The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Grammy winners Takacs Quartet and pianist Garrick Ohlsson perform a MUST-HEAR concert of Mozart, Brahms and Shostakovich this Sunday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Plus, you can hear a FREE performance of string music by Johan Halvorsen and Philip Glass this Friday at noon

November 30, 2017
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features the Passcaglia Duo of Norwegian composer Johan Halvorsen and String Quartet No. 5 by American contemporary composer Philip Glass.

Performers are violinists Kaleigh Acord, Elspeth Stalter and Ela Mowinski; violist Shannon Farley; and cellist Morgan Walsh. The concert, which runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m., will be streamed live on the Facebook page of Noon Musicales.

By Jacob Stockinger

Separately and together, The Ear loves piano and strings.

So you can imagine the appeal of a concert that will take place this Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

That’s when the veteran and venerable Takacs Quartet (below) and acclaimed pianist Garrick Ohlsson will join forces in a terrific all-masterpiece program.

The concert has all the makings of a MUST-HEAR event for chamber music fans.

The award-winning Takacs Quartet, founded 42 years ago in Hungary and widely recorded and honored, will play two string quartets.

The late String Quartet No. 21 in D Major, K. 575, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below), is the first of the composer’s three so-called “Prussian” quartets.

Known for a more relaxed style than the earlier “Haydn” quartets by Mozart, the Prussian quartets were composed for the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II (below), who was a talented amateur cellist.

The Takacs will also perform the seven-movement String Quartet No. 11 in F minor by Dmitri Shostakovich (below). It is one of The Ear’s very favorite of the 16 quartets written by the Russian composer who endured the torments and treacheries of the Stalinist terror in the Soviet Union.

Then Garrick Ohlsson (below) will join in for the Piano Quintet in F Minor by Johannes Brahms. It is one of the four or five crowning quintets for piano and string quartet.

The Ear loves the playing of both artists and the program should be deeply interesting and moving. The Takacs possesses a mastery of many styles and has recorded numerous quartets by Haydn, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Smetana, Janacek and, more recently, by Dvorak as well as a terrific complete cycle of the 16 Beethoven quartets.

But the Takacs has recorded little Mozart (two string quintets) and little Shostakovich (one quartet and a piano quintet), so The Ear looks forward to hearing the quartet’s take on those composers.

The Takacs has recorded the Brahms Piano Quintet, but with British pianist Stephen Hough and Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff, but that work too should be a memorable performance with Ohlsson, the only American ever to win the International Chopin Piano Competition. (You can hear the energetic and lyrical opening movement from the Takacs-Hough recording in the YouTube video at the bottom, which has an intriguing and colorful bar graph to emphasize the structure.)

Tickets are $10-$47. For more information about purchasing tickets plus a video and more background about the artists, go to:

https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/takacs-quartet-with-garrick-ohlsson/


Classical music: Are we hearing more Brahms? If so, why?

October 7, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear got to thinking about concerts, recordings and Wisconsin Public Radio programs over the past year and the ones coming up this season.

And it seems like there was a lot of music by Johannes Brahms (below), often given multiple performances – the “German” Requiem, the symphonies and concertos, the solo piano music, the string quintets and sextets, and the piano trios and other chamber music with piano.

This season alone, in Madison we will hear three performances of the famous Piano Quintet. Two of them will be in the usual version at the Wisconsin Union Theater (the Takacs Quartet with pianist Garrick Ohlsson) and at Farley’s House of Pianos (the Pro Arte Quartet with pianist Alon Goldstein), and, recently, the earlier two-piano version at Farley’s by Robert Plano and Paola Del Negro. (You can hear the gorgeous slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Now it is true that Brahms is one of the standard composers who never really go out of fashion, especially for the way he combined the craft and polyphony of Classicism with a Romantic sensibility. Not for nothing was he lumped in with Bach and Beethoven.

Also true is that Brahms is often described as “autumnal” and fits the concert season.

But not everyone loves Brahms. The British composer Benjamin Britten hated his music and the American crime writer James Ellroy also can’t stand Brahms.

Still, it seems to The Ear that we are hearing more than the usual amount of Brahms.

And if that is true, he wonders, why is it the case? Why does Brahms appeal so?

Is there something in Brahms that matches the times we live in?

