The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera scores a big artistic and commercial success with the Midwest premiere of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird.” How about seeing and hearing more new music and new operas?

February 15, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a guest review by The Opera Guy, who is himself a senior and who has followed opera for many decades and across several continents, including North America, Europe and Asia. Performance photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.

By Larry Wells

On Sunday afternoon I attended the second, and final, of two sold-out performances of Daniel Schnyder’s “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” presented by Madison Opera, which gave the Midwest premiere of the new work.

Although it is a chamber opera featuring only 16 instrumentalists and running a little over 90 minutes, it was an engaging, satisfying and often hypnotic operatic experience.

The orchestral and vocal music were readily accessible.  As a compliment to the composer, I was reminded of the later work of the great British composer Michael Tippett.

The plot features Charlie Parker’s mother, three of his wives, his friend Dizzy Gillespie and his current patroness, the fascinating Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter, as they confront Parker’s spirit after his death but before his removal from the morgue and burial.

madison-opera-charlie-parker-body-cr-james-gill

(Below, standing in front of the photo-portrait set of the Birdland jazz club, are the major cast members, many of whom were in the original world premiere productions at Opera Philadelphia and the Apollo Theater of Harlem in New York City. From the left, they are: Angela Brown as Addie Parker; Will Liverman as Dizzy Gillespie; Rachel Sterrenberg as Chan Parker; Angela Montellaro as Doris Parker; Joshua Stewart as Charlie Parker; and Krysty Swann as Rebecca Parker.)

madison-opera-angela-brown-as-addie-parker-will-liverman-as-dizzy-gillespie-rachel-sterrenberg-as-chan-parker-angela-montellaro-as-doris-parker-joshua-stewart-as-charlie-parker-krysty-swann

A pioneer and innovator of bebop in the world of jazz, saxophonist Parker died young and dissolute, destroyed by drugs and alcohol. Portrayed by Joshua Stewart (below), Parker is unsympathetic and weak, desperate to create but distracted. Stewart is a fine, convincing actor. His singing was often compelling, but his voice was too thin in the higher reaches demanded by the score.

madison-opera-joshua-stewart-as-charlie-parker-cr-james-gill

The other characters were ably portrayed and consistently strong vocally. Will Liverman’s Dizzy Gillespie was a standout – lyrical and touching.

Likewise, Krysty Swann (below center with a baby) was solid vocally and emotionally convincing as Parker’s abandoned first wife Rebecca Parker.

madison-opera-joshua-stewart-as-charlie-parker-krysty-swann-and-rebecca-parker-angela-brown-as-addie-parker-cr-james-gill

Rachel Sterrenberg was moving and gripping vocally as Parker’s final wife Chan.

Julie Miller as Baronness Nica commanded the stage whenever she appeared, perhaps because of her bright red dress in a sea of black garments but also because of her powerful portrayal and expressive singing.

Whenever Angela Brown (below right, with Joshua Stewart as Charlie Parker) was onstage as Parker’s mother, Addie, she was the focus. She owned the role, she sang beautifully, and she had some of the best material to sing.

(You can hear Angela Brown, who has appeared here before with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera, in the world premiere production in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

madison-opera-joshua-stewart-as-charlie-parker-angela-brown-as-addie-parker-cr-james-gill

One of the finest moments in the opera was an orchestral interlude followed by a vocalise by another of Parker’s wives, Doris, sung by Angela Mortellaro (below). I was totally captivated, as I was by the quintet toward the end with Dizzy, the three wives and Parker’s mother.

madison-opera-angela-mortellaro-as-doris-parker-joshua-stewart-as-charlie-parker-cr-james-gill

Such are the moments for which an opera aficionado waits – several minutes of total aural delight.

Maestro John DeMain was, as always, in full command of the score as he led members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. I was in a position to watch him conduct, and he was always totally involved in the moment. I repeat what I have said before: Maestro DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) is a treasure for which Madison should be constantly grateful.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

I personally like newer music and always welcome the chance to hear something other than the tired Brahms overtures, Tchaikovsky symphonies and Mozart piano concertos.

The argument in Madison seems to be that to fill seats, you have to give the audience what it wants; and the belief is that it wants music that is tried, true and safe.

The fact that this new work sold out both performances in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center and that the audience was not entirely made up of seniors seems to suggest that the halls can be filled if the programming is more adventurous.

I say let’s hear more music of the 20th and 21st centuries, draw in a new audience and give the seniors a little thrill.

