The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What classical music best celebrates the solstice and the arrival of summer?

June 21, 2017
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REMINDER: Today is the fifth annual citywide Make Music Madison that celebrates the coming of summer with FREE, PUBLIC and LOCAL performances. For more information, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com

By Jacob Stockinger

Summer arrived late last night – at 11:24 p.m. — in the Midwest.

To mark and celebrate the welcome event, here are three pieces of well-known summer-related music:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” or a “A Short Night Music” (or “A Little Night Music”:

Summer from Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires”:

And Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville, Summer of 1914” with soprano Dawn Upshaw.

But there is so much more to choose from.

Here is a link to five other pieces by different composers –- Antonio Vivaldi, Felix Mendelssohn, Frank Bridge, Alexander Glazunov, Frederick Delius and George Gershwin.

http://www.classical-music.com/article/six-best-pieces-classical-music-summer

Which music would you choose to mark the summer solstice and the coming of summer?

Leave word and a YouTube link, if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Wednesday brings the fifth annual Make Music Madison celebration of the summer solstice. You can hear FREE music of all kinds from morning to night, outdoors and indoors

June 20, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Registration has closed and the fifth annual Make Music Madison festival is set to take place tomorrow, Wednesday, June 21, 2017. ( A promotional video from the 2013 event is in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The annual celebration of the Summer Solstice, which arrives at 11;24 p.m. tonight, will run all day, featuring all kinds of music from morning to night, and take place indoors and outdoors.

And it is FREE and completely local.

So far, there are more than 275 artists registered to perform at 108 venues in every area across the city, including the Dane County Regional Airport, Henry Vilas Zoo, Olbrich Botanical Gardens, the Goodman Center, Hilldale Mall, the First Congregational United Church of Christ, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

For a complete listing, go to: http://www.makemusicmadison.org

Once you are on the website, go to the map on the right hand side and under FILTER and GENRE and click on classical. You will find more than 20 events.

Then click on the VENUE’s tear-drop shaped red indicator to see the name of artists, group and kind of music you can hear.

They include a cello choir, an early music group, a guitar ensemble, string quartets and the Suzuki Strings of Madison (seen below at last spring’s Bach Around the Clock.) There is plenty of amateur music-making, which The Ear loves to see, but also some professional performances.

The click on the name and you will get more detailed background and a program, if one is available.

You can also search by ARTIST and VENUE – including general areas of the city — and well as by GENRE.

Take it from The Ear: This site has some really impressive and easy-to-use organization for getting at its information. So The Ear gives big shout-outs to to the people who designed the website and put it together.

Of course there are many more events in other genres and kinds of music, including blues, jazz, rock, roots, folk, world music and others. But many of them overlap or pertain to classical music, and you won’t want to miss them.

There is plenty to go around.

The Ear might even meet you at one of the events.

Enjoy! Have fun!


Classical music: Here are the winners of the fifth annual Handel Aria Competition

June 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This posting should have appeared earlier, but The Ear regrets that other news, reviews and previews preempted it and apologizes for the tardiness.

In any case, in case you haven’t already heard, the fifth annual Handel Aria Competition took place a week ago Friday night, and was well attended.

The seven finalists were chosen from an international field of 107 applicants. For the third year in a row, they were accompanied by harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson, who conducted the Madison Bach Musicians.

In five years, the competition has certainly blossomed into a respected global event, and it shows all the signs of continuing to grow. The Ear is unaware of other competitions devoted to the prolific vocal music of George Frideric Handel, who is so often overshadowed by his Baroque contemporary Johann Sebastian Bach.

First prize went to mezzo-soprano Nian Wang (below center in the photo by David Peterson) from Nanjing, China; second prize and audience favorite to tenor Gene Stenger (below left) from New Haven, Connecticut; and third prize to mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski (below right) from Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.

The competition judges for this year were Paul Rowe, Craig Trompeter and Alessandra Visconti.