Or perhaps something that reassures and consoles us about the times we live in?

Anyway, do you think we are hearing more Brahms?

And if you do, what do you think explains it?

Finally, if you like Brahms what is your favorite piece by Brahms?

Tell us in COMMENTS and provide a link to an audio or video clip is possible

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Tickets are now on sale for the Wisconsin Union Theater’s impressive 2017-18 season

August 31, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Historically, for almost a century, the Wisconsin Union Theater has been the Carnegie Hall of Madison.

And despite so much competition from other newer presenters and groups these days, the WUT continues to put on impressive seasons in its renovated Shannon Hall (below).

Plus, nine years ago the Wisconsin Union Theater inaugurated and continues to sponsor The Well-Tempered Ear blog.

For that reason, The Ear is listing the complete 98th concert season. Follow the links for more information about the performers, the programs and ticket prices.

BUT PLEASE NOTE THAT THE FOUR CLASSICAL CONCERTS ARE MARKED WITH AN ASTERISK AND A PHOTO.

You can also check out more, including biographies and sound clips, by going to: https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/seasonevents/concert-series/

Here is the complete press release:

Tickets for the Wisconsin Union Theater’s 2017-2018 season became available as of this week. They may be purchased at the Campus Arts Ticketing Box Office in Memorial Union, online, or by phone at 608-265-ARTS (2787).

A few shows have been added to the season, including the most popular Egyptian TV personality of all time, Bassem Youssef, also known as “The Egyptian Jon Stewart,” a free performance by the Quebecois Le Vent du Nord, and Madison Celtic Festival.

Again this season, UW-Madison student tickets for most performances are only $10 or less.

See the season video here. Listen to the Spotify list here.

The full season – classical concerts have an asterisk –includes:

Madison World Music Festival-FREE!

September 15-16, 2017, Memorial Union Terrace and Willy St. Fest

Lizzo

Saturday, September 23, 2017, 8 PM, Shannon Hall

Black Music Ensemble. Free!

Thursday, September 28, November 30, 2017, and February 15, 2018, 8:30 PM, Fredric March Play Circle

Arlo Guthrie

The Re:Generation Tour

Thursday, October 5, 2017, 8 PM; Shannon Hall

InDIGenous Jazz Series: Johannes Wallmann – Love Wins. Free!

Friday, October 6, 2017, 7:00 PM; Fredric March Play Circle

Songhoy Blues-FREE!

With WUD Music

Friday, October 6, 2017, The Sett

Tanya Tagaq

“Retribution”

Saturday, October 7, 2017, 8 PM; 
Shannon Hall

Anais Mitchell

Thursday, October 12, 2017, 2017, 8 PM
; Fredric March Play Circle

InDIGenous Jazz Series: Dave Stoler Quartet. Free!

Friday, October 20, 2017, 7:30 PM; Fredric March Play Circle

Inti Illimani- 50th Anniversary Tour!

Sunday, October, 22, 2017, 8 PM; Shannon Hall

InDIGenous Jazz Series: Nestle and Lovely Socialite. Free!

Friday, November 3, 2017, 7:30 PM; Fredric March Play Circle

* Richard Goode  photo by Steve Risking (He discusses repertoire and plays his favorite Beethoven sonata, which he will perform here, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Saturday, November 4, 2017, 7:30 PM
; Shannon Hall

Chasing Rainbows: A World Tour and Historic Look at Travel Films

Travel Adventure Film Series

Monday, November 6, 2017, 7:30 PM
; Shannon Hall

Bassem Youssef

Thursday, November 9, 2017, 8 PM; Shannon Hall

InDIGenous Jazz Series:  Paul Dietrich Big Band. Free!

