The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This weekend brings two major piano recitals – by UW-Madison virtuoso Christopher Taylor and Italian duo-pianists Roberto Plano and Paola Del Negro – plus a public piano master class

September 20, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

As you have already seen from this week’s postings so far, this coming weekend is loaded with conflicting concerts.

One result is that events that would normally receive separate postings must be combined.

Such is the case today, with previews of two very appealing piano concerts plus a master class.

SATURDAY

This Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the celebrated UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below), a bronze medalist in the Van Cliburn Competition, will perform a terrifically well-planned recital that is a classic case of contrast-and-compare, and reveals how music begets more music.

Here are some notes from the School of Music about the program:

“Christopher Taylor’s conceptual program features Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, arranged by Franz Liszt.

Over 175 years later, New York City-based composer John Corigliano would use Beethoven’s Seventh to inspire his Fantasia on an Ostinato. (You can hear the famous slow movement with the “ostinato,” or continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm, that inspires it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

On the second half, Taylor will feature two takes on the title “Moments Musicaux” or Musical Moments: first, he will play Franz Schubert’s version, published in the last year of his life (1828); then he’ll perform Sergei Rachmaninoff’s version from the start of his career.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for non-School of Music students and children. Ticket information is here.

SATURDAY and SUNDAY

On Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m., as part of the Salon Piano Series, the Italian husband-and-wife piano duo of Roberto Plano and Paola Del Negro (below) will hold a FREE and PUBLIC master class with local students at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near the West Towne Mall.

Then on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., in the main showroom at Farley’s, the duo will perform.

The program features: “Pictures from the East” (Bilder aus Osten), Op. 66, by Robert Schumann; Burgmein’s (aka Ricordi) Suite “Les amoureux de Colombine”; Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dances 1-5; “The Moldau” by Bedrich Smetana; and Brahms’ Sonata for Two Pianos, Op. 34b, which later became his famous Piano Quintet.

Tickets are $45 for the public and $10 for full-time students.

For more information about tickets and biographies of the performers, go to: http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

You can also call (608) 271-2626.

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Classical music: This afternoon is your last chance to hear the season-opening concert of music by Bach, Mendelssohn and Berlioz by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Read the positive reviews here

September 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the highly praised season-opening concert “Orchestral Brilliance” by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top, in a photo by Peter Rodgers).

It will be conducted by music director John DeMain with a solo performance by MSO principal violist Christopher Dozoryst (below bottom).

The program features the dramatic orchestral arrangement, used in the soundtrack to Walt Disney’s famous film “Fantasia,” by Leopold Stokowski of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach; the Symphony No. 5 “Reformation” by Felix Mendelssohn; and “Harold in Italy” by Hector Berlioz. (You can hear the famous “Pilgrim March” movement of the Berlioz work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here are the positive reviews that were filed after the opening night performance on Friday:

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

https://isthmus.com/music/superlative-season-opener/

Here is the review by Greg Hettmansberger for his “What Greg Says” blog:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2017/09/16/demain-honors-two-traditions/

And here is the review done by UW-Madison graduate piano student Kyle Johnson (below) for The Capital Times, which blocks the content to non-subscribers unless you first answer a survey:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/mso-kicks-off-its-new-season-with-orchestral-brilliance/article_de094605-7a31-5d6c-9661-696d505bc7b5.html

For more information about the program, the performers, the prelude discussion, the program notes and tickets, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/09/13/classical-music-this-weekend-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-opens-its-new-season-with-mendelssohns-reformation-symphony-and-music-by-bach-it-also-highlights-principal-viol/


Classical music: This weekend the Madison Symphony Orchestra opens its new season with Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony and music by Bach. It also highlights principal violist in music by Berlioz

September 13, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below in a photo by Peter Rodgers), with music director John DeMain conducting, opens its 92nd season with a celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.

The season-opening concert also showcases the Madison Symphony Orchestra as an ensemble with no guest soloist. The MSO’s Principal Violist Chris Dozoryst (below) will solo in Hector Berlioz’sHarold in Italy.”

Also featured is Leopold Stokowski’s famous orchestral arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation will be honored with Felix Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” Symphony.

The concerts in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street, are on Friday night, Sept. 15, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, Sept. 16, at 8 p.m., and Sunday afternoon, Sept. 17, at 2:30 p.m.

Ticket information is below.

According to the MSO press release: “The concerts present the music of two composers who shared a deeply spiritual relationship with the Lutheran faith, and passion for music. It is said that Johann Sebastian Bach set faith to music, and Felix Mendelssohn clarified faith for all to hear.

