The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Mozart’s music requires the rhythms of both speech and dance, says maestro Gary Thor Wedow, who will also restore lost libretto text when he conducts two performances of “The Magic Flute” this weekend for the Madison Opera. Here is Part 2 of his interview with The Ear.

April 19, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will stage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute this Friday night, April 21, at 8 p.m. and this Sunday afternoon, April 23, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center. (Production photos are courtesy of the Arizona Opera from which the Madison Opera got the sets and costumes for its production.)

Yesterday’s post was the first of two parts. It has a plot synopsis and links to more information about the cast and production.

Here is a link to Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/classical-music-mozart-masterfully-melds-the-sensual-and-the-cerebral-says-maestro-gary-thor-wedow-who-will-conduct-two-performances-of-the-magic-flute-this-weekend-for-the-madiso/

The opera runs about 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

Tickets are $18 to $130.

“The Magic Flute” will be sung in German with English supertitles.

For more about the production and cast, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/

And also go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/cast/

Here is Part 2 of The Ear’s recent email interview with conductor Gary Thor Wedow (below, conducting in an orchestra pit):

Are there certain “tricks” or “secrets” that you try to bring to conducting Mozart? Have you conducted “The Magic Flute” before? Do Mozart’s operas in general and this opera in specific present challenges? Where do you place the opera musically, both compared to other operas in general and in regard to its place in Mozart’s work?

I feel keenly that Mozart and all 18th-century music (probably continuing to this day) is either based on a rhetorical idea or a dance form; that music is either speaking or dancing. This style of music is “pre-French Revolution,” so No Two Notes are Created Equally! The lilt of language or the buoyancy of the dance has to infuse every moment; hierarchy and shape prevail.

I’ve been fortunate to have conducted The Magic Flute frequently, in many varied productions; it’s always been a part of my musical life. Because it’s a fairy tale, it lends itself to inventive and imaginative productions. Stage director Dan Rigazzi’s production (below) for Madison Opera is a whimsical one, influenced by the surrealist painter Magritte, steampunk and more, all rolled into one beautiful show.

Mozart was fascinated with German Singspiel, as it was opera in the language of the people. The Magic Flute is his masterpiece in this genre, though there are earlier works. There is the early Zaide – incomplete, but filled with gorgeous, innovative music –and also the more mature, sumptuous and comic The Abduction from the Seraglio; they are both rich and entertaining pieces.

The Magic Flute, I feel, has a special place in the opera repertoire for several reasons: its Masonic connections that were very important to Mozart, the drama, and its central themes that trace themselves back to ancient Egypt.

It also is a brilliant combination of comedy and deep spiritual drama in the guise of a heroic rescue tale. It uses an incredibly wide range of the most beautiful music written in every major genre: sacred music, opera seria, bel canto, folk song and complex Baroque counterpoint.

What would you like listeners to pay special attention to in the music of “The Magic Flute”?

I would say “Hang on!” Whatever style of music we are in, we are going to switch gears in a fairly short time. It’s a roller coaster, an Ed Sullivan Show, American Idol, and the Barnum and Bailey Circus all rolled into one.

This is your third time conducting at Madison Opera. Do you have an opinion about Madison musicians and audiences?

My previous two experiences in Madison have been the Opera in the Park concerts in 2012 and 2016 (below). These have been among the most sublimely satisfying moments of my musical life: a cornucopia of music played by this brilliant symphony orchestra with great singers.

The audiences have been magically focused and involved; the players are magnificent, dedicated musicians, and the community is very supportive of Madison Opera. It’s electric.

Is there anything else you would like to say about the music or this performance?

Magic Flute devotees might be startled to hear some new text in these performances, particularly in Tamino, Pamina and Sarastro’s arias and the duet with Pamina and Papageno. “Bei Männern” is now “Der Liebe.” (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Let me explain by telling you a mystery story. After Mozart died, Constanze was desperate for money. Mozart’s Flute manuscript conducting score belonged to Schikaneder, the librettist and producer, but it seems that Constanze had another original score: the first original manuscript, which she then sold to a nobleman who eventually allowed it to be published.

This must have been a “composing score” that Mozart wrote first, before making the conducting score with the help of his assistant. The text deviates in several sections in notable ways. Probably Schikaneder, perhaps assisted by his Masonic brothers, “improved” the text, but Mozart had already shaped his music to the first text.

In most sections the differences are minimal and the new text was indeed an improvement. But in some cases I feel the original text was what inspired Mozart to write and orchestrate the way he did. Our marvelous singers have generously agreed to make the changes and I think we will all see how it fits the music so much better.

Sadly, Constanze’s manuscript was lost in the wars, but many scholars had already seen it and considered it to be genuine. I love how it shows how fluid the creative process is and how it spurs us to look anew at Mozart’s creative process.

On with the show!


Classical music Q&A: Scott MacPherson, founder and conductor of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble and a UW-Madison alumnus, talks about the two performances of Mahler, Bach, Brahms and other composers coming up this weekend on Friday, Aug. 2, and Sunday, Aug. 4.

