The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here’s bad news — There will be NO string orchestra this season to replace the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chamber Orchestra this year – or maybe next or maybe ever.

September 3, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Some bad news reached The Ear yesterday, on the first day of classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The following is an official announcement from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

It comes from the administration via Professor James Smith (below), who heads the program in orchestral conducting.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Writes Barbara Mahling: “I have some disappointing and sad news from Jim Smith. There are not enough string players for this new string orchestra, not enough violas or basses to make it work.”

“It is currently listed on the timetable, so that will need to be changed. It will not exist either term. We can hope for next year.

“Thanks,
“Barb Mahling
UW-Madison School of Music”

You may recall that a string orchestra seemed to be a temporary solution to the unexpected dissolution of the UW Chamber Orchestra (below, in 2012, and at bottom on YouTube in the opening of the Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.)

UW Symphony Orchestra 9-2012

The UW Symphony Orchestra (below top, with student conductor Kyle Knox on the podium) will continue to exist and will give its first performance on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 28, at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall The program features UW visiting voice professor, soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn, from Vienna, (below bottom) in Gustav Mahler’s Rückert Songs. The orchestra will also perform the Symphony No. 1 “Spring” by Robert Schumann.

Kyle Knox and UW Symphony Orchestra

Elizabeth Hagedorn 1

Here is a link to the UW School of Music (SOM) Calendar of Events:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

And here are two links to background stories about the UW Chamber Orchestra and the string orchestra that was supposed to replace  it and do some impressive repertoire, including Mahler’s orchestra version of the famous “Death and the Maiden” string quartet by Franz Schubert as well as intriguing works by Igor Stravinsky and Bela Bartok.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/classical-music-the-uw-chamber-orchestra-will-play-this-sunday-night-but-then-will-be-axed-and-fall-silent-next-season-is-this-au-revoir-or-adieu/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/classical-music-the-university-of-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-gets-a-reprieve-thanks-to-compromise-and-repertoire-adjustments-or-so-it-seems-right-now-that-makes-the-ear-happy-and-should-do-the/

The Ear finds that the announcement leaves him with some important and disturbing questions.

What is the solution to the problem? More scholarships to attract more talented students, as one source has said.

How will the lack of some smaller ensemble – either a chamber orchestra or a string orchestra – means for the prestige and national ranking of the UW School of Music?

How will the move affect recruiting of new players in strings and other areas?

Will the UW Symphony Orchestra end up doing double duty for the campus and community UW Choral Union (below), which usually alternates between the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra, depending on the work they are singing? (Below is a photo of the UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra performing the “Missa Solemnis” by Ludwig van Beethoven in 2010.)

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

What small orchestral group will perform smaller-scale orchestral works, either by itself or in collaboration with others?

And does the concluding phrase “We can hope for next year” mean that the chamber orchestra is dissolved forever? That the best we can hope for is another chance at an all-string orchestra?

No doubt details will emerge in the coming days and months.

But it is all too bad.

What do you think of the decision?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra will perform works by Mendelssohn and Vaughan Williams this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

November 21, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know the name Mikko Utevsky. The young violist and conductor is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which will perform its fourth season next summer. He was recently named the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra. The ensemble has an out-of-date website here (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest preview of a concert this coming weekend by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra. I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour two summers ago with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the preview by Mikko Utevsky (below):

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Utevsky

This weekend, UW-Madison Choral Director Beverly Taylor (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) brings a wonderful and varied program to the stage of Mills Hall, consisting of a pair of choral and orchestral works performed by the UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra (both below bottom, the latter fresh off of a critically acclaimed performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony and the Brahms Violin Concerto with soloist Rachel Barton Pine).

Beverly Taylor Katrin Talbot

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

The choral concert, which can be heard Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. — and in which, for full disclosure, this writer will be singing — features an unusual pair of secular and half-sacred cantatas: “Die Erste Walpurgisnacht” (The First Walpurgis Night) by Felix Mendelssohn (bellow top) and “Dona Nobis Pacem” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Mendelssohn

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

Mendelssohn’s work, by far the stranger of the two, is on a text by the great German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (below), and is set for soloists (UW student Caitlin Miller, German tenor Klaus Georg, and UW student bass-baritone Erik Larson), chorus and symphony orchestra.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1828

It tells the story of a group of Druids who, by virtue of their guile and some clever trickery, scare away the Christian soldiers who occupy their land so they can celebrate May Day in peace. While the plot is set in May, some of the music today feels more appropriate for Halloween, particularly as the Druids masquerade as devil-worshippers and demons to frighten the Christians. Left to their own devices at last, the druids end the cantata in a blaze of light.

