The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Choral Project gives a concert of new music focusing on the social and political theme of “Privilege” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon

April 20, 2017
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features David Miller, trumpet; Amy Harr, cello; and Jane Peckham, piano. They will play music by Bach, Schmidt, Piazzolla, Honegger and Cooman. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

Call it activist beauty or beautiful activism.

It sure seems that political and social relevance is making a comeback in the arts during an era in which inequality in race, gender, ethnicity, wealth, education, health, employment, immigration status and other issues loom larger and larger.

For the Madison Choral Project (below), for example, singing is about more than making music. It can also be about social justice.

Writes the Project:

“The Madison Choral Project believes that too often the classical music concert is simply a museum of the beautiful. Yet the worlds of theater, art and literature can so brilliantly combine beauty with material that provokes contemplation and understanding.

“Our world is increasingly complicated, and we seek to provide voices exploring important emotional and social concerns of today.”

That means that, in its two concerts this weekend, the Madison Choral Project will explore the concept of privilege in two performances this weekend.

The repertoire is all new music or contemporary music by living composers.

The Madison Choral Project, under the direction of Albert Pinsonneault (below), who formerly taught at Edgewood College and is now at Northwestern University, presents their 10th Project – Privilege – on this Friday night, April 21, at  8:30 p.m. (NOT 7:30, as originally announced, because of noise from a nearby football game); and on Sunday afternoon, April 23, at 3 p.m.

Both performances are at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, near Camp Randall Stadium.

General admission is $24 in advance and online; $28 at the door; and $10 for students either in advance or at the door. A limited number of preferred seats are offered for $40.

The Privilege concerts feature the work Privilege by Ted Hearne (b. 1982), which Hearne (below) writes “are settings of little texts questioning a contemporary privileged life (mine).”

With texts that range from the inequality of educational experiences, to the unfair playing field brought through race, the work sets thought-provoking texts in a beautiful and musically accessible way. (NOTE: You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The program also includes the world premiere of a new piece of music from Wisconsin composer and UW-Madison graduate D. Jasper Sussman (b. 1989, below), whose piece Work: “What choice?” is a contemplation of society’s confusing and hypocritical demands on women, their bodies and their appearance.

Sussman writes “I have never identified as a feminist. It’d be impossible, however, for me to remain ignorant of the clumsily uneven climate of our world, and certainly of this country. Work: “What Choice?” is an attempt at telling a common story shared by many.”

Included on the concert are two works of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang (b. 1957, below), whose new minimalism includes sonorities influenced by rock and popular music, but with layered repetition that gives the pieces a meditative and contemplative quality.

Also featured is When David Heard by Eric Whitacre (b. 1970, below), a gorgeous and devastating monologue contemplating the death of one’s child.

For more information and tickets, go to www.themcp.org

You can also go to a fine story in The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/with-privilege-madison-choral-project-sings-on-social-justice/article_1d4ecf46-3347-5950-a655-eb270449fb96.html

The Madison Choral Project is Wisconsin’s only fully professional choir. All the singers on stage are paid, professional musicians.


Classical music: Avery Fisher Hall will be renamed. Is there no end to the shameless egos of Big Money and the desperation of those who pursue it? What’s next? The Walmart States of America? Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to see the Madison Opera’s production of Beethoven’s “Fidelio,” which gets rave reviews.

November 23, 2014
4 Comments

ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center is your last chance to see the Madison Opera‘s production of Ludwig van Beethoven‘s only opera “Fidelio.” The production has drawn high praise from local critics. (Below, in a photo by James Gill, are the lead singers tenor Clay Hilley as the imprisoned Florestan and soprano Alexandra LoBianco as his wife Leonore.) For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

Here is a review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=44067&sid=39e0add1db8c192442a2b8defe5ff286 

And here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/November-2014/Fidelio-Rings-True/

Fidelio Production Stills

By Jacob Stockinger

It reads like something right out of a novel by Charles Dickens or Honore de Balzac or Emile Zola.

Did you hear about Avery Fisher Hall (below)? They want to rename it!!!!

Avery Fisher Hall

It needs major work and expensive upgrading.

The stakes only get higher and more expensive, of course. But Big Money is no doubt up to the challenge.

Some you may remember the comments I recently posted about the renaming of the Wisconsin Union Theater as Shannon Hall (below) because of generous donations. A plaque would have sufficed, like at Camp Randall Stadium

It shouldn’t be too hard for Big Money to follow the more modest and more respectable examples of local philanthropists Jerry Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland, who funded the Overture Center for the Arts without plastering their names all over it.

Shannon Hall UW-Madison

But no! The rich need to splash their names all over the buildings so that we honor wealth more than public service or history.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/classical-music-the-ear-offers-cheers-and-jeers-for-the-wisconsin-union-theaters-renovated-shannon-hall/

Well, now I see that a renovation of famed Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City is seeking some deep pockets by offering naming rights.

Or should I say “re-naming rights.”

Officials will even pay the Fisher family millions of dollars to allow the renaming of the legendary hall where so many great careers have started and been put on display for the public.

That’s tacky, and even outdoes the University of Wisconsin-Madison when it asked the Elvehjem (pronounced LVM) family if it could rename the Elvehjem Museum of Art to the Chazen Museum of Art.

