The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This afternoon is your last chance to hear the season-opening concert of music by Bach, Mendelssohn and Berlioz by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Read the positive reviews here

September 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the highly praised season-opening concert “Orchestral Brilliance” by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top, in a photo by Peter Rodgers).

It will be conducted by music director John DeMain with a solo performance by MSO principal violist Christopher Dozoryst (below bottom).

The program features the dramatic orchestral arrangement, used in the soundtrack to Walt Disney’s famous film “Fantasia,” by Leopold Stokowski of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach; the Symphony No. 5 “Reformation” by Felix Mendelssohn; and “Harold in Italy” by Hector Berlioz. (You can hear the famous “Pilgrim March” movement of the Berlioz work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here are the positive reviews that were filed after the opening night performance on Friday:

Here is the review by John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus:

https://isthmus.com/music/superlative-season-opener/

Here is the review by Greg Hettmansberger for his “What Greg Says” blog:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2017/09/16/demain-honors-two-traditions/

And here is the review done by UW-Madison graduate piano student Kyle Johnson (below) for The Capital Times, which blocks the content to non-subscribers unless you first answer a survey:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/mso-kicks-off-its-new-season-with-orchestral-brilliance/article_de094605-7a31-5d6c-9661-696d505bc7b5.html

For more information about the program, the performers, the prelude discussion, the program notes and tickets, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/09/13/classical-music-this-weekend-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-opens-its-new-season-with-mendelssohns-reformation-symphony-and-music-by-bach-it-also-highlights-principal-viol/

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Classical music: Read a rave review of John DeMain’s current production of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” at the Glimmerglass Festival in upstate New York

July 29, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Some readers have asked The Ear:

How come John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Madison Opera, wasn’t conducting at last Saturday’s Opera in the Park?

The reason is not that DeMain was taking time off and enjoying a summer vacation.

Rather, he was busy guest-conducting an acclaimed production of George Gershwin’s African-American opera “Porgy and Bess” (below top) at the prestigious Glimmerglass Festival (below bottom) in upstate New York at Cooperstown.

DeMain has enjoyed a long association with both George Gershwin’s opera and the Glimmerglass Festival (below top and bottom).

And Madison music critic Greg Hettmansberger (below), who is writing a biography of DeMain, traveled there to hear and see the production.

He filed the following review on his website “What Greg Says”:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/porgy-casts-a-special-glow-over-glimmerglass/

Now you know.

And can share in the pride.


Classical music: Are the rules of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Bolz Young Artist Competition fair? Or do they need to be changed?

April 1, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Everyone The Ear has spoken to agrees: The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s concerto competition that took place last Wednesday night — and which was broadcast live over Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and Wisconsin Public Television (WPT) — was an extraordinary and inspiring artistic event.

All of those people had nothing but the highest praise for all four teenage finalists – (below, from left) violinist Julian Rhee, harpist Naomi Sutherland, pianist Michael Wu and violinist Yaoyao Chen — who performed under the baton of MSO music director John DeMain.

The Ear can only endorse the fantastic review of the event by local music critic Greg Hettmansberger:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com

And you can find out more about at the contestants at this past posting, which has links to biographies and biographical YouTube videos about them and also lists the REBROADCAST TIMES ON TODAY AND SUNDAY:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/classical-music-education-watch-it-on-public-television-or-radio-stream-it-live-or-hear-it-in-person-the-final-forte-free-finalists-concert-with-the-madison-symp/

But several people The Ear knows also raised a difficult question that the MSO, WPR, WPT and seems to have avoided:

Is it fair that the impressively talented 16-year-old violinist Julian Rhee, from Brookfield, got to win the first prize for a second time?

Curiously, there was no mention of his previous win in 2015 – a younger Rhee is seen below — when he played the first movement of the Violin Concerto by Brahms. That win went unspoken during this year’s live broadcast, and even in the pre-event publicity or in the post-event publicity.

It almost seems as if the organizers recognized that pointing it out would sound funny, awkward or questionable.

Also, no mention was made that the gifted Rhee also won a competition with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and then played at Concerts on the Square; or that just a month ago, Rhee appeared on the regular season of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, playing the complete Brahms concerto under WCO music director Andrew Sewell.

Such experience probably qualified Rhee – a maturing prodigy — as a professional or at least a semi-professional, assuming he got paid for the WCO appearance, rather than an amateur.

