The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: UW countertenor Gerrod Pagenkopf returns to sing on Sunday night with Chanticleer. Here’s how he got there with the right teacher, hard work, good luck and a push from mom. Part 2 of 2 

October 1, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Sunday night, Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m. in the new Hamel Music Center, the a cappella singing group Chanticleer (below) will kick off the centennial anniversary celebration of the Concert Series at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Tickets are $45 for the public; $40 for faculty staff and Union members; and $10 for students. For more information about the performers and the “Trade Winds” program, go to: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/chanticleer/

Among the 12 members of Chanticleer is Gerrod Pagenkopf, who is in his fifth year with the group as both a countertenor and the assistant music director.

For a biography of Pagenkopf, go to: https://www.chanticleer.org/gerrod-pagenkopf

Pagenkopf is a graduate of the UW-Madison. When he performed as a student, his high, clear countertenor voice was a new experience and made those of us who heard him sit bolt upright and take notice. “He is going places,” we said to each. And so he has.

But Pagenkopf’s story is not only about him. It is also about the rediscovery of countertenors, about the changing public acceptance of them, and about the challenges that young musicians often face in establishing a professional performing career.

So The Ear is offering a longer-than-usual, two-part interview with Pagenkopf (below).

Part 1 appeared yesterday. Here is a link: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/09/30/classical-music-uws-first-countertenor-gerrod-pagenkopf-returns-to-perform-on-sunday-night-as-a-member-of-the-acclaimed-choral-group-chanticleer-heres-how-he-got-from-here-to-there/

Here is Part 2:

Back when you were a student here, were you the only countertenor at the School of Music? How did you find out you were a countertenor and pursue that training?

As I recall, I was the only countertenor — certainly the only one studying in the voice department. I had been studying as a tenor with Ilona Kombrink (below, in photo by UW-Madison News Service) for a few semesters, and it just didn’t seem as easy as it was supposed to.

I didn’t sound like other tenors in my studio or on recordings. I remember that a famous countertenor had just come out with an album of Handel arias, and, upon hearing it, I thought to myself, “I can sing like that!”

I asked Professor Kombrink about it, and she told me to learn “Cara Sposa” from Handel’s “Rinaldo” over the summer. When I came back in the fall, if it sounded legitimate she agreed I could pursue countertenor singing.

I remember that first lesson of the fall. After I sang this Handel aria for her, she sat back and mused in her sage-like manner, “Yes, this must needs be.”

I never looked back. I think I was on the early edge of the re-emergence of countertenors. Certainly there were countertenors working professionally, but there weren’t that many. There weren’t any other countertenors in Houston when I went to grad school, and even when I moved to Boston, there were only a handful of working countertenors.

Since then, how has the treatment of countertenors changed in the academic and professional worlds?

By the time I left Boston a few years ago, you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a countertenor. We now see young countertenors winning major competitions and earning places in young artist programs around the country. The competition is fierce now.

I was lucky enough to be one of just a few fish in the pond, but now countertenors are everywhere—and a lot of them are really good! I also remember that there was a stigma so that it would be difficult to find a voice teacher who would teach countertenors.

A lot of pedagogy books by reputable technicians said that countertenors weren’t real — they just sing in falsetto, which isn’t a real voice. I was lucky that Professor Kombrink was willing to explore that with me. I think now that there are so many successful countertenors singing everywhere, I hope this antiquated view of the voice type has changed.

What would you like the public to know about the program you will perform here? Are you featured in certain pieces?

Our “Trade Winds” program explores several different aspects of the wayfaring sailor. They include Monteverdi madrigals about water and nature; a wonderful mass setting by a largely unknown century Portuguese composer, Filipe de Magalhaes; several charming folksongs from around the Pacific Rim; and even a few sea shanties.

It’s a varied program that includes repertoire from as early as the 15th century up to just a few months ago. One of Chanticleer’s missions is to further the art of live music through new compositions, and we’ve commissioned a fantastic young Chinese-American composer, Zhou Tian (below), to write a new multi-movement piece for us, entitled “Trade Winds,” from which our program also gets its title.

