The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Your warhorses are my masterpieces — and I want to hear them

June 3, 2017
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ALERT: This Sunday afternoon from 12:30 to 2 p.m., “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” will feature Madison keyboard artist Trevor Stephenson performing on a restored 1855 Boesendorfer grand piano. The program includes music by Chopin, Granados, Brahms, Wagner, Bartok, Debussy, Schoenberg and Satie.

You can attend it live for FREE in Brittingham Gallery No. 3 of the UW-Madison’s art museum. But you can also stream it live using the link on this web page:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/index.php?/events-calendar-demo/event/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-6-4-17/

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s that time of the year again when music groups announce their new seasons.

And it seems to The Ear that the word “warhorse” is again being tossed around a lot, especially by experienced listeners who use the term pejoratively or disapprovingly, in a snobby or condescending way, to describe great music that is performed frequently.

But more than a little irony or inaccuracy is involved.

For example, a some people have referred to the Symphony No. 1 by Johannes Brahms – scheduled next season by both the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra — as a warhorse.

Yet The Ear has heard that symphony performed live only once – perhaps because programmers wanted to avoid the warhorse label.

The same goes for the iconic Fifth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven, which will be performed next year by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below). It was a revolutionary work that changed the course of music history, and it is a great piece of engaging music. (You can hear the opening movement, with an arresting graphic representation, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here’s the irony: I have heard the Piano Quintet by Brahms, the Cello Quintet by Franz Schubert and the String Octet by Felix Mendelssohn – all great masterpieces — far more often than I have heard those “warhorse” symphonies by Brahms and Beethoven. Can it be that connoisseurs usually seem more reluctant to describe chamber music masterpieces as warhorses? (Below in the Pro Arte Quartet in a photo by Rick Langer.)

The Ear is reminded of a comment made by the great Russian-American musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky (below): “Bizet’s opera “Carmen” is not great because it is popular; it is popular because it is great.”

So yes, I don’t care what more sophisticated or experienced listeners say. I still find the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Peter Tchaikovsky to be a beautiful and thrilling work that rewards me each time I hear it. It never fails.

Add to the list the popular symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak, several piano concertos by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below), the Brandenburg Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, the “Jupiter” Symphony and Symphony No. 40 in G minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And one could go on and on.

They are all great masterpieces more than they are warhorses.

Plus, just because a piece of music is new or neglected doesn’t mean that it is good or that it merits a performance.

Otherwise, you could easily spend the rest of a life listening to second-rate and third-rate works out of curiosity and never feel the powerful emotional connection and deep intellectual insight that you get with a genuine masterpiece that rewards repeated hearings.

Of course, some warhorses do leave The Ear less than enthusiastic The “1812 Overture” comes immediately to mind. Boy, do the crowds like that potboiler — on the Fourth of July, of course, when it has a traditional place.

But often enough your warhorse is my masterpiece, and I want to hear it without being thought of as a philistine.

It might even be that playing more warhorses — not fewer — will attract some new audience members at a time when music groups face challenges in attendance and finances?

It may not be cool to say that, but it might be true, even allowing room for new and neglected works that deserve to be programmed for their merit — not their newness or their neglect.

So-called “warhorses” have usually survived a long time and received many performances because they are great music by great composers that speak meaningfully to a lot of listeners. They deserve praise, not insults or denigration, as well as a secure and unapologetic place in balanced programming.

Of course, it is a matter of personal taste.

So …

What do you think?

Are there favorite warhorses you like?

Are there warhorses you detest?

Leave word in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Madison Choral Project gives a concert of new music focusing on the social and political theme of “Privilege” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon

April 20, 2017
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features David Miller, trumpet; Amy Harr, cello; and Jane Peckham, piano. They will play music by Bach, Schmidt, Piazzolla, Honegger and Cooman. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

Call it activist beauty or beautiful activism.

It sure seems that political and social relevance is making a comeback in the arts during an era in which inequality in race, gender, ethnicity, wealth, education, health, employment, immigration status and other issues loom larger and larger.

For the Madison Choral Project (below), for example, singing is about more than making music. It can also be about social justice.