Let’s be clear: This year, Rhee played the opening movement of the Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky stupendously well. It is hard to argue with the decision of the three judges to award him first prize.

In short, Rhee did nothing wrong and everything right. His winning was not in any way tainted. He won fair and square. He played brilliantly, beautifully and engagingly.

What some people are questioning is not Rhee’s victory, but whether the rules themselves are unfair by allowing a previous first prize-winner to compete a second time. It certainly appears to put the other young competitors with less experience at a disadvantage.

Now, the rules do allow for a performer to win multiple first prizes. Historically, a couple of contestants have indeed won again, performing on different instruments for each appearance.

And no one seems to object that a second-, third- or fourth-prize winner gets a chance to try again to do better and win.

True, the eligibility rules do require that one year passes before a first-prize winner can compete again.

But the question seems to be: Are the rules fair? Or should they be modified, so that the playing field is more even for all the young participants?

Should first-prize winners be excluded from competing again?

That is the question that is being raised, however it is answered.

So The Ear and others want to know:

What do you think?

Are the rules fair or unfair?

Should first-prize winners be allowed to compete again?

Should the rules be changed or stay the same?

Leave your point of view in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: This afternoon is your last chance to hear twin-sister pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton play Mozart with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Here are three reviews. There will also be poetry inspired by the Symphony No. 5 by Shostakovich, which is also on the program. Plus, a FREE concert of choral music takes place tonight at the UW-Madison

November 13, 2016
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ALERT: Tonight at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is a FREE concert of choral music by the UW-Madison group Chorale under its director Bruce Gladstone. Sorry, no word on the program.

By Jacob Stockinger

This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear twin-sister, Madison-born pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton (below top) perform a Mozart concerto with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below bottom). Works by Claude Debussy and Dmitri Shostakovich are also on the program conducted by MSO music director John DeMain.

christina-and-michelle-naughton-2016

The program has received fine reviews from the critics:

Here is a review written by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/music/familial-spirit/

Here is the review by Greg Hettmansberger for his blog “What Greg Says”:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2016/11/12/a-perfectly-timed-homecoming/

And here is a review written by Jessica Courtier for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/music/concert-review-mso-delivers-heart-wrenching-performance-of-shostakovich-s/article_e3fc410e-3e15-543b-b323-fee9ac6ec552.html

For more information about the concert and program, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/classical-music-twin-sister-pianists-the-naughtons-return-to-their-hometown-this-weekend-to-perform-a-mozart-concerto-with-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-the-famous-symphony-no-5-by-shostakovich-i/

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

NEW MSO POETRY PROGRAM “COUNTERRPOINTS” DEBUTS TODAY

In addition, as a part of its 2016-17 season offerings, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will today launch The Counterpoint Readings, a special event series where poets will respond to a selected symphonic piece, culminating in a reading in Overture Center’s Promenade Lounge the weekend the piece is performed. It is scheduled to start after the performance, at around 4:30 p.m. today.

NOTE: There is a $10 admission charge to the poetry reading, which includes a wine and cheese reception. But because notice was given late, the original deadline of Nov. 10 for reservations will be overlooked.

The first reading focuses on Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 by Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich (below), performed by the MSO as part of its “Paired to Perfection” concerts this weekend. (You can hear the famous finale of the Shostakovich symphony performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

dmitri shostakovich

The Counterpoint Readings debut will happen following today’s performance, beginning at approximately 4:30 p.m. Eight poets will perform original works— world premieres for each artist.

Coordinated by MSO violist and poet Katrin Talbot (below, writing poetry in a photo by Isabel Karp), the series seeks to expand the audience’s musical experience and bring Madison’s poetry into a new light. Another such music-based poetry reading, to take place in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, is scheduled for March, according to Talbot.

Katrin Talbot shares her vision of the how the power of words can respond to this significant historical composition, “Stalin is trumpeting out Soviet dominance. Yet somehow, he (Shostakovich) overcame it to generate art. Deception to get his voice heard.”

katrin-talbot-writing-poems-cr-isabel-karp

Among the poets slated to appear include MSO bassist August Jirovec, former Wisconsin Poet Laureate Marilyn Taylor, former Madison Poet Laureate Sarah Busse, Richard Merelman, Eve Robillard, Timothy Walsh, Marilyn Annucci and Rita Mae Reese.

