The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: The UW-Madison Pro Arte Quartet performs music by Edward Elgar with the Middleton High School Orchestra in a FREE concert this Thursday night

March 15, 2017
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison 900 University Bay Drive, features the ensemble New Muse with Danielle Breisach, flute; Peter Miliczky, violin; Joshua Dieringer, viola; Ben Bauer, cello; and Yana Avedyan, piano, in new music by Nathan Froebe, Benjamin Boyajian, and Jonathan Posthuma. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s acclaimed Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) will travel west on Thursday – all the way to the suburb of Middleton.

That where the Pro Arte will perform Sir Edward Elgar’s “Introduction and Allegro” with the Middleton High School Orchestra (below) under conductor Steve Kurr, who also conducts the Middleton Community Orchestra. (You can hear the Elgar piece in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The FREE and UNTICKETED concert is this Thursday night from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to the high school, 2100 Bristol Street.

Conductor Steve Kurr says this about the program:

“The rest of the program includes Rossini’s Overture to “The Barber of Seville,” the “Colonel Bogey March” and the “Peer Gynt Suite No. 1” by Edvard Grieg.

“Also on the program are the three winners of this year’s Concerto-Aria competition: Marimbist Alex Warholic plays the first movement of the Violin Concerto in A Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach; soprano Chloe Cole sings “V’adoro pupille” from the opera “Julius Caesar:” by George Frideric Handel; and violinist Rachael Lee performs the “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” by Camille Saint-Saens.

“The concert begins with two works performed by the MHS Honors Wind Ensemble.

“The Elgar is such a great work, and underperformed. The Pro Arte musicians are such great inspirations to our high school musicians.”


Classical music: National Public Radio (NPR) names its Top 10 classical recordings of 2016. The Ear compares it to other lists of the Best of the Year

December 27, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Got a Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa gift card to spend?

Want to take advantage of post-holiday and year-end and New Year sales?

Here is the list of the Top 10 classic music recordings from National Public Radio (NPR), which critic Tom Huizenga (below top) wrote for the blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

huizenga_tom_2011

npr

It emphasizes unknown performers – like soprano Barbara Hannigan (below in a photo by Elmer Haas) and contemporary or new music. But it features piano music, orchestra music, chamber music and opera. And it has generous sound samples from the chosen recordings:

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/12/22/504694907/a-year-of-listening-desperately-10-classical-albums-that-saved-2016

soprano-barbara-hannigan-cr-elmer-de-haas

Over the past month, The Ear has featured several other Best of 2016 lists. So here they are for purposes of comparison and crosschecking.

For example, on several lists you will find conductor Daniel Barenboim‘s recording of the Symphony No. 1 by Edward Elgar and pianist Daniil Trifonov‘s two-CD recording of the complete piano etudes by Franz Liszt — and justifiably so. (You can hear the trailer for Trifonov’s Liszt etudes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is the post-Thanksgiving guide from The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/classical-music-here-is-the-new-york-times-holiday-gift-guide-of-classical-music-for-2016/

Here is a list of nominations for the 2017 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/10/classical-music-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-2017-grammy-awards-they-make-a-great-holiday-gift-list-of-gives-and-gets/

And here is a link to a list by the critics of The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/20/classical-music-here-are-the-best-classical-recordings-of-2016-as-chosen-by-critics-for-the-new-york-times/


Classical music: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will perform its second-to-last concert with maestro Edo de Waart at the Wisconsin Union Theater next May

June 22, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Union Theater has announced some news:

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra with conductor Edo de Waart and Principal Cello Susan Babini will perform in Shannon Hall on Sunday afternoon, May 21, 2017 at 2:30 p.m.

edodewaart1

The program includes the Overture to the opera “Don Giovanni,” K. 527, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; “Schelomo, A Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra” by Ernest Bloch; and the Symphony No. 1 in A-flat major, Opus 55, by Sir Edward Elgar.