Writes the Project:

“The Madison Choral Project believes that too often the classical music concert is simply a museum of the beautiful. Yet the worlds of theater, art and literature can so brilliantly combine beauty with material that provokes contemplation and understanding.

“Our world is increasingly complicated, and we seek to provide voices exploring important emotional and social concerns of today.”

That means that, in its two concerts this weekend, the Madison Choral Project will explore the concept of privilege in two performances this weekend.

The repertoire is all new music or contemporary music by living composers.

The Madison Choral Project, under the direction of Albert Pinsonneault (below), who formerly taught at Edgewood College and is now at Northwestern University, presents their 10th Project – Privilege – on this Friday night, April 21, at  8:30 p.m. (NOT 7:30, as originally announced, because of noise from a nearby football game); and on Sunday afternoon, April 23, at 3 p.m.

Both performances are at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, near Camp Randall Stadium.

General admission is $24 in advance and online; $28 at the door; and $10 for students either in advance or at the door. A limited number of preferred seats are offered for $40.

The Privilege concerts feature the work Privilege by Ted Hearne (b. 1982), which Hearne (below) writes “are settings of little texts questioning a contemporary privileged life (mine).”

With texts that range from the inequality of educational experiences, to the unfair playing field brought through race, the work sets thought-provoking texts in a beautiful and musically accessible way. (NOTE: You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The program also includes the world premiere of a new piece of music from Wisconsin composer and UW-Madison graduate D. Jasper Sussman (b. 1989, below), whose piece Work: “What choice?” is a contemplation of society’s confusing and hypocritical demands on women, their bodies and their appearance.

Sussman writes “I have never identified as a feminist. It’d be impossible, however, for me to remain ignorant of the clumsily uneven climate of our world, and certainly of this country. Work: “What Choice?” is an attempt at telling a common story shared by many.”

Included on the concert are two works of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang (b. 1957, below), whose new minimalism includes sonorities influenced by rock and popular music, but with layered repetition that gives the pieces a meditative and contemplative quality.

Also featured is When David Heard by Eric Whitacre (b. 1970, below), a gorgeous and devastating monologue contemplating the death of one’s child.

For more information and tickets, go to www.themcp.org

You can also go to a fine story in The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/with-privilege-madison-choral-project-sings-on-social-justice/article_1d4ecf46-3347-5950-a655-eb270449fb96.html

The Madison Choral Project is Wisconsin’s only fully professional choir. All the singers on stage are paid, professional musicians.


Classical music: Mozart masterfully melds the emotional and the intellectual, says maestro Gary Thor Wedow, who will conduct two performances of “The Magic Flute” this weekend for the Madison Opera. Here is Part 1 of his two-part interview with The Ear

April 18, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

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

Here are an introduction and some details, courtesy of the Madison Opera:

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

Set in a fairy-tale world of day and night, the opera follows Prince Tamino and the bird-catcher Papageno as they embark on a mission to rescue Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night. Pamina had been kidnapped by Sarastro, the leader of a religious order. But it turns out that exactly who is “good” and who is “evil” is not always what it appears.

Along the way to happily-ever-after, Pamina, Tamino and Papageno face many challenges, but are assisted by a magic flute, magic bells, a trio of guiding spirits and their own clear-eyed sense of right and wrong.

“The Magic Flute has been beloved around the world since its 1791 premiere,” says Kathryn Smith (below in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director. “It has been called a fairy tale for both adults and children, with a story that works on many levels, all set to Mozart’s glorious music. I’m so delighted to be sharing it again with Madison, with an incredible cast, director and conductor.”

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

Tickets are $18 to $130.

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

For more about the production and cast, go to:

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

And also go to:

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

Dan Rigazzi, who has been on the directing staff at the Metropolitan Opera for 10 years, makes his Madison Opera debut with this beautiful production that incorporates some steampunk elements into its fairy-tale setting.

Gary Thor Wedow, a renowned Mozart conductor, makes his mainstage debut with this opera, after having conducted Opera in the Park in 2016 and 2012.

Conductor Wedow (below) recently agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers?