What do you think?


Classical music: Pianist Stephen Hough returns to solo with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend in a program of “firsts” that includes music by Barber and Saint-Saens as well as Tchaikovsky’s famous “Pathétique” Symphony

February 13, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) offers one of the best must-hear programs of the season – or so thinks The Ear.

MSO-HALL

Pianist Stephen Hough (below, in a photo by Sim Canetty-Clarke) returns for his fourth appearance with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO), led by music director and conductor John DeMain.

stephen-hough-20167-formal-cr-sim-canetty-clarke

The concert will open with Samuel Barber’s Second Essay, a dramatic piece written in the midst of World War II, followed by a performance of the exotic Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Egyptian”) featuring soloist Stephen Hough, who won major awards for his recordings of the complete works for piano and orchestra by Saint-Saëns. The concert will close with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s emotional Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”).

The concerts are Friday, Feb. 17, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 18, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 19, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street. (Ticket information is below.)

Samuel Barber (below) was one of the new generation of mid-20th century American composers with contemporaries Howard Hanson, Aaron Copland, David Diamond and, later, Leonard Bernstein.

His Second Essay was written in 1942, in the middle of the Second World War. Barber once wrote: “Although it has no program, one perhaps hears that it was written in a war-time.” This will be the first time this piece is performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

barber 1

The Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Egyptian”) by Camille Saint-Saëns (below) was composed while he was on a winter vacation in the Egyptian temple city of Luxor, in 1895-96. The location of this piece is important because it helped give the piece its nickname, and also influenced the sound of the score. This will be the first time this piece is performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

camille saint-saens younger

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (below) wrote his final piece between February and August 1893. The Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique) was then performed in Oct. 1893 and was conducted by Tchaikovsky himself. Nine days later he was dead.

Tchaikovsky’s late symphonies are autobiographical, and the sixth being “the best, and certainly the most open-hearted,” according to Tchaikovsky himself. Seeing that he was a troubled man, dealing with a dark depression, Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique) is filled with poignancy and deep sorrow, as you can hear in the finale in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Tchaikovsky 1

One hour before each performance, Randal Swiggum (below), artistic director of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra Artistic Director and the newly appointed Interim Music Director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

Randall Swiggum

For more background on the music, read the program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1617/5.Feb17.html

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

Single Tickets are $16 to $87 each, and are available at madisonsymphony.org/hough and 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 visit, 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 $15 tickets. More information is at: madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

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.

Find more information at madisonsymphony.org

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Major funding for the February concerts is provided by: Irving and Dorothy Levy Family Foundation, Inc., Stephen Morton, and BMO Wealth Management. Additional funding is provided by: Boardman & Clark LLP, Forte Research Systems & Nimblify, James and Joan Johnston, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Classical music: Jazz and classical music are closely related and work well together, says composer Daniel Schnyder. He discusses “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” which the Madison Opera stages in its Midwest premiere this FRIDAY night — NOT Saturday — and Sunday afternoon

February 6, 2017
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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.)

charlie-parkers-yardbird-logo-for-maidson-opera

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:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/classical-music-madison-opera-will-present-the-midwest-premiere-of-charlie-parkers-yardbird-here-are-the-many-preparatory-events-for-the-public/

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:

daniel-schnyder-2017

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.

I do not see classical music and jazz as two completely different things. Jazz is by nature a synthesis of European music influences and African music.

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.

lawrence-brownlee-as-charlie-parker-opera-philadelphia

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.

charlie-parker-1

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.

charlie-parkers-yardbird-women-opera-philadelphia

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.

charlie-parkers-yardbird-female-singer-opera-philadelphia

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.


Classical music: The fourth annual Schubertiade at the UW-Madison takes place this Sunday afternoon – with some important changes

January 25, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The fourth annual Schubertiade – a concert to mark the birthday of the Austrian early Romantic composer Franz Schubert (below top, 1797-1828) – is now a firmly established tradition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music (below bottom, in Mills Hall, which is rearranged for more intimate and informal on-stage seating.)

Franz Schubert big

Schubertiade 2016 stage

Over the past there years, the Schubertiade has become a popular and well-attended event. And with good reason.

Every time The Ear has gone, he has enjoyed himself immensely and even been moved by the towering and prolific accomplishments, by the heart-breaking beauty of this empathetic and congenial man who pioneered “Lieder,” or the art song, and mastered so many instrumental genres before g his early death at 31.