You can’t yet find an audio video clip of Wang’s performances on YouTube. But contestants from previous years are there, and no doubt soon there will be a YouTube video of Wang singing.

Here are more photos of Nian Wang performing and receiving the first prize flanked by other contestants and the founders of the competition, Orange and Dean Schroeder:

For more information about the winners, identities and biographies of the seven finalists (below), and the competition itself – including previous years and winners — go to:

https://handelariacompetition.com

and

https://handelariacompetition.com/2017-handelariacompetition-finalists/


Classical music: Maestro Andrew Sewell has been named the new music director of the San Luis Obispo Symphony in California while retaining his longtime post as music director of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

June 16, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra‘s longtime music director Andrew Sewell (below) has been named the new music director of the San Luis Obispo Symphony in California.

The news comes in between the end of a critically acclaimed and very successful Masterworks season in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center and the start of the upcoming and always popular summer Concerts on the Square on Wednesday evenings from June 29 through Aug. 2.

Sewell, who was born and trained in New Zealand, has been an American citizen for the past 10 years. He led the Wichita Symphony Orchestra for 10 years and the Mansfield Symphony Orchestra in Ohio, and he also guest conducts in Hong Kong and many other cities in the U.S. and abroad.

Asked if the move means there will be guest conductors for the WCO, Sewell told The Ear:

“I will be conducting all concerts this year. The schedules for both orchestras work surprisingly well together.

“The situation is not unlike the first 10 years of my tenure in Madison when I was music director of the Wichita Symphony concurrently with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. I’ll share my time between both communities.” 

For more about Sewell’s impressive and extensive background, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/about/andrew-sewell/

Here is a statement from the WCO:

“When Maestro Sewell raises his baton at Concerts on the Square this month, he will also be embarking on a new position as music director of the San Luis Obispo Symphony. (At bottom, he seen conducting the San Luis Obispo Symphony.)

“Fans of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra need not worry, though, as he will retain his position and residence here in Madison. 

“We’re very proud of Andrew and what he has accomplished here in Madison, around the nation and abroad” said Mark Cantrell, CEO of the WCO. “This appointment reinforces what we already know about Andrew, that he is an exciting and impressive director and musician.

“We’re fortunate to retain him here as music director, and we look forward to many more years of him behind the baton with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. We wish him the best of luck in San Luis Obispo.”

For more about this story, use the following links:

Here is a WCO posting about the news:

Global Search Yields Symphony’s Ninth Conductor

And here is a newspaper story with many details about Sewell and his plans for the new position, including where he will live, as well as his plans for sharing repertoire and guest soloists:

SLO Symphony has a new director


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra, with solo violinist Paran Amirinazari, closes its seventh season with rousing and intense performances of Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky

June 9, 2017
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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.

By John W. Barker

On Wednesday night, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) closed its seventh season with a rousing program offering three contrasting Russian works.

The opener was the Overture to Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor, as realized by Alexander Glazunov. It served to show off the orchestra’s ever-developing string band, solid in tone, if still lacking a little in warmth.

A real gem was the second work, the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev. By contrast with the composer’s first venture in that form — a taut, aggressive affair — this one is more relaxed and jovial, if no less demanding technically.

The soloist was Paran Amirinazari (below), stepping out of her usual concertmaster’s slot into the full spotlight. She handled admirably the great technical demands of her solo role, full of quirky and tricky writing.

But, amid all the spikiness she pointed up handsomely the real and almost neo-Romantic lyrical sweetness that Prokofiev infused into the showiness. (Just listen to the gorgeous second movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This is one of the truly great violin concertos, and Amirinazari — the brilliant artistic director of the fabulous Willy Street Chamber Players — demonstrated that adroitly.

The final work was a grand effort: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. This is, of course, one of those “warhorses” about which The Ear has been debating lately. It is thereby the more challenging for an orchestra to present to an audience likely to be familiar with it.

