The Well-Tempered Ear

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

August 7, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

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

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

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

But there are other works.

There is the Romance for Violin and Small Orchestra.

There is the Romance for String Orchestra.

There is the Concerto for Cello.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are there other Gerald Finizi fans out there?

What do you think about him?

And what is your favorite work by Gerald Finzi?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society announces its upcoming summer season of “Alphabet Soup” this June

March 18, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The time for announcing new seasons has arrived.

Pretty soon, over the next several weeks and months, The Ear will hear from larger and smaller presenters and ensembles in the Madison area, and post their new seasons.

First out of the gate is the critically acclaimed and popular summer group, the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. (You can see a short promo video about BDDS on the YouTube video at the bottom.)

It has just announced its upcoming summer season this June, and sent out brochures with the season’s details.

This will be the 26th annual summer season and it has the theme of “Alphabet Soup.”

The concept is explained online and in a brochure newsletter (also online) in an editorial essay by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director flutist Stephanie Jutt (seen below with co-founder and co-director pianist Jeffrey Sykes).

By the way, Jutt is retiring from the UW-Madison this spring but will continue to play principal flute with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and to work and perform with BDDS.

In many ways it will be a typical season of the eclectic group. It will feature local and imported artists. Many of both are favorites of The Ear.

His local favorites include UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor; violist Sally Chisholm of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet; UW violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below top, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt); and Pro Arte cellist Parry Karp (below bottom).

Among The Ear’s favorite guest artists are violinist Carmit Zori, clarinetist Alan Kay, the San Francisco Piano Trio (below top); UW alumna soprano Emily Birsan; pianist Randall Hodgkinson; and baritone Timothy Jones (below bottom).

As usual, the season features 12 concerts of six programs over three weeks (June 9-25) in three venues – the Playhouse in the Overture Center (below top), the Hillside Theater (below middle) at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green and the Stoughton Opera House (below bottom).

In addition, there is a FREE family concert in the Overture Playhouse on June 10.

What does seem somewhat new is the number of unknown composers and an edgier, more adventurous choice of pieces, including more new music and more neglected composers.

Oh, there will be classics by such composers as Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Luigi Boccherini, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Bela Bartok, Arnold Schoenberg, Benjamin Britten and others. These are the ABC’s of the alphabet soup, according to BDDS.

But also represented are composers such as Philippe Gaubert, Czech Holocaust victim Gideon Klein (below), Guillaume Conneson, Carl Czerny, Paul Moravec and Franz Doppler. These are the XYZ’s of the alphabet soup.

In between come others. Contemporary American composer, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Kevin Puts (below) is a BDDS favorite and is well represented. You will also find less performed works by Ned Rorem, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gerald Finzi.

For the complete programs and schedules as well as the list of performers, some YouTube videos and ticket prices, both for season tickets ($109.50, $146, $182 and $219) and for individual concerts ($43), and other information, go to:

http://bachdancinganddynamite.org/concerts/festival-concerts/


Classical music education: This Sunday the Madison Youth Choirs will present their Winter Concert Series celebrating “Shakespeare 400 “

December 6, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This winter, the Madison Youth Choirs are joining cultural institutions around the world by celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare (below) and his ongoing legacy.

shakespeare BW

Singers of various ages will perform musical settings from the plays Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Love’s Labour’s Lost and The Tempest by composers including William Byrd, Thomas Morley, Henry Purcell, Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Benjamin Britten, Giuseppe Verdi, Cesar Franck, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi, John Rutter and others.

Examining the role that motif, tension, structure and rhythm play in the repertoire and Shakespeare’s vast body of work, the choirs will explore the elements that combine to create compelling art that stands the test of time.

madison-youth-choirs-shakepeare-400-logo

The MYC Winter Concerts, “Shakespeare 400,” will take place this Sunday, Dec. 11, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ (below), 1609 University Ave., near Camp Randall stadium.

