The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What happens when Shakespeare and Benjamin Britten meet Andy Warhol and The Factory? The University Opera explores a new spin on an old tale

November 12, 2019
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ALERT: At 7:30 p.m. this Thursday night, Nov. 14 — the night before it opens the opera production below — the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, under conductor Oriol Sans, will perform a FREE concert in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall of the new Hamel Music Center, 740 University Avenue, next to the Chazen Museum of Art. The program offers Darius Milhaud’s “The Creation of the World,” Maurice Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite” and Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 101 “The Clock.”  

By Jacob Stockinger

The Big Event in classical music this week in Madison is the production by the University Opera of Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

It is a chance to see what happens when Shakespeare (below top) meets Britten (below bottom) through the lens of the Pop art icon Andy Warhol.

The three-hour production – with student singers and the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra under conductor Oriol Sans — will have three performances in Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill: this Friday night, Nov. 15, at 7:30; Sunday afternoon, Nov. 17, at 2 p.m.; and Tuesday night, Nov. 19, at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $25 for the general public; $20 for seniors; and $10 for students.

For more information about the production and how to obtain tickets, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-a-midsummer-nights-dream/2019-11-15/

For more information about the performers, the alternating student cast and a pre-performance panel discussion on Sunday, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/A-Midsummer-Nights-Dream-Media-release.pdf

And here are notes by director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) about the concept behind this novel production:

“When the artistic team for A Midsummer Night’s Dream met last spring, none of us expected that we would set Britten’s opera at The Factory, Andy Warhol’s workspace-cum-playspace.

“For my part, I wanted to find a way to tell this wonderful story that would be novel, engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking.

“I only had one wish: that we did a production that did not feature fairies sporting wings – a representation that, to me, just seemed old-fashioned and, frankly, tired.

“As we worked on the concept, we found that The Factory setting allowed us to see the show in a new, compelling light and truly evoked its spirit and themes. The elements of this “translation” easily and happily fell into place and now, six months later, here we are!

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream tells the intersecting stories of three groups of characters – Fairies, Lovers and Rustics – and its traditional locale is that of a forest, the domain of Oberon, the Fairy King. (You can hear the Act 1 “Welcome, Wanderer” duet with Puck and Oberon, played by countertenor David Daniels, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“In our production, the proverbial forest becomes The Factory, where our Oberon, inspired by Andy Warhol (below, in a photo from the Andy Warhol Museum), rules the roost. He oversees his world – his art, his business, and “his people.” He is part participant in his own story, as he plots to get even with Tytania, his queen and with whom he is at odds; and part voyeur-meddler, as he attempts to engineer the realignment of affections among the Lovers.

“Tytania, in our production, is loosely modeled on Warhol’s muse, Edie Sedgwick (below top), and Puck resembles Ondine (below bottom), one of the Warhol Superstars.

The Fairies become young women in the fashion or entertainment industries, regulars at The Factory; the Lovers, people who are employed there; and the Rustics, or “Rude Mechanicals,” blue-collar workers by day, who come together after hours to form an avant-garde theater troupe seeking their 15 minutes of fame.

“For all these people, The Factory (below, in a photo by Nat Finkelstein) is the center of the universe.  They all gravitate there and finally assemble for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta – in this setting, a rich art collector and his trophy girlfriend.

“Magic is an important element in Midsummer. In the realm of the fairies, Oberon makes frequent use of magical herbs and potions to achieve his objectives. In the celebrity art world of mid-1960s New York City, those translate into recreational drugs.

“The people who work in and gather at The Factory are also are involved in what could be called a type of magic – making art and surrounding themselves in it. They take photographs, create silk screen images, hang and arrange Pop art, and party at The Factory.

“Not only does this world of creative magic provide us with a beautiful way to tell the story of Midsummer, but it also becomes a metaphor for the “theatrical magic” created by Shakespeare and Britten, and integral to every production.

“We hope you enjoy taking this journey with us, seeing A Midsummer Night’s Dream in perhaps a new way that will entertain and delight your senses and, perhaps, challenge your brain a bit.”

 


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Classical music: How will Brexit affect classical music in Great Britain? Many musicians and audiences are preparing for the worst

August 16, 2018
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

London has long been a international hub of culture, with a special reputation as the  home base of many of the great musicians who perform regularly on the Continent.

But how will “Brexit” affect the future of classical music and classical musicians in Great Britain?

Some pretty prominent, active and knowledgeable musicians, including the pianist-conductors Vladimir Ashkenazy and Daniel Barenboim, think it will be for the worst.

One sign is that the European Youth Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Adamik, and in the YouTube video at the bottom), which receives a subsidy from the European Union, is moving from London to the city of Ferrara in Italy before Great Britain exits from the European Union.

A particular cause of concern is what kind of confused logistics will happen if visas are required for British groups to tour and perform on the Continent, something that apparently has opera houses especially worried.

A recent story goes into more detail, including charges from Brexit defenders that musicians and representatives of the culture industries in general are being alarmist.

