By Jacob Stockinger
The Madison Opera will stage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute this Friday night, April 21 at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, April 23, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. (Production photos are courtesy of the Arizona Opera, from which the Madison Opera got its sets and costumes.)
Here are an introduction and some details, courtesy of the Madison Opera:
Written in the last year of his life, Mozart’s opera is part fairy tale, part adventure story, and is filled with enchantment.
Set in a fairy-tale world of day and night, the opera follows Prince Tamino and the bird-catcher Papageno as they embark on a mission to rescue Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night. Pamina had been kidnapped by Sarastro, the leader of a religious order. But it turns out that exactly who is “good” and who is “evil” is not always what it appears.
Along the way to happily-ever-after, Pamina, Tamino and Papageno face many challenges, but are assisted by a magic flute, magic bells, a trio of guiding spirits and their own clear-eyed sense of right and wrong.
“The Magic Flute has been beloved around the world since its 1791 premiere,” says Kathryn Smith (below in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director. “It has been called a fairy tale for both adults and children, with a story that works on many levels, all set to Mozart’s glorious music. I’m so delighted to be sharing it again with Madison, with an incredible cast, director and conductor.”
The opera runs about 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.
Tickets are $18 to $130.
“The Magic Flute” will be sung in German with English supertitles.
For more about the production and cast, go to:
And also go to:
Dan Rigazzi, who has been on the directing staff at the Metropolitan Opera for 10 years, makes his Madison Opera debut with this beautiful production that incorporates some steampunk elements into its fairy-tale setting.
Gary Thor Wedow, a renowned Mozart conductor, makes his mainstage debut with this opera, after having conducted Opera in the Park in 2016 and 2012.
Conductor Wedow (below) recently agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:
Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers?
Hello! I’m an American conductor, born in LaPorte, Indiana. A faculty member at The Juilliard School, I spend a lot of time with music of the 18th century — Handel and Mozart and often earlier, like Monteverdi, Purcell and Cavalli. But I conduct everything and grew up in love with the Romantics. I’ve also always done a lot of contemporary music. I love it all.
Mozart’s music sounds so clear and easy or simple, but the reality is quite different, musicians say. What do you strive for and what qualities do you think make for great Mozart playing?
Mozart engages both the brain and the heart. He challenges your intellect with amazing feats of counterpoint, orchestration and structure while tugging at your heart, all the time pulling you along in a deep drama.
Mozart was an Italian melodist with a German contrapuntal, harmonic engine – like an incredible automobile with an Italian slick body and a German motor.
Do you share the view that opera is central to Mozart’s music, even to his solo, chamber and ensemble instrumental music? How so? What is special or unique to Mozart’s operas, and to this opera in particular?
From all accounts, Mozart (below, in his final year) was a huge personality who was full of life and a keen observer of the human condition; his letters are full of astute, often merciless and sometimes loving evaluations of family, colleagues and patrons.
Mozart’s music speaks of the human condition: its passions, loves and hopes— no matter what genre. His music is innately dramatic and primal, going immediately to the most basic and universal human emotions with breathtaking nuance, variety and depth. (You can hear the Overture to “The Magic Flute,” performed by the Metropolitan Opera orchestra under James Levine, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Tomorrow: Tricks to conducting Mozart and what to pay special attention to in this production of The Magic Flute.
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
He was a contemporary composer who wasn’t afraid to change or adapt his compositional style in radically differently ways, and who found a broad public as well as great respect from fellow composers and performers.
And here, in the YouTube video below, is the piece, complete with recorded bird songs recorded by the composer — Cantus Arcticus, Op, 61, from 1972 — that Rautavaara is perhaps best known for. It is also the piece that his fellow Finn, conductor Osmo Vanska, now the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, says he most admires.
ALERT: The concert by the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble that was scheduled for this Saturday has been CANCELED due to illness.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear’s friends at the Madison Opera write:
The production will be performed in Overture Hall of the Overture Center on Friday at 8 p.m. and on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. It will be sung in French with projected English translations.
Tickets are $18-$129. Student and group discounts are available. Tickets can be purchased at the Overture Box Office, 201 State St., Madison, and by calling (608) 258-4141 or visiting www.madisonopera.org
This will be the company’s first production in 20 years of Offenbach’s masterpiece, which moves in a fantasy world. It offers showpiece arias for the bravura cast, the gorgeous “Barcarolle,” and a moving tribute to what it means to be an artist. (You can hear the famous and familiar Barcarolle in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
As he sits in a tavern, the poet Hoffmann drinks, smokes and encounters Lindorf, his rival for his current lover, the opera singer Stella.
