The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra and UW duo-pianists showcase the remarkable music of Camille Saint-Saens and Mozart in the popular concert that closes its season

June 1, 2019
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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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

The mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a  photo by Margaret Barker) closed its season Thursday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center with a promising and well-received program.

The centerpiece featured two graduate student soloists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, pianists Thomas Kasdorf (below right) and Satoko Hayami (below left), who joined in Mozart’s Concerto in E-flat Major, K. 365, for two pianos and orchestra. The two soloists were alert and polished collaborators. (You can hear the energetic and catchy final movement, used in the Academy Award-winning film “Amadeus,” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Conductor Steve Kurr (below) set a bouncy pace but a rather fast and overpowering one, and with an orchestra — especially strings — quite overblown by the standards of Mozart’s day.

The MCO was blessed by the loan of a very special model of a Model B Steinway instrument, now owned and lovingly restored by Farley’s House of Pianos. This was paired against a Steinway of much later vintage, owned by the hall. But nowhere was there identification about which piano was which as they sat onstage, much less which pianist was playing which piano (and they switched between the two works utilizing them.) This was disappointing for it prevented making an informed comparison of the two instruments.

Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921, below) is backhandedly treated as being on the margins of composer greatness. But his scope was remarkable, as witnessed by the two works that were the program’s bookends.

The opener was his humorous Suite, “Carnival of the Animals.” This set of 14 short pieces was written for one private performance, in chamber terms, one player per part. So the orchestra that was used — of 87 listed musicians, 60 of them were string players — became a crushing distortion. The two pianists were a bit formal, but ideally facile.

Saint-Saens made no provision for any kind of spoken text, certainly not in French. In the middle of the last century, the American poet of high-spirited doggerel, Ogden Nash, wrote wickedly funny verses with offbeat rhymes and puns to go with each movement.

It was these Nash verses that Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland (below), who was only identified as the “narrator,” read with a good bit of tongue-in-cheek. Nowhere are these at all identified or credited in the bumbling program booklet.  (Many in the audience might have just thought that they were written by Gilliland himself.)

In many of the suite’s movements, Saint-Saens quoted or alluded to hit tunes by earlier composers, for parodistic purposes. Unfortunately, there are no program notes in the booklet, so these tidbits would easily go unnoticed by many listeners.

Saint-Saens composed, among his numerous orchestral works, a total of five symphonies, only three of which are numbered. I had originally been given to expect No. 2, a charming work I love, as the program closer. All but the last of them are early works in a graceful post-Classical style.

But No. 3 was composed much later in his life, and in a more expansive style. This is a frequently performed spectacle, unconventional in plan and in scoring. It adds the two pianists and an organ — hence the nickname the “Organ Symphony.”

Unfortunately, the hall has no organ of its own, so the substitute was a rig of electronic organ with its own booming speakers and exaggerated pedal notes. Again totally unmentioned is that this contraption was played by MCO sound technician Alex Ford (below, with the portable electronic organ keyboard from Austria with its computer-screen stops).

This kind of organ could never be integrated into the full orchestral texture and served only to allow the orchestra to play this grandiose score. Such ambition was backed by really splendid and well-balanced orchestral playing.

As intended, the large local audience, with many children and families, was wildly enthusiastic.


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Classical music: Acclaimed a cappella vocal ensemble Cantus performs a world premiere in Edgerton this Saturday night

March 12, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

“Cantus: Inspiring Through Song“ will perform in concert this coming Saturday night, March 17, at 7:30 p.m. at the Edgerton Performing Arts Center, 200 Elm High Drive in Edgerton, Wisconsin.

In its 2017-18 touring program “Discovery of Sight,” the a cappella ensemble Cantus (below) explores the essence of light and vision, reveling in the mystery, science and poetry of what it means to truly “see” with music.

The program features works by Richard Strauss, Franz Schubert, Eric Whitacre (below top) and Einojuhani Rautavaara (below middle, in a  photo by Getty Images) alongside a world premiere by Gabriel Kahane (below bottom).

Tickets are $25 each and can be purchased online at www.edgertonpac.com or by phone at (608) 561-6093.

Praised as “engaging” by the New Yorker magazine, the men’s vocal ensemble Cantus is widely known for its trademark warmth and blending, and for its innovative programming and involving performances of music ranging from the Renaissance to the 21st century.

The Washington Post has hailed the Cantus sound as having both “exalting finesse” and “expressive power,” and refers to the “spontaneous grace” of its music making.

As one of the nation’s few full-time vocal ensembles, Cantus has grown in prominence with its distinctive approach to creating music. Working without a conductor, the members of Cantus rehearse and perform as chamber musicians, each contributing to the entirety of the artistic process.

Cantus performs more than 60 concerts each year both in national and international touring, and in its home of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Cantus has performed at Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, UCLA, San Francisco Performances, Atlanta’s Spivey Hall, and Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival.

You can hear Cantus perform a Tiny Desk Concert for National Public Radio (NPR) in the YouTube video at the bottom. The Ear is especially fond of the way they sing “Wanting Memories.”