Its calculated lavishness has made it a masterpiece beloved by the public, but it is still fascinating to encounter with close listening. The composer pulled out all his tricks of dazzling orchestration and melodic invention, but in the service of a grand-scaled structure that skillfully manipulates cyclical and cross-referential transformation of themes through the score’s totality.

Maestro Steve Kurr (below) by now has nurtured remarkably solid resources for an orchestra of this kind. The potent brass choir is really well consolidated, backing fine-sounding woodwinds. Kurr made the most of these resources, in a well-rehearsed performance in which the stress on intensity of playing resulted in highly dramatic results, culminating in a truly noble ending.

This was a richly satisfying program, showcasing an ensemble of which Middleton should be button-burstingly proud.


Classical music: The fifth annual Handel Aria Competition is this Friday night – and the event has grown into a major event with broad cross-cultural appeal

June 7, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

In a short time, it has become one of the year’s MUST-HEAR local events for fans of Baroque music, fine singing, and the music of composer George Frideric Handel.

This Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, the fifth annual Handel Aria Competition will take place.

Handel Aria Competition tickets are $15 for general admission, and will be available at the door.

For the third year, the Madison Bach Musicians, led by the keyboardist founder and artistic director Trevor Stephenson, will accompany the seven finalists who were selected from over 100 applicants from China, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and 26 states including Hawaii.

Finalists in the 2017 Handel Aria Competition are pictured below (left to right): Gene Stenger, Clara Osowski, Nicole Heinen (who studied at the UW-Madison), Brian Giebler, Nian Wang, Andrew Rader and Johanna Bronk.

In addition to the professional judging for first, second and third prize, there will be a cash prize for Audience Favorite.

The Handel Aria Competition is an annual event held in Madison, Wisconsin to promote the performance of Handel’s extensive vocal repertoire.

Once connected to the Madison Early Music Festival in July, it has evolved into a separate event due to logistics and staffing.

Founders Dean and Orange Schroeder (below) are enthusiasts of George Frideric Handel’s music and lifelong supporters of the arts.

They write:

“In the spring of 2013, we started the Handel Aria Competition with no real experience, using only the Handel Singing Competition in London – the world’s only, at that time – as a model. We were inspired by the recent groundswell of interest in Handel’s operas and oratorios, most of which have been rarely performed for some 300 years!”

Since then, the competition has grown from 50 to 105 applicants and features orchestral accompaniment as well as large, enthusiastic and often partisan audiences.

You can follow the competition, with news and background stories on the Facebook page for the Handel Aria Competition at https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=handel%20aria%20competition

For more information, including extensive biographies of the finalists and the results of past competitions as well as advice about how to apply for the competition and how to support it, go to the website HandelAriaCompetition.com

Countertenor Eric Jurenas, winner of the 2016 competition, can be heard in the YouTube video below:


Classical music: You must hear this – a Bach-style fugue based on the “covfefe” Tweet of President Donald Trump

June 2, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Insulting and controversial Tweets by President Donald Trump (below, in a photo by Getty Images)  are often the talk of the Internet.

But one of the latest ones has gone viral and set the web afire with speculation.

That’s because the meaning of the word “covfefe” that he uses is cryptic.

Many people think it means press “coverage,” and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer says a small group of insiders know exactly what the President means—although he won’t say what that is.

Many other people also wonder if the mysterious word is really just a typo or mistake from sleep deprivation instead of a deliberate code.

In any case, one person — Peter Underhill — decided right away to make it the subject of occasional music, of a Baroque-like fughetta composed in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Here it is, played thanks to the Guildhall School of Music in London and the help of postgraduate piano student and Michigan native Jason Gong:

http://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/donald-trumps-convfefe-fugue/?utm_source=t.co&utm_medium=referral

Do you think the fugue is composed in the spirit of praise?

Or jest and satire?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Con Vivo concludes its 15th season with an outstanding concert of music by Spohr, Martinu and Dvorak with guest conductor John DeMain

May 28, 2017
2 Comments

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. Barker also took the performance photographs.

