The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: “Into the Woods” proved a complete, first-rate theatrical experience

February 26, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Larry Wells – the very experienced Opera Guy for The Well-Tempered Ear blog  – attended two performances of “Into the Woods” at the Wisconsin Union Theater, and filed this review. (Photos are by Beau Meyer for the UW-Madison Department of Theatre and Drama.)

By Larry Wells

The University Theatre and University Opera’s recent joint production of “Into the Woods” was a feast for fans of Stephen Sondheim (below). It was a complete theatrical experience with excellent singing, a nuanced orchestral accompaniment, skilled acting and enchanting staging.

The nearly three-hour work is an amalgamation of several well-known fairy tales exploring themes such as parent-child relationships, loss of innocence, self-discovery, the consequences of wishes being fulfilled, and death – but all in an amusing, literate, fast-paced kaleidoscope of witty dialogue, catchy music and sophisticated lyrics.

The production employed an attractive, ever-changing set, designed by John Drescher, that was vaguely reminiscent of Maurice Sendak.

Stage director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke DeLalio) utilized the large cast and what had to be an equally large number of backstage crew members in a captivating succession of ensemble pieces and solo numbers. I was never aware of the passing of time. Not looking at my watch is my acid test of a production’s success.

Among the many standout performances, Bryanna Plaisir (below) as the Witch was comical in her delivery and quite amazing in the physicality of her performance. There were a number of times when she flew, and each time I was taken by surprise at her effortlessness. Her initial song, accompanied mostly by percussion, was mesmerizing.

There were two roles that were double cast: Elisheva Pront and Miranda Kettlewell (below) as the Cinderellas; and Meghan Stecker and Zoe Bockhorst as the two Little Red Riding Hoods.

Both Pront and Kettlewell possess excellent voices.

Stecker was the more girlish of the two Red Riding Hoods, whereas Bockhorst (below left) portrayed a slightly more canny character.  Both were very funny in their encounter with Cobi Tappa’s Wolf (below right).

Tappa is a physical actor whose tall lankiness conveyed the Wolf’s lupine nature flawlessly. He also portrayed the Steward, and I was completely captivated by his performance, as was the appreciative audience.

Joshua Kelly (below) was the narrator and also played the baker’s father.  His was a professional quality performance from beginning to end – enunciating so clearly that he was completely understandable throughout.

Jack was played by Christian Michael Brenny. His portrayal of a simple-minded boy was touching, and his singing was outstanding.

Emily Vandenberg (below left) as the wife of the baker (played by Michael Kelley, below right) was another outstanding performer – an excellent comic actress and an accomplished vocalist.

Mention must also be made of Rapunzel and Cinderella’s princes, Tanner Zocher  and Jacob Eliot Elfner. Their two duets, “Agony” and “Agony Reprise,” were enthusiastically received by the audience not only for their delivery but also for such lyrics as “…you know nothing of madness ‘til you’re climbing her hair…”.

Sondheim’s way with words continues to amaze me. In describing a decrepit cow, Jack’s mother gets to sing “…while her withers wither with her…”.  The Wolf gets to sing the line “…there’s no possible way to describe what you feel when you’re talking to your meal…”

Chad Hutchinson (below) conducted the orchestra in a finely shaded performance – never overpowering and always supportive.

There were many other excellent performances and memorable moments. Suffice it to say that altogether cast, crew, artistic and production staff created a show that I enjoyed on two consecutive evenings. In fact I was completely entranced both times.

Postscript: The first evening I sat in front of a person who coughed more or less continually the entire first act.  Mercifully she left at the intermission. Next to me was a woman who alternated between audibly clearing her throat and blowing her nose — when she wasn’t applying moisturizer to her hands — throughout the entire show. Stay home if you’re sick. And remember that you are not at home watching your television.  You are in a theater.


