By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received word about an intriguing and appealing performance this weekend:
On this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., Cantus (below top, in a photo by Curtis Johnson), the critically acclaimed, nine-voice men’s vocal ensemble based in the Twin Cities, will perform at the Stoughton Opera House (below middle and bottom), known for its historical restoration and its fine acoustics.
Love has been the inspiration for artistic expression since the dawn of time. It is such a complex idea that the ancient Greeks broke it down into four different kinds: romantic, familial, friendly and unconditional or spiritual love.
Weaving together repertoire and interstitial remarks, Cantus regards this unquantifiable emotion from all sides.
The program spans multiple historical eras and cultural traditions.
Each of those works is paired with newly commissioned works exploring each of the four loves (romantic, familial, friendly and spiritual) by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lang (below top, in a photo by Peter Serling) as well as Roger Treece (second below), Joseph Gregorio (third below) and Ysaye Barnwell (below bottom).
The program brims with Cantus’s trademark programming juxtaposition, including pairing the Beach Boys’ “Their Hearts were Full of Spring” with “Wedding Qawwali” by the Grammy Award- and Academy Award-winning Indian composer A. R. Rahman (below) and Michael McGlynn’s setting of the traditional Gaelic “Ceann Dubh Dilis (Her Sweet Dark Head)” in a set about romantic love.
While seemingly disjointed on its face, the variety of repertoire throughout blends seamlessly and highlights the universality of Love – our greatest and most fragile gift.
For more information about Cantus, including biographies, photos, videos and audio samples, visit this link:
Here is a YouTube video about the program, with musical samples, to be performed in Stoughton:
The program includes music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Giovanni Gabrieli, Ira Taxin, Ingolf Dahl and UW-Madison alumnus Andrew Rindfleisch.
Since Wisconsin Public Radio no longer carries the concerts live, you must either attend it FREE in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3 in the Chazen Museum of Art or stream it live on your computer. Here is a link to the museum’s web site to reserve seats and to listen live:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following note from the Madison Youth Choirs:
“The Madison Youth Choirs, in partnership with Madison Metropolitan School District, will present the sixth annual FREE Madison Boychoir Festival this Saturday, Jan. 30, in the Stevens Gym at Madison West High School, 30 Ash St., starting at 12:30 p.m.
“The festival is a day-long celebration of choral music for boys in grades 2-12, culminating in a free concert for the community.”
“We’re expecting a record number of well over 400 young men, ages 7-18, from across southern Wisconsin at this year’s festival, and recently also broke a new record for enrollment in MYC’s three yearlong performing boychoirs – a great sign for the culture of boys’ singing in our community!”
The program usually includes classical music, folk music and crossover or pop music. This year’s is no different. Here is the line-up:
Plato’s Take (sing in Greek) by Randal Swiggum
Margaret Jenks, conductor; Andrew Johnson, piano/percussion
Banaha — Congolese folk song
MIDDLE LEVEL CHOIR
Randal Swiggum, conductor; Steve Radtke, piano; Zachary Yost, piccolo; Andrew Johnson, snare drum
“Riflemen of Bennington“ Revolutionary War song, arr. Swiggum
HIGH SCHOOL MEN’S CHOIR
Albert Pinsonneault, Michael Ross, conductors; Jess Salek, piano
Byker Hill, Traditional, arr. Sandler
THE MADISON BOYCHOIR
Randal Swiggum, Margaret Jenks, Michael Ross, conductors
Intonent Hodie, Anonymous (ca. 12th century)
Unity, by Glorraine Moore/Freddie Washington, arr. Cason
“Over 400 young singers, joined by the men of the Madison Choral Project (MCP), will present repertoire from a variety of cultural traditions and historical eras, exploring beyond notes and rhythms to discover the context, meaning and heart of the music. (Below is a photo of elementary school singers from the 2014 festival, conducted by Randal Swiggum.)
“This project is supported in part by the Madison Arts Commission, by the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts, and by Dane Arts with additional funding from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation.”
About 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, visit www.madisonyouthchoirs.org or call (608) 238-7464
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear supposes that Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade for violin and orchestra qualifies as program music since it aims to translate Plato’s famous dialogue about love — “Symposium” — into music. (At the bottom, is a YouTube video of Joshua Bell performing the work with the New York Philharmonic under conductor Alan Gilbert in 2013.)