Ticket prices are as follows: General public tickets are $49, $45 and $25, Union Member and non-UW students tickets are $44, $40 and $25, UW Faculty and Staff tickets cost $46, $42 and $25, UW-Madison student tickets cost $15, and youth tickets (age 6-18) cost $20, limit 2 with the purchase of a full-priced ticket.

Tickets can be bought online, by phone at 608-265-ARTS (2787) or in person, see locations and hours here

This performance will be conductor and former music director Edo de Wart’s the second-t0-last concert as MSO’s chief conductor. (His final ones are performances of the Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler on the following weekend in Milwaukee ) He has served as conductor also for the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

De Waart was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal, and was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia. He is also a knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion. De Waart also has vast experience in opera conducting, from the Santa Fe Opera House and the Metropolitan Opera to the Royal Opera House.

The performance is presented by the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Performing Arts Committee.


Classical music: What music would you play to honor and mourn the dead, wounded and traumatized victims of the gay night club shooting in Orlando, Florida?

June 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a week now.

A very long, hard and emotional week.

The Ear has heard some classical music dedicated to the victims — 49 killed, some 50 wounded and countless traumatized — of the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando, Florida, that took place one week ago. (Below is a vigil in support of the LGBT community.)

Orlando shooting vigil crowd 1

Others might choose a standard like the famous “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber. It is undeniably moving and perfectly appropriate.

But so far the piece that most moved The Ear, unexpectedly, was a familiar one that aired on Wisconsin Public Radio: the “Nimrod” variation from the “Enigma Variations” by Sir Edward Elgar.

The Ear hears tenderness, gentleness and even love in the music. But in it he also hears strength, resilience and pride as well as sorrow, acceptance and resignation.

Plus, he likes the idea of enigma that is attached to it, given all the issues and questions — terrorism, Islamic radicalization and extremism, homophobia, self-hatred, hate crimes, gun control, protests, mass grieving — that still surround the incident and remain to be solved.

You can listen to the piece of music in the YouTube video at the bottom that features conductor Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It has more than 3 million hits.

But The Ear is also sure that there is a great deal of other music that would suit the purpose. They include:

The passions, oratorios and cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The Requiems of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Giuseppe Verdi and Gabriel Faure.

The symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky and Antonin Dvorak.

The string quartets, piano trios, duo sonatas and other chamber music by Joseph Haydn and Franz Schubert as well as the solo piano music of Chopin, Schumann and so many others.

The masses of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.

The songs of Schubert and arias and choruses from all kinds of operas, but especially those of Giacomo Puccini.

And on and on.

Leave your personal choice, with a YouTube link if possible, and your reason for choosing it in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music education: The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras perform their spring concerts this Saturday and Sunday.

May 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will wind up their 50th anniversary season when they present the final concert series of the season — the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family Spring Concerts — on this Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22.

The concert series will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus in the George Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, in Madison.

WYSO concerts generally run about an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.

Tickets are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for young people 18 and under.

Almost 400 young musicians will display their talents to the community during four concerts.

The concert series will drop its downbeat at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, when Sinfonietta (below), under the baton of Mark Leiser, takes the stage. The group will perform the Poet and Peasant Overture by Franz von Suppe; the Suite for String Orchestra on Old English Songs by Ritter George; the Adagio from Symphony No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff; As Summer Was Just Beginning (Song for James Dean) by Daehn; and Final Quest composed by Chisam.

Sinfonietta strings

Following Sinfonietta, Christine Mata-Eckel will lead the Concert Orchestra (below) on stage to perform Kallalanta by William Harbinson, Peter Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet and finally Jacob’s Fantasia on the Alleluia Hymn.

wyso concert orchestra brass

The Harp Ensemble (below), under the direction of Karen Beth Atz, will also perform at this concert. It will be performing Courante CLXXXIII by Michael Praetorius and Toward the Sun by Izmaylov.

WYSO Harp Ensemble 2011

For the 4 p.m. concert on Saturday, May 21, Vicki Jenks will direct the Percussion Ensemble (below) as it gets the concert started. It will perform Dark Flight by Campbell and their annual performance of Londonderry Air (“Danny Boy”) in honor of graduating seniors.