He recalls how his nemesis seems to appear constantly in his life, and urged on by his fellow bar patrons, tells the three tales of his loves: Olympia, who turns out to be a mechanical doll; Antonia, a singer who dies of a mysterious illness; and Giulietta, a courtesan who steals his reflection. His adventures take him from Munich to Venice, always accompanied by his most faithful love, his muse.
The opera ends back in the tavern, as Hoffmann’s muse consoles him and urges him on to the higher purpose of art.
PRAISE AND BACKGROUND
“The Tales of Hoffmann is one of my absolute favorite operas,” says Kathryn Smith (below in a photo by James Gill), the general director of Madison Opera. “I love the music, the story, the myriad facets to the characters, and the fact that no two productions of this opera are identical. It has comedy, tragedy, drinking songs, lyrical arias, and even some magic tricks.”
Offenbach’s final opera, “The Tales of Hoffmann” premiered in 1881 at the Opera-Comique in Paris. The title character was based on the writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, now most famous as the author of the original “Nutcracker” story; the different acts were adaptations of Hoffmann’s own short stories.
Offenbach was celebrated for over 100 comic operettas such as “Orpheus in the Underworld”; “Hoffmann” was intended to be his first grand opera. Unfortunately, he died before completing the opera, and other composers finished it. Over the past century, there have been many different versions of the opera, with different arias, different plot points, and even different orders of the acts.
“The Tales of Hoffmann, for me, is the perfect blend of great music and great theater,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the artistic director of Madison Opera and the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. “It’s particularly fun to conduct because the orchestra plays a central role in the moment to moment unfolding of the drama, and Offenbach achieves this at the same time as he is spinning out one gorgeous melody after another.”
Madison Opera’s cast features a quartet of debuts in the leading roles. Harold Meers (below), who sang at Opera in the Park in 2015, makes his mainstage debut as Hoffmann, the poet.
Sian Davies (bel0w) makes her debut singing three of Hoffmann’s loves – Antonia, Giulietta and Stella – a true vocal and dramatic feat. Jeni Houser returns to Madison Opera following her most recent role as Amy in Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” to sing the role of his fourth love, Olympia. She has also appeared here in George Frideric Handel’s “Acis and Galatea” and Stephan Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.”
Baritone Morgan Smith makes his debut as Hoffmann’s nemesis, who appears in forms both sinister and comic.
Making her debut as Hoffmann’s sidekick Nicklausse, who also turns out to be his Muse, is mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala.
Returning to Madison Opera as the four servants is Jared Rogers, who sang Beadle Bamford in Stephen Sondheim‘s “Sweeney Todd.” Thomas Forde, last here as Don Basilio in Giaocchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” sings the dual roles of Luther and Crespel. Robert Goderich, who sang Pirelli in “Sweeney Todd,” sings Spalanzani, the mad inventor. Tyler Alessi makes his debut as Schlemil.
Three Madison Opera Studio Artists round out the cast: Kelsey Park as the voice of Antonia’s dead mother and William Ottow and Nathaniel Hill as two students.
Madison Opera’s production is set in the Roaring 1920s, with stylish costumes that are perfect for Offenbach’s fantasy that travels time and location.
Kristine McIntyre (below), who directed Jake Heggie‘s “Dead Man Walking” and Giuseppe Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” for Madison Opera, stages this complex story that has a vast dramatic scope.
Tomorrow: Artistic and music director John DeMain and stage director Kristine McIntyre address the differences between the reputation and the reality of “The Tales of Hoffman.”
ALERT: This Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m in Mills Hall, the UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, directed by UW-Madison composition professor Laura Schwendinger, will perform a FREE concert of new works by “rising young stars.”
On the program are: “Fluidity” by Yunkyung Hong; “Obnoxia” by Nathan Froebe; “Concerto da Camera II” by Shulamit Ran; Kay Ryan Songs by Laura Schwendinger; and a New String Quartet by Adam Betz.