Hello! I’m an American conductor, born in LaPorte, Indiana. A faculty member at The Juilliard School, I spend a lot of time with music of the 18th century — Handel and Mozart and often earlier, like Monteverdi, Purcell and Cavalli. But I conduct everything and grew up in love with the Romantics. I’ve also always done a lot of contemporary music. I love it all.

Mozart’s music sounds so clear and easy or simple, but the reality is quite different, musicians say. What do you strive for and what qualities do you think make for great Mozart playing?

Mozart engages both the brain and the heart. He challenges your intellect with amazing feats of counterpoint, orchestration and structure while tugging at your heart, all the time pulling you along in a deep drama.

Mozart was an Italian melodist with a German contrapuntal, harmonic engine – like an incredible automobile with an Italian slick body and a German motor.

Do you share the view that opera is central to Mozart’s music, even to his solo, chamber and ensemble instrumental music? How so? What is special or unique to Mozart’s operas, and to this opera in particular?

From all accounts, Mozart (below, in his final year) was a huge personality who was full of life and a keen observer of the human condition; his letters are full of astute, often merciless and sometimes loving evaluations of family, colleagues and patrons.

Mozart’s music speaks of the human condition: its passions, loves and hopes— no matter what genre. His music is innately dramatic and primal, going immediately to the most basic and universal human emotions with breathtaking nuance, variety and depth. (You can hear the Overture to “The Magic Flute,” performed by the Metropolitan Opera orchestra under James Levine, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Tomorrow: Tricks to conducting Mozart and what to pay special attention to in this production of The Magic Flute.


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra announces its 2017-2018 season of nine concerts of “favorites combined with firsts”

April 13, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is the official announcement of the 2017-18 season by the Madison Symphony Orchestra:

The 2017-18 season of the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) presents nine programs that invite audiences to “listen with all your heart” and “feel the emotion, power and majesty” of great classical music.

Subscriptions are available now, and single tickets for all concerts go on sale to the public Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017.

For more information about tickets and ticket prices plus discounts for new subscribers and renewing subscribers, go to:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/17-18

MSO music director John DeMain, who will be marking his 24th season with the MSO, has created an exciting season that features favorites combined with firsts.

Says DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad): “I must point out two monumental firsts: the MSO debut of the great violinist Gil Shaham, renowned and sought after the world over, whose appearance Madison has waited for for many years; and the Madison premiere of the Glagolitic Mass by Czech composer Leos Janacek, a gargantuan work for chorus and orchestra with a prominent role for our “Colossal Klais,” the Overture Concert Organ.”

Performances are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays; 8 p.m. on Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays.

The 2017-2018 subscription series concerts begin on Sept. 15, 16 and 17 with “Orchestral Brilliance”—proudly presenting the Madison Symphony Orchestra performing the Johann Sebastian Bach/Leopold Stokowski version of the organ Toccata and Fugue in D minor; Felix Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony and Hector Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy” with MSO principal viola Christopher Dozoryst (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) as soloist(You can hear Leopold Stokowski conduct his own transcription of the work by Bach, which was used in Walt Disney’s film “Fantasia,” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“From the New World” on Oct. 20, 21 and 22 features the return of beloved pianist Olga Kern (below), a gold medalist in the Van Cliburn competition, performing Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto, and the MSO performing Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” and Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite.

On Nov. 17, 18, and 19 “Troubadour: Two Faces of the Classical Guitar” features sensational guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin (below) playing two works, one by American composer Chris Brubeck, and the other by the Spaniard Joaquin Rodrigo, with the MSO performing two Suites—Manuel DeFalla’s The Three-Cornered Hat and Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid.

The cherished kickoff to the holiday season, “A Madison Symphony Christmas,” returns on the first weekend in December — the 1, 2, and 3. Guest artists Emily Pogorelc, soprano, and Eric Barry, tenor, join John DeMain, the MSO, the Madison Symphony Chorus (below), Madison Youth Choirs and Mount Zion Gospel Choir on stage for the family-friendly celebration.

