The Well-Tempered Ear

University Opera’s original online video project celebrates the life and music of American composer Marc Blitzstein. It will be posted for FREE on YouTube this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m.

October 21, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This fall, University Opera presents its first project of 2020-21 in video format as it turns to the music of the American composer Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964).

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” will be released free of charge on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music’s YouTube channel this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m. CDT at the general site www.youtube.com/meadwitterschoolofmusic or the official specific link: https://youtu.be/77FXFZucrWc.

Director of University Opera David Ronis (below top) is the director of the original production and will give introductory remarks. UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom) is the musical director. The production lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes, and features four singer-actors, a narrator and a piano.

Marc Blitzstein’s life story parallels some of the most important cultural currents in American history of the mid-20th-century.

Known for his musicals — most notably The Cradle Will Rock in 1937 (you can hear Dawn Upshaw sing the lovely song “I Wish It So” from “Juno” in the YouTube video at the bottom) — his opera Regina and his translation of Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, Blitzstein was an outspoken proponent of socially engaged art. Like many artists of his time, he joined the American Communist Party. But he also enthusiastically served in the U.S. Army during World War II (below, in 1943).

Nevertheless, in 1958, long after he had given up his Communist Party membership, Blitzstein (below) was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where he “named no names.”

An extremely gifted yet underappreciated composer, he was a close friend of and mentor to Leonard Bernstein (below right, with Blitzstein on the left) and traveled in a close circle of American composers including David Diamond and Aaron Copland.

Although openly gay, he married Eva Goldbeck in 1933. Sadly, she died three years later from complications due to anorexia.

Blitzstein’s own death was likewise tragic. In 1964, while in Martinique working on an opera about the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, he was robbed and badly beaten by three Portuguese sailors whom he had picked up at a bar. He died the next day of internal injuries. 

Although throughout his life and afterwards, Blitzstein’s work was championed by Bernstein and others, many claim that neither the composer nor his stunning music and beautiful lyrics ever received the attention they deserved. So University Opera is proud to present this show celebrating his life and his works.

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” is a unique production put together by David Ronis. A biographical pastiche, it tells the story of Blitzstein’s life by recontextualizing 23 songs and ensembles from his shows, juxtaposing them with spoken excerpts from his working notes and letters, and tying it all together with a narration.

The result is a dramatic, evocative and enjoyable portrait of Blitzstein’s life and his art, according to Ronis.

“We’ve discovered a lot of “silver linings” while working on this production,” says Ronis. “We were disappointed at not being able to do a normal staged show. But working with video has had tremendous artistic and educational value.

“Our students are learning on-camera technique, not to mention how to work with a green screen (below, with soprano Sarah Brailey), which allows for post-production editing and digital manipulation of backgrounds. They’re also working with spoken text as well as sung pieces. Mostly, we’re just very grateful to have a creative project to sink our teeth into during the pandemic. 

“And the music of Blitzstein is so fantastic, we’re very happy to be able to share it with our audience. This project is like none other I’ve ever done and we’re thinking that it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Research on the project was completed at the Wisconsin Historical Society, where Blitzstein’s archives are housed. University Opera gratefully acknowledges the help of both Mary Huelsbeck of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Television Research, and the Kurt Weill Foundation for their assistance with this project.

The cast features five UW-Madison graduate students: Sarah Brailey, Kenneth Hoversten, Justin Kroll, Lindsey Meekhof (below) and Steffen Silvis.

The video design was done by Dave Alcorn with costumes by Hyewon Park.

Others on the production staff include Will Preston, rehearsal pianist; Elisheva Pront, research assistant and assistant director; Dylan Thoren, production stage manager; Alec Hansen, assistant stage manager; Teresa Sarkela, storyboard creator; and Greg Silver, technical director.

The video will be accessible for 23 hours starting at 8 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 23. Although there will be no admission price for access, donations will be gratefully accepted. A link for donations will be posted with the video. 

University Opera, a cultural service of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, email opera@music.wisc.edu or visit music.wisc.edu.

 


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Classical music: The second annual Madison New Music Festival will take place this Thursday through Sunday

August 9, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The summer classical season in Madison just keeps getting busier and more interesting.