Featured special guest performers are pianist Christopher Taylor, cellist Leonardo Altino, Erin K. Bryan and percussionist Sean Kleve, of Clocks in Motion, as well as students Biffa Kwok, Saya Mizuguchi, Mounir Nessim, Steve Carmichael, Seung Jin Cha, Joshua Dieringer, Seung Wha Baek, Saya Mizuguchi, Erin Dupree Jakubowski and Yunkyung Hong.
By Jacob Stockinger
One of the Madison-based classical music critics who deserves your respect is Greg Hettmansberger (below).
Hettsmanberger has two news items to announce.
He has just launched his own blog called “What Greg Says.”
First, some background.
Since August, 2011 Hettmansberger has authored the blog “Classically Speaking” for Madison Magazine, and added a print column of the same name two years ago.
He began writing program notes in 1996, and is currently completing his 19th season as an annotator for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Moving to the Madison area in 2001, Hettmansberger was the director of bands for Abundant Life Christian School until 2008.
Now Hettmansberger has also been tapped by WISC-TV Channel 3, a local CBS affiliate, to appear once monthly on a morning show (at 6:40 a.m.) to offer previews, reviews and news about the local concert scene. He will get 3-1/2 minutes on the third Wednesday of each month.
Hettmansberger is a discerning listener and a fine judge of musicians and music.
That makes him worth paying attention to. He always has important insights into performances by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Overture Center and the countless chamber music groups in the area.
So perhaps you will want to bookmark his blog or subscribe to it.
The Ear will.
Here is a link:
Says Greg, in his typically modest manner, about his first major topic and posting:
“My blog space is up and running. In fact, I’ve posted twice. I still don’t feel fluent, but at least it’s serviceable, and my reviewing schedule begins in earnest this Friday.”
Presumably, he talking about a review of Friday night’s concert of works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, Francis Poulenc and Dmitri Shostakovich by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top)and piano soloist Adam Neiman (below bottom).
Here is the latest post, a reminiscence of Pierre Boulez (below), the avant-garde French composer and conductor who died recently at 90 and who gave Hettmansberger a personal interview that he recounts in his blog posting:
Wish Greg Hettmansberger well and leave your words of congratulations in the COMMENT section.
ALERTS: The concert by the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble that was scheduled for this Wednesday night has been POSTPONED. No word yet about the new date.
The fall edition of University Opera’s Opera Scenes will offer its latest production on this Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. The FREE event features work by students in the Fall Opera Workshop class at the UW-Madison. Students direct, stage and sing the scenes. Piano accompaniment is again the norm, but this time a small Baroque orchestra of strings and winds will also be there.
The program will include scenes from “Der Freischütz” by Carl Maria von Weber; “Arabella” by Richard Strauss; “La Clemenza di Tito” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and “Orlando” by George Frideric Handel. Also, violist, conductor, singer and critic-blogger Mikko Rankin Utevsky will make his opera conducting debut in the half-hour excerpt of Handel, which includes a mad scene. For more information, including a list of the singers, here is a link: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/opera-workshop-fall/
By Jacob Stockinger
At the UW-Madison, there are several major choral concerts, several of them with holiday music and holiday themes, just as many other music organizations — including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Madison Bach Musicians among them — do as the holidays approach.
So The Ear wants to direct your attention to the many student degree recitals – both undergraduate and graduate – that begin to pile up as the semester comes to a close.
All are free and usually take place at 6:30 or 8:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall.
The variety is stupendous. There are piano and chamber music recitals of all sorts. There are voice recitals. You can hear music for the flute, horn, violin, viola, saxophone, clarinet and percussion. (Below is student Sara Giusti in a recent piano recital.)
Here is a link to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music online calendar of events and concerts for November and December (click forward to advance the schedule of events):
Click on the event you are interested in for details. Some of the listings have specific programs; others don’t. But almost all are good bets, given the caliber of the teaching and performing at the UW-Madison music school.
And please use the COMMENT section to let The Ear and his readers know about outstanding results when you hear them.
Let us now praise students too!
ALERT: The UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble will perform a FREE program of new music this coming Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. It will play under the direction of UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger. The program includes two works by “post-tonal” American composer Cindy Cox (b. 1961, below in a photo by K. Karn), who teaches at the University of California-Berkeley.
By Jacob Stockinger
Club 201, a group affiliated with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below), will hold its first event of the 2015-16 season on this coming Friday, Oct. 16. (Club 201 is named after the address of the Overture Center, which is located at 201 State Street.)