Lots of listeners are scared of “new music,” but Zhou has given us a gem. It’s easy to listen to, and I think listeners will instantly understand what it’s all about.

What are your plans for the future?

Personally, I can’t say that I have anything coming up. As wonderful as Chanticleer is, the job pretty much limits any amount of outside freelance work. (At the bottom, you can hear Chanticleer singing “Shenandoah,” its most popular YouTube video – and a piece with a prominent countertenor part — with well over 1.6 million hits.)

One of the truly fantastic parts of singing in Chanticleer (below, performing on stage) is all the places we travel to. We started off this season with a three-week tour of Europe, which was actually the ensemble’s third trip to Europe in 2019.

We love traveling around the U.S., and as I’ve said, traveling back to Madison is certainly the highlight for me. The Midwest is always a special place for us to sing, as several of our members are from this region.

We’re very excited to travel to Australia in June 2020. I think it’s Chanticleer’s first visit “Down Under.” We will also be going back to the studio in January to record a new album for release sometime later in 2020. We have lots of exciting events coming down the pipeline.

Is there something else you would like to say?

Prior to singing with Chanticleer, I had been living in Boston for almost eight years, pursuing professional singing as a freelance artist.

To make ends meet, I had been working at Starbucks, which I actually started doing when I still lived in Madison, and my gigging was getting lucrative enough that I eventually decided to take a leave of absence from slinging lattes.

While I was in Wisconsin on Christmas vacation, I received a message from Chanticleer’s music director, William Fred Scott, letting me know that there was an immediate vacancy in the ensemble, and would I be interested in singing for them.

I thought I was being spammed, so I didn’t respond, and continued to enjoy the bliss of spending the entirety of the holidays with my family.

When I eventually got back to Boston a few days later, another email arrived from Mr. Scott: “Did you get my email? We’d really like to hear from you.” Ok, how do I tell them I’m clearly NOT the countertenor they’re looking for?

Well, after much soul-searching, calling my mother (“Just do it!” she exclaimed), and figuring out the logistics of liquidating a one-bedroom apartment, I decided to run away and join the circus. It was a complete leap of faith, but I think I made the right decision.

Don’t give up on your dreams. Singing in Chanticleer was the first legitimate dream I remember having. Although my musical path took me in several other directions, that path eventually led me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.


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Classical music: The international Handel Aria Competition launches a new showcase concert for local high school singers

November 16, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

The Handel Aria Competition (below are the 2017 finalists) was established seven years ago to encourage emerging artists ages 18-35 from around the world to perform Handel’s vocal works.

We are pleased to introduce our newest project, the Handel Aria Competition High School Singers Showcase. Our goal with this event is to encourage high school singers in the Madison, Wisconsin area to explore works from George Frideric Handel’s extensive vocal repertoire.

We are inviting local voice teachers to help one or more of their students prepare a Handel aria or duet to be performed at the Handel Aria Competition High School Singers Showcase.

This concert, which will be free and open to the public, will take place at Capitol Lakes, 333 West Main Street in downtown Madison, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019. Piano accompaniment will be provided, and each singer will receive a $100 scholarship towards voice lessons.

Voice teachers with students who might be interested are encouraged to contact Handel Aria Competition Artistic Director Sarah Brailey (below) — herself a winner of the competition and now a graduate student at the UW-Madison — at handelariacompetition@gmail.com for more information. A limited number of performance slots are available on a first-come basis.

PLEASE NOTE: The 7th annual Handel Aria Competition will be Friday night, June 7, 2019 in Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. (Below is a soprano Suzanne Karpov, First Prize winner of the 2018 competition. Many other performances from past years are on YouTube.)

Auditions for the competition via YAP Tracker, an online way to audition for opera and vocal competition, will open soon – and the deadline will be April 1, 2019


Classical music education: Let us now praise music teachers and their legacy

May 26, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

By now, the school year is mostly over at all levels from kindergarten through undergraduate and graduate school at colleges and universities.

