The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Soprano Sarah Brailey and nine UW-Madison cellists team up for the FREE concert of songs at Grace Presents this Saturday at noon

September 20, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday, Sept. 21, at noon, a FREE one-hour program in the Grace Presents series will feature soprano Sarah Brailey (below) in “My Loyal Heart,” a recital of songs by Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, Guillaume de Machaut, Dmitri Shostakovich and Heitor Villa-Lobos.

The concert is at Grace Episcopal Church (below), located downtown on the Capitol Square at 116 West Washington Avenue.

Brailey is an acclaimed professional singer who often tours and who is doing graduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

Brailey will be joined by friends and colleagues. They include UW baritone Paul Rowe and members of the UW Madison Cello Ensemble, featuring nine local Madison cellists who include Grace Presents program coordinator James Waldo. (Below is a summer cello choir at the UW-Madison from several years ago.)

The works will be sung in Russian, Portuguese, and both modern and medieval French.

Here is an introduction from Waldo:

“It is often said that the cello is the instrument most like the human voice.

“My Loyal Heart,” devotes an entire program to music for soprano Sarah Brailey and cello from the 14th century to the 20th century.

“It opens with Arvo Pärt’s L’abbé Agathon about the legend of Father Agathon from the 4th century book “The Desert Fathers,” followed by a new arrangement by Brailey for soprano and cello trio of Guillaume de Machaut’s elegant love song Se quanque amours puet donner.

“This intimately ardent piece is followed by a more tragic love story, that of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, in the opening movement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok.

“The program continues in Russian with Sir John Tavener’s powerful and darkly spiritual Akhmatova Songs with poetry by Russian-Soviet Modernist poet, Anna Akhmatova.

“The concert concludes with the hauntingly beautiful and famous first movement and the playful concluding dance of Bachianas Brasileiras (Brazilian Bach Suites) No.for soprano and eight cellos by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. (You can hear the Villa-Lobos aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“Text and translations will be provided.

“This program will not be performed anywhere else in Madison.”


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Classical music: The talented new director of the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble sets the acclaimed and still impressive group on a new path with mixed results and hopeful expectations

August 9, 2018
6 Comments

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. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

The Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (IVE, below) is a well-established part of Madison’s musical summers. It offers dedicated choral singers a chance for intensive rehearsal preparation of highly accomplished choral music, and has delivered some truly memorable events over the years.

Of its concerts this year, I caught the second performance on Sunday afternoon. The choir itself doesn’t need to be shown off by now, but it was the choir’s chance to show off its new conductor in his first appearance here.

Michael McGaghie (below) is that new conductor. He is very plainly a brilliant choral technician who knows how to make a choir sound wonderful. (For more about McGaghie, who is the Director of Choral Activities at Macalester Collge in St. Paul and who leads the Harvard Glee Club Alumni Chorus in Cambridge, Mass., go to: https://www.isthmusvocalensemble.org/artisticdirector/)

That he did throughout the program. The IVE — 69 singers strong — certainly responded with an infectious enthusiasm that was also communicated to the large audience that filled the Christ Presbyterian Church.  The concert was certainly a feast of great choral singing.

But what about the music?

To begin with, the actual music amounted to no more than about an hour’s worth. McGaghie planned the program as a progress of emotional moods, and he introduced each piece himself.

But what were the contents? McGaghie largely turned his back on the centuries of great choral music, the kind that his predecessor Scott MacPherson explored so ambitiously.

There were, at the beginning, two examples of that, motets by Thomas Tallis of the 16th century and Heinrich Schütz of the 17th century.

There was also an interesting nugget from the Russian composer and conductor Nikolai Golovanov (below), an early work of his (1917), setting the Lord’s Prayer (Otche naš) In a style departing from the previous two centuries of great Russian Orthodox choral writing.

Beyond those, however, the remaining nine items in the program — and the encore — were entirely by recent composers, mostly living and mostly American. These were his introductory calling cards, and so they invite scrutiny.

Ours is not an age of great, idiomatic choral writing, and composers go their own ways variously. Many of them rely upon a kind of chordal declamation with little sense of line or full-bodied texture.

Some pieces I don’t think I would want to hear again, and a couple I would not have wanted to hear even the first time.

An example of the latter is a piece about sirens and sailors by Chinese-American Chen Yi (below top), a collage of weird choral sounds but no musical content recognizable to any but Chinese ears.

Another was a loudly trashy adaptation of a Civil Rights “freedom song” by Jeffrey Douma (below bottom), plus the gesture to multicultural triviality in a Philippine folksong arrangement.

Three of the items came with piano accompaniment. In The Whole Sea in Motion by Dale Trumbore (below top) — which uses a text from Anne Brontë — the piano gave an underlying ripple to support declamatory, non-linear writing.

In Eternity by Donald Martino (below), the pleasantly lyrical choral writing really didn’t need the piano at all.  And that part was much too prominent against Morten Lauridsen’s nicely polyphonic, and quite self-sufficient, choral texture in “Sure on This Shining Night” that treated James Agee’s famous poem. (You can hear the Lauridsen work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

There were certainly some among these contemporary items that I found quite enjoyable.