The MSO season subscription continues in 2018 with the long awaited appearance of violinist Gil Shaham (below) with the MSO—“Gil Shaham Plays Tchaikovsky” on Jan. 19, 20 and 21. This program features works by three of the most popular Russian composers of all time— Sergei Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges Suite, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 and Peter Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

“Richly Romantic” concerts take place on Feb. 16, 17 and 18 when one of MSO’s favorite cellists, Alban Gerhardt (below), returns performing the lyrical William Walton’s Cello Concerto, and the MSO presents Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 and Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide.

Spring arrives April 13, 14, and 15 with “String Fever” featuring Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1, Spring, Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem and Grammy Award-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich (below) performing the Antonin Dvorak’s Violin Concerto.

The season finale, “Mass Appeal,” takes place on May 4, 5 and 6. Star of NPR’s From the Top, pianist Christopher O’Riley (below), will open the program with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22. The MSO premiere of the monumental Glagolitic Mass by Czech composer Leos Janacek features the Overture Concert Organ and the Madison Symphony Chorus, along with soloists Rebecca Wilson, soprano, Julie Miller, mezzo-Soprano, Roger Honeywell, tenor, and Benjamin Sieverding, bass.

The MSO’s 17-18 season includes the popular multimedia production of Beyond the Score®, “Edward Elgar: Enigma Variations,” featuring live actors and visuals in the first half, with the entire work performed in the second half. Joining the orchestra are American Players Theatre actors James Ridge (below), Colleen Madden and Brian Mani, along with Wisconsin Public Radio’s Norman Gilliland of Wisconsin Public Radio as the Narrator. This single performance takes place on Sunday, March 18, 2018*.

NOTE: *Advance tickets for Beyond the Score® are available only to MSO 17-18 season subscribers prior to single tickets going on sale to the general public on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. Beyond the Score® is a production of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Gerard McBurney, Creative Director for Beyond the Beyond the Score®

ABOUT THE MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

The Madison Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 92nd season in 2017-2018 and its 24th season under the leadership of music director John DeMain.

The MSO has grown to be one of America’s leading regional orchestras, providing Madison and south central Wisconsin with cultural and educational opportunities to interact with great masterworks and top-tier guest artists from around the world.

Find more information at madisonsymphony.org


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Classical music: Cellist Parry Karp plays music by Beethoven, Franck and Sulkan Tsintsadze in a FREE recital this Friday night

February 22, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Cellist Parry Karp (below) will perform a FREE recital this Friday night, Feb. 24, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Karp, who is the longtime cellist of the Pro Arte Quartet, heads the chamber music program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Parry Karp

Karp will be joined by pianist Eli Kalman (below right with Karp), a longtime partner who did his graduate work at the UW-Madison and now teaches at the UW–Oshkosh.

Parry Karp and Eli Kalman

Their program features two well-known works.

Karp will perform his own transcription of the Sonata in A minor for Violin and Piano (1801) by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is the eighth of the 10 violin sonatas by Beethoven that Karp has transcribed, keeping the violin works in their original key on the cello.

The duo will also play the famous Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano (1886) by Cesar Franck. It was transcribed by Jules Delsart with some adjustments from Karp.

Then comes a rarity: the 24 Preludes for Cello and Piano (1980) by Sulkhan Tsintsadze (1925-1991, below).

sulkhan-tsintsadze-2-dramatic

Here are some remarks about these works by Karp, who likes to explore neglected composers and repertoire:

“The 24 Preludes (1980) by Sulkhan Tsintsadze are a wonderful find. Tsintsadze was a composer and cellist from Georgia in the USSR, and was very taken by the 24 prelude format.

“The piece goes through all of the major and minor Keys in the same order as the do the preludes for solo piano by Chopin.”

“Each Prelude is similar to a short story or vignette, and the emotional range of the entire set is compelling.”

Here is more information about the composer:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sulkhan_Tsintsadze

And here is a YouTube video – the first of four parts – with samples of the 24 Preludes for Cello and Piano:


Classical music: Pianist Adam Neiman defines what makes for great Chopin playing. He performs an all-Chopin recital this Sunday afternoon at Farley’s House of Pianos.

February 21, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

What makes for great Chopin playing?

It is an especially germane question since the critically acclaimed pianist Adam Neiman (below) will perform an all-Chopin recital this coming Sunday at 4 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne Mall.

