The Well-Tempered Ear

The Ear is back

June 10, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear is back!

For the first time since the May 18 posting about the season’s last concert by Just Bach, The Ear can post a new entry.

For three weeks, The Ear struggled to correct the situation, but to no avail. But then yesterday everything suddenly seemed to fall into place and new postings became possible.

Some readers and subscribers have contacted The Ear to ask if he was ill or something disabling had happened. Thank you for your concern.

But let me reassure you. The absence and silence were due simply to the technological glitch on the WordPress.com platform.

In some ways, though, the involuntary sabbatical was welcome. It provided The Ear with an opportunity to consider whether he wanted to continue the blog after the past 13 years.

After much consideration, The Ear has decided to continue, at least for the time being.

But the blog will see some changes.

Stay tuned and The Ear will explain more in detail.

In the mean time, thank you for continuing to subscribe and read the blog. It has been gratifying to see both the loyalty of the readers, many of whom used the hiatus to explore the archives. 

And if you have any comments or suggestions to make about the blog, please leave them in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


The UW Symphony strings and Pro Arte Quartet team up Thursday night for a free online MUST-HEAR concert of Shostakovich, Elgar and Caroline Shaw. TONIGHT you can hear free piano and percussion recitals

April 21, 2021
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All times are Central Daylight Time.

ALERTS: Tonight from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in Collins Recital Hall of the Hamel Music Center, the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music will present a departmental piano recital with undergraduate and master’s students. There is no listing of performers and pieces yet. One assumes they will be announced during the live-stream. Here is the link to take you to the YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7muCH_gupA

Then from 7:30 to 9 p.m., the UW Chamber Percussion Ensemble will live-stream a concert from the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall. Here is the YouTube link. If you click on Show More, you will find the details of the program and composers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWv285nZutI

By Jacob Stockinger

This Thursday night, April 22, you can hear two of the musical groups that The Ear found most impressive and consistently excellent during the Pandemic Year.

At 7:30 p.m., the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra’s string section (below) and the Pro Arte Quartet will team up to perform a free 90-minute, live-streamed concert online.

It is one of the last major concerts of this school year and will be conducted by the outstanding music director and conductor of the orchestra, Professor Oriol Sans (below).

For The Ear, it is a MUST-HEAR concert.

Here is a link to the YouTube site where you can see and hear it: https://youtu.be/TN2PftBJ4yg. If you click on Show More, you can see the members of the orchestra’s strings along with a list of the graduating seniors.

All the works on the innovative program are closely informed by the string quartet.

The program includes the darkly dramatic five-movement Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a, based on the famous and popular String Quartet No. 8, by Dmitri Shostakovich; the orchestral version of the entrancing and quietly hypnotic “Entr’acte” — heard in the YouTube video at the bottom — that was originally written for string quartet by the Pulitzer Prize-winning contemporary American composer Caroline Shaw (below, in a photo by Kait Moreno); and the Introduction and Allegro for String Quartet and String Orchestra by Sir Edward Elgar.

The UW-Madison’s acclaimed Pro Arte Quartet (below) is the soloist and will join forces with the orchestra for the Elgar work. Quartet members are: David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violins; Sally Chisholm, viola; and Parry Karp, cello.

And here is a link to more information about the program and to more extensive program notes: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-madison-symphony-orchestra-8/


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Madison Opera postpones the tribute TONIGHT to Giorgio Tozzi by Kyle Ketelsen

October 24, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received word that tonight’s virtual and online tribute concert by Sun Prairie bass-baritone Kyle Ketelson to his world-renowned teacher Giorgio Tozzi (below) has been CANCELED for TONiGHT — Saturday  Oct. 24 — and POSTPONED as part of the Digital Fall series.

Here is the complete message that was posted on Instagram: 

“This weekend’s “Live From the Madison Opera Center” concert starring Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a photo by Lawrence Brownlee) has been postponed.