In Ophelia, a setting the account of that woman’s death in Hamlet, Jocelyn Hagen (below top) was overly concerned with story-telling, but the work certainly contained some lovely writing. O Radiant Dawn by Scottish master James MacMillan (below bottom) was a beautifully sonorous tribute to Catholic liturgical tradition.

What does this conducting debut point to for the future?

McGaghie can create the most splendid choral beauty — though often at the sacrifice of clear diction. On the basis of this program, it looks like he could now focus the IVE on lots of short contemporary pieces, rather than on the vast traditional literature.

We will have to see.


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Classical music: UW oboist Aaron Hill performs world premieres and little known composers in a FREE recital Sunday afternoon

October 20, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This is Homecoming weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and it is busy on many counts, including several classical music concerts in the city on Sunday afternoon.

But one of the more intriguing is a FREE recital at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall by UW-Madison Professor Aaron Hill (below), who teaches oboe and also performs in the Wingra Woodwind Quintet.

Hill will be joined by collaborative pianist Daniel Fung (below), who is also a vocal coach at the Mead Witter School of Music at the UW-Madison.

Particularly noteworthy is the number of world premieres and relatively unknown contemporary composers on the program.

Here is the program:

“Poem,” for oboe and piano (1953) by Marina Dranishnikova (1929-1994, below). (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Oboe Sonata (1947) by Jean Coulthard (1908-2000)

  1. Gently Flowing
  2. Sicilienne
  3. Allegro

Intermission

* Soliloquies (2013) by Andre Myers (b. 1973)

  1. To be or not to be
  2. There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance
  3. In the Month of May
  4. Spring Discourse

   * world premiere performance

* After Manchester (2017) Aaron Hill and Michael Slon (b. 1982 and 1970, respectively) * world premiere performance

Four Personalities (2007) Alyssa Morris (b. 1984)

  1. Yellow
  2. White
  3. Blue
  4. Red

Here are some program notes by Aaron Hill:

“This program highlights five different ways to program previously unfamiliar music, as explained below.

“Poem” by Marina Dranishnikova came to me through our local community. Oliver Cardona, currently a junior music major at UW-Madison, initially brought it to my attention. The work was discovered and edited by my predecessor, Professor Marc Fink (below), during his travels in Russia.

I first heard the Oboe Sonata by Jean Coulthard (below) at the 2017 International Double Reed Society conference at Lawrence University  in Appleton, Wis.

Charles Hamann, the principal oboist of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, edited and recorded it as part of a large project to bring international attention to masterpieces by Canadian composers.

Andre Myers (below) attended the University of Michigan with me and we first became acquainted when I performed one of his orchestral works. His beautiful writing for English horn started our friendship and 15 years later, he wrote his Soliloquies for me.

The first two are based on famous scenes from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The third is based on a poem by Minnesota’s first poet laureate, Robert Bly, which will be read aloud from the stage. The final movement is inspired by a dream vision he had of centaurs playing in a meadow.

“After Manchester” was originally a free improvisation I recorded and posted to social media in the wake of the terror attack at Ariana Grande’s concert on June 4, 2017.

Later in the summer, Professor Michael Slon (below), the Director of Choral Activities at the University of Virginia, transcribed my improvisation and wrote a piano part to transform it into a piece of chamber music. The work was completed just days before the violent events in Charlottesville.

Professor Alyssa Morris (below) currently teaches oboe at Kansas State University and her compositions have become widely performed as standard literature for oboists in recent years.

She wrote “Four Personalities” to perform in her own undergraduate recital at Brigham Young University and I first heard it while searching for oboe music on YouTube. The piece is based on the Hartmann Personality Test.

In her words, the colors correspond to the following types:

Yellow: Yellow is fun-loving. The joy that comes from doing something just for the sake of doing it is what motivates and drives yellow.

White: White is a peacekeeper. White is kind, adaptable, and a good listener. Though motivated by peace, white struggles with indecisiveness. 

Blue: Blue brings great gifts of service, loyalty, sincerity, and thoughtfulness. Intimacy, creating relationships, and having purpose is what motivates and drives blue.

Red: Motivated by power. Red is aggressive and assertive. Red is visionary, confident, and proactive. 


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Classical music: Madison Opera’s FREE “Opera in the Park” turns 15 and takes place this Saturday night

July 18, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following press release about one of the fun cultural highlights of the summer, which was started by the late Ann Stanke 15 years ago.

In The Ear’s experience, the whole event is a kind of light opera in itself, with food and amusements as well as community social interactions and of course great music that is beautifully performed.

Madison Opera’s FREE Opera in the Park will celebrate its 15th year on this Saturday, July 23, at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side.

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 2 James Gill

The annual free concert of opera and Broadway favorites closes the company’s fantastic 2015-16 season and provides an enticing preview of the upcoming 2016-17 season.

A Madison summer tradition that attracts over 15,000 people every year, Opera in the Park brings the best of opera and Broadway to the community, creating an enchanting evening of music under the stars.

