The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: A busy week at the UW-Madison includes FREE concerts of music for strings, winds, voice and brass

February 26, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week will be busy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

There is something just about every day and all of it is FREE and OPEN to the public.

For all events, including some interesting doctoral recitals and lectures, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Here is a schedule of the major events:

TUESDAY

NOTE: The concert by guest artists flutist Cristina Ballatori and guitarist Jonathan Dotson has been CANCELED.

At 7:30 in Mills Hall, a concert and discussion of Eastern European string music will be given by Maria Pomianowska (below top) and Seth Parker Woods (below bottom in a photo by Michael Yu).

For more information, go to:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/maria-pomianowska-seth-parker-woods-eastern-european-string-music/

WEDNESDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW trombonist Mark Hetzler (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) and UW collaborative pianist Martha Fischer (below bottom) will perform music from their latest CD on Summit Records “Themes and Meditations.” Featured composers include Sandro Fuga, Jan Bach, Anthony Plog, Anthony Barfield and Frank Bridge.

For more information, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/faculty-duo-recital-mark-hetzler-trombone-martha-fischer-piano/

THURSDAY

At 7 p.m. at Oakwood Village West, 6209 Mineral Point Road, in Madison’s far west side near West Towne Mall, the UW Wingra Wind Quintet will perform a free concert. Sorry, no words on composers or pieces on the program. Members are (below, from left, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) bassoonist Marc Vallon, flutist Timothy Hagen, clarinetist Alicia Lee, oboist Aaron Hill, and hornist Joanna Schulz.

FRIDAY

At 5 p.m. in Morphy Hall, the voice students of UW professor Mimmi Fulmer (below) will perform a “Rush Hour Recital” of classical and popular songs. Sorry, no word on composers or pieces on the program.

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW cellist Parry Karp (below left), who plays with the Pro Arte Quartet, will perform a recital with longtime partner pianist Eli Kalman (below right), who did his graduate studies at UW-Madison and now teaches at UW-Oshkosh.

The program features the “Romance for Violin and Piano” by Polish composer Karl Szymanowski as transcribed by Karp; the Cello Sonata No. 2 in F major by Johannes Brahms; and the Sonata for Cello and Piano by French composer Charles-Valentin Alkan. (You can hear the original setting of the Szymanowski Romance in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more information, go to:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/faculty-recital-parry-karp-cello-and-eli-kalman-piano/

SUNDAY

At 3 p.m. in Morphy Hall the winners of the Irving Shain Woodwind and Piano Duo Competition will perform. The winners have not yet been named and there is no program yet posted. Stay tuned and go to here for an update: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/irving-shain-woodwind-piano-duo-competition-winners-recital/

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Classical music: Piano and viola duo Vis-à-Vis gives a FREE concert this Saturday at noon as part of Grace Presents

January 11, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

For a while, the acclaimed FREE community outreach concert series Grace Presents had folded.

But now it is back.

Grace Presents’ new coordinator Yanzel Rivera, who is a graduate student at the UW-Madison Mead-Witter School of Music, has sent the following information to post:

“Grace Presents, which offers free monthly concerts on the Capitol Square, will feature the Vis-À-Vis duo (below) of violist Brandin Kreuder and pianist Craig Jordan.

“The one-hour concert, called “Clarke and Brahms” will take place this Saturday, Jan. 13, at noon at the Grace Episcopal Church, 116 West Washington Avenue, across from the Capitol Square.

The program features: Four Pieces by British composer Frank Bridge, (1879-1941); a Sonata by British composer Rebecca Clarke, (1886-1979, below top); “Un regard dans le vide” or ‘A Look Into the Void” (2017) by American composer Christian Messier (b. 1995, below bottom), who studies at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin;  and the Sonata in F Minor by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).

ABOUT THE PERFORMERS

“Duo Vis-À-Vis aims to bring engaging and explorative chamber music performances to communities across the country and share their love for musical collaboration and expression.

“The duo is comprised of violinist/violist Brandin Kreuder, and pianist, Craig Jordan. Brandin is a native of Burlington, Wisconsin, and a 2016 graduate of Lawrence University and Conservatory (below) who holds a B.A. in Studio Art and a B.M. in Violin Performance.

“Brandin is currently in his second year of his Master of Music degree studying viola with virtuoso violist Jodi Levitz at the Frost School of Music, University of Miami.