Here is a preview: August Jirovec’s inspiration leading up to the reading:

“If there be meaning in this world askew,

let toils and rhyming gripes slide—disappear

your cross of blood drawn in the dirt austere

and lavish canvases of nascent hue

with brilliant visions! Let your whimsy brew

brash, crazen potions inspired by this tier

of music hefted from chests, as time’s spear

pierces the heart that must love art—through you.”

And here is a link to a long interview with Talbot by Lindsay Christians for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/people-turn-to-the-poets-writers-respond-to-a-symphony/article_d6010935-abc3-556c-96db-3a9eea4619d9.html

For more information go to:

The Counterpoint Readings, direct link: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/counterpointreadings

Paired to Perfection concerts: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/naughtons


Classical music education: Here are 10 tips from China for productive practicing. Also, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra and violinist-composer Henning Kraggerud

October 23, 2016
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra with violinist-composer Henning Kraggerud (below). The popular “Pastorale” Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven is also on the program. Here are some reviews, all positive:

Here is the review that John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/music/something-old-something-new/

Here is Jessica Courtier’s review for The Capital Times and The Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/music/concert-review-madison-symphony-orchestra-takes-listeners-on-a-trip/article_6ccb102f-2f5a-5f81-8df0-84323c05ca44.html

And here is the review written by Greg Hettmansberger for his blog “What Greg Says”:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2016/10/22/no-place-like-a-second-home/

henning-kraggerud-2016

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear, who is an avid amateur pianist, ran across these 10 tips for productive practicing – something he can always use.

He knew some of them before. But it never hurts to review the basics. That’s why they are called the basics.

And some tips — included on a website based in Hong Kong, China, where music education is booming — were new.

Steinway Grand Piano

string trio violin, viola and cello

He thought that you too – no matter what instrument you play or if you sing – would find them helpful too.

And if you don’t play or sing, maybe these tips will still enhance your appreciation of the hard work that goes into playing and practicing.

So here they are:

http://www.interlude.hk/front/ten-tips-productive-practice/

If you have some practice tips of your own to add, just leave them in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

And to play better.


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra opens its new season with superb playing, hypnotizing space photos by NASA and close to three full houses

September 28, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Several years ago, artistic director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) decided to use the season-opening concerts of the Madison Symphony Orchestra to spotlight the symphony and its first-chair players as soloists.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

No big-name imported guest soloists were to be booked.

In addition, this year Maestro DeMain chose to open the season with a multimedia show that combined Jumbotron-like space images from NASA (below is Jupiter) with Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” 

nasa-jupiter2

Such multimedia events increasingly seem to work as a way to build audiences and boost attendance by new people and young people. After all, a music director has to sell tickets and fill seats as well as wave a baton.

And it seems that, on both counts, DeMain’s strategy proved  spectacularly successful.

All sections of the orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) — strings, brass, winds, percussion — played with energy, precision and subtlety. The MSO proved a very tight ensemble. Each year, you can hear how the MSO improves and grows increasingly impressive after 23 years of DeMain’s direction.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The public seemed to agree. It came very close to filling the 2,200-seat Overture Hall for all three performances with more than 6,100 audience members, according to Peter Rodgers, the new marketing director for the MSO. Especially noteworthy, he said, was the number of children, students and young people who attended.

In fact, so many students showed up for student rush tickets on Friday night that the performance was delayed by around 10 minutes – because of long lines at the box office, NOT because of the new security measures at the Overture Center, which Rodgers said worked smoothly and quickly.

But not everything was ideal, at least not for The Ear.

On the first half, the playing largely outweighed the music.

True,  the Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 by a very young George Enescu (below) received a sizzling and infectious performance. With its catchy folk tunes, dance rhythms and Gypsy harmonies, the fun work proved an irresistible opener – much like a starting with an encore, which is rather like eating a rich and tasty dessert before tackling the more nutritious but less snazzy main course.

The music itself is captivating and frequently played – although this was its surprising premiere performance by the MSO. Little wonder the Enescu got a rousing standing ovation. Still, it is hardly great music.

george enescu

Then came the Chaconne for violin and orchestra by the American composer John Corigliano (below), who based the work on his Oscar-winning film score for “The Red Violin.”

John Corigliano

Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) impressed The Ear and most others with her mastery of what appeared to be a very difficult score. The ovation was for her, not for the music.

Naha Greenholtz playing CR Greg Anderson

That music also has some fine moments. But overall it seems a dull and tedious work, an exercise in virtuosity with some of the same flaws you find in certain overblown piano etudes by Franz Liszt. Once again the playing trumped the music.

