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 FM. 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 program opened with a rarely performed symphony, No. 30 in D Major, K. 202, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart did not muster in this score anything like the ideas he delivered in his symphonies on either side of this one.
Still, it is an engaging piece, and maestro Sewell always shows great sympathy for the Austrian Classical-era composers of the late 18th century, so the performance was nicely molded.
The guest soloist this time was Croatian-born guitarist Ana Vidovic (below). She was originally scheduled to play the Second Guitar Concerto by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, but for some reason she switched late on to the more substantial Concierto de Aranjuez by the 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo.
Unfortunately, Vidovic followed other guitarists of today who feel they must fortify their performances with electronic amplification, so she brought her own rig with her. The result was a boomy, hollow sound, completely artificial, pitted in fake balance against the natural world of the orchestral writing that was rendered, by the way, with charm and delicacy.
The composer (below) was very careful about not allowing the orchestra to overwhelm the intimate guitar, and generations of guitar players have been able to perform this and parallel concertos without benefit of sonic hype.
Alas, the combination of technology with egotism! Vidovic is obviously a musician of genuine artistry, but she quite sabotaged her playing by use of this six-string howitzer. And the knobs were still on through an encore, a trivial Cavatina by one Stanley Meyer.
The evening was richly redeemed by the main work. Sewell has, in recent years, been working his way into the symphonies of the 19th century, late Romantic Austrian composer Anton Bruckner—a composer usually tackled by large orchestras. But he has brought off the first two numbered symphonies with aplomb, and now was the turn of the Third.
This is a work with a complex history of versions and revisions. Sewell bravely chose to use the 1874 revision of the original 1873 version, rather than the ill-fated revision of 1877 or the once-standard bowdlerization of 1889.
Sewell could command only 20 string players, but they proved quite sufficient, even with the occasional divisions of the violins. The reduced lushness resulting allowed inner parts to come through, and the rest of the orchestra played magnificently. Sewell understands Bruckner’s individual rhetoric, with its stop-and-start pacings and dramatic shifts between tremendous power and great delicacy.
Sewell (below) is indeed a born Bruckner conductor. The second movement in particular I have never heard played so eloquently. (You can hear the second movement of the 1874 edition in the YouTube video at the bottom.) I don’t know if Sewell plans to probe still further into Bruckner’s symphonies, but I am ready to follow him eagerly if he does.
Far from being put off by the often-maligned music of Bruckner, the very large audience gave the performance a justly deserved standing ovation. This was, I think, a genuine landmark in the WCO’s history.
By Jacob Stockinger
This Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) opens the second half of its season with a promising concert that has both sunny lyricism and dark drama.
Tickets run $10 to $80. Here is a link to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s website with information about the concert, the soloist and how to get tickets:
As usual, WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) has created a program that mixes music of different moods from different eras.
The guest artist is classical guitarist Ana Vidovic (below top), who performed with the WCO two years ago to critical and audience acclaim.
This time Vidovic will perform the popular “Concierto de Aranjuez” by the 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo (below bottom), who took inspiration from Baroque music for this work. (You can hear the gorgeously tuneful slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Jazz great trumpeter Miles Davis also used to play the slow movement from the Rodrigo concerto.
The concert will open with the Symphony No. 30 in D Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and will close with the Symphony No. 3 in D minor by the Austrian late Romantic composer Anton Bruckner (below), who is often coupled with Gustav Mahler.
For many listeners, the big draw is the Bruckner symphony since Bruckner does not get heard often here.
So The Ear thought it might be useful to read comments about Bruckner by the world-famous maestro Daniel Barenboim, who was the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for many years.
This week, Barenboim (below top conducting and below bottom in an informal portrait photo by Andrea Gjestvang for The New York Times) is leading the Staatskapelle Berlin in a complete cycle of Bruckner symphonies — coupled with Mozart piano concertos played and conducted by Barenboim himself from the keyboard — in Carnegie Hall in New York City. He also recently recorded all the Bruckner symphonies with the same orchestra. And just yesterday he got rave review from The New York Times for the first two Bruckner-Mozart concerts.
Here is a link to the interview and story in The New York Times:
ALERT: Edgewood College will present its 89th Annual Christmas Concerts tonight at 7 p.m. and Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.
Now expanded to two performances, the holiday concert features the Edgewood College choirs and Concert Band, along with audience sing-alongs, prelude music by the Guitar Ensemble, and a post-concert reception featuring the Jazz Ensemble.
By Jacob Stockinger
Classical music meets old media and new media this weekend through opera and chamber music.
