The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: A busy week at the UW-Madison brings the debut of a new conducting professor with the UW Symphony Orchestra plus a major voice recital, a string quintet and two master classes.

October 2, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

It will be a busy week for classical music in Madison, especially at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music.

Certainly the standout event is the debut of Chad Hutchinson (below). He is the new conducting teacher and succeeds James Smith.

The FREE concert by the UW Symphony Orchestra will take place on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.

The intriguing program features the Prelude to the opera “Die Meistersinger” by Richard Wagner (you can hear George Solti perform it with the Vienna Philharmonic the YouTube video at the bottom); the orchestral arrangement by Leopold Stokowski of the piano prelude “The Sunken Cathedral” by Claude Debussy; the “Mothership,” with electronics, by the American composer Mason Bates; and the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” by Ludwig van Beethoven, a work that was recently voted the best symphony ever written by more than a hundred conductors.

Here is a link to more about Hutchinson’s impressive background:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/chad-hutchinson/

And here is a schedule of other events at the UW:

WEDNESDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall conductor Scott Teeple leads the UW Wind Ensemble (below top) in its FREE season opener featuring music by Percy Grainger, Aaron Copland, Roger Zare and Jennifer Higdon. Also featured is guest oboist, faculty member Aaron Hill (below bottom).

Here is a link to program notes:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wind-ensemble/

Also at 7:30 p.m. in nearby Morphy Recital Hall, the internationally renowned guest violist Nobuko Imai (below), from Japan, will give a free public master class in strings and chamber music.

THURSDAY

At noon in Mills Hall, guest violist Nobuko Imai (see above) will perform a FREE one-hour lunchtime concert with the Pro Arte Quartet, which has San Francisco cellist guest Jean-Michel Fonteneau substituting for the quartet’s usual cellist, Parry Karp, who is sidelined temporarily with a finger injury.

The ensemble will perform just one work: a driving and glorious masterpiece, the String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111, by Johannes Brahms.

At 1 p.m. in Old Music Hall, Demondrae Thurman (below), a UW alumnus who is distinguished for playing the euphonium, will give a free public master class in brass.

For more information, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/master-class-demondrae-thurman-euphonium/

NOTE: The 3:30 master class for singers by Melanie Helton has been CANCELLED. The UW hopes to reschedule it for late fall or spring.

FRIDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW baritone Paul Rowe (below top, in a  photo by Michael R. Anderson) and UW collaborative pianist Martha Fischer (below middle) will give a FREE concert of three songs cycles by Robert Schumann (the famed “Liederkreis); Maurice Ravel; and UW alumnus composer Scott Gendel (below bottom).

For the complete program, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/faculty-recital-paul-rowe-voice-martha-fischer-piano-2/

SATURDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra (below) will perform under its new conductor Chad Hutchinson. See above.

SUNDAY

At 3 p.m. the afternoon concerts by Lyle Anderson at the UW Carillon (below) on Observatory Drive will resume.

Here is a link with a schedule and more information:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/carillon-concert/2017-10-08/


Classical music: Wikipedia and WFMT in Chicago offer reviews of classical music in 2016 that include important performances, new music and deaths

January 2, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Is there a better way to greet the New Year than to take a look back at the past year?

2016 was a year of big losses: composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (below top), conductor Sir Neville Marriner (below middle) and early music pioneer and conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt (below bottom) among the many whose names you might recognize.

Pierre Boulez obit portrait

nevlle-marriner-old

Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting

What better way to start 2017 than to recall the figures we lost and hope that the coming year is kinder.

Here is a list from WFMT, the famed classical radio station in Chicago. It includes pictures and quotes along with dates:

http://www.wfmt.com/2016/12/29/in-their-own-words-inspiring-quotes-by-classical-musicians-we-loved-and-lost-in-2016/

And here is an entry from, of all places, Wikipedia that includes an exhaustive and detailed list of important events, performances and compositions as well as of classical musicians who died.

It seems as good a summing up as any that The Ear has seen, and demonstrates just how prolific the composers of new classical music are:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_in_classical_music

We remember and we revere.