Tickets are $45. For more information, go to:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

Neiman –pronounced KNEE-man — has appeared here as a soloist with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and recorded piano concertos by Mozart with the WCO. He is a critically acclaimed prize-winning pianist with a major concertizing and recording career. He also teaches at Roosevelt University in Chicago and is a member of the Trio Solisti, a piano trio that has been hailed as the successor to the famous Beaux Arts Trio.

Here is a link to Neiman’s website with information about him and his recordings, including upcoming releases of Beethoven, Liszt and Rachmaninoff:

http://www.adamneiman.com

Adam Neiman also recently did an email Q&A interview with The Ear:

adam-neiman-2017

There are some exceptional players of Beethoven and other German composers who sound completely out of their element in Chopin. What qualities do you think make for great Chopin playing and what makes Chopin difficult to interpret?

Chopin’s music incorporates a narrative language and an emphasis on very “first person” points-of-view; in other words, it is highly personalized, expressing emotion from the perspective of the individual, including nationalistic sentiments. Often, Germanic music aims for “objective” viewpoints, with extremely stringent instructions by the composer.

For players who struggle with the open-ended idiomatic flavor in Chopin’s music, the lack of objective instruction by the composer can make it difficult for them to know what to do. (You can hear Adam Neiman discussing much more about Chopin’s personality and artistic achievement in the YouTube video at the bottom)

To play Chopin (below) at a very high level requires imagination and freedom, as well as a poetic and introspective musical tendency. The fluidity of rubato, the contrapuntal interaction between the hands and the frequent use of widely spread textures requires a nimble master of the instrument, one with the ability to emphasize the piano’s specific virtuosic abilities.

In addition, Chopin’s music is centered around a bel canto operatic style of melody, whereas Germanic melody tends to be more motivic in nature, and therefore developmental.

A composer like Beethoven will emphasize motivic metamorphosis as a means of augmenting a form to create large structures, whereas Chopin will glide from one melodic area to another, using harmonic exploration as the central means of formal expansion.

This compositional difference outlines different strengths in the pianists, as the skill set to play reams of melody lines in succession can often be very different from those skills required to highlight motivic development in a work.

Chopinphoto

Can you place the 24 Preludes that you will be playing within the context of Chopin’s entire body of works. What would you like the public to know about the preludes and how you see them individually and as a group?

The 24 Preludes were composed while Chopin was on holiday in Mallorca, Spain, which proved to be Chopin’s first palpable bout with tuberculosis, the disease that eventually killed him. (Below is an 1849 photo of Chopin on his deathbed.)

Many of these works were written in a fever-state, in haste, and during a stressful time period in which Chopin was not only facing his own mortality, but also dealing with the myriad challenges of integrating with the children of his lover, the French writer Aurora Dudevant who is better known as George Sand.

These Preludes are like snapshots into the mind of the composer at a moment in time, often without regard for cohesion or development. They exist in a timeless place, where the music expresses the extremely personal sentiments roiling through Chopin’s consciousness.

In many ways, these works capture his spirit in the most distilled possible way, giving the player and listener an opportunity to view the mind and heart of Chopin without filter or refinement, hallmarks of his larger works.

Despite the widely varied emotional content of these Preludes, as a set they hold together as a marvelous and surprisingly cogent musical journey. They exemplify the 19th-century “Romantic” ideals of fantasy, freedom, individuality and raw emotion.

Chopin on deathbed photo

You will also perform all four Ballades. How they do they rank within Chopin’s output? What would you like listeners to know about each of the four ballades, about what they share in common and what distinguishes each one? Do you have favorites and why?

If the Preludes represent the pinnacle of Chopin’s ability to express poetic ideals within miniature forms, the Ballades represent the apex of his more grandiose musical philosophy.

The Ballade, as a form, emanates from epic poetry, often portraying a heroic protagonist overcoming seemingly inescapable challenges. Ballades can also be tied to nationalistic notions, and for Chopin, all four Ballades are truly Polish in their expression.

As Chopin’s native Poland was invaded and he was cut off permanently from re-entry, Chopin became an orphan of the world, whose adopted home of France revered and celebrated him without equal.