Friday, November 17, 2017, 7:30 PM; Fredric March Play Circle

Brad Mehldau Trio

Saturday, December 2, 2017, 8 PM; 
Fredric March Play Circle

* Takács String Quartet w/ Garrick Ohlsson

Sunday, December 3, 2017, 7:30 PM; 
Shannon Hall

Free lecture by Wisconsin Public Radio’s Norman Gilliland, 6:30 pm, Festival Room

Joe Pug

Thursday, December 7, 2017, 8 PM; Fredric March Play Circle

Dublin Irish Dance

“Stepping Out”

Friday, February 2, 2018, 8 PM; 
Shannon Hall

Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas

Thursday, February 8, 2018, 8 PM
; Fredric March Play Circle

Laurie Anderson

Saturday, February 9, 2018, 8 PM
; Shannon Hall

Becca Stevens

Wednesday, February 14, 2018, 8 PM
; Fredric March Play Circle

 * Eighth Blackbird

Saturday, March 3, 2018, 7:30 PM; Shannon Hall

Free lecture by Randal Swiggum, 6:30 pm, Play Circle

How to Travel the World for Free

Travel Adventure Film Series

Monday, March 5, 2018, 7:30 PM; 
Shannon Hall

Marcia Legere Student Play Festival-FREE!

March 15-17, 2018
; Fredric March Play Circle

Cecile McLorin Salvant

Thursday, March 8, 2018, 8 PM; Shannon Hall

Jessica Lang Dance

Saturday, March 17, 2018, 8 PM; Shannon Hall

Madison Celtic Festival

Saturday, March 10, 2018; Memorial Union

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

Sunday, April 8, 2018, 8 PM; Shannon Hall

China: Beyond the Great Wall (World Premiere by Karin Muller)

Monday, April 9, 2018, 7:30 PM; Shannon Hall

* The King’s Singers

Saturday, April 14, 2018, 7:30 PM; Shannon Hall

Le Vent du Nord. Free!

Saturday, May 5, 2018, 8:00 PM; Terrace

This season is presented by the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Performing Arts Committee.


Classical music: Playing softly is the mark of great music-making

April 5, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Like so many young pianists, when The Ear was young he wanted to project strength. He wanted to play BIG virtuosic pieces and play them FAST and LOUD — even though they were usually way beyond his ability.

Pieces such as the “Appassionata” Sonata and “Emperor” Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, and Prelude in C-sharp minor (“Bells of Moscow”) by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor by Peter Tchaikovsky.

The “Great Gate at Kiev,” from “Pictures at an Exhibition,” by Modest Mussorgsky.

The ”Military” Polonaise and the “Revolutionary” Etude by Frederic Chopin.

You know, the kind of piece that can easily descend into pounding and banging, but that makes an impression on listeners and people who don’t play — and on the player too!

Back then, doing that kind of muscular music-making seemed the task of a real virtuoso.

But no longer.

Maturity brings an appreciation of subtlety and softness, which are much better hallmarks of musicality. Softness is definitely NOT weakness. In fact for The Ear, softness has become a kind of test of mature musicianship.

The past year or so has been a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate that the mark of a really great and mature virtuoso artist is the ability to play softly.

The most recent example came this past Sunday afternoon when The Ear heard pianist Garrick Ohlsson (below) play the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, by Johannes Brahms with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the baton of MSO’s longtime music director and conductor John DeMain.

Garrick Ohlsson

To be sure, the MSO performed absolutely superbly on its own in the 2011 Symphony by Steven Stucky and the tone poem “Don Juan” by Richard Strauss.

But the second half of the concert, devoted to the concerto, was both ear-opening and heart-rending.

The first concerto is a product of Brahms’ youth and is dramatic. Ohlsson, who possess both power and great technique, has no problem getting a huge sound out of the piano when he wants to or playing the most virtuosic passages with absolute fluidness and complete command.

But here is what really mattered: Ohlsson took away the bombast and bluster you so often hear in this early work. You felt as if you were hearing the concerto for the first time or at least hearing it anew.

What emerged was a uniquely convincing and beautifully poetic reading of this famous work – and not just in the slow movement but also in various interludes during the first and third movements. Plus, Ohlsson was joined by DeMain and the MSO whose accompaniment bought into his interpretation and also emphasized subtlety. It was complemented perfectly by the quietly songful encore, which was the lyrical Nocturne in D-flat major by Chopin.

There have been other occasions like that over the past year or so.

Here are just a few.

The duo-pianists Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung (below) at Farley’s House of Pianos played an all-Schubert recital and proved how seductive quiet and restrained playing can be.

Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax 2015

UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) can compete with the best when it comes to forceful playing. But what lingers in The Ear’s mind is hearing Taylor’s seductive playing of the slow movement from the Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5, by Johannes Brahms as a great example in how playing softly draws in listeners but requires great virtuosity and control.

