The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera’s “Seraglio” stood out for its singing and staging, its local sets and costumes, and provided a crowd-pleasing comic romp in trying times. Plus, Friday brings FREE piano and viola da gamba concerts

February 15, 2018
3 Comments

FRDAY ALERTS: This Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features Eric Miller playing the viola da gamba in a recital of early baroque music by Marais, Forquery, Sainte-Colombe, Abel, Hume and Ortiz. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

Then on Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the critically acclaimed guest pianist Marina Lomazov will perform a FREE recital of all-Russian music that includes “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky. Lomazov’s recital is part of a larger event, “Keyboard Day,” that has a French focus and takes place all day Saturday at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. See tomorrow’s post for more information about Saturday. For more about Lomazov, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-artist-marina-lomazov-piano/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Opera Guy filed this review of last weekend’s production by the Madison Opera:

By Larry Wells

On Sunday afternoon, I attended the second and final performance of Madison Opera’s production of Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio” in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

This comic romp utilized a beautiful set and wonderful costumes designed and constructed in-house. (Below, Matt Bueller as Osmin peers out the door of the palace, or seraglio, at David Walton as Belmont.)

The orchestra, drawn from the Madison Symphony Orchestra and ably led by maestro John DeMain, was situated backstage. This was an effective novelty, although the sound was somewhat muffled, at least from where I sat in mid-orchestra.

The dialogue was in English while the singing was in German with English supertitles. I looked over the lengthy original libretto and was thankful that it had been heavily abridged for this two-hour production.

It had also been updated to be both hip and politically correct about Islamic culture and Turkey, where the story takes place. But it made me idly wonder what the reaction would be if the music had been likewise updated to be more in tune with the times.

The production was all about the singing.

David Walton’s Belmonte (below right, with Amanda Woodbury as Konstanze) was beautifully sung, particularly in the second act. He has a Benjamin Britten tenor voice with remarkable breath control.

Eric Neuville’s Pedrillo was also admirably sung. Neuville is an accomplished comic actor, as well.

Ashly Neumann’s singing as Blonde (below center, with women of the Madison Opera Chorus) was clean, clear and bell-like.

Amanda Woodbury as Konstanze (below right with Brian Belz as Pasha Selim)  was virtuosic. She displayed vocal fireworks several times and was especially effective in her lament toward the end of the first act.

This quartet’s ensemble work in the second act was a vocal high point. (You can hear the quartet from a different production in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

But to me the most impressive singing and comic acting belonged to Matt Boehler as Osmin. His bass was simply majestic. (Below, from left, are Brian Belz as Pasha Selim; David Walton as Belmonte; Matt Boehler as Osmin; Eric Neuville as Pedrillo; Ashly Neumann as Blonde; and Amanda Woodbury as Konstanze.)

The well-prepared chorus appeared briefly in each act, adding some color and motion to the production.

Musically and visually the production was a success. The audience responded with 19 ovations during the performance – yes, I counted. Every time the orchestra reached a cadence and paused, the audience members applauded as if they were at a musical. With the incessant coughing throughout the performance, I felt like I was at a performance of “South Pacific” in a tuberculosis ward.

The audience leapt to its feet at the end, and this made me wonder what it was that they found so praiseworthy. The story itself is inconsequential and has little relevance to life today.

The singing was very good, but this is not La Scala.

The music itself, with the exception of a couple of sublime moments, does little more than foreshadow the mature Mozart of “The Magic Flute.”

I concluded that the opera is unalarming, unthreatening, and simple. This is perhaps what people long for in these trying times.

I do look forward to the Madison Opera’s production of Daniel Catan’s “Florencia en el Amazonas” this spring. Based on repeated hearings of the recording, I guarantee that Madison will be in for a treat. And there is nothing threatening or alarming or complex about the music, despite it being a work of the late 20th century.


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Classical music: How do the flu and classical music mix? What can be done now that the flu season is peaking here and in the concert hall. How should musicians and presenters deal with a sick and coughing audience?

January 15, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

As I remarked in blog posts of the past three days, the winter intermission is coming to an end with a recital at Arbco housing by the Madison-based Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Kitt Reuter-Foss, with a concert this coming Friday by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and with performances of Medieval and Renaissance English music by Eliza’s Toyes on Saturday and Sunday .