“We are attempting to reschedule for the following weekend and will let you know when we have details.”

For more information about this concert and $50 household subscriptions to the Madison Opera’s Digital Fall, as well as a sample of Tozzi, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/10/17/madison-opera-cancels-its-january-production-of-she-loves-me-tonight-is-the-last-virtual-concert-by-the-lunart-festival-of-music-and-art-by-black-women/


The Metropolitan Opera has canceled the rest of this season and announced the following season of Live in HD. How will the cancellation affect concert seasons here and elsewhere?

September 25, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Unfortunately, it seems like The Ear’s prediction on Monday is coming true.

Given the coronavirus spikes and complications of vaccine production, testing, distribution and administration, The Ear said, it looks like live concerts are likely to be canceled for the rest of this season and perhaps even for the fall of 2021.

Here is that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/09/21/looks-like-there-will-be-no-live-concerts-for-the-rest-of-this-2020-21-season-and-maybe-until-early-2022/

Then yesterday the Metropolitan Opera (below) in New York City announced exactly that: It is going to cancel the whole season, and not just the fall productions, as originally planned. (You can hear general manager Peter Gelb discuss the plans for this season and the next season in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Given that the Met is the largest performing arts organization in the United States, it promises to be a Big Domino with a lot of influence and side effects.

Here is the Met story, with more quotes, details and information, from The New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/23/arts/music/metropolitan-opera-cancels-coronavirus.html

Perhaps to provide some reassurance and attenuate the negative news of the decision to cancel, the Met also announced its Live in HD season for the 2021-22 season, which is based on live productions.

Here it is on the website Opera Wire: https://operawire.com/met-opera-2021-22-season-here-is-all-the-information-for-this-seasons-live-in-hd-performances/

And if you want to know what the Met (below, from the stage) is planning to offer instead, here is a link to the Met’s own website: https://www.metopera.org.

What do you think will be the local effects of the Met decision to cancel the entire season?

Will other musical organizations follow suit, cancel the entire new season of in-person events and go safely online with virtual events?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Classical music: Madison Opera’s virtual Opera in the Park goes online for FREE this Saturday night and stays up until Aug. 25. Listen to it indoors or outdoors

July 23, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Madison Opera’s Opera in the Park isn’t in a park this year — as it has been in past years (below) — but it will be available for people to enjoy for free in their backyards, in their living rooms or anywhere else with an internet connection.

The digital concert will be released on this Saturday, July 25, at 8 p.m. CDT, and can be watched on Madison Opera’s website, www.madisonopera.org/digital, where you can find complete information and, soon, a complete program to download.

The annual free concert has moved online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a newly created program of opera arias and more.

Digital Opera in the Park features: soprano Jasmine Habersham; soprano Karen Slack; tenor Andres Acosta; and baritone Weston Hurt. (The last two will sing the justly famous baritone-tenor duet “Au fond du temple saint” from Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers,” which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Habersham (below) makes her Madison Opera debut with this unique performance, and will sing Susanna in the company’s production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro next April.

Slack (below) debuted with the company in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, and will be part of the company’s digital fall season.

Acosta (below) sang Timothy Laughlin in Gregory Spears’ Fellow Travelers with Madison Opera this past February.

Hurt (below) debuted as Germont in Verdi’s La Traviata last season and is part of the company’s digital fall season.

The four singers will be joined by several important local artists. They include violinist Suzanne Beia, the assistant concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the concertmaster of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the second violin of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet.

There will also be a fleet of eight pianists. They include MSO music director and Madison Opera’s artist director John DeMain (below top, in a photo by Prasad) and the UW-Madison graduate and composer Scott Gendel (below bottom). The two will play multiple numbers, including DeMain accompanying Beia on the beautiful “Meditation” from Thaïs.

Each singer recorded their arias with an accompanist in their home cities, and chorusmaster Anthony Cao (below top) both accompanies and conducts the Madison Opera Chorus (below bottom) in a virtual “Anvil Chorus” from Il Trovatore.

