The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Personal experience, artistic excellence and historical importance drew pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel into planning next year’s centennial season at the Wisconsin Union Theater

March 30, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Now that Spring Break is over and subscription tickets are available for the Wisconsin Union Theater’s special centennial celebration next season – which includes superstar soprano Renée Fleming and pianist Emanuel Ax — here is an email interview that pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel (below, in a photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco), the wife-and-husband consultants and planners of that season, granted to The Ear.

For more about the season and tickets, go to two websites:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/03/04/classical-music-superstar-soprano-renee-fleming-and-pianist-emanuel-ax-headline-the-100th-anniversary-of-the-wisconsin-union-theaters-concert-series-next-season/

https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/seasonevents/concert-series/

Could you briefly introduce yourselves to readers and tell them both your past and current activities?

We have been performing on the world’s many concert stages for almost our entire lives. In addition to our careers as concert performers, we serve as the founding Artistic Directors of Music@Menlo, the premier chamber music festival in Silicon Valley, as well as the Artistic Directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) in New York City.

Our main responsibility as concert performers is to give the best concerts we possibly can, and we are constantly striving to achieve the highest possible level of artistry in our performances.

In our roles as artistic directors, our responsibilities lie in the programming, casting and designing of concert series and chamber music projects for our organizations. At CMS, this includes designing the programming for our seven different satellite series around the country, plus international partnerships in Taiwan, Korea and Europe.

We are also involved in chamber music programming endeavors beyond Music@Menlo and CMS, having just completed a first-ever chamber music residency at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida. Furthermore, Wu Han is serving as Artistic Advisor to Wolf Trap Chamber Music at the Barns, which entails thematically programming eight concerts per season for the 2018–19 and 2019–20 seasons.

As artistic directors, we spend much of our time putting ourselves in the shoes of our listeners, measuring their experience and receptivity to chamber music of all periods and styles, and putting together the best programs and artists who will move our audiences forward into ever-increasing engagement with and love of the art.

David was the cellist of the Emerson String Quartet for 34 seasons, and we have been performing together as a duo for about 35 years, and continue to do so as one of our main performance activities.

What are your personal relationships to the Wisconsin Union Theater, and what do you think of it as a concert venue?

Our engagement with the Wisconsin Union Theater goes back quite a few years, but certainly not even close to the beginning of the Theater’s distinguished history. For any performer setting foot on its stage, there’s a sense of slipping into an ongoing tradition of artistic excellence that makes us feel both privileged and obligated to do our best.

The Wisconsin Union Theater and its story in American cultural life is larger than any of us; only the music we play rises above and beyond it all, and as performers, our lucky moment is to represent that incredible literature in a venue as significant and storied as the Wisconsin Union Theater. (Below is the theater’s main venue, the renovated and restored Shannon Hall.)

Why did you agree to be artistic advisors and artists-in-residence for the centennial season? Did your personal experiences in Madison play a role in that decision?

As seasoned artists, we deeply admire and respect the very special place in the classical music tradition and history that the Wisconsin Union Theater (below) inhabits, and the invitation to participate in the Theater’s 100th anniversary was an honor for us to receive. Our experiences playing on this distinguished stage and forming a relationship with the local audience have made our pursuit of the common goal of artistic excellence in the centennial season incredibly fulfilling.

Of course, having performed there in the past gave us a hint of confidence through our familiarity with the place, but we must say we have learned perhaps double what we knew originally through this planning process. Without interfering, but at the same time sharing our uncompromised commitment to artistic excellence, we hope that our presence during the process has been useful, and we know that we look so much forward to seeing the careful thought and hard work of all involved come to fruition.

Is there a unifying or guiding principle to the season you have put together?

The guiding principle behind our work on this historic season is artistic excellence, which in our opinion is what most inspires audiences and best serves the art form of classical music.

Our area of expertise is chamber music, and, as we wanted to share the best of what we can do with the Theater, our focus has been on ensuring that the chamber music offerings during this historic season, and hopefully beyond, reflect the best of the world of chamber music.

In our suggestions, we looked for variety of instrumentations, of composers and periods—in other words, giving as much of an overview of the art as we could within a season.

What would you like the public to know about the Wisconsin Union Theater and the upcoming centennial season?

In the Theater’s centennial season, the audience will have the opportunity to savor a variety of different genres of chamber music, from solo piano to vocal music, as well as a sampling of the very best works of the chamber music canon. Between these various genres, the great composers left a wealth of chamber music that could sustain the art form on its own, but that’s still only the tip of the iceberg.

Our chamber music offerings will include the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, which has a long history of performing for the Madison audience. Their December program will include celebrated cornerstones of the piano trio repertoire, including Mendelssohn’s D minor Trio and Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio. (You can hear the opening of the Archduke Trio in the YouTube video at the bottom.) Both pieces have achieved monumental historical significance through their influence in propelling the art form forward from the Classical period to the Romantic period.