MSO Music Director John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) chose to pair Bach and Mendelssohn specifically for this program.

“Both Bach (below top) and Mendelssohn (below bottom) were devout Lutherans, Mendelssohn having converted from Judaism when he was 12 years old,” DeMain says.

“I decided to open the season with Leopold Stokowski’s great transcription of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for organ, and then give the first performance by the MSO of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, subtitled the Reformation. Indeed, this symphony quotes extensively from one of the greatest Christian hymns of all time — “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.””

Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor is a transcription for orchestra by Leopold Stokowski (below) and became well-known after its inclusion in Disney’s film Fantasia. The piece was originally cut from the theatrical release of the film, but was later added back in a 1946 re-release and included Stokowski directing the orchestra at the beginning of the piece. (You can hear the original version for organ, with an unusual graphic display, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Hector Berlioz’sHarold in Italy” is considered an autobiographical vignette recounting the composer’s Italian experience. The piece is filled with youthful vitality, tinged with an appealing Romantic sensibility that Berlioz (below)  borrowed freely from literature, most specifically Lord Byron’s poem “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.” Playing the solo viola part is MSO’s Principal Violist Chris Dozoryst.

The 2017–18 season will mark Christopher Dozoryst’s 10th season as principal viola with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. In addition to his orchestral duties, Chris also performs with the MSO’s HeartStrings Program as violist with the Rhapsodie Quartet. He also performs and records, working locally and regionally in Madison and Chicago. He has performed numerous engagements with well-known musicians including Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, and Smokey Robinson.

Originally commissioned in 1830 for a celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, Mendelssohn honors Martin Luther (below) in his Symphony No. 5Reformation” by including in the finale the beloved hymn Ein’ feste Burg is unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God) that Luther had written while the Augsburg Confession was in session. This year marks the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses and the establishment of the Lutheran Church.

One hour before each performance, Amy Hartsough (below), acting director of music at Bethel Lutheran Church, will lead a FREE 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

For more background on the music, please read the Program Notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1718/1.Sep17.html.

The MSO recommends that concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the pre-concert talk (free for all ticket-holders).

Single Tickets are $18-$90 each and are on sale now at https://www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets, 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, go to: https://www.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 $18 tickets.

More information is at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush

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.  

Major funding for the September concerts is provided by: the Wisconsin State Journal and Madison.com, Rosemarie and Fred Blancke, Capitol Lakes, The Gialamas Company, Inc., Marvin J. Levy, Nancy Mohs, and Peggy and Tom Pyle. Additional funding is provided by: DeWitt Ross & Stevens S.C., Forte Research Systems and Nimblify, the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin, and the federal National Endowment for the Arts.


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: Madison Symphony Orchestra and violinist Henning Kraggerud perform music by Beethoven, Bruch, Elgar and Kraggerud this weekend

October 17, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Ludwig van Beethoven’s popular Symphony No. 6 “Pastorale” anchors the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) concerts under the baton of music director John DeMain on this coming Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud returns to perform a violin concerto and some of his own original compositions.

henning-kraggerud-2016

The concerts will open with “In the South” by Sir Edward Elgar, a work that was inspired by the countryside and music he experienced during an Italian holiday.

Kraggerud will perform the dramatic and lyrical Violin Concerto No. 1 by Max Bruch (below), followed by his own Three Postludes from his composition “Equinox.”

max bruch

The program will conclude with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, “the Pastorale,” which is a tribute to country life, as you can see and hear in the popular YouTube video, with almost 3 million hits, that is at the bottom.

The concerts are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street, on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

While escaping a drab English winter, Elgar (below), inspired by the Italian Riviera and his realization of the human cost of war, wrote “In the South” – an overture that begins and ends in a stormy mood, while encompassing wistful music for clarinets and strings.

Edward Elgar

Austrian violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim (below) put Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in the same league as the violin concertos of Beethoven, Brahms and Mendelssohn, calling the Bruch composition the “richest, most seductive” of the four composers. The main musical theme eventually becomes the foundation for a flashy and exhilarating ending.

Joseph Joachim

Kraggerud’sEquinox” is a set of 24 postludes for solo violin and orchestra in all major and minor keys, with a concluding 25th movement, based on a narration titled “24 Keys to a World Before it Slips Away” by Norwegian novelist Jostein Gaarder.