The poet had intended this text for musical treatment, but had expected his friend Carl Friedrich Zelter (below) to set it. Zelter tried twice, but only Mendelssohn eventually completed a setting in 1831 (which he revised extensively in 1843), probably attracted to the nocturnal mischief that at times recalls both atmosphere and Mendelssohn’s music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The work runs about 35 minutes.

carl friedrich zelter

The second half of the program consists of a better-known 20th-century masterwork — of similar length and vastly greater weight — that treads the line between the sacred and the secular: “Dona Nobis Pacem” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

This cantata, which will feature soprano and visiting UW professor of voice Elizabeth Hagedorn (below top) and student baritone Jordan Wilson as soloists along with the chorus and orchestra, is compiled from a variety of texts, primarily Biblical selections and poems of Walt Whitman (below bottom).

Elizabeth Hagedorn 1

Walt Whitman 2

Composed in 1936, it is both a spiritual and human prayer for peace, mourning the dead of the First World War (below) and praying that there will not be a Second.

The Latin “Dona Nobis Pacem” (“Grant us peace”) appears throughout the work as a refrain, interjected by the soprano soloist, who also features prominently in the first movement (“Agnus Dei”).

World War I trenches

The second movement, “Beat, beat drums!” portrays the chaos of war, and the third and fourth (“Reconciliation,” featuring the baritone, and a choral “Dirge for Two Veterans”) mourn the senseless loss of life that it brings. The fifth movement begins with a John Bright speech, “The Angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land,” and proceeds into a selection from the book of Jeremiah.

An optimistic English setting of the Gloria follows, and the work concludes quietly with the “Dona Nobis Pacem” sung by chorus a cappella and the soprano soloist. (See the YouTube video at the bottom.)

It is a profoundly moving work, with beautiful music and poetry, and can serve to remind us in times of strife that the truest service to the memory of the fallen is to strive for the end of conflict and the coming of peace.

I hope you will join us Saturday or Sunday for a program that is not to be missed.

Performances are in Mills Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, on Saturday night, Nov. 23, at 8 p.m.; and on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 24, at 2 p.m. 

Tickets are $15 for general admission, $8 for students and seniors. They are available by calling (608) 265-2787 and at the door.

Please note: There are sports games Friday night and parking will be difficult, so leave early and allow extra time for delays.


Classical music Q&A: University of Wisconsin conductor James Smith discusses the program of Beethoven, Stravinsky and Sibelius that the UW Symphony Orchestra will perform at a FREE concert this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Also, UW soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn will sing Mahler songs in a FREE concert Thursday afternoon at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, plus a WORT-FM show on Thursday morning highlights the Madison Symphony Orchestra and its music director John DeMain.

September 25, 2013
1 Comment

TWO ALERTS: On this Thursday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, UW-Madison dramatic soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn (below) —  filling in for soprano Julia Faulkner, who is on a leave-of-absence this academic year — will make her local debut. The FREE concert features her singing Gustav Mahler‘s moving “Rueckert Songs” with UW pianist Martha Fischer. It is part of the Wisconsin Science Festival that combines science lectures and live classical music  in the SoundWaves program that is organized and directed by UW horn professor Daniel Grabois. For more information, visit the outstanding “Fanfare” blog at the UW School of Music: Here is a link:

 http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/soundwaves9-26-2013/

And here are links to more stories about Elizabeth Hagedorn:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/classical-music-wisconsin-born-and-vienna-based-dramatic-soprano-elizabeth-hagedorn-will-replace-julia-faulkner-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-for-the-next-school-year-but-faulkners/

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/hagedorn/

Elizabeth Hagedorn 1

ALSO: Blog friend and radio host Rich Samuels (below) writes: “On this Thursday morning, Sept. 26, beginning at 7:08 a.m. on my weekly show “Anything Goes” that is broadcast from 5-8 a.m. on WORT 89.9 FM. I’ll be airing an interview I recently recorded with the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s music director John DeMain (the MSO’s 2013-2914 concert season begins, of course, on this Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon.

“Maestro DeMain talks about his transition from the Houston Grand Opera to the Madison Symphony Orchestra and about the artistic state of the orchestra as he begins his 20th season on the podium.

“Music for the segment will include selections from DeMain’s 1996 Grammy award-winning recording the Houston Grand Opera made when its production of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” was playing Broadway.

“Half the segment deals with the upcoming season and some of the younger soloists who will be heard between now and next May. We’ll hear performances by Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth, violinist Augustin Hadelich, soprano Emily Birsan and the young Madison pianist Garrick Olsen (not to be confused with pianist Garrick Ohlsson).”

Rich Samuels

By Jacob Stockinger

This is the week of orchestral season debuts. Yesterday, The Ear spotlighted the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s concerts this weekend.

But at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on this Sunday evening — on what The Ear calls “Symphony Sunday” with performances by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the UW Symphony Orchestra and the Edgewood College Chamber Orchestra — the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform a FREE concert under its longtime director James Smith, who also directs the UW Chamber Orchestra and is the music director of University Opera.

Smith recently granted The Ear an email Q&A about the concert:

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

You programmed “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky (below) because this is the centennial year of its world premiere. How important is that work in the symphonic repertoire and to music history in general?