Here is the story, published by The Independent in the United Kingdom and then reproduced in the United States in The New York Times: https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/features/brexit-classical-music-musicians-europe-vladimir-ashkenazy-daniel-barenboim-eu-a8483271.html

What do you think?

Leave your opinion in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Here are the Top 20 classical recordings of 2017 as chosen by famed radio station WQXR

December 14, 2017
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

As he has done in previous years, this year The Ear is offering various compendiums of the best classical recordings from the past year.

Such lists are, of course, subjective.

But many of the “judges” have a vast experience with classical music and are worth listening to and at least considering.

The lists can give you an idea of new artists and trends as well as of new releases of famous artists and tried-and-true repertoire.

So far, The Ear has offered the nominees for Grammy Awards. But that list is chosen by the industry.

Here is a link to that Grammy list:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/classical-music-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-2018-grammy-awards-they-make-a-great-holiday-gift-list-of-gives-and-gets/

The famed New York City radio station WQXR seems more objective and less commercial, although you will find well known veteran artists such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Evgeny Kissin mixed in with newcomers such as pianist Beatrice Rana (below).

The genres and periods are quite mixed too, going from early music to new music, from Johann Sebastian Bach to Philip Glass and Osvaldo Golijov.

Similarly, the list has familiar labels and small, relatively unknown labels.

The list could serve as a guide to what you want to give as a gift or what you want to receive as a gift.

But you can also take the list just as more information about the classical music scene, which is under-reported in the mainstream media.

In addition, each of the 20 selections features the CD album cover and a sound sample of the recording and a compact explanation of what makes the performance exceptional or outstanding.

Here is a link:

http://www.wqxr.org/story/best-classical-recordings-2017/

Hope you enjoy it.

Use the COMMENT section to let us know what you think and whether you agree or disagree with the choices.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players open their new season with three concerts this weekend that feature music by Chick Corea, Bruce Broughton, Alexander Arutiunian and others

September 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) officially begin their 2017-2018 season series with the theme “Journey” this coming weekend with a concert titled Departure on Saturday, Sept. 9, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 10, at 2 p.m.

However, the Oakwood Chamber Players will also present a special performance at Bos Meadery (below), 849 E. Washington Ave., on this Friday night, Sept. 8, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in a range of music choices that will include excerpts from the Departure concert along with a breadth of other styles of music. Donations will be accepted.

The two full-length concerts will both be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on the far west side of Madison near the West Towne Mall.

Guest artists pianist Joseph Ross, violist Sharon Tenhundfeld (below top) and violinist Maureen McCarty (below bottom) will join members of the Oakwood Chamber Players to launch their season.

Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks (no credit cards) at the door: $25 general admission, $20 seniors and $5 students.

For tickets and more information, go to www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com or call (608) 230-4316.

According to a press release, “Departure will explore composers’ musical journeys as influenced by shifts in their artistic lives.

“Just two years after the start of his huge success in the expanding world of jazz-fusion, with renowned hits such as “Spain,” American composer and pianist Chick Corea (below) wrote his Trio for flute, bassoon and piano in 1973.

“He created a fascinating blend — a classical style that both reflects his personal jazz-like fluidity at the keyboard but also transfers the sense of conversational-like interactions that occurs between players. (You can hear Chick Corea’s Trio in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“This succinct piece is infused with the composer’s essential and recognizable artistic voice. Corea bridges the boundary between genres in an artful and engaging way, creating a brief snapshot of two artistic worlds joined through the piece’s synergy.

“Academy Award-winning and Emmy award-winning film composer Bruce Broughton (below) has consistently contributed to the world of chamber music literature. Broughton’s successes in the film industry include Young Sherlock Holmes, Silverado and The Rescuers Down Under.

“His Primer for Malachi, for flute, clarinet, cello and piano, was written in anticipation of the birth of a grandchild in 1997. Through its five short movements the piece creates a programmatic feel. It begins with quiet introspection, progressing through each movement with increasing rhythmic and melodic intensity, peaking with an action-packed instrumental musical tag, and concluding by musically catching its breath, slowing in the final movement to calm and flowing lines, mirroring the opening effect.

“Known for his emotive melodies Armenian-Soviet pianist and composer Alexander Arutiunian wrote prolifically for orchestra, chamber music and film.

“Written in Armenia after spending several years in Moscow, the Concert Waltz for winds and piano is taken from his 1958 film score for the movie “About My Friend.” It is a wry waltz set in a minor key, and the composer infuses the familiar waltz dance form with a tongue-in-cheek sense of being on a slightly careening carousel. The piece sparkles with Armenian folk flavor and the energy is captivating.

“The Kaiserwaltz by Viennese composer Johann Strauss musically conjures up the grandeur of the ballroom. The piece was intended to symbolize ‘a toast of friendship’ between Germany and Austria. The waltz is full of upbeat musical declarations and graceful melodies.

“The Oakwood Chamber Players were pleased to discover that the piece had been reimagined from its full orchestral orchestration, written in 1889, to this delightful version, arranged in 1925 for chamber ensemble by Arnold Schoenberg (below). The grace of this music is refined and enduring.

“German composer and organist Max Reger’s perspective on compositional artistry was informed by the masters who came before him.