The Three Postludes, each short character pieces expressing an emotion, will transport audiences around the globe, capturing in a witty way a bit of the flavor of the protagonist’s various stops on his imaginary journey.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 was inspired by his love for the countryside around Vienna. In it he reflects upon humanity’s role in the quiet spaces of nature. According to Beethoven (below), the Pastorale is meant to transport the listener to lush, restful, nature scenes that are “more an expression of feeling than painting.” Popularized through the Disney-animated classic film “Fantasia,” the Pastorale Symphony delights audiences of all ages.

Beethoven big

One hour before each performance, Tyrone Greive (below, in a photo by Kathy Esposito), former MSO Concertmaster and retired professor of violin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

Tyrone Greive 2013 by Kathy Esposito

For more background on the music, please visit the Program Notes at: madisonsymphony.org/kraggerud.

Single Tickets are $16 to $87 each, available at madisonsymphony.org/kraggerud, 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 percent by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, madisonsymphony.org/groups

Club 201, MSO’s organization for young professionals, has continued to fulfill its mission for the past 11 years as the premier organization promoting classical music and networking opportunities to the young professionals’ community in Madison.

For a $35 ticket, young professionals will enjoy world-class seating in Overture Hall, an exclusive after-party in the Promenade Lounge, one drink ticket and a cash bar. Conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), as well as musicians from the symphony, will be attending to mingle with Madison’s young professionals.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The deadline to purchase tickets is this Thursday, Oct. 20. Tickets can be purchased for this event, as well as the other events throughout the 2016-17 season by visiting the Club 201 page on the MSO’s website at http://www.madisonsymphony.org/club201.

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture 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 can receive 20 percent savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20 percent 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.

Major funding for the October concerts is provided by: Steinhauer Charitable Trust, Rosemarie Blancke, Cyrena and Lee Pondrom, and UW Health & Unity Health Insurance. Additional funding is provided by: DeWitt Ross & Stevens S.C., Audrey and Philip Dybdahl, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra opens its new season with superb playing, hypnotizing space photos by NASA and close to three full houses

September 28, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Several years ago, artistic director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) decided to use the season-opening concerts of the Madison Symphony Orchestra to spotlight the symphony and its first-chair players as soloists.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

No big-name imported guest soloists were to be booked.

In addition, this year Maestro DeMain chose to open the season with a multimedia show that combined Jumbotron-like space images from NASA (below is Jupiter) with Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” 

nasa-jupiter2

Such multimedia events increasingly seem to work as a way to build audiences and boost attendance by new people and young people. After all, a music director has to sell tickets and fill seats as well as wave a baton.

And it seems that, on both counts, DeMain’s strategy proved  spectacularly successful.

All sections of the orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) — strings, brass, winds, percussion — played with energy, precision and subtlety. The MSO proved a very tight ensemble. Each year, you can hear how the MSO improves and grows increasingly impressive after 23 years of DeMain’s direction.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The public seemed to agree. It came very close to filling the 2,200-seat Overture Hall for all three performances with more than 6,100 audience members, according to Peter Rodgers, the new marketing director for the MSO. Especially noteworthy, he said, was the number of children, students and young people who attended.

In fact, so many students showed up for student rush tickets on Friday night that the performance was delayed by around 10 minutes – because of long lines at the box office, NOT because of the new security measures at the Overture Center, which Rodgers said worked smoothly and quickly.

But not everything was ideal, at least not for The Ear.

On the first half, the playing largely outweighed the music.

True,  the Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 by a very young George Enescu (below) received a sizzling and infectious performance. With its catchy folk tunes, dance rhythms and Gypsy harmonies, the fun work proved an irresistible opener – much like a starting with an encore, which is rather like eating a rich and tasty dessert before tackling the more nutritious but less snazzy main course.

The music itself is captivating and frequently played – although this was its surprising premiere performance by the MSO. Little wonder the Enescu got a rousing standing ovation. Still, it is hardly great music.

george enescu

Then came the Chaconne for violin and orchestra by the American composer John Corigliano (below), who based the work on his Oscar-winning film score for “The Red Violin.”

John Corigliano

Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) impressed The Ear and most others with her mastery of what appeared to be a very difficult score. The ovation was for her, not for the music.

Naha Greenholtz playing CR Greg Anderson

That music also has some fine moments. But overall it seems a dull and tedious work, an exercise in virtuosity with some of the same flaws you find in certain overblown piano etudes by Franz Liszt. Once again the playing trumped the music.