But there are some important changes this year that you should note.

One is that the time has been shifted from the night to the afternoon – specifically, this Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Admission is $15 for adults, $5 for students. (Below is this year’s poster, mistaking this year’s event of the third, with a painting by Gustav Klimt of Schubert playing piano at a salon musicale.)

schubertiade-2017-painting-by-gustav-klimt

After the concert, there is another innovation: a FREE reception, with a cash bar, at the nearby University Club. There you can meet the performers as well as other audience members.

The program, organized by pianist-singers wife-and-husband Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes (below), will last a little over two hours.

martha fischer and bill lutes

Usually there is a unifying theme. Last year, it was nature.

This year, it is friends Schubert knew and events that happened to him. It is called “Circle of Friends” and is in keeping with the original Schubertiades, which were informal gatherings (depicted below, with Schubert at the keyboard) at a home where Schubert and his friends premiered his music.

Schubertiade in color by Julius Schmid

Performers include current students, UW-Madison alumni and faculty members. In addition, soprano Emily Birsan, who is a graduate of the UW-Madison and a rising opera star, will participate.

Emily Birsan 2016

For more about the event, the performers and how to purchase tickets, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2016/12/19/schubertiade_birsan2017/

Here is a complete list of performers and the program with the initials of the perfomer who will sing the pieces:

Performers

Emily Birsan (EB), Rebecca Buechel (RB), Mimmi Fulmer (MFulmer), Jessica Kasinski (JK), Anna Polum (AP), Wesley Dunnagan (WD,) Daniel O’Dea (DO), Paul Rowe (PF), Benjamin Schultz (BS), singers. Bill Lutes (BL) and Martha Fischer (MF), pianists.

Program

Trost im Liede (Consolation in Song ), D. 546 (MF, BL)

Franz von Schober (1796-1882)

Der Tanz (The Dance), D. 826 (AP, RB, WD, PR, MF)

Kolumban Schnitzer von Meerau (?)

Der Jüngling und der Tod (The Youth and Death), D. 545 (PR, BL)

Josef von Spaun (1788-1865)

4 Canzonen, D. 688 (EB, BL)

No. 3, Da quel sembiante appresi (From that face I learnt to sigh) 

No. 4, Mio ben ricordati (Remember, beloved) 

Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782)

From the Theresa Grob Album (November, 1816)

Edone, D. 445 (WD, MF)

Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803)

Pflügerlied (Ploughman’s Song), D. 392 (BS, MF)

Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis (1762-1834)

Am Grabe Anselmos (At Anselmo’s Grave), D. 504A (JK, MF)

Matthias Claudius (1740-1815)

Mailied (May Song), D. 503 (DO, BL)

Ludwig Hölty (1748-1776)

Marche Militaire No. 1, D. 733 (MF, BL)

Viola (Violet), D. 786 (EB, BL)

Schober

Ständchen (Serenade), D. 920A (RB, DO, WD, PR, PR, MF)

Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872)

Epistel ‘An Herrn Josef von Spaun (Letter to Mr. Joseph von Spahn), Assessor in Linz, D. 749 (EB, MF) Matthäus von Collin (1779-1824)

Intermission

Geheimnis (A Secret), D. 491 (EB, MF)

Johann Mayrhofer (1787-1836)

Des Sängers Habe (The Minstrel’s Treasure), D. 832 (PR, MF)

Franz Xavier von Schlechta (1796-1875)

An Sylvia, D. 891 (MF, BL)

Shakespeare, trans. Eduard von Bauernfeld (1802-1890)

Nachtstück (Nocturne), D. 672 (DO, BL)

Mayrhofer

Das Lied in Grünen (The Song in the Greenwood), D. 917 (MFulmer, BL)

Johann Anton Friedrich Reil (1773-1843)

8 Variations sur un Thème Original, D. 813 (MF, BL)

Cantate zum Geburtstag des Sängers Johann Michael Vogl, D. 666 (AP, DO, PR, BL) Albert Stadler (1794-1888)

Ellens Gesang No. 3, Ave Maria, D. 839 (EB, MF)

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), from The Lady of the Lake, trans. Adam Storck (1780-1822)

An die Musik, D. 547 (You can hear it performed by the legendary soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and pianist Gerald Moore in the YouTube video at bottom)

Schober

Everyone is invited to sing along. You can find the words in your texts and translations.