Then came The Big Event: Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” coupled with clear, high-definition photos of the planets taken by NASA that were projected on a huge screen above the orchestra. Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s and Venus’ clouds and Mars’ landscape (below) have never looked so impressive.

nasa-mars2

The orchestra again struck one with its exotic and “spacey” sound effects and with what must have been the difficulty of timing simultaneously the music and the images.

Yet ultimately Holst’s work became a sound track — music accompanying images rather than images accompanying the music. The Ear heard several listeners compare the admittedly impressive result to the movies “Fantasia” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” That says something.

At some moments the sound and images really matched and reinforced each other, especially in the dramatic opening section, “Mars, the Bringer of War.” Holst’s score also succeeds nicely with “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” and to a lesser degree with “Venus, the Bringer of Peace.”

But overall “The Planets” reminds The Ear of colorful and dramatic  programmatic showpieces such as Ottorino Respighi‘s “The Pines of Rome” and “The Fountains of Rome.” (Earth, curiously, is not included in “The Planets.” Makes you wonder: What would Earth bring?) Enjoyable music, to be sure, but not profound fare.

The Ear’s extensive library of CDs has none of the three works on the program. And it will probably remain that way.

While Holst’s work does have great moments, it grows long, repetitive and finally uninteresting as it ends not with a bang but with an underwhelming whimper – which was beautifully enhanced by the atmospheric singing of the MSO Women’s Chorus. There are just too many planets!

Listen to the YouTube video at the bottom, played by James Levine conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and you will see: Mars rules!

nasa-mars

Add it all up and despite three standing ovations, in the end The Ear found the concert less than fully satisfying. The music, however likable and appealing, was not, for the most part,  great music. Moreover, it was mostly trumped first by the performances and then by the visuals.

So on a personal note, here is The Ear’s request to the MSO, which scored an undeniably brilliant success with this program: Keep the same all-orchestra and first-chair format for season-openers and use multimedia shows whenever appropriate. But please also include at least one really first-rate piece of music with more substance.

Is that asking for too much?

Is The Ear alone and unfair in his assessment? 

Other critics had their own takes and some strongly disagree with The Ear.

Here is a link to three other reviews:

By John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/music/beautiful-music-distracting-backdrop/

John-Barker

By Jessica Courtier for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/music/concert-review-mso-takes-audience-on-a-stunning-trip-to/article_6dd45c4d-c11b-5c77-ae54-35a3e731b1cb.html

And by Greg Hettmansberger (below), who writes for WISC-TV Channel 3 and his Classically Speaking blog for Madison Magazine, and on his own blog, What Greg Says:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/tag/john-corigliano/

greg hettmansberger mug

What did you think of the music, the performances and the visual show?

How well did they mix?

What did you like most and least?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The new opera “Fallujah” is based on the Iraq War. Will the Madison Opera or the University Opera be interested in staging it? Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to hear “Carmina Burana” performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Read three rave reviews.

May 1, 2016
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in “Carmina Burana” in the MSO’s spectacular season-closing program. Read three rave reviews by local critics:

Here is what John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/music/big-orchestra-monuments/

Here is what Greg Hettmansberger wrote for Madison Magazine and his blog WhatGregSays:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/farewells-to-a-season-and-some-friends/

And here is what Jessica Courtier wrote for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/concert-review-mso-offers-spectacular-finale-to-season-with-respighi/article_3ac27a49-8212-5983-855b-245dd011deef.html

By Jacob Stockinger

Who says you can’t mix art and current events?

Especially if the current events also count as history, which has often been an inspiration for fiction and art.

Iraq and Afghanistan — the United States’ longest wars — are back in the news again making big headlines. And PTSD or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is a story that never goes away.

But not all of the news has to do with politics, suicide bombings, increased troop commitments and fierce fighting in a civil war.

It also has to do with art.

Specifically, opera — that potent combination of theater and music.

The Long Beach Opera commissioned and recently premiered a new chamber opera based on the Iraq War and PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), and us based on the life and work of U.S. Marine Christian Ellis . It is called “Fallujah” and it is the first such opera to be written. (A photo below is by Keith Ian Polakoff for the Long Beach Opera.)