Here is the schedule: 1:30 p.m. Girl choirs; 4 p.m. Boy choirs; 7 p.m. High School Ensembles

Tickets will be available at the door. Admission to each of the three concerts is $10 for the general public, $5 for students 7-18, and free for children under 7

Madison Youth Choirs Winter Concert 2014

PROGRAMS

Here is the repertoire for the MYC 2016 Winter Concert Series “Shakespeare 400”:

1:30 p.m. Concert (Featuring MYC Girlchoirs)

Choraliers

“Hey Ho! To the Greenwood” by William Byrd

“Spirits” by Douglas Beam

“Orpheus With His Lute” by Ralph Vaughan Williams

“Double, Double Toil and Trouble” by Leeann Starkey

photo

Con Gioia

“When Icicles Hang by the Wall” by David Lantz III

“You Spotted Snakes” by Toby Young

“Ban Ban Caliban” by Dan Forrest

Capriccio

“Hark! The Echoing Air” by Henry Purcell

“Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind” by Sarah Quartel

“Philomel with Melody” and “I Will Wind Thee in My Arms” by Cary Ratliff

“It Was a Lover and His Lass” by John Rutter

Cantabile

When Icicles Hang” by Stephen Hatfield

“Che faceste” from Macbeth (sung in Italian) by Giuseppi Verdi

Madison Youth Choirs 2

4 p.m. Concert (Featuring MYC Boychoirs)

Combined Boychoirs

“One December, Bright and Clear” Traditional Catalonian carol, arr. By Wilberg

“Panis Angelicus” by Cesar Franck

Purcell

“Chairs to Mend” by William Hayes

“Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind” by John Rutter (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom)

“The Coasts of High Barbary” Traditional English sea song, arr. By Julseth-Heinrich

Britten

“Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind” by Roger Quilter

“Full Fathom Five” by John Ireland

“Who is Silvia” by Franz Schubert

Holst

“Full Fathom Five” by Robert Johnson

“Sing We and Chant It” by Thomas Morley

Ragazzi

“Come Away, Death” by Gerald Finzi

“The Witching Hour” by Brandon Ayres

Madison Youth Choirs Con Gioia Karen Holland

7 p.m. Concert (Featuring High School Ensembles)

Cantilena

“The Willow Song” by Arthur Sullivan

“Willow, Willow, Willow” by Charles H.H. Parry

“Fair Oriana Seeming to Wink at Folly” by Robert Jones

“You Spotted Snakes” (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream) by Felix Mendelssohn

“Give Them Thy Fingers” by Stefan Kalmer

Ragazzi

“Four Arms, Two Necks, One Wreathing” by Thomas Weelkes

“Come Away, Death” by Gerald Finzi

“And Draw Her Home with Music” by Nancy Hill Cobb

“The Witching Hour” by Brandon Ayres

Cantabile

“Che faceste” from Macbeth (sung in Italian) by Giuseppi Verdi

“Come Away, Death” by Roger Quilter

Selections from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Benjamin Britten

“When Icicles Hang” by Stephen Hatfield

Cantabile and Ragazzi

“Ave Verum Corpus” by William Byrd

“Jingle, Bells!” by James Pierpont, arr. by David Wilcocks

madison-youth-choirs-older-boys-2016

These concerts are generously endowed by the Diane Ballweg Performance Fund with additional support from the American Girl’s Fund for Children, BMO Harris Bank and the Wisconsin Arts Board.

About the Madison Youth Choirs (MYC): Recognized as an innovator in youth choral music education, Madison Youth Choirs (MYC) welcomes singers of all ability levels, annually serving more than 1,000 young people, ages 7-18, through a wide variety of choral programs in our community.

Cultivating a comprehensive music education philosophy that inspires self-confidence, personal responsibility, and a spirit of inquiry leading students to become “expert noticers,” MYC creates accessible, meaningful opportunities for youth to thrive in the arts and beyond.

For further information, contact: Nicole Sparacino, Madison Youth Choirs, Nicole@madisonyouthchoirs.org or call (608) 238-7464


Classical music: Meet Joseph Morris, principal clarinet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. He solos in a concerto by Aaron Copland this weekend.

September 22, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Conductor John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will open the MSO’s 90th season this coming weekend.

The program includes the “Leonore” Overture No. 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven; the Clarinet Concerto by Aaron Copland with MSO principal clarinet Joseph Morris (below, in a photo by Cheryl Savan) as soloist; and the Symphony No. 4 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

joe morris playing CR Cheryl Savan

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

One hour before each performance, Michael Allsen, UW-Whitewater Professor of Music, MSO Trombonist & MSO program notes annotator, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

More background on the music can also be found in the Program Notes at: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/tchaikovsky

Single Tickets, $16 to $85 each, can be purchased at www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25 percent 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.

Find more information at http://www.madisonsymphony.org.

