By Jacob Stockinger
Vienna has been called “The Paris of the Reich.”
The urbane Prêtre – who specialized in French music but also was much in demand for a lot of German and Italian repertoire — studied karate and judo. But he also enjoyed the good life and by all accounts had a terrific sense of humor coupled to a “joie de vivre.”
He often said he preferred being a guest conductor to being a music director because the former was like a love affair and the latter was like a commitment. Yet Prêtre was committed: He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years.
His conducting career spanned 70 years. He was known for his association with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna Symphony. But he also conducted 101 performances of seven operas at the famed Metropolitan Opera in New York City. He also frequently conducted in Milan, Philadelphia and Chicago.
Here is a good summary obituary, with sound clips of orchestral and operatic music, from National Public Radio (NPR):
And here is a longer obituary, which gives you the French flavor of the man and the musician, from The New York Times:
And here is George Prêtre’s most popular video on YouTube, which also serves as a fine memorial in sound:
By Jacob Stockinger
This week will be a busy one at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which is now funded in large part by the Mead Witter Foundation.
The big event is the long-awaited groundbreaking for the new performance center. That, in turn, will be celebrated with three important and appealing concerts.
Here is the lineup:
From 4 to 5:30 p.m., an official and public groundbreaking ceremony for the new Hamel Music Center will take place at the corner of Lake Street and University Avenue. (Below is an architect’s rendering of the completed building.)
At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, pianist Christopher Taylor (below) will perform the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach on the two-keyboard “Hyperpiano” that he has invented and refined. (You can hear the opening aria theme of the “Goldberg” Variations played by Glenn Gould in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
For more information about the concert and the innovative piano, visit:
Tickets are $18 and are available at the Wisconsin Union Theater box office. Last The Ear heard, the concert was close to a sell-out.
At 7 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison faculty bassoonist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill), who studied and worked with the recently deceased French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, will lead a FREE “Breaking Ground” concert of pioneering music from the 17th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.
For more information and the complete program, go to:
At 3 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet will give a FREE concert.
For more information about the group and the program, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
Two FREE and appealing but very different concerts are on tap this week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:
PRO ARTE QUARTET
On Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the acclaimed Pro Arte Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer) will perform a program that features standard works as well as new music.
The quartet will play the String Quartet in B-flat Major (1790), Op. 64, No. 3, by Franz Joseph Haydn; and the String Quartet No, 10 (1809), Op. 74, called the “Harp” Quartet, by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Less well is the contemporary work “Fantasies on the Name of Sacher” (2012) by French composer Philippe Hersant.
Here are program notes from Pro Arte cellist Parry Karp (below):
“The Haydn and Hersant are new pieces for the Pro Arte and it has been a great pleasure to learn them.
“The Haydn was written at the time that Haydn’s job as the court composer of the court of Esterhazy had come to an end. It is one of the “Tost” Quartets, named for the Hungarian violinist Johann Tost. Haydn dedicated the quartets to him to thank him for his performances and for helping Haydn get a publisher for the quartets.
“The next piece on the program is the “Fantasies for String Quartet” by the French composer Philippe Versant (b. 1948, below). Here are the composer’s notes on this piece:
“This piece has been in the works for years. First performed in 2008, the first version for string trio included six fantasies. I added two the following year, then an additional instrument (second violin). This version for string quartet was commissioned for the Cully Classique Festival, where it was premiered in 2012. Finally, for the Grand Prix Lycéen for Composers, I imagined a version for string orchestra, commissioned by Musique Nouvelle en Liberté (2013).
“The initial challenge was to write a series of pieces that were as different as possible, from a basic material that was very narrow. That common material is a short motif of 6 notes, which correspond (in Germanic notation) to the letters of Sacher’s name (with a few twists): S (E-flat) A C H(B) E R(D).
“This motif has already been used by a number of composers (Henri Dutilleux, Pierre Boulez and Benjamin Britten) in their homages to Paul Sacher, the great patron and conductor.
“Joined together by the omnipresence of these six notes, the eight fantasies offer strong contrasts in character and style:the first has a high-pitched, rarefied atmosphere a la Shostakovich; the second has a taunting and obsessional tone; there is a dramatic, tense ambience in the fourth …. Two others showcase the voices of the soloists: viola (lyrical) in the third and the cello (stormy) in the seventh.