Then came The Big Event: Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” coupled with clear, high-definition photos of the planets taken by NASA that were projected on a huge screen above the orchestra. Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s and Venus’ clouds and Mars’ landscape (below) have never looked so impressive.

nasa-mars2

The orchestra again struck one with its exotic and “spacey” sound effects and with what must have been the difficulty of timing simultaneously the music and the images.

Yet ultimately Holst’s work became a sound track — music accompanying images rather than images accompanying the music. The Ear heard several listeners compare the admittedly impressive result to the movies “Fantasia” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” That says something.

At some moments the sound and images really matched and reinforced each other, especially in the dramatic opening section, “Mars, the Bringer of War.” Holst’s score also succeeds nicely with “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” and to a lesser degree with “Venus, the Bringer of Peace.”

But overall “The Planets” reminds The Ear of colorful and dramatic  programmatic showpieces such as Ottorino Respighi‘s “The Pines of Rome” and “The Fountains of Rome.” (Earth, curiously, is not included in “The Planets.” Makes you wonder: What would Earth bring?) Enjoyable music, to be sure, but not profound fare.

The Ear’s extensive library of CDs has none of the three works on the program. And it will probably remain that way.

While Holst’s work does have great moments, it grows long, repetitive and finally uninteresting as it ends not with a bang but with an underwhelming whimper – which was beautifully enhanced by the atmospheric singing of the MSO Women’s Chorus. There are just too many planets!

Listen to the YouTube video at the bottom, played by James Levine conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and you will see: Mars rules!

nasa-mars

Add it all up and despite three standing ovations, in the end The Ear found the concert less than fully satisfying. The music, however likable and appealing, was not, for the most part,  great music. Moreover, it was mostly trumped first by the performances and then by the visuals.

So on a personal note, here is The Ear’s request to the MSO, which scored an undeniably brilliant success with this program: Keep the same all-orchestra and first-chair format for season-openers and use multimedia shows whenever appropriate. But please also include at least one really first-rate piece of music with more substance.

Is that asking for too much?

Is The Ear alone and unfair in his assessment? 

Other critics had their own takes and some strongly disagree with The Ear.

Here is a link to three other reviews:

By John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/music/beautiful-music-distracting-backdrop/

John-Barker

By Jessica Courtier for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/music/concert-review-mso-takes-audience-on-a-stunning-trip-to/article_6dd45c4d-c11b-5c77-ae54-35a3e731b1cb.html

And by Greg Hettmansberger (below), who writes for WISC-TV Channel 3 and his Classically Speaking blog for Madison Magazine, and on his own blog, What Greg Says:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/tag/john-corigliano/

greg hettmansberger mug

What did you think of the music, the performances and the visual show?

How well did they mix?

What did you like most and least?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music education: The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras perform their spring concerts this Saturday and Sunday.

May 19, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will wind up their 50th anniversary season when they present the final concert series of the season — the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family Spring Concerts — on this Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22.

The concert series will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus in the George Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, in Madison.

WYSO concerts generally run about an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.

Tickets are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for young people 18 and under.

Almost 400 young musicians will display their talents to the community during four concerts.

The concert series will drop its downbeat at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, when Sinfonietta (below), under the baton of Mark Leiser, takes the stage. The group will perform the Poet and Peasant Overture by Franz von Suppe; the Suite for String Orchestra on Old English Songs by Ritter George; the Adagio from Symphony No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff; As Summer Was Just Beginning (Song for James Dean) by Daehn; and Final Quest composed by Chisam.

Sinfonietta strings

Following Sinfonietta, Christine Mata-Eckel will lead the Concert Orchestra (below) on stage to perform Kallalanta by William Harbinson, Peter Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet and finally Jacob’s Fantasia on the Alleluia Hymn.

wyso concert orchestra brass

The Harp Ensemble (below), under the direction of Karen Beth Atz, will also perform at this concert. It will be performing Courante CLXXXIII by Michael Praetorius and Toward the Sun by Izmaylov.

WYSO Harp Ensemble 2011

For the 4 p.m. concert on Saturday, May 21, Vicki Jenks will direct the Percussion Ensemble (below) as it gets the concert started. It will perform Dark Flight by Campbell and their annual performance of Londonderry Air (“Danny Boy”) in honor of graduating seniors.

WYSO percussion Ensemble 2013

Following Percussion Ensemble, the Philharmonia Orchestra (bel0w), under the direction of Michelle Kaebisch, will take the stage. It will perform the final movement of Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 and Espana by Emmanuel Chabrier.

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

The orchestra will also perform two concertos featuring the Philharmonia Orchestra Concerto Competition Winners. Pianist Antonio Wu (below top) will perform Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto and violinist Monona Suzuki (below bottom) will perform the Carmen Fantasy for Solo Violin by Pablo de Sarasate.