The evening will be hosted by Madison Opera’s General Director Kathryn Smith and by WKOW TV’s Channel 27 News co-anchor George Smith.

“Reimagining Opera in the Park in the pandemic era has been a challenge, but one we have happily embraced,” says Smith (below in a photo by James Gill). “Our wonderful artists were game to record themselves in their home towns, to sing duets with each other through headphones, and to share their artistry with our community in a new way. Over 40 choristers joined a Zoom call to get instructions, and then they recorded their parts of the ‘Anvil Chorus.’”

“While in some ways this concert has required more work than our live Opera in the Park in Garner Park, it is always a pleasure to present beautiful music for everyone to enjoy.”

Digital Opera in the Park features music from Verdi’s Il Trovatore, now canceled in live performance but originally slated to open Madison Opera’s 2020-21 season; Jerry Bock’s She Loves Me, which the company performs in January; and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, which will be performed in April.

The program also includes selections from Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, Richard Strauss’ Arabella, Verdi’s Don Pasquale, Puccini’s Tosca, Massenet’s Hérodiade and Thaïs, Rossini’s William Tell, Pablo Sarozabal’s zarzuela La Tabernera del Puerto, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, and more.

The concert will be available beginning at 8 p.m. CDT on this Saturday night, July 25, and will remain online until Aug. 25, allowing for both repeated viewing and flexibility for people who are unable to watch on the first night.

While Digital Opera in the Park will be free to watch, it would not be possible without the generous support of many foundations, corporations and individuals who believe in the importance of music. Madison Opera is grateful to the sponsors of Opera in the Park 2020:

  • Presenting Sponsor: the Berbeewalsh Foundation
  • Sponsors: the John and Carolyn Peterson Charitable Foundation, Full Compass Systems, the Raymond B. Preston Family Foundation, University Research Park, Colony Brands, Johnson Financial Group, MGE Foundation, National Guardian Life, Wisconsin Arts Board, Dane Arts and the Madison Arts Commission.
  • Media Sponsors: WKOW, Madison Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, Magic 98, and La Movida.

RELATED EVENTS include:

OPERA ON THE WALL | JULY 25, 2020 | ONLINE

Madison artists Liubov Swazko (known as Triangulador) and Mike Lroy have created artwork around our community, including beautiful murals on State Street storefronts.

In an act of artistic cross-pollination, they will create an artwork that comes from their personal response to Digital Opera in the Park, offering a rare glimpse of visual artists responding to musical artists. Their creative process will be filmed in the Madison Opera Center, and shared online starting on July 25.

The finished artwork will be displayed in the Madison Opera Center. Go to Swazko’s website at triangulador.com (one work is below) and Lroy’s website at mikelroy.com to see their past work.

POST-SHOW Q&A | JULY 25, 2020, IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE INITIAL STREAM

Join Kathryn Smith and the Digital Opera in the Park artists for a post-concert discussion, including an opportunity to ask questions. Details on format and platform will be available closer to the date.

 


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Classical music: Trevor Stephenson announces the new season of the Madison Bach Musicians on YouTube. It features smaller concerts and familiar comfort music

May 15, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

At a time when so many concerts are being canceled, it is especially welcome when a local ensemble announces plans for the 2020-21 season.

To announce the 17th season of the Madison Bach Musicians — a period-instrument group that uses historically informed performance practices — the founder and artistic director Trevor Stephenson (below), who also plays the harpsichord, fortepiano and piano, has made and posted a 13-1/2 minute YouTube video.

The season will also be posted on the MBM website in early June, and will also be announced with more details about times and ticket prices via email and postal mailings.

In the video, Stephenson plays the harpsichord. He opens the video with the familiar Aria from the “Goldberg” Variations and closes with two contrasting Gavottes from the English Suite in G minor.

