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).
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:
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
For more about the event, the performers and how to purchase tickets, go to:
Here is a complete list of performers and the program with the initials of the perfomer who will sing the pieces:
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
Everyone is invited to sing along. You can find the words in your texts and translations.
Here is a link to a story in The Wisconsin State Journal with more background:
And if you want to get the flavor of the past Schubertiades, here are two reviews from past years:
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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”?
By Jacob Stockinger
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.”
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.)
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.
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.
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 Verona. Former 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.
For more information about the production, the cast and tickets, go to:
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:
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:
WHAT THE EAR LOVED
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.
And here is the rave review that veteran critic John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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.
And here is a review of last year’s Schubertiade that The Ear posted on this blog:
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.)
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:
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”:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Jacob Stockinger
The program includes: the “Catfish Row Suite” from Porgy and Bess”; the “I Got Rhythm” Variations for Piano and Orchestra (at the bottom in a historic YouTube video played by the composer who also introduces the work); a series of Gershwin’s most memorable songs for the stage including “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Our Love is Here to Stay,” “By Strauss,” “Embraceable You,” “S’Wonderful” and “Somebody Loves Me”; Leonard Bernstein’s Overture and “Glitter and Be Gay” from his opera “Candide” and the Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story” as well as a love duet from the classic musical. Songs include Harold Arlen’s “That Old Black Magic” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind.”
The performances are in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; on Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and on Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are $16.50 to $82.50. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141 or go to the box office in person to save service fees or visit:
Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Full-time students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush
Of course some purists might carp this program is really a Pops Concert disguised as a serious symphony orchestra fare. But the symphony has seats to fill. And whenever John DeMain programs and conducts the music of Gershwin, the results are spectacular and popular. After all, DeMain (below) won a Grammy for his recording of Gershwin’s operas “Porgy and Bess” and then was featured in a live performance of the same work on PBS’ “Live From Lincoln Center.”
In addition, Gershwin worked closely with composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein (below) on Bernstein’s own operas.
Says music director and conductor John DeMain: “I’m a big fan of George Gershwin (below) for obvious reasons. For me, he embodies what it means to be an American musician. Trained in the classics, but deeply connected to the music of his country, Gershwin fused American folk music and jazz into a concert format that continues to thrill and resonate with audiences all over the world to this present day. “Porgy and Bess” is such a monumental achievement in this regard as well. It focuses on our African-American culture, and uses the music of spirituals and jazz to form its leitmotifs. It is again universal, and distinctly American.
DeMain adds: “Actually, what composer wasn’t influenced by Gershwin? At our May concert there isn’t remotely enough time to do a survey of all who came under Gershwin’s direct or indirect influence, but Harold Arlen, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (below bottom, inane NPR photo) were definitely among those who carried on the music theater tradition that Gershwin was such a master at.”
Several other reasons add to the appeal.
Garrick Olsen (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) is a young and very promising local pianist who won the Bolz Young Artist Competition, when, broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio, he performed Maurice Ravel’s difficult Piano Concerto for the Left Hand with the MSO in the Final Forte competition. He will also compete in the upcoming Piano Arts Competition in Milwaukee.
Soprano Emily Birsan, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music before going into the training program at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She has been appearing in a lot of local production from University Opera and Candid Concert Opera and the Madison Opera to the Middleton Community Orchestra
Mezzo-soprano Karen Olivo (below top) is a Tony Award-winning singer and actor who recently relocated to Madison.
And baritone Ron Raines (below bottom) has a lot buzz associated with him.
Here is a link to the general MSO website with more information about the soloists and the program as well as audio samples of the repertoire:
And here is a link to comprehensive program notes by MSO trombonist and University of Whitewater professor J. Michael Allsen:
Major funding for this concert is provided by an anonymous friend and BMO Private Bank. Additional Funds are provided by Carla and Fernando Alvarado, Capitol Lakes, Mildred and Marv Conney, Terry Haller, J.P. Cullen and Sons, Inc., Ann Lindsey and Charles Snowdon, Tom and Nancy Mohs, and the Wisconsin Arts Board.
By Jacob Stockinger
University Opera director William Farlow has announced that he will retire at the end of the current season, after spending 15 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
During his tenure, attendance has grown and the productions have received critical acclaim. (Below is soprano Emily Birsan, who went on to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, in the University Opera’s production of Jules Massenet‘s rarely heard opera “Thais.”)
The Ear knows Farlow as an amiable man who is always willing to help the local music scene and to promote his own vocal and instrumental students, a number of whom have gone on to important careers.
His productions at the UW-Madison are staged at Music Hall (below) at the foot of Bascom Hill.
Farlow’s repertoire choices have ranged from such standards as Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” (below) and Franz Lehar‘s “The Merry Widow,” in a YouTube video at the bottom) to rarities and out-of-the-way works that he felt would be good for students to do. He has used both traditional and updated stagings.
Here is a link to the University Opera home website that incudes productions, dates and times, and other information:
And here is a link to Opera Props, the support group that helps University Opera:
Farlow (seen below in a photo by Kathy Esposito, the new concert manager and director of public relations at the UW School of Music) recently gave an email interview to The Ear.
Can you give us some brief personal and professional background including when and why you came to the UW and why you are retiring?
I came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall of 1998 after teaching at University of Arkansas-Fayetteville for five years. I came here because I felt I needed a new challenge -– which it certainly turned out to be!
I am retiring because I have spent the last 50 years of my life doing opera. It started when I was 15 and played in the second violin section for a production of Verdi’s “Aida.” I have continued into my mid-60s and feel it’s time to move on to the next chapter of my life. (Below is a photo of William Farlow in a rehearsal.)
Will you stay in Madison after you retire?
I have no immediate plans to move.
What are your plans for after retirement? Do you have special hobbies or activities you want to pursue? Will you continue to freelance as an opera director?
I will continue as Artistic Advisor to Fresco Opera Theatre and Operations Consultant to the Des Moines Metro Opera as well as continue to judge voice competitions –- I’ve been a judge for the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions for 30 years –- and to give master classes.
I do not plan on directing in the future and have turned down all offers for 2014, one of which was a complete “Ring” cycle of Wagner.
I can’t wait to cook more and read.
What are you most proud of during your tenure at the UW?
The huge variety of repertoire and quality productions we have been able to offer, and the phenomenal younger singers and instrumentalists.
What makes doing opera at a university school of music special or distinctive in your view, and what advice would you pass along to your successor?
There are so many more repertoire choices for university opera than for many professional companies. My advice is “Good luck” and “Leave no stone unturned.”
What was the best part of directing at the UW? The most frustrating part?
The best part was working with the opera’s music director and conductor James Smith (below top), who is such an extraordinary musician and colleague, and with soprano and associate director of University Opera Mimmi Fulmer (below bottom), who is the best everything.
The most frustrating part? FUNDING!!
How healthy is the opera program now at the UW-Madison? What challenges do you see in the future?
The program is in good shape for now, but the challenges will continue to be recruitment and funding.
My choices for this season are the same as they always have been — operas that give the most opportunities to the most singers.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
The last 15 years have been the most challenging and rewarding of my career. I have had the great honor of directing so many great works that I wouldn’t have dreamed would be possible at this point in my career.