WYSO percussion Ensemble 2013

Following Percussion Ensemble, the Philharmonia Orchestra (bel0w), under the direction of Michelle Kaebisch, will take the stage. It will perform the final movement of Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 and Espana by Emmanuel Chabrier.

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

The orchestra will also perform two concertos featuring the Philharmonia Orchestra Concerto Competition Winners. Pianist Antonio Wu (below top) will perform Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto and violinist Monona Suzuki (below bottom) will perform the Carmen Fantasy for Solo Violin by Pablo de Sarasate.

Antonio Wu

Monona Suzuki

On Sunday, May 22, at 2 p.m. WYSO’s Brass Choirs (below) under the direction of Brett Keating will start the show performing works by George Frideric Handel, Olson, Heinrich Schutz and more.

WYSO Brass Choir

Following Brass Choirs, Youth Orchestra (below) with WYSO music director James Smith will perform four concertos along with Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.

WYSO Youth Orchestra

Violinist Thea Valmadrid (below top) will perform Tzigane for Solo Violin by Maurice Ravel; violinist Aurora Greane (below second) will play the first movement of the Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky; pianist Audrianna Wu (below third) will perform the final movement of the Piano Concerto by Edvard Greig; and cellist Tatiana Tandias (below bottom) will perform the first movement of the Cello Concerto by Sir Edward Elgar.

Thea Valmadrid

Aurora Greane

Audrianna Wu

Tatiana Tandias

 

These concerts are generously supported by the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family, along with funds from Dane County, the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, The Evjue Foundation, Inc., charitable arm of The Capital Times, W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation and Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. This project is also supported in part by additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the State of Wisconsin, and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Classical music: Heard enough about Prince? Read about violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Plus, a FREE voice recital commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare is at noon on Friday

April 28, 2016
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, located at 900 University Bay Drive, features tenor Adam Shelton and pianist Vincent Fuh in the program “Assassinating Shakespeare.” The concert features music by Gerald Finzi, Roger Quilter, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Schubert and Dominick Argento.

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s a week later but news about the premature death at 57 on April 21 of the influential superstar pop rocker Prince continues to preoccupy the media.

To flood the media, really.

Prince with guitar

The Ear doesn’t want to take away from Prince and his substantial artistic achievements. Nor does The Ear mean to belittle Prince’s premature death, which is sad and unfortunate but hardly unusual in the world of pop music — and not really tragic in the larger scheme of things, given how the world is filled today with terrorism and refugees.

But he does think maybe a little perspective about this celebrity or star is required.

Does anyone else share The Ear’s impatience with such saturation coverage and think that the media have gone overboard? There have been so many stories, so much repetition, such meaningless follow-up and continuing coverage that it almost belittles Prince’s death with endless trivialities and predictable banalities.

So take a break.

Here is a story – from the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR or National Public Radio — about this past weekend’s 100th anniversary of the April 22, 1916 birth of the famed British violinist, teacher and polymath Sir Yehudi Menuhin (below top as a child, from the Underwood Archives, and below bottom as an older man in a photo by Erich Auerbach for Getty Images).

yehudi menuhin young underwood archives

Yehudi Menuhin Erich Auerbach Getty Images

It is filled with inspiring details that command your respect for this great artist and humanitarian, who was international in his interests and many of whose accomplishments The Ear didn’t know. You can hear him playing Bach in the YouTube video at the t bottom.

It is written by Tom Huizenga and features a lot of commentary and recollection by the gifted violinist Daniel Hope (below), who played music of European Jewish composers exiled in Hollywood during World War II by Hitler and the Nazis coming to power, with the Madison Symphony Orchestra two seasons ago.

Daniel Hope playing

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/04/22/474824320/yehudi-menuhins-potent-blend-of-music-humanism-and-politics


Classical music: Mixing old and new music. Violinist Hilary Hahn talks about the works she commissioned and will play alongside classics when she performs Sunday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater

April 20, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger 

There are many great violinists playing today. But arguably the most important and innovative is 36-year-old Hilary Hahn (below), the thoughtful virtuoso who returns to perform a MUST-HEAR recital in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater at 7:30 p.m. this coming Sunday night.