“Jordan, from Ames, Iowa, is a junior at the Lawrence Conservatory of Music pursuing his Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance under the teaching of Catherine Kautsky, with an emphasis on Collaborative Piano. He is currently studying this fall semester at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam in the Netherlands with Marta Liébana Martínez.

“Since its debut in spring 2016, duo Vis-A-Vis has performed three recital tours in Wisconsin, Iowa, Florida, Missouri, Colorado and Massachusetts. Their recent tour “Reminiscence” brought the duo to their widest variety of performance locations yet. One of these performances also served as the beginning of a new chamber music series hosted by the College Light Opera Company in Falmouth, Mass.

(You can hear Duo Vis-à-Vis (below) perform the Violin Sonata by Cesar Franck in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

ABOUT GRACE PRESENTS

Grace Presents features a diverse range of music, including everything from classical and folk to jazz and bluegrass. The performers include nationally recognized musicians and exceptional young talent from Madison and beyond.

The mission is to create a premier concert series that everyone in the Madison community can enjoy. Each month it welcomes a diverse audience to its concerts, including Madison residents, students, farmers’ market shoppers, tourists, and people who are homeless.

The organizers invite audiences to bring a lunch to enjoy inside the church during our concerts.

A celebrated historic landmark established in 1839, Grace Episcopal Church (below top and bottom) is the oldest church in Madison. Known for its grand Gothic architecture and distinctive red doors, the church features hand-carved woodwork, brilliant stained glass windows–including a Tiffany window–and a cathedral organ.

Grace Presents is supported in part by a grant from Dane Arts, the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation, the Madison Arts Commission, with additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board.

The series also relies on donations from sponsors and free-will offerings at each concert.


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS — the slow movement of the Violin Concerto by Gerald Finzi

August 7, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has long had a fondness for the works of the 20th-century British composer Gerald Finzi (below).

His work may be relatively tweedy and conservative, but it is unmistakably modern. It is very poignant and appealing, with accessible harmonies and beautiful melodies. He seems much like a British Samuel Barber.

Ever since he first heard it maybe 20 years ago, The Ear has loved Finzi’s pastoral Eclogue for Piano and String Orchestra, which was meant to be the slow movement of a piano concerto but ended up being an independent work. And, judging by how increasingly  often it gets played on Wisconsin Public Radio, the Eclogue seems to be a favorite among a growing number of fans.

But there are other works.

There is the Romance for Violin and Small Orchestra.

There is the Romance for String Orchestra.

There is the Concerto for Cello.

There is his Romance for Clarinet and String Orchestra as well as the Five Bagatelles for Clarinet and Orchestra.

And now The Ear has discovered the slow movement — appropriately marked “very serene” — of the Violin Concerto by Finzi, which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.

It is performed by British violinist Tasmin Little (below, in a photo by Melanie Winning), who four seasons years ago turned in wonderful performances in Madison with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell. She played Finzi’s rarely heard “Introit.”

If you want to hear the whole concerto, it is available for free on YouTube from a couple of different performers. And you can find many other works by Finzi on YouTube.

In any case, The Ear hopes the Violin Concerto gets programmed at a local concert.

This past summer, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society featured a song cycle by Finzi. Even so, we need to hear more music by Gerald Finzi in live performances.

Finzi was a modest and retiring man, publicity shy and not given to self-aggrandizement or self-promotion, who went underperformed and underappreciated during his lifetime. But he is an extremely welcoming and moving modern composer.

The Ear thinks he deserves a better place among other modern British composers who have become more popular, including Ralph Vaughan Williams (shown, below right, with Finzi), Benjamin Britten, Frank Bridge, William Walton and others.

Are there other Gerald Finizi fans out there?

What do you think about him?

And what is your favorite work by Gerald Finzi?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What classical music best celebrates the solstice and the arrival of summer?

June 21, 2017
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REMINDER: Today is the fifth annual citywide Make Music Madison that celebrates the coming of summer with FREE, PUBLIC and LOCAL performances. For more information, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com

By Jacob Stockinger

Summer arrived late last night – at 11:24 p.m. — in the Midwest.

To mark and celebrate the welcome event, here are three pieces of well-known summer-related music:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” or a “A Short Night Music” (or “A Little Night Music”:

Summer from Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires”:

And Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville, Summer of 1914” with soprano Dawn Upshaw.

