The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: Composer Robert Schumann and cellist Steven Isserlis offer advice to young people about going into music

September 16, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Schools are back in session – public and private K-12 elementary, middle and high schools, and colleges and universities, including Edgewood College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

And private music lessons have started up again after a summer break.

So it seems only fitting to offer advice to young people who are thinking about becoming musicians.

Such advice comes from two very good sources, one older and one newer: The Romantic German composer Robert Schumann (below top) and the acclaimed contemporary British cellist Steven Isserlis (below bottom).

Schumann photo1850

steven-isserlis-playing

Schumann (1810-1846) wrote a book (below) with his advice to young musicians. Then Isserlis updated that book with his commentaries.

schumann-isserlis-book

You can get a good sample of its contents, from practicing to performing, from the entry on the blog “Only Strings” that is written by local musician Paul Baker (below), who also hosts a radio program for WSUM, the award-winning student-run radio station at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Here is a link:

https://onlystringswsum.wordpress.com/2016/08/30/what-to-think-about-when-youre-thinking-about-being-a-musician/

Paul Baker at WSUM

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Classical music: Longtime musical partners singer Kathleen Otterson and pianist Jamie Schmidt close out the season of FREE Noon Musicales this Friday.

May 11, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear received the following note from Edgewood College faculty singer Kathleen Otterson and thought it worth passing along because of its timeliness and local interest:

I’d like to share a little information about the final Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison on this Friday, May 13.

I’m sorry that I don’t have a photo of pianist Jamie Schmidt and me together, but I’ve included a photo of myself and a collage of some of our printed programs (below) from over the years.

Kathleen Otterson Jamie Schmidt programs

Here is our background:

Mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson and pianist Jamie Schmidt met while students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, and gave their first collaborative concert in 1996 at UW-Oshkosh, where Otterson was a member of the voice faculty.

Over the next 13 years, there were many more concerts for the duo around Wisconsin and in the Chicago area after Schmidt moved there to serve as Music Director at the American Girl Place Theater.

Kathleen Otterson (below) has been a member of the Edgewood College faculty since 1999, and Music Director at Christ Presbyterian Church since 2001.

Kathleen Otterson color

Jamie Schmidt (below) has been touring all over the country, along with his wife and two young children, with “The Lion King,” which arrived in Madison on May 9 for a lengthy run at the Overture Center.

jamie schmidt

The two musicians will reunite to present the final Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, on Friday, May 13.

The program includes favorites from the years of their concertizing together:  German Lieder, or art songs, by Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler; and American songs by Ned Rorem, Samuel Barber, Chris DeBlasio, Dominick Argento and others.

A very special part of the program is an excerpt from the song cycle “No Place, No Time,” composed by University Opera founder and UW-Madison Professor Emeritus Karlos Moser (below left, with his wife Melinda Moser), to texts of the Persian poet Rumi. Otterson and Schmidt commissioned this work from their teacher and mentor, which also features bassist, Ben Ferris.

Karlos and Melinda Moser

The Friday Noon Musicales run from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium, 900 University Bay Drive, and are open to the public, FREE of charge.

 


Classical music: The Festival Choir of Madison performs under famed choral conductor Joseph Flummerfelt this Saturday night.

May 6, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following timely and important announcement:

The Festival Choir of Madison (below) and its new artistic director Sergei Pavlov – who teaches at Edgewood College — will close the current season with a special concert this Saturday night, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Christ Presbyterian Church, located at 944 East Gorham Street in downtown Madison.

Festival Choir of Madison at FUS

The performance features one of the legendary American choral conductors, Maestro Joseph Flummerfelt (below right, with Sergei Pavlov). You can hear a long Q&A interview with Joseph Flummerfelt in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Sergei Pavlov (l) with Joseph Flummerfelt

The program with the Festival Choir includes music by German composers Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms, British composer Herbert Howells, Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, Polish composer Henryk Gorecki and Scottish composer James MacMillan. Sorry, no word on individual works to be performed.

