The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: On this Veterans Day, what music best marks today’s centennial of the armistice that ended World War I?

November 11, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

In August of 2014 the world marked the centennial of the outbreak of World War I.

It was supposed to be over by that Christmas.

It wasn’t. It lasted for more than four years.

It was supposed to be “The war to end all wars.”

It didn’t. In fact, most historians agree that World War I directly set up the conflicts and conditions that led to World War II.

It was supposed to be the war that “made the world safe for democracy.”

It didn’t do that either, although it did lead to the overthrow of many kings and royal rulers in Russia, Germany and Austria.

The one thing World War I did do was kill people, especially the trench-bound soldiers, on a scale never before seen. It was nothing short of a bloody meat grinder of a war that saw the introduction of air warfare and chemical warfare.

Four years later – today, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 – we mark the centennial of the armistice that, 100 years ago, that ended the war on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

That is why the holiday was called Armistice Day before it became Veterans Day.

Anyway, what music is appropriate to the occasion?

Rather than reinvent the wheel, The Ear is giving you this link to the other centennial celebration post that mentioned , via links to other web sites, a lot of works and a lot of composers.

Many of those favorites remain relevant today — although Benjamin Britten’s epic War Requiem (you can hear the opening in the YouTube video at the bottom) and Samuel Barber’s moving Adagio for Strings (also at the bottom, conducted by Leonard Bernstein) still seem to tower over all the others.

Use this link to read about music and let us know what thoughts you have about the centennial of the armistice and the music you would listen to mark it.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/classical-music-as-we-mark-the-centennial-of-world-war-i-what-classical-music-should-we-think-of-and-listen-to-plus-check-up-on-the-last-day-of-wysos-10-day-tour-to-argentina/

And, finally, here is The Ear’s fervent hope that — given the rise of the far right and of populist, nationalistic politics here and around the globe — we are not working our way back to World War I rather than away from it.


Classical music: Take a FREE choral tour of the past year’s holidays this coming Saturday night at the UW-Madison. Plus, pianist Mark Valenti performs a FREE recital of Milhaud, Schubert and Prokofiev this Friday at noon.

November 18, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianist Mark Valenti. He will play Three Pieces from “Le Printemps” (Spring) by Darius Milhaud; the Sonata in A major by Franz Schubert; and the Sonata No. 7 in B-flat major by Sergei Prokofiev.

By Jacob Stockinger

This week brings two FREE concerts by several choral groups at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

UW Madrigal Singers

On Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University Chorus, Women’s Choir and Master Singers will perform a FREE concert. Sorry, no word yet about the program.

Then on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Chorale will perform a FREE concert called “It’s a Jolly Holiday!” Director Bruce Gladstone (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) will conduct.

BruceGladstoneTalbot

NOTE: This concert is NOT to be confused with the usually packed Winter Choral Concert — with its theme of holidays, multiple choirs and several conductors — that will take place on Sunday, Dec. 6, at 2 and 4 p.m. at Luther Memorial Church.

Here are some program notes:

“This fall, the UW Chorale gets into the holiday spirit.

“But which one?

“An entire year of them!

“The ensemble starts with New Year’s Day and moves through the calendar year singing choral works to commemorate each festive day.

“They’ll celebrate President’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Earth Day (below) and so on, with a variety of great music that will leave you wondering why you only think about hearing a choir sing at Christmas.

earthdayplanet

“Works include “My Funny Valentine,” “Free at Last,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Regina Coeli,” Howard Hanson’s “Song of Democracy,” Aaron Copland’s “The Promise of Living” and many more.” (You can hear Howard Hanson’s “Song of Democracy,” with words by poet Walt Whitman and with the famous Interlochen theme from his “Romantic” Symphony No. 2, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

“There will be something for everyone as they explore the days we call “holy.””

 


Classical music: The piano played an important role in the life of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, whose democracy party just triumphed over the military in the election held this past week in Myanmar, or Burma.

November 14, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Often we lose a sense of the importance of music to non-musicians and to life outside the concert hall and conservatory or school of music.