His musical mission — exemplified by the Ballades, Mazurkas and Polonaises in particular — was to heighten awareness of Poland’s cultural contributions to a European audience totally unaware of the goings-on in the east.

As a result of the immense conflicts suffered by Chopin’s homeland, and in keeping with the deep pride and identification Chopin felt as a Pole, these Ballades express the emotional rollercoaster of a lone Polish hero — perhaps Chopin himself, autobiographically — battling the world.

All four of these works make an enormous impression on the listener. From the despair and anger of the first Ballade, the bi-polar conflicts of the second (below is the opening of the second Ballade in Chopin’s manuscript), the pastoral hopefulness of the third, and the desolate introspection of the fourth, these Ballades speak to the soul and require the most intensely personal voice of the performer.

Adam Neiman 2 2016

They require the possession of immense physical power and emotional maturity, which renders these works as being among Chopin’s most challenging.

I love all four of them equally. They are true masterworks of the highest order.

chopin-ballade-2-autograph

In there anything else you would like to say?

I am deeply honored and extremely delighted to return to Madison to perform this recital. I look forward to seeing many familiar faces, as well as new friends. Thank you!


Classical music: What are the differences in directing “Romeo and Juliet” as an opera and as a play? Madison Opera stages the opera this weekend

November 2, 2016
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features acoustic guitarists Helen Avakian and Dave Irwin in music by Ralph Towner, Giberto Gil and Helen Avakian. The concert takes place from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Madison Opera will stage Charles Gounod’s operaRomeo and Juliet.” Performances in Overture Hall are on Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Here is a link with many more details about the performances, the play, the cast and tickets:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/01/classical-music-madison-opera-stages-charles-gounods-opera-romeo-and-juliet-this-friday-night-and-sunday-afternoon-to-celebrate-the-400th-anniversary-of-the-death-of-willia/

Stage director Doug Scholz-Carlson (below), the artistic director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival who has directed “Romeo and Juliet” as both an opera and a play, agreed to an email interview with The Ear about the differences:

douglas-scholz-carlson

You have directed “Romeo and Juliet” as both a play and an opera. How do the two experiences differ, and what are your most favorite and least favorite parts of doing each?

The opera is based closely on the play, so much of what is essential remains true for both versions.

The biggest difference for me is that the opera focuses on the emotional heart of the love story. Thanks to the music by Gounod (below), the audience experiences what it feels like to be young, impulsive and in love.

The music can reach our emotions directly, so that the opera becomes a truly personal experience for the audience. I don’t think you can see the opera and not find yourself transported to that time in your life when you first fell in love. Romeo and Juliet sing a moving duet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Because of the important role of the chorus, the opera also gives the audience the sense of the entire community that surrounds the young people. We see the tragedy through the eyes of the adults in the families who are unable, or unwilling, to help their children grow up.

The play by Shakespeare offers more subtlety in the journey of Romeo and Juliet’s relationship and more context for the adults in their lives. While the opera offers a huge emotional experience through the two main characters, the play creates more nuances in the relationships between many individuals in the story.

In our production, I hope audiences will discover that we have added back many of these relationships through visual storytelling.

Charles Gounod

What should audiences know about how Gounod’s opera differs from Shakespeare’s play? Do you have a personal preference between the two and why?

I don’t have a preference. I truly love them both for different reasons.

I love the wordplay in the tragedy by Shakespeare (below). Each character is sketched clearly and specifically through the way they use language. We see in the language why Romeo and Juliet find the perfect match in each other. Even smaller characters like the servant Peter have a full life in the play.

The play has a relentless energy. There are so many times in the story that things could turn out well — and so many ways in which the two lovers might never have met. You come away from the play with a profound sense that the combination of events that make up our lives is, in a way, a miracle.

Through Gounod’s music, the opera delivers an emotional experience that can’t be duplicated in any other way in the theater.

I’d be tempted to draw the distinction that the play appeals to the head while the opera appeals to the heart — but that would be unfair to both. Both the play and the opera are a complete experience. They are both profound ways to experience a timeless story.

shakespeare BW

What else would you like to say about this production in specific or about “Romeo and Juliet” in general?