But there is so much more to choose from.

Here is a link to five other pieces by different composers –- Antonio Vivaldi, Felix Mendelssohn, Frank Bridge, Alexander Glazunov, Frederick Delius and George Gershwin.

http://www.classical-music.com/article/six-best-pieces-classical-music-summer

Which music would you choose to mark the summer solstice and the coming of summer?

Leave word and a YouTube link, if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Native daughter violist Vicki Powell returns from her globe-trotting career to solo this Friday night in music by Vaughan Williams with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

March 21, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Madison has produced its share of important classical musicians who have gone on to achieve international reputations.

Among them was the composer Lee Hoiby (1926-2011).

More recently, there are the Naughton Twins, sister-duo pianists Christina and Michelle, who perform around the world.

And there is violist Vicki Powell (below), who was born in Chicago but started music lessons in Madison where she studied with the husband-and-wife team of violinist Eugene Purdue and Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm, both of whom have taught at the UW-Madison.

She then attended the Juilliard School in New York and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. (You can see her typical day at Curtis in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Powell, who recently finished a tour of Asia and whose playing has garnered rave reviews internationally, returns to Madison this Friday night to perform with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO music director Andrew Sewell will conduct. Unlike Sewell’s typical eclectic programming that mixes music from different eras, this concert feature music from a single period – the mid-20th century.

It offers “Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge” by British composer Benjamin Britten, who studied with Bridge. Also included are two other British works: the Suite for Viola and Chamber Orchestra by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Vicki Powell, and “Benedictus” by Sir Alexander Mackenzie. All three works are rarely performed.

The concluding work, on the other hand, is the popular and well-loved “Appalachian Spring” – a timely work for the coming of spring yesterday morning — by the American composer Aaron Copland.

For more information about the program, about how to get tickets ($10-$80) and about Vicki Powell, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-iv-2/

And here is a link to Vicki Powell’s website with a biography, concert bookings, recordings, reviews and her community outreach projects:

http://www.vickipowellviola.com


Classical music: Can arias from Baroque operas address current chaos and concerns? Singer Joyce DiDonato thinks so. Plus, a FREE concert of music by Dvorak, Debussy, Frank Bridge and Amy Beach is at noon on Friday

November 29, 2016
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features Shannon Farley, viola, with Chris Allen, guitar; Leah King and Jason Kutz, piano; Elspeth Stalter Clouse and Ela Mowinski, violin; Leslie Damaso, mezzo-soprano; and Morgan Walsh, cello. They will perform the Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81, by Antonin Dvorak; Three Songs for Mezzo-soprano, viola and piano by Frank Bridge; “Beau Soir” (Beautiful Evening)  for guitar and viola by Claude Debussy; and a Romance for violin by Amy Beach as arranged for viola and piano. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

Can the past help us understand and weather the present time with its conflicts and chaos?

Mezzo-soprano and Grammy Award winner Joyce DiDonato (below) thinks so.

joyce-didonato

In fact her latest album, for the Erato-Warner label, of arias from Baroque operas from the 17th and 18th centuries is dedicated to that proposition. The album’s title is “In War and Peace: Harmony Through Music” (below).

It includes arias from opera by George Frideric Handel (one of which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom), Henry Purcell, Niccolo Jommelli, Leonardo Leo and Claudio Monteverdi, and it features two world premiere recordings as well as familiar works.

joyce-didonato-cd-cover-in-war-and-piece

The singer talks about her concept album in an interview with Ari Shapiro of “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio (NPR).

She boils much of her viewpoint down to one question: In the widest of chaos, how can you find peace?

Sure seems timely, given foreign wars and domestic political strife.

Here is a link with the interview and some fetching music:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/11/04/500515350/joyce-didonato-on-why-art-matters-in-the-midst-of-chaos

Listen to it.

See what you think.

Then let the rest of us know what you think, and whether you agree or disagree, and whether you have other works that come to mind.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players perform an unusual holiday program with a Wisconsin premiere twice this coming Sunday afternoon

November 22, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) will perform a concert titled Looking Back and Forward on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016 at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

The performances will both be held at the Oakwood Village University Woods Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on the far west side of Madison near West Towne Mall.