Opera in the Park 2016 stars soprano Emily Birsan (below top), soprano Angela Brown (below second), tenor Scott Quinn (below third) and baritone Sidney Outlaw (below fourth).

Emily Birsan 2016

Angela Brown 2016

Scott Quinn

Sidney Outlaw

They are joined by the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the returning Gary Thor Wedow (below) instead of John DeMain, who is spending the summer guest conducting at the acclaimed Glimmerglass Festival in upper New York State.

gary wedow

The evening is hosted by Madison Opera’s General Director Kathryn Smith and WKOW TV’s 27 News Wake-Up Wisconsin anchor Brandon Taylor.

Opera in the Park is without question my favorite night of the year,” says Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill). “When you combine a live performance of beautiful music with thousands of people from across our community, all under a gorgeous night sky, you get the most important performance Madison Opera gives.

“I often brag to my colleagues around the country about our Opera in the Park, as it is so distinctly important in our community – not to mention having the highest per capita attendance of any such concert in the U.S.

“I am so proud that we are celebrating our 15th summer of this incredible event, and grateful to all who make it possible.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

Opera in the Park 2016 features arias and ensembles from Charles Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, which opens the 2016-17 season in November; Daniel Schnyder’s jazz-inspired Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, which will be performed in February; and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which will be performed in April.

In celebration of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, the concert will also offer selections from Shakespeare-based operas and musicals such as Hamlet, The Boys from Syracuse and Kiss Me, Kate.

shakespeare BW

Classic selections from Aida and Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi, The Pearl Fishers by Georges Bizet; Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin and more round out this spectacular evening, which always includes one number conducted by the audience with light sticks (below).

Opera in the Park 2014 light sticks

Garner Park is located at 333 South Rosa Road in Madison’s far west side. Parking is available in the CUNA Mutual Group and University Research Park lots.

Attendees are encouraged to bring picnics, blankets and chairs.

Alcohol is permitted but not sold in the park.

On the day of the concert, Garner Park will open at 7 a.m. Audience members may NOT leave items in the park prior to this time.

The rain date for Opera in the Park is Sunday, July 24, at 8 p.m.

Madison Opera is grateful to the major sustaining donors who support Opera in the Park not only this year, but have done so for many years, enabling the concert to reach this 15th anniversary: CUNA Mutual, the Berbeewalsh Foundation, the John and Carolyn Peterson Charitable Foundation, Full Compass Systems, University Research Park, Colony Brands, the MGE Foundation, and an Anonymous Friend.  

Opera in the Park 2016 is also generously sponsored by the Richard B. Anderson Family Foundation, BMO Harris Bank, Starion Financial, Wisconsin Bank & Trust, National Endowment for the Arts Wisconsin Arts Board, Dane Arts, the Evjue Foundation, and the Madison Arts Commission. WKOW, Isthmus, Madison Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, Triple M, Mix 105.1, and WOLX are media sponsors for this community event.

RELATED EVENT: PRELUDE DINNER AND FUNDRAISER

The Prelude Dinner (below) at Opera in the Park 2016 is at 6 p.m.

This annual fundraiser to benefit Opera in the Park helps support Madison Opera’s free gift to the community.

The event includes dinner catered by Upstairs Downstairs, VIP seating at the concert, a complimentary light stick and a reception with the artists following the performance.

Tickets are $135 per person or $1,000 for a table of eight. More information is available at www.madisonopera.org

Opera in Park donor dinner

 


Classical music: William Shakespeare died 400 years ago today. What is your favorite music inspired by The Bard, the greatest writer of all time?

April 23, 2016
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

He is generally acknowledged as the greatest writer of all time and of any culture.

The English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (below) died 400 years ago today – on April 23, 1616 — in his hometown of Stratford-on-Avon where he returned to after his stage career in London. He was 52 years old.

shakespeare BW

You may have heard that a touring copy of the rare 1623 First Folio edition of his plays, on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.,  will be on display this fall at the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dates of the exhibit are Nov. 3-Dec. 11, 2016.

Here is a link with more information:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/visit/events-calendar/event/first-folio-the-book-that-gave-us-shakespeare/

First Folio

And this summer’s Madison Early Music Festival will focus on Shakespeare and music of the Elizabethan Age when it is held from July 9 to July 16.

Here is more information about that event:

https://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/

Today, what The Ear wants to know is what is your favorite piece of music inspired by Shakespeare?

The Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Felix Mendelssohn? (The Ear loves that richly atmospheric work. You can hear it, complete with the braying of the “rude mechanical” human who is transformed into a donkey — in a YouTube video at the bottom)

The operas ”Otello” or “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi?

The opera versions of “Romeo and Juliet” by Hector Berlioz and Charles Gounod?

The incidental music to “Henry V,” “Hamlet” and “Richard III” by William Walton?

Franz Schubert’s song “Where is Sylvia”?

The “Romeo and Juliet” Fantasy Overture by Tchaikovsky?

Various setting of songs and ditties in Shakespeare’s plays?

If you need something to jog your memory about possible choices, here is a link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Music_based_on_works_by_William_Shakespeare

Leave your choice, with a YouTube link if possible, in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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