The last two recitals there by Hahn were two of the most memorable live chamber music performances The Ear has ever heard.

Hilary Hahn 2016

Tickets are $27.50 to $50.50. UW-Madison students are $10.

Here is a link to information about tickets, the program and audio samples:

http://uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season15-16/hilary-hahn.html

During her 20-year career, Hahn – who often mixes the old and new both in live performances and on recordings — has consistently turned in astounding performances of the violin repertoire, including classics. Those works include concertos and sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Niccolo Paganini, Johannes Brahms, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Charles Ives, Jean Sibelius, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Samuel Barber, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Leonard Bernstein and others.

But she also frequently commissions and adds new works to the repertoire, including a concerto by Edgar Meyer and a Pulitzer Prize-winning concerto by Jennifer Higdon, who teaches composition at the Curtis Institute of music where Hahn studied. Plus, she is a talented and charming “postcard” blogger and interviewer.

Both sides of Hilary Hahn’s artistry – the classic and the contemporary — will be on display during her Madison recital. The very busy Hahn (below, in a photo by Peter Miller) recently agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:

Hilary Hahn 2016 CR Peter Miller

You have long been known as an innovative artist. What are your new and upcoming projects, including recordings and commissions?

I’m in the middle of a 14-month-long artist residency at the Vienna Konzerthaus. It’s my first such experience, so I feel like a kid in a candy store, getting to try out ideas sequentially that I would otherwise have to stretch over several years.

I’m excited to include among my residency performing as soloist with five different orchestras in the same hall, as well as giving a recital there and developing local initiatives to bring the community and classical music even closer together. Next year, I will be in residence in Seattle and Lyon. It’s been fun seeing what residency activities I want to carry over and what I can add that is specific to each city.

As far as commissions go, over this season and next, I’m world-premiering and touring a significant new contribution to the solo violin repertoire, Six Partitas by Antón García Abril (below), written for me.

That is a meaningful project for me, because I sensed that Mr. García Abril would write a fantastic set of pieces if I could convince him to take on the assignment. He decided to do it and the music turned out to be more wonderful and inspiring to play than I could have imagined. It feels like those phrases breathe with me and the notes fit in my hands.

In addition, I am in the process of wrapping up the original trajectory of my project, In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores. After some concerts on this upcoming tour, as encores, my recital partner Cory Smythe and I will be giving world premieres of the Honorable Mentions from my Encores contest.

Finally, in the fall, the complete edition of the sheet music for all 27 original works will be published as a single edition, with my fingerings, bowings and performance notes.

Anton García Abril BW

Is there an underlying unity or purpose to your program of works by Mozart, Bach, García Abril, Copland and Davidson?

I hope the listeners will find their own versions of unity and purpose in the program. The pieces weren’t assembled randomly, but then again, everyone listens differently.

García Abril’s Six Partitas, of which I will play No. 1, entitled “Heart,” are solo polyphonic works. The violin alone carries multiple melodic lines, as well as providing its own harmonies. Johann Sebastian Bach (below top) wrote his polyphonic Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin in 1720. I felt it was important to carry forward this particular type of composition into the present day, so I commissioned Mr. García Abril (below bottom, in a photo by Julio Ficha) to create this set of works. (You can hear Hilary Hahn interview Anton Garcia Abril in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

His writing for violin is compelling, fluid, emotional, clever and expressively rich in a way that I felt needed to be explored further. Especially as this is the premiere tour of his Partita No. 1, I wanted to juxtapose the new work with one of Bach’s, namely the Third Sonata with its complex and multifaceted fugue.

As for the duo pieces on the program, the compositional styles — though they span 250 years — have a certain openness in common: the writing is not densely layered, leaving lots of room for imagination.

Bach1

Anton García Abril CR Julio Ficha

What about the works by Mozart and Copland?