Clarinetist Joe Morris (below, in a photo by Jennifer Morgan) recently agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

Jennifer Morgan MSO oboe by Joe Morris

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers and give some highlights of your education and career?

I grew up in Northern California before heading to Los Angeles where I did my undergraduate degree in Clarinet Performance at the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. It was there that I began my studies with Yehuda Gilad (below), who has been, by far, the highlight of my musical education.

After graduating I continued my studies at the Colburn Conservatory of Music, where I received a Professional Studies Certificate in 2014.

Some highlights of my education included summers at the Aspen Music Festival, the National Repertory Orchestra and two summers at the Music Academy of the West studying with Richie Hawley.

I won the MSO’s Principal Clarinet audition out of 44 applicants in 2013 when I was 22 and still studying at Colburn.

This past winter, I joined the Sarasota Opera Orchestra in Florida as their Principal Clarinetist and I have spent the past two summers at the Clarinet Faculty at the Luzerne Music Center in the Adirondack region of New York.

Other highlights of the last few years have been returning to Colburn to perform John Adams’ Gnarly Buttons for solo clarinet and chamber orchestra with Mr. Adams conducting, and competing in the fifth Carl Nielsen International Clarinet Competition in Odense, Denmark.

Yehuda Gilad

How have your years in Madison with the MSO been?

I have enjoyed the past two seasons in Madison very much! Madison is a wonderful city and it has been very fun to get to explore all that it has to offer.

I love the sense of community in Madison and especially how that extends to the MSO (below). My colleagues in the orchestra are fantastic players as well as wonderful people. Everyone brings out the best in one another throughout the rehearsal and performance process.

It has also been a huge honor to receive the support of the MSO audiences who never cease to amaze me with their knowledge and enthusiasm for what we do on stage.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

What was your Aha! moment –- perhaps a performer or a specific performance or a piece of music — when you first knew you wanted to be a professional musician?

When I was 15, I spent a summer at the Interlochen Arts Camp (below) in Michigan. After a summer of intense study, I realized that I had to pursue music as a career. More than anything it was the shared experience with my peers, who felt the same intensity for music that I did, that brought me to that conclusion.

At the end of every summer at Interlochen the entire camp performs Franz Liszt’s Les Preludes together in an enormous musical collaboration. That specific performance will always remain in my memory as something that laid the foundation for my decision to go into music.

Interlochen Arts Academy

How do you compare the Copland Concerto to other well-known clarinet concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Carl Nielsen and Gerald Finzi (which you performed with the Middleton Community Orchestra). And what would you like listeners to know about the Copland Clarinet Concerto in terms of its structure, technical difficulties, melodies and harmonies, whatever?

One thing that always interests me about works for the clarinet is whom the composer had in mind when they wrote it. For Mozart, that was Anton Stadler; for Nielsen, it was Aage Oxenvad; for Johannes Brahms, it was Richard Muhlfeld; and for Copland, it was Benny Goodman. And Benny Goodman’s style, especially as a big band jazz musician, is extremely apparent in this concerto.

It opens with a first movement that is more typically Copland (below top) than Goodman (below bottom) — with huge interval leaps in the solo line over truly gorgeous string writing. It reminds me of the opening passage of his “Appalachian Spring,” which, coincidentally, was the first piece I ever performed with the MSO.

Following the lyrical “first movement” is an extended cadenza where Goodman starts to take over as the piece morphs into something much more lively and jazz based. After the cadenza the orchestra comes back in for a sort of “second movement” that eventually comes to a very frenzied and glissando-laden finish.

(You can hear the first movement played by Benny Goodman with composer Aaron Copland conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

aaron copland

Benny Goodman

Apart from concertos and chamber music specifically written for the clarinet, what orchestral works have your favorite clarinet parts?

I love the way the clarinet timbre can emerge from the orchestra with a sort of floating quality in a lyrical passage. For that reason two of my favorite orchestral works for the clarinet are Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 and Ottorino Respighi’s “Pines of Rome,” which the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) will perform at its April 29-May 1 concerts.

What else would you like to say?

I’m very excited for this upcoming concerto both because of the opportunity to perform this concerto with my marvelous colleagues, and also to then get to sit in the orchestra with them all for Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.

 


Classical music: John W. Barker finds the Wisconsin Chamber Choir “moving” and “overwhelming” in its performance of the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms.

April 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review 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 for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also provided the performance photos for this review.

