The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society offers an clever program that mixes outstanding performances of “primitivistic” modern music with rarely heard cabaret songs

June 19, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This review is by guest contributor Kyle Johnson (below), who also took the performance photographs. As a pianist since elementary school, Kyle Johnson has devoted most of his life to music. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, he is now a doctoral candidate in piano performance at the UW-Madison, where he studies with Christopher Taylor and specializes in modern and contemporary music. He participates in many festivals and events around the U.S. and Europe. Recently, he co-founded the Madison-based ensemble Sound Out Loud, an interactive contemporary music ensemble. For more information, visit: www.kyledjohnson.weebly.com

By Kyle Johnson

If the rule of real estate is “location, location, location,” perhaps the rule for concert planning is “programming, programming, programming.”

Until the finale of Friday night’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society performance, the directors lived up to that mantra.

The first half of the program was primarily devoted to greats of the modernist chamber music repertoire: Chansons madécasses (Madagascan Songs) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and the Contrasts by Bela Bartok (1881-1945).

For the former, Emily Birsan, a Chicago-based soprano who was educated at the UW-Madison, provided a dynamic, sensuous rendition even in the score’s most economical, lithe moments.

At the end of the work, Ravel’s inclusion of piccolo (played by Stephanie Jutt) and cello harmonics (played by Jean-Michel Fonteneau at a much higher than the fingered pitch) created an evocatively primitive effect, as the songs detail life in newly colonized Madagascar

The final line of the piece, “The evening breeze rises; the moon begins to shine through the trees of the mountain. Go, and prepare the meal,” received nervous chuckles from several audience members.

(You can hear the Ravel songs performed by Christa Ludwig in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The effect was also a transition to the Contrasts (1938), a trio for clarinet, violin and piano that was commissioned by jazz great Benny Goodman. As the title aptly describes, the three-movement work cycles between jovial, intense and playful moods.

Most striking in this rendition — played by Axel Strauss on violin, Alan Kay on clarinet and Christopher Taylor on piano (below) — was the second movement, entitled “Relaxation.” Moments of hushed and moody tones created an atmosphere that historians have referred to as Bartok’s “night music.” 

The audience responded with excitement, applauding through two curtain calls, to the climactic and frenzied close of the piece.

The theme this year is “Alphabet Soup” for the 26 letters marking the BDDS’ 26th anniversary. So after intermission, BDDS directors Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sikes introduced the audience to Madison’s four-time Spelling Bee Champion, Martius Bautista).

The soon-to-be eighth-grader at Edgewood Campus School tested his spelling of a variety of musical terms like crescendo (growing louder) and sforzando (marked emphasis) while Jeffrey Sykes played the theme from Jeopardy on the keyboard. Bautista (below) was successful and, when given a paper crown, turned to place it on the head of Samantha Crownover, who is celebrating her 20th year as executive director of the BDDS.

Sykes and Birsan served the audience a collection of cabaret songs by English composer Benjamin Britten, American composer William Bolcom and Austrian-American composer Arnold Schoenberg. The only thing missing from this portion of the program was chinking wine glasses and swirling smoke.

The programming of cabaret songs with the musical “primitivism” of Ravel and Bartok was a clever idea, and one that had similar roots at a recent concert at the UW-Madison, in which the Chansons madécasses were paired with Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire (while some consider Pierrot a feat of highbrow expressionism, a strong case can be made for its cabaret nature – however grotesque and dark it may be).

Anyone weary of Arnold Schoenberg’s oftentimes deterring development of 12-tone and atonal music need only look as far as his own cabaret songs, which are as melodious and lush as music heard in the great black-and-white musicals of early film.

The programming of the final work, Johannes Brahms’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Op. 87 (1880-1882) – played by the San Francisco Trio (below) — was problematic in a number of ways.

The monolithic nature of the work – a staple of high Romanticism you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom – seemed off-putting, after the intimacy of works such as the Ravel songs, the Bartok Contrasts, and especially the cabaret numbers.

In a perfect world, Friday evening’s concert would have foregone an intermission and ended with the cabaret hodgepodge. The quirky and understated close would have certainly left the audience charmed and ever-enticed to attend the remainder of BDDS’s programs – the final weekend, of which, runs June 23-25.

For more information about the concluding BDDS weekend and its dates, times, venues, programs and performers, go to:

http://bachdancing.org


Classical music: The second week of programs by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society offers vocal and instrumental music that spans four centuries and includes a world premiere

June 15, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last weekend, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opened its 26th season with two programs in three venues that all proved highly successful.

Building on that success, the chamber music festival with top local and guest performers, now turns to vocal and instrumental music that ranges from the late 18th century up to today, including a world premiere.

As usual, the BDDS venues are suitably intimate for chamber music: The Playhouse (below top) at the Overture Center at 201 State St.; the jewel box historic Stoughton Opera House (below middle) at 381 East Main St.; and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside Theater (below bottom) at Taliesin on County Highway 23 in Spring Green.