Which is why The Ear has included the Funeral March movement from the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” by Ludwig van Beethoven on a YouTube video below that features an intriguing graphic arts representation of the music.

We are lucky: We have the music even when we no longer have the musicians.


Classical music: Conductor Steve Kurr talks about the all-Beethoven program that the Middleton Community Orchestra performs this Friday night with pianist Thomas Kasdorf and the Madison Symphony Chorus.

December 14, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

It is definitely not your typical program at holiday time.

But it sure is appealing — and timely too, given the birthday on this Wednesday, Dec. 16, of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

This Friday night – NOT the usual Wednesday night concert time — the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will perform a big and ambitious all-Beethoven program.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below, the exterior and interior) that is attached to Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton PAC1

The program features the Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major “Eroica” and the Choral Fantasy. Guest artists include the Madison Symphony Chorus and returning pianist Thomas Kasdorf.

Admission is $10; free for students. Advance tickets are available at a variety of outlets. The box office opens at 7 p.m. and the theater opens at 7:30 p.m.

As always, there will be an informal meet-and-greet reception for musicians and the audience after the performance.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

For more information about the Madison Community Orchestra, including its spring concerts and how to join it or support it, visit:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Conductor Steve Kurr took time out from his busy schedule of teaching and rehearsing to discuss the program via email with The Ear.

Steve Kurr.

The “Eroica” is one of Beethoven’s biggest, most famous and most popular symphonies. Why did you program it for an amateur orchestra?

I think you answered your own question. Our musicians and our audience are interested in experiencing a titanic work like the “Eroica.” We are having a spectacular time as we prepare the work–learning the ins and outs of this symphony and getting to know more about Beethoven and his compositional processes. And it has opportunities for each instrument to shine, so it is fun to play.

What kind of technical and interpretative challenges will the “Eroica” pose to you and to the players in the Middleton Community Orchestra?

One of the toughest parts of the “Eroica” is its size. Clocking in at around 50 minutes, this work can be taxing for players both physically and mentally.

In addition, there are some overarching ideas that Beethoven begins in the opening movement that are not resolved until the finale and we have to keep those in mind over the length of the whole symphony.

There are also some typical Beethoven gestures that add to this mix–such as the crescendo leading to a sudden piano–that shows up all over the place in the “Eroica.”

Middleton Community Orchestra Steve Kurr conducting

What special things should the public listen for in the “Eroica”?

  • The connection of this symphony to Napoleon is well documented.  Beethoven (below top) dedicated the work to the French leader, but was so incensed when Napoleon (below bottom) declared himself emperor that he scratched the dedication out on the cover page. But the original idea of the piece being “heroic” remains.
  • The work was composed around the same time as his ballet “The Creatures of Prometheus” and includes some similar thematic material.  Think about Prometheus as you listen.
  • The premier coup d’archet (“opening stroke of the bow”) at the very start calls the audience to sit up and pay attention–a very exciting way to start.
  • Tovey’s Cloud: The odd resolution to the opening phrase (heard in the cello just seconds into the first movement) was identified by musicologist Donald Francis Tovey back in the first half of the 20th Century as a cloud that hung over the work and is not resolved until much later in the work.
  • The accents throughout the opening movement obscure the meter and propel the movement forward, and there are some exquisite dissonances in the first movement that increase a tension that does not truly resolve until the finale. It is almost as if the Romantic Period is struggling, as we listen in, to emerge from the composer’s pen.
  • Right before we return to the opening material in the first movement, the strings become as quiet as they have ever been and the horn barges in with an “accidental” statement of the first theme. Publishers and conductors at first thought it was a mistake in the parts, but the sketches for the piece included that little gag from the very beginning.
  • For the first time, the dance movement (the minuet in earlier symphonies, the scherzo by this work) has taken on a scope and weight equal to the rest of the piece.
  • The da capo or repeat of the scherzo movement is completely written out (a major use of ink in his day) so that he could insert just a few measures of duple meter in one spot–definitely a curious and charming moment.
  • The theme upon which the finale is based is one of those Prometheus melodies, but it also shows up in a set of piano variations and in a contredanse.  Overall, the finale has a definite feeling of dance to it.
  • The finale combines the idea of a set of variations and the sonata form concept.