So are music lessons, both public and private, and student recitals and concerts. (Below is Madison and UW-Madison violin teacher Eugene Purdue with student Thomas Stringfellow during a lesson in 2011.)

So now is the perfect time to talk about the legacy of creativity that music teachers have in our lives.

Here is an essay that The Ear finds to be one of the best appreciations of music teachers – even those famous teachers at Juilliard who taught violinists Itzhak Perlman, Anne Akiko Meyers and Midori — that he has ever read. It covers different methods and styles of teaching and learning. And it is filled with gratitude from students toward their teachers.

It appeared in The New York Times and was written by critic Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim.

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/12/arts/music/immortal-fingertips-music-teachers-live-on-through-their-students.html?_r=0

If you have an appreciation or memory of, or a tribute to, a music teacher and music lessons, leave word in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) closes out its existence this Friday night.

August 16, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear notes with sadness the passing of a fine and inspiring institution that has fostered music education.

It is the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (below), also known as MAYCO, and this Friday night it will give its 10th – and final – performance.

MAYCO Aug. 2014 1

The concert is this Friday night at 8 p.m. (NOT 7:30 p.m. as originally announced) in the Artrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison (NOT Music Hall). Admission is $10 for the public, with students getting in for a free-will donation.

Much about the final concert follows a familiar pattern.

For one, old classics will be mixed with new music.

In this case, the old classics are the Overture to the operas “The Barber of Seville” by Giachino Rossini and the famously forceful Fifth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven. (You can get a taste of both the symphony and MAYCO in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The new work is the world premiere of “is a is a is b is” by Ben Davis (below), a graduate of the UW-Madison.

ben davis

Also in keeping with MAYCO’S past, it will conducted by its founder and music director Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below), who founded it while he was still a student at East High School in Madison.

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

Since then Utevsky graduated this past May from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he majored in viola, conducting and singing, even appearing in baritone roles in several University Opera productions and giving a lieder recital.

All that plus he proved a talented reviewer and writer for this blog, especially when he chronicled tour of Vienna, Prague and Budapest by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) several years ago. You can read his writing by using the search engine in this blog. Just type in his name.

Why is MAYCO coming to an end?

Utevsky says simply and without bitterness that it is time for him to move on. He is taking off a year before pursuing graduate studies.

You can see what an achievement MAYCO provided – with lists of repertoire, composers and performers –by going to its home website:

http://www.mayco.org/#!concerts/cnnz


Classical music education: Here is the latest update on the search for a new director of University Opera.

November 7, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Recently, a reader asked The Ear about the status of the nationwide search for a new artistic director of University Opera after two years of having David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) as a popular guest director from New York City after the retirement of William Farlow.

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

That’s when word came from Martha Fischer  (below), professor of collaborative piano at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Fischer is the head of the search committee to find a new director of the opera program.

Martha Fischer color Katrin TalbotHere is what Professor Fischer sent: her official update with the PVL (Professional Vacancy Listing) attached:

Writes Fischer as a prefatory comment: “We are incredibly fortunate, thanks to the Karen K. Bishop fund, to be able to search for a full-time tenure track Assistant Professor of Opera. At a time when the University as a whole is feeling extreme budget pressures, it is indeed something to celebrate.

“We are currently accepting applications from a broad and diverse pool of applicants with a deadline of Dec. 1, 2015.

“We are following the University of Wisconsin‘s strict guidelines about how searches are conducted to ensure a fair and equitable process.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to announce a new opera director sometime in the spring.”

The Ear notes that under Wisconsin’s open record laws, there will be no word about the dozens of individual applicants until the finalist stage of the search. That is designed to help protect the current jobs of applicants who do not make it into the pool of four or five finalists who are invited to visit the campus. (Below is a photo by Michael R. Anderson from the most recent production, “The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.)