It is often cited as a landmark work in all respects.  Several faculty members mentioned that we ought to perform it so that the students can appreciate its impact.  At the time, 1913, the harmonies, the savage rhythms and the choreography were all quite jolting to the Paris audiences.

Right from the start, the bassoon explores a new range for the instrument as it sets the stage for the pagan ritual ahead.

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

How challenging technically is the “Rite of Spring” in general to perform but especially for UW undergraduate students? What makes it such a difficult work?

It is difficult on all levels: rhythmic, technical and tessitura (the comfort range of notes for a specific kind of voice or instrument).. We have performed works by Bohuslav Martinu, Alban Berg, Anton Webern and Gustav Mahler who also posed special difficulties. The students are working very hard outside of the rehearsals so that we can all experience this exciting work. (Below is a photo of the UW Symphony Orchestra performing with the UW Choral Union plus a link to a video by Kathy Esposito, concert manager and public relations director at the UW School of Music, of the UW Symphony Orchestra and conductor James Smith rehearsing “The Rite of Spring” that Esposito posted on Facebook.)

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=632954003411618

UW Symphony w choral-union2

Why did you choose the “Egmont” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven to go with this program? Are there special thematic or pedagogical reasons?

Simple answer:  It is a great way to start a program, and an opportunity for my graduate assistant to be introduced to the audience.  His name is Kyle Knox (below).  He is also an accomplished clarinetist who is the assistant principal clarinetist of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Kyle Knox

The Third Symphony is not one of the most famous or popular symphonies by Jean Sibelius (below). Why did you choose to program it and what should audience members listen for or pay attention to?

Good question. After the rather romantic and somewhat conventional First and Second Symphonies, the Third Symphony loses much of the bombast and announces a more austere and restless path. As my teacher one commented, Sibelius became more and more “north” in style and mood: austere and quixotic. (The first movement can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom as performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.)

sibelius


Classical music: Wisconsin-born, UW-educated and Vienna-based dramatic soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn will replace Julia Faulkner at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the next school year. But Faulkner’s leave of absence could become longer or even permanent.

July 18, 2013
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

As I have written before, the University of Wisconsin School of Music is facing some serious challenges in terms of staffing in the near future and probably over the long-term.

One of the challenges that The Ear has just learned about is that the acclaimed dramatic soprano Julia Faulkner — who returned from Europe to the U.S. and Madison in 1994, doing part-time teaching as a lecturer at the UW from 2003-2005, and then was hired in 2005 to a full-time tenure-track professorship — will be spending the next academic year on a leave of absence. She will spend it teaching at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where she will be on the faculty of the program for Young Artists.

Anyone want to bet that the Lyric will see a good deal and offer her a permanent position?

That is a major temporary loss for the UW and for Madison since Faulkner (below), like many of the professors at the UW, is both an accomplished performer and a popular teacher with very successful students. (I have sat in on her impressive classes.) Just read the ratings and remarks from her students at this link:

http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=424180

As a performer, Faulkner, who remains on the roster of the Metropolitan Opera, has sung often with the Madison Opera and with the Madison Symphony Orchestra , whose music director John DeMain admires her work and her professionalism. Faulkner, who possesses a large voice and beautiful tone, has also sung with the UW Choral Union and the UW Chamber Orchestra among other local and university groups.

Here is a link to Faulkner’s impressive bio and discography at the UW School of Music’s website:

http://music.wisc.edu/faculty/bio?faculty_id=29

And here is Faulkner’s official resume, loaded with recognizable big names in music:

http://music.wisc.edu/media/FaulknerCV.pdf

JuliaFaulknerNoCredit

But as luck would have it, Faulkner will be replaced next year by a woman who almost qualifies as her Doppelganger or double: another dramatic soprano, Elizabeth Hagedorn. Like Faulkner, Hagedorn, who is  based in Vienna, was educated in the U.S. but built her career in Europe; she attended the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point while Julia Faulkner attended Indiana University and the Eastman School of Music; but like Faulkner, she also is a Wisconsin native. (Hagedorn hails from Milwaukee.)

Also like Faulkner, Hagedorn (below) is well-known in Europe where she has sung with many opera companies and symphony orchestras and has made some recordings. Apparently, she gave some master classes at the UW-Madison this past season and was very well received.

Elizabeth Hagedorn  BIG

Here is a link to Hagedorn’s home website, where you should check out her bio and especially the PRESS and REPERTOIRE sections with critical acclaim for her many diverse roles and also the PHOTO gallery:

http://www.elizabeth-hagedorn.com

Still, apparently there is a possibility – no one will say how strong it is at this point – that Faulkner, who as already moved to Chicago for the leave of absence – will stay on in Chicago, despite having family near to Madison. That would be a major loss to the UW’s music program, which was lucky to have landed Faulkner.

But all hope of retaining Julia Faulkner is apparently not in vain. According to Benjamin Schultz, the assistant director of the UW School of Music, “Her heart is here. Julia loves the UW and her students love her. Some of them have even gone to Chicago for lessons with her and might continue to do so, depending on whether she can fit them in.”


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