Concerts are spiked with stories about the music, mystery guests and even door prizes.

This season’s theme is Alphabet Soup, because it’s BDDS’ 26th year and there are 26 letters in the alphabet. Each program is named after a combination of letters used in everyday language. Sometimes the musical interpretation of those letters is literal and sometimes it’s quite loose.

The second weekend of concerts features the San Francisco Piano Trio (below) Axel Strauss, violin; Jean-Michel Fonteneau, cello; and Jeffrey Sykes, piano).

They are joined by UW-Madison’s pianist Christopher Taylor, soprano Emily Birsan (another Madison favorite and a graduate of the UW-Madison and Lyric Opera of Chicago) and internationally acclaimed clarinetist Alan Kay.

TWO PROGRAMS

Two Bs or not Two Bs includes evocative songs by Maurice Ravel for soprano, flute, cello and piano and an entertaining bouquet of earthy cabaret songs by composers Benjamin Britten, William Bolcom and Arnold Schoenberg, sung by Emily Birsan.

The program also features Bela Bartok’s “Contrasts” for clarinet, violin and piano, a work commissioned by the legendary jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman (below), and Johannes Brahms’ epic Piano Trio in C Major, Op. 87. (You can hear a historic recording of Benny Goodman performing the Bartok work, with the composer playing the piano, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Two Bs or not Two Bs will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts, on Friday, June 16, 7:30 p.m., and at the Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green, on Sunday, June 18, 2:30 p.m.


Special K is a showcase for Alan Kay, principal clarinetist of the renowned Orpheus Chamber Ensemble.

It includes “The Shepherd on the Rock” for soprano, clarinet and piano by Franz Schubert; the hip tour-de-force “Techno Parade” by Guillaume Conneson (below) for flute, clarinet and piano; and the Midwest premiere of “Living Frescoes” for clarinet, violin, cello and piano by American composer Kevin Puts.

Many will remember that Kevin Puts (below) was the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer BDDS commissioned for the song cycle “In At The Eye” in its 25th season last summer.

The program is rounded out with Mozart’s Piano Trio in E Major and three songs by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (below) sung by Emily Birsan, accompanied by Jeffrey Sykes.

Special K will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts, on Saturday, June 17, 7:30 p.m., and at the Hillside Theater, Taliesin, in Spring Green, on Sunday, June 18, 6:30 p.m.

Photos by Dick Ainsworth of BDDS performances and behind-the-scenes will be on exhibit in The Playhouse through Sunday, July 9.

Single general admission tickets are $43. Student tickets are always $10.

For tickets visit: http://www.overture.org/events/bach-dancing

For more information about the programs, performers, performances and background, visit www.bachdancinganddynamite.org or call (608) 255-9866.

Tickets can also be purchased at Overture Center for the Arts, (608) 258-4141, www.overturecenter.org (additional fees apply).

Tickets are also available at the door at all locations.


Classical music: Wisconsin Public Radio will air the Madison Opera’s productions of “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Magic Flute” this Saturday afternoon and next Saturday afternoon

May 18, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Saturday live broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera ended for the season last weekend.

But opera on the radio continues.

The Madison Opera is partnering with Wisconsin Public Radio to present recorded broadcasts of Charles Gounod’s Romeo & Juliet on Saturday, May 20, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute (below) on Saturday, May 27. (Photo are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.)

Both broadcasts begin at 1 p.m. Listeners can tune into their local WPR station or stream online at www.wpr.org/listen-live.

Each spring, two operas from Madison Opera’s season are presented by Wisconsin Public Radio to let listeners re-live the season.  These broadcasts cap off the end of the season of live radio broadcasts from The Metropolitan Opera that run from December through May on WPR’s News and Classical Music Network.

“We are committed to showcasing some of the best music and arts performances in Wisconsin. Our broadcast partnership with the Madison Opera, and organizations and musicians throughout the state, help to ensure everyone has access to live and local concerts no matter where they live,” said Peter Bryant (below), director of WPR’s News and Classical Music.

Charles Gounod’s Romeo & Juliet opens the broadcast series on Saturday, May 20, at 1 p.m.  In 14th-century Verona, Romeo meets Juliet in a crowded ballroom, setting in motion a chain of events that will change both their families. With soaring arias, impassioned scenes and plenty of sword fights, Gounod’s gorgeous opera brings Shakespeare’s classic tale of star-crossed lovers to vivid life.

Madison Opera’s cast features UW-Madison graduate and Lyric Opera of Chicago alumna Emily Birsan (below right) as Juliet, John Irvin (below left) as Romeo, Sidney Outlaw as Mercutio, Stephanie Lauricella as Stephano, Liam Moran as Friar Lawrence, Allisanne Apple as Gertrude, Chris Carr as Tybalt, Philip Skinner as Lord Capulet, Benjamin Sieverding as the Duke of Verona, Nathanial Hill as Gregorio, James Held as Paris, and Andrew F. Turner as Benvolio.

