The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear gives shout-outs to guest University Opera director David Ronis – who should be hired permanent full-time by the UW-Madison — and longtime Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra conductor Andrew Sewell because they both know how to make Mozart our contemporary. Plus, here are the results of The Final Forte.

March 26, 2015
7 Comments

ALERTS:

1) In case you don’t already know them, here are the results of last night’s Final Forte: First Prize went to violinist Julian Rhee; Second Prize went to pianist Vivian Wilhelms; and Honorable Mentions went to harpist Maya Pierick and pianist Isabella Wu.

Here is a link to a complete story about the high school concerto competition:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/03/23/classical-music-education-this-wednesday-night-the-annual-the-final-round-of-the-bolz-young-artist-concerto-competition-with-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-will-be-broadcast-live-on-wisconsin-public/

Final Forte 2015 4 finalists

2) This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison at 900 University Bay Drive, will feature soprano Consuelo Sanudo (below) and pianist Jeff Gibbens who will perform music by Henri Duparc, Claude Debussy, Arnold Schoenberg and Franz Schubert.

Consuela Sanudo

By Jacob Stockinger

It has really  been a busy past couple of weeks, with so many concerts that The Ear couldn’t even preview all of them. So it’s time to catch up and offer some critical appraisals of what I heard.

Let me begin with some background.

The supremely gifted, articulate and critically acclaimed American pianist Jeremy Denk, who has performed two solo recitals in Madison for the Wisconsin Union Theater, is fond of saying the he strives to make music sound as radical today as it was when it was first composed and first heard.

There is wisdom in that approach, which balances out the other great movement of the 20th-century that opened up our ears to another kind of difference. I am referring to the use of period instruments and historically informed performance practices to recapture how the music originally sounded.

But lately I had two examples that showed me just how exciting such an established “museum” composer as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below)  can be if made to sound and look contemporary and radical to our modern ears without going backwards.

Mozart old 1782

The two examples I have in mind are from recent performances of late works, when Mozart was in full command of his art: The opera “The Magic Flute” as presented by University Opera under the guest stage director David Ronis, who hails from New York City and teaches at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College and the City University of New York as well as at Hofstra University; and the well-known penultimate Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550, as performed by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell.

THE MAGIC FLUTE

The award-winning David Ronis did several things to The Magic Flute that The Ear  really liked and found effective.

He made some judicious cuts in an otherwise overlong work.

He used surtitles for the German text.

He used spoken contemporary vernacular English for the dialogue. That not only made the opera understandable, but also lent drive to push it along and give it momentum as well as contemporaneity.

Most of all, Ronis also used cinematic Bollywood-like dance gestures and choreography (below, in photos by Michael R. Anderson) – along with the bright fusion of East-West hybrid costumes and sets that added such movement and energy,  color and humor, to the score.

I mean, don’t we see enough of opera singers just standing still, arms outstretched, with only their mouths moving?

Dress rehearsal for The Magic Flute

Of course, some people and critics did not like the changes, and found them downright treasonous and disrespectful or just plain wrong.

Dress rehearsal for The Magic Flute

Dress rehearsal for The Magic Flute

Silly them. The Ear says the updating worked just fine. Great art is there to experiment with, not just depict. Art lives in time. It is why director Peter Sellars is such a forceful and creative influence in the world of classical music. If only classical music could be less classical and more musical! Entertainment is nothing to be ashamed of. It is, after all, why the performing arts exist.

I also think the changes are one reason why there were four sold-out performances -– not just the usual three -– and why I saw so many young people in the audience. It was, in short, a fun production.

To my eyes and ears, this production — coupled with his production of Benjamin Britten‘s “Albert Herring” in the fall — showed what a smart move it would be to hire David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke DeLalio) full-time to lead the University Opera. He clearly knows how to get the best out of students, has a very personal artistic vision and is willing to shake things up – which both we and The Great Artists such as Mozart can use.

David Ronis color CR  Luke DeLalio

THE BIG G-MINOR SYMPHONY

As for the Mozart symphony – the big late one in G minor not the little  early one — it was just part of an outstanding concert turned in by Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with the impressive guest cellist Amit Peled (below) and his unbelievably resonant cello that belonged to and was played by Pablo Casals. Together, man and instrument justifiably brought down the house.

