The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: New Orleans seeks to once again become an American opera capital with an emphasis on diversity

May 31, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

When you think of opera in America, chances are good that you think of New York City with the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera; the Lyric Opera of Chicago; the Houston Grand Opera; the Santa Fe Opera; and countless other opera companies in many major cities.

And when you think of New Orleans, you understandably think of jazz.

But the truth is that for a long time, New Orleans was an American capital for opera, more important than many of the other cities mentioned above.

Consider the fact that the first opera performed in the United States was performed in New Orleans in 1796. And that at one point, New Orleans was home to five opera companies.

Plus, the opera that was performed there in the past brought racial, cultural and gender diversity to an art form that often lacked it and was largely Euro-centric. (You can hear the company sing “We’re Goin’ Around” from ragtime great Scott Joplin‘s opera “Treemonisha” in the YouTube video at the bottom,)

Now some singers and others (below) have formed an organization – OperaCreole — with the aim of correcting racism and restoring New Orleans’ reputation for opera,  especially that of the many African-American and Creole opera composers who were native to New Orleans.

A fine story, with an illuminating interview, recently appeared on NPR (National Public Radio).

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/05/28/530085480/a-new-orleans-company-shines-a-light-on-operas-diverse-history

Another excellent story, with more focus on repertoire and history, appeared in The New Yorker magazine:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/a-small-step-toward-correcting-the-overwhelming-whiteness-of-opera

And here is a link to OperaCreole’s own website with more information about the company and its productions:

http://www.operacreole.com


Classical music: Globe-trotting conductor Edo de Waart bids farewell to Madison and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra this Sunday afternoon at the Wisconsin Union Theater with music by Mozart, Bloch and Elgar

May 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Music director and conductor Edo de Waart is coming to the end of his widely praised eight-year tenure at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, after which he will become a conductor laureate of the MSO.

The busy and energetic 75-year-old de Waart (below, in a photo by Jesse Willems) started  his career as a assistant principal oboist of the Concertgebouw and rose to become an acclaimed symphony and opera conductor. Currently, he is also the music director of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. In the past, he held major posts in Hong Kong, San Francisco, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Santa Fe, New York, Houston, Sydney, Rotterdam and Amsterdam among many others.

For more on de Waart, go to his Wikipedia entry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edo_de_Waart

Unless they go to Milwaukee on the following weekend — Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 26-28 — to hear de Waart conduct Gustav Mahler’s mammoth Symphony No. 3 as his final farewell, listeners in the Madison area will likely have their last chance to hear the formidable de Waart and the accomplished Milwaukee players (below, with concertmaster Frank Almond on the left) this coming Sunday afternoon.

At 2:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater, de Waart and the MSO will perform the Overture to the opera “Don Giovanni,” K. 527, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Ernest Bloch’s “Schlomo: A Hebraic Rhapsody” with MSO principal cellist Susan Babini (below); and Sir Edward Elgar’s Symphony No. 1, Op. 55.

There will also be a free pre-concert lecture at 1:30 p.m. by Randal Swiggum.

Tickets run from $15 to $49. For more information, including ticket prices and purchasing outlets, audiovisual links and links to reviews and background stories, go to:

https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/milwaukee-symphony-orchestra/

The Ear has always been impressed not only with the quality of de Waart’s conducting, but also with his choice of soloists and his creative approach to programming. He has fond memories of other performances in Madison by the MSO, which used to tour here regularly.

The distinguished de Waart, a native of the Netherlands, has enjoyed critical acclaim in his international career across Europe, Asia and North America. For a while, this acclaimed world-class musician who has made so many award-winning recordings and performed so many guest stints around the world, was even a neighbor who lived in Middleton, a suburb of Madison, where his wife is from.

Plus, de Waart has a fine philosophy of making music and leading an orchestra, as you can hear in the YouTube video below that was made when he first took over the reins of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra:


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra celebrates Valentine’s Day this weekend with a varied program about love and the superb Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova playing Beethoven

February 8, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

ALERT: TUESDAY is the last day for the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s special sale — two tickets for the price of one — for its Valentine’s Day concerts coming up this weekend. Read more about the players and program below.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following press release from the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below). To be honest, he cares less about the Valentine’s Day tie-ins – some of which seem tenuous – than about hearing the Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova in the Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The Ear had heard all the of the Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano played by Ibragimova, with Belgian pianist Cedric Tiberghien, and thinks they rank right at the top of recorded versions. Plus, they are live!