An innovative recipe for A Christmas Carol is a perfect addition to the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Outstanding musical theater actor/singer baritone Bobby Goderich (below, seen on the right in Madison Opera‘s production of Stephen Sondheim‘s “Sweeney Todd”) will give a tour-de-force characterization of the entire cast of personalities for a rendition of Dickens’s tale in The Passion of Scrooge. A dozen musicians will give Goderich’s flair an abundant platform to show off his singing, humor, and dramatic effects.

bobby-goderich-in-madison-operas-sweeney-todd

The Passion of Scrooge by New York composer Jon Deak (below) is performed annually for holiday concerts at the Smithsonian, and the Oakwood Chamber Players are delighted to present the Wisconsin premiere of this memorable work.

Deak is known for weaving a variety of tales into “concert dramas,” turning words into music and giving instrumentalists the power to evoke speech through their sounds.

The Passion of Scrooge is laid out in two acts as the character struggles to come to grips with the past, present and future, to transform a life of avarice to one of human warmth.

jon-deak

Additionally, the Oakwood Chamber Players will perform music mentioned in the text of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

When the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge a celebration hosted by his employer, Mr. Fezziwig, the fiddler plays the tune Sir Roger de Coverley. (You can hear a chamber orchestra version of the work, played by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under Sir Neville Marriner, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This traditional English country dance, set for string quartet by British composer Frank Bridge (below) in 1922, will provide an energetic introduction to The Passion of Scrooge. The musical pairing illustrates how creative expression can transform historic works to give fresh perspectives.

Frank Bridge

The Oakwood Chamber Players welcome guests Wes Luke, violin; Katrin Talbot, viola; Brad Townsend, bass; Mike Koszewski, percussion; Mary Ann Harr, harp; Bobby Goderich, baritone; and Kyle Knox, conductor (below).

kyle-knox-2016

This is the second of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players 2016-2017 season series entitled Perspective. Remaining concerts will take place on Jan. 21 and 22, March 18 and 19, and May 13 and 14.

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years.

The program lasts about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students.

Also, conductor Kyle Knox will discuss the music on Norman Gilliland’s show, The Midday, on Wisconsin Public Radio, 88.7 FM WERN, on this Friday, Nov. 25, from noon to 1 p.m.

Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.


Classical music: UW-Madison cellist Parry Karp performs a FREE recital of music by Beethoven, Ravel, Frank Bridge and Dmitri Kabalevsky this Friday night. On Friday at noon, pianist Jess Salek plays a FREE recital of music by Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy.

October 12, 2016
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ALERT: The week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianist Jess Salek (below).

The program includes: the “Italian” Concerto, BWV 971, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750); the Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109, by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827); the Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 39, by Frederic Chopin (1810-1849); and “Reflets dans l’eau” (Reflections in Water) by Claude Debussy (1862-1918).

jess Salek 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

At 8 p.m. this coming Friday in Mills Hall, cello professor Parry Karp (below), who has performed for more than four decades with the Pro Arte Quartet, will play an ambitious recital, featuring one of his own many transcriptions.

Parry Karp

He will be joined by two pianists: his mother Frances Karp and his faculty colleague Martha Fischer, who teaches collaborative piano.

Here is the decidedly varied and international program:

Sonata in A Major for Piano and Violin, Op. 12, No. 2 (1797-8) by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) as transcribed for Piano and Cello by Parry Karp. With Frances Karp.                                             

Sonata in D Minor for Cello and Piano (1913-7) by English composer Frank Bridge (below, 1879-1941), the teacher of Benjamin Britten. With Martha Fischer. (In the YouTube video at the bottom you can hear the first movement of the Bridge sonata performed by cello Mstislav Rostropovich and pianistBenjamin Britten.)

Frank Bridge

Sonata No. 1 in A Minor for Violin and Piano (1897) by French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), as transcribed for Cello and Piano by Christian Proske (1875-1937). With Martha Fischer.

Sonata in B-Flat Major, Op. 71 (1961) by Russian composer Dmitri Kabalevsky (below, 1904-1987). With Frances Karp.

dmitri-kabalevsky


Classical music: Oakwood Chamber Players start their “Perspective” concerts on Sept. 10

August 31, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) have long been known for programming new music as well as neglected old music or neglected composers that they perform with top-quality music-making – often with a unifying theme to the programs.