As usual, Stephenson offers insights in the programs that feature some very well-known and appealing works that are sure to attract audiences anxious to once again experience the comfort of hearing familiar music performed live.

One thing Stephenson does not say is that there seems to be fewer ambitious programs and fewer imported guest artists. It’s only a guess, but The Ear suspects that that is because it is less expensive to stage smaller concerts and it also allows for easier cancellation, should that be required by a continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

If the speculation proves true, such an adaptive move is smart and makes great sense artistically, financially and socially given the coronavirus public health crisis.

After all, this past spring the MBM had to cancel a much anticipated, expensive and very ambitious production, with many out-of-town guests artists, of the “Vespers of 1610” by Claudio Monteverdi. Nonetheless, MBM tried to pay as much as it could afford to the musicians, who are unsalaried “gig” workers who usually don’t qualify for unemployment payments.

“Hope and Joy” is a timely, welcome and much-needed theme of the new season.

The new season starts on Saturday night, Oct. 3, at Grace Episcopal Church downtown on the Capitol Square, and then Sunday afternoon, Oct. 4, at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton.

The program is Haydn and Mozart: songs composed in English and German by Haydn plus songs by Mozart; the great violin sonata in E minor by Mozart; and two keyboard trios, one in C major by Haydn and one in G major by Mozart.

Only four players will be required. They include: Stephenson on the fortepiano; concertmaster Kangwon Kim on baroque violin; James Waldo on a Classical-era cello; and soprano Morgan Balfour (below), who won the 2019 Handel Aria Competition in Madison.

On Saturday night, Dec. 12, in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, near Camp Randall Stadium, MBM will perform its 10th annual holiday concert of seasonal music.

The program includes several selections from the “Christmas Oratorio” by Johann Sebastian Bach; a Vivaldi concerto for bassoon with UW-Madison professor Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) as soloist; and the popular “Christmas Concerto” by Arcangelo Corelli.

On Saturday night, April 24, at Grace Episcopal Church and Sunday afternoon, April 25, at Holy Wisdom Monastery, the MBM will perform a concert of German Baroque masterworks with the internationally renowned baroque violinist Marc Destrubé (below).

The program features Handel and Bach but also composers who are not often played today but who were well known to and respected by Bach and his contemporaries.

Specifically, there will be a suite by Christoph Graupner (below top) and a work by Carl Heinrich Graun (below bottom).

There will also be a concerto grosso by George Frideric Handel and two very well-known concertos by Bach – the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and the Concerto for Two Violins.

Here is the complete video:

What do you think of the Madison Bach Musicians’ new season?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Here’s how to apply Madison Symphony Orchestra cancellation refunds to a subscription ticket for next season. Plus, the Oakwood Chamber Players cancel two concerts in May

April 17, 2020
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ALERT: In accordance with the state’s Stay at Home order, concerts by the Oakwood Chamber Players (below) that were scheduled for Saturday night, May 16, and Sunday afternoon, May 17, at Oakwood Village University Woods, on the far west side, have been CANCELED.

By Jacob Stockinger

Now that the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below in a photo by Peter Rodgers) has canceled the rest of its current season, The Ear and others have wondered how to apply refunds to a subscription ticket for the MSO’s 2020-21 season, with the theme of “Ode to Joy: Beethoven and Beyond.” (See the YouTube promotional video at the bottom.)

The MSO recently announced cancellations because of the COVID-19 pandemic and closing of the Overture Center with detailed descriptions of how you could donate the tickets to benefit musicians or exchange them for vouchers to one concert in the next season.

Here is a link: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/04/13/classical-music-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-cancels-concerts-and-events-through-june-here-are-details-and-links-about-donations-exchanges-and-refunds/

But missing was the possibility of applying the cost of tickets to this season’s cancellations to a subscription ticket for next year.

So The Ear called Peter Rodgers, the marketing director for the MSO, to get a clarification.