She is clearly something very special, so The Ear says: Don’t miss her. (You can hear Alina Ibragimova and her forceful but subtle style — perfectly suited to Beethoven — in the first movement of Beethoven’s famous “Kreutzer” Sonata in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Now on to the overview, written under the headline:

“Music, the food of love” permeates Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Valentine’s Weekend Concerts on Feb. 12, 13 and 14

Cupid

Love’s attractions and dilemmas infuse the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Valentine’s weekend concerts Feb. 12, 13 and 14. They feature the Madison debut of Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova in Overture Hall.

Guest conductor Daniel Hege will lead the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and substitute for music director John DeMain. (NOTE: John DeMain is in Washington, D.C., conducting a production of Kurt Weill‘s “Lost in the Stars” for the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It opens next week.)

Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers takes musical form in Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s instantly recognizable Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture.

Next, Maurice Ravel’s lush Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 depicts lovers Daphnis and Chloe reuniting at daybreak. That is followed by a Bacchanalian dance.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s hugely influential Romantic-era Violin Concerto brings the concert to a thrilling close with technical fireworks.

The concerts are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on this Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Born in Russia, the young violinist Alina Ibragimova (below) rapidly established herself as a first-rate soloist and chamber musician with the world’s foremost ensembles. Britain’s The Guardian newspaper called her “one of the most technically gifted and charismatic instrumentalists of the age.” A highly flexible and adaptable musician, Ibragimova is equally at home on modern and baroque period instruments, and frequently tours as both soloist and director. She was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artist Award in 2010.

alina ibragimova

The concerts cover three different periods of music.

The program begins with the late Romantic period with the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (below). The work taps into the great Shakespearean play, contrasting the rivalry between the Capulet and Montague families, with the passionate music of the second theme clearly expressing the feelings of the two young lovers.

Tchaikovsky 1

The Impressionistic period is represented the sensuous Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 by Maurice Ravel (below). It recounts the stirring fifth-century BCE Greek story of Daphnis and Chloe, who were abandoned as children and brought up by shepherds. The two fall in love, but Chloe is abducted by pirates. After Daphnis rescues Chloe, the couple pantomimes the tale of Pan wooing the nymph Syrinx as the sun rises. Ravel’s score originally accompanied a ballet premiered by the Ballets Russes in Paris in 1912.

ravel

Finally, the early Romantic period is featured with the technically challenging Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven (below top) which premiered in 1806. A work of beauty, the concerto did not become popular until several decades later, thanks to the advocacy of the legendary violinist Joseph Joachim (below bottom). Beethoven’s only violin concerto, this work paved the way for the great 19th-century German violin concertos by Felix Mendelssohn, Max Bruch and Johannes Brahms.

Beethoven big

Joseph Joachim

Known for his novel interpretations of standard repertoire, Colorado native Daniel Hege (below) is Music Director and Conductor of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and a frequent guest conductor of orchestras throughout the United States including the Houston, Detroit, Seattle and Indianapolis symphonies.

Syracuse Symphony Orchestra

One hour before each performance, Randal Swiggum (below), artistic director of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, will lead a FREE 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

Randal Swiggum conducting BW

More background on the music can also be found in the Program Notes by MSO trombonist Michael Allsen at: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/ibragimova

Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available at http://www.madisonsymphony.org/ibragimova and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734.

For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

Major funding for the February concerts is provided by Irving and Dorothy Levy Family Foundation, Inc., Johnson Bank, and Cyrena and Lee Pondrom. Additional funding is provided by John A. Johnson Foundation, a component fund of the Madison Community Foundation, Gary and Lynn Mecklenburg, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).


Classical music Q&A: Stage director Tara Faircloth talks about her staging of Beethoven’s only opera “Fidelio.” The Madison Opera performs it this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

November 17, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are the hot topics of an old opera that is celebrating its bicentennial this year.

When you look around the world and see the struggle in fighting terrorism, religious intolerance and political tyranny as well as the difficult and thwarted stirrings of democracy in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, “Fidelio” — the only opera composed by Ludwig van Beethoven (below) — seems a timely and even inspired choice to stage.

Beethoven big

That is exactly what the Madison Opera will do in Overture Hall of the Overture Center this Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. The opera will be sung in German with English supertitles.

Single tickets are $18-$125. Call (608) 258-4141 or visit the Overture Center box office.

Here is a link to more information, including a cast list and information about the production, which is based on the one done by the Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/fidelio/

Fidelio Set John Grigaitis Michigan Opera Theatre

A Madison Opera staged premiere, “Fidelio” is “a passionate ode to freedom, and the triumph of love over tyranny,” according to a press release from the Madison Opera.