You can hear librettist Heather Raffo and composer Tobin Stokes discuss the opera in the YouTube video at the bottom.

fallujah iraq opera Keith Ian Polakoff Long Beach Opera

It makes The Ear wonder if it might find its way into an upcoming season of the Madison Opera, which tends to use its smaller winter productions to stage works that are newer, smaller, more adventurous and more exploratory.

Or maybe the University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music might find it a good choice for a student production?

Anyway, here is a fine write-up that you can find on NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/03/18/470973622/an-iraq-war-opera-finds-a-vein-of-empathy


Classical music: A FREE CD and a dedicated concert are perfect memorial tributes for flutist Robin Fellows — or for any musician

March 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

There was so much to like about last Friday night’s concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), including a fantastic performance of the sublimely beautiful Violin Concerto by the American composer Samuel Barber.

WCO lobby

The concerto, with its soaring melodies, poignant harmonies and spiky perpetual motion finale, was played superbly by Russian-born, London-based virtuoso Alexander Sitkovetsky (below), who received a masterful accompaniment from longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell and the WCO. (As an encore and change of pace, Sitkovetsky played the soulful Sarabande from the Partita No. 2 in D Minor for Solo Violin by Johann Sebastian Bach.)

Here are two very positive reviews, written by John W. Barker for Isthmus and Greg Hettmansbeger for Madison Magazine, with which The Ear agrees:

http://isthmus.com/music/dashing-brilliance-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra/

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/sewell-and-sitkovetsky-bring-out-the-best-of-a-couple-of-bs/

alexander-sitkovetsky

But The Ear notes this: Perhaps the most touching moment came off-stage.

As you may have heard, last October Robin Fellows died of cancer at 66. For 26 years, he had been the principal flutist of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He also played and taught at many other places.

If you went to the indoor classical Masterworks concerts by the WCO, you heard him.

And if you went to the popular summertime Concerts on the Square, you heard him.

So it was right and fitting, as they say, for the WCO to dedicate the concert to Fellows (below). Indeed, the program seemed perfect in its homage.

We heard a new principal flutist and heard lots of prominent flute playing in works by Irish composer Joan Trumble, Swedish composer Lars-Eric Larsson and especially the Symphony No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven.

robin fellows with flute

But the most stirring tribute happened off-stage.

That is because the family gave out a FREE memorial tribute CD of 20th-century flute music – with singers, bassoonists, clarinet, harp and piano — that was played by Fellows, recorded and released in 2002.

It includes music by Aaron Copland, Walter Piston, Albert Roussel, Ernst Toch, Daren Hagen (a UW-Madison alumnus) and Vincent Persichetti.

Out in the lobby of the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center was a table with not only the new season brochures for 2016-17, but also many stacks of FREE CDs. The audience was invited to take one by a current WCO flutist and oboist.

Robin Fellows CD table

And as you entered and left the theater, there was a large poster with a picture of Fellows and a paragraph about his life and accomplishments.

Robin Fellows poster

The Ear is still sampling all the pieces on the CD.

So far, it is both enjoyable and enlightening. The Ear would include a sample, but unfortunately he doesn’t see that any tracks have been uploaded to YouTube.

Still, one cannot imagine Fellows — or any musicians, for that matter — wishing for a better tribute.

The Ear says: Kudos to the Fellows family and to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra for providing such memorable memorials.


Classical music: This afternoon is your last chance to hear pianist Emanuel Ax and soprano Alisa Jordheim with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven and Mahler. Plus, the Madison Bach Musicians will hold a chamber music workshop this summer for players of early music and Baroque music

March 13, 2016
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ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear pianist Emanuel Ax perform the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven and soprano Alisa Jordheim in the Symphony No. 4 by Gustav Mahler.

Here is a rave review for Madison Magazine by Greg Hettmansberger:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2016/03/12/madison-symphony-dealt-a-pair-of-4s-and-makes-it-a-winning-hand/

And here is another rave review for Isthmus by John W. Barker:

http://isthmus.com/music/madison-symphony-orchestra-with-soloist-emanuel-ax/

And here is third rave review by Jessica Courtier for The Capital Times and the Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/concert-review-pianist-emanuel-ax-highlights-a-madison-symphony-program/article_deba2728-e86f-11e5-a953-97da4b10222f.html

Emanuel Ax portrait 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information to pass along:

The Madison Bach Musicians will offer a Summer Chamber Music Workshop July 26-29 focusing on historically-informed performance of baroque and classical music.