It turns out that the MSO administrative staff met with representatives of the box office at the Overture Center to discuss various refund options.

Rodgers said the box office is very busy handling refunds from other events that have been canceled. That has made for complex mechanical or technical difficulties in applying one season’s subscription tickets to another.

It is true that you can apply this season’s ticket or tickets to one subscription concert next season, but there is no guarantee of securing your current seat preference, according to Rodgers.

If you want apply this season’s refunds and keep your seat for all the concerts or selected one next season, Rodgers said that the best solution is to ask for the refund and then pay in full for the next season’s subscription tickets.

Here is a link to more information about the MSO’s next season with performers and programs: https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/2020-2021-symphony-season-concerts/

Single tickets go on sale Aug. 15.

You can renew online, by mail and by calling (608) 257-3734. The deadline for subscription renewals or new subscriptions, with a discount of up to 50 percent, is Thursday, May 7.

Here is a link to the page for online renewals or new subscriptions: https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/subscribe-now/

 


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Classical music: Acclaimed local soprano Sarah Brailey explains why performing artists and presenters need help during the COVID-19 pandemic

March 23, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Sarah Brailey (below) is worried.

And with good reason.

Chances are good that you have seen the local soprano or heard her sing.

She is the artistic director of the Handel Aria Competition, which she herself won in 2015. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Brailey sing the aria “Will the Sun Forget to Streak” from Handel’s oratorio “Solomon,”  with the Trinity Baroque Orchestra under conductor Julian Wachner, in the St. Paul Chapel in New York City.)

Brailey is a co-founder of and participant in the monthly free Just Bach concerts here. In addition, while pursuing graduate studies at the UW-Madison, she is a concert artist with a budding international career. For more about her, including a rave review from The New York Times and sample videos, go to: https://sarahbrailey.com

But right now the Wisconsin native is especially concerned about the lasting impact that the Coronavirus pandemic will have on her own career as well as on the careers of others like her and on the well-being of arts presenters.

Brailey (below, in photo by Miranda Loud) sent The Ear the following essay:

By Sarah Brailey

This is a scary time for everyone, but particularly for anyone who works as an independent contractor.

I am a freelance classical soprano based in Madison. I maintain a very active performing career, traveling all over the globe, and I am also a doctoral student at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music.

When COVID-19 hit the United States, presenting organizations on the east and west coasts started canceling concerts to comply with social distancing recommendations.

I initially thought I was lucky to be living in the middle of the country where our lesser population density might save us. Plus, I am a Teaching Assistant at the UW right now, so I will still be getting my stipend — although teaching virtual voice lessons will be its own special challenge!

But many of my colleagues are not so lucky and are facing bankruptcy. If the government doesn’t include independent contractors in its relief packages, a lot of people are going to be insolvent.

And I myself am not immune. As the seriousness of the situation became clear, all my concerts in the next two months soon disappeared one by one.

While not being able to perform is emotionally devastating, these cancellations are also financially devastating.

There exists a clause in every standard performance contract called “force majeure” (superior force), which is idiomatically referred to as, “an act of God.” This clause excuses a party from not honoring its contractual obligations that becomes impossible or impracticable, due to an event or effect that the parties could not have anticipated or controlled.

This can come in handy for a presenter if there is, say, a blizzard that necessitates the cancellation of a concert. (This happened to me a few seasons ago with the Boston Symphony.) If the presenter will not make any money on ticket sales, they are not then further injured by having to pay the musicians for the canceled concert. (Below, Brailey sings Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” with the Colorado Symphony.)

The ramifications of this pandemic are unprecedented. Every freelance musician I know is suddenly out of work. The current conventions put all of the upfront financial burden on the artists. We are paid in one lump sum at the end of a project. We do not get a fee for the countless hours of preparation.