“To rescue her husband, a political prisoner, the noblewoman Leonore (below, played by Alexandra LoBianco) disguises herself as a man and works at the prison where she believes her husband is held. Beethoven contrasts the evil of Don Pizarro, who has ordered his enemy imprisoned and starved, with the inner strength and bravery that enables Leonore to rescue her husband.

“Ranging from breathtaking arias to stunning choral music, Beethoven’s score is truly sublime, with an ever-building dramatic intensity that leaves audiences exhilarated. The famous “Prisoners’ Chorus” is one of the most beautiful choral tributes to freedom ever written, and one of the reasons Fidelio has resonated across the centuries.

Fidelio Alexandra LoBianco Leonore

“Madison Opera performed Fidelio in concert in November 1986, but this is the first time the company has presented the opera fully-staged. Sung in German with German dialogue and projected English translations, Fidelio is the only opera Beethoven ever wrote, premiering in its final form in 1814.

“Fidelio is a truly great opera,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s General Director. “It has both light and dark moments, with real emotion underlying the intense drama. Above all, the score is a masterpiece from one of classical music’s greatest composers.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

“Fidelio” also marks the start of Madison Opera’s 10th season in Overture Hall, whose exceptional acoustics have been a primary factor in the company’s growth and success.

“It is absolutely thrilling for me to finally have a chance to conduct Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the Madison Opera’s Artistic Director and conductor who is also the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. “I have loved this music passionately for years, and can’t wait to perform this great work in the acoustic splendor of Overture Hall. We have a thrilling cast of singers, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, all up to the demands of the mighty Beethoven.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Pre-opera talks will be hosted by Kathryn Smith one hour prior to each performance.

Here is a background story, with more interviews, written by Mike Muckian that appeared in the Wisconsin Gazette.

http://www.wisconsingazette.com/music/fidelio-beethovens-struggle-madison-operas-reward.html

And here is an email Q&A that stage director that Tara Faircloth (below), who is making her Madison Opera debut, granted to The Ear:

Fidelio Tara Faircloth

Can you briefly introduce yourself, with some background and current activities as well as future projects and plans?

A Georgia native, I make my home in Houston, Texas, in a 1935 Art & Crafts bungalow that I am slowly renovating and restoring. I work primarily in opera, and take special pleasure in my work with young people: I am a semi-regular director at Wolf Trap Opera, and the dramatic coach for the fine singers in the Houston Grand Opera Studio.

Some of my most beloved projects have been a beautiful (if I do say so!) production of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at Wolf Trap, a Dido & Aeneas with Houston’s Mercury Baroque in collaboration with the Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, and a very recent production of Claudio Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno di Ulisse at Rice University. I am very much looking forward to a new production of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at the Arizona Opera, and my first Le Nozze di Figaro, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, at the Atlanta Opera.

I like to create productions that are whimsical and humorous with intense moments of emotional connection.

How do you situate Beethoven’s “Fidelio” among other major opera and opera composers? What makes it special?

Fidelio is Beethoven’s only opera, a work that he re-wrote three times. It has been called a “secular oratorio,” and it is full of the passion that typifies so much of Beethoven’s work.

When listening to Beethoven’s music, I personally feel as if the score can barely contain all of the emotion he is trying to express, that it is stretched to its absolute limit, and somehow there is an underlying tension, a sense that if it were possible, he would want you to feel even more than he has been able to write down.

What is your overall concept of the opera? Do you see it as having to do with the Enlightenment and political movement toward democracy?

Fidelio has been subject to a multitude of interpretations since its inception. In many ways, the score is a blank slate: the characters are not described in great detail, there is no mention in the score of the exact political situation at hand, and even Florestan’s “crime” against Pizarro is not identified explicitly. Instead we have a story of brutal revenge versus great love: a universally appealing theme.

With its dream of a government free of tyranny, and the inherent worth of the individual man, Fidelio certainly has a very healthy dose of Enlightenment principles.

However, in many ways it may be seen as ushering in Romantic era ideals. It is full of sweeping emotional moments: perhaps the most famous is the Prisoners’ Chorus “O welche Lust” (at bottom in a YouTube video), which begins with an ecstatic appreciation of the beauty of a single breath of fresh air.

The fact that Beethoven gave the most beautiful music in the entire opera to a chorus of common prisoners shows us, I think, his belief that our connection to a higher power and our longing for freedom is inherent and universal to every man.

