The Well-Tempered Ear

Wisconsin Ensemble Project’s string quartet program to benefit the United Way of Dane County debuts online this Friday night

May 11, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, May 14, the Wisconsin Ensemble Project will present a recorded concert (below, in an image by Katrin Talbot) in partnership with United Way of Dane County (UWDC). 

This is their second in a series of performances to benefit local and international organizations.  

This production offers viewers a meaningful program that leads to direct impact with a focus on housing stability and family well-being.  You will hear the story and see the face of UWDC woven throughout a chamber music performance. 

The program of works for string quartet includes “Park”  by Daniel Bernard Roumain (below top); the “Heiliger Dankgesang” (Sacred Hymn of Thanksgiving, which you can hear played by the Alban Berg Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom) from Beethoven’s Opus 132; and selections from Five Folksongs in Counterpoint by Florence Price (below bottom).

WE Project members and performers are local, professional musicians who work together in the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra: violinists Leanne League and Mary Theodore; violist Jen Paulson; and cellist Karl Lavine.

“The WE Project is rooted in the quartet’s desire not only to delve deeply into chamber music repertoire, but also to address some of the many pressing social justice issues of our time,” says member Mary Theodore.

When exploring organizations to partner with for their second project, the quartet was inspired by the work of United Way of Dane County. The WE Project approached United Way out of their concern over housing security, with the understanding that one of UWDC’s key goals is to help more individuals and families find pathways out of poverty through housing and employment initiatives.

The recorded production will be available by registering at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/wisconsin-ensemble-project-spring-benefit-concert-registration-151923670789 from 6 p.m. this Friday, May 14, for 72 hours. Admission is free and contributions are strongly encouraged.

Contributions can be made through the website and will help to cover basic production costs and get funds directly into the hands of this very worthy organization which, most importantly, brings aid to the people they serve.


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The UW Pro Arte Quartet performs the sixth installment of its must-hear Beethoven cycle in a FREE virtual online concert this Friday night. Here are the schedule and links for the rest of the cycle

February 4, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Feb. 5, the University of Wisconsin Mead Witter School of Music’s Pro Arte Quartet (PAQ, below) will perform a FREE live virtual and online all-Beethoven concert.

The program is the sixth installment of the PAQ’s Beethoven string quartet cycle, which is part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s yearlong retrospective of Beethoven’s quartets to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of the composer (below).

Members (below, from left, in a photo by Rick Lang) are violinists David Perry; violist Suzanne Beia; and cellist Parry Karp.

The live-streamed concert begins at 7:30 CST with a short lecture by UW-Madison professor of musicology Charles Dill (below), who will introduce both string quartets: String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6; and String Quartet in F major, Op. 59, No. 1.

If this concert is at all like the past ones online, listeners are in for a treat. The playing is always first-rate, but – unlike what has been the case with even professional online and virtual performers – the sound and visual technology matches that quality. To The Ear, these are must-hear performances, wherever you are in the world.

Because of copyright issues, each concert will stay posted in YouTube for only 24 hours.

Here is the new schedule for the spring semester and the rest of the Beethoven cycle.

Explains cellist Parry Karp: “The schedule for this coming semester has been changed a bit because the semester started a week later and we decided to do Beethoven’s String Quintets as well.”

All virtual concerts will take place in Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall in the Hamel Music Center. But no in-person attendance will be allowed.

PROGRAM No. 6: Friday, Feb. 5, 7:30 p.m. String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 6 (1798-1800). You can hear the last movement in the YouTube video at the bottom. String Quartet in F Major, Op 59, No. 1 (1808)

PROGRAM No. 7:  Friday, March 5, 7:30 p.m. Fugue for String Quintet in D Major, Op. 137 (1817); String Quintet in C Major, Op. 29 (1801); String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3 (1808)

PROGRAM No. 8:  Friday, April 9, 7:30 p.m. String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135 (1826); String Quartet in B-flat major, Opp. 130 and 133 (1825-6)

And here are links to those performances: 

Feb. 5

https://youtu.be/wQajNmutqgU

https://fb.me/e/16Km8etgD

March 5

https://youtu.be/56inR_uR_b8

https://fb.me/e/GjwiUI2W

April 9

https://youtu.be/IIW_5NVgGaA

https://fb.me/e/624dKB9kS

 


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This Friday night the Verona Quartet performs an online concert of Brahms and Dvorak for the Wisconsin Union Theater. Plus, longtime music critic Jess Anderson has died

January 27, 2021
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ALERT: Jess Anderson (below), a longtime local music critic for Isthmus, an active participant in the local music scene and a veteran radio host of an early music program for WORT-FM 89.9, died this past Sunday. He was 85. When more information is known, The Ear will devote a blog post to Jess, who was also a friend.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

The Wisconsin Union Theater’s Concert Series will continue this season with a performance by the Verona Quartet (below) on this Friday, Jan. 29, at 7:30 p.m. CST. It will be preceded by a question-and-answer session with the Quartet at 7 p.m. CST. 