Tickets for the evening concert are available at the door and cost between $9 and $15.

Since 1971, Joseph Flummerfelt (below) has been responsible for most of the choral work of the New York Philharmonic, working closely with its music directors Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Pierre Boulez, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel and Alan Gilbert. Until 2004 he was Director of Choral Activities in the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey.

Joseph Flummerfelt conducting side

Joseph Flummerfelt (below) with the Westminster Symphonic Choir and New York Choral Artists has been featured in 45 recordings, including a Grammy Award-winning CD of the Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler with Leonard Bernstein. His collaboration with the great American composer Samuel Barber includes the Grammy Award-winning recording of Barber’s opera “Anthony and Cleopatra.”

Joseph Flummerfelt conducting frontal

In 2004 Flummerfelt was awarded a Grammy for the New York Choral Artists’ recording of “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning composition written by John Adams in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

A master teacher, Flummerfelt’s many former students occupy a number of major choral positions throughout the world. Yannick Nezet-Seguin (below) — the current music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, who, as a teenager, studied with Dr. Flummerfelt in two advanced conducting summer workshops — cites him as one of the two major influences in his life as a conductor. A 2009 New York Times article said, “Mr. Nezet-Seguin called those sessions with Flummerfelt the only significant conducting lessons he ever had.”

Yannick Nezet-Seguin close up

Flummerfelt has a special connection with Madison as well. As an undergraduate student in De Pauw University in Indiana, he was deeply inspired by a performance of a visiting choir, and the conductor of this group was Robert Fountain, the legendary Director of Choral Programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Also on Saturday, May 7 at 11 a.m. there will be a question/answer session for all who would like to meet the Maestro Flummerfelt. The host is Edgewood College, and the session will be at the Washburn Heritage Room in the Regina Building. This is a FREE event.


Classical music: Pianist Adam Neiman laments the neglect of piano concertos by Shostakovich and Poulenc, which he will perform this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

January 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will open the second half of its indoor season with a program that plays to its strong suits.

WCO lobby

The concert takes place this Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, 211 State St,

The program feature works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

There will be the Overture to the opera “Cosi Fan Tutte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Symphony No. 6 in C Major by Franz Schubert.

In between will come two rarely heard piano concertos that feature the return of soloist Adam Nieman (pronounced KNEE-man), who several years ago made a fine recording of early Mozart piano concertos with the WCO and its music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, who possesses a mastery of the Classical-era style and has a special fondness for French music.

Adam Neiman 2 2016

Neiman will perform the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the Piano Concerto in C-sharp Minor by French composer Francis Poulenc.

Tickets are $15-$80 with $10 student rush tickets on the day of the concert. For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information about the concert, including a lengthy biography of Adam Neiman, visit:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks-ii-1/?utm_source=FY16+MW2+-+Adam+Neiman&utm_campaign=FY14+MW2+1.8.14&utm_medium=email

Adam Neiman recently did an email Q&A with The Ear:

adam neiman 3 2016

Can you briefly bring the public up to date with highlights about you and your career since you last performed here in 2008 with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and recorded the early Mozart concertos?

I have been very actively performing over the last several years, since my last appearance with the WCO in 2008. My touring schedule has encompassed roughly 100 concerts a year, and I have had the pleasure of presenting some epic solo recital tours throughout the United States.

Specifically I have been engaged in three monumental projects: the Complete Liszt Transcendental Études in 2011-2012; Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and Diabelli Variations in 2013-2014; and the complete Rachmaninoff Preludes and Études-tableaux in 2014-2015.

I have issued eight recordings since the Mozart piano concertos recording with the WCO, and three more solo records are on the way in 2017. In addition, I have founded a record label, Aeolian Classics, formed in 2014.

I have simultaneously kept an active teaching profile, and in 2015 I was awarded the position of Assistant Professor of Piano at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. As a full-time member of the faculty, I have since relocated to Chicago, so now I am a fellow Midwesterner!