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/classical-music-madison-and-metropolitan-opera-mezzo-kitt-reuter-foss-will-perform-a-song-journey-next-saturday-to-benefit-the-piano-restoration-at-arboretum-cohousing/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/13/classical-music-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-kicks-off-the-second-half-of-this-concert-season-with-a-performance-this-friday-night-of-orchestral-music-by-mozart-and-bruckner-and-a-guitar-concerto/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/classical-music-the-early-music-group-elizas-toyes-celebrates-winter-with-medieval-and-renaissance-british-vocal-music/

So it is undeniable: The second half of the concert season is picking up.

So, unfortunately, is the flu season, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Here is a link to a report on NBC-TV about how many states gave started to report serious cases of flu, including deaths, in the majority of states. And there is no sign of a let up. In fact, predictions are for it to get worse — including right here in Wisconsin.

http://www.nbc-2.com/story/24417052/flu-season-may-be-heading-toward-peak#.UtLEoXmKMds

So when you add in a major spike in flu cases to public events held in public spaces — like, say, concerts – you have a volatile and even dangerous risky mix.

BDDS Playhouse audience

Even in healthy times, The Ear finds it bad enough to sit next or near a chronic cougher — whether from allergies, sinus problems or illness — who simply will not leave the hall to hack but prefers instead to fight it out in the hall and ruin much of the music for others.

Coughers at concerts

But right now those same people are not just annoying. They pose public health risks.

One obvious solution is for people who feel ill to stay home. PLEASE. But that may be hard to do when you pay out big money for tickets and don’t want to lose out on the investment or the beauty of the music.

Some presenters offer free cough drops, which some audience members love to unwrap during the slow movement. But a lot of listeners apparently don’t avail themselves of them — or of taking cough medicine before the concert and during intermission.

Perhaps the YouTube video at the bottom about how to use how you breathe to stop coughing can help.

It might also be good if more performing arts organizations offered rebates or switches on tickets for people who need to cancel to protect their own health and the health of others – including, let us not forget, the musicians or performers themselves.

I wonder how realistic that solution is and how many presenters do offer or would offer such a deal for th eska elf public health. If they don’t, they should.

Recently, The New York Times ran a combined story-column, part humorous and self-deprecating and part serious, by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim about how musicians deal with coughing. Her examples included famous conductors (such as Michael Tilson Thomas, below top, when he conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and instrumentalists (including pianist Andras Schiff, below bottom in a photo by Robert Torres, when he performed a monster concert of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s “Goldberg” Variations and Ludwig van Beethoven‘s “Diabelli” Variations back-to-back in Boston and then went on to play an encore) dealt with coughers in the audience.

Michael Tilson Thomas Hiroyuki Ito for NY TImes

Andras Schiff. Credit Robert Torres

I remember a concert years ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater during which pianist Alfred Brendel suddenly stopped playing and chastised the audience for spoiling his music with coughing and noise. He then started over again and – miracle of miracles – the audience was indeed quieter.

If many coughers can keep quiet when asked, why can’t they do so on their own? Silence is part of good concert etiquette.

Anyway here is the amusing yet totally serious Times story about how the performers themselves deal with coughing audiences:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/01/arts/music/maestro-at-work-hold-that-cough.html

Is there more than can be done?

One world-famous musician thinks so.

And so does The Ear.

Tune in tomorrow.

 

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Classical music: Ringing cell phones and coughing made Saturday’s concert by the UW-Madison’s Clocks in Motion enthralling and unforgettable.

September 23, 2013
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know well the name of Mikko Utevsky. The young violist and conductor is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School,, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which will perform its fourth season next summer. He has also been named the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra, effective two weeks ago. The ensemble has an out-of-date website here (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest review of an unusual percussion concert this past weekend by Clocks in Motion. I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour two summers ago with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below):

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

By Mikko Utevsky

When we go to a concert, we go to listen and to watch. Perhaps with the very best performers we hope to be touched by the music, for the musicians on stage to speak to us through their playing.