John DeMain conducts, featuring the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra. The broadcast includes an intermission feature with Birsan, Irvin and DeMain, interviewed by WPR’s Lori Skelton.

On Saturday, May 27, at 1 p.m., the broadcasts conclude with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute. A prince, a princess, a bird-catcher and a host of other fascinating characters invite you into a fantastical world of charmed musical instruments, mystical rituals, and a quest for enlightenment and wisdom.

Written in the last year of his life, Mozart’s sublime opera is part fairy tale, part adventure story, and all enchantment.

Madison Opera’s cast features Amanda Woodbury as Pamina, Andrew Bidlack as Tamino, Alan Dunbar as Papageno, Caitlin Cisler as The Queen of the Night, Nathan Stark as Sarastro, Scott Brunscheen as Monostatos, Amanda Kingston as the First Lady, Kelsey Park as the Second Lady, Anna Parks as the Third Lady, Anna Polum as Papagena, Matthew Scollin as the Speaker, Robert A. Goderich as the First Priest/Armored Man, and James Held as the Second Priest/Armored Man.

Julliard professor Gary Thor Wedow conducts, featuring the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The broadcast includes an intermission feature with Woodbury, Bidlack, Dunbar and Wedow, interviewed by WPR’s Lori Skelton.

Madison Opera is a non-profit professional opera company based in Madison, Wisconsin.  Founded in 1961, the company grew from a local workshop presenting community singers in English-language productions to a nationally recognized organization producing diverse repertoire and presenting leading American opera singers alongside emerging talent.  A resident organization of the Overture Center for the Arts, Madison Opera presents three productions annually in addition to the free summer concert Opera in the Park and a host of educational programming.


Classical music: Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society announces its upcoming summer season of “Alphabet Soup” this June

March 18, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The time for announcing new seasons has arrived.

Pretty soon, over the next several weeks and months, The Ear will hear from larger and smaller presenters and ensembles in the Madison area, and post their new seasons.

First out of the gate is the critically acclaimed and popular summer group, the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. (You can see a short promo video about BDDS on the YouTube video at the bottom.)

It has just announced its upcoming summer season this June, and sent out brochures with the season’s details.

This will be the 26th annual summer season and it has the theme of “Alphabet Soup.”

The concept is explained online and in a brochure newsletter (also online) in an editorial essay by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director flutist Stephanie Jutt (seen below with co-founder and co-director pianist Jeffrey Sykes).

By the way, Jutt is retiring from the UW-Madison this spring but will continue to play principal flute with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and to work and perform with BDDS.

In many ways it will be a typical season of the eclectic group. It will feature local and imported artists. Many of both are favorites of The Ear.

His local favorites include UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor; violist Sally Chisholm of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet; UW violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below top, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt); and Pro Arte cellist Parry Karp (below bottom).

Among The Ear’s favorite guest artists are violinist Carmit Zori, clarinetist Alan Kay, the San Francisco Piano Trio (below top); UW alumna soprano Emily Birsan; pianist Randall Hodgkinson; and baritone Timothy Jones (below bottom).

As usual, the season features 12 concerts of six programs over three weeks (June 9-25) in three venues – the Playhouse in the Overture Center (below top), the Hillside Theater (below middle) at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green and the Stoughton Opera House (below bottom).

In addition, there is a FREE family concert in the Overture Playhouse on June 10.

What does seem somewhat new is the number of unknown composers and an edgier, more adventurous choice of pieces, including more new music and more neglected composers.

Oh, there will be classics by such composers as Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Luigi Boccherini, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Bela Bartok, Arnold Schoenberg, Benjamin Britten and others. These are the ABC’s of the alphabet soup, according to BDDS.

But also represented are composers such as Philippe Gaubert, Czech Holocaust victim Gideon Klein (below), Guillaume Conneson, Carl Czerny, Paul Moravec and Franz Doppler. These are the XYZ’s of the alphabet soup.

In between come others. Contemporary American composer, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Kevin Puts (below) is a BDDS favorite and is well represented. You will also find less performed works by Ned Rorem, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gerald Finzi.

For the complete programs and schedules as well as the list of performers, some YouTube videos and ticket prices, both for season tickets ($109.50, $146, $182 and $219) and for individual concerts ($43), and other information, go to:

http://bachdancinganddynamite.org/concerts/festival-concerts/


Classical music: The fourth annual Schubertiade at the UW-Madison takes place this Sunday afternoon – with some important changes

January 25, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The fourth annual Schubertiade – a concert to mark the birthday of the Austrian early Romantic composer Franz Schubert (below top, 1797-1828) – is now a firmly established tradition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music (below bottom, in Mills Hall, which is rearranged for more intimate and informal on-stage seating.)