Later this year, Club 201 will celebrate its 10th anniversary, fulfilling its mission as the premiere organization promoting classical music to the young professional community in Madison.
For a $45 ticket – a savings of $36-$56 — young professionals, aged 22 to 40, will have access to outstanding seats in Overture Hall to hear the 7:30 p.m. performance by violinist James Ehnes (below), conductor John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra perform three highly regarded staples of the classical repertoire: Symphony No. 85 “La Reine” by Franz Joseph Haydn; the “Scottish Fantasy” for violin and orchestra by Max Bruch; and the Symphonic Dances by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
The ticket also includes access to an exclusive post-performance party in the Promenade Lounge on the second floor of the Overture Center with food, one drink ticket and a cash bar.
Conductor John DeMain, as well as young musicians who play in the symphony, will be attending to mingle with Madison’s young professionals.
The deadline to purchase tickets is this Wednesday, Oct. 14. Tickets can be purchased for this event, as well as the other three events throughout the 2015-16 season at the Club 201 website: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/club201.
Additionally, interested parties can stay up-to-date by liking the Club 201 Facebook page:
By Jacob Stockinger
Pulitzer Prize-winner George Crumb (below, b. 1929) is one of America’s foremost composers and one of the most influential and innovative composers of the latter half of the 20th Century.
UW-Madison composer and professor Laura Schwendinger, who is the Artistic Director of the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, designed the 2015 CRUMB FESTIVAL – to take place from this Friday, March 20, through Monday, March 23, at the UW-Madison School of Music — to celebrate his 85th birthday.
“We wish to celebrate this unique and singular voice,” says Schwendinger. She describes Crumb’s influence in this way: “He is one of the most important, and influential composers of our time. He simply makes us listen to sound in a new way, and there are very few composers who can do that.”
The Festival will feature four concerts and nine works by Crumb.
Here is a schedule of events by each day.
On Friday, March 20, at 8 p.m. in Music Hall, “Lakeshore Rush,” which features three all-star UW alumni, will be performing Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale).
On Saturday, March 21, at 7:30 p.m. and also in the Music Hall, the UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (below top) will be presenting a concert featuring the Pro Arte String Quartet’s Parry Karp (below bottom) in Crumb’s Solo Cello Sonata and saxophonist Steve Carmichaelin’s Quest.
UW graduate student, conductor Kyle Knox will be conducting University of Southern California professor Donald Crockett’s “Whistling in the Dark” and Les Thimmig will be leading his saxophone quartet in a work by University of California-Davis professor Laurie San Martin, in her Miniatures for Saxophone quartet; a work by University of California-Berkeley Music Department Chair Cindy Cox will round out the program.
Schwendinger adds “none of these works could have been composed without Crumb’s influence, yet are distinctive examples of their composers’ individual styles.”
On Sunday, March 22, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, Nunc (below top, Latin for “now”), a New York-based music ensemble will perform, headed by the star violinist Miranda Cuckson (below middle), called “superb,” “deeply satisfying,” and “prodigiously talented” by the New York Times.
The program includes Eleven Echoes of Autumn, and the Four Nocturnes for violin and piano as well as works by Augusta Read-Thomas, Sebastian Currier, and Laura Schwendinger’s The Violinists in My Life, a work for which the third movement is dedicated to Cuckson. Schwendinger (below bottom) adds that “this work of hers, is much influenced by the drama of the Crumb’s Solo Cello Sonata.”
Finally, on Monday, March 23, at 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall, Due East (below), the flute and percussion duo of Erin Lesser and Greg Byer, lauded as “superb” (New York Times) and “brilliant” (New York Concert Review), will be joined by NYC-based harpist, Jacqui Kerrod, vocalist Amanda deBoer and bassist Mark Buchner, will be performing George Crumb’s colorful and enticing Madrigals (1-4) in a stunning multi-media presentation, which presents a “triptych video montage” that becomes a “magical and powerful environment,” along with works written for them by the Chicago Composers Consortium and also inspired by the works of Crumb.
The consortium has been a staple of Chicago’s New Music scene for 25 years now and has counted as part of its membership some of Chicago’s best-known composers.
In addition to the four concert offerings, Miranda Cuckson, Blair McMillen, Erin Lesser and Greg Beyer will all be offering master classes, and Nunc will be reading works by student composers as part of a composer workshop.