Schubert etching

Here is a link to a story in The Wisconsin State Journal with more background:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/music/bringing-back-the-schubert-house-party/article_a0d27e9d-7bc7-5f32-bb57-590eb0bc7b91.html

And if you want to get the flavor of the past Schubertiades, here are two reviews from past years:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/classical-music-what-classical-music-goes-best-with-the-nfls-super-bowl-48-football-championship-today-plus-university-of-wisconsin-madison-singers-and-instrumentalists-movingly-celebrate-franz-s/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/classical-music-the-third-annual-schubertiade-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-school-of-music-was-so-popular-and-so-successful-it-should-serve-as-a-model-for-other-collaborative-concerts-feat/


Classical music: Wikipedia and WFMT in Chicago offer reviews of classical music in 2016 that include important performances, new music and deaths

January 2, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Is there a better way to greet the New Year than to take a look back at the past year?

2016 was a year of big losses: composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (below top), conductor Sir Neville Marriner (below middle) and early music pioneer and conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt (below bottom) among the many whose names you might recognize.

Pierre Boulez obit portrait

nevlle-marriner-old

Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting

What better way to start 2017 than to recall the figures we lost and hope that the coming year is kinder.

Here is a list from WFMT, the famed classical radio station in Chicago. It includes pictures and quotes along with dates:

http://www.wfmt.com/2016/12/29/in-their-own-words-inspiring-quotes-by-classical-musicians-we-loved-and-lost-in-2016/

And here is an entry from, of all places, Wikipedia that includes an exhaustive and detailed list of important events, performances and compositions as well as of classical musicians who died.

It seems as good a summing up as any that The Ear has seen, and demonstrates just how prolific the composers of new classical music are:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_in_classical_music

We remember and we revere.

Which is why The Ear has included the Funeral March movement from the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” by Ludwig van Beethoven on a YouTube video below that features an intriguing graphic arts representation of the music.

We are lucky: We have the music even when we no longer have the musicians.


Classical music: Madison Opera gets a $20,000 grant from the NEA for its February production of “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird”

December 22, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera has some good news to share:

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu has approved more than $30 million in grants as part of the NEA’s first major funding announcement for fiscal year 2017.

Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $20,000 to Madison Opera to support the Midwest premiere of Daniel Schnyder’s Charlie Parker’s Yardbird on Friday night, Feb. 10, and Sunday afternoon, Feb. 12, 2017.

charlie-parkers-yardbird-logo-for-maidson-opera

The Art Works category focuses on the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts.

“The arts are for all of us, and by supporting organizations such as Madison Opera, the National Endowment for the Arts is providing more opportunities for the public to engage with the arts,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “Whether in a theater, a town square, a museum, or a hospital, the arts are everywhere and make our lives richer.”

Madison Opera will be only the second company to present Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, which premiered in spring 2015 at Opera Philadelphia (below, with Lawrence Brownlee in the title role on the right and the real Charlie Parker on the left). You can see and hear the trailer for the Opera Philadelphia production in the YouTube video at the bottom.

charlie-park-and-lawrence-brownlee

Set on the night that saxophone great Charlie Parker died, the opera begins with Parker returning in spirit to the jazz club Birdland, determined to compose a final masterpiece. Family and friends blend in and out of his memories in an acclaimed new work that tells of his tortured, brilliant life “with a pulsing, jazz-infused score” (The New York Times).

Madison Opera’s performances take place in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center and are directed by Ron Daniels and conducted by John DeMain.

The cast features Joshua Stewart, Angela Brown, Will Liverman, Rachel Sterrenberg, Julie Miller, Angela Mortellaro, and Krysty Swann.

“It is an honor to receive a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and be recognized for our artistic work on a national level,” says Madison Opera General Director Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill). “The NEA’s funding will not only help us share this thrilling new opera with our region, but also support an array of Charlie Parker-related events, allowing true community engagement with the opera and its subject.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

In addition to the public performance on Feb. 10 and 12, 2017, Madison Opera’s “Extending the Stage” activities include “Jazz at the Opera Center,” a concert with Richie Cole and the Alto Madness Orchestra on Jan. 8; Opera Novice on Jan. 20; Opera Up Close on Feb. 5; “A Charlie Parker Concert and Discussion” with the Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder and UW-Madison’s Blue Note Ensemble on Feb. 9; and a variety of previews and presentations on Charlie Parker, jazz, and the opera at various libraries and retirement communities.