Franz Schubert big

Schubertiade 2016 stage

Over the past there years, the Schubertiade has become a popular and well-attended event. And with good reason.

Every time The Ear has gone, he has enjoyed himself immensely and even been moved by the towering and prolific accomplishments, by the heart-breaking beauty of this empathetic and congenial man who pioneered “Lieder,” or the art song, and mastered so many instrumental genres before g his early death at 31.

But there are some important changes this year that you should note.

One is that the time has been shifted from the night to the afternoon – specifically, this Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Admission is $15 for adults, $5 for students. (Below is this year’s poster, mistaking this year’s event of the third, with a painting by Gustav Klimt of Schubert playing piano at a salon musicale.)

schubertiade-2017-painting-by-gustav-klimt

After the concert, there is another innovation: a FREE reception, with a cash bar, at the nearby University Club. There you can meet the performers as well as other audience members.

The program, organized by pianist-singers wife-and-husband Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes (below), will last a little over two hours.

martha fischer and bill lutes

Usually there is a unifying theme. Last year, it was nature.

This year, it is friends Schubert knew and events that happened to him. It is called “Circle of Friends” and is in keeping with the original Schubertiades, which were informal gatherings (depicted below, with Schubert at the keyboard) at a home where Schubert and his friends premiered his music.

Schubertiade in color by Julius Schmid

Performers include current students, UW-Madison alumni and faculty members. In addition, soprano Emily Birsan, who is a graduate of the UW-Madison and a rising opera star, will participate.

Emily Birsan 2016

For more about the event, the performers and how to purchase tickets, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2016/12/19/schubertiade_birsan2017/

Here is a complete list of performers and the program with the initials of the perfomer who will sing the pieces:

Performers

Emily Birsan (EB), Rebecca Buechel (RB), Mimmi Fulmer (MFulmer), Jessica Kasinski (JK), Anna Polum (AP), Wesley Dunnagan (WD,) Daniel O’Dea (DO), Paul Rowe (PF), Benjamin Schultz (BS), singers. Bill Lutes (BL) and Martha Fischer (MF), pianists.

Program

Trost im Liede (Consolation in Song ), D. 546 (MF, BL)

Franz von Schober (1796-1882)

Der Tanz (The Dance), D. 826 (AP, RB, WD, PR, MF)

Kolumban Schnitzer von Meerau (?)

Der Jüngling und der Tod (The Youth and Death), D. 545 (PR, BL)

Josef von Spaun (1788-1865)

4 Canzonen, D. 688 (EB, BL)

No. 3, Da quel sembiante appresi (From that face I learnt to sigh) 

No. 4, Mio ben ricordati (Remember, beloved) 

Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782)

From the Theresa Grob Album (November, 1816)

Edone, D. 445 (WD, MF)

Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803)

Pflügerlied (Ploughman’s Song), D. 392 (BS, MF)

Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis (1762-1834)

Am Grabe Anselmos (At Anselmo’s Grave), D. 504A (JK, MF)

Matthias Claudius (1740-1815)

Mailied (May Song), D. 503 (DO, BL)

Ludwig Hölty (1748-1776)

Marche Militaire No. 1, D. 733 (MF, BL)

Viola (Violet), D. 786 (EB, BL)

Schober

Ständchen (Serenade), D. 920A (RB, DO, WD, PR, PR, MF)

Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872)

Epistel ‘An Herrn Josef von Spaun (Letter to Mr. Joseph von Spahn), Assessor in Linz, D. 749 (EB, MF) Matthäus von Collin (1779-1824)

Intermission

Geheimnis (A Secret), D. 491 (EB, MF)

Johann Mayrhofer (1787-1836)

Des Sängers Habe (The Minstrel’s Treasure), D. 832 (PR, MF)

Franz Xavier von Schlechta (1796-1875)

An Sylvia, D. 891 (MF, BL)

Shakespeare, trans. Eduard von Bauernfeld (1802-1890)

Nachtstück (Nocturne), D. 672 (DO, BL)

Mayrhofer

Das Lied in Grünen (The Song in the Greenwood), D. 917 (MFulmer, BL)

Johann Anton Friedrich Reil (1773-1843)

8 Variations sur un Thème Original, D. 813 (MF, BL)

Cantate zum Geburtstag des Sängers Johann Michael Vogl, D. 666 (AP, DO, PR, BL) Albert Stadler (1794-1888)

Ellens Gesang No. 3, Ave Maria, D. 839 (EB, MF)

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), from The Lady of the Lake, trans. Adam Storck (1780-1822)

An die Musik, D. 547 (You can hear it performed by the legendary soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and pianist Gerald Moore in the YouTube video at bottom)

Schober

Everyone is invited to sing along. You can find the words in your texts and translations.