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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra performs “Scheherazade” in the dramatic Beyond the Score® mixed media format this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon

January 9, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is an announcement from the Madison Symphony Orchestra about two performances of a special concert this coming weekend:

Join the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below top) and Music Director John DeMain (below bottom, in a photo by Prasad) as they explore one of the most popular orchestral works ever written with Beyond the Score®: Scheherazade this coming weekend in Overture Hall.

The concerts are this Saturday, Jan. 14, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 15, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, 201 State Street.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Beyond the Score®: Scheherazade is an opportunity for concertgoers to discover Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s colorful and exotic Scheherazade in a whole new way.

The first half experience encompasses video, photos, musical excerpts, and  actors Jim DeVita (below top) and Brenda DeVita (below bottom), of American Players Theatre in Spring Green, telling the story.

In the second half, Scheherazade will be performed from start to finish, by the Madison Symphony Orchestra with John DeMain conducting.

Jim DeVita

Brenda DeVita

The captivating music of Scheherazade evokes images and passions with a solo violin representing the intoxicating storyteller, Scheherazade. Based on an ancient Persian legend, Scheherazade staves off her death at the hands of her cruel Sultan husband, by regaling him with stories for 1001 nights until he falls in love with her.

Rimsky-Korsakov evokes the moods of her various tales with memorable and haunting melodies. (You can hear “Scheherazade,” conducted by the Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Designed for classical music aficionados and newcomers looking to delve deeper into the world of classical music, Beyond the Score explores Scheherazade’s context in history, how it relates to the work of other composers, and the events of Rimsky-Korsakov’s life that influenced its creation. The Chicago Tribune said of the Beyond the Score series, “Seldom has enlightenment proved so entertaining.”

As a young man, Rimsky-Korsakov (below) spent almost three years at sea with the Russian Navy and was exposed to other cultures. With 19th-century readers fascinated by exotic settings and fairy tales, he first conceived of creating an orchestral work based on the tales known as The Thousand and One Nights in 1887, when he was the leading teacher at the St. Petersburg Conservatory.

Rimsky-Korsakov

Single Tickets are $15 to $60 each, available at madisonsymphony.org/beyondthescore, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit madisonsymphony.org/groups.

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students receive 20% savings on advance ticket purchases for seats in select areas of the hall.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may NOT be combined.

Beyond the Score® is a production of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Gerard McBurney, Creative Director for Beyond the Score®.


Classical music: String music and a piano for small hands, wind music and band music — This week brings varied FREE concerts at the UW-Madison

February 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

It will be a busy week in Madison and especially at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Here is a list to help you decide what you want to attend.

TUESDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Chamber Orchestra will give a FREE concert under its music director James Smith.

The program is: Rumanian Folk Dances by Béla Bartók; the “Holberg” Suite by Edvard Grieg; and Symphony for Strings, Opus 118a, by Dmitri Shostakovich (arranged by Russian violist Rudolf Barshai and based on Shostakovich’s well known String Quartet No. 8.)

UW Chamber Orchestra Stravinsky

FRIDAY

UW-Madison professor of chamber music and cellist Parry Karp, who performs in the Pro Arte Quartet, is a newly elected member of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.

On Friday night at 8 p.m. he will give a FREE recital in Mills Hall.

The program features: the Partita in A Minor for Solo Flute, BWV 1013 (1723?) by Johann Sebastian Bach, as transcribed for solo cello in C Minor by Parry Karp.

Sonata No. 1 in D Major Piano and Violin, Op. 12 No. 1 (1798) by Ludwig van Beethoven, as transcribed for piano and cello by Parry Karp. He will perform with pianist mother Frances Karp.

“Märchenbilder” (Fairy Tales) for Piano and Viola, Op. 113 (1851) by Robert Schumann, as transcribed for piano and cello by Robert Hausmann. With pianist Frances Karp.

Sonata in A Minor for Piano and Cello, D. 821, “Arpeggione,” (1824) by Franz Schubert. Pianist Bill Lutes will perform with Karp.

Parry Karp

SATURDAY AFTERNOON AND NIGHT

Attention all pianists and especially those with smaller hands!