This workshop is co-directed by MBM founder and director, harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson (below top, in a photo by Kent Sweitzer), and MBM member, violinist Kangwon Kim (below bottom). There will also be guest instructors.

Trevor Stephenson at harpsicord CR Kent Sweitzer

Kangwon Kim close up

The workshop, which costs $400, is open to intermediate and advanced players who are high school age and older.

The public can attend master classes and concerts. Four-day passes for auditors are available for $75. A single-day pass costs $25.

Instruments included are: violin, viola, cello, harpsichord, fortepiano, piano, flute, recorder and oboe.

BrandenburgsHarpsichord

Participants will be assigned to an ensemble group, and music will be sent in advance to allow musicians to learn their parts beforehand.

The workshop will include personalized coaching, master classes, a faculty concert, community lunches and a final closing concert for a supportive and appreciative audience.

All of this will take place in the beautiful and acoustically rich spaces of First Unitarian Society of Madison (below, in a photo by Kent Sweitzer), located at 900 University Bay Drive.

FUS by Kent Sweitzer USE

Applications are being be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis since Jan. 1, 2016. (There is an early application discount until March 15.)

For information, including the local and guest faculty members, and an online application, visit: http://madisonbachmusicians.org/education-and-outreach/summer-workshop/

A spokesperson for the Madison Bach Musician adds:

“Some people might ask how this workshop relates to the Madison Early Music Festival. The MBM workshop stands independent of the Madison Early Music Festival, and we do not intend to compete with the festival but to just add another great music option for Madison-area musicians. We intentionally set the dates for our workshop well after the Early Music Festival so as not to compete with it.

“The focus of the Madison Bach Musicians Summer Chamber Music Workshop is to create a supportive music community where participants can further develop their appreciation and playing ability of baroque and early classical chamber music through personalized coaching and performance experience.”

 


Classical music: Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” is a second-rate opera that got a first-rate production from the Madison Opera

February 12, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

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

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO – www.MAYCO.org), which will perform its sixth season this summer. He also directs a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra (www.disso.org).

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

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest review of this past weekend’s performance of Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” by the Madison Opera.

I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Also, his latest venture was the successful recent launch of the Impresario Student Opera at the UW-Madison.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below) with production photos by James Gill for the Madison Opera:

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Rankin Utevsky

A great opera can be memorable in many ways. You might remember how you felt at the climaxes of the music, or walk out humming the Big Tune from the showstopper aria, or leave with an image fixed in your mind’s eye of the most dramatic moment in the first-act finale.

In an opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Giuseppe Verdi or Giacomo Puccini, you might remember all of these. But in American composer Mark Adamo’s debut opera, “Little Women,” there’s nothing to remember — no great moving moments, no thrilling stage pictures, no hummable tunes.

There are motifs, certainly, and recurring lines. But “Things change, Jo” (song by acclaimed mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in the YouTube video at the bottom) can hardly hold a candle to “O soave fanciulla” in Puccini’s “La Bohème,” the first-act Trio in Mozart’s “Figaro,” the parents’ sextet in Jake Heggie‘s “Dead Man Walking,” or the quartet from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”

It’s all technically correct, but it’s not great opera — neither great storytelling nor great music.

I left the Sunday performance by Madison Opera with the unshakeable feeling that Adamo’s score had been performed far better than it deserved.

Part of the problem is that Mark Adamo (below) is too clever for his own good. The libretto, from the classic 19th-century American novel by Louisa May Alcott, is stronger than the music — never quite moving, but full of evocative and witty phrases.

The music displays a clear command of naturalistic settings of the text, rising to peaks when it should and creating compelling atmosphere. But it always seems to pull back just when a lyrical melody might break forth, or when an emotional climax draws near.

Mark Adamo

Several times he uses the gambit of two conversations on stage at the same time, talking about the same things. But the pacing is never quite right, and the unison lines are predictable and trite rather than powerful. He lacks the confidence to let people talk over one another unless we’ve already heard half of the lines. (Whether the lack of trust is in the audience or stems from his own compositional skill is a matter of conjecture.)

The dramatic and musical tricks are all “correct” — Adamo knows his business — but none of them make an emotional impact, a point driven home by their success in last season’s “Dead Man Walking,” which employs all the same devices to far greater effect. When the opening scene came back at the end of the show, I was ready to walk out. Enough already!