Schubert etching

Here is a link to a story in The Wisconsin State Journal with more background:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/music/bringing-back-the-schubert-house-party/article_a0d27e9d-7bc7-5f32-bb57-590eb0bc7b91.html

And if you want to get the flavor of the past Schubertiades, here are two reviews from past years:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/classical-music-what-classical-music-goes-best-with-the-nfls-super-bowl-48-football-championship-today-plus-university-of-wisconsin-madison-singers-and-instrumentalists-movingly-celebrate-franz-s/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/classical-music-the-third-annual-schubertiade-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-school-of-music-was-so-popular-and-so-successful-it-should-serve-as-a-model-for-other-collaborative-concerts-feat/


Classical music: Madison Opera’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” excelled in singing, orchestral playing, drama and other aspects that redeemed a largely unmemorable work. Plus, what is good music for Veterans Day?

November 11, 2016
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ALERT: Today is Veterans Day. What piece of classical music should be played to mark the event? The Ear suggests the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten. Leave your choice in the COMMENT section.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s post features a guest review of Madison Opera’s “Romeo and Juliet” by Larry Wells. Wells has been enjoying opera since he was a youngster. He subscribed to the San Francisco Opera for nearly 20 years, where he last saw “Romeo and Juliet,” sung by Alfredo Kraus and Ruth Ann Swenson

More recently he lived in Tokyo and attended many memorable performances there over nearly 20 years. These included Richard Strauss rarities such as “Die Ägyptische Helena” and “Die Liebe der Danae” as well as the world’s strangest Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner and a space-age production of Puccini’s “Turandot,” featuring Alessandra Marc singing “In questa reggia” while encased in an inverted cone.

By Larry Wells

Last Sunday’s matinee performance of Charles Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” by Madison Opera at the Overture Center was a feast for the eyes. The costumes, sets, lighting and staging were consistently arresting. (Performance photos are by James Gill.)

But we go to the opera for music and drama.

The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is well known. Gounod’s opera substitutes the tragedy with melodrama, and therein lies one of the work’s flaws. Despite sword fights, posturings and threats as well as one of opera’s lengthiest death scenes, one leaves the theater thinking that a vast amount of theatrical resources have been squandered on something insubstantial.

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-sword-fight

However, despite its dramatic flaws, the opera’s music has somehow endured. And Sunday’s performance milked the most out of the music that could have been expected.

The star of the show was the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the expert direction of Maestro John DeMain (below). He knows how to pace a performance, how to build an exciting climax and how to highlight a solo instrument.

He is an incredibly intelligent conductor, and we are fortunate to have him in Madison. I want to make special mention of the beautiful harp playing, which, according to the program, was accomplished by Jenny DeRoche.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The second star on the stage was the Madison Opera Chorus (below). The chorus plays a significant part in many of the opera’s scenes, and the singing was stirring when it needed to be and tender when it was called for.

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-chrous-and-set

As for the soloists, highest praise must go to UW-Madison alumna soprano Emily Birsan (below right) for her portrayal of Juliet. Her solo arias, particularly her big number in the first act as well as her subsequent lament, were stunning.

Her Romeo, tenor John Irvin (below left), sounded a little forced during his forte moments, but he sang magnificently in his quiet farewell to Juliet after their balcony scene. (You can hear the famous balcony scene, sung by Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-john-irvin-and-emily-birsan

Their voices blended beautifully in the opera’s multiple duets. And the wedding quartet, where they were joined by Allisanne Apple’s nurse (below, rear right) and Liam Moran’s Friar Lawrence (below, middle center), was a highlight of the performance.

madison-opera-romoeo-and-juliet-friar-and-nurse

The opera abounds with minor characters, all of which were ably portrayed. Special mention should be made of Stephanie Lauricella (below, far right) for her fantastic moments as Romeo’s page; Madison’s Allisanne Apple for her amusing portrayal of Juliet’s nurse Gertrude; Sidney Outlaw (below, second from left) as a robust Mercutio; and Philip Skinner as a powerful Lord Capulet.

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-sidnay-outlaw-left-and-page-right

I have wondered why this opera is still performed. Its music is lovely but unmemorable, and its dramatic impact is tenuous.

I left the performance thinking that it had been a good afternoon at the theater – certainly more interesting than the Packers’ game – but wishing that one of a couple dozen more meaty operas had been performed in its place.

Since we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, how much more interesting would have been Benjamin Britten’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”? 


Classical music: Madison Opera stages Charles Gounod’s opera “Romeo and Juliet” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare

November 1, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Madison Opera will present Charles Gounod’s “Romeo & Juliet” on this Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center.

It will be sung in French with English subtitles and will last about three hours with one intermission.

Tickets are $18-$130.

With soaring arias, impassioned scenes and plenty of sword fights, Gounod’s gorgeous opera brings the famous tragic tale of young love to vivid life.