Just look at the details of the following announcement of the new season:

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

The Oakwood Chamber Players are excited to announce their 2016-2017 concert series, “Perspective.”

Full of interesting viewpoints on life and relationships, the blended use of diverse musical styles with film and theater will help concertgoers see things from another’s point of view.

All concerts will be held in the auditorium (below) at Oakwood’s Center for Arts and Education, 6002 Mineral Point Road, on the far west side of Madison.

Oakwood audience 2

Tickets can be purchased at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors, and $5 for students. More information can be found at www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com

LOOKING ACROSS THE TABLE: CAN WE FIND COMMON GROUND?

Saturday, September 10, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, September 11, at 2 p.m.

Paul Schoenfield (below) – Café Music for piano trio

Michael Colina – Stairway to Midnight Café for mixed instruments

Jean Françaix – Dixtuor for woodwind quintet and string quintet

Edward Elgar – Elegy for string quintet

Paul Schoenfield BW klezmerish

LOOKING BACK AND FORWARD: CAN THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE CHANGE US?

Sunday, November 27, 2016 at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Frank Bridge (below) – Sir Roger de Coverly Christmas Dance for strings

Jon Deak – “Passion of Scrooge” for large mixed ensemble with baritone voice

Frank Bridge

LOOKING WITHIN: CAN WE SEE WITHIN OURSELVES THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE?

Saturday, January 21, 2017 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, January 22, 2017 at 2 p.m.

Byron Adams (below) – Serenade (Homage de Husa) for large mixed ensemble

Arnold Schoenberg – Notturno (Nocturne) for strings and harp (in the YouTube video at the bottom)

Francis Poulenc – Sextet for woodwind quintet and piano

Maurice Ravel/David Bruce – Kaddish for large mixed ensemble

Byron Adams

LOOKING THROUGH THE LENS: CAN WE SPEAK WHEN THERE ARE NO WORDS?

Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 19, 2017 at 2 p.m.

Gail KubikGerald McBoing Boing for large mixed ensemble, percussion and narrator

Paul Bowles (below) – Music for a Farce (Movie – The Fireman) for clarinet, trumpet, piano and percussion

Dan Visconti – Low Country Haze with film for large mixed ensemble

Gaetano Donizetti – Trio for flute, bassoon and piano

paul bowles

LOOKING CLOSELY AT THE SCORE: CAN WE GET INSIDE THE MINDS OF THE COMPOSERS?

Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 14, 2017 at 2 p.m.

Joan Trimble (below) – Phantasy Trio for piano trio

Vincent d’Indy – Chanson et Danses (Song and Dances) for winds

Luise Adolpha Le BeauPiano Trio

Joachim Raff – Sinfonietta for double woodwind quintet

joan trimble

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.


Classical music: The Ear gives shout-outs to guest University Opera director David Ronis – who should be hired permanent full-time by the UW-Madison — and longtime Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra conductor Andrew Sewell because they both know how to make Mozart our contemporary. Plus, here are the results of The Final Forte.

March 26, 2015
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ALERTS:

1) In case you don’t already know them, here are the results of last night’s Final Forte: First Prize went to violinist Julian Rhee; Second Prize went to pianist Vivian Wilhelms; and Honorable Mentions went to harpist Maya Pierick and pianist Isabella Wu.

Here is a link to a complete story about the high school concerto competition:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/03/23/classical-music-education-this-wednesday-night-the-annual-the-final-round-of-the-bolz-young-artist-concerto-competition-with-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-will-be-broadcast-live-on-wisconsin-public/

Final Forte 2015 4 finalists

2) This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison at 900 University Bay Drive, will feature soprano Consuelo Sanudo (below) and pianist Jeff Gibbens who will perform music by Henri Duparc, Claude Debussy, Arnold Schoenberg and Franz Schubert.

Consuela Sanudo

By Jacob Stockinger

It has really  been a busy past couple of weeks, with so many concerts that The Ear couldn’t even preview all of them. So it’s time to catch up and offer some critical appraisals of what I heard.

Let me begin with some background.

The supremely gifted, articulate and critically acclaimed American pianist Jeremy Denk, who has performed two solo recitals in Madison for the Wisconsin Union Theater, is fond of saying the he strives to make music sound as radical today as it was when it was first composed and first heard.