Which is a reminder why supporting this weekend’s concerts by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras has social and educational as well as artistic meaning. Here is a link to the WYSO schedules and programs;

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/10/classical-music-education-alumna-violist-vicki-powell-returns-this-weekend-to-perform-with-wisconsin-youth-symphony-orchestras-wyso-and-kick-off-wysos-50th-anniversary-season/

But this past week the world also received a vivid and dramatic reminder of just how important music can be in the life of the non-musical world.

It has to do with the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy in Myanmar, formerly called Burma. That is the party led by the democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi (below) – or The Lady, as her compatriots and supporters simply refer to her.

aung san suu kyi

During her 20 years of house arrest by the military, the piano helped her keep her sanity and her resolve.

And hearing her play the piano also reassured her neighbors outside her home in Yangon (Rangoon) about her emotional and mental health.

Exercise, study and playing the piano (below) all proved key during the 20 years of house arrest imposed  by the military on the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

It is also worth noting that to honor her, on its 50th anniversary, the famous Leeds international Piano Competition in Great Britain in the United Kingdom renamed its top Gold Medal in her honor. 

Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan even wrote and performed a special song, “Unplayed Piano,” for Suu Kyi in honor of her 60th birthday in 2005. You can hear it in there Youtube video at the bottom.

Aung San Suu Kyi playing piano

Here is an overview:

http://theappendix.net/issues/2013/7/solitude-and-sandaya-the-strange-history-of-pianos-in-burma

And here is another story with more specific details, including her favorite composers – Bach, Telemann, Mozart, Clementi, Pachelbel and Bartok — and how piano tuners, when finally allowed by the military to repair her piano, dealt with the forcefulness with which she sometimes played as well as with the effects of the hot and humid climate:

http://articles.latimes.com/2012/nov/15/world/la-fg-myanmar-piano-tuner-20121116

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/rangoons-piano-tuners-recall-the-vital-part-they-played-in-suu-kyis-struggle-7601138.html

 

 


Classical music Q&A: Stage director Tara Faircloth talks about her staging of Beethoven’s only opera “Fidelio.” The Madison Opera performs it this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

November 17, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are the hot topics of an old opera that is celebrating its bicentennial this year.

When you look around the world and see the struggle in fighting terrorism, religious intolerance and political tyranny as well as the difficult and thwarted stirrings of democracy in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, “Fidelio” — the only opera composed by Ludwig van Beethoven (below) — seems a timely and even inspired choice to stage.

Beethoven big

That is exactly what the Madison Opera will do in Overture Hall of the Overture Center this Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. The opera will be sung in German with English supertitles.

Single tickets are $18-$125. Call (608) 258-4141 or visit the Overture Center box office.

Here is a link to more information, including a cast list and information about the production, which is based on the one done by the Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/fidelio/

Fidelio Set John Grigaitis Michigan Opera Theatre

A Madison Opera staged premiere, “Fidelio” is “a passionate ode to freedom, and the triumph of love over tyranny,” according to a press release from the Madison Opera.

“To rescue her husband, a political prisoner, the noblewoman Leonore (below, played by Alexandra LoBianco) disguises herself as a man and works at the prison where she believes her husband is held. Beethoven contrasts the evil of Don Pizarro, who has ordered his enemy imprisoned and starved, with the inner strength and bravery that enables Leonore to rescue her husband.

“Ranging from breathtaking arias to stunning choral music, Beethoven’s score is truly sublime, with an ever-building dramatic intensity that leaves audiences exhilarated. The famous “Prisoners’ Chorus” is one of the most beautiful choral tributes to freedom ever written, and one of the reasons Fidelio has resonated across the centuries.

Fidelio Alexandra LoBianco Leonore

“Madison Opera performed Fidelio in concert in November 1986, but this is the first time the company has presented the opera fully-staged. Sung in German with German dialogue and projected English translations, Fidelio is the only opera Beethoven ever wrote, premiering in its final form in 1814.

“Fidelio is a truly great opera,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s General Director. “It has both light and dark moments, with real emotion underlying the intense drama. Above all, the score is a masterpiece from one of classical music’s greatest composers.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

“Fidelio” also marks the start of Madison Opera’s 10th season in Overture Hall, whose exceptional acoustics have been a primary factor in the company’s growth and success.