This Saturday marks the beginning of the LIVE RADIO broadcasts of operas from the Metropolitan Opera (below) in New York City. This will be the 86th season for the radio broadcasts, which educated and entertained generations of opera lovers before there were DVDs, streaming and the “Live in HD From the Met” broadcasts to movie theaters.
The performances will be carried locally on Wisconsin Public Radio, WERN-FM 88.7. This Saturday, the starting time for Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” with Russian superstar soprano Anna Netrebko (below, in a photo by Richard Termine for The New York Times), is 11:30 CST. Other operas will have different starting times, depending their length.
This season runs from Dec. 3-May 15.
Radio has certain strengths, The Ear thinks. For one, it allows the listeners to focus on the music, to be less distracted or less enriched – depending on your point of view – by sets, costumes, lighting, the physicality of the acting and other stagecraft that is left to the imagination.
This season, there will be lots of standard fare including: Verdi’s “La Traviata” and “Aida”; Puccini’s “La Boheme”; Bizet’s “Carmen”; Beethoven’s “Fidelio”; Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and “The Flying Dutchman”; Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” and “Salome”; and Mozart’s “Idomeneo.”
But you can also hear the new music and less frequently staged operas. They include the 2000 opera “L’amour de loin” (Love From Afar) by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, which will receive its Metropolitan Opera premiere next week, on Dec. 10.
Here is a link to the complete season along with links to information about the various productions. Starting times are Eastern Standard Time, so deduct an hour for Central Standard Time or a different amount for your time zone:
On this Sunday afternoon, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), longtime artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will wrap up the first semester of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” which used to air weekly on Wisconsin Public Radio but now is presented once a month, on the first Sunday of the month, directly by the museum.
The program this Sunday features the “Italian Serenade” by Hugo Wolf; the String Quartet No. 3 in F Major by Dmitri Shostakovich; and the String Quartet in A-Flat Major, Op. 105, by Antonin Dvorak.
The FREE concert takes place from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery No. 3 of the Chazen Museum of Art and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Donors to the museum can reserve seats. Concerts by the Pro Arte Quartet, kind of the house quartet of the museum, are usually “sold out.”
But the concert can also be streamed live via computer or smart phone by clicking on the arrow in the photo and using the portal on the following website:
You might also want to arrive early or stay late to see the historic and rare First Folio edition (below) of the plays by William Shakespeare that is on display at the Chazen Museum through Dec. 11 to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard.
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features Shannon Farley, viola, with Chris Allen, guitar; Leah King and Jason Kutz, piano; Elspeth Stalter Clouse and Ela Mowinski, violin; Leslie Damaso, mezzo-soprano; and Morgan Walsh, cello. They will perform the Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81, by Antonin Dvorak; Three Songs for Mezzo-soprano, viola and piano by Frank Bridge; “Beau Soir” (Beautiful Evening) for guitar and viola by Claude Debussy; and a Romance for violin by Amy Beach as arranged for viola and piano. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
Can the past help us understand and weather the present time with its conflicts and chaos?
In fact her latest album, for the Erato-Warner label, of arias from Baroque operas from the 17th and 18th centuries is dedicated to that proposition. The album’s title is “In War and Peace: Harmony Through Music” (below).
It includes arias from opera by George Frideric Handel (one of which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom), Henry Purcell, Niccolo Jommelli, Leonardo Leo and Claudio Monteverdi, and it features two world premiere recordings as well as familiar works.
She boils much of her viewpoint down to one question: In the widest of chaos, how can you find peace?
Sure seems timely, given foreign wars and domestic political strife.
Here is a link with the interview and some fetching music:
Listen to it.
See what you think.
Then let the rest of us know what you think, and whether you agree or disagree, and whether you have other works that come to mind.
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features acoustic guitarists Helen Avakian and Dave Irwin in music by Ralph Towner, Giberto Gil and Helen Avakian. The concert takes place from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a link with many more details about the performances, the play, the cast and tickets:
Stage director Doug Scholz-Carlson (below), the artistic director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival who has directed “Romeo and Juliet” as both an opera and a play, agreed to an email interview with The Ear about the differences:
You have directed “Romeo and Juliet” as both a play and an opera. How do the two experiences differ, and what are your most favorite and least favorite parts of doing each?
The opera is based closely on the play, so much of what is essential remains true for both versions.
The biggest difference for me is that the opera focuses on the emotional heart of the love story. Thanks to the music by Gounod (below), the audience experiences what it feels like to be young, impulsive and in love.