The Quartet will perform two complete works: the String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 51, No. 2, by Johannes Brahms; and the famous String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96, the “American,” by Antonin Dvorak. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the Verona Quartet perform the familiar last movement of the string quartet by Dvorak.) 

The Verona Quartet rose to international fame by sweeping top prizes at competitions, including the Chamber Music America’s Cleveland Quartet Award in 2020.

Hailing from four different parts of the world, differences unify the Quartet’s members and music. Its music aims to show how diverse experiences can come together in harmony.

“The Verona Quartet brings fresh approaches to classical music masterpieces,” says Wisconsin Union Theater director Elizabeth Snodgrass (below). “The Quartet has risen to become one of the world’s most sought-after string quartets. We are honored to include them in our Concert Series season.”

Ticket purchase information can be found here. Tickets for this virtual online event are $10 for UW-Madison students, $17 for Wisconsin Union members and students who do not attend the UW-Madison, and $20 for all other patrons.

Ticket buyers will receive an email from approximately 2 hours before the event begins that contains the link to view the performance. 

Anyone who purchases a ticket within 2 hours of the event’s start time will receive their link in their confirmation email immediately following their purchase. Only 1 ticket per household is needed to view this concert. 

The link will remain active until Friday, Feb. 5, at 9:30 p.m. (CST) to view whenever you would like.

This performance will include the Quartet’s regular violinists Jonathan Ong and Dorothy Ro, and violist Abigail Rojansky.

But due to challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic, Quartet member and cellist Jonathan Dormand will not be part of the event. Instead, cellist Dmitry Kouzov (below top) will perform the string quartet by Brahms and cellist Annie Jacobs-Perkins (below bottom, in a photo by C. Tihms Van Velden) will perform the string quartet by Dvorak.

The Verona Quartet’s performance is made possible by the David and Kato Perlman Chamber Music Endowment Fund, with additional support from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

An additional Concert Series performance will take place on Sunday, Feb. 28, at 7:30 p.m. CDT and features the Meccore Quartet.

For more than 75 years, the Wisconsin Union Theater has served as a cultural center for community members and visitors and provides a variety of performing arts events.

The Theater’s Concert Series began more than a century ago and is one of the oldest uninterrupted series of its kind in the United States.

The Wisconsin Union Theater team presents the Concert Series in collaboration with the student-led Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD) Performing Arts Committee.

The Theater team strives for all of its spaces to be accessible, and those that need accommodations can reach out by email to the Wisconsin Union Theater team at: wisconsinuniontheater@union.wisc.edu

For more information about the Verona Quartet, including how to purchase tickets, visit union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/verona-quartet.  

 


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The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra starts its four-concert Winter Chamber Series TONIGHT at 7:30. Tickets are $30 for one-time access from Friday night to Monday night

January 22, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The new semester of virtual online concerts begins tonight with the inauguration of the Winter Chamber Series by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO, below in a photo by Mike Gorski).

Tonight’s program features music by Giovanni Gabrieli, Valerie Coleman, Alec Wilder, Craig Russell and Franz Schubert. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the first movement of the Schubert Cello Quintet, played by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.)

The programs are short and feature classic works as well as new music and neglected composers. Often single movements or excerpts rather than complete works are performed.

Concerts all debut on Fridays and remain available through Monday night. Debut dates are TONIGHT, Jan. 22; Feb. 26; March 26; and April 16. A ticket entitles the purchaser to one viewing.

Here is a description of the chamber music series from the WCO:

“While full orchestras remain sidelined, the WCO is excited to present the Winter Chamber Series. This new series will feature chamber works for multiple ensembles ranging from trios to octets, showcasing the versatility and caliber of the WCO’s 34 world-class musicians.