There is wisdom in that approach, which balances out the other great movement of the 20th-century that opened up our ears to another kind of difference. I am referring to the use of period instruments and historically informed performance practices to recapture how the music originally sounded.

But lately I had two examples that showed me just how exciting such an established “museum” composer as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below)  can be if made to sound and look contemporary and radical to our modern ears without going backwards.

Mozart old 1782

The two examples I have in mind are from recent performances of late works, when Mozart was in full command of his art: The opera “The Magic Flute” as presented by University Opera under the guest stage director David Ronis, who hails from New York City and teaches at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College and the City University of New York as well as at Hofstra University; and the well-known penultimate Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550, as performed by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell.

THE MAGIC FLUTE

The award-winning David Ronis did several things to The Magic Flute that The Ear  really liked and found effective.

He made some judicious cuts in an otherwise overlong work.

He used surtitles for the German text.

He used spoken contemporary vernacular English for the dialogue. That not only made the opera understandable, but also lent drive to push it along and give it momentum as well as contemporaneity.

Most of all, Ronis also used cinematic Bollywood-like dance gestures and choreography (below, in photos by Michael R. Anderson) – along with the bright fusion of East-West hybrid costumes and sets that added such movement and energy,  color and humor, to the score.

I mean, don’t we see enough of opera singers just standing still, arms outstretched, with only their mouths moving?

Dress rehearsal for The Magic Flute

Of course, some people and critics did not like the changes, and found them downright treasonous and disrespectful or just plain wrong.

Dress rehearsal for The Magic Flute

Dress rehearsal for The Magic Flute

Silly them. The Ear says the updating worked just fine. Great art is there to experiment with, not just depict. Art lives in time. It is why director Peter Sellars is such a forceful and creative influence in the world of classical music. If only classical music could be less classical and more musical! Entertainment is nothing to be ashamed of. It is, after all, why the performing arts exist.

I also think the changes are one reason why there were four sold-out performances -– not just the usual three -– and why I saw so many young people in the audience. It was, in short, a fun production.

To my eyes and ears, this production — coupled with his production of Benjamin Britten‘s “Albert Herring” in the fall — showed what a smart move it would be to hire David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke DeLalio) full-time to lead the University Opera. He clearly knows how to get the best out of students, has a very personal artistic vision and is willing to shake things up – which both we and The Great Artists such as Mozart can use.

David Ronis color CR  Luke DeLalio

THE BIG G-MINOR SYMPHONY

As for the Mozart symphony – the big late one in G minor not the little  early one — it was just part of an outstanding concert turned in by Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with the impressive guest cellist Amit Peled (below) and his unbelievably resonant cello that belonged to and was played by Pablo Casals. Together, man and instrument justifiably brought down the house.

Amit Peled playing

But other parts of the program, which included works by Frank Bridge and David Popper, should not be overlooked or underestimated.

Conductor Andrew Sewell (below) has long demonstrated his ability to work with such Classical-era composers as Franz Joseph Haydn and Mozart as well as Franz Schubert and Ludwig van Beethoven. And here, in a very familiar work, you could hear why.

andrewsewell

While Mozart was one of music’s great melodists, Sewell’s interpretation emphasized tempo, rhythm and repetitive motifs even as he brought out the various voices, counterpoint and melodic lines.

This Mozart had drive and pep. (You can hear the familiar first movement, with an interesting abstract graph profile, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

In fact, the third Minuet movement sounded downright modern – a kind of percussive precursor to minimalism.

This was exciting Mozart, far from the genteel and primly elegant and blandly pleasant Mozart that The Ear refers to as Music-Box Mozart.

Andrew Sewell BW

This playing by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) was precise and dramatic. It made you sit up and take notice. It engaged you.

It also showed why Mozart was such an exception to his age –- why his contemporaries and those who followed him so revered his talent and music. He was a radical in his day but we often overlook how he pushed the boundaries of music closer to modernism.

WCO lobby

So The Ear offers shout-outs and hearty thanks to both David Ronis and Andrew Sewell for helping us to hear Mozart once again as a contemporary — not just a statically beautiful blast from the past.

Both cases proved to be an exciting and unforgettable experience. The Ear hopes we are in for more of them, particularly in Mozart’s symphonies and piano concertos.

Did you hear the opera and/or the symphony?

What did you think of the approaches to Mozart?

The Ear wants to hear.


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