For more information on any of these events, got to: madisonopera.org.

For more information on projects included in the NEA grant announcement, go to arts.gov/news.

Madison Opera is a non-profit professional opera company based in Madison, Wisconsin. Founded in 1961, the company grew from a local workshop presenting community singers in English-language productions to a nationally recognized organization producing diverse repertoire and presenting leading American opera singers alongside emerging talent.

A resident organization of the Overture Center for the Arts, Madison Opera presents three productions annually in addition to the free summer concert Opera in the Park and a host of educational programming.


Classical music: The UW Choral Union delivers an eclectic non-seasonal program of music by Beethoven, Brahms and Bernstein with power and lyricism

December 12, 2016
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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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Eschewing any seasonal or holiday connections, the UW-Madison Choral Union (below) gave its December concert last Friday night with a program of three “B’s”.

uw-choral-union-with-chamber-orchestra-and-soloists-dec-2016-jwb

Well, two of the B’s are familiar ones. But in place of Bach, we got Leonard Bernstein, taking first place in reverse chronological order — his Chichester Psalms, dating from 1965.

This three-movement work probably represents Bernstein’s most important choral score. It sets texts in the original Hebrew, the middle movement calling for a boy treble to represent the young David in the rendering of Psalm 131 — a function here filled bravely by young Simon Johnson (below, front left) of the Madison Youth Choirs.

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The platoon of percussionists in the first two movements confirms the composer’s flashy “modernism.” To be sure, there are some characteristic melodic twists that proclaim the composer familiar to us, and the swaying melodic tune of the third movement is really lovely.

But Bernstein (below) did not know what to do with it besides repeating it obsessively. Bernstein simply was not a savvy master of choral writing, and I firmly believe that this work—a trivial cross between Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Bernstein’s own Broadway musical West Side Story—would not merit much attention were it not for Bernstein’s name on it.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: You can decide on the work’s merits for yourself by listening to the live performance, conducted by the composer himself, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Leonard Bernstein composing in 1955

Just how inadequate Bernstein’s choral sense was emerged clearly with the next work, the short ode for chorus and orchestra by Johannes Brahms, Nänie, Op. 82.

The title adapts a Greek word for a lament, and Friedrich Schiller’s German text evokes the death of beauty in the death of Achilles. Brahms was among the supreme choral masters, and this particular example is one of several of his “minor” choral works that we hear too rarely.

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The second half of the program was devoted to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Mass in C major, Op. 86. No, not the monumental Missa solemnis of the composer’s last years when (as with the Ninth Symphony’s finale) he had transcended the realities of choral writing. This earlier Mass setting, dating from 1807, was in the direct line of Mass settings for the Esterházy family composed by the aged Haydn.

But to Haydn’s incorporation of symphonic structure into Mass composition, Beethoven (below) brought his own strongly progressive personality, and a remarkable quality of melodic and thematic invention. This is a lovely work, and choirs who fling themselves doggedly against the Missa solemnis ought sometimes to revel in this beautiful work instead.

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The forces arrayed included a solo quartet (below, in the front from left) are bass John Loud, tenor Jiabao Zhang and sopranos Jessica Kasinski and Anna Polum.

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The UW Chamber Orchestra proved able. But the star was, of course, the Choral Union chorus itself. Its diction worked from indistinguishable Hebrew through respectable German to really lucid Latin. Above all, it made mighty, full-blooded sound that bolstered Beethoven’s lyricism with powerful projection.

Once again, conductor Beverly Taylor (below) has gone beyond stale conventions to bring us valued exposure to music outside the conventional boundaries.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE


Classical music education: This Sunday the Madison Youth Choirs will present their Winter Concert Series celebrating “Shakespeare 400 “

December 6, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This winter, the Madison Youth Choirs are joining cultural institutions around the world by celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare (below) and his ongoing legacy.

shakespeare BW

Singers of various ages will perform musical settings from the plays Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Love’s Labour’s Lost and The Tempest by composers including William Byrd, Thomas Morley, Henry Purcell, Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Benjamin Britten, Giuseppe Verdi, Cesar Franck, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi, John Rutter and others.

Examining the role that motif, tension, structure and rhythm play in the repertoire and Shakespeare’s vast body of work, the choirs will explore the elements that combine to create compelling art that stands the test of time.

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The MYC Winter Concerts, “Shakespeare 400,” will take place this Sunday, Dec. 11, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ (below), 1609 University Ave., near Camp Randall stadium.