Schwendinger says “the festival is a fantastic opportunity for the next generation of composers to be exposed to Crumb and learn from the performers who play his music.”
Susan C. Cook (below), music historian and director of the UW-Madison School of Music, is currently teaching a course focusing on George Crumb. An expert in contemporary and American music of all kinds, Cook singles out Crumb as central to her own desire to study modern music.
“As an undergraduate at Beloit College, I first heard Crumb’s ‘Ancient Voices of Children,’ then less than a decade old, in a music theory course,” Cook says. “It simply grabbed hold of me, and I knew I wanted to understand how it came to be and share it with others.”
All events are open to the public.
Nunc and Due East are ticketed events. Visit the Events Calendar at www.music.wisc.edu for more information.
Here are some online resources, including YouTube videos:
Crumb: Vox Balanae
Crumb: Eleven Echoes of Autumn
Links to other works on the concerts:
Donald Crockett Whistling in the Dark
“Violinists in My Life” with violinist Eleanor Bartsch and pianist Thomas Kasdorf performing with the UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble in Mills Hall in 2014
Sebastian Currier, Verge:
Featured performers in other works:
ALERT: This just in: This afternoon’s performance at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s Christmas concert, with guest soloist and local groups under the baton of John DeMain (below, in a photo by Bob Rashid) is virtually SOLD OUT. But you can call the Overture Center Box Office (608-258-4141) to determine any availability.
By Jacob Stockinger
Sure, you look at the entirety of classical music history and you can name your favorite composers and favorite works: Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Ninth Symphony, right?
But there are surprises awaiting you, if you restrict the choices to the past century.
Looking over the past 100 years — starting Jan, 1, 1914 — who would have guessed, for example, that: Music for 18 Musicians (at bottom, in a complete performance in a YouTube video by the acclaimed and Grammy Award-winning new music group eighth blackbird) by contemporary minimalist composer Steve Reich (below, in a photo by Wonge Bergmann) would pull out ahead of George Gershwin, Dmitri Shostakovich, Bela Bartok, Charles Ives, Alban Berg and all others in last year’s Q2 Music poll?
Anyway, the terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” recently posted a story about the Q2 Music poll.
It included an entry form that will allow readers to pick up to FIVE works and composers as they participate in this year’s poll that dates back to Jan. 1, 1915.
Voting closes on Dec. 20, 2014.
Then, starting on Saturday, Dec. 27, as a way to close out the old year and ring in the new, a marathon countdown will begin and all the works will be played in reverse order of the survey results.
No word if it will be webcast, but The Ear suspects you can easily tune into Q2 Music by going to the website for WQXR.
Here is a link to the NPR story by Anastasia Tsioulcas and to the poll entry form.
And here is a link to WQXR where you can find a way to listen (at the top of the page), to sign up for the Q2 Music Newsletter and also see the results of the Q2 polls for 2011, 2012 and 2013 as well as the upcoming 2014. It makes for some interesting reading and listening.
And here is a link to a Dec. 2 concert, now archived at NPR, in which some of the best new recordings and music from 2014 was performed:
As for the Q2 Music poll, The Ear hopes someone chooses – make that that many people choose – the gorgeous Violin Concerto by the American composer Samuel Barber, who was less hot and controversial but much more gifted as a composer.
But whatever happens, have fun choosing and voting.
Don’t forget to use the COMMENTS section to tell The Ear and his readers what works you entered.
And don’t forget to fill in your date book for some happy listening to new music.
ALERT: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales (below) in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, resume again this Friday, Oct. 3, at 12:15 to 1 p.m. This week’s featured group is the Arbor Ensemble with flutist Berlinda Lopez, violinist Marie Pauls and pianist Stacy Fehr-Regehr in the music of Jacques Ibert, Cesar Cui, Bohuslav Martinu, Astor Piazzolla and Josef Suk.
By Jacob Stockinger
Imagine my unexpected joy at hearing the new Clarinet Quintet by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below), who was inspired by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s famous “Howl,” last Friday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
The reason for my happiness is because I heard music that was so compelling and so moving that it made me want to listen to it again and again.
I know, I know.
A lot of proponents of new music say you have to listen to any new and unheard piece several times before you can pass judgment.
I don’t buy it.