This much is sure. The 1954 work by Bernstein — to be performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) — is part of what makes this weekend’s one of the most interesting programs, maybe THE most interesting, of the season from the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
The combination of Romantic and post-WW II modern music includes the performance of a major symphony that is beloved around the world: the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, also known as the “Choral” and Ode to Joy” symphony.
That was the symphony that Leonard Bernstein himself famously conducted in Germany to celebrate to fall of the Berlin Wall. So, what better offering is there to accompany it than something composed by Bernstein?
(John DeMain talked about the Beethoven symphony in a Q&A here earlier this week. Here is a link to that post: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/classical-music-maestro-john-demain-talks-about-the-challenges-and-rewards-of-beethovens-ninth-the-choral-or-ode-to-joy-sympho/ )
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, who heads the UW-Madison choral department.
Guest vocal soloists are: soprano Melody Moore; contralto Gwendolyn Brown; tenor Eric Barry; and bass Morris Robinson.
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
Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) recently agreed to do an email Q&A about Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade” with The Ear:
How would you compare Leonard Bernstein’s work to the great historical violin concertos by Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius? What about to modern and contemporary violin concertos by, say, Samuel Barber and Philip Glass, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich? Are there any you would draw parallels or contrasts to?
The five-movement format in Bernstein’s “Serenade” differentiates it substantially from some of the 18th and 19th century classics. While there’s no literal program, there is the suggestion of a basic narrative in Bernstein’s re-imagination of Plato’s communal dialogue. This element alone connects the work more closely to the late 19th and 20th century sub-genre of “program music.” (Below is a portrait of Leonard Bernstein composing at the piano in 1955, around the time of the “Serenade.”)
In its familiar tonal language — combing modal and traditional harmonic elements — it has some resemblance to the Barber concerto. I don’t think middle-of-the-century American composers like Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein were consciously adhering to style parameters.
That said, there is a distinctive “American-ness” to their works. Much the same way music by Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev has a “Russian” sound, without necessarily being nationalistic. It’s subtler than that. It is more like these composers shared some common aesthetic DNA due to their national and cultural origins.
Where do you place it among Bernstein’s body of works? Is he generally underappreciated as a composer compared to his work as a conductor and his music for the Broadway theater?
To the latter question, this is certainly true. He was such a charismatic public figure in music, especially in his work as an educator, conductor and composer of popular music. In light of this, I think his remarkable contributions to “art” music are easily overlooked.
In the Serenade he manages to blend many stylistic elements. I hear the Devil’s Dance from Igor Stravinsky’s “Histoire du Soldat” and, in the fourth movement, glimpses of Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. The instrumentation is a nod to Bela Bartok in his “Music for Strings Percussion and Celeste” and the tonal language shows Paul Hindemith’s influence.
But despite all of that, Bernstein’s unique language is apparent within the first five seconds of the piece when the rising augmented 4th resolves up a half step. That’s what is so remarkable about Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell) — he manages to blend disparate elements of other great artists without losing his own intrinsic style.
How does Bernstein express the idea of Platonic dialogue?
Each of the movements is loosely based on the themes of the seven speakers in the work by Plato (below is an ancient sculptural depiction of the philosopher). The concerto begins with the soloist alone in a rhetorical statement and the piece unfolds as each orator presents his perspective on the topic of love. By the end of the fifth movement, drinking seems to have taken over the gathering, leading to a thrilling depiction of a boisterous dinner party.
How is the idea of love as a carnal and spiritual subject that the guests discuss get expressed?
On describing the duality of love, as a force that cuts both ways, Bernstein is explicit. For example in the third movement Erixymathus, he uses the soloist and orchestra as warring factions. The orchestra explodes with a three-note jab. Then the soloist introduces a quasi-tone row that’s passed back and forth with contrasting intensity. Further into the movement, he piles these themes on top of each other in a frenetic fugue that expresses the mystery and ecstasy of love.
In contrast, the next movement Agathon features the same three-note motive that opened the previous movement, but stretched to 10 times its initial length, utterly transforming it into a spiritual and intimate aria. Bernstein does this all over the piece, taking material from previous movements and showing them in a new light. (Below is a fresco depiction of the Symposium.)