John Barker

By John W. Barker

Having already established an enviable level of achievement with his Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below), conductor Robert Gehrenbeck led it to new heights with the concert on Saturday night at Luther Memorial Church.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir with conductor Brahms 2015 JWB

The program opened with two examples of Gehrenbeck’s interest in promoting new choral works through commissions.

The first, sung by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Chamber Singers at his academic base, was by American composer Christian Ellenwood (below).

Entitled “Prairie Spring,” it set a poem by Willa Cather, celebrating the Nebraska landscape, scored for choir and string orchestra. This is a gentle piece, full of lyric grace, in a neo-Romantic style, and reflecting a confident command of choral texture. It made me think a little of the music of British composer Gerald Finzi. The words were somewhat obscured, but that may partly have been a function of the church’s spacious acoustics.

Christian Ellenwood copy

The second new work was by the older British composer Giles Swayne (below) that sets selected lines from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, under the title of “Our Orphan Souls.” Solo baritone Gregory Berg (below) delivered reflections of Captain Ahab, with chorus, alto saxophone, harp, double bass and percussion.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Ahab JWB (1)

The solo writing has strength, and might have been built into a more extended soliloquy—and baritone Gregory Berg delivered it with strength. But the choral writing — sung by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir itself — was unsettled and unidiomatic, running from word to word without much continuity of lines.

Giles Swayne

Ah, but the main event! Nothing less than the “German” Requiem (Ein deutsches Requiem), one of the greatest of choral works, by one of the greatest of choral composers, Johannes Brahms (below). Setting passages from Scripture in the Martin Luther translation, Brahms made this a big work, both in length and in performing demands.

brahms3

The chancel of Luther Memorial has only so much space, forcing a lot of crowding. The orchestra—37 players, familiar local performers—was arrayed through the center, while the two blended choirs were stationed on risers to either side: sopranos and tenors on the left, altos and basses on the right (below).

Wisconsin Chamber Choir, Brahms altos, basses JWB (1)

Such an arrangement could have strained ensemble coordination, but in fact it worked quite well. Indeed, it actually made it possible to follow the interaction of voice parts better than when the whole choir is in a single clump. German diction was a bit blurred, but, again, acoustics must take some blame. (I should note that I sat close and up front, so that what and how I heard may have been somewhat different from those in seating further back.)

The two soloists were both engaging. A last-minute replacement, soprano Catherine Henry (below left), was deeply expressive, a rich-voiced exemplar of the comforting mother we would all want to have.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Brahms Catherine Henry soprano JWB (1)

The baritone, Brian Leaper, was a deft guide to the mysteries of mortality.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Brahms Brian Leaper JWB (1)

The orchestra took on its large assignment with skill, and the choral singers were simply magnificent. But the highest praise must go to Gehrenbeck himself. His tempos were flexible, his balances neatly coordinated, and his sense of what each of the seven movements had to say was perfect. This is not only a superb choral conductor, but a musician of true artistry.

I write as someone for whom the Brahms Requiem has profound meaning. I have known and loved it since student days. I have sung in it several times, and listened to it in many recordings and performances. It is one of the musical threads of my life.

But I think I can honestly say that this was the most meaningful performance of the work that I have ever experienced. I often felt moved to tears by the beautiful, truthful messages that Robert Gehrenbeck (below) — who heads the choral program at UW-Whitewater — brought to realization out of it.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

There is a small lifetime list I keep of concerts and performances that I forever cherish, and this one is a rare addition—a presentation I will remember for the rest of my days.

One more reminder, then, of the riches Madison offers in choral music alone!


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS: Samuel Barber’s “Canzonetta” for Oboe and String Orchestra. Plus a FREE one-hour hymn sing in Overture Hall is this Saturday morning at 11 a.m.

March 5, 2015
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ALERT: A FREE one-hour community Hymn Sing will take place this Saturday morning at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall with the Overture Concert Organ played by guest Joe Chrisman. The event is put on jointly by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Overture Center for the Arts.

Overture Concert Organ overview

By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s YOU MUST HEAR THIS comes from a recent concert that I attended.

I first heard this work — the Canzonetta for Oboe and String Orchestra by the 20th-century American composer Samuel Barber (below top) — at the concert by the Middleton Community Orchestra (below bottom) on Wednesday night a week ago.

barber 1

Kyle Knox conducts MCO

So far as The Ear knows, the piece has never been programmed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra or, more appropriately, by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Not that it is too late. It could stand being programmed again and having a wider hearing. I think it would even be welcome at Concerts on the Square.