“Patrons will enjoy the four-concert series in the comfort of their own home, streaming each concert on WCO Live on-demand starting at 7:30 p.m. on the evening of the concert launch.

“All programs will be 60–75 minutes in length, with not only music but also stories from the WCO’s own musicians on their journey to becoming professional musicians.

“Also included is a pre-concert talk with maestro Andrew Sewell and Norman Gilliland, as well as a post-concert reflection with musicians of the WCO.” 

Here is a link to the concerts, with programs plus notes by music director and conductor Sewell (below in a photo by Alex Cruz) as well as a link to purchase tickets from the Overture Center box office: https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/winter-chamber-series

In addition, the WCO has started a musician’s relief fund. It seeks donations to pay musicians for the wages they have lost due to postponed or canceled concerts.

Here is a link: https://wcoconcerts.org/support/donate

 


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Pianist Jeremy Denk combines first-rate playing with innovative programs. He performs a virtual online recital this Friday night for the Wisconsin Union Theater

December 9, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Jeremy Denk (below) is not only one of the top pianists on the concert stage today. He is also one of the most interesting and thoughtful pianists when it comes to original, innovative and eclectic programming.

Denk will display his talents again when he performs his third solo recital in Madison this Friday night, Dec. 11, for the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The concert of music by Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Missy Mazzoli is at 7:30 p.m. and will be preceded by a public Q&A at 7 p.m. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, both the discussion and the concert will be virtual and online.

Access to the online posting is $20 for the general public, $17 for Wisconsin Union members, and $10 for students.

Denk’s performance, which is part of the Theater’s 101st Annual Concert Series, will include “Papillons” (Butterflies), Op. 2, by Robert Schumann; Three Romances, Op. 21, by Clara Schumann; “Bolts of Loving Thunder” by the contemporary American composer Missy Mazzoli (below); and Four Pieces for Piano, Op. 119, by Johannes Brahms. (You can hear Denk play the lyrically introspective first intermezzo of Brahms’ late Op. 119 in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

To purchase tickets to Denk’s performance, visit https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/jeremy-denk/

Ticket buyers will receive an email from the box office approximately 2 hours before the event begins that will contain their link to view the performance. Anyone who purchases a ticket within 2 hours of the event’s start time will receive their email within 15 minutes of purchase. 

To The Ear, Denk’s well-planned and fascinating program seems like a probing contrast-and-compare, narrative exploration of the musical styles and close personal relationships – a kind of love triangle — between Robert and Clara Schumann (below top); between Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms, whom Robert Schumann championed; and between Brahms and Clara Schumann, who also championed Brahms (below bottom) but rejected him as a lover and suitor after the premature death of her husband Robert.

One of America’s foremost pianists, Denk is a winner of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, and the Avery Fisher Prize, and was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In the United States, Denk has performed with the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra and frequently performs at Carnegie Hall. Internationally, he has toured with the world-famous Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and performed at Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms. 

Denk’s talents include writing about music. Some of his stories about music have been featured on the front page of The New York Times Book Review as well as in The New Yorker, The New Republic and The Guardian. Many of those writings form the basis for a forthcoming book.

His passion for composing both music and writing compositions is evident in his music-based blog “Think Denk” — “to think” in German is “denizen” — which dates back to 2005.

“Jeremy Denk is one of the greatest pianists of our generation,” says WUT director Elizabeth Snodgrass. “While many pianists specialize in a particular period or composer, Jeremy is a musical omnivore whose wide-ranging interests span centuries and styles, and he is exceptional at playing all of them. As The New York Times said, he is  ‘a pianist you want to hear no matter what he performs.’” 

Proof of that can be found in the program “c. 1300-c. 2000” he toured with and recorded last year for Nonesuch, which features a sampling tour of 700 years of keyboard compositions.

Said a critic for the Boston Globe: “Denk has “an unerring sense of the music’s dramatic structure and a great actor’s intuition for timing.” 


This performance was made possible by the David and Kato Perlman Chamber Music Endowment Fund.

Learn more about Jeremy Denk at: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Website

For more information and a video clip of Denk playing different Brahms, go to: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/jeremy-denk/

 


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The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra cancels its first Masterworks concert and launches an online virtual Winter Chamber Series in January

November 22, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

With the surge in the coronavirus pandemic, the dominos are starting to fall again — this time for the spring series of live, in-person concerts that had been planned.