July 29, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Call it The Rite of Summer.

Every August for the past 11 years, University of Wisconsin-Madison alumnus Scott MacPherson travels from his job and home in Ohio, where he teaches at Kent State University, to come to Madison to direct and conduct intensive rehearsals and two concerts by the virtuosic Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below in a photo by Jim Pippitt).

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble group concert dress

This summer’s concerts, mostly a cappella although some pieces have organ accompaniment, are coming up this weekend on Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

Especially noteworthy is how the group emphasizes talent with local and regional ties -– the singers, the conductor, even the instrumentals and the composers. Many are alumni of the University of Wisconsin-School of Music.

For more information, visit the home website of the IVE:

http://www.isthmusvocalensemble.org

Scott MacPherson (below, in a photo by Beate Gersch; unless otherwise noted, photos of the choir are by Portrait Independence Photography) recently gave an email interview to The Ear:

Scott MacPherson older BW

What do you want to tell the public about the isthmus Vocal Ensemble in general? How has it evolved and changed over its history and since its founding?

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble was founded in 2002 as a chamber choir of about 35 voices. It was originally intended to perform one concert in Madison each August, but our audience following has grown such that we now give two performances each year, both on the first weekend August.

The concerts this summer will take place at Luther Memorial Church (below top) at 1021 University Ave. on Friday night, August 2, at 7:30 p.m. and again on Sunday afternoon, August 4, at 3 p.m. at Covenant Presbyterian Church (below bottom) on Segoe Road and Mineral Point Road.

luther memorial church madison

Covenant Presbyterian Church chancel

The choir grew over its first decade to about 55-60 singers and is made up singers from all walks of life, from career musicians and home makers, to professionals in various disciplines and everything in between; all with the same goal—to perform choral music at the highest level.

A community choir of great flexibility with singers from Madison and surrounding areas, the choir specializes in music of all epochs and genres, from Renaissance madrigals and motets, to cutting edge works by living composers.  We gather in Madison for a couple weeks of intense rehearsals and two concerts.

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble rehearsing with Scott MacPherson

What is the program this summer and what do you want to say about individual works and composers? I understand there is a special Mahler arrangement that is intriguing.

I have nicknamed this year’s program after the famous phrase by the late Ed Sullivan: “The Really Big Show!”  The focus of the program is on works for double choir.

At the center of the program is a transcription of one of the “Rueckert-Lieder” by Gustav Mahler (below) — “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” — written for 16 separate voice parts by Clytus Gottwald in 1982.  Originally for solo voice and orchestra, Gottwald’s transcription amazingly captures the ambience and color palette of Mahler’s piece.  The work splits each of the usual choral voices into four parts.  For this reason, I have enlarged the choir to 70 voices this summer.

Isthmus vocal Ensemble men

Isthmus Vocal Ensemble women

Preceding the Mahler are three sets of pieces for double choir:  Sweelinck’s epic setting of Psalm 150, “Or soit loué l’Eternel”; Johann Sebastoan Bach’s (attributed) motet, “Ich lasse dich nicht”; and Johannes Brahms’s Op. 109 motets, “Fest- und Gedenksprüche.”

The second half of the program features organist Kathrine Handford (below), from the Conservatory of Music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, in two English choral works for organ and chorus.  In honor of the centennial of Benjamin Britten’s centennial birthday, we will perform his “Hymn to St. Peter” for organ, choir, and soprano solo.  We will also sing Grayston Ives’ “Canticle of Brother Sun,”a setting of the poem by St. Francis of Assisi.

Kathrine Handford

Closing the concert will be a setting of “O Vos omnes” by UW-Madison alumna and member of the Minneapolis-based Rose Ensemble, Linda Kachelmeier (below top) and a contemporary piece by Haitian composer Sydney Guillaume (below bottom).  “Twa tanbou,” sung in the original Haitian Creole language, tells the story of three drums in a discussion of which one makes the best sound.

Linda Kachelmeier

Sydney Guillaume

What kind of shape in the IVE in right now and what are its future plans? Concerts? Recordings? Other events?

IVE is proud to have made two CD recordings in its history.  “The Choral Music of Andrew Rindfleisch” was recorded in 2004 and released in 2006 and features approximately half of the choral output of this amazing composer (below), a UW-Madison alumnus who now serves as Professor of Composition at Cleveland State University.

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

In 2011, IVE released a live recording of their 2010 summer concert: “An Isthmus Christmas.”

Our highest achievement came in February 2012 when we sang a coveted performance at the North Central American Choral Directors Conference, held in Madison.  Hundreds of choral conductors and singers from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas attended our concert, which really put IVE “on the map” outside of Madison.

Here is a sample of our singing, a YouTube video of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble performing Josef Rheinberger’s “Evening Song” at Luther Memorial Church on Aug. 3, 2012:


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