“Some quotations pepper the discourse: In the third fantasy an altered version of a passage from Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 13, Op. 130, and the sixth combines motifs borrowed from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, Igor Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” and Dmitri Shostakovich. A falsely naive, short children’s song closes the set.
The last piece on the program, the String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 74, by Beethoven, was named the “Harp” Quartet by the first publisher of the work. It was so named because of the the unique use of pizzicato in the first movement of the piece.
This string quartet is one of the great masterpieces of the quartet repertoire with a brilliant first movement, a profound slow movement which foreshadows Beethoven’s late period, a brilliant scherzo, and a classical style variation movement as the finale.
On Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Trio Unprepared will perform a FREE concert of improvised music.
Here is the blurb from the UW-Madison School of Music’s website:
Drawing from the vast resources of contemporary, jazz, classical and global music, the Trio Unprepared presents an evening of IMPROVISED music for piano and percussion. Ensemble members are Andre Gribou, piano, and Roger Braun and Anthony DiSanza on percussion. (DiSanza teaches at the UW-Madison and is a member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)
Trio Unprepared has performed globally in extraordinarily diverse musical settings and worked together in various configurations for many years.
This concert — and the subsequent tour of Wisconsin — brings the trio back together for the first time since performing in Switzerland in July 2015.
A master class will follow this concert, from 9 to 10:30 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Oakwood Chamber Players will kick off their 2016-2017 season with a concert entitled “Looking Across the Table: Can We Find Common Ground?” on this coming Saturday night, Sept. 10, at 7 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Sept. 11, at 2 p.m.
The concerts will both be held in the Oakwood Village University Woods Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side.
Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students.
Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com or call (608) 230-4316 for more information.
The season’s theme of “Perspective” is full of interesting viewpoints on life and relationships; the blended use of diverse musical styles with film and theater will help the audience see things from another’s point of view.
Here is a link to a preview of the entire season:
This weekend’s program concert will begin Cafe Music for piano trio by the Michigan-based composer Paul Schoenfield. The work draws inspiration from a range of styles including 20th-century American, Viennese, gypsy and Broadway. (You can hear the catchy music in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Cuban composer Paul Colina’s “Stairway to Midnight Café” has a delightful current of dance influence and is dedicated to his friends in the First Coast Chamber Ensemble.
The Oakwood Chamber Players will welcome guests to the stage for the charming Dixtuor by French composer Jean Françaix (below). The engaging interplay of strings and winds creates an atmosphere of instrumental commentary parallel to an upbeat social gathering.
Guest musicians include Maureen McCarty, violin; Katrin Talbot, viola; Brad Townsend, string bass; Jennifer Morgan, oboe; and Juliana Mesa-Jaramillo, bassoon.
Famed British composer Sir Edward Elgar (below) wrote Elegy, a poignant adagio, when processing the untimely loss of a friend and colleague. He created a piece that tugs at the heartstrings of both listeners and performers.
This is the first of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players’ 2016-2017 concert season. Remaining concerts include “Looking Back and Forward” on Nov. 27; “Looking Within” on Jan. 21 and 22”: “Looking Through the Lens” on March 18 and 19; and “Looking Closely at the Score” on 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. They have experience with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and other groups and institutions.
The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.
By Jacob Stockinger
The weather predictions that The Ear has seen say today and tomorrow will be cool and rainy with possible storms.
So here is a touch from the composer who The Ear thinks is the most summery composer in history. His work has just the right touch of breezy lightness and bright sunshine.
He is the 20th-century French composer Francis Poulenc, so severely underestimated in his lifetime, and here– in the YouTube video at the bottom — is his Sonata for Oboe and Piano, which The Ear often finds Mozart-like its simplicity, clarity and beauty.
Hope you enjoy.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following notice:
Concerts are on Saturday, May 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Asbury Church, 6101 University Avenue; and on Sunday, May 15, at 3 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, near Camp Randall Stadium.
Tickets can be purchased in advance ($12 adult, $9 senior/student) at any of the advance ticket outlets (Cool Beans Coffee Café, Ward-Brodt Music, Metcalfe’s Market at Hilldale, and Orange Tree Imports) or at the door ($15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students).
After three very successful years of directing the choir, music director Brad Schultz (below) has resigned due to added responsibilities on the Luther College faculty starting next fall. Throughout his tenure, Brad has helped MACH’s ringers retain the spirit and skills which have led this auditioned choir to be recognized as one of the leading handbell groups in America. He introduces the concert as follows:
“Maybe it was the first time you tasted a delicious French roll, or saw the Eiffel Tower. Maybe it was an exposure to music, culture, or fashion. Maybe it was in your early ventures as a reader (“In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines”), or depictions of la belle vie (the French “good life”) in the movies. We have always had a fascination with all things French; from culture to custom, from cuisine to cinema.
