Jacob Stockinger
Who says classical music is dying?
You wouldn’t know it from some of the many world premieres of new music that will take place across the U.S. this season. Such events add a lot of excitement to the new concert season. And many critics and observers think they draw in new and younger audiences.
Quite a few of the premieres feature performers and composers familiar to Madison audiences. They include cellist Alisa Weilerstein (below top, in a photo by Harold Hoffmann for Decca Records), pianist Emanuel Ax (below second), composer Kevin Puts (below third) and composer Jake Heggie (below bottom).
Here is a round-up of the national scene by Tom Huizenga, who writes the Deceptive Cadence blog for National Public Radio or NPR.
It makes one wonder: What about the local scene here in Madison?
True, several seasons ago, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison commissioned and premiered six new works to mark its centennial. They included four string quartets, one piano quintet and one clarinet quintet, all of which are now available in terrific recordings from Albany Records.
This summer the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society featured bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below) in the world premiere of a song cycle it commissioned from American composer Kevin Puts, who is mentioned in the NPR story, to mark its 25th anniversary.
And this fall, at its annual Labor Day concert the Karp family premiered a new work by Joel Hoffman for piano and cello, based on the life of the late pianist and former UW professor Howard Karp and performed by his sons pianist Christopher Karp and cellist Parry Karp (below).
This winter the Madison Opera will stage the new jazz-inspired opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” although Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera will do a world premiere of a work it commissioned. Could the Madison Opera commission again its own new work, such as it did years ago with Daron Hagen‘s opera “Shining Brow” about Frank Lloyd Wright?
And there are other commissions and premieres by smaller groups, such as the percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion.
But what is the problem with getting new commissions and world premieres at bigger ensembles such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the UW Symphony Orchestra, which does perform a student work each year? Lack of money? Lack of will? Lack of audience interest?
What do you think?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Beer-inspired classical music may seem a stretch at first.
But then you haven’t heard the Madison-based wind quintet Black Marigold.
And there is a historical precedent or two, including the “Coffee Cantata” by Johann Sebastian Bach and Classical Revolution Madison, which performs classic music in unusual venues such as cafes, coffee houses and bars.
In any case, Black Marigold (below) performed some of Beer Music in brew pubs and a church at the end of August.
The concert, which used to be carried live by Wisconsin Public Radio but was discontinued, is FREE at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery No. 3 (below).
It will also be streamed live at this site:
Here are more details about the dates, venues and programs:
Music on Tap: 2016 Summer Concert Series
Upcoming Black Marigold Concerts:
All performances offer FREE admission, with free will donations accepted.
As many Madisonians geared up for this past week’s Great Taste of the Midwest, the region’s largest craft beer festival, Black Marigold logged time in the rehearsal hall instead of the beer hall, fermenting new music for the group’s end-of-summer concert series.
All September programs will feature selections from Beer Music, an epic collection of short pieces inspired by 18 local craft beers, composed by Brian DuFord for Black Marigold.
Here are details of individual programs:
Summer Concert Series
Sunday, September 4, 12:30 p.m., Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen (live stream link)
Thursday, September 15, 7 p.m., Stoughton Public Library
Pub Concerts: relax and enjoy a pint with your performance!
Saturday, September 10, 3 pm, The Malt House (below bottom)
Beer Music was made possible by a grant from Dane Arts and individual donations from many friends.
For more information, visit: www.blackmarigold.com
To contact the group, use this email address:
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
On Friday evening, the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below in a photo by John W. Barker) gave, in the Atrium Auditorium at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, the concert that concluded its sixth season.
Founded in 2011, it has been a remarkable venture that has given student musicians of high-school level the chance to enjoy full-scale orchestral experience.
But the group’s founder and director, the versatile and multi-talented Madison native Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below), is apparently irreplaceable in this effort; and he has found that he must move on in his career. So, this latest and 10th concert was also the orchestra’s last.
To mark the occasion, Utevsky, who just graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, is an enthusiastic champion of new music, and the orchestra commissioned a new composition, which then received its world premiere on Friday night.
The composer is the 25-year-old, Minneapolis-based avant-garde musician Ben Davis (below) who created a work with the not very helpful title of “is a is a is b is.” (I’m not making that up!) It is scored for a full ensemble of strings, winds and percussion plus an electronic screeching machine.
It is, in truth, not a piece of music at all, but a 20-minute experiment in the kinds of unusual — and not particularly pleasant — sounds that a group of orchestral players can make with their instruments. There are passages of repeated unison notes (the same one over and over) at goodly volume. And the last three minutes or so is an unaccompanied solo for the screeching machine on a single, piercing tone.
Whether this made a worthy valedictory salute to MAYCO’s audience and supporters is, I suppose, a matter of taste.
Fortunately, this new work was cushioned on either side by much more familiar material.
Opening the program was the beloved Overture to the opera The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini. This was brought off with full-steam-ahead momentum by the players under Utevsky’s enthusiastic leadership.
The players were clearly quite fired up at the chance to tackle this score and did themselves genuine credit. Utevsky provided fast and forceful leadership that stressed the dramatic power of this music—which was, in its day, as surprising and shocking as a lot of “new” music today, we must remember.
The audience shared with the performers a rousing experience.
Among his other functions, Utevsky also wrote admirably illuminating program notes for the Rossini and Beethoven works—contrasting with those contributed by Davis, which were as nose-thumbing as his composition.
It is sad to think that MAYCO is now a thing of the past. What a wonderful idea it has been, something that testifies to the remarkable quantity and quality of young musical talent here.
If his orchestra is now gone, we must certainly keep our eyes and ears open for what the gifted Utevsky moves on to next.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following note from Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below top), the founder and music director of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (below) bottom, which plays its last concert this Friday night.
I have a major announcement to make to your readers:
The TIME and LOCATION for the final concert by MAYCO have been changed.
The concert is now in the Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, at 8 p.m. – NOT in Music Hall at 7:30 p.m., as previously announced.
For more details about the concert, visit the post that appeared here earlier this week. Here is a link:
And here are some brief remarks from Utevsky (below) about the concert’s program:
“Our first concert five years ago ended with Beethoven’s monumental Fifth Symphony, and to bring things full circle with our tenth and final performance, I decided it was only right to program the piece once more.
“We’re opening with a light appetizer, Rossini’s effervescent overture to his opera “The Barber of Seville,” which calls to mind Bugs Bunny as easily as Madison Opera‘s vivacious staging two seasons ago.
“In between, we have a complex, experimental new work exploring the psychology of performance and the physical act of playing an instrument – by far the most adventurous work we’ve ever commissioned or premiered.
“I hope the public will join us for the performance, and a small reception afterward celebrating ten wonderful concerts.”