Antonio Wu

Monona Suzuki

On Sunday, May 22, at 2 p.m. WYSO’s Brass Choirs (below) under the direction of Brett Keating will start the show performing works by George Frideric Handel, Olson, Heinrich Schutz and more.

WYSO Brass Choir

Following Brass Choirs, Youth Orchestra (below) with WYSO music director James Smith will perform four concertos along with Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.

WYSO Youth Orchestra

Violinist Thea Valmadrid (below top) will perform Tzigane for Solo Violin by Maurice Ravel; violinist Aurora Greane (below second) will play the first movement of the Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky; pianist Audrianna Wu (below third) will perform the final movement of the Piano Concerto by Edvard Greig; and cellist Tatiana Tandias (below bottom) will perform the first movement of the Cello Concerto by Sir Edward Elgar.

Thea Valmadrid

Aurora Greane

Audrianna Wu

Tatiana Tandias

 

These concerts are generously supported by the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family, along with funds from Dane County, the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, The Evjue Foundation, Inc., charitable arm of The Capital Times, W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation and Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. This project is also supported in part by additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the State of Wisconsin, and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Classical music: The Karp Family continues its legacy as Madison’s First Family of Music. UW cellist Parry Karp performs a FREE concert of music by Beethoven, Benjamin Britten and George Crumb this Saturday night at 8. His pianists mother Frances and brother Christopher will join him. Plus, tonight’s recital by pianist Marco Grieco at Farley’s has been CANCELLED.

March 13, 2015
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ALERT: Tonight’s recital by pianist Marco Grieco at Farley’s House of Pianos has been CANCELLED due to visa problems.

By Jacob Stockinger

What else can you do except admire the quiet courage and persistence to keep going? 

It is exactly what the 20th-century French poet Paul Eduard described as “Le dur désir de durer,” or the hard desire to endure.

Perhaps that is one of the enduring appeals and rewards of great art – to help all of us, artists and audiences alike, get through difficult times, to bear the unbearable.

Last summer, you may recall, the Karp family lost pianist patriarch Howard Karp, a wonderful talent and personality who died suddenly of heart failure at 84 while on vacation in Colorado.

Karp (below, in a  photo by Katrin Talbot) had been a longtime piano teacher and beloved performer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. He also was a devoted first-rate chamber music partner who performed frequently with the other members of his family.

Howard Karp ca. 2000 by Katrin Talbot

Here is a link to the blog post about that death that drew so many readers and reader comments:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/classical-music-pianist-howard-karp-who-taught-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-has-died-at-84/ 

You can also use the blog’s search engine to see several posts about the memorial held for Howard Karp.

Now the remaining family members – apart from the three granddaughters who have participated in previous concerts – will take to the stage of Mills Hall this Saturday night at 8 p.m. to continue the longtime Karp tradition of performing.

Eldest son and UW-Madison cellist Parry Karp (below), who also performs with the Pro Arte Quartet, is the centerpiece of the FREE concert.

He will be joined by his pianist mother Frances, and his brother Christopher, a gifted pianist and violinist (one-time concertmaster of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra) who is also a medical officer with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Parry Karp

Here is the program:

Second Suite for Solo Cello, Op. 80 (1967) by Benjamin Britten (below)

Declamato: Largo

Fuga: Andante

       Scherzo: Allegro molto

       Andante lento

       Ciaccona: Allegro

Benjamin Britten

Sonata in F Major for Piano and Violin, Op. 24 “Spring” (1801-2)   by Ludwig van Beethoven; transcribed for Piano and Cello by Parry Karp

Allegro

Adagio molto expressivo

Scherzo: Allegro molto

Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo

With pianist Frances Karp (below bottom, on left beside the late Howard Karp, and below bottom playing with Parry Karp, Pro Arte violinist and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra concertmaster Suzanne Beia, and daughter-in-law violist Katrin Talbot, who also plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra)

howard and frances karp

Suzanne Beia, Katrin Talbot, Frances and Parry Karp 2013

INTERMISSION

Sonata for Solo Cello (1955) by George Crumb (below)

Fantasia: Andante espressivo e con molto rubato

       Tema pastorale con variazioni

Toccata: Largo e drammatico-Allegro vivace

George Crumb

Sonata in G Major for Piano and Violin, Op. 96 (1812) by Ludwig van Beethoven; transcribed for Piano and Cello by Parry Karp. (At  bottom in a YouTube video with a performance by violinist Isabelle Faust and pianist Alexander Melnikov of the appealing first moment of the original version of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata, Op. 96. The work is one of The Ear’s all-time favorites.) 