For more information about Cantus, go to the ensemble’s website: www.cantussings.org

The performance is funded by the William and Joyce Wartmann Endowment for the Performing Arts.


Classical music: Piano and viola duo Vis-à-Vis gives a FREE concert this Saturday at noon as part of Grace Presents

January 11, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

For a while, the acclaimed FREE community outreach concert series Grace Presents had folded.

But now it is back.

Grace Presents’ new coordinator Yanzel Rivera, who is a graduate student at the UW-Madison Mead-Witter School of Music, has sent the following information to post:

“Grace Presents, which offers free monthly concerts on the Capitol Square, will feature the Vis-À-Vis duo (below) of violist Brandin Kreuder and pianist Craig Jordan.

“The one-hour concert, called “Clarke and Brahms” will take place this Saturday, Jan. 13, at noon at the Grace Episcopal Church, 116 West Washington Avenue, across from the Capitol Square.

The program features: Four Pieces by British composer Frank Bridge, (1879-1941); a Sonata by British composer Rebecca Clarke, (1886-1979, below top); “Un regard dans le vide” or ‘A Look Into the Void” (2017) by American composer Christian Messier (b. 1995, below bottom), who studies at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin;  and the Sonata in F Minor by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).

ABOUT THE PERFORMERS

“Duo Vis-À-Vis aims to bring engaging and explorative chamber music performances to communities across the country and share their love for musical collaboration and expression.

“The duo is comprised of violinist/violist Brandin Kreuder, and pianist, Craig Jordan. Brandin is a native of Burlington, Wisconsin, and a 2016 graduate of Lawrence University and Conservatory (below) who holds a B.A. in Studio Art and a B.M. in Violin Performance.

“Brandin is currently in his second year of his Master of Music degree studying viola with virtuoso violist Jodi Levitz at the Frost School of Music, University of Miami.

“Jordan, from Ames, Iowa, is a junior at the Lawrence Conservatory of Music pursuing his Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance under the teaching of Catherine Kautsky, with an emphasis on Collaborative Piano. He is currently studying this fall semester at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam in the Netherlands with Marta Liébana Martínez.

“Since its debut in spring 2016, duo Vis-A-Vis has performed three recital tours in Wisconsin, Iowa, Florida, Missouri, Colorado and Massachusetts. Their recent tour “Reminiscence” brought the duo to their widest variety of performance locations yet. One of these performances also served as the beginning of a new chamber music series hosted by the College Light Opera Company in Falmouth, Mass.

(You can hear Duo Vis-à-Vis (below) perform the Violin Sonata by Cesar Franck in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

ABOUT GRACE PRESENTS

Grace Presents features a diverse range of music, including everything from classical and folk to jazz and bluegrass. The performers include nationally recognized musicians and exceptional young talent from Madison and beyond.

The mission is to create a premier concert series that everyone in the Madison community can enjoy. Each month it welcomes a diverse audience to its concerts, including Madison residents, students, farmers’ market shoppers, tourists, and people who are homeless.

The organizers invite audiences to bring a lunch to enjoy inside the church during our concerts.

A celebrated historic landmark established in 1839, Grace Episcopal Church (below top and bottom) is the oldest church in Madison. Known for its grand Gothic architecture and distinctive red doors, the church features hand-carved woodwork, brilliant stained glass windows–including a Tiffany window–and a cathedral organ.

Grace Presents is supported in part by a grant from Dane Arts, the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation, the Madison Arts Commission, with additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board.

The series also relies on donations from sponsors and free-will offerings at each concert.


Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players open their new season with three concerts this weekend that feature music by Chick Corea, Bruce Broughton, Alexander Arutiunian and others

September 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) officially begin their 2017-2018 season series with the theme “Journey” this coming weekend with a concert titled Departure on Saturday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 10, at 2 p.m.

However, the Oakwood Chamber Players will also present a special performance at Bos Meadery (below), 849 E. Washington Ave., on this Friday night, Sept. 8, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in a range of music choices that will include excerpts from the Departure concert along with a breadth of other styles of music. Donations will be accepted.

The two full-length concerts will both be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on the far west side of Madison near the West Towne Mall.

Guest artists pianist Joseph Ross, violist Sharon Tenhundfeld (below top) and violinist Maureen McCarty (below bottom) will join members of the Oakwood Chamber Players to launch their season.

Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks (no credit cards) at the door: $25 general admission, $20 seniors and $5 students.

For tickets and more information, go to www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com or call (608) 230-4316.

According to a press release, “Departure will explore composers’ musical journeys as influenced by shifts in their artistic lives.

“Just two years after the start of his huge success in the expanding world of jazz-fusion, with renowned hits such as “Spain,” American composer and pianist Chick Corea (below) wrote his Trio for flute, bassoon and piano in 1973.

“He created a fascinating blend — a classical style that both reflects his personal jazz-like fluidity at the keyboard but also transfers the sense of conversational-like interactions that occurs between players. (You can hear Chick Corea’s Trio in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“This succinct piece is infused with the composer’s essential and recognizable artistic voice. Corea bridges the boundary between genres in an artful and engaging way, creating a brief snapshot of two artistic worlds joined through the piece’s synergy.