I also can’t recall ever hearing it at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, although it seems a perfect choice and could well have been part of a student recital with a piano instead of the orchestra.

In any case, the Canzonetta for Oboe and String Orchestra was a last work -– the middle movement on an unfinished oboe concerto, much like British composer Gerald Finzi’s beautiful “Eclogue” was the middle movement of an uncompleted piano concerto.

The piece has all the hallmarks of Barber, who is best known for his Adagio for Strings. It is neo-Romantic, melodic, tonal and wholly accessible while being unmistakably modern. It is poignant and bittersweet, like many moments in the gorgeous and widely performed Violin Concerto that Barber composed.

In fact, some of the harmonies in the Canzonetta remind The Ear of the sublime and moving “Nimrod” Variation in Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations.

I am not alone in being introduced to this work for the first time. A few very seasoned musicians and music fans in the audience I spoke to had never heard it either.

But it was given a splendid performance by the MCO under conductor Kyle Knox and guest oboist Andy Olson (below), who was trained at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin, and who now works at Epic Systems near Madison.

Andy Olson oboe

Here is a link to a rave review that John W. Barker (below), who normally writes for Isthmus, did for this blog:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/classical-music-the-middleton-community-orchestra-under-conductor-kyle-knox-turns-in-its-most-impressive-performance-so-far-the-brass-proves-especially-noteworthy/

John Barker

So here is a link to a YouTube video of the piece itself — the seven-minute “canzonetta” or little song, as the title announces. It is sadly telling of the work’s fate that you cannot find a version with either a well-known oboist or well-known string orchestra.

Enjoy and let us know what you think of it.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The Ear names the Middleton Community Orchestra and adult amateur music-makers as Musicians of the Year for 2014.

December 31, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is New Year‘s Eve, 2014.

Each year, I close out the old year and greet the new year by naming a Musician of the Year.

I heard a lot of great music this past year.

Much of it you can relive in the year-end roundup by John W. Barker, the regular classical music critic for Isthmus who also contributes so much to this blog.

Here is a link that that roundup:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/classical-music-here-is-a-wrap-up-of-the-best-of-2014-in-madison-thanks-to-isthmus-critic-john-w-barker/

One of the ways in which John and I agree –- and in fact, we usually do agree — is regarding the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) for its admirable achievements in only four seasons.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

As loyal readers know, I am a big supporter of music education. In fact, for the sake of full disclosure, I should say that I sit on the board of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). And music education for young people and young students is about a lot more than music, as so much social science and psychological research continues to prove.

But this year I want to recognize ADULT amateur musicians.

These days, adult amateurs may seem unusual or an exception. But the historical fact is that for centuries, classical music was primarily the domain of amateur rather than professional performers.

So I am singling out the Middleton Community Orchestra, which uses some professional talent, but relies mostly on amateurs.

I have already written about how they point the way to the future for larger ensembles with the shorter programs; with the kind of music that is programmed; with the low price of admission ($10 for adults and FREE for students); and with the post-concert socializing with musicians and other audience members (below) — all of which adds up to a laudable community service that integrates a performing art into everyday life and society. That is a mission worth supporting.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

Here is a older review that I did. In it I talk about some of what I admire by giving nine reasons to attend the MCO:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/classical-music-review-let-us-now-praise-amateur-music-makers-and-restoring-sociability-to-art-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-liked-and-you-should-attend-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

But the MCO, founded by members Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic, is as much about hearing great and accessible music as it is about community service.

I will long remember piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Edvard Grieg played by UW-Madison pianist Thomas Kasdorf, who will perform the famously popular Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor — the signature concerto of Van Cliburn — by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky with the MCO this spring.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

I will also remember Madison-born, UW-trained and Juilliard-trained violist Vicki Powell (below) in shorter and unknown works by Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Max Bruch.

Vicki Powell at MCO

I will long remember former MCO concertmaster Alice Bartsch, who studied at the UW-Madison School of Music, in a wonderful interpretation of a Romance by Antonin Dvorak before she left for graduate studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

The same held true for Alice’s gifted violinist sister, Eleanor Bartsch,when she was joined (below) by fellow UW-Madison grad Daniel Kim in Mozart’s sublime Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola.