Composition has always played a major part in my musical life, and since 2008 I have written a number of works for premieres, including my Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra, which can be viewed on my YouTube channel at:

You have chosen an unusual program. What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich? What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto by Francis Poulenc? Why do you think both concertos are not programmed more often? Why do you perform them and what do you like about each one?

The Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich (below) is one of my favorite works of all time, and when Andrew approached me about the possibility of performing it in conjunction with another concerto, I immediately suggested the Piano Concerto by Francis Poulenc.

dmitri shostakovich

Both works share certain core qualities, namely irony, humor, radiant beauty and spirited fun. These are works that do not disparage the concept of beauty, though they were both written during a post-war generation.

As such, rare moments of absolute Romanticism are intertwined with musical jokes, sardonic twists of phrase, and ridicule, rendering the messages of each piece complex and ironic. (You can hear Neiman perform the opening of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

At one point, during the last movement of the Poulenc, he spontaneously quotes George Gershwin’s “Swanee” in a moment of jazz ease, in between sparkly, jaunty sections of impish humor. In a sense, you could describe both pieces as tonal expressions of longing for a bygone era from the perspective of a bleak machine age.

From a compositional perspective, both works are solidly grounded in classical form, and both are ingeniously orchestrated, making use of each instrument’s range and dynamic qualities to draw out a maximum of character possibilities.

The piano writing is virtuosic, powerful, and expressive, and the combination will take the audience by storm – I think the WCO audiences will walk away from this performance humming passages of the works, and they will be delighted by the wit and charm that wins out in the end.

As to why the Poulenc is rarely performed, I can offer no other possible explanation than the innate closed-mindedness of many people in the music world.

Poulenc (below) is a composer who deserves a place at the very center of the main repertory. Yet due to the prejudices of the ignorant critics of his day who preferred to elevate the splendors of Germanic music to an Olympian height above the “avant-garde” of Russia and France, he, among others, garnered an undeservedly poor following.

Francis Poulenc

What would you like to say about performing in Madison with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Andrew Sewell, with whom you seem to share a deep musical affinity? Do you have plans to record something else with them?

Each performance I have played with the WCO stands out as a musical highlight for me. The orchestra is as fine as they come, and I am inspired by the love of music that seems to be the keystone of the ensemble.

Andrew Sewell (below) is not only a very fine conductor and exemplary musician, but I am lucky to count him as a close friend. We have a musical rapport that is powerful, with a long history, and it would be a privilege to keep performing and recording with him and the orchestra in the future.

There are no current plans in place to record together, but the experience of making the Mozart concertos CD in 2008 was so sweet, that I would be happy to do it again! Maybe a Shostakovich/Poulenc disc, hmmm?

andrewsewell

What else would you like to say?

I feel truly honored to be a part of the 2016 performance season of WCO, and I cannot wait to say hello to all my Madison friends!

For more information about me, please visit my website at www.adamneiman.com


Classical music: Do you have trouble sleeping? Try listening to composer Max Richter’s new eight-hour lullaby.

September 5, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Not many days go by where you don’t see, hear or watch stories about how far too many Americans have insomnia and are sleep-deprived.

insomnia 1

In fact it sometimes seems like sleep research and insomnia cures are two of the big payoff fields in contemporary American medicine. The Ear wonders: Is it the same story elsewhere in the world? Why or why not?

Of course, there are drugs that can be used and behavioral changes that can be made.

But maybe some music can help.

Especially the eight-hour lullaby by the London-based German composer Max Richter (below, in a photo by Rhys Frampton for Deutsche Grammophon), who last found fame for his minimalist reworking of “The Four Seasons” in “Vivaldi Recomposed.”

max richter BW CR Rhys Frampton for DG

Richter’s mammoth lullaby is called – what else? – “Sleep.” A shorter version will soon be released on CD by Deutsche Grammophon.