“Academy Award-winning and Emmy award-winning film composer Bruce Broughton (below) has consistently contributed to the world of chamber music literature. Broughton’s successes in the film industry include Young Sherlock Holmes, Silverado and The Rescuers Down Under.

“His Primer for Malachi, for flute, clarinet, cello and piano, was written in anticipation of the birth of a grandchild in 1997. Through its five short movements the piece creates a programmatic feel. It begins with quiet introspection, progressing through each movement with increasing rhythmic and melodic intensity, peaking with an action-packed instrumental musical tag, and concluding by musically catching its breath, slowing in the final movement to calm and flowing lines, mirroring the opening effect.

“Known for his emotive melodies Armenian-Soviet pianist and composer Alexander Arutiunian wrote prolifically for orchestra, chamber music and film.

“Written in Armenia after spending several years in Moscow, the Concert Waltz for winds and piano is taken from his 1958 film score for the movie “About My Friend.” It is a wry waltz set in a minor key, and the composer infuses the familiar waltz dance form with a tongue-in-cheek sense of being on a slightly careening carousel. The piece sparkles with Armenian folk flavor and the energy is captivating.

“The Kaiserwaltz by Viennese composer Johann Strauss musically conjures up the grandeur of the ballroom. The piece was intended to symbolize ‘a toast of friendship’ between Germany and Austria. The waltz is full of upbeat musical declarations and graceful melodies.

“The Oakwood Chamber Players were pleased to discover that the piece had been reimagined from its full orchestral orchestration, written in 1889, to this delightful version, arranged in 1925 for chamber ensemble by Arnold Schoenberg (below). The grace of this music is refined and enduring.

“German composer and organist Max Reger’s perspective on compositional artistry was informed by the masters who came before him.

“However, perpetually fascinated by fugues, Reger (below) often wrote pieces that were very abstract. He worried about the lasting reputation of penning these kinds of ultra-academic compositions. He was an ardent admirer of Bach, Brahms and Beethoven and was very capable of writing a range of styles that were both accessible and rooted in the historic perspectives.

“In his Serenade for flute, violin, and viola, written just a year before his death, he sought to show the range of his compositional capabilities and to silence critics by leaving more approachable music for posterity. At this pivotal time he reached his goal ably, giving the performers an outstanding piece with nimble rhythms, memorable melodies, and the bright voicing of an upbeat sound palette.”

This is the first of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players’ 2017-2018 season series entitled Journey. Remaining concerts will take place on Nov. 26; Jan. 13 and 14; March 10 and 11; and May 19 and 20.

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.


Classical music: Pianist Aldo Ciccolini, who popularized the music of Erik Satie, is dead at 89.

February 7, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Did I come to know the pianist Aldo Ciccolini through the music of Erik Satie?

Or did I come to know the music of Erik Satie through the playing of pianist Aldo Ciccolini (below in his later years)?

Aldo Ciccolini old

It says something to me – something very Sixties and very dear – that the two were, and remain, inextricable for me. (Once discovered, the more soulful music of Erik Satie (below) even found its way into popular culture and rock music through groups like ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears.”)

And the public’s taste for Satie continues. Satie, as played by Pascal Roge, was recently featured on the soundtrack to the documentary film “Man on Wire,” about Philippe Petit and his historic tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in New York City.)

Erik Satie

And maybe it was that way for you too.

Last Saturday night, Aldo Ciccolini, a prize-winning concert pianist, a prolific recording artist and a renowned teacher whose students included Jacques-Yves Thibaudet, died in his sleep at the age of 89.

There is not much for The Ear to say except that Ciccolini did for me what the greatest artists do: Use beauty to hijack me from the ordinary world and elevate me in an unforgettable way.

I am pretty sure that I and many others did not know the beautiful, graceful and contemplative “Trois Gymnopedies” until the young and handsome Ciccolini’s perfectly paced recordings of those pieces, and of Satie’s complete works, received worldwide circulation and acclaim.

Perhaps the same goes for the music of Camille Saint-Saens, another of Ciccolini’s specialties.

aldo ciccolini young

Ciccolini was Italian, but he had an uncanny flair for French music, which remains under-appreciated even today — including the music of Francois Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau and Gabriel Faure — even if the works of Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy have fared much better.

I think Ciccolini understood that special French hybrid of clarity and mystery, of rationality and passion, of Descartes and Baudelaire. (You can hear Ciccolini’s incomparable playing of Satie in a popular YouTube video at the bottom which has a lot of reader comments.)

Anyway, here are three obituaries with lots of great background information.

From NPR (National Public Radio):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/02/02/383253499/aldo-ciccolini-an-italian-pianist-with-a-french-soul

From The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/04/arts/music/aldo-ciccolini-dies-at-89-pianist-interpreted-satie.html?_r=0

From the BBC:

http://www.classical-music.com/news/aldo-ciccolini-1925-2015

 

 


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