Here is the schedule: 1:30 p.m. Girl choirs; 4 p.m. Boy choirs; 7 p.m. High School Ensembles

Tickets will be available at the door. Admission to each of the three concerts is $10 for the general public, $5 for students 7-18, and free for children under 7

Madison Youth Choirs Winter Concert 2014

PROGRAMS

Here is the repertoire for the MYC 2016 Winter Concert Series “Shakespeare 400”:

1:30 p.m. Concert (Featuring MYC Girlchoirs)

Choraliers

“Hey Ho! To the Greenwood” by William Byrd

“Spirits” by Douglas Beam

“Orpheus With His Lute” by Ralph Vaughan Williams

“Double, Double Toil and Trouble” by Leeann Starkey

photo

Con Gioia

“When Icicles Hang by the Wall” by David Lantz III

“You Spotted Snakes” by Toby Young

“Ban Ban Caliban” by Dan Forrest

Capriccio

“Hark! The Echoing Air” by Henry Purcell

“Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind” by Sarah Quartel

“Philomel with Melody” and “I Will Wind Thee in My Arms” by Cary Ratliff

“It Was a Lover and His Lass” by John Rutter

Cantabile

When Icicles Hang” by Stephen Hatfield

“Che faceste” from Macbeth (sung in Italian) by Giuseppi Verdi

Madison Youth Choirs 2

4 p.m. Concert (Featuring MYC Boychoirs)

Combined Boychoirs

“One December, Bright and Clear” Traditional Catalonian carol, arr. By Wilberg

“Panis Angelicus” by Cesar Franck

Purcell

“Chairs to Mend” by William Hayes

“Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind” by John Rutter (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom)

“The Coasts of High Barbary” Traditional English sea song, arr. By Julseth-Heinrich

Britten

“Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” by Roger Quilter

“Full Fathom Five” by John Ireland

“Who is Silvia” by Franz Schubert

Holst

“Full Fathom Five” by Robert Johnson

“Sing We and Chant It” by Thomas Morley

Ragazzi

“Come Away, Death” by Gerald Finzi

“The Witching Hour” by Brandon Ayres

Madison Youth Choirs Con Gioia Karen Holland

7 p.m. Concert (Featuring High School Ensembles)

Cantilena

“The Willow Song” by Arthur Sullivan

“Willow, Willow, Willow” by Charles H.H. Parry

“Fair Oriana Seeming to Wink at Folly” by Robert Jones

“You Spotted Snakes” (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) by Felix Mendelssohn

“Give Them Thy Fingers” by Stefan Kalmer

Ragazzi

“Four Arms, Two Necks, One Wreathing” by Thomas Weelkes

“Come Away, Death” by Gerald Finzi

“And Draw Her Home with Music” by Nancy Hill Cobb

“The Witching Hour” by Brandon Ayres

Cantabile

“Che faceste” from Macbeth (sung in Italian) by Giuseppi Verdi

“Come Away, Death” by Roger Quilter

Selections from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Benjamin Britten

“When Icicles Hang” by Stephen Hatfield

Cantabile and Ragazzi

“Ave Verum Corpus” by William Byrd

“Jingle, Bells!” by James Pierpont, arr. by David Wilcocks

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These concerts are generously endowed by the Diane Ballweg Performance Fund with additional support from the American Girl’s Fund for Children, BMO Harris Bank and the Wisconsin Arts Board.

About the Madison Youth Choirs (MYC): Recognized as an innovator in youth choral music education, Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) welcomes singers of all ability levels, annually serving more than 1,000 young people, ages 7-18, through a wide variety of choral programs in our community.

Cultivating a comprehensive music education philosophy that inspires self-confidence, personal responsibility, and a spirit of inquiry leading students to become “expert noticers,” MYC creates accessible, meaningful opportunities for youth to thrive in the arts and beyond.

For further information, contact: Nicole Sparacino, Madison Youth Choirs, Nicole@madisonyouthchoirs.org or call (608) 238-7464


Classical music: UW Concert Choir performs a FREE concert with dancers on Friday night. Friday at noon a piano, viola and cello trio gives a FREE concert

November 17, 2016
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ALERT: The week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features cellist Morgan Walsh, violist Shannon Farley and pianist Kyle Johnson in music by Tchaikovsky, Schumann and Rebecca Clarke. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

At 8 p.m. on Friday night in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Chamber Choir (below top), under the direction of Beverly Taylor (below bottom), who heads the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will give a FREE concert.