Mozart’s set of sonatas for keyboard and violin is one of the most extensive for this instrumentation, and since I was a student, I’ve been adding at least one to my repertoire annually. It’s wonderful to explore such a prolific composer’s work over a long stretch of time. This particular sonata vacillates among stormy drama, lyricism and playfulness.

The piece by Aaron Copland (below) is gorgeous, revealing. In this sonata, Copland’s musical language is clearly recognizable, but the texture is more sparse than in his famous larger-ensemble works, making it boldly direct and engrossing to listen to.

aaron copland

And the music by Tina Davidson?

The work by Tina Davidson (below) follows on the tonality of the Copland, but the composer’s treatment of the music goes in an entirely different direction. “Blue Curve of the Earth” was written in Wyoming during an artist residency, and was inspired by a photo of the edge of the Earth from space. The music is dreamy yet dimensional, angular yet lush. “Blue Curve of the Earth” is from the Encores project.

Tina Davidson

What would you like the public to know about composers Antón García Abril and Tina Davidson and their violin music or music in general?

I like to picture where pieces were written; the surroundings can add another dimension to the music. Environment influences the creative process. The studio is the private stage. Antón works in a studio outside of Madrid that his son, the architect by the same name, designed for him. Tina is based out of a refashioned church in Pennsylvania, with vaulted ceilings and a garden.

Both write beautifully for voice. Since violin can be a lyrical instrument and is tonally varied, capable of both sustaining and articulating, the ability to write expressively for voice transfers to the violin. Also, I have the impression that both composers start from a strong conceptual point with their works. When I play their music, the big line is the first thing that jumps out at me; the myriad fine details support the gestures.

Hilary Hahn playing 2 horizontal

If you play an encore or two, will they be from the ones you commissioned a couple of years ago and won a Grammy for?

That’s the plan! I feel very close to those pieces. Great encores exist from previous centuries, too; I never rule out the classics.

Why did you commission 27 short encores?

I began to notice that new encore pieces were not being showcased as much as other types of contemporary works. Shorter pieces remain a crucial part of every violinist’s education and repertoire, and I believed that potential new favorites should be encouraged and performed as well.

How successful have they been with the public and with other artists?

The public embraced the project. The music contained within the Encores is varied and imaginative. Each composer had a different concept of what an encore can add to today’s musical landscape.

I think every listener can find at least one work that is particularly poignant. I want the audience to discover these pieces for themselves. It is thrilling to listen to music that you have never heard before and, uninfluenced by other people’s opinions, be free to feel your own response.

This project is something I’ve been working on for a long time; I would estimate that my direct involvement in all of the different parts will wind up having a 15-year arc. What I have learned on musical and creative levels from working with the composers will stay with me for my whole career, and the logistical lessons from organizing such a big project will influence my future work.

Most importantly, I hope the Encores themselves will continue in the active repertoire beyond my lifetime. That will be up to other performers, of course.

Hilary Hahn Encores CD cover

You have played here several times, both concertos and solo recitals. Is there anything you would like to say about performing in Madison and about Madison audiences?

I really enjoy Madison itself. It’s in a beautiful part of the country. I’ll never forget the first time I visited, in the winter, when the city was covered by snow and one of the sidewalks featured a table topped by a tower of knit hats and sweaters. As for the Madison audience, their curiosity and involvement are energizing.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

Hello, everyone!


Classical music: UW-Madison Professor Marc Vallon offers a personal appreciation of the pioneering French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez who has died at 90. Plus, this Sunday afternoon Wisconsin Public Radio starts a 13-week series of concerts by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

January 9, 2016
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ALERT: This Sunday at 2 p.m., Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN-FM 88.7 in the Madison area) will start a new weekly two-hour broadcast series. It features 13 weeks of live recorded concerts given by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. This Sunday’s music, conducted by MSO music director Edo de Waart, includes three outstanding works: the Four Sea Interludes from the opera “Peter Grimes” by Benjamin Britten; the beautiful Cello Concerto by Sir Edward Elgar with soloist Alisa Weilerstein; and the lyrical Symphony No. 8 in G Major by Antonin Dvorak. 