Friday night brought important news from the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below, in photo by Mike Gorski).

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO) has canceled its first Masterworks concert, with guest cellist Amit Peled, in late January. In its place the WCO is launching its first-ever digital Winter Chamber Series.

The virtual, online series of digital concerts will feature the ensemble’s 34 players in smaller groups of four to eight, That will be safer for both players and audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four home-viewable virtual online concerts are planned: Jan. 22, Feb. 26, March 26, and April 16. Programs are not available except for the first concert.

Also included are a pre-concert talk with WCO music director and maestro Andrew Sewell (below top, in a photo by Alex Cruz) and Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland (below bottom), and post-concert reflections with musicians of the WCO.

The ticket price for each concert, which will run 60-75 minutes, is $30 per household. A ticket entitles you to one viewing of the concert between Friday, Jan. 22, and Monday, Jan. 25. The concert will start streaming at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

Patrons who have already purchased season subscription tickets can apply that to the full series of four concerts.

Tickets are available online at the Overture Center box office. See below.

The program for the first Winter Chamber Concert on Jan. 22 is:

Four Canzonas by the Baroque Italian composer Giovanni Gabrieli (below):

“Tzigane” (a term for music by Hungarian gypsies or Romani) for Wind Quintet by the contemporary American composer Valerie Coleman (below):

The first movement of the famed String Quintet in C major, D. 956, by the Austrian Romantic composer Franz Schubert (below):

Four Octets by the 20th-century American composer and jazz musician Alec Wilder (below), which you can sample in the YouTube video at the bottom.

To see more background about the composers, more details about the concert and purchase tickets, go to: https://www.overture.org/events/wco-chamber-series

You can also check out the series as it progressively gets announced on the WCO home website: https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/winter-chamber-series

The concert series sounds like a terrific substitution for the regular concerts that cannot yet take place.

But The Ear wonders if the price per concert is a bit steep, given that comparable concerts by UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music , the Wllly Street Chamber Players and Just Bach are free – although they do ask for donations — and that the Madison Opera charged $50 for its entire fall digital series while the Wisconsin Union Theater charges between $10 and $20 per virtual concert.

The Ear likes the eclectic programming, but also thinks it is kind of teasing and unsatisfying to offer just the first movement of such an organic masterpiece and profoundly beautiful work as the Schubert Cello Quintet. Doing one movement of a chamber music work somehow seems very different from doing one movement of a symphony.

It would also be nice to see the programs for all the concerts plus a series discount as an incentive.

What do you think about the WCO’s Winter Chamber Series?

What do you think about the price and the programming?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet performs the fifth installment of its complete Beethoven cycle this Friday night at 7:30 in a FREE live-streamed concert

November 19, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

As we draw close to Dec. 16 and the 250th birthday celebrations for Ludwig van Beethoven (below, in 1803), one of the joys and highlights of the Beethoven Year continues to impress.

The UW-Madison’s acclaimed Pro Arte Quartet will give the fifth installment of their complete cycle of the 16 string quartets by Beethoven this Friday night, Nov. 20, at 7:30 p.m.

Here is a direct link: https://youtu.be/nZN7tRu8N_k

Members of the quartet (below, from left) are: violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia; violist Sally Chisholm; and cellist Parry Karp.

The FREE online virtual concert is a livestream from the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall, where the quartet will once again play with masks and social distancing (below).

No in-person attendance is allowed.

“It’s different playing without a live audience,” says cellist Parry Karp. “But we’re getting used to it. Not having to play other live concerts or to go on tour around the state also allows us to focus more. And the upside of playing online is that we saw quite a number of viewers from Brazil and Argentina listening to our last concert.”

Before each of the two quartets, Professor Charles Dill (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who teaches musicology at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, will give a short introductory lecture.

The program features one early quartet and one middle “Razumovsky” quartet: String Quartet No. 3 in D Major, Op. 18 No. 3 (1798-1800); and String Quartet No. 8 in E Minor, “Razumovsky,” Op. 59, No. 2 (1806). 

You can hear the Ebène Quartet play the hymn-like slow movement of the Razumovsky quartet, with its use of a Russian theme, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is more background from Wikipedia about both quartets:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_Quartet_No._3_(Beethoven)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_Quartet_No._8_(Beethoven)

For more information about the program, the names of the orchestra’s players and impressive historical background about the Pro Arte Quartet, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-beethoven-string-quartet-cycle-program-v/


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Cellist Camille Thomas makes her Madison debut online from Paris for the Wisconsin Union Theater this Saturday night

November 6, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Union Theater’s fall virtual Concert Series performances will begin this Saturday night, Nov. 7, at 7:30 p.m. CST with a live online performance from Paris by the acclaimed cellist Camille Thomas (below).