The Ear has received the following announcement from Zachary Green (below), a native Madisonian and composer who graduated from Oregon High School and the Juilliard School, which awarded him a grant to start the first Madison New Music Festival last year. He now directs the event:

Dear friends, family, colleagues, and mentors,

I am extremely pleased to invite you to the second season of the Madison New Music Festival, taking place this Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 10-12.

The Madison New Music Festival is an annual weekend-long concert series dedicated to strengthening Madison’s cultural vitality through the celebration of fresh classical music from our lifetimes.

The festival strives to affordably and accessibly share music by the world’s leading living composers with the Madison community, with special emphasis placed on Wisconsin-based composers and performers.

This year, over the course of four concerts, we will be featuring 30 performers playing the music of over 20 composers— including the music of a different living Wisconsin composer at every concert.

The concerts will take place Thursday at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (8 p.m.), Friday at Bethel Lutheran Church (8 p.m.), and Saturday at the Memorial Union Terrace (3 p.m.) and Robinia Courtyard (7:30 p.m.).

PROGRAM AND TICKET INFORMATION:

Thursday, Aug. 10, at 8 p.m., Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in the Overture Center. (Below is a photo at MMoCA from last year’s festival)

After an incredibly successful launch in 2016, the Madison New Music Festival is set to return to MMoCA for a concert combining contemporary visual art and new music.

The festival presents brand new pieces by emerging composers, underplayed classics of the contemporary repertoire, and shines a spotlight on new music created here in Wisconsin.

The concert at MMoCA features music with thematic ties to MMoCA’s current exhibitions, including politically charged works such as “But I Still Believe” by composer Zachary Green and inspired by Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, and “Drums of Winter” from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and environmentalist John Luther Adams (below). You can hear “Drums of Winter” in the YouTube video at the bottom.

There will be a cash bar and opportunities to walk around the exhibits. Tickets are $10, $5 for students and FREE for MMoCA members.

Tickets: https://www.artful.ly/madison-new-music-festival/store/events/13011

Friday, Aug. 11, at 8 p.m. in Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Avenue

The festival’s second night features an eclectic range of music, from the inventive, folk-inspired music of Romanian composer Doina Rotaru (below top) to the improvisatory soundscapes of recently departed legend Pauline Oliveros (below bottom).

Also featured is local composer Scott Gendel (below top) , who will present a set of his own music with frequent Madison Opera guest soprano Emily Birsan (below middle). Both are graduates of the UW-Madison.

Other performers include Chicago-based new music ensemble Chartreuse (below top), local flutist Iva Ugrcic (below middle) and local violinist Lydia Sewell (below bottom).  Tickets are $10, $5 for students.

Tickets: https://www.artful.ly/madison-new-music-festival/store/events/13028

Saturday, Aug. 12, at 3 p.m., Memorial Union Terrace

Local new music wind quintet Black Marigold (below top) will perform “Beer Music” by Brian DuFord (below bottom), inspired by different kinds of beer– and you can sip as you listen!

But first, get your groove on with rhythmic works by emerging composer Andy Akiho (below top), Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche, and local percussionist Dave Alcorn (below bottom) of Clocks in Motion — interspersed with interactive interpretations of Renaissance motets and an electroacoustic work for vibraphone. Featured musicians include percussionist Garrett Mendelow and Chicago-based new music ensemble Chartreuse.  Admission is FREE.

Saturday, Aug. 12, at 7:30 PM, Robinia Courtyard (Jardin Restaurant) at 827 East Washington Avenue. 

Join us at Jardin Restaurant, part of the newly redeveloped Robinia Courtyard to hear local ensemble Mr. Chair (below) present an eclectic, head-banging set ranging from original compositions to versions of Erik Satie, Olivier Messiaen and Igor Stravinsky.

Also featured are the genre-bending Echelon String Quartet(below) and a mesmerizing solo bass piece performed by Grant Blaschka.  Cash bar.  ($10/$5 student)

Tickets: https://www.artful.ly/madison-new-music-festival/store/events/13029


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