For more information about the series and performers, visit:

http://www.wpr.org/programs/milwaukee-symphony-orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

This past Tuesday, avant-garde French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (below) died at his home in Baden Baden, Germany. He was 90. No cause of death was given.

Pierre Boulez obit portrait

Just last year saw celebrations of Boulez, on the occasion of his 90th  birthday, around the world.

That included one here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music by bassoonist and Professor Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) who studied and worked with Boulez and the famous Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris.

Professor Vallon generously agreed to write a personal reminiscence and appreciation of Pierre Boulez for The Ear.

Here it is:

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

By Marc Vallon

I had the privilege to work with Pierre Boulez in the early 1980s, a couple of years after he founded the Ensemble Intercontemporain (below) in Paris, the first-ever fully salaried ensemble devoted to contemporary music.

Ensemble Intercontemporain

Boulez was a very demanding conductor (below) and everyone would come to the rehearsals very prepared. If you were not, you would likely take the sting of his sarcastic humor.

I remember a situation when the flutist kept fumbling on a tricky passage in Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony for Wind Instruments. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, he made the mistake of saying, “I don’t understand, it worked perfectly at home,” to which Boulez replied, “Well then, perhaps we should play the concert in your living room.”

Conductor and composer Pierre Boulez from France conducts the Lucerne Festival Acadamy Orchestra during a concert at the Lucerne Festival in Lucerne, Switzerland, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2006. (AP Photo/Keystone, Sigi Tischler)

Conductor and composer Pierre Boulez from France conducts the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra during a concert at the Lucerne Festival in Lucerne, Switzerland, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2006. (AP Photo/Keystone, Sigi Tischler)

I was involved in the first performance of the work often considered as Boulez’s masterpiece, Répons for orchestra and live electronics (heard at bottom in a YouTube video). It was a fascinating window into Boulez’s compositional process.

During the two-week rehearsal period, the parts would be collected after each session and would come back on our music stands the next day with numerous additions of grace notes and changed rhythms and dynamics. The longer we worked, the more intricate and multi-layered the piece became.

This is not surprising if one remembers Boulez’s definition of good music: It is complex and can be looked at from so many different angles that it ultimately resists full analysis.

Another important contribution that Boulez brought to the French musical scene, and the artistic world in general, was the often explosive radicalism of his ideas.

From “Schoenberg is dead” to “We have to blow up the opera houses,” who else would proclaim the end of serialism or attack the conservatism of established opera houses in such provocative terms?

Boulez’s public aversion to any artistic conservatism was, in the 1970s, a much-needed antidote to an international musical scene that was often too easily tempted to fill concert halls by programming symphonies by Tchaikovsky again and again.

It is still needed today. “Boulez est mort,” but his fight for the endless renewing of musical creation should go on.

For more obituaries and appreciations of Pierre Boulez, who served as music director of the New York Philharmonic and was a major guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, here are four sources:

The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/07/arts/music/pierre-boulez-french-composer-dies-90.html?_r=0

National Public Radio or NPR:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/01/06/462176284/french-composer-pierre-boulez-dies-at-90

ABC-TV NEWS:

http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/pierre-boulez-leading-figure-classical-music-dies-90-36121322

And here is a terrific and insightful personal appreciation of Pierre Boulez, with a link to current issues and events in classical music, by Anthony Tommasini, the senior classical music critic for The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/07/arts/music/recalling-pierre-boulez-a-conductor-composer-with-an-ear-to-the-alternative.html?_r=0

 


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS: Samuel Barber’s “Canzonetta” for Oboe and String Orchestra. Plus a FREE one-hour hymn sing in Overture Hall is this Saturday morning at 11 a.m.

March 5, 2015
3 Comments

ALERT: A FREE one-hour community Hymn Sing will take place this Saturday morning at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall with the Overture Concert Organ played by guest Joe Chrisman. The event is put on jointly by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Overture Center for the Arts.

Overture Concert Organ overview

By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s YOU MUST HEAR THIS comes from a recent concert that I attended.