Eleanor Bartsch and Daniel Kim MCO Mozart

And I will remember the most recent performance with Madison Symphony Orchestra’s amazing principal clarinetist Joe Morris performing a rarely heard concerto by the under-appreciated 20th-century English composer Gerald Finzi.

joe morris playing CR Cheryl Savan

I will also remember fondly performances of symphonies by Antonin Dvorak and Johannes Brahms done by the MCO under the baton of conductor Steve Kurr (below), who teaches music at Middleton High School. (The MCO performs in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to the high school.)

Steve Kurr conducting

As with so many groups, including professional ones, booking great soloists seems to push the performers in the group to an even high level of playing. But the MCO takes care to book soloists with local ties, including soprano Emily Birsan who recently was at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which adds an element of local pride to the event.

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

The MCO has some appealing concerts coming up in 2015. It deserves to have even larger audiences at its mid-week concerts.

Here is a link to their website, where you can see photos and learn about how to support the group and how to join the group as well as what concerts and program the MCO will perform during the rest of this season.

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

But I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention other ways that are outlets for adult amateur musicians.

They include the University of Wisconsin Choral Union (below) and many other local choirs, including the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble, the Madison Symphony Chorus and Madison Opera Chorus, the Wisconsin Chamber Symphony Chorus, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, the Festival Choir -– to say nothing of the many church choirs, secular choirs and adult amateur performing groups in Madison and the surrounding area.

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

So leaving 2014 and heading into 2015, The Ear -– who is himself an avid amateur pianist — proclaims the new year to be The Year of the Adult Amateur.

If you want to sing, join a choir.

If you want to play an instrument, start practicing or sign up for lessons. It is never too late, even after retirement.

And if you want to perform and share the joy and love of music with others, find an outlet, including the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Nothing beats the thrill of experiencing music from the inside.

So don’t just listen to music.

Make it!

 


Classical music: On Monday night, the Middleton Community Orchestra, with Madison Symphony Orchestra clarinetist Joe Morris as soloist, offers a holiday break from holiday music with works by Brahms, Gerald Finzi and Beethoven.

December 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Thank you, Middleton Community Orchestra.

Surely The Ear can’t be the only person who is starting to feel unpleasantly overwhelmed with holiday music — to say nothing of holiday shopping and holiday cards, with holiday this and holiday that.

Holiday music seems ever-present this time of the year. It  is in stores and malls, on the radio and TV, in the churches and even in the many concert halls. And it has been going on for weeks, if not months.

So coming into the home stretch of Christmas Week, The Ear is feeling particularly grateful to the Middleton Community Orchestra (below), a largely amateur group that also includes some very accomplished professionals.

Middleton Community Orchestra by William Ballhorn

The MCO rarely, if ever, disappoints me. But this upcoming concert, which is NOT billed as a “holiday” concert, seems especially inviting since it promises to offer the gift of music –- not just holiday music, but real music.

Coming into Christmas Week, I find this to be a very welcome offering, a pitch perfect program.

The concert not only features terrific music but also the right length at the right cost, and includes some post-concert meet-and-greet socializing so you can meet the musicians and other audience members.

Here is the announcement from MCO co-founders Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic:

The Middleton Community Orchestra’s December concert is this coming Monday, Dec. 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, which is attached to Middleton High School, at 2100 Bristol Street, a simple right turn off University Avenue going west towards the Beltline a few blocks before Parmenter Street.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton PAC1

The MCO is excited to be sharing the stage with Madison Symphony Orchestra principal clarinetist Joe Morris (below top) who will be performing the Concerto for Clarinet and Strings by the 20th-century English composer Gerald Finzi.

Jennifer Morgan MSO oboe by Joe Morris

You’d be counting down the days if you have heard Joe play (below top, in a photo by Cheryl Savan), and the work by Gerald Finzi (below bottom) is a beautiful piece through which Joe’s amazing clarinet playing soars.

joe morris playing CR Cheryl Savan

Gerald Finzi 1

Don’t miss the chance to hear Joe, the MCO and this beautiful concerto. How many 24-year-olds do you know who have won an audition from among 60 other clarinettists vying for the job? Come hear one of our local treasures.

The concert will be conducted by Middleton High School music teacher Steve Kurr (below).