UW pianist and pedagogue Jessica Johnson (below) will give an afternoon workshop and evening concert on “The Joy of Downsizing.”

All events are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC and take place in Morphy Recital Hall.

WORKSHOP — 2:30-3:45: “All Hands on Keys: Strategies for Teaching Students with Small Hands”

MASTERCLASS — 4:15-5:45 p.m.

TRY THE PIANO — 5:45-6:45 p.m.

FACULTY CONCERT — 8 p.m. Performed on a Steinbuhler DS 5.5™ (“7/8”) Size Piano; Tentative program includes: Thee Piano Pieces, D. 946, by Franz Schubert (played by Alfred Brendel in a YouTube video at the bottom); Ballad, Op. 6, by Amy Beach; Concert sans Orchestre in f minor, Op. 14, by Robert Schumann.

jessica johnson at piano

Here is a statement about the workshops and concert from Jessica Johnson:

“The hands of great pianists come in all shapes and sizes. Spending literally thousands of hours at the piano, we develop time-tested, proven strategies for learning repertoire in a way that suits our unique physiology. We know best that which we have experienced within our own bodies.

“How does this impact our ability to work with students with different hand sizes than our own?

“As a small-handed pianist, I have spent my entire professional career seeking creative strategies to adapt to playing conventional-sized piano keyboards.

“I have become a guru of innovative fingerings and have learned how to employ ergonomic movements and compensatory gestures in order to perform technically challenging repertoire on the conventional piano.

“Since the life-changing moment when I started practicing on an alternatively sized keyboard, I have experienced a whole new level of artistic and technical freedom.

“Research related to the use of Ergonomically-Scaled Piano Keyboards (ESPKs) suggests similar benefits for small-handed pianists, including less pain and injury, greater technical facility and accuracy, and ease of learning.

“Using a Steinbuhler DS 5.5TM (7/8) Size Piano Keyboard insert, manufactured by Steinbuhler & Company, that was custom-made for a Steinway B piano, this workshop will demonstrate effective strategies for teaching students with small hands and ways to exploit musical and technical choices that maximize artistry and biomechanical ease.”

“I’ve spent most of my life thinking that I could not play with a big sound and that I was never going to be comfortable with large chords and octaves. Now I simply believe that I’ve been playing the wrong size piano keyboard.”

Small Hands photo

SATURDAY AFTERNOON

The University of Wisconsin-Madison clarinet studio will host a Clarinet Day on Saturday, Feb. 20, starting at 1:30 p.m. and running to 6 p.m. in Mills Hall at the School of Music.

clarinet

Wesley Warnhoff (below), visiting assistant professor of clarinet, and the UW-Madison Clarinet studio have invited all high school clarinetists to attend.

Wesley Warnhoff

The day includes concerts, master classes, chamber music, student performances and dinner with the UW-Madison clarinetists. It must be a popular idea because registration is now CLOSED.

But at 7:30 P.M. the group will end the day by attending a FREE concert – which is OPEN TO THE PUBLIC — by the UW Wind Ensemble (below top), conducted by Professor Scott Teeple (below bottom).

The program includes: “Spin Cycle” by Scott Lindroth; “Colonial Song” by Percy Grainger/Rogers; “Heavy Weather” by Jess Turner, featuring Tom Curry, adjunct professor of tuba; the Symphonies of Wind Instruments by Igor Stravinsky; and “Apollo Unleashed” by Frank Ticheli.

UW Wind Ensemble

Scott Teeple conducting

SUNDAY

The UW-Madison Concert Band will give two FREE concerts in Mills Hall at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. under band director Mike Leckrone  (below), best known for leading the acclaimed UW Marching Band. Sorry, no word about program.

Mike Leckrone BIG


Classical music education: Here are some highlights of Semester 2 during the upcoming season at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

August 14, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

The final schedules for the upcoming season by most major classical music groups in the area are now available.

Last but not least is the biggest of them all: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which offers some 300 events in a season, most of them FREE to the public.