You can hear a sample of “Sleep” in a YouTube video at the bottom. Is The Ear the only one who thinks that this sample owes something to the famous Prelude No. 1 in C major of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” by Johann Sebastian Bach — the same prelude that was later reworked into a popular setting of “Ave Maria” by the French composer Charles Gounod?

Here is a link to the story about the work and an interview with the composer that appeared on NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/09/03/436963414/trouble-sleeping-a-composer-wants-to-help

 


Classical music: The Madison Summer Choir will perform works by late German and English Romantic composers, including Brahms, Parry and Vaughan Williams, on this coming Saturday night.

June 22, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Madison Summer Choir write:

The Madison Summer Choir (below) is an auditioned choir of more than 70 voices performing a cappella, piano-accompanied and choral-orchestral works.

Madison Summer Choir

When the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music eliminated UW Summer Choir from its budget after 2008, Ben Luedcke (below) “picked up the baton” to ensure that this student and community singing opportunity and tradition were not lost.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

Now in its seventh summer, Luedcke continues to conduct the group, open to college students and community members, for just 14 rehearsals over six weeks, culminating in a full concert.

Existing just for this short season, the choir is supported by the singers, friends and businesses in the community, and the audience, as well as the UW-Madison School of Music rehearsal and concert facilities.

For this summer, the concert program features “The Searching Soul: German and Late-English Romanticism.” (Below is the famous Romantic painting used on the poster for the Madison Summer Choir this year.)

Madison Summer Choir 2015 theme

The concert will be presented on this coming Saturday evening, June 27 at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall of the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus at 455 North Park Street.

Tickets are $15 for the public; $10 for students. They can be purchased in advance (for delivery or will-call) from any choir member, or bought at the door.

The concert will open with two works by Johannes Brahms (below), “Nächtens” (At Night) and “Sehnsucht” (Longing).

brahms3

Those are followed by three movements by Sir Hubert Parry (below) in “Songs of Farewell (1916–1918)”: “My Soul There Is a Country,” “I Know My Soul Hath Power” and “Never Weather Beaten Sail.”

hubert parry

The second half features two choral works with orchestra. The Madison Summer Choir is the only ensemble performing full-scale choral and orchestral works in the summer in Madison.

Psalm 42” (1837-38) by Felix Mendelssohn is a cantata consisting of seven movements which include full choir, soprano solo, women’s choir, and a quintet of soprano solo with men’s chorus. Soprano soloist will be Chelsie Propst (below), who has performed with the choir twice before.

Chelsie Propst USE

The concert will conclude with “Toward the Unknown Region” (1907) by Ralph Vaughan Williams (below top), a setting of the text by Walt Whitman (below bottom). You can hear a massive performance of the work at the BBC Proms in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

Walt Whitman 2

Information on past concerts by the Madison Summer Choir and photos of the choir are on the website: www.madisonsummerchoir.org


Classical music: The early music group Eliza’s Toyes will explore music as medicine in a concert this Friday night at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

May 18, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friend Jerry Hui –- a supremely talented individual and graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who performs, composes and teaches at UW-Stout – sends the following word:

The Madison-based early music group Eliza’s Toyes (below top) has a concert this Friday night, May 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below bottom). The concert is titled “Music: The Miracle Medicine.”

eliza's toyes 2015

WID_extr11_1570

Here is an introduction to the program:

“Rediscover the integral role of music as the restorer of health in the early days of medical science during the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods.

“Music has been an integral part of our wellbeing. To this date, many listen to music for its power in relaxation, excitement, and even catharsis. The development of music therapy as a medical profession, as well as increasing research in the physiological and psychological effects of music, signifies our ongoing interest to understand and utilize music.

“As scientists continue to examine music in a utilitarian light, it is worthwhile for us to rediscover how human beings have historically viewed music and its connection with health.”

music and medicine clef

Tickets will be available at the door: $15 for the general public and $10 for students.