Set in 14th century Verona, Italy, the opera follows the story of Shakespeare’s legendary star-crossed lovers. The Montague and Capulet families are caught in a centuries-old feud.

One evening, Romeo Montague and his friends attend a Capulet ball in disguise. The moment Romeo spots Juliet Capulet, he falls in love, and she returns his feelings. Believing they are meant for one another, they proclaim their love, setting in motion a chain of events that will change both their families.

Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous love stories in Western literature,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), the general director of Madison Opera. “Gounod’s operatic version of it is equally beloved, and it’s exciting to present an amazing cast that brings such vocal and dramatic depth to their story.

“I’m also delighted that we are performing the opera the same weekend that Shakespeare’s First Folio goes on display at the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Chazen Museum of Art, enabling our community to enjoy a very Shakespearean weekend.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

Gounod’s operatic adaption of the tragedy of “Romeo & Juliet” premiered in 1867 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. While Gounod is now better known for “Faust,” “Romeo and Juliet” was a bigger success at its premiere, and has stayed in the repertoire for 150 years due to its beautiful music, genuine passion mingled with wit, and exciting fight scenes.

“Having conducted Gounod’s Faust so often, I’m thrilled to finally have the opportunity to conduct his romantic masterpiece,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the artistic director of Madison Opera who will conduct the two performances.

“The vocal and orchestral writing is lyrical and downright gorgeous,” DeMain adds. “We have a glorious cast, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony.  What more could a conductor ask for!” (You can hear Anna Netrebko sing Juliet’s famous aria “Je veux vivre” — “I want to live” – in the popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Madison Opera’s cast features both returning artists and debuts.

John Irvin (below top) and Emily Birsan (below bottom) return to sing the title roles of Romeo and Juliet.  Irvin sang Count Almaviva in the 2015 production of The Barber of Seville, while Birsan returns from singing at Opera in the Park 2016 and Musetta in last season’s La Bohème.

john-irvin

Emily Birsan 2016

Sidney Outlaw, who sang at this past summer’s Opera in the Park, makes his mainstage debut as Romeo’s friend, Mercutio.  Liam Moran, who sang Colline in last season’s La Bohème, sings Frère Laurent, who unites the two lovers in the hope of uniting their families. Madisonian Allisanne Apple (below) returns as Gertrude, Juliet’s nurse.

Alisanne Apple BW mug

Making their debuts are Stephanie Lauricella as Romeo’s page, Stephano; Chris Carr as Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin; Philip Skinner as Lord Capulet; and Benjamin Sieverding as the Duke of VeronaFormer Madison Opera Studio Artist Nathaniel Hill returns as Gregorio, while current Studio Artist James Held sings the role of Paris.

Directing this traditional staging is Doug Scholz-Carlson (below), who directed Gioaccchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” and Benjamin Britten‘s “The Turn of the Screw” for Madison Opera. Scholz-Carlson is the artistic director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival and has directed the original “Romeo and Juliet,” among many Shakespeare plays.

He will discuss the differences between staging “Romeo and Juliet” as a play and as an opera in another posting tomorrow.

douglas-scholz-carlson

For more information about the production, the cast and tickets, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/romeo-and-juliet/


Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opens with a Big Bang and makes The Ear look forward to Weekend 2 this coming weekend. You should too.

June 17, 2015
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Every year, the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society chooses a theme to unify their three-weekend season.

This year’s theme is “Guilty as Charged” and you can read about its rationale in a previous post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/classical-music-the-madison-based-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-gets-its-24th-three-week-summer-season-called-guilty-as-charged-underway-this-coming-weekend-here-i/

BDDS poster 2015

But of course the theme is really just a pretext.

What really matters is the fine and eclectic repertoire that the BDDS chooses to perform and the undeniably first-rate performances they consistently turn in by using outstanding local and guest performers.

And boy, did the BDDS ever deliver the goods!

So here, in a series of mini-reviews — one-liners or maybe two-liners — are five reasons why The Ear loved the opening concert and is looking forward to the second series of concerts in Madison, Stoughton and Spring Green this coming weekend, which you can check out at the following link:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

WHAT THE EAR LOVED

  1. The inventive and unobtrusive backdrop by artists Dianne Soffa and Thomas Kovacich, with broken rearview mirrors and luminous colors in abstract shapes, adds visual beauty to sonic beauty. It greets you and enlivens the performance stage by adding a certain entertainment and class to the otherwise bare stage:

BDDS 2015 backdrop

  1. UW-Madison School of Music graduate soprano Emily Birsan (below) who, after completing further training at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, came to sing a wonderfully poignant and moving aria “Steal Me, Sweet Thief” by Gian Carlo Menotti (you can hear Dawn Upshaw singing the Menotti aria in a YouTube video at the bottom) as well as wonderful solo arias and duets by Johann Sebastian Bach plus Irish and Scottish folk songs arranged by – YES — Ludwig van Beethoven:

BDDS 2015 Emily Birsan

  1. Bass-baritone Timothy Jones, who is superb and who returned to BDDS to sing solo and with Birsan in music by Bach and Beethoven:

BDDS 2015 Timothy Jones

  1. The breezy chamber music by Franz Joseph Haydn, a divertimento for flute (BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Stephanie Jutt), violin (Katarzyna Bryla) and cello (Parry Karp), substituting the cello for the outdated baryton that Haydn’s longtime patron Prince Esterhazy played and favored:

BDDS 2015 Haydn divertimento

  1. UW-Madison and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp and BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Jeffrey Sykes in an impressively virtuosic, vivacious and sensitive performance of the Cello Sonata No. 2 by Felix Mendelssohn. Loved that slow movement based on a Bach chorale!!

BDDS 2015 Mendelsson Cello Sonata

I was not alone in my enthusiasm.

The audience in The Playhouse at the Overture Center jumped to its feet as soon as the Mendelssohn cello sonata ended.

BDDS 2015 audience

And here is the rave review that veteran critic John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/arts/stage/bach-dancing-opener-is-smashingly-diverse/

 


Classical music: Two MUST-HEAR chamber music concerts – one all-Schubert, the other by the Pro Arte Quartet with soprano Emily Birsan — are on tap this weekend at the UW-Madison School of Music ahead of Super Bowl XLIX. Plus, you can hear a FREE recital of flute music at noon on Friday.

January 28, 2015
3 Comments

ALERT: This Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature flutist Peiyi Guan and pianist Zijin Yao playing music by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Henri Dutilleux and Chen Yi.

FUS1jake

By Jacob Stockinger

There are two really notable MUST-HEAR concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music this coming weekend.

And they come in a way that you can think of them as preludes to Sunday evening’s Super Bowl XLIX — that is 49 to us non-Latins — because they don’t interfere with the overhyped sports event.

FRIDAY NIGHT

On Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is the second annual “Schubertiade” (below, a photo from 2014). It is a joyous evening of mixed musical genres that celebrates the birthday of Franz Schubert (below, 1797-1829), who used to unveil his new music at friendly social gatherings (below top). It all takes place on the informally set-up stage of Mills Hall (below bottom).

Schubertiade in color by Julius Schmid

The Music of Franz Schubert

There will be many songs, of course, an art form pioneered by the most empathetic and human of composers. The songs will be performed by UW baritone Paul Rowe, soprano Cheryl Rowe and also many UW voice students. There will be chamber music (the famous “Arpeggione” Sonata) with guest cellist Norman Fischer (Martha’s brother, who will be performing with his sister in public for the first time and who teaches at Rice University in Texas) and with violinist Leslie Shank. Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes will also perform two pieces for piano-four hands.

Franz Schubert big

Admission is $10 for the public; students get in for free. Tickets are available at the door and at the box office of the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Here is a link to the School of Music official announcement:

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

And here is a terrific story by arts reporter and features writer Gayle Worland for The Wisconsin State Journal. Particularly notable are the interviews with the event organizers and main performers — wife-and-husband team of UW professor and collaborative pianist Martha Fischer and local piano teacher and former Wisconsin Public Radio host and music director Bill Lutes.

martha fischer and bill lutes

And here is a review of last year’s Schubertiade that The Ear posted on this blog:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/classical-music-what-classical-music-goes-best-with-the-nfls-super-bowl-48-football-championship-today-plus-university-of-wisconsin-madison-singers-and-instrumentalists-movingly-celebrate-franz-s/

Schubertide 2014 Bil Lutes and Martha Fischer

SATURDAY

Then on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) will perform a FREE concert of music by Franz Joseph Haydn, Anton Dvorak and Arnold Schoenberg.

Pro Arte Qartet  Overture Rick Langer

The special guest of honor is soprano Emily Birsan (below), a UW-Madison graduate who recently sang at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and whose first CD is about to be released on the Chandos label. (The recording is of the “Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf” by Sir Edward Elgar.)

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

The program includes the Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 71, No. 3, by Franz Joseph Haydn; the String Quartet in C Major, Op. 60, by Antonin Dvorak; and String Quartet No. 2 by Arnold Schoenberg that will also feature Emily Birsan. (The fourth movement of the Schoenberg quartet can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a link to the UW School of Music announcement that has a lot of impressive background for the up-and-coming Emily Birsan and the Pro Arte Quartet, which has its own dramatic story of exile from Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its invasion of Belgium, the Pro Arte homeland:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/pro-arte-quartet-2/

And here is a link to a profile of Emily Birsan, who was born in Neenah and attended Lawrence University in Appleton for her undergraduate degree as well as the UW-Madison for graduate work. Birsan is the cover story on the latest issue of the magazine “Classical Singer”:

http://www.classicalsinger.com/magazine/article.php?id=2813

PLEASE NOTE: The Pro Arte Quartet program will be REPEATED on Sunday afternoon at 12:30 pm.. this SUNDAY at the Chazen Museum of Art, which has started its own concert program. But the concert will NO LONGER be broadcast by Wisconsin Public Radio. However, you can stream it live by going to the Chazen website (www.chazen.wisc.edu) at 12:30 p.m.


