The Well-Tempered Ear

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

June 19, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

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

By Kyle Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://bachdancing.org

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Classical music: Sound Out Loud will perform Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” for FREE this Wednesday night at UW-Madison

May 8, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has heard the following news to post:

On this Wednesday night, May 10, from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. in Music Hall on Bascom Hill, the Sound Out Loud ensemble will give a FREE performance of “Pierrot Lunaire” by Arnold Schoenberg (below).

Schoenberg’s expressionistic masterpiece features poetry that details the ravings of a lunatic clown. The group will feature UW-Madison vocal faculty member Mimmi Fulmer (below).

“Pierrot Lunaire” is in music what Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” is to painting or James Joyce’s “Ulysses” is to literature. These three revolutionary works, written in the first decades of the 20th century, completely redefined the accepted aesthetic standards of their time and opened wide new paths to artistic creation.

American soprano Mimmi Fulmer first performed “Pierrot Lunaire” in 1978 at the famed Tanglewood Music Festival. (You can hear the opening section of “Pierrot Lunaire,” with English translation subtitles, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Sound Out Loud is thrilled to be hosting this encore performance under the guidance of such an experienced and knowledgeable performer of the work. Brief remarks by Professor Leslie Blasius (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) about the work will begin the performance.

For more information, go to:

www.soundoutloudensemble.com

http://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/mimmi-fulmer/


Classical music: The First Unitarian Society of Madison will give two performances of the anti-war cantata “Dona Nobis Pacem” by Ralph Vaughan Williams this Sunday. German anti-war art will accompany the concert.

March 18, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following word about a very timely performance of a very timely work:

On this Sunday, March 20, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. the Society Choir of First Unitarian Society of Madison will present the powerful anti-war cantata, “Dona Nobis Pacem” or Grant Us Peace, by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (below). Vaughan Williams used texts from the Bible and from the Civil War poems by the American poet Walt Whitman.

You can hear a section of the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.

fus choirs

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

Guest soloists are soprano Heather Thorpe (below top) and UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe (below bottom).

Heather Thorpe

Schubertiade 2014 Paul Rowe baritone BIG

Violinist and retired UW-Madison violin professor and Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Tyrone Greive (below top, in a photo by Katherine Esposito) will lead the string section, which will be joined by organ, piano, harp and timpani. First Unitarian Society Music Director Dan Broner (below bottom) will conduct.

Tyrone Greive 2013 by Kathy Esposito

Dan Broner FUS

The performances will take place in the Society’s modern Atrium Auditorium (below in a photo by Zane Williams), 900 University Bay Drive.

Admission is FREE. Donations will be accepted.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

In conjunction with the performance there will be a small exhibit of German art in the Commons. It will feature anti-war artwork from the period after World War I.

Several prints of lithographs, drawings and sculpture by Kathe Kollwitz, Ernst Barlach and Otto Dix from the years 1921-1929 will be included. The images by Kollwitz are from her “Krieg Cycle.” Her son had been killed in the war; Barlach and Dix both had fought in the war. The two sculptures by Barlach were actually commissioned as war memorials, but instead of glorifying war they express his stark protest and grief.


Classical music: This Saturday brings Alban Berg’s “Lulu,” one of the most unusual and noteworthy offerings of the “Live From the Met in HD” series of operas shown in cinemas this season.

November 20, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday, “Live From the Met in HD” features Alban Berg’s  opera “Lulu,” a difficult landmark work know for both its 12-tone music and its plot of social commentary, all marked by the violent and decadent German Expressionist sensibility.

Met Lulu poster

The opera will be shown at the Marcus Corporation‘s Point Cinemas on Madison far west side and — now that the Eastgate Cinemas have closed — at the Marcus Palace Cinema in Sun Prairie, a bit past Madison’s far east side.

The production by the Metropolitan Opera in New York City starts at 11:30 a.m. and has a running time, with two intermissions, of 4-1/2 hours. (Below, in a photo by Sara Krulwich of The New York Times, is Marlis Petersen, who is known for the role of Lulu — but who says she will retire the role after this production — and Donald Brenna as a smitten man. Susan Graham, not shown, also stars.)

Tickets are $28 for adults; $22 for seniors; and $18 for young people.

Here is a synopsis and notes about the cast:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas/SynopsisCast/Lulu/

Met Lulu Marlis Petersen as LuLu and Daniel Brenna a smitten man Sara Krulwich NYT

And here is a link to more about the cast and production with video samples:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/2015-16-Season/lulu-berg-tickets/

The Ear thought some other things might be useful and might whet your appetite to see this unusual production.

Here is a fascinating background piece by Zachary Woolfe of The New York Times, who interviewed several sources involved with the production and are knowledgeable about the opera (below is a photo of the German Expressionist set, taken by Sara Krulwich for The New York Times):

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/01/arts/music/in-lulu-the-question-that-stops-an-opera.html

Met Lulu and German Expressionism CR Sara Krulwich NYT

And if you are undecided or wavering about going to the acclaimed production, directed by William Kentridge, here is a rave review by senior music critic Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/07/arts/music/metropolitan-opera-lulu-review.html?ref=topics

 


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