Christopher Taylor Recital

Christopher Taylor Recital

Pianist Emanuel Ax (below), who played the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Beethoven with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, also demonstrated an uncanny ability to play softly with deep tone.

Emanuel Ax portrait 2016

There were other examples in various kinds of music. The Ear recalls beautifully soft singing in some songs by Franz Schubert during the Schubertiade (below) at the UW-Madison in late January.

Schubertiade 2016 Shepherd on the Rock

He also remembers some fantastic quiet playing of Johann Sebastian Bach and Brahms in the debut recital by UW violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt).

Soh-Hyun Park Altino CR caroline bittencourt

There are many other examples from other individuals and groups, including the violinist Benjamin Beilman with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; the UW Choral Union in the Gloria by Francis Poulenc; the Madison Opera’s productions of Puccini’s “La Boheme” and Mark Adamo’s “Little Women”; pianist Joyce Yang at the Wisconsin Union Theater; and the Pro Arte Quartet among others.

But you get the point.

It isn’t easy to play softly. In fact, it can be downright hard.

But it makes music so beautiful.

So moving.

So unforgettable.

As listener or player, try it and see for yourself.


Classical music: Meet Mexican tenor Javier Camarena who got to perform an encore at The Met. Plus, today is your last chance to hear pianist Garrick Ohlsson and the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a program that gets raves from the critics

April 3, 2016
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ALERT 1: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, is your last chance to hear pianist Garrick Ohlsson and the Madison Symphony Orchestra under conductor John DeMain in a program of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Johannes Brahms; the tone poem “Don Juan” by Richard Strauss; and the Symphony No. 1 by Steven Stucky. Critics have loved the performances.

Here is a link to a review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/music/enterprise-and-mastery-madison-symphony-orchestra/

Here is a link to a review by Lindsay Christians for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/brahms-and-strauss-dabble-in-love-on-mso-s-april/article_eca654f4-f889-11e5-a327-af48290d204d.html

ALERT 2: UW-Madison clarinetist Wesley Warnhoff will perform a FREE recital, with renowned UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor, on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. They perform a sonata by Johannes Brahms and a rhapsody by Claude Debussy among others. Here is a link to more information and the compete program:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wesley-warnhoff-clarinet/

By Jacob Stockinger

At the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, not many singers get to stop the show — the big, complex and expensive show — and sing an encore aria.

In recent years, since 1942, there have been only three. There was Luciano Pavarotti and Juan Diego Florez, who astonished the audience by repeating the nine high C’s in Gaetano Donizetti’s “La Fille du regiment” (The Daughter of the Regiment).

But just recently there was a third.

His name is Mexican tenor Javier Camarena (below in a photo by Marty Sohl for The Met). He was singing in Don Pasquale,” also by Donizetti, one of the masters of the show-offy and impressively embellished “bel canto” or “beautiful singing” style.

Tenor Javier Camarena CR Marty Sohl for The Met

Camarena wowed the crowd with a high D-flat, a half-step higher than the high C that his predecessors sang.

Here is a story, with an interview, on NPR or National Public Radio, that gets you excited about the man and the event just by reading about them:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/03/28/471842692/the-show-stopping-singing-of-javier-camarena

And here in a YouTube video is the aria he sang —  and then sang again:


Classical music: Pianist Garrick Ohlsson will solo in the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Johannes Brahms with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend. Music by Richard Strauss and Steven Stucky complete the program.

March 29, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

World-renowned pianist Garrick Ohlsson returns to the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) this Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The program, conducted by longtime MSO music director John DeMain, features dramatic music by Johannes Brahms and Richard Strauss. The concert will also feature a first-ever performance by the MSO of a symphony by the recently deceased Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Steven Stucky.

Garrick Ohlsson (below, in a photo by Paul Body) will perform one of the best-loved pieces in the Romantic piano concerto repertoire, Johannes Brahms’ powerful Piano Concerto No. 1. Ohlsson impressed Madison audiences in 2008 and 2012 with his thrilling performances of concertos by Sergei Rachmaninoff and Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky.

Garrick Ohlsson 2 CR Paul Body

Steven Stucky’s intricate and intriguing Symphony No. 1 kicks off the concert program, followed by Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Juan, a work recounting the life and death of the eponymous fictional character through brazenly virtuosic flair matched by tender romantic melodies.

The concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For ticket details, see below.

Garrick Ohlsson (below) has been a commanding presence in the piano world since winning the Chopin International Piano Competition in 1970. A proponent of chamber music, Ohlsson has collaborated with the Cleveland, Emerson, Takács and Tokyo string quartets. Known for his masterly interpretations of Chopin, Ohlsson has over 80 concertos in his repertoire, including several commissioned for him.

Garrick Ohlsson

Steven Stucky (below) composed his Symphony No. 1 as part of a joint commission by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and New York Philharmonic, and it premiered in 2012. Described by the composer as “a single expanse of music that travels through a series of emotional landscapes”, this concise work consists of four movements played without a break. Stucky just died on Feb. 14, 2016.

Steven Stucky with piano

The tone poem Don Juan by Richard Strauss (below) opens in breathtaking fashion with a flurry of strings and brass, as the hero leaps to the stage. Technically challenging and theatrical, the work vividly recounts Don Juan’s exploits, as well as his downfall.

Richard Strauss old CR H. Hoffmann Ulstein Biulderdienst

The first major orchestral work, Piano Concerto No. 1, by Johannes Brahms (below) casts the piano and orchestra as equal partners working together to develop musical ideas. Written in D minor, this piece captures the composer’s grief over the breakdown and eventual death in a mental asylum of his friend Robert Schumann. You can hear pianist Emil Gilels play the last movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.

brahmsBW

One hour before each performance, Susan Cook (below), the director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and Professor of Musicology, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

Susan C. Cook UW SOM BW CR Michael Forster Rothbart

More background on the music can also be found in the Program Notes, written by MSO bass trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen at: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/ohlsson

Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available via www.madisonsymphony.org/ohlsson , the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

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

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

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

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

Major funding for the April concerts was provided by NBC15, Diane Ballweg, BMO Private Bank, and Fred and Mary Mohs. Additional funding was provided by Boardman & Clark LLP; Dan and Natalie Erdman; J.H. Findorff & Son Inc.; Nick and Judith Topitzes; WPS Health Solutions; and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Classical music: In “Clara,” Fresco Opera Theatre traces the love triangle between Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms.

March 28, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at Fresco Opera Theatre have sent the following information about the three performances of its intriguing and original production this coming weekend, April 1-3, in Promenade Hall at the Overture Center Promenade Hall.

Here it is:

One woman. Two men. A musical love affair. The story of the Schumanns and Brahms.

“Clara” is about the life of Clara Schumann, and centers around her skills as a performer, composer and most importantly her relationship with husband Robert Schumann and close friend Johannes Brahms.

poster04

It’s a 200-year-old “secret.” Schumann was the love of Clara’s life. Clara was the love of Brahms’ life. The music was their passion. Letters were burned in an attempt to erase history, but the historian will uncover the truth of this age-old love affair. 

Fresco Opera Theatre has created an original production celebrating the life of Clara Wieck Schumann (below). Adapted from Boman Desai’s critically acclaimed novel, “Trio,” Fresco Opera will use the music of Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms to tell the story of the lives of these three great composers. 

schumannclara

Admission is $30, and no children under 6 will be admitted. Performances are in Promenade Hall on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m.; and on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.

For more information about the company, you can visit: www.FrescoOperaTheatre.com

What is really exciting is the opportunity to perform works not often heard on the concert stage. Lieder or art songs by Clara and Robert Schumann (both below), as well as vocal works by Brahms, including the Alto Rhapsody, will be featured.

Schumann_Robert_and_Wieck_Clara

We will have solo piano and voice for this performance, to match the pieces we have chosen. It was important to us to employ a female pianist given the story of Clara, so we are fortunate to have Erin Crabb, one of the best pianists in the area, to accompany our singers.

Repertoire includes: “Liebeszauber,” “Lorelei,” “Am Strande,” “Liebst du um Schonheit” and “Der Wanderer” by Clara Schumann; “Ich bin dein Baum,” “Erste Begegnung,” “Tanzlied,” “Widmung” and “Du ring an meinem finger” by Robert Schumann; and Alto Rhapsody, “Dein blaues auge,” “Die Mainacht” and “Neckereien Quartet” by Brahms (below).