Marriage of Figaro dress rehearsal. Tia Cleveland (Marcellina), Joel Rathmann (Figaro), Anna Whiteway (Susanna), Thomas Weis (Bartolo).

Marriage of Figaro dress rehearsal. Tia Cleveland (Marcellina), Joel Rathmann (Figaro), Anna Whiteway (Susanna), Thomas Weis (Bartolo).

Here is the official notice for the UW-Madison School of Music Position Vacancy Listing for the Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera:

“The School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison invites applications for an Artistic Director of University Opera and teacher of operatic performance, interpretation, and literature.

“This is a full-time, tenure-track appointment at the Assistant Professor level beginning August 2016. Successful candidates will demonstrate evidence of an established or emerging national/international career, along with an ability to enhance the School’s educational mission and overall commitment to teaching.

“Candidates will be expected to pursue creative activities or research interests appropriate to a tenure-track position.

“Candidates will also be expected to help recruit and teach a diverse student body of undergraduate and graduate students, to advise and mentor students, to serve on graduate degree committees, and to carry out leadership and service within the School, College, and University.

Duties:

  • Serve as Artistic Director of University Opera
    • –  Organize, administer and coordinate all facets of the program, recruiting and fundraising as necessary
    • –  Direct and supervise all facets of two major productions each year
  • Coordinate and co-teach the University Opera Workshop Course

– Prepare scenes and productions, including stage movement and character development;

  • Promote and participate in local and state outreach programs
  • Nurture relationships and serve as liaison with community and regional arts organizations
  • Teach related courses as needed and according to the candidate’s expertise
  • Supervise doctoral minors in opera/voice coaching and in opera production
  • Minimum Qualifications:
  • Master’s degree with significant professional experience
  • Proven excellence as an opera director in the professional and/or academic setting
  • Comprehensive knowledge of operatic literature, styles and traditions
  • Ability to pursue research and/or creative activity and service to the profession at the national/international 
level
  • Ability to teach effectively in the classroom and in rehearsal, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels
  • Ability to guide research and advise on the preparation of graduate documents and exams
  • Ability to work effectively and collaborate within the School of Music and with outside groups and 
community arts organizations
  • Ability to serve as advisor for doctoral minors
  • Commitment to recruitment for the School of Music
  • Ability to collaborate with the voice faculty, School of Music, and university in developing and planning for 
the opera program

Preferred Qualifications:

  • PhD/DMA/MFA completed
  • Ability to conduct/lead musical rehearsals
  • Ability to coach singers from the piano
  • Fluency in standard operatic languages (French, German, Italian, English)
  • Experience as an operatic performer
  • Salary: $65,000 (minimum)

(Below is a photo of the University Opera’s 2011 production of Giacomo Puccini‘s “La Bohème.”)

University Opera La Boheme Photo 2


Classical music education: How long should you practice each day? And how should you go about learning a new piece?

September 2, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Fall is just about here and school is starting.

In fact, today is the first day of classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the UW-Madison School of Music.

That means a lot of undergraduate and graduate students there will resume music lessons.

And of course, private lessons are resuming as Labor Day approaches.

The Ear wanted to post something that seemed appropriate and germane. And what issue could be more central to music lessons that the question of practicing?

How long should a student practice?

How many hours a day?

Those are questions faced by most, if not all, music students and their parents -– and by a lot of teachers too.

Recently, The Ear came across one of the best answers.

The sensible and insightful answer was given by Pamela Frank, a concertizing violinist who has taught at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia since 1996. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, Frank also discusses how to learn a new piece of music. She has more insightful remarks to offer, including the role of using recordings.)

pamela frank

Now, Frank – who speaks from her own experience — is a string player.

But it seems to The Ear that her remarks apply equally well to the piano and to various other families of instruments –- winds, brass, percussion.

And here’s the payoff: She emphasizes the quality of practicing not the quantity, and the time commitment will seem pretty practical to many musicians.

For specifics, watch and listen to her video.