Allegro moderato

Adagio espressivo

Scherzo: Allegro

Poco Allegretto

with pianist Christopher Karp (below top and bottom, playing with his brother Parry)

Christopher Karp

Karp Memorial Christopher and Parry

 

 


Classic music: Today is World Cup Sunday. As Argentina and Germany battle to win the soccer championship, here is another installment of the music by the great Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

July 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

As loyal blog readers already know, The Ear has been using the FIFA World Cup (below) competition in soccer — or football, as the rest of the globe knows the sport – as a fine occasion to explore and to hear the music of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos.

World Cup 2014 playing

After all, the World Cup has taken place since June 12 in some dozen stadiums (below) throughout Brazil. And today’s championship match between Argentina and Germany will take place in Rio de Janiero.

World Cup 2014 stadiums

And after hearing the music of Villa-Lobos performed by the Cello Choir at the National Summer Cello Institute (below) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, The Ear is more convinced than ever that this great but neglected 20th-century composer deserves a wider hearing and more live performances.

Cello Choir 2014 Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1

Villa-Lobos (below) attempted an ambitious and ingenious task: To reconcile and incorporate the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and concert hall music in general with the folk songs and folk dances of his native Brazil. Before Astor Piazzolla and his “new tangos,” there was Villa-Lobos and his Bachianas Brasileiras and Choros.

Villa-Lobos BW

Here are links to the previous installments:

This is the link to the Cello Choir concert of the annual National Summer Cello Institute that is held each summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and that inspired my Villa-Lobos video postings from YouTube.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/19/classical-music-the-ear-takes-the-cello-cure-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-and-now-cant-wait-for-another-treatment-next-summer/

And here are the links to the first two installments that feature the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 and No 1, which both deserve repeated hearings:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/classical-music-the-fifa-world-cup-of-soccer-is-a-perfect-time-to-become-acquainted-with-the-astonishing-music-of-brazilian-composer-heitor-villa-lobos/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/classical-music-the-united-states-advances-in-the-world-cup-of-soccer-and-the-ear-advances-to-another-great-moment-in-music-by-brazilian-composer-heitor-villa-lobos/

And here is the third installment that featured Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire performing the chorale prelude-type opening of the Bachianas Brasilerias No. 3 for solo piano:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/classical-music-more-world-cup-soccer-means-more-music-by-brazilian-composer-heitor-villa-lobos-here-is-installment-no-3/

Villa-Lobos was championed by none other than the great pianist Arthur Rubinstein, who performed his suite “Prole do bebe”:

And his well-known piece “The Little Train From the Caipira,” from “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 2, which Walt Disney was attracted to for possible use in a second “Fantasia” film and which imitates the sounds of a rural choo-choo, as played by a youth orchestra in Great Britain:

Now here is a link to Installment No. 4: A beautiful movement from one of his 17 string quartets — this one is No. 5 and is available on YouTube. It once again shows the lyrical songfulness and folk music vigor of Villa-Lobos. It is even more beautiful than the perfect soccer kick or dribble, pass or goal, and it is more long-lasting:

 


Classical music Q&A: Choral director Robert Gehrenbeck talks about his favorite works by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. You can hear some of them when the Wisconsin Chamber Choir — which unveils its 2014-15 season here — performs works by Vaughan Williams and his followers this Saturday night. Part 2 of 2.

May 30, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday night, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will wrap up its current season with a special concert of “Ralph Vaughan Williams and Friends.”

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Nov 17, 2012 Bethel Lutheran

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. on this Saturday, May 31, in the acoustically resonant Grace Episcopal Church, West Washington Avenue at Carroll Street on the Capitol Square, downtown Madison.

grace episcopal church ext

The soloists include violinist Leanne League and organist Mark Brampton Smith.

Admission is $15, $10 for students.

One of the best-loved choral composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams was renowned not only for his compositions, but also for his friendship and advocacy on behalf of countless other musicians.

The concert features some of Vaughan Williams’ best-known works including, “Serenade to Music,” Mass in G Minor, and the powerful anthem, “Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge.”

Vaughan Williams shared a passion for collecting folksongs with his close friend Gustav Holst, whose heartfelt setting of “I Love My Love” will be heard alongside several of Vaughan Williams’ own folksong arrangements.