“It is absolutely thrilling for me to finally have a chance to conduct Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the Madison Opera’s Artistic Director and conductor who is also the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. “I have loved this music passionately for years, and can’t wait to perform this great work in the acoustic splendor of Overture Hall. We have a thrilling cast of singers, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, all up to the demands of the mighty Beethoven.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Pre-opera talks will be hosted by Kathryn Smith one hour prior to each performance.

Here is a background story, with more interviews, written by Mike Muckian that appeared in the Wisconsin Gazette.

http://www.wisconsingazette.com/music/fidelio-beethovens-struggle-madison-operas-reward.html

And here is an email Q&A that stage director that Tara Faircloth (below), who is making her Madison Opera debut, granted to The Ear:

Fidelio Tara Faircloth

Can you briefly introduce yourself, with some background and current activities as well as future projects and plans?

A Georgia native, I make my home in Houston, Texas, in a 1935 Art & Crafts bungalow that I am slowly renovating and restoring. I work primarily in opera, and take special pleasure in my work with young people: I am a semi-regular director at Wolf Trap Opera, and the dramatic coach for the fine singers in the Houston Grand Opera Studio.

Some of my most beloved projects have been a beautiful (if I do say so!) production of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at Wolf Trap, a Dido & Aeneas with Houston’s Mercury Baroque in collaboration with the Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, and a very recent production of Claudio Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno di Ulisse at Rice University. I am very much looking forward to a new production of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at the Arizona Opera, and my first Le Nozze di Figaro, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, at the Atlanta Opera.

I like to create productions that are whimsical and humorous with intense moments of emotional connection.

How do you situate Beethoven’s “Fidelio” among other major opera and opera composers? What makes it special?

Fidelio is Beethoven’s only opera, a work that he re-wrote three times. It has been called a “secular oratorio,” and it is full of the passion that typifies so much of Beethoven’s work.

When listening to Beethoven’s music, I personally feel as if the score can barely contain all of the emotion he is trying to express, that it is stretched to its absolute limit, and somehow there is an underlying tension, a sense that if it were possible, he would want you to feel even more than he has been able to write down.

What is your overall concept of the opera? Do you see it as having to do with the Enlightenment and political movement toward democracy?

Fidelio has been subject to a multitude of interpretations since its inception. In many ways, the score is a blank slate: the characters are not described in great detail, there is no mention in the score of the exact political situation at hand, and even Florestan’s “crime” against Pizarro is not identified explicitly. Instead we have a story of brutal revenge versus great love: a universally appealing theme.

With its dream of a government free of tyranny, and the inherent worth of the individual man, Fidelio certainly has a very healthy dose of Enlightenment principles.

However, in many ways it may be seen as ushering in Romantic era ideals. It is full of sweeping emotional moments: perhaps the most famous is the Prisoners’ Chorus “O welche Lust” (at bottom in a YouTube video), which begins with an ecstatic appreciation of the beauty of a single breath of fresh air.

The fact that Beethoven gave the most beautiful music in the entire opera to a chorus of common prisoners shows us, I think, his belief that our connection to a higher power and our longing for freedom is inherent and universal to every man.

Does Beethoven’s opera hold lessons for today about current events?

As a director, I am not really one to look for lessons in our literature. Instead, I hope to engage our audience in a very human drama, to make them FEEL something and to connect with them. I think that experiencing music and drama in this way makes us more empathetic and open to other human beings, and that can only make the world a better place.

This is your debut in Madison. Do have impressions of the city, the opera and orchestra, either firsthand or through others?

I travel a lot for my work, and every time I have mentioned I will be in Madison, people simply gush about what a lovely place it is. In addition to the charming beauty of the city, I’ve noticed there seems to be a big focus on beer and cheese. So, basically it is heaven.

What you would you like to add or say?

Fidelio is an opera that is rarely performed. It takes massive forces: large orchestra, large chorus, and very large voices. I think we have quite a group assembled here, and hope your reading audience will take advantage of the opportunity to hear the work of one of the world’s most beloved composers.

 


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