(In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Jessye Norman sing the Alto Rhapsody by Brahms in its full orchestral and choral version.)

brahms3

There are many more pieces by all three composers, which have been left out here for the sake of brevity. This will all be performed live, and was researched and arranged by director Melanie Cain.

We teamed up with Chicago author Boman Desai (below), and adapted his novel “Trio”to create this operetta on the life of the Schumanns and Brahms. “Trio” is highly regarded and provides a reference for those looking for the story behind these three composers.

http://www.amazon.com/Trio-Novel-Biography-Schumanns-Brahms/dp/1504915909

Desai will conduct a pre-show talk one hour before each performance of “Clara.”

Boman Desai

Plus, since the Madison Symphony will be performing the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist Garrick Ohlsson that same weekend, we are offering a 20 percent discount to anyone who has a ticket stub from that performance. It will certainly be a Brahms weekend at the Overture Center!

Here is the link to the Overture Center’s page about “Clara” where you can find more information and purchase tickets:

http://www.overturecenter.org/events/clara


Classical music: What are your favorite warhorses? The Ear says warhorses need defending and performing, and also thinks Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto is far superior to his Second.

September 30, 2012
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ALERT: Phenom conductor Gustavo Dudamel (below) leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Stravinsky‘s “The Rite of Spring” LIVE on an NPR webcast today at 5 p.m. EDT on www.npr.org. Here he discusses the landmark work with “All Things Considered” host Robert Siegel: http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/09/28/161964987/gustavo-dudamel-on-the-magic-of-stravinskys-crazy-music

By Jacob Stockinger

Just a week ago, last Sunday afternoon, I heard a stunningly good concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

It was the perfect season opener and featured an all-Russian program plus a tribute to two MSO figures who died recently, principal tuba player Paul Haugan (below top) and longtime conductor and music director Roland Johnson (below bottom).

I agree with just about all my critic colleagues, who wrote very positive reviews. It was an extremely impressive and satisfying concert in so many ways.

The “Adagio for Strings” by UW composer John Stevens (below) was less emotionally wrenching than Samuel Barber’s well-known work of the same name. But that only made it more suited to the occasion. It held loss in a level gaze and didn’t sentimentalize the inevitability of death and loss. Plus, the MSO strings sounded so beautiful and so precise.

Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 “Classical” was performed with all the wit and spark that the neo-Classical pastiche requires. All sections showed the energetic snap the piece calls for.

And who wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the drama and fierce rhythms, the masterful orchestration and sonic beauty of The “Firebird” Suite, which showcased the entire orchestra, by Stravinsky (below).

But as for the finale, the Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Major, Op. 44, by Tchaikovsky – well I guess I find myself in the role of the dissenter filing a minority report.

MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by James Gill), now entering his 19th season in Madison, programmed it at the suggestion of the soloist pianist Garrick Ohlsson. It proved to be a premiere performance in the almost century-long history of the MSO.

And I think for good reason.

One critic praised it as a deserving work and a wonderful piece. And it is true that the performance received an enthusiastic standing ovation.

But I think that reception was largely NOT for the music.

I think the audience’s reaction came from hearing a first-rate performance of a second-rate piece.

It is good once a while to hear this rarely performed work. But let’s not overdo it. It is true that the concerto does have some beautiful moments. But overall, it is ponderously long, especially in the first movement.

The second movement, a piano trio with less piano than cello and violin, was performed exceptionally well by principal cellist Karl Lavine (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) and concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (tomorrow bottom). But it really can’t compare for me with the beauty of the Piano Trio in A minor by the same composer. And the final movement was disjointed, albeit virtuosic.

The virtuosic Ohlsson (below) played the treacherously difficult piano part with aplomb, confidence and conviction.

But too much of the concerto just sounded to The Ear like a reworking of passages from the more famous Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, which has made so many careers including those of Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Sviatoslav Richter, Van Cliburn, Emil Gilels, Lang-Lang and many others.

What drive and what lyricism that earlier concerto has. It is irresistible. It changes your world. It shakes you up. It stirs you deeply. And makes you hum or sing along.

If it is a warhorse – and it truly is – it is for a good reason. Its magic never fails. It is indisputably great. It is reliable. It never fails to deliver the goods.