It is a sad fact that the most moving part of the whole affair was only half Adamo’s — a setting of Goethe’s “Kennst du das Land” (Do You Know the Land) thrown into the second act that almost approached melody, and tugged at the heartstrings in a way no other scene of the opera managed to do.

Beth’s death scene – below top with Chelsea Morris Shephard as Beth (left) and Heather Johnson as Jo — was a close second, admittedly.

Little Women 143 Beth dies GILL

And the lovely wedding vow — below bottom with, from left, Alexander Elliott as John Brooke; Courtney Miller as Meg; Rick Henslin as Gideon March; Elizabeth Hagedorn as Alma March — was marred only by Rick Henslin’s intonation.

LIttle Women 101 wedding GILL

The minimal set cheated the opera out of the lush visual setting it deserved. If the realism of the story had been played up, with painted walls and structures, the human elements of the story might have been more believable in a setting that doesn’t feel as though a strong wind might knock it all down.

Little Women 58 GILL

Instead, a few flown-in flats with cheap-looking projections stood in for the occasional wall, and some rather cool shifting images on the scrim in front of the orchestra highlighted the apparent supernatural elements of the story — not that I thought there were supposed to be any in “Little Women.”

Little Women Jo 40 GILL

This is not to say the visuals were all misses — costumes, wigs, and makeup (Karen Brown-Larimore and Jan Ross) were excellent, particularly in establishing distinctive characterizations for the four sisters, who could easily have been hard to tell apart in a less careful production.

The ghostly vocal quartet that opens the opera — and haunts various scenes in the middle, although I’m told they were intended to be offstage — felt like nothing so much as discount Eric Whitacre: cascading clusters and whole-tone scales with no particular narrative purpose, illuminating nothing about the plot. I did find myself wondering if we were supposed to think Jo had gone insane, between that and the drifting projections on the set, but I’m sure that wasn’t the intended effect.

Despite all this, the voices themselves were superb, and married to strong acting skills to boot. Time and again Madison Opera has shown a knack for finding up-and-coming young singers with tremendous talent, and this cast was no exception.

The four Little Women themselves (below, from left, with Eric Neuville as Laurie; Courtney Miller as Meg, Heather Johnson as Jo; Chelsea Morris Shephard as Beth; Jeni Houser as Amy), aided by sure-handed direction from Candace Evans, mustered warm, credible camaraderie and sisterly love.

They, and their paramours, baritone Alexander Elliot and tenor Eric Neuville, all displayed rich and even vocalism, with clear and precise English diction rendering the supertitles mostly superfluous.

Litlle Women 22 GILL

As the aloof Aunt March and the mother Alma, Brenda Harris and UW-Madison guest professor Elizabeth Hagedorn were secure and confident in their roles as well.

As the German teacher Friedrich Bhaer (below left, with Heather Johnson as Jo), Craig Verm’s accent faded in and out, but his aria, the aforementioned setting of Goethe’s famous “Kennst du das Land,” was the highlight of the show despite this.

Little Women 130 GILL

Guest conductor Kyle Knox (below), a graduate student at the UW-Madison, led musicians of the Madison Symphony Orchestra capably through a score mired in complexity and made the result sound natural — not an easy feat.

Kyle Knox 2

I admire general director Katherine Smith (below) and the Madison Opera for taking a chance on contemporary American opera, and I dearly hope they do so again next season, and the season after that.

In a tremendously conservative industry, it takes guts to put on something by a living composer when everyone else is picking the safe options to sell out the house. And I’d rather see a contemporary opera and hate it than sit through a mediocre “Bohème” (though this fall’s “Bohème” by the Madison Opera was quite excellent).

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

Modern opera is a gamble, both for the box office and for the musicians. Sometimes you find “Dead Man Walking.” And sometimes you don’t. I hope the next contemporary piece to grace the Capitol Theater stage is one for the ages, even if this one, well, wasn’t.

NOTE: For purposes of comparison, here are links to two other reviews of the Madison Opera’s production of “Little Women”:

This is the review John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/arts/stage/madison-opera-little-women/

And this is the review by Greg Hettmansberger, who writes for Madison Magazine and now has his own blog WhatGregSays as well as monthly appearances on WISC-TV:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2016/02/06/madison-opera-stands-tall-for-little-women/

And here is a  link to an interview with Mark Adamo:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/02/03/classical-music-it-always-starts-from-the-singing-line-composer-and-librettist-mark-adamo-talks-about-creating-his-popular-opera-little-women-which-will-be-perfo/


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