Here is the program, which is organized by theme, and which include singing i English, Latin, French, German and Spanish:

CONCERNING THE FOUR HUMORS

Vos flores rosarum  — Hildegard von Bingen (below top, 1098-1179)

Descendi in hortum meum — Cipriano de Rore

Absterge Domine (1575) — Thomas Tallis (1505-1585)

Turn Our Captivity (1611) — William Byrd (below bottom, 1540-1623)

ST. HILDEGARD OF BINGEN DEPICTED IN ALTARPIECE AT ROCHUSKAPELLE IN GERMANY

William Byrd

MIRACLES AND REMEDIES

Tantas en Santa María — (Cantigas de Santa Maria)

In principio erat Verbum (1566) — Orlando di Lassus (below, 1532-1594)

Caecus quidam (1558) — Hubert Waelrant (1518-1595)

Gehet hin und saget Johanni wieder — Melchior Franck (1579-1639)

Orlando di Lasso

PRACTICING MEDICINE

Le Tableau de l’Opération de la Taille (1725) — Marin Marais (below, 1656-1728; you can hear the piece, with a narration in French, in a YouTube video at the bottom)

Qui veut chasser une migraine — Gabriel Bataille

The nurse’s song — (Pills to Purge Melancholy)

A Wonder: The Physician — John Maynard

Marin Marais 2

GOOD HEALTH THROUGH GOOD LIVING

Chloe found Amyntas lying — (Pills to Purge Melancholy)

My fair Teresa — (Pills to Purge Melancholy)

O Sonno / Ov’e’l silenzio — Marco da Gagliano (1582-1643)

Cara mia Dafne — Lelio Bertani (1553-1612)

Sweet honey sucking bees — John Wilbye (1574-1638)

John Wilbye


Classical music: It’s Mother’s Day. What music would you play for her? What music would she like to hear? Tell The Ear. Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the final, critically acclaimed concert of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s season with Beethoven’s Ninth on the program. Read the reviews here.

May 10, 2015
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the season finale by the Madison Symphony Orchestra: a program of  the “Serenade” after Plato’s “Symposium” by Leonard Bernstein, with concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) as soloist, and the famous Ninth Symphony — the “Ode to Joy” or “Choral” symphony — by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The reviews are unanimous in their enthusiastic praise.

Here is a link to the one that John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/arts/stage/mso-closing-with-a-bang/

And here is one written by Lindsay Christians for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/review-big-voices-and-beethoven-bring-mso-season-to-a/article_ea23e056-f5bb-11e4-8b8f-5780d0daa395.html

And here is a review written by Bill Wineke for WISC-TV‘s Channel 3000.com:

http://www.channel3000.com/news/opinion/Symphony-review-MSO-ends-season-on-exuberant-note/32912810

Naha Greenholtz 2014 CR  Chris Hynes

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Mother’s Day 2015.

Mothers Day clip art

And nothing says love like music.

So what music would you like to play for your mother?

And what music would she like to hear?

They aren’t necessarily the same.

So here are The Ear’s choices.

For the first I am torn between a work by Antonin Dvorak and one by Johannes Brahms.

The Dvorak work is “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” which you can hear below in a YouTube video by superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman playing a transcription from the original for voice.

The second is the movement of the “German” Requiem by Brahms in which he evokes his recently deceased mother. Here it is performed in a classic rendition by soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf with Otto Klemperer conducting:

And the piece my mother would love to hear? She loved it when I practiced the piano – and to think I wondered how anyone could enjoy listening to someone practicing? And she especially loved it when I practiced Chopin.

And her favorite piece by Chopin that I played was the bittersweet and elegant Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2, heard below in a YouTube video played by Arthur Rubinstein, whom she took me to hear when he played an all-Chopin concert in Carnegie Hall in 1961 – and we sat on stage.

What are your choices in each category?

Leave word plus, if possible, a YouTube link in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.

And wishes you a Happy Mother’s Day.


Classical music: Maestro John DeMain talks about the challenges and rewards of Beethoven’s “Ninth” – the “Choral” or “Ode to Joy” symphony that he will conduct this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Symphony Chorus plus soloists.

May 4, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

It could well be a case of saving the best for last.