UW logos

Some things are new. For example, you will note that the UW Choral Union has gone to just ONE performance instead of two, as in the past for many years.

Concert manager and director of public relations Kathy Esposito (below) writes:

Katherine Esposito

The UW-Madison School of Music is jazzed about its upcoming season and we’d like the world to know. Please make plans to attend!

Here is a link to the online calendar, which is now complete except for specific pieces on programs and last-minute changes: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Our events of 2015-2016 range from performances by a vocal dynamo (soprano Brenda Rae, Sept. 27) to an in-demand LA jazz woodwind musician (Bob Sheppard in April) plus an enterprising young brass quintet (Axiom Brass in October) and a dollop of world music in March (duoJalal). In addition, we offer ever-popular opera productions, faculty concerts and student ensembles ranging from classical to jazz to percussion.

Full concert calendar link: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Other social media connections include:

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

https://www.facebook.com/UWMadisonSchoolOfMusic

https://twitter.com/UWSOM

Our Newsletter, A Tempo!

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/

Hear our sound: https://soundcloud.com/uw-madisonsom

Here’s a partial list with highlights.

Semester 1 was posted yesterday, and here is a link to that:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/08/13/uw-highlights-semester-1/

Here are highlights of Semester 2:

SEMESTER 2

January 19-24: Student Recital Festival. The public is invited to our first free weeklong feast of music performed on all instruments by many of our students, both undergraduate and graduate. Morphy and Music Halls. Times and programs to be announced in late fall.  All events free. (Below is the scholarship-winning Perlman Piano Trio from several years ago.)

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/student-recital-festival/

Perlman-Trio Thomas Kasdorf piano, Eleanor Bartsch violin and Maureen Kelly cello

January 30: Our third “Schubertiade” (below) with pianists Martha Fischer, Bill Lutes, students, faculty and guests. Songs, chamber music and four-hand piano works, all composed by Franz Schubert.

Mills Hall, 8 PM.

Tickets $12.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/schubertiade-2016-the-music-of-franz-schubert/

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

February 12: Jazz singer Sharon Clark (below) with the UW Jazz Orchestra. Washington, D.C. standout Sharon Clark has brought festival and concert audiences to their feet across the U.S. and Europe. Her New York run drew raves from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and she won New York’s Bistro Award for Best Vocalist.

Music Hall, 8 PM. Free concert.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-artist-jazz-singer-sharon-clark-with-the-uw-jazz-orchestra/

Sharon Clark

February 14: Symphony Showcase Concerto Winners Solo Recitals. The best performers of 2015-2016, graduate and undergraduate, from the UW-Madison School of Music. Bring your Valentine! Click the link below to watch videos. (Below top is the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra; below bottom are the concerto winners in 2015.)

Mills Hall, 7:30 PM.

Tickets $10.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/symphony-showcase-concerto-winners-solo-recital/

uw concerto winner 2014 big audience Michael R. Anderson

2014 Concerto Winners

February 26: Pianist Christopher Taylor in solo recital.  “We in Wisconsin are privileged to call Christopher Taylor (below) one of our own,” wrote reviewer Jessica Courtier in the Capital Times following his performances last spring with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Taylor is also known for his work inventing a digital double keyboard piano, now being built.

Mills Hall, 8 PM.

Tickets $15.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/christopher-taylor-piano-faculty-concert/

Christopher Taylor new profile

March 11-13-15: University Opera presents “Transformations” (Conrad Susa (below top)/Anne Sexton below bottom). Directed by David Ronis, music conducted by Kyle Knox. Susa’s chamber opera for eight singers and eight players, is an adult re-telling of 10 classic fairy tales (among them, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel) as seen through the eyes of poet Anne Sexton. Sexton’s struggle with mental illness frames the darkly humorous, and audaciously recounted tales, filled with mid-20-century references, both literary and musical. (You can hear excerpts and a summary in a YouTube video at the bottom;)

Music Hall.