Amit Peled playing

But other parts of the program, which included works by Frank Bridge and David Popper, should not be overlooked or underestimated.

Conductor Andrew Sewell (below) has long demonstrated his ability to work with such Classical-era composers as Franz Joseph Haydn and Mozart as well as Franz Schubert and Ludwig van Beethoven. And here, in a very familiar work, you could hear why.

andrewsewell

While Mozart was one of music’s great melodists, Sewell’s interpretation emphasized tempo, rhythm and repetitive motifs even as he brought out the various voices, counterpoint and melodic lines.

This Mozart had drive and pep. (You can hear the familiar first movement, with an interesting abstract graph profile, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

In fact, the third Minuet movement sounded downright modern – a kind of percussive precursor to minimalism.

This was exciting Mozart, far from the genteel and primly elegant and blandly pleasant Mozart that The Ear refers to as Music-Box Mozart.

Andrew Sewell BW

This playing by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) was precise and dramatic. It made you sit up and take notice. It engaged you.

It also showed why Mozart was such an exception to his age –- why his contemporaries and those who followed him so revered his talent and music. He was a radical in his day but we often overlook how he pushed the boundaries of music closer to modernism.

WCO lobby

So The Ear offers shout-outs and hearty thanks to both David Ronis and Andrew Sewell for helping us to hear Mozart once again as a contemporary — not just a statically beautiful blast from the past.

Both cases proved to be an exciting and unforgettable experience. The Ear hopes we are in for more of them, particularly in Mozart’s symphonies and piano concertos.

Did you hear the opera and/or the symphony?

What did you think of the approaches to Mozart?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Opera Student Showcase concert this Sunday afternoon will introduce David Ronis as the new director of University Opera and spotlight University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate soprano Shannon Prickett.

September 12, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a the press release for the University Opera’s Student Showcase that will take place this coming Sunday afternoon and will preview the talent and productions of the upcoming season:

“A concert of favorite melodies by Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi and others -– mostly operatic but one clearly comic -– will be presented by students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music’s opera program.

The concert will take place this Sunday afternoon, September 14, at 3 p.m. in the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s Landmark Auditorium (below) at 900 University Bay Drive.

FUS1jake

Directing the concert and this year’s University Opera program will be David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke DeLalio), currently on leave from the Aaron Copland School of Music at City University of New York, and Hofstra University. He is serving as the interim successor to longtime director William Farlow, who retired from the University of Wisconsin-Madison last spring. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the work that the versatile Ronis recently did at Queens College with an early music version of Luigi Rossi’s opera “Orfeo.”)

Here is a link to a press release, issued by the UW-Madison School of Music when David Ronis was chosen from a nationwide search last spring, with Ronis’ impressive background:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2014/07/11/school-of-music-announces-david-ronis-as-visiting-director-of-opera/

David Ronis color CR  Luke DeLalio

Most of the singers will appear in this year’s productions of Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring this fall and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute in the spring.

Here is a link to information about the upcoming season of the University Opera:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/opera/

But one singer -– soprano Shannon Prickett (below top) – is an alumna returning from her current work as Resident Artist at the Minnesota Opera.

While in Madison from 2011 to 2013 and working on her Master’s of Music degree, Prickett performed lead parts in Puccini’s La Bohème, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Luigi Cherubini’s Medea, Pietro Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz, and Verdi’s Requiem.

In the Showcase concert, she will sing arias from Verdi’s I Lombardi, Giacomo Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, and a dramatic duet from Verdi’s Aïda with new mezzo-soprano doctoral student Jessica Kasinski, below bottom. (The Ear has no word on specific works to be performed.)

Shannon Prickett head shot

Jessica Kasinski

Other singers will take on arias by Mozart, Donizetti, Bellini, Richard Strauss and even Flanders and Swann: That number requires good humor as well as pianistic skill from the accompanist, and will provide a treat for fans of the multi-talented and critically acclaimed Thomas Kasdorf (below), another graduate of the UW-Madison.

Thomas Kasdorf

The concert is a benefit for the University Opera that sponsored by Opera Props, which supports the University Opera. Admission is a contribution of $25 per person, $10 for students. A reception follows.


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