By John W. Barker

For the conclusion of its 15th season, the Con Vivo chamber music ensemble (below, in a photo by Don Sylvester) called out an unusual plethora of players.

And, as it did back in 2013, it brought back conductor John DeMain (below), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Madison Opera, to whip them into shape.

The program consisted of three very ample works.

The first was the Nonet, Op. 31, composed in 1813 by Louis Spohr (below, 1784-1859) — the first of its kind for this combination of strings and winds.

It’s in that no-longer-Classical-but-not-quite-Romantic idiom in which Beethoven was the big troublemaker. It is music of charm and imagination, altogether enjoyable as one appreciates the composer’s experimentation.

Following this was a contrasting work in the same form, the Nonet No. 2 (1959) by Bohuslav Martinu (below, 1890-1959). It dates from the last months of the composer’s life — note that, by coincidence, he died exactly a century after Spohr.

Using Spohr’s same combination of the nine instruments (below), it is a perky affair, in which Czech song and dance meet Igor Stravinsky, as it were. The second of its three movements is a particularly beautiful piece of coloristic writing. It can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The pièce-de-resistance was the final work, the Serenade, Op. 44 (1878), by Antonin Dvorak (below, 1841-1904).

I have to admit that this is one of my favorite works by one of my favorite composers. Composed for 11 players, it is really the composer’s tribute to Mozart, via a Romantic rethinking of the kind of wind serenades that Mozart wrote so wonderfully.

Thus, it is really a wind octet, with the addition of a third horn plus two string players (cello and double bass). Adding those two stringed instruments was a wonderful idea, allowing a significant enrichment of textures in the bass role.

The pool of 14 players involved in the program drew upon a lot of superlative talent active in the Madison area. Highly accomplished players individually, they join in full-bodied ensembles, given the added spirit brought by DeMain’s leadership.

While it would be unfair to single out individuals too much, I must say that I was greatly impressed by Olga Pomolova’s command of the fiendishly difficult violin parts in the two nonets, while I was also struck by the strong leadership of Laura Medisky, who played oboe in the nonets and first oboe in the serenade. (Valree Casey played second oboe in the serenade.)

The audience at First Congregational Church responded justly with an enthusiastic ovation at the end. Truly an outstanding concert!


Classical music: A concert of rarely performed French Baroque chamber music with voice is this Sunday afternoon

May 19, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m., a concert of French Baroque chamber music will take place.

Performers are UW-Madison alumna and current graduate student, soprano Chelsie Propst (below top); baroque violinists Nathan Giglierano and Laura Thompson; Eric Miller (below middle) on baroque cello and viola da gamba; and organist Sigrun Franzen (below bottom).

The concert will be performed at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below, exterior and interior), 1833 Regent Street, on Madison’s near west side.

Admission is $10.

The program includes “Médée” (Medea) by Louis-Nicolas Clérambault; “La Sultanne” by François Couperin (below in a YouTube video); “La mort de Didon” (The Death of Dido) by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair; and “Ditemi, o piante,” HWV 107, by George Frideric Handel.


Classical music: Madison Symphony Orchestra’s music director John DeMain discusses the 2017-18 season with critic John W. Barker

May 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, an interview with the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s music director John DeMain about the next season, conducted and 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.

By John W. Barker

Last month, I had a welcome opportunity to sit down with John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, together with his marketing director, Peter Rodgers, to discuss the orchestra’s recently announced 2017-18 concert season. (NOTE: Today is the deadline for current subscribers to renew and keep their seats. You can call 608 257-3734 or go to https://www.madisonsymphony.org/reneworder)

This meeting allowed me new insights into the various factors that go into selecting a season’s repertoire. It also gave me further appreciation of Maestro DeMain’s personality and talents.

It further revealed the unfairness of some criticism made that the coming season is “conservative” and repetitive of familiar works. In fact, his programming involves very thoughtful awareness of the differing expectations of the varied audience.

It has become customary to make the season’s opening concert a showcase for talented members of the orchestra, rather than for guest soloists.

