The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: As we say goodbye to summer, YOU MUST HEAR THIS: Irish composer Joan Trimble’s “Pastorale” homage to the summery French composer Francis Poulenc

August 26, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

One week from today is Labor Day.

So it is time to start saying goodbye to summer and hello to fall — even though the autumnal equinox won’t arrive until Monday, Sept. 23, at 2:50 a.m. CDT.

The Ear’s favorite summertime composer is the French master Francis Poulenc (below), whose accessible and tuneful music possesses in abundance that Gallic sense of lightness and lyricism, of wit and charm, of modern Mozartean classicism and clarity — complete with trills and ornaments — that seems so appropriate to the summer season.

But then recently on Wisconsin Public Radio, The Ear heard for the first time something inspired by Poulenc that he thinks many of you will appreciate, especially during the transition between the seasons.

It is, appropriately, a 2-1/2 minute “Pastorale” for two  pianos – a form Poulenc himself used in his most famous piano concerto — by the underplayed and little known Irish 20th-century composer and pianist Joan Trimble (below). And it has many of the same qualities that distinguish Poulenc.

Here is a link to a Wikipedia entry with more about Trimble: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Trimble

You can hear her homage to Poulenc in the YouTube video, from a Marco Polo CD distributed by Naxos Records, that is below.

Here’s hoping you enjoy it.

If you have a reaction, positive or negative, please share it.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The opera world is divided over accusations of sexual harassment against superstar tenor Placido Domingo. Here is how John DeMain reacted. How do you react and what do you believe?

August 24, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

By now, you have probably heard about the allegations of sexual harassment recently made anonymously against the still-active superstar Spanish tenor Placido Domingo (below), 78, who holds the record for the most opening-night appearances at the Metropolitan Opera.

What you might not have heard is how divided the opera world is over those accusations, which are now being formally and independently investigated.

Much of that division falls along lines of Europe versus the United States. The former has so far not cancelled upcoming appearances while the latter was quick to. And Domingo has been defended by famed Russian soprano Anna Netrebko (below, with Domingo).

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, sexual misconduct and sexual assault continue to be perhaps the most controversial issues amid many similar or more serious criminal allegations against conductors James Levine, Charles Dutoit and Daniele Gatti as well as many teachers and orchestra players.

Perhaps the best account of the divided reactions came in a story from The New York Times. Here it is:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/18/arts/music/placido-domingo-opera-harassment.html

One sign of the difficulty in dealing with the situation can be found in the carefully worded, balanced and empathetic Facebook comment by maestro John DeMain, the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera.

DeMain has often worked with Domingo, perhaps most notably in the famous 1992 Concert for Planet Earth in Rio de Janeiro, which DeMain conducted. (You can hear Domingo singing an aria by Puccini and see DeMain conducting the orchestra in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Says DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad): “Thinking about the Placido Domingo controversy. While I’m not in a position to take sides in this very sad situation, I would just like to say that in my many interactions with this great tenor over many decades, I personally never witnessed him do anything that was inappropriate. He was always a kind and gentle person to me and my family. I wish him and his family well through this difficult time.”

Here is a link to DeMain’s Facebook page if you would like to read comments from others or leave one of your own: https://www.facebook.com/jldemain

How do you react to the accusations?

What do you believe should happen to Domingo?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: After a year recovering from an injury, Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang says he has become a more serious musician

August 11, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Chinese pianist Lang Lang (below) has long been popular, a best-selling superstar and one of the most bankable players in the business.

Yet such was his flamboyant showmanship and self-indulgence that many of his colleagues and critics did not take him very seriously. Many thought of him more as the Liberace of the classical concert stage.

But then a serious injury to his left arm, tendonitis from over-practicing and straining, forced Lang Lang to take a year off to recover.

During that time he married. He worked with young children and music students, even funding a new piano lab. And he released a new CD (“Piano Book”) of short pieces that he has loved since his student days. (You can see Lang Lang coaching a young pianist about a Mozart sonata that played a pivotal role in his life during a master class in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Lang Lang now says that during that recovery period he rethought everything about his career and has made some major changes from practicing to performing.