But the role of the audience in classical music is generally passive: we expect to sit quietly, clap when a piece ends, cough politely between movements. We certainly do not walk in the doors expecting to be part of the performance.

At Saturday afternoon’s free performance in Mills Hall of “Percussion is Revolution” by UW-Madison resident ensemble Clocks in Motion (below, in concert), however, all this was turned on its head, and the result was an experience unlike anything I have ever witnessed. (For more information, visit: http://clocksinmotionpercussion.com)

clocks in motion in concert

The ideas of John Cage (below) and his colleagues have not penetrated the conscious of the concert-going public, by and large, and we are comfortable with our music on its pedestal, secure in the rituals surrounding a symphony concert or string quartet recital. The opportunity to see it toppled, however briefly, is notwithstanding an event not to be missed.

John Cage and cat

I, like many audience members, was slightly skeptical about the idea of a participatory concert. I went unsure of what to expect, but I had thoroughly enjoyed the ensemble’s other concerts I had attended, and thought it best to approach with an open mind.

After an exciting opener of “Pulse” by Henry Cowell (below), th group’s music director Sean Kleve explained the structure of the remainder of the program to the audience.

henry cowell

The next four works, all by John Cage , would be played without break and without applause. However, they would be separated by interludes of audience sound. We were asked to make sure our cell phones were turned ON – unthinkable in any other context – and permitted to make one call to another audience member during the course of the performance of Cage’s notorious 4’33” that would follow the next piece.

cell phone ringing

At another juncture, we were asked to read from the program notes in a whisper. Elsewhere we were invited to make noise using whatever we had in our pockets, and later to cough and clear our throats, as inevitably occurs between movements during a conventional classical music concert.

coughing

A video would be projected on the back wall during the performance – a potpourri of more or less random short clips (rain dripping from a rooftop, a turtle, a can rolling off a table, quotes on the nature of music, screensaver-like digital images) – which Kleve (below  top) informed us had not been timed to match the music, nor had it been viewed by any members of the ensemble other than Dave Alcorn (below bottom), who assembled it.

Sean Kleeve

Dave Alcorn Clocks in Motion

Our role as audience, then, was to experience. We had music to listen to, video to watch, spaces to participate (as well as permission to accept accidents – a phone ringing, dropping a program – as part of the concert), and an ensemble of visually engaging performers to observe.

The effect was totally immersive, hypnotic, and utterly enthralling. I have never experienced such a powerful performance, or been so completely engaged by the performers on stage.

Clocks in Motion (below, playing outside the UW-Madison’s George Mosse Humanities Building, and at bottom in  YouTube video where the group discusses its mission and goals) ) is a virtuosic ensemble, made up of incredibly talented and dedicated musicians (including multiple Collins Fellows). Their performances are unfailingly engaging, energetic, and executed with a precision befitting their excellent training and intense rehearsals.

(Clocks in Motion is running an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign for a new studio album, featuring two premieres; a link is below:)

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/clocks-in-motion-s-first-album

Not a piece on the program was dull, though there were highlights: Cage’s “Imaginary Landscape 1″ and “First Construction in Metal” were personal favorites, along with the Cowell opener.

Clocks in Motion outside

During “Imaginary Landscape 1,” I could not tell at one point whether the synthesized pitches were coming from in the room or inside my own head. Elsewhere, this would have been disconcerting; here, it simply allowed me to immerse myself in the landscape the performers were inviting me to imagine with them. I think John Cage would approve, both of the effect and of the superb performances of so much of his music.

I realize it is difficult to write authentically about music such as this without sounding trite or ridiculous, and that I may come across as such here. Discarding the accumulated pomp and circumstance with which we dress our music in the classical world does not come easily, at least when reading about it, and if indeed my assessment seems laughable, so be it. The risk of being laughed at is one worth taking for music like this.

For a young musician such as myself, performances like “Percussion is Revolution” are formative experiences – albeit few and far between.

For the veteran concertgoer, perhaps they are powerful enough to challenge the rituals of concert music, at least for an afternoon. If (when?) the program is offered again, it is not to be missed. Attend with an open mind, and be prepared to take part and to accept your experience as a kind of music not played at a symphony concert.

And if you laugh a little, you’re among friends.


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