The music can reach our emotions directly, so that the opera becomes a truly personal experience for the audience. I don’t think you can see the opera and not find yourself transported to that time in your life when you first fell in love. Romeo and Juliet sing a moving duet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Because of the important role of the chorus, the opera also gives the audience the sense of the entire community that surrounds the young people. We see the tragedy through the eyes of the adults in the families who are unable, or unwilling, to help their children grow up.
The play by Shakespeare offers more subtlety in the journey of Romeo and Juliet’s relationship and more context for the adults in their lives. While the opera offers a huge emotional experience through the two main characters, the play creates more nuances in the relationships between many individuals in the story.
In our production, I hope audiences will discover that we have added back many of these relationships through visual storytelling.
What should audiences know about how Gounod’s opera differs from Shakespeare’s play? Do you have a personal preference between the two and why?
I don’t have a preference. I truly love them both for different reasons.
I love the wordplay in the tragedy by Shakespeare (below). Each character is sketched clearly and specifically through the way they use language. We see in the language why Romeo and Juliet find the perfect match in each other. Even smaller characters like the servant Peter have a full life in the play.
The play has a relentless energy. There are so many times in the story that things could turn out well — and so many ways in which the two lovers might never have met. You come away from the play with a profound sense that the combination of events that make up our lives is, in a way, a miracle.
Through Gounod’s music, the opera delivers an emotional experience that can’t be duplicated in any other way in the theater.
I’d be tempted to draw the distinction that the play appeals to the head while the opera appeals to the heart — but that would be unfair to both. Both the play and the opera are a complete experience. They are both profound ways to experience a timeless story.
What else would you like to say about this production in specific or about “Romeo and Juliet” in general?
We keep telling and retelling the story of Romeo and Juliet because it plays out our worst fears. What happens when what we hate becomes more important than what we love? I imagine we’ve all been asking ourselves that question given the current political environment.
Neither the opera nor the play ever explains why the Capulets hate the Montagues.
It doesn’t matter. Both families allow their hatred of each other to become more important than their love for their children. The Capulets and Montagues pay a terrible price to learn that lesson, but it is a lesson we all need to learn over and over again.
By Jacob Stockinger
This Friday, the weekly Friday Noon Musicales will start a new season at the First Unitarian Society of Madison (below), 900 University Bay Drive, in the near west side.
The FREE concerts take place in the historic Landmark Auditorium (below) of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House.
The concert runs from 12:15 p.m. to 1 p.m.
This week features guitarist Christopher Allen, violinist Shannon Farley and lutenist Doug Towne.
Sorry, but The Ear has no word about specific program or pieces.
By Jacob Stockinger
Whether it is conductors or orchestras, singers or instrumentalists, Americans have often been viewed as inferior to Europeans.
And that goes for modern instruments, not just those that are centuries old.
The violins are modern but some go back to the 19th century.
Now the American government – specifically, the Library of Congress – will raise $1.5 million to purchase the collection.
NPR, or National Public Radio, recently featured a terrific story about the phenomenon, which should help overcome any sense of cultural inferiority.
Here is a link:
Read it and see what you think.
Then let us know in the COMMENT section.
Does anyone else wonder about the quality of violins and string instruments made in Asia, in China and especially in Japan, which is the home of the Suzuki method that has trained so many string players?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
This coming Wednesday night at 7 p.m., on the downtown Capitol Square, marks the opening of what has been billed as “The Biggest Picnic of Summer” — the six annual outdoor summer Concerts on the Square (below) by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and guest soloists.
They are big because each concert, under the baton of WCO artistic director Andrew Sewell, last year averaged a weekly crowd of more than 42,000 people, up from 35,000 the previous year, according to the Capitol Police. (The highest was 50,000; the lowest 28,000.)
You should also know that this year the Concerts on The Square will include a generous — maybe, The Ear suspects, even an unprecedented — amount of classical music on June 29, July 6, July 17, July 27 and Aug. 3.
On the programs you will find music by Felix Mendelssohn, Joaquin Turina, Aaron Copland and Ottorino Resphighi (this Wednesday); by Leo Delibes, Peter Tchaikovsky (including the annual and traditional Fourth of July or Independence Day performance of his “1812 Overture”) and Jules Massenet (with famed local Metropolitan Opera singer, mezzo-soprano Kitt Reuter-Foss on July 6); by Paul Dukas, Jean Sibelius, Niels Gade and Antonin Dvorak (on July 13); Ludwig van Beethoven (July 27); Arthur Honegger and Peter Tchaikovsky (Aug. 3).