We often book travel and lodging on our own dime, and are not reimbursed until the end of the gig. We pay for our own health insurance, and we cannot file for unemployment because our work is paid via IRS Form 1099 and not W2s. The abrupt work stoppage caused by this pandemic means insolvency – or even bankruptcy — for many artists. (Below, Brailey sings Handel’s “Messiah” at the famed Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City.)

Many institutions — and, unfortunately, many of the bigger players like The Metropolitan Opera — are invoking force majeure without much regard for how their artists are struggling.

My colleague, tenor Zach Finkelstein, is covering this in great detail on his blog The Middle Class Artist, as is Alex Ross, the prize-winning music critic for The New Yorker. Read his piece on force majeure here.

However, there are also thankfully some good stories to tell. The Bach Society of Minnesota reimbursed all my travel expenses and is paying 75 percent of my fee, as is the Lyra Baroque Orchestra.

I am helping Zach keep track of the organizations that are helping their artists in this time of need. (Read about them here. Madison Opera is on the list.)

The arts are not just cultural enrichment; they are an essential part of our economy. In 2017, the industry contributed $877.8 billion, or 4.5 percent, to U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employed over 5 million workers. We cannot afford to let this industry disappear. I fear that many individual artists and arts organizations will not recover from this. (Below, Brailey sings Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Magnificat” at the Bucknell Bach Festival.)

While we wait out this storm, I implore you to donate to a Madison arts organization. Here is a short list of recommendations along with some national relief funds for artists.

Local Arts Organizations

Madison Bach Musicians

Handel Aria Competition

Madison Early Music Festival

Madison Opera

Madison Youth Choirs

List of National Relief Funds


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Classical music: Acclaimed native son Kenneth Woods returns this weekend to conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra. He talks to The Ear about what Madison meant to him and his international career

March 2, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, native Madisonian Kenneth Woods (below) returns from his home in the UK to conduct three performances of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The concerts feature two MSO debuts: the prize-winning young Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor; and the acclaimed guest conductor, Kenneth Woods, leading the orchestra for the MSO premiere of Haydn’s Symphony No. 96, “Miracle” plus Richard Strauss’ tone poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life).

Performances will be held in Overture Hall on Friday night, March 6, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, March 7, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, March 8, at 2:30 p.m.

Single tickets are $19-$95 each and are on sale now, along with discounted tickets, at: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/the-miracle/; through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street; or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141. Fees apply to online and phone sales.

You can view program notes for this concert online at http://bit.ly/msomar2020programnotes

A Prelude Discussion by Randal Swiggum will take place one hour before each concert.

Guest conductor Kenneth Woods is a busy and versatile musician. He is the Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of both the Colorado MahlerFest and the Elgar Festival in England. (You can hear Woods conducting Carl Maria von Weber’s “Oberon” Overture in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

Woods has won accolades for rediscovering and recording the music of the Austrian-British composer Hans Gàl. Woods, who has played guitar in a rock band, is also a professional cellist who solos with orchestras and plays chamber music. He writes a respected blog. And he currently plays and records in the Briggs Piano Trio for Avie Records.

For much more information about Kenneth Woods, including his blog “A View From the Podium,” go to: https://kennethwoods.net/blog1/

Woods recently spoke via email to The Ear about what Madison has meant to him and to his international career.

How did living in Madison play a role in your decision to become a professional musician?

Madison offered me a chance to hear music at an early age. I was taken to watch a rehearsal of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra as a very young kid, maybe three or four years old. That made a huge impression on me, especially seeing the rehearsal process. Later, my parents took us to all the UW Symphony Orchestra concerts for years.

There’s really no reason not to take young kids to concerts! For me, a love of live music led to a love of recorded music, listening to records at home, and from there, to an interest in playing music as a kid.

We were lucky to have a very strong music program in the Madison public schools when I was growing up here. The orchestras at Memorial High School played some really impressive repertoire under Tom Buchhauser (below top, in a photo by Jon Harlow). The UW Summer Music Clinic made being a musician social – it was a great immersion with one’s peers.