Beethoven big

Napoleon

What did you program the Choral Fantasy with the Eroica Symphony?

Pairing Beethoven works together has benefits. It puts us in a Beethoven frame of mind, which helps the musicians focus on the style.  And with the length of the “Eroica,” the “Choral Fantasy” fits so well into a concert program. It is also nice to pair a lesser-known work with the familiar “Eroica.”

Who will perform the choral part in the Choral Fantasy? And what should we listen for in the work?

We are extremely excited to be joining with the Madison Symphony Chorus (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) for this endeavor.  It will be one of our first times working with a chorus, and we are all looking forward to the chance to collaborate with this first-rate ensemble.

The piece is an unusual one: it begins with a large piano solo section followed by a section that trades back and forth between the soloist and the orchestra.

It ends with the piano, orchestra and chorus joining together for a rousing finish that foreshadows the last movement (“Ode to Joy”) of the Ninth Symphony.

The piece was premiered on Dec. 22, 1808 (with the composer at the keyboard) at a concert that also included the Fifth and Sixth (“Pastoral”)  Symphonies. Listen for the improvisatory quality of the opening piano solo and for the text, written by Christoph Kuffner, which extols music and its great powers. (NOTE: In a YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear it performed live at the BBC Proms by Norwegian pianist and conductor Leif Ove Andsnes with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the BBC Singers.) 

Madison Symphony Chorus women CR Greg Anderson

Thomas Kasdorf, a talented Middleton native and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, is the piano soloist in the Choral Fantasy. He has done a number of concertos by other composers such as Edvard Grieg, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky with you. Will he become a regular with the MCO? Might you do a cycle of Beethoven piano concertos with him?

We always enjoy having Mr. Kasdorf as our soloist. He is an excellent musician and he is what I might call a low-maintenance soloist–working with him is effortless. I sincerely hope to continue our collaborations, but I hesitate to speculate on any future repertoire. But the Fourth Piano Concerto of Beethoven is a favorite of mine, so Thomas and I may have to chat.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

Is there anything else you would like to say?

It is such an honor to work with these marvelous people in the Middleton Community Orchestra.  This is our sixth season and we continue to enjoy spending our Wednesday evenings making music together.

 


Classical music: The Minnesota Orchestra made history with its recent visit to Cuba. If you missed it, here are stories to catch up. Plus, fans of great singing should hear the Madison Choral Project under the legendary Dale Warland on Sunday afternoon.

May 30, 2015
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ALERT: The Ear attended an outstanding choral concert Friday night. It was put on by the Madison Choral Project with singers (below) plus UW-Madison trumpeter John Aley (far right), cellist Eric Miller and UW-Madison pianist Martha Fischer, all under the direction of the legendary conductor Dale Warland. The concert “Music of Our Time” will be repeated at 2:30 p.m. on this Sunday at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave. You can park in the lot two blocks away at the UW Foundation. If you love choral music, don’t miss it.

Madison Choral Project 5-15 1

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, President Obama made it official. He removed Cuba from the State Department‘s list of outlaw countries that sponsor terrorism.

The economic and cultural thaw is gathering momentum. And just as happened with the Soviet Union, cultural exchanges are going to play a major role.

The Minnesota Orchestra made history with its recent visit to Cuba, where it gave two concerts, played a side-by-side concert with a youth orchestra, played in a cafe informally with Cuban musicians and tutored music students.

Minnesota Orchestra in Cuba with banner

If you missed it, here are stories — and a YouTube video interview with the orchestra’s Finnish-born music director and conductor Osmo Vanska and orchestra players at the bottom — to catch up.