I first heard this work — the Canzonetta for Oboe and String Orchestra by the 20th-century American composer Samuel Barber (below top) — at the concert by the Middleton Community Orchestra (below bottom) on Wednesday night a week ago.

barber 1

Kyle Knox conducts MCO

So far as The Ear knows, the piece has never been programmed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra or, more appropriately, by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Not that it is too late. It could stand being programmed again and having a wider hearing. I think it would even be welcome at Concerts on the Square.

I also can’t recall ever hearing it at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, although it seems a perfect choice and could well have been part of a student recital with a piano instead of the orchestra.

In any case, the Canzonetta for Oboe and String Orchestra was a last work -– the middle movement on an unfinished oboe concerto, much like British composer Gerald Finzi’s beautiful “Eclogue” was the middle movement of an uncompleted piano concerto.

The piece has all the hallmarks of Barber, who is best known for his Adagio for Strings. It is neo-Romantic, melodic, tonal and wholly accessible while being unmistakably modern. It is poignant and bittersweet, like many moments in the gorgeous and widely performed Violin Concerto that Barber composed.

In fact, some of the harmonies in the Canzonetta remind The Ear of the sublime and moving “Nimrod” Variation in Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations.

I am not alone in being introduced to this work for the first time. A few very seasoned musicians and music fans in the audience I spoke to had never heard it either.

But it was given a splendid performance by the MCO under conductor Kyle Knox and guest oboist Andy Olson (below), who was trained at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin, and who now works at Epic Systems near Madison.

Andy Olson oboe

Here is a link to a rave review that John W. Barker (below), who normally writes for Isthmus, did for this blog:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/classical-music-the-middleton-community-orchestra-under-conductor-kyle-knox-turns-in-its-most-impressive-performance-so-far-the-brass-proves-especially-noteworthy/

John Barker

So here is a link to a YouTube video of the piece itself — the seven-minute “canzonetta” or little song, as the title announces. It is sadly telling of the work’s fate that you cannot find a version with either a well-known oboist or well-known string orchestra.

Enjoy and let us know what you think of it.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music Q&A: Native son pianist Thomas Kasdorf talks about playing solo recitals, chamber music and the Grieg Piano Concerto with the Middleton Community Orchestra, which also closes out its fourth season on Wednesday night with Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations, a Romance for violin and orchestra by Dvorak, and a suite by de Falla.

June 2, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Wednesday night, June 4, at 7:30 p.m. the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will close out its fourth season.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The concert will take place in the comfortable Middleton Performing Arts Center (below), located at 2100 Bristol Street and attached to Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC1

The program is very appealing and ambitious. It features some popular works that are also first-rate music: the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg; a Romance for violin and orchestra by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak; the enthralling “Enigma” Variations by the British composer Sir Edward Elgar; and a suite of dances from “The Three-Cornered Hat” by Spanish composer Manuel de Falla.

The conductor is Steve Kurr. The soloists are both graduates of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music: pianist Thomas Kasdorf, who hails from Middleton and who is returning to perform with the MCO; and concertmaster Alice Bartsch.

Tickets are $10 general admission. All students get in free.

Tickets are available at Willy St. Co-op West three weeks prior to each concert and at the door on the night of the concert.

Student tickets are available at the door only on the night of the show. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m.

A free informal reception, where you can meet and greet the performers, follows the performance.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

Here is a link to the website with information about the MCO, how to support it, how to join it and what its next season will offer:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org/home

And here is a link to a previous review by me -– guest critic John W. Barker has done many other reviews for this blog and you can use the blog’s search engine to find them. My review will help to explain why The Ear so looks forward to the upcoming concert:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/classical-music-review-let-us-now-praise-amateur-music-makers-and-restoring-sociability-to-art-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-liked-and-you-should-attend-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

Pianist Thomas Kasdorf recently answered an email Q&A for The Ear:

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

Can you briefly introduce yourself, your achievements and current or future plans, and your personal history including how and when you started playing the piano and the Aha Moment (artist, piece) when you knew you wanted to do it professionally?