Most important, however, was probably the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). Playing under Jim Smith (below bottom) was the most fantastic education in orchestral playing one could hope for. He and Tom are a big part of why I became a conductor.

Madison in those days wasn’t a super-pressurized scene, like one might encounter around the big pre-college programs in New York or LA. But what I might have missed in terms of conservatory-level instrumentalists in every corridor, one made up in terms of feeling like you could find your own path. By the time I was in high school, I pretty much knew music was that path.

How did your experiences in Madison help prepare you for that career?

I learned so much about rehearsing from Jim Smith. In his first year, we worked on Dvorak’s 8th Symphony pretty much all year. Every week, he opened our ears to new facets of the music. I’ve never forgotten that.

I went off to Indiana University to do my Bachelor’s degree, but returned to Madison for a Master’s, when I studied cello with UW-Madison professor Parry Karp (below top).

Those were wonderful years for me. I learned an enormous amount from Parry as both a cello teacher and chamber music coach (and especially as a person).

I played in fantastic chamber groups, did lots of wacky new music and had solo opportunities. UW Symphony Orchestra conductor David Becker (below bottom) even gave me my first meaningful chance to rehearse an orchestra when he had me take a couple of rehearsals on the Copland Clarinet Concerto.

And I played in both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. I came away from that time with both new skills and new confidence.

What does returning to your hometown to conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra mean to you?

It’s both very exciting and a little surreal. Under the leadership of John DeMain (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson), the MSO (below bottom, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) has come so far since the time I was in it. And the new hall is such a treasure for all of Wisconsin – it’s practically a different orchestra.

I still have many friends and former mentors in the orchestra and it’s going to be wonderful to see them all and make music together again after so long.

But it’s more than a homecoming. It’s a chance to celebrate where we’ve all been and what we’ve all done the last 20 years or so. My musical life has mostly been in the UK for a long time, so to re-connect with my musical roots here is rather magical.

What are your major current and upcoming projects?

The English Symphony Orchestra (below) represents the biggest chunk of my musical life. This year we’re celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday and the orchestra’s 40th anniversary.

The ESO has a special commitment to new and unknown music, and right now we’re in the midst of something called the 21st Century Symphony Project, which involves commissioning, premiering and recording nine new symphonies by diverse composers. It’s one of the most ambitious commissioning projects I’ve ever heard of, let alone been involved in.

I’m also excited about this year’s Colorado MahlerFest in Boulder, where we’re focusing on Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” this May, which will crown a week of music exploring themes of color and visual art with music by Wagner, Messiaen and British composer Philip Sawyers.

Is the MSO program special to you?

I must say that it was incredibly generous of John DeMain to offer me such a fantastic program. Not every music director is gentleman enough to let a guest have Ein Heldenleben.

What would you like the public to know about your approach to music and about the specific works by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Richard Strauss?

Haydn’s music is maybe the richest discovery of my adult life. I didn’t get it as a kid, largely because most performances I heard were so dull.

His music is so varied, and his personality so complex, one mustn’t try to reduce him down to a simplistic figure. The late symphonies, of which this is one of the finest, are inexhaustible sources of wisdom, beauty, humor and sanity.

The Mendelssohn is really an astonishing piece. I’ve probably conducted it as much as any piece of music, with so many different soloists, all of whom had hugely different temperaments, personalities, sounds and approaches.

I’ve played it with some of the greatest violinists in the world and with young students. Somehow, whoever is playing, it always leaves me, and the audience, smiling. I’m pretty sure we can continue that streak with Blake Pouliot (below, in a photo by Jeff Fasano).

The Strauss is a rich, personal, wise, funny and moving work. It’s always a challenge, particularly bringing out all the astonishing detail in the score, but it’s also a real joy to perform. If the Mendelssohn always leaves me smiling, the Strauss always leaves me smiling with a tear in my eye.

 


Posted in Classical music
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