Here is a photo essay put together by Minnesota Public Radio:

http://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/05/18/photos-a-look-back-at-the-orchestras-trip-to-cuba

Here is the story from the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR (National Public Radio):

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/05/17/406993869/after-thaw-minnesota-orchestra-returns-to-cuba

Here is The New York Times account of the two well received concerts that include the “Eroica” Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven and the two countries’ national anthems:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/17/arts/music/minnesota-orchestra-in-groundbreaking-cuba-tour-sells-out-house.html?_r=0

And here is The New York Times account of a more informal café get-together:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/18/arts/music/fire-and-ice-minnesotans-join-orquesta-aragon-in-havana.html?src=relcon&moduleDetail=lda-articles-0&action=click&contentCollection=Music&region=Footer&module=MoreInSection&version=WhatsNext&contentID=WhatsNext&configSection=article&isLoggedIn=false&pgtype=article

Finally, here is an account from the orchestra’s hometown Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

http://www.startribune.com/minnesota-orchestra-wins-hearts-in-cuba-as-it-caps-a-historic-trip/304004891/

 


Classical music: What music best commemorates today’s 70th anniversary of D-Day, which marked the beginning of the end of Nazi domination of Western Europe? The Ear offers two works by Edward Elgar and Maurice Ravel.

June 6, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is June 6, 2014 –- the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when the Allies invaded the northwest coast of France on the beaches at Normandy and started the beginning of the end of Nazi domination in Western Europe by Adolf Hitler.

D-Day landing

A lot of music commemorates war and the troops who fell in battle.

I offer two that may not be the best choices but that move me.

First, I offer the ninth variation, “Nimrod,” from British composer Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations. American documentary filmmaker Ken Burns used it very effectively in a solo piano version in his epic film about World War II called simply “The War.”

But I cannot find that version. So here is the a haunting and deeply moving orchestral performance in a popular YouTube video played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under its former music director and conductor Daniel Barenboim:

And here is the “Pavane for a Dead Princess” by French composer Maurice Ravel. He actually wrote “Le Tombeau de Couperin” and dedicated each movement to a different friend of his who died in World War I. But there is something quietly eloquent about the way Ravel uses the stately and processional dance step of the Pavane to express understated sorrow.

Ravel usually composed on the piano, and then orchestrated his own work. So here are two versions, the first orchestral and the second done on the piano and played by the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, who captures just the right bittersweetness and poignancy.

You can decide which one best expresses your sentiments about today’s historic commemoration. Despite the coughing in the background, I tend to favor the simpler and more austere piano version. But both are deeply moving to me.

I am sure that many other works, from two famous funeral marches by Ludwig van Beethoven (in the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” and the Piano Sonata in A-Flat Major, Op. 26) to the famous Funeral March by Frederic Chopin, would be appropriate.

Classical music –- instrumental, vocal and choral as well as operatic – offers so many appropriate choices. My guess is that NPR and Wisconsin Public Radio, like radio stations and even TV stations around the country and the world, will feature many such works in their programming for today. I would especially love to hear Requiems by Johannes Brahms, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Gabriel Faure.

If you have a favorite, please leave a reply with a YouTube link if possible, plus the reasons why you like the work so much.

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra plus the Festival Choir of Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Madrigal Singers and pianist Stewart Goodyear left you wanting more –- which is exactly what a season-closing concert should do.

April 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

As I have noted in other postings earlier this week, I am doing some badly needed catching up. April has been just a hectic and even crazy month for classical music in the Madison area. And previews generally take precedence over reviews.

For example: A week ago last Friday, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) closed out its current Masterworks season with the Festival Choir of Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Madrigal singers and Canadian piano soloist and composer Stewart Goodyear.

WCO lobby

The concert left The Ear impressed with all parties and wanting to hear more, perhaps including a one Stewart Goodyear’s Beethoven piano sonata marathons as well as more known and neglected works from the chamber orchestra. And isn’t that exactly what a great season-ending concert should do?

For The Ear,  there were two unqualified masterpieces.