The “Midnight in Paris” recital – performed in Paris and streamed — features music by Claude Debussy, Nadia Boulanger, Maurice Ravel and Frederic Chopin. The performance will be preceded by a live 30-40 minute online Q&A with Thomas and pianist Julien Brocal on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. CST.

Here are the specific works on the program, which will last about 75 minutes with no intermission:

Debussy, “Clair de Lune” (arr. Roelens)

Nadia Boulanger, “Three Pieces” for cello and piano

Ravel, Kaddish

Chopin, Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 65; and Introduction et Polonaise brillante, Op. 3 

Tickets for this online event are $10 for UW-Madison students, $18 for Wisconsin Union members, and $20 for all other patrons.

For more information about the Thomas’ performance – including a video and how to purchase tickets — visit union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/camille-thomas.

Thomas (below), a Franco-Belgian cellist, says she uses her music to bring people together from a range of cultures and backgrounds. Thomas released her second album, called “Voice of Hope,” with the exclusive Deutsche Grammophon this past June. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Thomas play a solo version from the album of Gluck’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from his opera “Orfeo ed Euridice.”)

Thomas plays the Feuermann Stradivarius cello (1730, below) — named for the famous 20th-century cellist Emanuel Feuermann who played it — with a bow by Eugene Sartory, who is regarded as one of the finest bow makers in history. Joining her for this performance will be pianist Julien Brocal.

“Camille Thomas’s extraordinary talent makes her one of the most captivating artists of our time, as evidenced by being the first cellist in several decades to be signed by the major record label Deutsche Grammophon,” says Wisconsin Union Theater director Elizabeth Snodgrass. “Her ‘Midnight in Paris’ program brings us closer to her roots and reflects the beauty and charm of her personality as well as her musicality.”

The Ear has listened to some of Thomas’ performances on YouTube and finds her tone, intonation and phrasing outstanding.

The performance by Camille Thomas is the start of the fall Concert Series events, which includes a concert with pianist Jeremy Denk (below, in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times) on Friday, Dec. 11.

In its 101st year, the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Concert Series is one of the oldest uninterrupted series of its kind in the United States.

The Wisconsin Union Theater (WUT) has served as a cultural center for community members and visitors for more than 75 years. The WUD Performing Arts Committee plans many of the Theater’s events, including the Concert Series.

While usually held in-person and most often in Shannon Hall, the Wisconsin Union Theater team will hold this fall’s theater events in a virtual format for the health and safety of patrons, artists and team members in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The team aims for all of its spaces, including online ones, to be accessible. Those that need accommodations can reach out to the Wisconsin Union Theater team at wisconsinuniontheater@union.wisc.edu

The WUT team says it continues to evaluate what changes may need to occur related to the spring Concert Series events as well as other spring Theater season performances.

The Wisconsin Union Theater has made multiple commitments to take a stand against racial injustice, including being more than allies, being activists; using the arts to create social justice; remembering students are future leaders and must be part of the change; using its voice to influence leadership and being firm in its resolve; and making space, stepping back and learning how to give up undeserved or unnecessary power and privilege.

 


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UW-Madison’s new Marvin Rabin String Quartet makes its premiere when it performs a FREE online concert this Friday night

November 4, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Nov. 6, will see the premiere concert by the new Marvin Rabin String Quartet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music.

The concert takes place virtually and online on the music school’s YouTube channel. It is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. and run to 8 p.m.

Here is the direct link: https://youtu.be/ObJMMA220Jw

The new string quartet — which replaces The Hunt Quartet — is named in honor of the late Dr. Marvin J. Rabin, who was an internationally acclaimed music educator and Professor Emeritus at UW-Madison.

Rabin (below) is best known as the founder of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

The members of the Marvin Rabin String Quartet are graduate students at the UW-Madison.

Members are (below from top left) are: Fabio Saggin, viola; Ben Therrell, cello; Ava Shadmani, violin; and Rachel Reese-Kollmeyer, violin.

They will perform the virtual concert in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall of the Hamel Music Center.