The Escher String Quartet performance in January represents the best of the next generation of young string quartets. Their program includes a quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn—the father of the string quartet genre—and the sole quartet of none other than revered violin virtuoso Fritz Kreisler, who performed in the Wisconsin Union Theater nearly a century ago. Kreisler set foot on the Theater’s stage numerous times, and his rarely heard string quartet nods to the Theater’s long, distinguished history. David will join the Escher Quartet for the beloved Schubert Cello Quintet, which is the “desert island” must-have piece for many music lovers.

Furthermore, in March, we will bring two of the most fantastic musicians in the world to join us for a program of Antonin Dvorak, Josef Suk and Johannes Brahms. This multigenerational cast of musicians includes the incredible young French violinist Arnaud Sussmann (below top, in a photo by Matt Dine) as well as the most important violist of our generation, Paul Neubauer (below bottom). This program is all about the passing down of the baton and the continuous investment in the next generations of artists: Brahms was the one who discovered Dvorak, and Dvorak in turn discovered Suk.


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Classical music: This weekend also brings holiday brass music, string music and new chamber music with voice to the UW. Plus, live radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera start this Saturday on Wisconsin Public Radio

November 30, 2018
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ALERT: This Saturday, Dec. 1, sees the start of the “Live From the Met” opera broadcasts on Wisconsin Public Radio with Arrigo Boito’s opera “Mefistofole.” The weekly series, now in its 88th year, will continue through May 11. Starting time is usually noon. Here is a link to the radio broadcast season: https://www.wpr.org/metropolitan-opera-begins-its-88th-season

By Jacob Stockinger

As usually happens towards the end of the semester, concerts are backing up, especially on the weekends.

Yesterday, information about the two performances of the annual UW-Madison Winter Choral Concert on Sunday afternoon was posted. Here is a link: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/11/29/classical-music-two-performances-of-the-uw-madisons-popular-winter-choral-concert-takes-place-this-sunday-afternoon/

But much more is going on.

Take a look and listen:

SATURDAY

Non-music majors, take heart. If you attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison, you can still play and perform while pursuing other studies.

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the All-University Strings (AUS) will perform a FREE concert that is open to the public.

The group (below, in a photo by Jeff Miller for the UW-Madison) is comprised of two non-major string orchestras (named Orchestra One and Orchestra Too), and is open to all interested string players. No audition is required, seating order is voluntary, and there is no ranking within the sections.

The AUS program endeavors to be a true learning community, serving students from virtually every department and major with the goal of nurturing lifelong engagement in music and the arts.

Pedro Oviedo is the conductor, and the guest artists are The Hunt Quartet. (The string quartet is made up of graduate students at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music: Chang En Lu and Ava Shadmani, violins; Fabio Saggin, viola; and Alex Chambers-Ozasky, cello. They will be joined by Max Herteen, double bass.)

The appealing program includes:

Norman Leyden: Serenade for Strings

Karl Jenkins: Allegretto from “Palladio” (A neo-Baroque piece you might recognize from a De Beers “Diamonds Are Forever” ad. Listen to it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Eric WhitacreOctober

Modest Mussorgsky, orchestrated by Maurice Ravel: “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs (Baba Yaga)” and “The Great Gate of Kiev” from Pictures at an Exhibition

Astor PiazzollaLa muerte del angel (The Death of the Angel)

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Concerto Grosso

SUNDAY

At 12:30 p.m. the UW Horn Choir (below) will present its annual holiday concert at the Chazen Music of Art as part of the Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen series.

The FREE and public concert, directed and conducted by horn Professor Daniel Grabois, takes place in Brittingham Gallery No. 3.

The event will also be streamed live. Here is a link to the streaming portal as well as information about the program, which includes Bach and Mahler, the players and how to reserve seats:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/sunday-afternoon-live-with-the-uw-horn-choir/

At 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall, a FREE concert of chamber music by distinguished guest artists will be held.

The Brooklyn-based soprano-violin duo Cipher Duo (below top, Justine Aronson and Sarah Goldfeather) will team up with cellist Nicholas Photinos(below bottom), a member of the Grammy-winning chamber music ensemble eighth blackbird, for an evening-length performance of both new and reimagined music.

The program will include works by Sarah Goldfeather, Amy Beth Kirsten, David T Little, Dolly Parton and more.

On Monday, the performers will also give public master classes:

The Cello Master Class is Monday, Dec. 3, 12:15-2:15 p.m. in Morphy Hall.

The Violin-Voice Master Class: Monday, Dec. 3, 1:15-3:15 p.m. in Music Hall.

For more information about the program and performers, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-artists-nicholas-photinos-cello-and-cipher-duo-voice-and-violin/


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Classical music: This Sunday afternoon brings percussion music from Clocks in Motion and a performance by the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra.