Steve Kurr conducting

The program starts with the popular and rousing “Academic Festival Overture” by Johannes Brahms (below), which uses tunes from German drinking songs and which Brahms composed to celebrate an honorary degree he received.

brahms3

Then, after the lovely Finzi concerto, please stay so you can experience the irresistible energy and drive of Symphony No. 7 by Ludwig van Beethoven (below), which concludes the program. It is many people’s favorite Beethoven symphony and was highly thought of by the composer and other famous composers including Richard Wagner who famously called it “the apotheosis of the dance” because of its lively rhythms.

(By the way, the well-known and haunting slow movement featured prominently in the Oscar-winning film “The King’s Speech” several years ago. You can hear it at the bottom in a popular YouTube video.)

Beethoven big

We hope to see you Monday. Tickets are $10, with students admitted free of charge. Advance tickets are available at Willy Street Coop West or at the door on the night of the show starting at 7 p.m. You can also call (608) 212-8690 to reserve tickets in advance.

There will be a reception (below) for the audience and musicians after the concert.

MCO June 2014 reception

 

For information about the Middleton Community Orchestra, including how to support it and how to join it, here is a link to its website:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

 

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opens its winter Masterworks season with fiery pianism in Saint-Saens’ “Egyptian” Concerto plus fluid strings and energetic brass in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Also, the Middleton Community Orchestra opens its fourth season on Wednesday night with music by Berlioz, Wagner and Mendelssohn.

October 14, 2013
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ALERT: The Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will open its fourth season this Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School. The program, conducted by Steve Kurr, features Hector Berlioz’ “Roman Carnival Overture,” Richard Wagner‘s Overture to “Tannhauser” and Felix Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony. Admission at the door and advance tickets at Willy Street West are $10 for adults and free for students. Here is a review of a previous concert I attended with a lot of reasons why the MCO is a fun and fine event to attend:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/classical-music-review-let-us-now-praise-amateur-music-makers-and-restoring-sociability-to-art-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-liked-and-you-should-attend-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

And here is a link to the MCO’s website with information about the rest of its fourth season:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Middleton Community Orchestra Steve Kurr conducting

By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Utevsky. The young violist and conductor is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which will perform its fourth season next summer. He was recently named the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra. The ensemble has an out-of-date website here (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest review of a concert this past weekend by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour two summers ago with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below):

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

BY Mikko Utevsky

Following on the heels of the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s season-opening concerts two weeks ago, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opened its winter Masterworks season in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater this past Friday night.

WCO lobby

The WCO offered an intriguing program: Benjamin Britten (in his centennial year, sadly overshadowed by the bicentennials of Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi); Camille Saint-Saëns; and Beethoven.

Benjamin Britten

Madison is fortunate to have both of these accomplished ensembles, whose divergent repertoires provide a welcome breadth for local audiences.

We can always rely on WCO music director and conductor maestro Andrew Sewell (below) to bring us a work unfamiliar to our ears, and often quite a good one. He has a particular sympathy for British composers, Britten and Gerald Finzi among them.

andrewsewell

But to my ears, Friday’s opener was not up to the usually high standard of these under-appreciated offerings, but still an enjoyable piece to hear.

Britten’s texturally minimal fanfare for piano, string quartet, and string orchestra “Young Apollo” (at bottom in a YouTube video) showed off its soloists well, particularly WCO pianist Beth Wilson, whose virtuoso part was rendered with fire and flair, complemented by commendable work from both the solo quartet and the section strings.

The whole piece seemed to sag slightly, however, and overplayed its hand somewhat in terms of pacing and texture, leaving too little left for the final burst of energy.

This apparent lack of energy was remedied effectively by guest soloist Bryan Wallick, the pianist the  Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Egyptian”), Op. 103, by Camille Saint-Saens (below).

Camille Saint-Saens

The work’s “Egyptian” elements bear the crude imprint of indiscriminate French appropriation of anything “Oriental,” sounding more like a hodgepodge of exoticisms than a unified sonic world. But while they are jarring after the first movement, the second and third together feel more unified, if no more authentic.

Wallick (below) played with personality and a palpably propulsive energy, and the orchestra complemented his drive with lush, shimmering tutti playing in the slow movement in particular. Some discomfort with tempo was detectable in the first movement, but it was transitory and overshadowed by Wallick’s fiery performance. He was rewarded with a lengthy ovation.

His encore, in recognition of Verdi’s 200th birthday, was Liszt’s “Rigoletto” paraphrase, which brought the audience to their feet for a second time.