What do you think of the work itself and how its fits with Beethoven’s Ninth? Have you played it before or is it new to you?
Until last year I’d only known the Serenade by recording, so I was thrilled when John suggested we perform it here with the MSO.
It’s strangely neglected in the solo violin repertoire. Maybe that is because of the unconventional five-movement format, or that the title “after Plato’s Symposium” is somehow intimidating or off-putting.
It’s clearly one of Bernstein’s great orchestral works and is a firework of a showpiece for the violin. As far as pairing with Beethoven’s Ninth, the themes of brotherhood and platonic love feature prominently in both works.
How challenging is it to play and what are the challenges both technically and interpretively? What would you like the audience to pay special attention to?
I find all music challenging. Mozart is simpler in terms of notes and patterns than, say, Shostakovich or Bernstein, but in its own way it is just as hard to play and requires just as much diligent work to pull off.
The Bernstein is full of musical challenges and requires lots of imagination and characterization to communicate the narrative of Plato’s dialogue.
That being said, it’s a major 20th-century solo work so it’s also chock full of technical hurdles. Isaac Stern (below, in 1977) – for whom this piece was written — has left us fingering and bowing suggestions, so I know the thorny passages are at least theoretically possible!
In any event, I’m really looking forward to these performances and think these will be fantastic concerts for anyone who loves great music.
ALERTS: University of Wisconsin-Madison piano student Hailey O’Neil, who won an Honorable Mention, will fill in for the injured winner Oxana Khramova at the Beethoven Sonata Competition winners’ FREE recital today at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall. O’Neil will play the lovely “Pastoral Sonata, Op. 28, by Beethoven.
For more information, visit:
Of course the Beethoven Sonata concert unfortunately conflicts with the last performance (at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center) by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem and Joseph Jongen’s “Symphonie Concertante” with organ soloist Nathan Laube, all under the baton of guest conductor Julian Wachner. Here is a positive review by critic John W. Barker for Isthmus:
By Jacob Stockinger
Tomorrow, Monday, April 7, opens a busy week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
It starts with opera and chamber music for oboe, then expands to include contemporary music by guest artists from the University of Iowa’s acclaimed Center for New Music; piano and string music” the Adagio from Joseph Haydn’s Piano Trio No. 22; Franz Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 1 in Flat Major; and Antonin Dvorak’s Piano Quintet by the UW’s Perlman Piano Trio and guest performers (all below in a photo by Katherine Esposito) ; three performances by the University Opera of Hector Berlioz’ opera “Beatrice et Benedict”; and one performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion”’ done by the UW Concert Choir and UW Chamber Orchestra under conductor Beverly Taylor.
For full details, go to www.musc.wisc.edu and click on Events Calendar.
Here is how the week starts out:
METROPOLITAN OPERA STAR SUSANNE MENTZER
On Monday from 1:15 to 3:15 p.m. in 1321 Humanities Building, opera star mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer (below) will be offering a master class to UW-Madison voice and opera students
This event is free and open to the public. Mentzer will be working one-on-one with students, performing a signature aria for the class, conducting a “Q&A session, and staying to meet and greet all attendees.
Mentzer is in Madison to perform as Mrs. Patrick DeRocher in Madison Opera‘s production of “Dead Man Walking,” conducted by Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera maestro John DeMain, April 25 and April 27 in Overture Hall. For more information, visit:
Internationally known mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer enjoys a significant opera, concert and recital career of over 30 years. She has appeared on four continents at nearly every great opera house and with every great orchestra. She has been a guest artist at the Metropolitan Opera (below) in leading roles since 1989.
Her extensive discography includes over 25 CDs of opera and oratorio. She has recorded two recitals she often performs in concert: “The Eternal Feminine,” a recital of music by women composers (Koch International Classics), which includes the premiere of Libby Larsen’s “Love After 1950” with her long-time pianist, Craig Rutenberg; and her personal favorite, “Wayfaring Stranger” (Erato), a collection of international folksongs arranged for voice and guitar with Grammy Award winning Sharon Isbin.
She also received a Grammy nomination for her work as Colombina in Busoni’s Arlecchino. She is on the recent releases of Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking” and “Plump Jack” by Gordon Getty. Mentzer appears on DVDs of “The Tales of Hoffman” (Opéra de Paris), Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” (La Scala), and Grammy-nominated “The First Emperor” by Tan Dun (Metropolitan Opera), and Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” (Metropolitan Opera).