Here is a link:

http://www.theviolinchannel.com/vc-masterclass-pamela-frank-many-hours-practicing-everyday/

 

 


Classical music: Is there better graduation music than the old stand-by, “Pomp and Circumstance” No. 1 by Sir Edward Elgar? The Ear doubts it.

May 17, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This is graduation weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This year, the biggest ceremonies will be held outdoors in Camp Randall Stadium, as in the photo below.

It started last night, Friday night, with doctoral students, MFA‘s and professional degree students including doctors, lawyers, business people and veterinarians who had their ceremony indoors at the Kohl Center.

Today, Saturday, May 17, 2014, is devoted to the largest number of graduates -– the undergraduates as well as master’s students.

UWcommencement

The Ear wants to honor all UW students who are graduating, but especially the students — both undergraduate and graduate — at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who have brought him so many hours of pleasure and memorable listening.

But what to choose to play?

Believe me, I have thought long and hard about it.

And for the life of me, I still do not think there exists anything better than the old stand-by: The “Pomp and Circumstance’ March No. 1, originally written by Sir Edward Elgar (below) for the coronation of a King of England. (You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Edward Elgar

Of course, there are other fine marches by Elgar in the same set.

But none surpasses the really famous one, the omnipresent one at this time of year, THE Pomp and Circumstance March that captures the vitality and rush, yet also the dignity and hope of the event — and yes, all the bittersweet sadness of leaving behind close friends and mentors.

If you know of a better musical offering for graduation or commence, please leave a reply or comment with a YouTube link is possible and certainly the composer’s name and work’s title.

In the meantime, here it is again. You have no doubt heard it before probably many times. But no matter that it is a cliché or that is banal. It never fails to give me both goosebumps and tears, and it always makes me wish that I too were among those students processing through commencement.

Are you ready?

Graduates: Please line up, adjust your robe and mortar board, and smile.

Maestro, a downbeat please!

Best wishes and congratulations to all.

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Classical music: Musicology professor Susan C. Cook is the new director of the UW-Madison School of Music.

May 31, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The semester is over and commencement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has already been held. But in case you haven’t already heard, Musicology professor Susan C. Cook (below, in a photo by Michael Forster Rothbart) is the new director of the UW-Madison School of Music.

Last I heard, some university committee or administrator had to give the final approval, but that that was a formality and no trouble or problem was expected.

Susan C. Cook UW SOM BW CR Michael Forster Rothbart

As you can see from the biography taken from the UW-Madison School of Music website, Cook is very accomplished and original in her eclectic interests and scholarship, and she has some serious high-level administrative experience.

“Susan C. Cook is professor of music and also serves as the academic associate dean for the Arts and Humanities in the Graduate School.

“Her teaching and research focus on contemporary and American music of all kinds and demonstrate her abiding interest in feminist methodologies and cultural criticism.

“Current works-in-progress include an exploration of gender, commemoration and the post-Great War work of Maurice Ravel, American opera singer Alma Gluck, musical imagery in the novels of Carson McCullers, and female blackface minstrelsy.

“She is the author of “Opera for a New Republic,” co-editor of “Cecilia Reclaimed” as well as essays in “The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Music,” the  “Garland Encyclopedia of World Music” and “Teaching Music History.”

“Her essay “Watching Our Step: Embodying Research, Telling Stories,” on the gendered and racialized meanings of ragtime social dance won the Lippincott Prize from the Society for Dance History Scholars. She has also held the Walt Whitman Chair in American Culture Studies as part of the Fulbright Distinguished Teaching Program in the Netherlands.”

Susan Cook takes over July 1 from John Stevens (below), the Yale University-trained composer, and tuba and euphonium professor, who is stepping down early to return to return to teaching for one final year before retiring.

John Stevens

The Ear wishes good luck to Susan Cook, who heads up an outstanding program, with gifted faculty and talented students, but also faces some daunting financial and staffing challenges in the coming years if the UW School of Music is to maintain its excellent reputation.


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