Bryan Wallick mug

The second half brought us a typical season-opening warhorse, the Fifth Symphony by Beethoven (below), which Sewell conducted from memory — a risk seemingly rewarded by his increased freedom on the podium.

Beethoven big

In contrast to what felt like a wind-heavy Ninth Symphony in the 2011-12 season, the Fifth was string-focused, even to the point that winds were obscured in a few critical places like the canon in the slow movement Andante con moto (though the difference could have been my seats).

The WCO has fine string players, and it showed in the Beethoven. The aforementioned slow movement featured particularly lovely, fluid viola, cello and bass work. The lack of a fourth cello was felt acutely at points in the work – I found myself desiring a bigger bottom end to the Finale from the low strings and contrabassoon, whose contributions were unfortunately lost in the mix, to support the widened middle range provided by the addition of trombones.

Energetic brass playing supplemented the core string energy of the WCO sound in the Finale of the Fifth, which unfortunately suffered from inconsistent tempi, disregarding the critical relationship between the Scherzo and Finale.

The latter movement is decisively slower than the preceding one, and whatever one may think of Beethoven’s metronome markings, the relationship they establish is indisputable.

In Friday’s performance, this disregard was to the work’s detriment, and whatever perceived excitement was gained from pumping up the majestic Finale was taken out of the Scherzo.

Tempo aside, the work was well-received by the audience (swelled by an encouraging influx of student listeners, particularly young players from the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras), and Sewell was generous in his recognition of the orchestra, beginning with the particularly deserving low strings.

WCO ovation B-9

The concert proved a worthwhile beginning to what should be a diverse and enlightening season (the appearance of yet another rendition of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto aside).

The orchestra returns with its holiday performances (A Canadian Brass Christmas on Nov. 30, and Handel’s “Messiah” on Dec. 13). Then its Masterworks season resumes Jan. 17 with guitarist Anna Vidovic and Bruckner’s Second Symphony.

For information , visit: http://www.wcoconcerts.org


Classical music: Wisconsin Public Television to broadcast State Honors Concerts this Monday night as part of a new emphasis on Young Performers. Plus, violinist Laura Burns and pianist Jess Salek perform the complete music for violin and piano by Brahms this Friday night.

February 21, 2013
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ALERT: This Friday night, tomorrow, at 7:30 p.m. in the new Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, violinist Laura Burns of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Rhapsodie String Quartet)  and pianist Jess Salek will perform the complete violin and piano music by Johannes Brahms. I heard some of the program at a “Grace Presents” concert recently at Grace Episcopal Church (below). The two were terrific. If Brahms’s string and piano music is to your liking—and how can it not be? – then The Ear suggests you seriously consider going. (Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for student, paid by check or cash only.) It is just too bad the concert conflicts with the great program of J.S. Bach, Prokofiev, Finzi and Gounod by Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and violinist Tasmin Little in the Overture Center’s Capital Theater at 8 p.m. that same night. What contradictory and mutually exclusive musical riches we often live among and have to choose between!

Laura Burns Jess Salek Brahms Grace Epis

By Jacob Stockinger

During the Year of the Arts, Wisconsin Public Television is appropriately undertaking a very praise-worthy and brand new multi-year initiative to spotlight young performers around the state.

Classical music, of course, is not the only music to be featured, but it will be included – and that it important in spotlighting the role of music education.

The opening program in the series will be the State Honors Concerts, which will air this coming Monday night, Feb. 25, at 8 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television (Channel 21 in the Madison area; Channel 600 on the Charter hi-def schedule.)

The program offers excerpts from the Wisconsin School Music Association (WSMA) High School Honors Concerts for Band, Orchestra (below), Mixed Choir and Treble Choir.

It features some of Wisconsin’s best young musical talents in performance at Madison’s Overture Center.

wpt wisconsin state honors concert 2-13 2

The State Honors Concerts kicks off WPT’s multi-year Young Performers Initiative that celebrates Wisconsin’s young artists.

The WSMA State Honors Music Project brings Wisconsin’s top young musicians to work together with nationally known conductors in a highly disciplined, professional setting.

The students in grades 9 through 11 were selected from more than 1,400 who auditioned.

The Ear think you should watch the broadcast — which does a great public service and spotlights young people for more than sports —  and then go to WPT website and sent them an email or phone call thanking them for such commitment to engaging the public in youth arts education.

Here is a link for feedback to WPT:

http://www.wpt5.org/contact_us


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