We keep telling and retelling the story of Romeo and Juliet because it plays out our worst fears. What happens when what we hate becomes more important than what we love? I imagine we’ve all been asking ourselves that question given the current political environment.

Neither the opera nor the play ever explains why the Capulets hate the Montagues.

It doesn’t matter. Both families allow their hatred of each other to become more important than their love for their children. The Capulets and Montagues pay a terrible price to learn that lesson, but it is a lesson we all need to learn over and over again.


Classical music: How well did Western classical music fare in China during the Cultural Revolution compared to today?

July 10, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Western classical music seems to be thriving in the new China.

The Ear sees Lang Lang — the world’s highest paid classical pianist — and Yundi Li and all the Chinese winners of major competitions, and he reads that there are more piano students in China than in all of Western Europe, North America and South America combined.

But the path to such success wasn’t easy.

In fact it was downright tragic during the Cultural Revolution waged by Chairman Mao Zedong – with dramatic stories and figures that may be worthy of an opera or two. (Below is a poster from the Cultural Revolution.)

Cultural Revolution poster

Anyway, weekends are a good time for reading longer pieces.

So here is a fine and eye-opening story The Ear liked. It comes from The Guardian newspaper in the UK. It even ponders the question of whether the more cerebral and intellectual Johann Sebastian Bach will soon replace the more dramatic and emotional Ludwig van Beethoven as China’s favorite classical composer.

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jul/08/after-the-cultural-revolution-what-western-classical-music-means-in-china


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

April 20, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger 

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

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

Hilary Hahn 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hilary Hahn 2016 CR Peter Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anton García Abril BW

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

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

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

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

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

Bach1

Anton García Abril CR Julio Ficha

What about the works by Mozart and Copland?

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

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

aaron copland

And the music by Tina Davidson?

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

Tina Davidson

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

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

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

Hilary Hahn playing 2 horizontal

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

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

Why did you commission 27 short encores?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hilary Hahn Encores CD cover

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

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

Is there anything else you would like to say?

Hello, everyone!


Classical music: The St. Lawrence String Quartet will perform works by Haydn and the Midwest premiere of the String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams this Friday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Plus, this Tuesday night UW-Madison alumnus and violist Elias Goldstein will perform a FREE concert of the famous Caprices by Paganini

February 1, 2016
1 Comment

ALERT: University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music 2011 alumnus and violist Elias Goldstein is on his way to Carnegie Hall in New York City to perform all the virtuosic 24 Caprices originally for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini. But first he will perform them here in a FREE concert that also includes other works with pianist Thomas Kasdorf, another UW-Madison alumnus, on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. (Sorry, no word on the rest of the program.) Goldstein will also give a FREE and PUBLIC master class on Wednesday at 2:25 p.m. in Morphy Hall.

For more information, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/goldstein_paganini/

By Jacob Stockinger

How does a contemporary American composer channel classic composers from more than 200 years ago?

You can find out by going to hear the St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ, below). The critically acclaimed string quartet will perform this Friday night at 8 pm, in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

St.Lawrence String Quartet 2016 2 BIG USE

Tickets are $27.50 to $42.50.

For more information, including reviews and video samplings, visit:

http://uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season15-16/st-lawrence-string-quartet.html

The program features two quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, including the popular and famed “Emperor” Quartet and the earlier “Joke” Quartet as well as the Midwest premiere of John Adams; String Quartet No. 2.

NPR, or National Public Radio, recently featured an interview with Adams discussing Beethoven:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/11/10/450560466/john-adams-mines-beethovens-mind

But Christopher Costanza, the cellist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, recently gave an enlightening Q&A from the quartet’s point of view to The Ear:

christopher costanza playing cello

Can you briefly bring the public up to date since your last appearance in Madison, when you performed “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” by Osvaldo Golijov? Major residencies and tours? Major commissions? Major performing and recording projects?

The St. Lawrence String Quartet has been busy with a wide range of projects in the years since our last appearance in Madison.

We’ve had a personnel change – our newest quartet member is Owen Dalby, our second violinist, who joined us in the spring of last year.

We happily continue as Artists-in Residence at Stanford University, where we are involved in a great number of activities, including teaching, performing, and collaborations with a wide range of schools and departments on campus.