The concert opened with the ‘Ave Verum Corpus” of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a short but sublime late work for chorus and orchestra. And it was performed sublimely by the WCO and the WCO Chorus, which is made up of the Festival Choir of Madison (below) and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Madrigal Singers. (A popular YouTube video, with over 2 million hits and featuring conductor Leonard Bernstein, is at the bottom.)

festivalchoir

That was followed by the often neglected “Choral Fantasy,” by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is an interesting and engaging piece, a sketch of the famous final “Ode to Joy” movement of the iconic Ninth Symphony and one that features the kind of piano part that makes you realize what an exciting keyboard improviser the young Beethoven (below, in 1804) must have been.

young beethoven etching in 1804

Is the “Choral” Fantasy a masterpiece? Stewart Goodyear thinks so.

I do not. I think it is a good dramatic work, with its own excitement for orchestra, chorus and especially pianist. But it is a work that simply doesn’t stand up to Beethoven’s greatest symphonies, concertos or even sonatas.

But Goodyear was all business and all Beethoven. After all, he performs all 32 piano sonatas in a single-day 10-hour marathon and has recorded them all.

I know from personal experience that Beethoven is hard to play. He always seems to be challenging or even daring the player. But such difficulties do not faze Goodyear (below), who has the power and the chops. He is an impressive player, without doubt.

stewart goodyear playing sideways

Even in his own piano concerto that followed, Goodyear was impressive in his playing. This concerto, which he revised especially for chamber orchestra, seems to play into his personal and technical strengths, which is right in keeping with the great virtuoso tradition that ran from Johann Sebastian Bach and Mozart through Beethoven and Johannes Brahms to Sergei Rachmaninoff and Sergei Prokofiev.

But is the concerto by Goodyear a great concerto? Unfortunately, I think not. It reminds me of the 50 or so big and difficult piano concertos in the Hyperion series of recordings of neglected Romantic Piano Concertos by Ignaz Moscheles and Moritz Moszkowski and the like. All of them were impressive showpieces in their day, composed by and performed by the biggest piano virtuoso names of the day.

Here is a link to the Hyperion series:

http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/s.asp?s=S_1

And yet in the end, they only require one to two listenings to get the most out them. You soon realize that they are neglected for good reason. They served their purpose in the day, but then couldn’t stand up to history as first-rate.

I felt the same way about Goodyear. It had its moments, especially in the slow movement. In its use of Caribbean rhythm and harmonies, it reminded me of the jazz-like qualities brought to the concert hall by Maurice Ravel, George Gershwin, Darius Milhaud and Heitor Villa-Lobos, maybe even George Gershwin of the “Cuban” Overture. I am glad I heard it, but am not anxious to have repeated hearings.

The concerto was an interesting, impressive and entertaining oddity, but an oddity nonetheless. Goodyear would be wise to keep his day job -– or, should I say, his night job -—as a concert pianist who masterfully plays Beethoven and other major composers, and not to rely on composing as a living.

Stewart Goodyear2

After intermission came the big treat: Beethoven’s mammoth Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica.” Now, I love the overwhelming sound of a big, full orchestra. But there is undeniable value to hearing the transparency and clarity of the work in its chamber music version.

The “Eroica” Symphony just never gets old, and easily stands up to the Fifth, Sixth (Pastoral), Seventh and Ninth symphonies as a candidate for Your Favorite Beethoven Symphony.

The balance and tempi were perfect, especially in the moving and complex Funeral March. The horn played flawlessly as far I could tell. The strings were crisp, not gooey. And sections provided great voicing and counterpoint.

Conductor Andrew Sewell (below) seemed in total command and looked completely satisfied as he proved again what incredible progress the WCO has made during his tenure.

andrewsewell

Sewell has an abiding and well realized interest in unearthing interesting music, both new and old, as you can see from the next season, which will features three pianists in works as diverse as rarely heard two piano concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn, the Suite for Strings by Paul Lewis, the Suite for String Orchestra by Frank Bridge as well as another work by Vittorio Giannini.

Here is a link to the new season. Click on “For more information” to see programs:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/

And here are links to other reviews so you can compare and draw your own conclusions, especially if you were part of the full house:

Here is a link the review by John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42498

John-Barker

Here is a link to the review by Greg Hettmansberger (below) for Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/April-2014/Wisconsin-Chamber-Orchestra-Goes-Big-Before-Going-Home/

greg hettmansberger mug

 

 

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