Here is a link with more information including links to tickets, rules about behavior and seating, and food options:
Even as it prepares for this summer’s six Concerts on the Square, which start Wednesday night, June 26, and run through August 3, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has announced its 2016-27 indoor Masterworks season of five classical concerts. It is an impressive lineup that features a local violist who has made it big, Vicki Powell, and the very young violin sensation Julian Rhee, who won the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Final Forte with a jaw-dropping reading of the Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, as well as a guitarist and duo-pianists.
Here is a link to more information:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement:
It will feature local classical and jazz musicians in the inspiring natural setting of the stately English Garden at Allen Centennial Garden at 620 Babcock Drive, on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the heart of Madison.
The concerts will take place on every other Sunday through Sept. 18 from 4 to 5:30 p.m. They are sponsored by the Friends of Allen Centennial Garden.
Attendees are encouraged to bring a blanket or lawn chair for these free concerts.
Families are welcome.
Established in 1989, Allen Centennial Garden is situated on 2.5 acres surrounding the historic landmarked “Dean’s Residence (below),” adjacent to the Lake Mendota Lakeshore Nature Preserve and path.
This public botanical garden is open to the public free of charge 365 days a year, dawn to dusk.
Although located on the UW-Madison campus, the garden is supported entirely by private funds. In 2013, the Friends of Allen Garden formed to enhance the educational and cultural mission of the gardens and to increase awareness of this “hidden gem” by expanding programming initiatives to better serve the public.
Summer Sundays in the Garden, one of many programs developed by the Friends, is the first public concert series at Allen Centennial Gardens, now in its 26th year.
Sponsored by the Friends, the series is supported by grants from the Madison Arts Commission, with additional support from the Wisconsin Arts Board; from Dane Arts, with funds from the Overture Foundation and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation; and from the Evjue Foundation of The Capital Times. In the event of inclement weather, concerts will be cancelled.
For more information, please visit www.allencentennialgarden.org
Summer Sundays in the Garden. Afternoon Concerts in the English Garden. June 26 – Sept. 18. 4–5:30 p.m.
June 26 – Johannes Wallmann’s Quartet West. Known as a “remarkable pianist and composer” (Downbeat Magazine) and “a truly international kind of cat” (Midwest Record), Johannes Wallmann, Director of Jazz Studies at UW-Madison, opens SUMMER SUNDAYS with a quartet of top-notch guest artists from Los Angeles and San Francisco to offer up a high-energy, imaginative, and infectious kickoff for the new summer concert series.
July 10 – Quartessence (below). One of Madison’s most often heard society quartets, award-winning Quartessence String Quartet brings a stylish sophistication to a wide range of repertoire including jazz, golden oldies, and imaginative covers of current rock and pop hits, from Bach to the Beatles, Puccini to Pops, Classics to Covers.
July 24 – Doug Brown Group. Acoustic jazz guitarist Doug Brown brings his infectious spirit and imagination to irrepressibly joyous, finely honed swing-era jazz standards.
Aug. 7 – Willy Street Chamber Players (below). Fun and sassy chamber music by one of Madison’s newest groups, bringing a fresh, imaginative take to classical music that is appealing to both lifelong classical music fans and newcomers to the genre. Expect some serious fun!
Aug. 21 – Clocks in Motion (bel0w). Breaking down barriers of a traditional concert performance, this groundbreaking percussion ensemble serves up virtuosic performances that include theater and art and consistently offer a joyous entertainment experience.
Sept. 4 – Harmonious Wail. Smoldering vocals laced among jazzy mandolin and guitar, Harmonious Wail offers an infectious blend of continental jazz, swing, gypsy music, and melodic vocals.
Sept. 18 – Paul Muench Quartet. Now firmly established in the Madison jazz scene, Paul Muench’s group offers up imaginative improvs and creative modern arrangements of timeless jazz standards.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today at 5:34 p.m. the Summer Solstice will happen. Summer officially arrives, and the days will start getting shorter while the nights will get longer.
Can that really be happening already?
Locally, the Summer Solstice will be marked TOMORROW, Tuesday, June 21, by the third annual Make Music Madison celebration.
The city-wide event features more than 400 FREE performances in over 100 venues. It relies on volunteers and costs about $55,000 – a lot less than the cost of one new traffic light, according to the website.
Both amateurs and professionals, both adults and young students, will perform.
And all different kinds of music will be played: classical, swing, pop, rock, bluegrass, country, folk, jazz, soul, blues, reggae, world – you name it.
Want to know more?
For general background, including how to support the events, who are its major sponsors and to see photos of past events, go to:
For a map and a listing of events and artists taking place tomorrow:
To find out by location, go to:
The web site also has search engines that allow you to find specific artists and venues.