Does Beethoven’s opera hold lessons for today about current events?

As a director, I am not really one to look for lessons in our literature. Instead, I hope to engage our audience in a very human drama, to make them FEEL something and to connect with them. I think that experiencing music and drama in this way makes us more empathetic and open to other human beings, and that can only make the world a better place.

This is your debut in Madison. Do have impressions of the city, the opera and orchestra, either firsthand or through others?

I travel a lot for my work, and every time I have mentioned I will be in Madison, people simply gush about what a lovely place it is. In addition to the charming beauty of the city, I’ve noticed there seems to be a big focus on beer and cheese. So, basically it is heaven.

What you would you like to add or say?

Fidelio is an opera that is rarely performed. It takes massive forces: large orchestra, large chorus, and very large voices. I think we have quite a group assembled here, and hope your reading audience will take advantage of the opportunity to hear the work of one of the world’s most beloved composers.

 


Classical music: This week brings FREE concerts of wind music and new music, including works by faculty composer Laura Schwendinger, to the UW-Madison School of Music.

November 3, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week brings FREE concerts of wind music and new music, including two works by UW-Madison faculty composer Laura Schwendinger (below) to the UW-Madison School of Music.

Here are details:

UW WIND ENSEMBLE CHAMBER WINDS

On Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Wind Ensemble Band and the Chamber Winds (below top) perform a FREE concert under the direction of Scott Teeple (below) and a graduate student.

UW Wind Ensemble performance

Scott Teeple

The Wind Ensemble is the premier wind/percussion ensemble in the UW-Madison School of Music. Its repertoire varies from classical wind compositions to contemporary works.

The Wind Ensemble actively commissions new works from world-renowned composers, often performing with internationally acclaimed soloists and guest conductors.  This program features an ear-catching smorgasbord of chamber works for mixed winds.

The program includes Old Wine in New Bottles by Gordon Jacob with Jacob Klingbeil, graduate conductor.

La Creation Du Monde by Darius Milhaud (below):

darius milhaud

Funeral Music for Queen Mary by Steven Stucky (below):

Steve Stucky

Good Soldier Schweik Suite by Robert Kurka (below):

robert kurka

NEW MUSIC and A WORLD PREMIERE

On Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m., new music — including two works by award-winning UW-Madison professor Laura Schwendinger (below) — will be presented in a FREE concert.

Schwendinger,_Composer

Performers are the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (below) – which is directed by Schwendinger – and guest artist Vicennium Void.

Contemporary Chamber Ensemble

Vicennium Void, in collaboration with the UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, presents a concert featuring Christopher Janwong McKiggan (at bottom in a YouTube video), Geoffrey Herd, Leah Gastler, Kevin Downs, and UW clarinetist Kai-Ju Ho.

Here is the program:

Song for Andrew                        Laura Schwendinger

Sunyata                                        Narong Prangcharoen

Cantos for Slava                         Augusta Read Thomas

Incorporeal Spaces*                 Christopher Walczak (School of Music alumnus) (*world premiere)

Secret Alchemy                           Pierre Jalbert

White Granite                             Joan Tower

Also included in Laura Schwendinger’s Wet Ink, which was premiered at the Bennington Chamber Music Conference and as featured in the New York Times.

Here is some background from the UW School of Music website on guest artist Vicennium Void:

Vicennium Void (below and at bottom in a YouTube video) is a unique new music ensemble committed to commissioning and performing new works at the highest level, while maintaining a repertoire of contemporary masterpieces. The ensemble focuses on music composed during the last 20 years in addition to pieces that are being composed right now specifically for Vicennium Void.

Both internationally renowned composers as well as up-and-coming composers are represented in the group’s repertoire, providing an exciting mixture of programming.

The core ensemble consists of four musicians with solo and chamber music careers that span the globe – from North America and Latin America, to Europe and Asia. Among the four members, they have performed in famous concert halls across the world such as Carnegie, Wigmore in London, and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw.

The ensemble’s piano quartet formation allows for a variety in programming, from quartets to piano trios, string trios and duos, which provides for exceptionally versatile collaborations with composers.

Based in Houston, Texas, Vicennium Void presents a concert series at venues around Houston, combined with national and international touring and recording.

Members include pianist Christopher Janwong McKiggan; violinist Geoffrey Herd; violist Leah Gastler, and cellist Kevin Downs.

Use this link to listen to the group on SoundCloud:

Listen to Vicennium Void on SoundCloud. 

Vicennium Void wide

 


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