She has appeared numerous times on PBS as part of the “Live from Lincoln Center” and “Live from the Met” programs and Live From the Met satellite cinema broadcast. Mentzer is a mentor to young singers. She recently relocated to the San Francisco area where she teaches privately after 12 years in academia as a Professor at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University and DePaul University in Chicago. She has also served as faculty at the Aspen Music Festival and School and has been a guest teacher at the San Francisco Opera Merola program, the Castleton Festival and frequently gives master classes in conjunction with her engagements.
To read more about Susanne Mentzer, go to her website, www.susannementzer.com.
OBOIST KOSTAS TILIAKOS
On Monday night, at 7:30 in Morphy Recital Hall, pianist Christopher Taylor and flutist Stephanie Jutt will accompany Kostas Tiliakos on oboe and English horn in his only solo recital on the Faculty Concert Series this year.
Admission is FREE and open to the public.
His program will consist of works by composers Minas Alexiadis, Anastassis Philippakopoulos, Theodore Antoniou, Jurgis Juozapaitis, and Thea Musgrave.
A native of Athens, Greece, Kostas Tiliakos (below in a photo by Katherine Esposito) has been principal oboist in the Greek National Opera Orchestra in Athens since 1997. Previous to that, he held the position of Solo English Horn for eight years.
An avid lover of contemporary music, Tiliakos has been a member of the Hellenic Ensemble for Contemporary Music since 1990 and has premiered and recorded works by contemporary composers, many of which he was a dedicatee.
He has also recorded solo and chamber music works on Wandelweiser (Germany), Lyra and Irida Classics (Greece) and has been broadcast on radio and television throughout Europe.
Internationally, he has appeared as soloist throughout Europe, Africa, Canada and the U.S. During his time in Greece, Kostas was a sought-after music journalist and editing consultant with Lambrakis Press SA and 4pi Special Editions, the two largest publishing organizations in Greece. Kostas studied Biology at Athens University and holds a BA in European Cultural Studies.
He received his Masters of Music from UW-Madison under Marc Fink where he was a Paul Collins Wisconsin Distinguished Fellow. His principal teachers have included Marc Fink, Claude Chieulet, Didier Pateau. He has also studied with Paul Dombrecht and Hansjörg Schellenberger.
Most recently, Kostas was selected for the position of Visiting Associate Professor of Oboe at UW-Madison. The Ear understands that he has been renewed to do the same next academic year.
A REMINDER: The annual “New Year’s Day Concert From Vienna” (below) with the Vienna Philharmonic under conductor Franz Welser-Most and with TV host Julie Andrews will air this morning on NPR (and Wisconsin Public Radio) at 10 a.m. this morning with the TV version airing tonight on PBS (and Wisconsin Public Television) at 7 p.m. For more information and links to a play list of Strauss family waltzes and polkas plus works by Verdi and Wagner and lots of background, visit:
By Jacob Stockinger
Today, Jan. 1, 2013, is New Year’s Day.
The past year was not an easy year in so many ways.
Especially disappointing is the increasing polarization or partisanship one sees not only in the US but also around the world. I myself fear for the rise of right-wing fanaticism (often signaled by hatred of immigrants, a callousness toward social welfare and the oppression of minorities) in Greece and elsewhere because of economic situations. Economic strife often leads to war or other forms of strife and suffering. (Below is a CNN photo of an austerity protest riot in Greece.)
One can only hope for much better in 2013.
So that makes this “flash mob” performance of Beethoven (below) all the more appropriate and moving. It certainly was an emotional experience for and for the very old friend who sent it on to me — as well as for the more than 8 million viewers so far on YouTube.
It is the perfect piece – or, to be precise, the perfect excerpt of the perfect piece – in words and music — performed in a perfect way that was commissioned by Banco Sabadell in Barcelona to mark its 130th anniversary, I believe.
It gives one hope – especially at a time when Spain, like so many other countries, in undergoing the trials, tribulations and testing of austerity.
Judge for yourself – be sure to look at the facial expressions of the children and the ordinary people who just pass by and stop to take it all in. You can see that great music connects and bonds.
And let us know what you think by leaving something in the COMMENTS section.