And our international touring schedule remains very active, with concerts throughout North America and Europe; our most recent European tour, in late summer of 2015, included concerts in Scotland, Germany, Romania, Hungary and Switzerland, and we will tour Europe twice in 2016.

We’ve performed several pieces commissioned for us, including works by such composers as Osvaldo Golijov, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Samuel Adams, Jonathan Berger, James Matheson and George Tsontakis.

Of particular significance, John Adams has composed three works for us, two string quartets and a quartet concerto, “Absolute Jest,” which was written for the SLSQ, the San Francisco Symphony and the SF Symphony’s music director Michael Tilson Thomas.

We’ve performed “Absolute Jest” on several national and international tours with the San Francisco Symphony, as well as with the London Symphony, the Toronto Symphony, and the New World Symphony. Our recording of the work with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas was released this past summer.

We’ve recently embarked on a recording project of the Opus 20 quartets of Haydn, and other recording projects are in development.

john adams absolute jest

Why did you choose to perform two Haydn string quartets to open and close the program, instead of a work by Beethoven, given the Beethoven influences in the String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams?

We often perform programs that begin and end with a Haydn quartet, with a contemporary work (or works) in between. This showcases the great variety and brilliance of Haydn’s gigantic contribution to the quartet repertoire.

It also provides an interesting contrast between the earliest works for quartet and current compositional offerings, stressing the fact that Haydn (below) essentially invented the string quartet and paving the way for other composers to explore creativity in their compositions for quartet.

In truth, we do often program Beethoven (below) with the Second String Quartet by Adams. For this program, I think the Adams/Haydn juxtaposition will be a meaningful comment on the evolution of quartet writing, from the early years to works of the present.

Beethoven big

As an exercise in compare and contrast programming, what would you like the public to know about the “Joke” and “Emperor” Quartets by Haydn? About Haydn’s music in general?

Haydn’s “Joke” Quartet, from his Op. 33 set, is, as you might guess, filled with humor and wit. The quartet is actually quite straightforward structurally, filled with robust and positive energy and simple, appealing melodies. It’s a compact work, inviting and charming.

The “Emperor” Quartet, from the Op. 76 set, comes from a later period of Haydn’s compositions, and it is a work of considerable length and weight. This quartet shows a natural link to Beethoven in its duration, dynamic contrast, emotional range, and overall musical substance. (You can hear Haydn’s “Emperor” Quartet performed, analyzed and discussed by the St. Lawrence Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Of significant note, the “Emperor” is named thusly for the second movement, a theme and variations based on the tune Haydn (below) originally wrote for the Emperor Francis of Austria as a sort of national anthem.

Haydn

What should readers know about the String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams (below)? How is it similar to or different from his other works that the public knows such as “Nixon in China,” “The Death of Klinghoffer,” “Doctor Atomic” “Harmonielehre” and “On the Transmigration of Souls”? Will this performance be the Midwest premiere? Will you record the quartet?

John Adams’s Second String Quartet is very strongly based on two motivic ideas from Beethoven’s Op. 110 piano sonata, as well as a variation from Beethoven’s “Diabelli” Variations.

The Beethoven elements are clearly presented in clever and skilled ways, and I think many of them will be evident to the astute listener. Most importantly, John is brilliant in his transformation of the Beethoven quotes, and the piece is very clearly an Adams piece, characterized by driving rhythms, great energy, and a true sense of musical intent and balance.

To get a sense of the piece prior to hearing it, I suggest listening to “Absolute Jest” (our recent recording) – another of John’s pieces inspired by Beethoven and filled with late Beethoven quotes – and the Op. 110 Piano Sonata by Beethoven.

We’ve performed the Second Quartet on several occasions since we premiered it at Stanford University about a year ago, but I do think our Madison performance will be a Midwest premiere. We are currently considering the possibility of recording the work, but specific plans have not yet been made.

john adams with pencil

What else would you like to say?

We’re thrilled to be returning to Madison after a gap of several years. It’s very exciting to be bringing a program of music by two of our favorite composers, Joseph Haydn and John Adams, and we think contrasting the two will be interesting and enlightening to all.


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