And what seems to have emerged, at age 37, is a new approach that emphasizes more seriousness and regularity coupled with greater respect for the music he plays.

Time will tell – in both live and recorded performances — how much has really changed in Lang Lang’s approach to making music.

Nonetheless, the dramatic change was recounted recently in a comprehensive story in The New York Times, which even goes back to trace the pianist’s career, including failures, from his early childhood (below) in China.

Read it and see what you think.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/24/arts/music/lang-lang-piano.html

Then tell us in the Comment section if it has changed how you think about Lang Lang.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The critically acclaimed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble performs a program of “Sanctuary” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon

July 31, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The two performances by the critically acclaimed Isthmus Vocal Ensemble (below) have become an annual summer tradition over the past 17 years, first under the direction of founder Scott MacPherson and since last year under its new artistic director, Michael McGaghie.

This summer, as usual, McGaghie (below, rehearsing) returned to Madison for 2-1/2 weeks of intense rehearsals and two a cappella concerts on this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

The program this year has the theme of “Sanctuary,” and focuses on refuge, salvation and hope.

The chorus will sing “Come to the Woods” by Jake Runestad, using texts taken from the journals of John Muir, the environmentalist who attended the UW-Madison (you can hear the work in the YouTube video at the bottom); and “Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing” by Herbert Howells. The concert also includes unspecified music by Stephen Paulus, Anton Bruckner, Dale Trumbore and Choi.

Admission is $20 for adults, $10 for students.

Here are more details:

Friday, August 2, at 7:30 p.m.

St. Luke’s Lutheran Church
7337 Hubbard Avenue
Middleton, WI 53562

Friday Tickets

Sunday, August 4, at 3 p.m.

Christ Presbyterian Church
944 East Gorham Street
Madison, WI  53703

Sunday Tickets

For more information about the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble, including how to join it, how to support it, how to see a list of past concerts and hear excerpts, go to: https://www.isthmusvocalensemble.org


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS – the “Meditation” for solo piano by Mexican composer Carlos Chavez

July 27, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The solo piano repertoire is huge, but The Ear knows quite a lot of it.

Yet here is a piece he had never heard, live or recorded, until he finally did hear it this week on Wisconsin Public Radio.

It is the five-minute ”Meditacion” – or Meditation – by the 20th-century Mexican composer Carlos Chavez (below, in a photo by Paul Strand).

It is played beautifully and sensitively in a live performance by the unjustly neglected Mexican virtuoso pianist Jorge Federico Osorio (below), and was recorded — perhaps as an encore, given the applause at the end — with the Piano Concerto by Chavez for the nonprofit Cedille Records in Chicago and distributed by Naxos Records.

Listen to it and let The Ear know what you think.

Does anyone else hear echoes of the eccentric French composer Erik Satie in the music? Shades of other pieces or composers?

Do you like the Chavez piece?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Is a local Dvorak revival in the making? This Friday night, Christopher Taylor joins the Willy Street Chamber Players to perform the famed Piano Quintet

July 25, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Is a major local revival of music by Antonin Dvorak (below) in the making?

Many signs point to: Yes!

At the end of the past season, maestro John DeMain of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which has also performed the Symphony No. 9 “From the New World,” announced that he was on board as a fan when he told the audiences about the upcoming season, which features the MSO performing Dvorak’s dramatic Symphony No. 7 in D Minor and the large-scale Requiem.

In recent seasons, we have also seen the Madison Opera stage the opera “Rusalka”; the Middleton Community Orchestra perform the Symphony No. 6; the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet and the Ancora String Quartet perform the miniatures “Cypresses”; the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra play some “Slavonic Dances”; and more.

What’s not to like about Dvorak? He was one of music’s greatest melodists, something that Johannes Brahms envied and a reason why Brahms helped promote his music. And his use of folk music – Czech, Native American and African-American – is captivating as well as multicultural.

Here is a link to more about Dvorak in his Wikipedia entry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anton%C3%ADn_Dvořák

As audience responses prove, there is so much Dvorak to be fond of.

But one of the greatest works will be performed this Friday night, July 26, at 6 p.m. in the Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street.