There is NO in-person attendance

The program is:

String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 18, No. 6 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Two Armenian Miniatures for String Quartet –“The Red Shawl” (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom) and “Echmiadzin Dance” – by the Armenian priest Komitas (1869-1935, see 1902 photo below) as arranged by S. Aslamazyan

Here is Komitas’ Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Komitas

15-MINUTE INTERMISSION

String Quartet in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2 by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

 


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University Opera’s original online video project celebrates the life and music of American composer Marc Blitzstein. It will be posted for FREE on YouTube this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m.

October 21, 2020
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

This fall, University Opera presents its first project of 2020-21 in video format as it turns to the music of the American composer Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964).

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” will be released free of charge on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music’s YouTube channel this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m. CDT at the general site www.youtube.com/meadwitterschoolofmusic or the official specific link: https://youtu.be/77FXFZucrWc.

Director of University Opera David Ronis (below top) is the director of the original production and will give introductory remarks. UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom) is the musical director. The production lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes, and features four singer-actors, a narrator and a piano.

Marc Blitzstein’s life story parallels some of the most important cultural currents in American history of the mid-20th-century.

Known for his musicals — most notably The Cradle Will Rock in 1937 (you can hear Dawn Upshaw sing the lovely song “I Wish It So” from “Juno” in the YouTube video at the bottom) — his opera Regina and his translation of Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, Blitzstein was an outspoken proponent of socially engaged art. Like many artists of his time, he joined the American Communist Party. But he also enthusiastically served in the U.S. Army during World War II (below, in 1943).

Nevertheless, in 1958, long after he had given up his Communist Party membership, Blitzstein (below) was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where he “named no names.”

An extremely gifted yet underappreciated composer, he was a close friend of and mentor to Leonard Bernstein (below right, with Blitzstein on the left) and traveled in a close circle of American composers including David Diamond and Aaron Copland.

Although openly gay, he married Eva Goldbeck in 1933. Sadly, she died three years later from complications due to anorexia.

Blitzstein’s own death was likewise tragic. In 1964, while in Martinique working on an opera about the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, he was robbed and badly beaten by three Portuguese sailors whom he had picked up at a bar. He died the next day of internal injuries. 

Although throughout his life and afterwards, Blitzstein’s work was championed by Bernstein and others, many claim that neither the composer nor his stunning music and beautiful lyrics ever received the attention they deserved. So University Opera is proud to present this show celebrating his life and his works.

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” is a unique production put together by David Ronis. A biographical pastiche, it tells the story of Blitzstein’s life by recontextualizing 23 songs and ensembles from his shows, juxtaposing them with spoken excerpts from his working notes and letters, and tying it all together with a narration.

The result is a dramatic, evocative and enjoyable portrait of Blitzstein’s life and his art, according to Ronis.

“We’ve discovered a lot of “silver linings” while working on this production,” says Ronis. “We were disappointed at not being able to do a normal staged show. But working with video has had tremendous artistic and educational value.

“Our students are learning on-camera technique, not to mention how to work with a green screen (below, with soprano Sarah Brailey), which allows for post-production editing and digital manipulation of backgrounds. They’re also working with spoken text as well as sung pieces. Mostly, we’re just very grateful to have a creative project to sink our teeth into during the pandemic. 

“And the music of Blitzstein is so fantastic, we’re very happy to be able to share it with our audience. This project is like none other I’ve ever done and we’re thinking that it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Research on the project was completed at the Wisconsin Historical Society, where Blitzstein’s archives are housed. University Opera gratefully acknowledges the help of both Mary Huelsbeck of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Television Research, and the Kurt Weill Foundation for their assistance with this project.

The cast features five UW-Madison graduate students: Sarah Brailey, Kenneth Hoversten, Justin Kroll, Lindsey Meekhof (below) and Steffen Silvis.

The video design was done by Dave Alcorn with costumes by Hyewon Park.

Others on the production staff include Will Preston, rehearsal pianist; Elisheva Pront, research assistant and assistant director; Dylan Thoren, production stage manager; Alec Hansen, assistant stage manager; Teresa Sarkela, storyboard creator; and Greg Silver, technical director.

The video will be accessible for 23 hours starting at 8 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 23. Although there will be no admission price for access, donations will be gratefully accepted. A link for donations will be posted with the video. 

University Opera, a cultural service of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, email opera@music.wisc.edu or visit music.wisc.edu.

 


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