I am 27 years old. I grew up in Middleton and completed my Bachelor’s of Music in Piano Performance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music where I studied with Professor Christopher Taylor.

I was an inaugural member of the Perlman Piano Trio (below), which gives scholarships to musicians at the UW-Madison with a particular interest in chamber music.

Currently, I am working as co-Artistic Director and Musical Director for Middleton Players Theatre on their summer 2014 season productions of “Rent,” which plays June 27–July 5, and “A Chorus Line,” which runs August 8-16.

In the fall I will begin my graduate studies with Professor Martha Fischer at the UW-Madison studying Collaborative Piano as a Paul Collins Fellow.

I started playing piano in the first grade. My grandmother was a choir director at our church and so I was constantly hearing music. One day, I decided that I wanted to play and sat down at the piano to try to fake my way into it alongside her.

Regarding an Aha! moment, I had several. The first time I played in recital, I was so at ease with the whole process and enjoyed the fact that people were listening to everything I was doing, the control and the demonstrative ability to express myself for an audience. It was something I knew I would never be able to give up.

Perlman-Trio Thomas Kasdorf piano, Eleanor Bartsch violin and Maureen Kelly cello

How does playing the piano differ for solo repertoire, chamber music and concertos, all of which you have done? Do you have a favorite genre and advice to other pianists about each kind of playing?

That’s an interesting question.

I’m not sure how to express what is different when I approach these genres, or if I even do think of them differently. I think the scale of audience expectations changes between them.

If you are playing a full-length solo recital, there is less room for hiding. It is you, the music and an audience.

But in chamber music and concertos, which I find to be very linked, there is direct communication between you and the other musicians, or between you and a conductor and the other musicians, and that communication is linked to the audience’s perception.

I think that when I approach any piece of music, I think about the soundscape of it, the soundscape for me at the keyboard, the soundscape for the audience in whatever seat in whatever venue.

My advice to other pianists is to listen intently to what you are producing, and to what is being produced around you, and not to settle for a single sound that you do not feel fully expresses what you want — in any genre. (Below, Thomas Kasdorf is seen playing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488, with the Middleton Community Orchestra.)

Middletopn Community Orchestra Thomas Kasdorf playing

What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto by Edvard Grieg (below)? Why is it so popular?

I fell in love with the Grieg a long time ago. One of my first teachers and I played this old piano, four-hands version of the themes from the first movement, eased off in technical difficulty but retaining the grandeur and emotion.

The first movement of Grieg (Editor’s Note: Readers can hear it played by Arthur Rubinstein in a YouTube video at the bottom) was the first piece that I performed with an orchestra, when I won the Madison Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition, and that experience has a lingering memory of pride; performing in the then Oscar Mayer Theater  in the then Madison Civic Center (where I was constantly hearing and seeing events all through my childhood), with the orchestra so dear to my heart, the MSO.

I think that there exists a public familiarity with the Grieg, and its popularity is probably due to the fact that it really does possess such a wide array of colors and textures. There are so many different mood shifts over the course of the piece, and juxtapositions between repose and struggle, lyricism and percussiveness, between the soloist and the orchestra. Plus, it seems so accessible and consistently intense for the audience.

edvard grieg

Is there anything else you would like to add or say?

I urge people to come and listen to the Middleton Community Orchestra. This is my third time as a soloist with them, and I can honestly say that there is something unique happening in Middleton with this organization.

The orchestra is made up not only of a fabulous bunch of musicians, but also of people who really do their all to express their passion for the music for their audience.

Also on this program is the phenomenal violinist Alice Bartsch (below), their concertmaster, soloing on an incredible “Romance” by Anton Dvorak that I just heard in rehearsal for the first time last night and was blown away by.

Hearing the two soloists is well worth the admission. But the two orchestral works in this concert –- British composer Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations” and the dance suite from “The Three-Cornered Hat” by Spanish Manuel De Falla — are also amazing and challenging, and a lot of fun for both players and audience.

Alice Bartsch

 

 

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