Classical music: The Ear names the Middleton Community Orchestra and adult amateur music-makers as Musicians of the Year for 2014.

December 31, 2014
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is New Year‘s Eve, 2014.

Each year, I close out the old year and greet the new year by naming a Musician of the Year.

I heard a lot of great music this past year.

Much of it you can relive in the year-end roundup by John W. Barker, the regular classical music critic for Isthmus who also contributes so much to this blog.

Here is a link that that roundup:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/classical-music-here-is-a-wrap-up-of-the-best-of-2014-in-madison-thanks-to-isthmus-critic-john-w-barker/

One of the ways in which John and I agree –- and in fact, we usually do agree — is regarding the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) for its admirable achievements in only four seasons.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

As loyal readers know, I am a big supporter of music education. In fact, for the sake of full disclosure, I should say that I sit on the board of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). And music education for young people and young students is about a lot more than music, as so much social science and psychological research continues to prove.

But this year I want to recognize ADULT amateur musicians.

These days, adult amateurs may seem unusual or an exception. But the historical fact is that for centuries, classical music was primarily the domain of amateur rather than professional performers.

So I am singling out the Middleton Community Orchestra, which uses some professional talent, but relies mostly on amateurs.

I have already written about how they point the way to the future for larger ensembles with the shorter programs; with the kind of music that is programmed; with the low price of admission ($10 for adults and FREE for students); and with the post-concert socializing with musicians and other audience members (below) — all of which adds up to a laudable community service that integrates a performing art into everyday life and society. That is a mission worth supporting.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

Here is a older review that I did. In it I talk about some of what I admire by giving nine reasons to attend the MCO:

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/

But the MCO, founded by members Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic, is as much about hearing great and accessible music as it is about community service.

I will long remember piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Edvard Grieg played by UW-Madison pianist Thomas Kasdorf, who will perform the famously popular Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor — the signature concerto of Van Cliburn — by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky with the MCO this spring.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

I will also remember Madison-born, UW-trained and Juilliard-trained violist Vicki Powell (below) in shorter and unknown works by Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Max Bruch.

Vicki Powell at MCO

I will long remember former MCO concertmaster Alice Bartsch, who studied at the UW-Madison School of Music, in a wonderful interpretation of a Romance by Antonin Dvorak before she left for graduate studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

The same held true for Alice’s gifted violinist sister, Eleanor Bartsch,when she was joined (below) by fellow UW-Madison grad Daniel Kim in Mozart’s sublime Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola.

Eleanor Bartsch and Daniel Kim MCO Mozart

And I will remember the most recent performance with Madison Symphony Orchestra’s amazing principal clarinetist Joe Morris performing a rarely heard concerto by the under-appreciated 20th-century English composer Gerald Finzi.

joe morris playing CR Cheryl Savan

I will also remember fondly performances of symphonies by Antonin Dvorak and Johannes Brahms done by the MCO under the baton of conductor Steve Kurr (below), who teaches music at Middleton High School. (The MCO performs in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to the high school.)

Steve Kurr conducting

As with so many groups, including professional ones, booking great soloists seems to push the performers in the group to an even high level of playing. But the MCO takes care to book soloists with local ties, including soprano Emily Birsan who recently was at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which adds an element of local pride to the event.

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

The MCO has some appealing concerts coming up in 2015. It deserves to have even larger audiences at its mid-week concerts.

Here is a link to their website, where you can see photos and learn about how to support the group and how to join the group as well as what concerts and program the MCO will perform during the rest of this season.

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

But I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention other ways that are outlets for adult amateur musicians.

They include the University of Wisconsin Choral Union (below) and many other local choirs, including the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble, the Madison Symphony Chorus and Madison Opera Chorus, the Wisconsin Chamber Symphony Chorus, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, the Festival Choir -– to say nothing of the many church choirs, secular choirs and adult amateur performing groups in Madison and the surrounding area.

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

So leaving 2014 and heading into 2015, The Ear -– who is himself an avid amateur pianist — proclaims the new year to be The Year of the Adult Amateur.

If you want to sing, join a choir.

If you want to play an instrument, start practicing or sign up for lessons. It is never too late, even after retirement.

And if you want to perform and share the joy and love of music with others, find an outlet, including the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Nothing beats the thrill of experiencing music from the inside.

So don’t just listen to music.

Make it!

 


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