“There’s no denying French advancements in music, either. From the cathedral to the salon, Leonin and Pérotin to composers of chanson and popular music, France has always left a musical mark on the world.
“We invite you to join us this weekend for a celebration of all things French. Revered composers Bizet, Ravel, Debussy, Chopin and Faure will be represented, alongside pieces that remind us of French culture, landscape and architecture. We’re excited to be joined again this season by flutist Barbara Paziouros Roberts.”
Here is the complete program:
Grand Valse Brillante, Op. 18, by Frédéric Chopin, Arranged by Ruth Artman
Jubilation by Fred Gramann
The Sunken Cathedral (La cathédrale engloutie) by Claude Debussy, Transcribed by Kevin McChesney
Pavane by Gabriel Fauré, Arranged by Albert Zabel
The Ball (from “Children’s Games”) by Georges Bizet, Arranged by Betty B. Garee
Suite for Flute & Piano, Op. 116, by Benjamin Godard: II. Idylle
Danse Macabre by Camille Saint–Saéns, Arranged by Michael R. Keller
Down the River by Jason W. Krug
Fountains by Kevin McChesney
Gymnopédie No. 1 by Erik Satie, Arranged by Karen Roth
Cathedrals by Margaret R. Tucker
Autumn Leaves (Les feuilles mortes) by Joseph Kosma, Arranged by Bank Wu
MACH rings over 6 octaves of handbells and 7 octaves of handchimes, the largest assemblage of these instruments in Wisconsin. This fall, while the choir searches for a new director, MACH will be led by founder and former director Susan Udell, who retired from the group in 2010.
For more information about MACH, visit the website at http://www.madisonhandbells.org.
ALERT 1: Tomorrow, starting at 12:30 p.m., this month’s Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen will feature the Madison-based percussion group Clocks in Motion. The FREE concert in Brittingham Gallery 3 will also be streamed live. Here is a link with information about the complete program and a link to the streaming web site:
ALERT 2: Tomorrow night, on Sunday at 7 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, the UW-Madison‘s Wingra Wind Quintet will perform a FREE concert of modern and contemporary French music. For more information, here is a link:
By Jacob Stockinger
Ahreum Han Congdon (below), a critically acclaimed organist, will mark the end of the current Overture Concert Organ season with a recital on this Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street.
Now she returns for a full solo recital on the colossal Klais concert organ in a program of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Jacques Offenbach, Louis Vierne, Max Reger and others.
Here is the complete program, which concludes the current season of organ concerts sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra:
Charles-Marie Widor. Symphony V in F Minor, Op. 42, No. 1. I. Allegro Vivace
Johann Sebastian Bach. Concerto in A Minor, BWV 593 I. Untitled II. Adagio III. Allegro
Sigfrid Karg-Elert. Valse Mignonne, Op. 142, No. 2
Louis Vierne. Clair de Lune, Op. 53, No. 5
Jacques Offenbach. Orpheus in the Underworld. Transcribed by Ahreum Han Congdon
Johannes Matthias Michel. Organ, Timbrel and Dance: Three Jazz Organ Preludes I. Swing Five (Erhalt uns, Herr) II. Bossa Nova (Wunderbarer König) III. Afro-Cuban (In dir ist Freude)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Andante in F Major, K. 616
Max Reger. Chorale Fantasy on J.S. Bach’s Sleepers Awake, A Voice is Calling, Op. 52, No. 2 (You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Han Congdon has appeared in recital on many of the world’s major organs in addition to solo performances at national and regional conventions for the American Guild of Organists.
General admission for the concert is $20 and tickets can be purchased at www.madisonsymphony.org/han, the Overture Box Office or (608) 258-4141.
Student rush tickets are $10 day of show with a valid student ID (see http://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush).
Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund.
With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra commissioned from famous Klais Organ Works in Germany the Overture Concert Organ (below), which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.
For more Overture Concert Organ information, visit http://www.madisonsymphony.org/organseason
By Jacob Stockinger
This week, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will open the second half of its indoor season with a program that plays to its strong suits.