$25/$20/$10

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-transformations/

Conrad Susa

anne sexton

March 14: duoJalal (below) with Kathryn Lockwood and Yousif Sheronick, the wife-and-husband viola and percussion global chamber music duo. From their chamber music foundation, duoJalal moves from Classical to Klezmer, Middle Eastern to Jazz, with a skillful confluence that is natural, exploratory and passionate.

Morphy Hall, 7:30 PM.

Tickets $15.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/duojalal-viola-percussion-guest-artists/

Kathryn Lockwood and Yousif Sheronick

April 26-28-29: Jazz Immersion Week. A weeklong residency with LA-based Bob Sheppard (below), worldwide multi-woodwind performer, recording artist, and jazz musician. Also featuring UW Jazz Ensembles, the UW Jazz Orchestra, the UW High School Honors Jazz Band, and the Johannes Wallmann Quintet.

April 26: Bob Sheppard with the UW-Madison Composers Septet & Contemporary Jazz Ensemble. Free concert.

April 28: Bob Sheppard with the Johannes Wallmann Quintet. Tickets $15.

April 29: Bob Sheppard with the UW Jazz Orchestra & High School Honors Jazz Band. Tickets $15.

Buy tickets for both concerts for $25.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/jazz-bob-sheppard-guest-artist/

Tickets sold through the Campus Arts Ticketing Box Office online or in person. You may also buy day of show.

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/location.html

bob sheppard

 


Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players announces its new season of serious “Play” for 2015-16.

August 11, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) has announced its new season for 2015-16. It has the theme of serious “Play.”

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

As usual, the eclectic programs feature well-known masterpieces but also neglected repertoire and new music. Notice that you don’t see anything by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Antonin Dvorak, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and many other standard composers on this season. That is unusual — and most welcome!

All concerts take place on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons in the Oakwood Village West auditorium (below) – now known as the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education — at 6201 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side.

For more information about the players, the programs, the group’s history and individual or season tickets, visit: http://www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com

Oakwood Village Auditorium and Stage

Here is the press release:

“The Oakwood Chamber Players welcomes you to our 2015-16 season, which promised to be FUN! We often refer to our work in music as “play,” and this season we look forward to sharing the fun with you.

“Our concerts will stir memories of fun and games in the outdoors! Join us for musical performances that contemplate the beauty and pleasure of nature. This season will lift your spirits and please your ears. We love to play for you … now come play with us!

Oakwood Village Players on playground

WEEKEND STROLL

Saturday, Sept. 19, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 20, at 1:30 p.m.

Amy Beach (below) – Pastorale and Caprice for flute, cello and piano

Ole Bull/Edvard Grieg – Dairy Maid’s Sunday for violin, viola and cello

Alec WilderSuite for clarinet, horn and piano

Amy Beach BW 1

HOLIDAY FUN

Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015 at 1 and 3:30 p.m.

Annual Christmas Lights Concert

ChristmasTreeBranch.j

FAIRY TALES AND OTHER STORIES

Saturday, Jan. 16, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 17, at 1:30 p.m.

Malcolm Arnold (below) – Quintet for violin, viola, flute, horn and bassoon

Elisenda Fábregas – Voces de mi Tierra (Voices of My Land) for flute, cello and piano

Robert Schumann — Fairy Tales, Op. 132 for clarinet, viola and piano

malcolm arnold

CHILDREN’S GAMES

Saturday, March 5, at 7 p.m. and Sunday March 7, at 1:30 p.m.

Irving Fine (below, at Tanglewood in 1956) – One Two Buckle My Shoe for oboe, clarinet, violin and cello

Georges BizetJeux d’Enfants for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn

Jack GallagherAncient Evenings & Distant Music for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn

Irving Fine at Tanglewood 1956

SUMMER SPLASH

Saturday, May 14, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 15, at 1:30 p.m.

Franz SchubertTrout Quintet for violin, viola cello, bass and piano

Samuel BarberSummer Music for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn (heard at bottom in a YouTube video)

Craig Bohmler – Six Pieces After Shakespeare for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bass


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