That is when the Willy Street Chamber Players, in the final concert of their fifth summer series, will perform the famed Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 81 (1887). (You can hear the engaging opening movement, played by pianist Evgeny Kissin and the Emerson String Quartet, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Willys will team up with the acclaimed UW-Madison virtuoso pianist and Van Cliburn Competition bronze medalist Christopher Taylor, who is a gifted chamber musician as well as a superb soloist.

Filling out the program are Three Nocturnes (1924) by Ernest Bloch and “Voodoo Dolls” (2008) by Jessie Montgomery.

Admission is $15 with a reception afterwards.

Dvorak, who has never fallen out of favor but who seems to have sparked a new enthusiasm, composed a lot.

In addition to the nine symphonies, the string serenade and the piano quintet, there is a lot of chamber music, including string quartets, piano trios, piano quartets; concertos for the violin, cello and piano; and many miniatures, including the lovely “Songs My Mother Taught Me.” There is also some solo piano music that has largely been neglected.

Do you love Dvorak’s music?

What about it do you especially like?

Do you have a favorite Dvorak work?

Let us know what it is, with a YouTube link if possible, in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Here are the winners of the seventh annual Handel Aria Competition held Friday night before a record audience

June 9, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Co-founders Orange and Dean Schroeder have sent the following announcement about the winners of the seventh annual Handel Aria Competition that was held Friday night in Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music:

The seventh annual Handel Aria Competition was a joyous evening of arias! We had a record audience — we don’t have the final numbers yet, but we ran out of 240 printed ballots and figure there were 250 to 300 people present — despite a widespread power outage on the near west side and severe parking challenges.

The winners, accompanied by the Madison Bach Musicians, were: Australian soprano Morgan Balfour, first prize (below center, in a photo by Tom Miller); soprano Emily Yocum Black, second prize (below right); and bass-baritone Jonathan Woody, third prize and audience favorite (below left).

We are excited to know that Morgan will be singing in St. George’s Church, Hanover Square, next spring thanks to the London Handel Festival. In addition, she will receive $1,500 in cash and – like all finalists — $500 toward travel costs for competing. Other awards were $1,000 for second place, $750 for third place and $500 for Audience Favorite.

Here are the arias, from opera and oratorios, sung by the three winners:

Morgan Balfour: “Spietati, io vi giurai” from “Rodelinda” and “Mean as he was, he is my brother now … Author of Peace” from “Saul”

Emily Yocum Black: “Art thou not Zaphnath? … Prophetic raptures swell my breast” from “Joseph and His Brethren” and “Credete al mio dolore” from “Alcina.”

Jonathan Woody: “Oh memory, still bitter to my soul! … Opprest with never-ceasing grief” from “Belshazzar” and “Why do the nations so furiously rage together?” from “Messiah.”

Schroeder says: “The seven finalists (below in a photo by Tom Miller) were all excellent, presenting a real challenge for audience members picking their favorite as well as for the judges.” (For names and more biographical information about the finalists and judges, go to https://handelariacompetition.com

Adds Schroeder: “The caliber of applicants gets better and better every year. This year everybody was amazing and one of the judges said he was blown away by the quality of the competition. Yet we still try to make the sure that the competition is friendly and most collegial, not cutthroat.”

All the performances from all the finalists as well as the winners were video recorded and, after they are processed, will be posted on YouTube in about a month. (The Ear will let you know when they are available.)

You can also see and hear most of the finalists from the past six years on YouTube now; and more information about the past six years of the competition is on its home website at https://handelariacompetition.com/past-competitions

Did you go to the competition?

Did you agree with the judges about the winners and the Audience Award?

What did you think of the annual competition?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: In Dvorak’s “Rusalka,” the Madison Opera demonstrated how beautiful music and convincing stagecraft can overcome a weak story

May 1, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Opera Guy for this blog – Larry Wells – took in last weekend’s production by the Madison Opera of “Rusalka” and filed the following review. Performance photos are by James Gill.

By Larry Wells

I thoroughly enjoyed attending the Sunday afternoon performance of Antonin Dvorak’s opera “Rusalka” presented by Madison Opera in Overture Hall. Until then I had only heard recordings of this lushly orchestrated work.