Works by Herbert Howells and Vaughan Williams’ students Imogen Holst and Elizabeth Maconchy will demonstrate Vaughan Williams’ influence on succeeding generations.

Finally, selections from the motets and anthems of Thomas Tallis exemplify Vaughan Williams’ debt to his English predecessors, notably Tallis’ “Third Mode Psalm Tune,” the inspiration for Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.”

Joining the WCC in this performance are violinist Leanne League, associate concertmaster of both the Madison Symphony and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; and organist Mark Brampton Smith.

Advance tickets are available for $15 from http://www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Willy Street Coop (East and West locations) and Orange Tree Imports. Student tickets are $10.

Founded in 1998, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Franz Joseph Haydn; of a cappella masterworks from various centuries; and of world-premieres. Dr. Robert Gehrenbeck, who teaches and directs choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, is the Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s Artistic Director.

Gehrenbeck recently agreed to an email Q&A about the upcoming concer.

Yesterday, Part 1 appeared. Here is a link to Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/classical-music-qa-choral-director-robert-gehrenbeck-talks-about-how-british-composer-ralph-vaughan-williams-sparked-two-renaissances-or-revivals-you-can-hear-the-results-when-the-wisconsin-cha/

Today’s post features the second and last part of the Q&A.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

What are your favorite works –- choral or otherwise — by Vaughan Williams, ones you would recommend to those listeners who don’t know him?

Many discussions of Vaughan Williams’ body of works start with his visionary orchestral work, the “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” from 1910. The “theme” of this work is a choral psalm tune in the Phrygian mode by Tallis (below) that Vaughan Williams discovered while working as music editor for the 1906 “English Hymnal.” (The WCC’s concert includes this Tallis work in its original form, using words from the English Hymnal.)

Not only did Vaughan Williams borrow Tallis’ melody, but, more importantly, his harmony, which is full of jarring cross relations, such as E-minor juxtaposed with E-major. Throughout his “Fantasia” — and throughout his career —Vaughan Williams exploited and extended this harmony based on what I like to call “consonances in unusual relation” (that’s a quote from the Grove Dictionary article on an obscure English composer named Alan Bush).

Thomas Tallis

Unlike his contemporaries who developed increasingly chromatic music around the same time, Vaughan Williams stuck with simple triads but subjected them to various sorts of modern treatments, especially by juxtaposing seemingly unrelated chords, as in the 1910 Fantasia.

Finally, the form of this piece is not, as one might expect, a theme and variations scheme, but rather a free, rhapsodic meditation on the ethos of Tallis’ tune, somewhat in the style of an Elizabethan keyboard fantasia by William Byrd.

So it is that in this work, we have the characteristics of Vaughan Williams’ mature style in a nutshell — a melody-based form that develops freely, rather than predictably, whose harmonic language is based on new, modally inspired ways of using common chords.

The overall effect is mysterious, awe-inspiring, and revelatory. The young Herbert Howells (below) was so awestruck by the premiere performance that he spent the rest of the night pacing the streets of Gloucester, trying to digest what he had heard.

herbert howells autograph

As I mentioned above, Vaughan Williams wrote nine symphonies, and several of these are favorites of mine, particularly the first, sixth, and ninth. His first symphony is a choral-orchestral masterpiece (following the examples of Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn and Gustav Mahler). It’s called “A Sea Symphony,” with a libretto based on the poetry of Walt Whitman (below).

Completed the year before the Tallis “Fantasia,” this score gives voice to the muscular, optimistic humanism of Whitman’s poetry in triadic eruptions that stir the soul. I don’t claim to know all of Vaughan Williams’ music by any means, but, like many others, I am also a fan of his sixth symphony, composed in the aftermath of World War II and premiered in 1948, soon becoming the most popular English symphony of all time. The change in Vaughan Williams’ style during the 40-year period between his first and sixth symphonies is startling.

Walt Whitman 2

The sixth provides a good rebuttal to those who claim that Vaughan Williams remained a reactionary, rather than a modern composer. It’s full of dissonance and gnawing ostinatos that create an atmosphere of unease and dislocation, which seemed to fit the post-Hiroshima age — including our own times — extremely well.

The long final movement is marked “pianissimo, senza expressivo” (very quietly, without expression) throughout, eventually dissolving into a weird undulation between two unrelated triads, E-flat major and E-minor. Such a concluding movement is exactly the opposite of what traditional symphonic form leads listeners to expect. It’s one of the most eerie moments in the entire symphonic repertoire.