It was good to hear the Second Piano Concerto by Tchaikovsky (below), but more as a curiosity than as a great listening experience. The audience would really have gone wild the First Concerto, especially the hands of such a fluent and powerful player as Ohlsson. I also bet it would have meant sellouts for all three performances at a time when symphonies can use all the attendance they can muster.

Perhaps the concert could have concluded with a Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev concerto, or even the Shostakovich Second. Or the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, which like the same composer’s great symphonies, stands up to the First Piano Concerto and surpasses the Second Piano Concerto.

So I’ll be anxious to hear what other audience members have to say about Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto? Was it a great work that you liked? Or the great performance that enthralled you?

The Ear wants to hear. You be the critic.

I also want to hear what your own favorite “warhorses” are: J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins or Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons”? Beethoven’s Fifth or Ninth symphonies, or maybe his “Emperor” piano concerto? Rachmaninoff’s Second or Third Piano Concertos or his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini? Mozart’s G minor and “Jupiter” Symphonies, or perhaps his Piano Concerto in D Minor? Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony? Grieg’s Piano Concerto or Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”? Puccini’s opera “La Boheme”? Or maybe Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (at bottom)?

Some very experienced or even jaded listeners will call them “warhorses” and dismiss them.

But so-called warhorses get their name precisely because they are tough and reliable, and because they work. It is laudable to program beyond them, but not to ignore or dismiss them

Warhorses are usually great music that should be performed live more often, great music that will help attract new and younger audiences who might not even know them at all because, unfortunately, “warhorses” aren’t supposed to be played – and, at the risk of seeming unsophisticated, often aren’t.


Classical music: Let us now praise ensemble orchestra players who are overshadowed by conductors and soloists. Auditioning for a symphony orchestra is an arduous life-changing event, as a terrific NPR story documents.

September 19, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Gradually, the new concert season is getting under way. One of the biggest opening concerts comes this weekend, when the Madison Symphony Orchestra opens its new season.

Pianist Garrick Ohlsson (below) returns to Madison to solo in the rarely performed and rarely heard Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Major, Op. 44, by Tchaikovsky – who wrote three piano concertos of which only the first, the famous one in B-flat minor, achieved mass appeal. (Some of the rarely recorded Second Concerto’s gorgeous second movement is at the bottom.)

The performance of the Tchaikovsky is part of an all-Russian program that also includes Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony and Stravinsky’s “Firebird” Suite. The conductor is MSO’s music director John DeMain (below, in a photo by James Gill), who is starting his 19th season in Madison at the MSO.

Also featured will be the “Adagio for Strings” — NOT to be confused with Samuel Barber‘s famous work with the same title —  by University of Wisconsin composer and tuba player John Stevens, who also serves as the director of the UW School of Music. The work was originally composed in 1991 for tuba and euphonium ensemble, then revised in 2009 for strings and given its premiere by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra. The performance of this work is being dedicated to the memory of longtime retired MSO music director and conductor Roland Johnson who died in May at 91, and to the memory of Paul Haugan, the longtime principal tuba player for the MSO who died prematurely in July. See below). 

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $16.50 to $78.50. For more information about tickets, call the Overture Box office at (608) 258-4141 or visit www.madisonsymphony.org

For J. Michael Allsen’s program notes for the “Russian Resounds” concerts, visit:

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1213/1.Sep12.html

Still, the soloist isn’t the only intriguing part of the concert.

A lot of fine music-making rides on regular orchestra players and especially on principal players or section leaders. And this past summer, the longtime and very accomplished principal tuba player Paul Haugan (below), died at 57 this past July. Here is a link to my post last month that announced the death of the highly accomplished Madison-born Milwaukee resident:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/classical-music-madison-symphony-orchestra-principal-tuba-player-paul-haugen-of-madison-and-milwaukee-dies-at-57/

Who will replace Haugan?

I don’t yet know. But a recent story on NPR traced the process of auditioning for a major symphony orchestra. It shows how much work and nervousness goes into the strenuous, intimidating and extremely competitive make-or-break chance for a full-time job with a symphony.

It makes for fascinating listening and might just give you a new appreciation of the regular orchestra players, who are usually overshadowed by both the conductor and the soloist.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/07/21/156989230/a-musician-and-the-audition-of-his-life


Classical music news: The Madison Symphony Orchestra announces its 2012-13 season – which features no increase in tickets prices and many local debuts of works and performers.