The concert takes place this Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, 211 State St,
The program feature works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
There will be the Overture to the opera “Cosi Fan Tutte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Symphony No. 6 in C Major by Franz Schubert.
In between will come two rarely heard piano concertos that feature the return of soloist Adam Nieman (pronounced KNEE-man), who several years ago made a fine recording of early Mozart piano concertos with the WCO and its music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, who possesses a mastery of the Classical-era style and has a special fondness for French music.
Neiman will perform the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the Piano Concerto in C-sharp Minor by French composer Francis Poulenc.
Tickets are $15-$80 with $10 student rush tickets on the day of the concert. For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.
For more information about the concert, including a lengthy biography of Adam Neiman, visit:
Adam Neiman recently did an email Q&A with The Ear:
Can you briefly bring the public up to date with highlights about you and your career since you last performed here in 2008 with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and recorded the early Mozart concertos?
I have been very actively performing over the last several years, since my last appearance with the WCO in 2008. My touring schedule has encompassed roughly 100 concerts a year, and I have had the pleasure of presenting some epic solo recital tours throughout the United States.
Specifically I have been engaged in three monumental projects: the Complete Liszt Transcendental Études in 2011-2012; Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and Diabelli Variations in 2013-2014; and the complete Rachmaninoff Preludes and Études-tableaux in 2014-2015.
I have issued eight recordings since the Mozart piano concertos recording with the WCO, and three more solo records are on the way in 2017. In addition, I have founded a record label, Aeolian Classics, formed in 2014.
I have simultaneously kept an active teaching profile, and in 2015 I was awarded the position of Assistant Professor of Piano at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. As a full-time member of the faculty, I have since relocated to Chicago, so now I am a fellow Midwesterner!
Composition has always played a major part in my musical life, and since 2008 I have written a number of works for premieres, including my Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra, which can be viewed on my YouTube channel at:
You have chosen an unusual program. What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich? What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto by Francis Poulenc? Why do you think both concertos are not programmed more often? Why do you perform them and what do you like about each one?
The Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich (below) is one of my favorite works of all time, and when Andrew approached me about the possibility of performing it in conjunction with another concerto, I immediately suggested the Piano Concerto by Francis Poulenc.
Both works share certain core qualities, namely irony, humor, radiant beauty and spirited fun. These are works that do not disparage the concept of beauty, though they were both written during a post-war generation.
As such, rare moments of absolute Romanticism are intertwined with musical jokes, sardonic twists of phrase, and ridicule, rendering the messages of each piece complex and ironic. (You can hear Neiman perform the opening of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
At one point, during the last movement of the Poulenc, he spontaneously quotes George Gershwin’s “Swanee” in a moment of jazz ease, in between sparkly, jaunty sections of impish humor. In a sense, you could describe both pieces as tonal expressions of longing for a bygone era from the perspective of a bleak machine age.
From a compositional perspective, both works are solidly grounded in classical form, and both are ingeniously orchestrated, making use of each instrument’s range and dynamic qualities to draw out a maximum of character possibilities.
The piano writing is virtuosic, powerful, and expressive, and the combination will take the audience by storm – I think the WCO audiences will walk away from this performance humming passages of the works, and they will be delighted by the wit and charm that wins out in the end.
As to why the Poulenc is rarely performed, I can offer no other possible explanation than the innate closed-mindedness of many people in the music world.
Poulenc (below) is a composer who deserves a place at the very center of the main repertory. Yet due to the prejudices of the ignorant critics of his day who preferred to elevate the splendors of Germanic music to an Olympian height above the “avant-garde” of Russia and France, he, among others, garnered an undeservedly poor following.
What would you like to say about performing in Madison with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Andrew Sewell, with whom you seem to share a deep musical affinity? Do you have plans to record something else with them?
Each performance I have played with the WCO stands out as a musical highlight for me. The orchestra is as fine as they come, and I am inspired by the love of music that seems to be the keystone of the ensemble.
Andrew Sewell (below) is not only a very fine conductor and exemplary musician, but I am lucky to count him as a close friend. We have a musical rapport that is powerful, with a long history, and it would be a privilege to keep performing and recording with him and the orchestra in the future.
There are no current plans in place to record together, but the experience of making the Mozart concertos CD in 2008 was so sweet, that I would be happy to do it again! Maybe a Shostakovich/Poulenc disc, hmmm?
What else would you like to say?
I feel truly honored to be a part of the 2016 performance season of WCO, and I cannot wait to say hello to all my Madison friends!