The Ear didn’t like that, either. But at least the UW-Madison didn’t pay for the family’s permission, didn’t buy back the honor and then turn around and give it to someone else.

Maybe that is the reality of financing projects in today’s income disparity and wealth gap plus lower taxes on the rich that Trickle-Downers want to lower even more.

But it is nonetheless shameful.

What’s next? Avery Fisher Hall becomes David H. Koch Hall?

When do we become the Wal-Mart States of America?

Here is the story that appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/14/arts/music/lincoln-center-to-rename-avery-fisher-hall.html?_r=0

Tell us what you think of it.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Are super-high concert fees morally right or wrong? Do they contribute to the wealth gap and lack of young audiences? What can music consumers do?

October 24, 2014
19 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Are artist concert fees — like those charged by tenor Placido Domingo (below top), soprano Renee Fleming (below middle) and violinist Itzhak Perlman (below bottom) —  too high these days and too unaffordable for most American concert-goers?

FRENI

reneefleming

Itzhak Perlman close

What would Janet say?

Maybe that refrain could become the economic equivalent of What Would Jesus Say?

I am speaking of Janet Yellen (below), the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve who last week made headlines when she spoke out publicly against the widening wealth gap as being contrary to America’s historic democratic ideals.

Key Speakers At Seminars At The IMF & World Bank Annual Meetings

But let’s localize the issue.

By all accounts superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, along with pianist Kathryn Stott, turned in a terrific performance — his seventh — at the Wisconsin Union Theater last Saturday night.

The Ear didn’t go, but here is a rave review from the student newspaper The Badger Herald, which agrees with the word-of-mouth reviews I have heard:

http://badgerherald.com/artsetc/2014/10/20/yo-yo-ma-and-kathryn-scott-transcend-classical-music-norms-at-shannon-hall/#.VEfBQYeENUQ

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

And for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t buy tickets, the Wisconsin Union Theater even webcast the concert live and for free.

Still, with seats that sold for well over $100, The Ear got to wondering: Are really high artist fees morally right or wrong?

We all hear about the widening wealth gap, and especially about the astronomical pay given to CEOs versus their workers as compared to the same ratio several decades ago.

Well, what about well-known and in-demand concert artists?

If The Ear heard correctly, Yo-Yo Ma’s fee for that one-night performance was either $90,000 or $95,000 -– or about $42,500 or $45,000 an hour.

Can Yo-Yo Ma demand and get that extravagant fee in the so-called “free market” society with its corporate welfare and tax loopholes for the wealthy? Of course, he can — and he does. That is why he sold out the Wisconsin Union Theater.

But should he?

It makes one wonder.

Is Yo-Yo Ma really that much better as a cellist and musician -– and not just as a celebrity — than many other cellists, including MacArthur “genius grant” winner Alisa Weilerstein, Alban Gerhardt, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Steven Isserlis, Carter Brey, Joshua Roman and others? (You can hear Yo-Yo Ma’s interpretation of a movement from a solo cello suite by Johann Sebastian Bach in a  YouTube video — with over 11 million hits — at the bottom and decide if it is that much better than other cellists play it.)

Now I don’t mean to pick just on Yo-Yo Ma. I have gone to a half-dozen of his other performances here and I have met him and talked with him. He is without doubt a great musician, a fine human being and an exemplary humanitarian.

The problem that I am talking about transcends any single performer and applies to the whole profession.

Maybe at least part of the problem of attracting young audiences to classical music concerts can be placed right in the laps of the performing artists themselves.

When The Ear was young, he got to hear all sorts of great musical artists—including Leonard Bernstein, Arthur Rubinstein (below), Vladimir Horowitz, Van Cliburn, Itzhak Perlman, Rudolf Serkin, Isaac Stern, Emanuel Ax and others for quite affordable prices. Not that those artists didn’t live well -– but I doubt that they were paid the equivalent of $45,000 an hour.

artur rubinstein in moscow 1964

Maybe it is time for economic populism in the performing arts.

Fees like that exclude a lot of families from participating. Some fans might find it better and cheaper to hear a CD or download than go to a live concert.

Too many performing artists – opera stars come immediately to mind as a class — seem to have taken the same path toward justifying greed as movie stars, sports figures, rock stars and CEO’s who make out like bandits.

In short, can it be that classical musicians are helping to kill off classical music?

Smaller theaters like the Wisconsin Union Theater and even the Overture Center simply cannot book such well-known artists without charging a ridiculous amount of money for a seat – and at a time when many people of all ages just can’t afford it. It just adds to the Wealth Gap and the One Percent problem.

SO THE EAR WOULD LIKE TO ASK CONCERT ARTISTS: PLEASE ADJUST YOUR CONCERT FEES TO HELP SUSTAIN THE FUTURE OF YOUR ART.

Well, these are just some brain droppings.

The Ear wonders what you think of stratospheric artist fees?

Do they contribute to the wealth gap?

Do they hurt the popularity of the art form, especially younger generations?

Are they contributing to the decline of cultural literacy?

In short, are such high artist fees morally right or wrong?

And if wrong, what can we arts consumers do about it? Boycott certain artists until they become more reasonable in their fees?

Ask artist and management agencies to adjust the fees to make them more affordable?

Go to alternative concerts that are perfectly acceptable without star power and cost less or, like those at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, free?

Tell us what you think in a COMMENT.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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