The opera is a fairy tale involving a rather dithering water sprite (below right) who does not follow her father’s wise advice not to pursue a mortal prince (below left) and to stick to her own kind. She ignores his advice, and this leads to her eventual unhappiness and to the death of her prince.

That she also becomes mute when in the presence of the prince adds to everyone’s woes, and it seems a peculiar device to have the lead soprano not be able to sing for most of the second act of the opera.

Her inability to communicate naturally leads to the prince’s frustration, and my companion suggested that she could simply have used paper and pencil to communicate. But since she had been brought up in a river, perhaps she never learned to read and write.

Nevertheless, common sense did not seem to inhabit either Rusalka or her prince. As my companion also pointed out, love isn’t always logical.

In any event, the production and the music made up for the libretto’s shortcomings.

The set featured beautiful projections, from the Minnesota Opera, of forest, water and woodlands during the first and third acts.

The second act took place at the prince’s palace. It appeared to be an International Style palace in the manner of architect Mies van de Rohe, which must have also been disconcerting for Rusalka. Nonetheless, the set was very striking and beautifully lit.

Tenor John Lindsey (below top) portrayed the prince and William Meinert (below bottom left, with Emily Birsan) was Rusalka’s father, a water goblin. Both sang well, although Lindsey had the distracting habit of casting his chin and eyes downward as he sang.


But the stage belonged to the women.

Emily Birsan (below) as Rusalka was a study in subtle shadings of her expressive soprano voice (below, singing the famous  aria “Song to the Moon”). She is a powerful singer and convincing actress who was engaging to watch and to hear.

Lindsay Ammann (below) as the sorceress Jezibaba was powerful in voice and in her command of the stage. Her third act aria was sensational, and her calling Rusalka a “empty little water bubble” was so apt it made the audience titter.

The villainous Foreign Princess portrayed by Karin Wolverton (below, standing over John Lindsey) seemed to be the only sensible character in the opera. She likewise commanded the stage and displayed a powerful voice with passionate commitment to her role.

Three water sprites – portrayed by Kirsten Larson, Saira Frank and Emily Secor (below, in order from left) – provided Rhine maiden-like commentary and gorgeous vocalizations despite having to wander around the stage at times seeming to be fascinated by twigs.

A shout-out goes to tenor Benjamin Liupaogo (below), still a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, who only sang a couple of lines but sang them very beautifully. He is someone to watch!

The Madison Symphony Orchestra was conducted by John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson). The strings and winds sounded particularly good that day, and DeMain brought out all of the interesting Bohemian folky gestures Dvorak included in the score. I found Dvorak’s orchestral score engaging throughout the performance. (You can hear the opening Overture in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Altogether it was charming afternoon of beautiful music, excellent singing and fetching staging of a strange tale.

Madison Opera has announced its upcoming season offerings, which are Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” (Nov. 1 and 3), Gregory Spears’ “Fellow Travelers” (here Feb. 7 and 9, it has already hit Chicago and Minneapolis and is slated for Tucson next season as well), and Jacques Offenbach’s comic “Orpheus in the Underworld” (April 17 and 19).

It seems a very interesting season, and subscription tickets will go on sale in early May. For more information, go to: https://www.madisonopera.org


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Classical music: Here are short takes about some chamber music, orchestral music and choral music concerts for this week, starting TODAY

April 7, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

It is another very busy week in Madison for classical music. Here are some short takes about various concerts, starting today and running through the week.

TODAY

Today — Sunday, April 7 — at 12:30 p.m., longtime chamber music partners UW-Madison cellist Parry Karp and UW-Oshkosh pianist Eli Kalman (below) will perform a FREE all-French recital at the Chazen Museum of Art in Brittingham Gallery 3. The concert  is part of the regular monthly series Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen.

The concert will also be STREAMED LIVE starting at 12:30 p.m.

For a streaming portal and details about the program, go to:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/index.php?/events-calendar-demo/event/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen31/

TUESDAY

On Tuesday night, April 9, at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill, students in the UW-Madison Opera Workshop class perform a variety of scenes from opera and musical theater, staged and with piano accompaniment.