Guest dancers will join the singers.

Concert Choir

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

Here is the program:

Laudibus in sanctis (Paraphrase of Psalm 150) by William Byrd

Choral Dances from “Gloriana” by Benjamin Britten (Text by William Plomer), as seen in the YouTube video at bottom

“Totentanz” (Dance of Death) by Hugo Distler (original dialogue by Johannes Klockig after the Lübeck Totentanz)

“Dance to My Daddy,” English folksong, arranged by Goff Richards

“Begin the Beguine” by Cole Porter, arranged by Andrew Carter

“Der Tanz” (The Dance) by Franz Schubert

“Verano Porteño” by Astor Piazzolla, arranged by Oscar Escalada

“Fa una canzone” by Orazzio Vecchi


Classical music: Madison Opera’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” excelled in singing, orchestral playing, drama and other aspects that redeemed a largely unmemorable work. Plus, what is good music for Veterans Day?

November 11, 2016
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ALERT: Today is Veterans Day. What piece of classical music should be played to mark the event? The Ear suggests the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten. Leave your choice in the COMMENT section.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s post features a guest review of Madison Opera’s “Romeo and Juliet” by Larry Wells. Wells has been enjoying opera since he was a youngster. He subscribed to the San Francisco Opera for nearly 20 years, where he last saw “Romeo and Juliet,” sung by Alfredo Kraus and Ruth Ann Swenson

More recently he lived in Tokyo and attended many memorable performances there over nearly 20 years. These included Richard Strauss rarities such as “Die Ägyptische Helena” and “Die Liebe der Danae” as well as the world’s strangest Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner and a space-age production of Puccini’s “Turandot,” featuring Alessandra Marc singing “In questa reggia” while encased in an inverted cone.

By Larry Wells

Last Sunday’s matinee performance of Charles Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” by Madison Opera at the Overture Center was a feast for the eyes. The costumes, sets, lighting and staging were consistently arresting. (Performance photos are by James Gill.)

But we go to the opera for music and drama.

The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is well known. Gounod’s opera substitutes the tragedy with melodrama, and therein lies one of the work’s flaws. Despite sword fights, posturings and threats as well as one of opera’s lengthiest death scenes, one leaves the theater thinking that a vast amount of theatrical resources have been squandered on something insubstantial.

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However, despite its dramatic flaws, the opera’s music has somehow endured. And Sunday’s performance milked the most out of the music that could have been expected.

The star of the show was the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the expert direction of Maestro John DeMain (below). He knows how to pace a performance, how to build an exciting climax and how to highlight a solo instrument.

He is an incredibly intelligent conductor, and we are fortunate to have him in Madison. I want to make special mention of the beautiful harp playing, which, according to the program, was accomplished by Jenny DeRoche.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The second star on the stage was the Madison Opera Chorus (below). The chorus plays a significant part in many of the opera’s scenes, and the singing was stirring when it needed to be and tender when it was called for.

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As for the soloists, highest praise must go to UW-Madison alumna soprano Emily Birsan (below right) for her portrayal of Juliet. Her solo arias, particularly her big number in the first act as well as her subsequent lament, were stunning.

Her Romeo, tenor John Irvin (below left), sounded a little forced during his forte moments, but he sang magnificently in his quiet farewell to Juliet after their balcony scene. (You can hear the famous balcony scene, sung by Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

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Their voices blended beautifully in the opera’s multiple duets. And the wedding quartet, where they were joined by Allisanne Apple’s nurse (below, rear right) and Liam Moran’s Friar Lawrence (below, middle center), was a highlight of the performance.

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The opera abounds with minor characters, all of which were ably portrayed. Special mention should be made of Stephanie Lauricella (below, far right) for her fantastic moments as Romeo’s page; Madison’s Allisanne Apple for her amusing portrayal of Juliet’s nurse Gertrude; Sidney Outlaw (below, second from left) as a robust Mercutio; and Philip Skinner as a powerful Lord Capulet.

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I have wondered why this opera is still performed. Its music is lovely but unmemorable, and its dramatic impact is tenuous.

I left the performance thinking that it had been a good afternoon at the theater – certainly more interesting than the Packers’ game – but wishing that one of a couple dozen more meaty operas had been performed in its place.

Since we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, how much more interesting would have been Benjamin Britten’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”? 


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