For more information about me, please visit my website at www.adamneiman.com
ALERT: The influential and controversial French avant-garde composer and conductor Pierre Boulez had died at 90. The Ear will feature more about him this weekend. Stay tuned.
ALERT: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison‘s Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, start up again this Friday after a break for the holidays. The concert takes place from 12:15 to 1 p.m. and features bassoonist Juliana Mesa-Jarmillo and pianist Rayna Slavova in music by Gustav Schreck, Eugene Bordeau, Gabriel Pierne and Antonio Torriani.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear can remember when Sergei Rachmaninoff (below, 1873-1943) was treated as something of a joke by serious classical musicians – especially by the 12-toners and atonalists, who were more into R&D music (research and development) than into offering pleasure and emotional connection.
The academic musicians, and some prominent music critics too, thought that the Russian composer’s music was too Romantic — meaning too accessible, too shallow and even cheap. They just didn’t consider Rachmaninoff a major 20th-century composer or artist.
But time is proving them wrong.
Surely The Rachmaninoff Deniers would like such popularity, durability and enthusiasm for their own music.
Because Rachmaninoff had real genius linked to real heart.
So surely The Ear is not the only listener who finds so much of Rachmaninoff’s music -– especially his preludes, concertos, etudes and variations — irresistible and even moving.
And pianist Joyce Yang played the momentous Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor at her recital in the Wisconsin Union Theater.
This year’s Grammy nominations also include a whole CD of Rachmaninoff’s solo and concerto variations, including the wonderful tuneful and ingenious Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
Last year also saw “Preludes,” (below, in a photo by Tina Fineberg for The New York Times) ) a successful play about the young Rachmaninoff — or Rachmaninov — climbing out of a deep depression with the help of therapist and hypnotist Dr. Nikolai Dahl, who helped him compose again and become world-famous with his Piano Concerto No. 2.
Just this fall and winter, the New York Philharmonic with music director and conductor Alan Gilbert and pianist Daniil Trifonov (below), performed a retrospective featuring the complete cycle of Rachmaninoff piano concertos.
And here are some very perceptive and respectful remarks by conductor Marin Alsop (below) about Rachmaninoff’s life and work and about the less frequently played Symphony No. 3 in A minor that she will discuss and conduct.
It comes from an interview with Scott Simon on Weekend Edition for NPR or National Public Radio. The Ear found her remarks about Rachmaninoff’s life in Beverly Hills and his effect on other exiled European musicians working in Hollywood to be especially perceptive.
Indeed, you may recall that Rachmaninoff was offered a lucrative chance to write a movie score and refused. So the moviemakers hired the British composer Richard Addinsell to write a piece that sounded like Rachmaninoff. The result was the Warsaw Concerto and the result does indeed sound a lot like Rachmaninoff.
Here is a link to the NPR story, which has audio samples of the Symphony No. 3, that also features a written essay by Marin Alsop about Rachmaninoff:
I like a Rachmaninoff tune. How about you?
So here is a YouTube performance, made in 1920, of Rachmaninoff himself playing my favorite Rachmaninoff piece — the wistful Prelude in G Major, Op 32, No. 5:
ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m in Overture Hall of the Overture Center is your last chance to hear the acclaimed all-French program by the Madison Symphony Orchestra with guest cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio. Here are links to two very positive reviews.
Here is the review written by critic John W. Barker for Isthmus:
And here is a link to an interview with more about the concert, the program and the soloist:
By Jacob Stockinger
This news is old and dated, and it comes late, too late for you to attend the memorial service. The Ear apologizes for his tardiness.
But the past several weeks have been very busy with concerts, and therefore with previews and reviews. Plus, he didn’t hear about the news until later.
Putting excuses aside, The Ear wants to take a moment to recognize the passing of an extraordinary talent many of us heard in performance and deeply appreciated.
Flutist Robin Fellows (below) has died of cancer at 66. For many years, he was principal flute with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. He was also a longtime music professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
And he performed his share of other dates, such as playing with the Ancora String Quartet (below, in a photo by John W. Barker)
Here is a link to his obituary:
In his memory, here — in a YouTube video at the bottom featuring flutist Emmanuel Pahud and Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic — is a favorite work of The Ear with a major flute part: the Sarabande by French composer Gabriel Faure.
Please feel free to leave your personal memories and recollections in the COMMENT section for others and the family to see.