This weekend brings what, for The Ear, is the one of the most interesting programs – maybe THE most interesting program — of the season from the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The sonic combination of a Romantic classic and post-World War II modern music includes the performance of a major symphony that is a beloved icon around the world: the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven (below), also known as the “Choral” and “Ode to Joy” symphony.

Beethoven big

The Ninth was the symphony that Leonard Bernstein famously conducted in Germany to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall.

So what better offering to accompany it than something composed by Bernstein – his 1954 “Serenade” for solo violin and orchestra, with MSO concertmaster Naha Greenholtz, that is based on the Socratic dialogue “Symposium” by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. (Greenholtz will talk about the Bernstein work in a Q&A here later this week.)

Love and joy: Can there be a better way to finish out a season?

The program will be performed under the baton of longtime MSO music director John DeMain, who studied and worked with Leonard Bernstein. It will feature the Madison Symphony Chorus, as prepared by MSO assistant conductor Beverly Taylor (below), who also heads the UW-Madison choral department.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

Guest vocal soloists are: soprano Melody Moore (below top); contralto Gwendolyn Brown (below second); tenor Eric Barry (below third); and bass Morris Robinson (below bottom).

Melody Moore

Gwendolyn Brown

Eric Barry

Morris Robinson

Performances are in Overture Hall in the Overture Center. Times are Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12-$84.

For details, go to https://www.madisonsymphony.org or call the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information, including audio samples and a link to program notes by MSO bass trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen, visit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/beethoven

Maestro DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) recently agreed to do an email Q&A about Beethoven’s Ninth with The Ear:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Why does Beethoven’s Ninth always appeal and what makes it an icon in the public mind? What makes it at the same time so revolutionary and so typically Beethoven?

Aside from the Ninth Symphony being a great musical composition, one cannot get away from the inclusion of the poem by Friedrich Schiller (below, in a painting by Ludovick Simanowiz). The “Ode to Joy” literally shouting that all men in our universe are brothers is what makes this symphony an icon in the public mind. (At bottom is a more informal street scene flash mob performance in a YouTube video that has more than 8 million hits.)

The first three movements are typically Beethoven in style, though consummate in his compositional development. It is the inclusion of voices in the last movement, and the length and structure of the last movement that makes this symphony truly revolutionary. This was the first symphony to have included a chorus and soloists for its final movement.

Friedrich Schiller by Ludovike Simanowiz

It isn’t hard to guess what meaning it holds for the public and why audiences find it popular. But what does this music do to you? How do you feel when you perform it and have finished it?

Music for me is a powerful aural emotional experience. While there is great beauty, majesty and excitement to be found in the first three movements, it is that last movement that fires up my own emotions, not dissimilar to what the listening audience is feeling as well.

Literally shouting for a united brotherhood on Earth under our Maker in heaven, Beethoven develops this movement from a lovely and simple melody in the beginning, to a massive and wild declaration at the end.

It is always a uniquely significant event, often conjuring up whatever injustices are occurring in our contemporary world. Certainly our challenges in the Middle East, and our domestic situations, most recently in St. Louis and Baltimore, will resonate in people’s minds as they listen to this music. It’s a call for harmony in the universe.

When you finish conducting the Beethoven Ninth, you are emotionally and physically drained having conducted not one, but two symphonies, as the last movement is a symphony unto itself.

John DeMain conducting 2

What are the challenges, technically and interpretatively, for you, as a conductor and for the orchestra players, the soloists and the chorus?

There is rather elaborate contrapuntal writing for the orchestra, which always poses a problem for ensemble and clarity. Length poses a challenge for endurance, particularly for the strings. The recitative sections for the orchestral basses as well as the soloist are particularly challenging for the conductor, as are the on the spot pull backs in tempo during the last movement.

We all know that the vocal writing is a challenge to both the soloists and the chorus, but particularly for the chorus. The high tessitura (average pitch range) of the writing makes it extremely difficult for the sopranos and tenors to sustain a thrilling fortissimo, for example. (Below is a photo of the Madison Symphony Chorus by Greg Anderson.)