The September program thus offers a masterpiece I particularly relish, Hector Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, a symphony with viola obbligato — featuring the orchestra’s principal violist, Chris Dozoryst (below).

But the inclusion of the neglected Fifth or “Reformation” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn was decided as a link to this year’s 500th-anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther’s launching of the Lutheran Reformation in 1517. Also on the program is Leopold Stokowski’s orchestral arrangement of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The October program contains a notable example of a familiar and popular “warhorse,” Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” This was indeed performed by the MSO two seasons back as part of the “Beyond the Score” presentations. DeMain indicates that the close repetition is made deliberately to connect with that past event, to expand further the audiences’ understanding of the work.

He is also juxtaposing the symphony with the appearance of the acclaimed Olga Kern (below), playing the Piano Concerto by Samuel Barber and with the “Mother Goose” Suite by Maurice Ravel.

The November soloist is guitarist Sharon Isbin, in two concertos, one new (“Affinity” by Chris Brubeck) and one old (Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo)  She plays with her instrument electronically amplified, something very off-putting in my experience. But DeMain notes that all guitarists do that now in concert work, and he wanted to include the guitar to bring in new and different audience members.

Inclusion of suites by Aaron Copland and Manuel de Falla – “Billy the Kid” and “The Three-Cornered Hat,” respectively — also represent popular appeal.

January will bring a triumph for DeMain: the appearance of violinist Gil Shaham (below), after 15 years of efforts to secure him. Shaham will perform the Violin Concerto by Peter Tchaikovsky.

The all-Russian program also allows DeMain to venture for the first time into “The Love for Three Oranges” suite by Sergei Prokofiev and the Third Symphony of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The issue of “warhorse” repetition is raised by the First Symphony by Johannes Brahms in the February program. But DeMain points out that it has been 10 years since the MSO played the work, a significant one that richly deserves performance by now.

He is also proud to include with it the outstanding Rossini opera overture (Semiramide) and the rarely heard Cello Concerto, with German cellist Alban Gerhardt (below), by the 20th-century British composer William Walton.

DeMain admits to mixed feelings about the “Beyond the Score” presentations of music and background context, but he is confident that the one offered (one night, outside subscriptions) on March 18, about the monumental Enigma Variations, by Sir Edward Elgar, (below) will work well.

The combination in April of Benjamin Britten’s powerful Sinfonia da Requiem and Robert Schumann’s First Symphony (“Spring”) with Antonin Dvorak’s sadly neglected Violin Concerto has special meanings for the maestro. It allows the return of the greatly admired Augustin Hadelich (below) as soloist.

But it also allows DeMain’s return, for his first time since 1974, to the Schumann score, with which he had a crucial encounter in a youthful appearance with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Finally, the May program is an unusually exciting combination of Mozart’s too-little-appreciated Piano Concerto No. 22 with soloist Christopher O’Riley (below) of NPR’s “From the Top” with the roof-raising Glagolitic Mass, featuring the Madison Symphony Chorus, of Leos Janacek.

DeMain has made important commitments to the orchestral music of Janacek (below) before this, and his advance to the composer’s great blockbuster choral work is a landmark.

Amid savoring DeMain’s thoughts on the season – which also includes the MSO’s traditional Christmas concert in early December — and his wonderful recollections of past experiences, I came to recognize more than ever the remarkable combination of talents he brings to his Madison podium.

Beyond so many conductors, DeMain has had deeply engaging phases of his career in orchestral literature (large and small), in opera and musical theater, and in chamber music, while being himself an accomplished pianist.

With the breadth of his range, he brings a particular sensitivity to the contexts and diversities of what he conducts. He has become to his musicians not only a skilled guide, but also a subtle teacher, deepening their understanding without any hint of pedantry.

It cannot be said enough how truly blessed we are to have him with us in Madison.

For more information about the 2017-18 season, including specific dates and times, and about purchasing tickets for new subscribers and renewing subscribers, go to:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/17-18


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