True, as loyal readers know, I am generally not a fan of new music. I find too much of it unenjoyable and forgettable. It just doesn’t speak to me, for whatever reason. I like tunes and melody and harmonic mood as well as rhythmic pulse. New music too often seems detached from the emotional life of the listeners– or at least this listener.
I prefer music that speaks so deeply and movingly to me on the first hearing that I welcome any chance to hear it more often as another chance to experience beauty — not to fulfill some intellectual obligation or duty to the composer or the art form.
When I first heard Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, for example, I knew within one minute that I just had to hear it again and would hear it again many times. It never fails to disappoint. And so it is with any masterwork, from early music, through Baroque and Romantic music, to modern and contemporary music.
Anyway, the “Howl” Clarinet Quintet by Pierre Jalbert was performed last Friday night by the Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in a photo by Rick Langer), artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. The guest clarinetist was Charles Niedich (below bottom) from New York City, who has a major international reputation from working with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and other well-known ensembles.
The performance came at the newly remodeled Wisconsin Union Theater, which the old Pro Arte Quartet helped to inaugurate when the theater opened 75 years ago in 1939. The theater was not sold-out Friday night, but there was a good and enthusiastic audience that rewarded the Jalbert with a prolonged standing ovation (below). So I know that I was not alone in my positive and approving reaction.
Here is a link with more background:
The program started off with the rarely heard and pretty tame String Quartet No. 2 by Juan Crisostomo Arriaga, a Spanish composer known as “the Spanish Mozart” who died at 20. The program’s fitting finale was the sublime Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
In between the Arriaga and the Mozart came the Jalbert Clarinet Quintet, which was the final of six commissions done to mark the Pro Arte’s centennial. (The Pro Arte Quartet, originally from Belgium, is now the oldest continuously performing string quartet in the world.)
Other elements added to the effectiveness. For one, the Pro Arte Quartet was in top form. Each voice was distinct and yet the overall blend was smooth, resonant and perfect in pitch. And their playing was enhanced by the terrific acoustics of the remodeled Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater and the new on-stage shell (below, in the background).
But it was really the music itself that swept The Ear away.
It started right away, with the pulsing and almost hypnotic rhythms of the opening measures.
The two outer fast movements proved infectious and involving. But I particularly loved the way the middle movement developed.
I heard various audience members talk about how the work reminded them of Samuel Barber, of Philip Glass, of John Adams, of Steve Reich. And yet it didn’t seem to imitate any of them. It possessed a pure, strong voice of its own that used the idea of “Howl” without becoming a didactic piece of program music.
It isn’t often you get to hear a new work that holds the promise of becoming a staple in the repertoire. But that is exactly how it felt as I listened to the Jalbert quintet. Others I spoke to agreed.
Of the six centennial commissions that the Pro Arte has premiered over the past three years, this one seems the best one to end on because it seems the most likely one to succeed in coming years.
Sure, we may hear repeat performances of the String Quartets by John Harbison, Walter Mays and Benoît Mernier; of the Piano Quintets by William Bolcom and Paul Schoenfield. They are all recognized composers of quality.
But my money is on the work by Pierre Jalbert, which was by turns pensive and joyous, outraged and lamenting, much like the original poem “Howl.” The tone of both matched, and the clarinet, with its klezmer-like qualities, proved the perfect narrative voice imparted by Beat writer Allen Ginsberg (below).
It is a memorable night when you get to hear a masterwork in the making. All that work of chamber music needs now is history and many more repeat performances. I expect it will get those.
And to top it off, Pierre Jalbert (below right) -– who hails from Vermont and teaches at Rice University in Houston, Texas — was a very nice artist who was extremely amiable at the pre-concert dinner at the Chazen Museum of Art as well as insightfully candid during the pre-concert Q&A (below) that was so expertly hosted by Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland (center) and also included clarinetist Charles Neidich.
Anyway, the “Howl” Clarinet Quintet by Pierre Jalbert will be recorded by the same players for Albany Records, under the supervision of the Grammy Award-winning producer Judith Sherman, and then released with the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoît Mernier.
I will be first in line to get it and set my CD player on repeat.
If you heard it, what do you think of the Clarinet Quintet by Pierre Jalbert, who offers his thoughts about composing in a YouTube video at the bottom?
Do you think it will become a staple of the repertoire?
The Ear wants to hear.