Beethoven was completely deaf at this point in his life, and was writing what was in his mind, not paying particular attention to what was doable. But then, isn’t that how musical innovation and the stretching of form sometimes happen?

MSO Chorus from left CR Greg Anderson

Why did you choose to pair The Ninth with the Bernstein’s Serenade? Do you see certain parallels or contrasts?

Well, Lenny was a real devotee of Beethoven, and in this composition, he does marvelous things with the use of leitmotif. I love juxtaposing 20th century harmonies with the musical language of the early 19th century. Both composers use dissonance as a part of their language, but in very different ways.

The Serenade, while not specifically programmatic, deals with the various aspects of love, and relates to the Beethoven in that love has to be the basis that binds all men and women together.

I  also love featuring our wonderful concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz (below), and when she suggested the idea, I thought it would make a wonderful contrast to the Ninth, and fill out the concert in a truly wonderful way to close our season.

Naha Greenholtz [playing


Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players end the season with memorable performances of piano quintets by Faure and Brahms.

April 27, 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, who also provided performance photos. 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.

John Barker

By John W. Barker

For its final concert of the season, the Mosaic Chamber Players (below) gave a program Saturday night at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. It combined two of the great quintets for piano and strings: the second of that type, in C minor, Op. 115, by Gabriel Fauré (1847-1924); and the only one if its kind, in F minor, Op. 34, by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).

Mosaic Chamber Players  Quintets 1 JWB

So close together, one would think, and yet, so far apart. Contrasts result from distinct differences between the two composers in both nationality and personality — between Gallic eloquence and German burliness.

The work by Fauré (below) was completed in 1921, by which time Debussy was dead and Ravel, who was Faure’s student, was in his prime. It  is one of a half-dozen chamber pieces with which the composer rounded out his final years — almost, one might think, as an extension of his long output of piano writing.

Its expansive four-movement format is conventional in scope and with a range of expression. But its heart is a long and rapturous slow movement that flows with the unfolding elegance of one of Fauré’s piano nocturnes. (You can hear the slow movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

faure

By contrast, the quintet by Brahms (below) is one of the masterpieces of his early chamber-music writing. It dates from 1862, when Richard Wagner was between the composition of “Tristan und Isolde” and “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.”

Starting as some ideas for a symphony, it exists also in Brahms’s own adaptation of it as a sonata for two pianos. Its four movements are more conventionally conceived than Fauré’s, combining masterful Classical craftsmanship with powerful Romantic urgency.

brahms3

The performances involved five players from the group. The two violinists alternated in the first chair: Laura Burns for the Fauré, Wes Luke for the Brahms. Micah Behr and Michael Allen played viola and cello, respectively, while pianist Jess Salek (below) was the anchor as pianist, just as he is as the group’s guiding spirit.

Jess Salek JWB

These players have worked together before, but not as a consistent ensemble, although they suggested a close collegiality that more established groups might envy. They fully captured the moods, nuances and strengths of the two works.

If there were problems, it had to do with some balances, above all disadvantaging the viola. Some of the explanation could be in the choice of the cavernous Atrium Hall (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) as performing venue, rather then the more intimate Landmark auditorium, the original meeting house of the First Unitarian Society, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Atrium’s highly reverberant acoustics overwhelmed the players’ sound, and, at the same time, prompted over-exertions in volume output, to the detriment of carefully calculated ensemble.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

The size of the hall also pointed up the painfully small size of the audience. There are always weekend competitions for attention, especially in the spring. Still, the Mosaic group is only beginning to develop sufficient promotion and publicity for its activities. Potential audience members need to be made aware of what the group offers.

Mosaic Chamber Players bow at Quintets JWB

What it does offer is one of the high-quality sources of chamber music performance in Madison’s very rich spectrum of events in that category.

The next Mosaic season should win the wider attention it greatly deserves.


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