Sorry, but there are no details available about the composers, opera or scenes.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 10

On Wednesday night, April 10, at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School, 2100 Bristol Street, the largely amateur but critically acclaimed Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will perform.

The program, under guest conductor Kyle Knox, features the Symphony No. 2 in D Major by Ludwig van Beethoven and “The Wand of Youth” Suites by Sir Edward Elgar. (You can hear the opening of the Beethoven symphony in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. and the auditorium opens at 7 p.m.

A meet-and-greet reception follows the concert.

Tickets are $15 for the general public. Admission is FREE to students.

For more information, including how to purchase tickets in advance and how to support the orchestra, go to:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org/concert_information

FRIDAY

On Friday, April 12, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Chorale will perform a FREE concert under conductor Bruce Gladstone.

Sorry, no details are available about the program.

SATURDAY

On Saturday, April 13, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, a FREE concert by UW-Madison Combined Choirs will be performed. The event features the Masters Singers, the University Chorus and the Women’s Chorus (below).

Sorry, there are no details available about the program.


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Classical music: Acclaimed pianist Ya-Fei Chuang plays works by Schubert, Liszt and Ravel this Saturday night at Farley’s House of Pianos

April 4, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed pianist Ya-Fei Chuang (below) will return to Madison this weekend to perform a solo recital and give a master class for the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne Mall.

Advance tickets are $45 (students $10) or $50 at the door

You can purchase tickets at: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3499200

Service fees may apply. Tickets are also for sale at Farley’s House of Pianos by calling 608 271-2626. Student tickets can only be purchased online and are not available the day of the event.

An artist’s reception will follow the concert.

For more information, go to: https://salonpianoseries.org

RECITAL

The recital by Chuang, who appears at festivals and concert halls around the world, is this Saturday night, April 6, 7:30 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos.

She comes with high praise from the famed Alfred Brendel, who said: “If you want to listen to Chopin and Liszt with different ears, Ya-Fei Chuang’s ecstatic performances cannot leave you cold, and her pianism is staggering.”

The program will include:

Maurice Ravel – Sonatine (1905) –  Moderate; Menuet; Animated

Franz Schubert – “Moments Musicaux” (Musical Moments), D. 780/Op. 94

    No. 2 in A-flat Major (1827);   No. 3 in F Minor (1823) – played by        Vladimir Horowitz in the YouTube video at the bottom;  No. 6 in A-flat Major (1824)

Franz Liszt – “Reminiscences of Bellini’s ‘Norma,’” S. 394 (1831)

INTERMISSION

Maurice Ravel – “Jeux d’eau” (Fountain, or Play of Water) (1901)

Franz Liszt – “Reminiscences of Mozart’s ‘Don Juan,’” S. 418 (1841)

MASTER CLASS

On this Sunday afternoon, April 7, at 2 p.m., Ya-Fei Chuang will teach a master class at Farley’s House of Pianos, where she will instruct local students.

This is a FREE event that the public is invited to observe.

The master class program will include:

  1. Ludwig van Beethoven – Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor (”Pathetique”), Op. 13, Third Movement; performed by Angelina Chang whose teacher is Julie Chang
  2. Franz Liszt – “Liebestraum” (Dream of Love) No. 3 in A-flat Major “Notturno” (Nocturne); performed by Antonio Wu whose teacher is Shu-Ching Chuang
  3. Sergei Rachmaninov – Prelude Op. 3 No. 2, in C-sharp Minor; performed by Alexander Henderson whose teacher is Vlada Henderson

The master classes for the 2018-19 season are supported by the law firm of Boardman and Clark LLP.

This concert is supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional support from Jun and Sandra Lee.

Another year of exceptional artists is planned for the 2019-20 season. Subscribe to the series’ e-newsletter, and check the website and social media sites Instagram and Facebook for the season announcement in June.

For more information, go to: https://salonpianoseries.org

To become a sponsor of Salon Piano Series, contact Renee Farley. Salon Piano Series is a nonprofit organization founded to continue the tradition of intimate salon concerts, including solo recitals and chamber music with piano, featuring exceptional artists.


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