March 22, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting, a new report written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

The Madison Symphony Orchestra announced its 2012-13 season — its 87th season — at a press conference on Monday, presided over by the new Marketing Director, Madison native Henry Peters, and featuring a relaxed and engaging talk by conductor John DeMain, who will be marking his 19th season as the music director and conductor of the MSO.

There will be eight concert programs in the new season – DeMain said he hopes to return to nine concerts in 2013-14 — including the popular Christmas event. All performances will be in Overture Hall on Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m.

Next season, all the concerts will be conducted by maestro DeMain (below) and each program will contain his stimulating mix of old favorites with fascinating rarities.

The opening program (September 21-23) is a all-Russian feast, with Prokofiev’s witty “Classical Symphony” and Stravinsky’s dazzling “Firebird” Suite framing Tchaikovsky’s unfairly neglected Piano Concerto No 2, to be played, gloriously uncut, with the incomparable Garrick Ohlsson (below) soloing.

The October program (12-14) will open with the dazzling “Beatrice and Benedict” Overture of Berlioz, and close with Brahms’ richly autumnal Fourth Symphony. In between will be Bartók’s powerful Violin Concerto No. 2, with Canada’s rocketing star James Ehnes (below) as soloist.

For November (2-4), Schubert’s “Great” C-major Symphony will provide the monumental climax. Kodály’s coloful “Dances of Galanta” tribute to Hungarian folklore will be matched by Poulenc’s Two-Piano Concerto, featuring Madison’s own dazzling pianist twins, Christina and Michelle Naughton (below).

The Christmas concert in December will bring the usual local performers, including the Mt. Zion Gospel Chorus under Leotha Stanley, as well as new soloists soprano Emily Fons (below top) and Texas-Mexican tenor David Portillo (below bottom).

In January (18-20), the program will open with “Blue Cathedral,” a new work by the increasingly acclaimed contemporary American composer, Jennifer Higdon. Also included are Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and Dvorák’s Symphony No. 6, both of which are extraordinarily fine scores–the first mature effort by each composer in those forms, and neither heard nowhere near often enough. The soloist will the acclaimed Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero (below), famous also for her improvisational skills, which she will apparently demonstrate in some kind of encore.

Versatile German Cellist Alban Gerhardt  (below) will star in Prokofiev’s “Sinfonia Concertante“, a powerful combination of symphony and concerto, in February 8-10). Framing that will be Ravel’s moody “Rhapsodie Espagnole” and Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony.

A welcome return visitor to the MSO will be Norwegian violinst Henning Kraggerud, who will offer Mozart’s lovely Violin Concerto No. 4. It will be proceeded in the March program (8-10) by a Mozart overture (“The Impresario”) and Shostakovich’s mighty, impassioned post-Stalin Symphony No. 10.

The season finale in April (5-7) will feature the MSO’s new concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz (below, as the “cover girl” of Symphony magazine’s story on new concertmasters), as soloist in Mendelssohn’s beloved Violin Concerto in E minor.

Otherwise, the spotlight will be on the Madison Symphony Chorus. It will first be heard in choruses from Handel’s grand oratorio “Solomon”; then in Rachmaninoff’s choral symphony that sets Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, “The Bells”; and, for a blazing climax, in a Vaughan Williams rarity, his early “choral song” entitled “Toward the Unknown Region,” which is set to a text by Walt Whitman. Vocal soloists include soprano Alexandra LoBianco (below top), tenor Harold Meers (below middle) and baritone Hugh Russell (below bottom).

As a whole, the season ahead is a balanced and stimulating one. There are old favorites alongside welcome discoveries. Interesting and exciting international soloists will contribute musicality and fireworks in both familiar and deserve-to-be-familiar items.

Another plus is that the cost of season tickets will remain the same, with no increase, though various discounts are given for new subscribers and for several customized series packages.

The MSO is now taking subscription orders, both new and renewed, with various series formats available plus attractive discounts. May 14 is the deadline for reserving current seats. For information, write to the Madison Symphony Orchestra, 222 W. Washington Ave., Suite 460, Madison 53703; call (608) 257-3734; or go online to www.madisonsymphony.org.


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