September 21, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday afternoon brings two noteworthy concerts: a selection of percussion music from Clocks in Motion and a performance of classic composers by the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra.

Here are the details:

CLOCKS IN MOTION

This Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., the local percussion group Clocks in Motion will perform at its Rehearsal Facility, located at 126 West Fulton Street in Edgerton, Wisconsin.

Members of Clocks in Motion (below, performing in 2017) are Matthew Coley, Chris Jones, Sean Kleve and Andrew Veit.

Admission to the limited seating is $10, with donations accepted.

For more information, tickets and driving directions, go to:

https://www.artful.ly/store/events/15960

Presenting music never before heard in Wisconsin, Clocks in Motion Percussion will be performing classic repertoire and local premieres in this special event.

Here is the complete program: *”Gravity” by Marc Melltis; *Atomic Atomic” by Andrew Rindfleisch (below and heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); “Third Construction” by John Cage; selections from “Threads” by Paul Lansky; “Mechanical Ballet” by Anders Koppel; “Fantezie” by Sergiu Cretu; and “Glitz!” Bejorn Berkhout

*Denotes this piece was written specifically for Clocks in Motion.

Hailed as “nothing short of remarkable” (ClevelandClassical.com) and “the most exciting addition to Madison’s classical music scene” (Isthmus), Clocks in Motion is a percussion quartet that performs new music, builds many of its own instruments, and breaks down the boundaries of the traditional concert program.

Formed in 2011, Clocks in Motion is quickly becoming a major artistic force in today’s contemporary music scene. Among its many recent and upcoming engagements, the group served as performers at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan; The Stone in New York City; The Overture Center for the Arts; Casper College in Wyoming; the University of Michigan;, Baldwin-Wallace University in Ohio; the University of North Carolina-Pembroke; and the Ewell Concert Series in Virginia.

EDGEWOOD CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will give a concert on this Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the newly remodeled St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

The orchestra will perform under the baton of Blake Walter (below).

The program features three arrangements of piano works by Claude Debussy; Arabesques 1 and2, arranged by Henri Mouton, and the seldom-performed Sarabande, arranged by Maurice Ravel.

Other works to be performed include Luigi Cherubini’s Overture to the opera Medea, and Symphony No. 59, subtitled “Fire,” by Franz Joseph Haydn.

Admission is $5 for the general public, free with Edgewood College ID.


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Classical music: The 29th Token Creek Festival closes with the world premiere of a song cycle by John Harbison and dramatic, affecting Schumann

September 6, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

The third and final program of this summer’s 29th Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, held in a refurbished barn (below) was given on last Saturday afternoon, when I caught it, and then was repeated the following day.

There were adjustments down to the wire, as co-director John Harbison noted in his opening comments. The originally planned opening piece, Mozart’s Sonata in G Major, K. 301, for Violin and Piano, was cancelled, and the program actually began with Haydn’s Piano Sonata in E Major (H. XVI:22).

Harbison (below) played this himself, having observed that, if not noteworthy, it was representative of its kind. In fact, it is a worthy work, its third and final movement is a little set of delightful variations on a minuet tune. Harbison obviously loves this whole Haydn literature, and he played the piece with affection.

Then it was vocal music, sung by tenor Frank Kelley — who has worked with Harbison in the Emmanuel Music activities in Boston — with pianist Janice Weber.

Their first offering was the world premiere of a cycle-in-progress by Harbison, titled In Early Evening, to texts by poet Louise Glück (below): specifically, of its first three songs. The texts are dreamy and nostalgic, and the composer has attempted to capture their multi-layered implications.

The two performers (below) then completed the concert’s first half with a presentation of the complete 16 songs of the cycle Dichterliebe (A Poet’s Love) by Robert Schumann. This sets the reflections on failed love, written by the great German poet Heinrich Heine.

Kelley is not an ingratiating singer. His voice sounds raw and worn. Nevertheless, he has splendid diction, in both English and German. He sounded much more confident and secure in the magnificent Schumann cycle, which he sang without a score. In this music he conveyed the varying moods and emotions with genuine engagement and expression.

But pianist Janice Weber (below) proved a real discovery. In his program notes, Harbison rightly pointed out that Schumann’s piano writing was not so much accompaniment as individualized piano writing with its own character and even independence. Indeed, the final song of the Heine cycle ends, after the voice is finished, with a substantial little epilogue of reflection for the piano alone.

Weber projected that very strong piano dimension wonderfully, and she repeated the feat when, for the program’s second half, she was joined in Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 63, by violinist and Festival co-founder Rose Mary Harbison and cellist Karl Lavine.

This is a lively and quintessentially Schumanesque work that the audience loved. (You can hear the energetic first movement, played by the Beaux Arts Trio, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

But I found the ensemble not well balanced. Lavine was surprisingly mild, deferential and understated in his playing. But Weber provided the sturdy backbone of the performance. We should hear more of this splendid artist.


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