I’m afraid I’ll have to save a discussion of other orchestral works for another day, but I do want to mention a few additional favorite choral works: the war-time oratorio “Dona Nobis Pacem” (another Whitman libretto), the rarely heard oratorio “Sancta civitas” (libretto from the Book of Revelation), and the late “Three Shakespeare Songs” for unaccompanied choir. Several other favorite works of mine are on the WCC’s concert, so I’ll discuss them next.

shakespeare BW

What would you like the public to know about the specific composers and works on the program, and why you chose them?

We are looking forward to performing what I think is Vaughan Williams’ most inspired setting of William Shakespeare, his “Serenade to Music,” composed in 1938. Vaughan Williams adapted his libretto from Lorenzo’s meditation on the power of music to mediate between human passion and the harmony of the spheres in “The Merchant of Venice,” Act V

“How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank!

Here will we sit and let the sounds of music

Creep in our ears: Soft stillness and the night

Become the touches of sweet harmony….

Thus begins Vaughan Williams’ one-movement nocturne featuring some of his most lovely melodies, exquisite modulations, and ethereal scoring. The original version was for 16 solo singers and orchestra, so we will alternate between multiple soloists from the choir with the full chorus singing the tutti passages. Our fabulous organist, Mark Brampton Smith (below top), is responsible for most of the orchestration, Leanne League, who is the associate concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and a violinist with the Ancora String Quartet, is joining us to perform the original solo violin part. (You can hear “The Serenade to Music” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Mark Brampton Smith

leanne league

The remainder of our program draws on the rich a cappella repertoire of Vaughan Williams and several of his followers.

We’re doing two movements from his incredible Mass in G minor, which he wrote in 1921 in response to the revival of the sacred music of Byrd and Tallis at Westminster Cathedral. We’ll precede that work with an actual motet by Tallis, “Mihi autem nimis.”

In addition to the Serenade, the second half of our program features folk song settings by both Vaughan Williams and his closest friend, Gustav Holst (below), including Holst’s justifiably famous “I Love My Love,” based on a Dorian-mode tune. This piece is one of the absolute masterpieces in the genre of choral folksong arrangements.

Gustav Holst

From Vaughan Williams’ numerous additional “friends” (composers who were all literally good friends of his) we have chosen Herbert Howells, Gustav Holst’s daughter Imogen Holst (below top) and Elizabeth Maconchy (below bottom). Howells is represented by the “Jubilate” movement from his “Collegium Regale Service,” a set of Anglican canticles he composed in 1945 for King’s College in Cambridge.

The flowing melodies, modally flavored harmonies and Howells’ expert control of pacing in this work are all reminders of Vaughan Williams’ influence. Imogen Holst (below) was the only child of Gustav and Isobel Holst, and an important composer, conductor, writer, and organizer of musical festivals in her own right. Her teachers included both Howells and Vaughan Williams, and she became closely associated with Benjamin Britten during her later years.

We will perform Holst’s “Hymne to Christ,” a luminous setting of a poem by John Donne.

Imogen Holst

Finally, Elizabeth Maconchy was another of Vaughan Williams’ students and a classmate of Imogen Holst. Maconchy (below) is best known for her chamber music, but also composed operas and a significant body of choral music. We have chosen two movements from a 1979 work called “Creatures,” settings of poems written for children about various animals and their foibles.

The music of “Cat’s Funeral” is an example of the English predilection for “consonances in unusual relation” that I mentioned earlier. The string of unexpected, descending minor triads that opens this movement creates a mood of exaggerated pathos perfectly matched to the poem. The other movement is “The Hen and the Carp,” a humorous dialogue that doubles as social commentary.

elizabeth maconchy

What are the current plans and future projects including programs for next season, for the Wisconsin Chamber Choir?

We are very excited about our upcoming season. On December 19, 2014 we will present “Wolcum Yole,” a Christmas-themed concert featuring Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols,” and on April 18 and 19, 2015, we will perform Brahms’ “German” Requiem with full orchestra. Also featured on the April concerts will be the world premiere of a piece we have commissioned from English composer Giles Swayne, called “Our Orphan Souls.” Swayne has chosen an excerpt from chapter 114 of Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” as his text, and his piece will be scored for two soloists and choir with alto saxophone, harp, double bass and percussion.

Swayne (below, in a photo by Alice Williamson) plans to begin writing this piece next month, and I’m eagerly anticipating receiving the completed score in the fall. An interesting connection to our current season is that Swayne’s first composition teacher was Elizabeth Maconchy, who was his mother’s cousin.

giles swayne CR Alice Williamson

 

 

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