“However, perpetually fascinated by fugues, Reger (below) often wrote pieces that were very abstract. He worried about the lasting reputation of penning these kinds of ultra-academic compositions. He was an ardent admirer of Bach, Brahms and Beethoven and was very capable of writing a range of styles that were both accessible and rooted in the historic perspectives.

“In his Serenade for flute, violin, and viola, written just a year before his death, he sought to show the range of his compositional capabilities and to silence critics by leaving more approachable music for posterity. At this pivotal time he reached his goal ably, giving the performers an outstanding piece with nimble rhythms, memorable melodies, and the bright voicing of an upbeat sound palette.”

This is the first of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players’ 2017-2018 season series entitled Journey. Remaining concerts will take place on Nov. 26; Jan. 13 and 14; March 10 and 11; and May 19 and 20.

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.


Classical music education: Let us now praise K-12 music teachers as an elementary music teacher in Whitewater wins an award for Excellence in Music Education

May 31, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Memorial Day holiday is over and now we start winding down the academic year in public and private K-12 schools.

That makes it a great time to catch up with news that reminds us how important music education and education in the arts, humanities and liberal arts, can be to the development of the whole child or young person and to lifelong learning.

It helps us to realize that, despite what many legislators say, education should never be a trade school that provides vocational education or career preparation, and that education is not always all about the so-called STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – deemed so useful to business, industry and individual wealth accumulation. (You can hear educator Richard Gill give a popular TED Talk about the value of music education in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So here is open important reminder via a press release:

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and Ward-Brodt Music have awarded their 2016 Award for Excellence in Music Education to Whitewater music teacher Christine Hayes of Lincoln/LINCS Elementary School at a choir concert for grades 2-5.

The presentation was held on Tuesday, May 17, in the Whitewater High School Auditorium.

This annual award celebrates an educator who displays leadership, passion, dedication, and innovation within the music classroom, positively affecting the lives of his or her students and the community at large, and is designated for one outstanding music educator in southern Wisconsin.

The MSO and Ward-Brodt developed the award to recognize that cultivating the artistic growth of young students is one of the unique and challenging jobs for teachers in Wisconsin.

Christine Hayes (below) has dedicated her life to enriching young people and the communities around her through music education. In her 29 years of working in the Whitewater Unified School District and by contributing to music in her community in a variety of ways, she’s changed the lives of many students and her colleagues. She believes that “inspiring and challenging children today will lead to their embracing music for their lifetime.”

Christine Hayes

In the nominations by parents, teaching colleagues, church members, and school administrators, Hayes was described as “a power house of creative energy” who “encourages children to express their feelings through music.”

Her students at Lincoln/LINCS Elementary School, where she has spent the last 19 years, can take part in diverse musical experiences including world drumming, playing guitar and recorder, composing music, and singing in many languages. All of these experiences for children make her classroom “an exciting, musical adventure.”

She has also taught elementary and middle school band, middle school guitar, keyboards and general music.

A former colleague who nominated her wrote, “Mrs. Hayes leads by example by continuing to find ways to improve as an educator by constantly pursuing her own education. She recently completed a trip to Ghana in order to learn about their musical culture.”

In her own words, Hayes said, “My goal is for each student to imagine themselves in musical experiences, provide them authentic learning situations where they create, respond, perform and connect, then collaborate with those students to apply their knowledge and skills to discover their personal musical path.”

Outside the classroom, she founded an after-school orchestra where she volunteers her time as coordinator allowing children to enrich their music education. Currently in its eighth year, the Whitewater Unified School District Strings Program has touched the lives of many school children, with 72 students participating this past year, ranging from fourth grade to high school.

She is also a music leader in her community. Hayes has been serving as the Choir Director for the First United Methodist Church in Whitewater for the past 20 years and served on the board of directors of the Whitewater Arts Alliance for five years.

In her free time she plays clarinet with the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Community Band.

Hayes has also been deeply involved with developing Wisconsin state standards for music education by serving on the writing committee for the National Common Core Music Standards from 2012 to 2014.

In 2015, she was asked to join the Steering Committee for the Wisconsin Music Educators Association (WMEA), continuing her work to improve music education in Wisconsin. Hayes has served as the Chair of the NAfME National Council for General Music Education and as a President of the WMEA.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in music education from Central Michigan University and a master’s degree in music from Northwestern University. She currently resides in Whitewater, Wisconsin.

In 2007 she won the Wal-Mart Wisconsin Teacher of the Year award and in 2008 the Herb Kohl Fellowship Award.

Hayes will be awarded a commemorative plaque and a $500 prize. These prizes have been made possible through the generosity of Ward-Brodt Music of Madison, Wisconsin.  To be qualified for the award, a nominee must have taught within a 75-mile radius of Madison in a public or private K-12 school and instructed a band, orchestra, choir or general music course.

Colleagues, current or former students, parents of students, or friends were eligible to nominate a music educator for the award.

The review panel consisted of representatives from public and private school administration, veteran teachers, university staff and knowledgeable community members. (For the sake of full disclosure, The Ear sat on the committee that reviewed the many impressive nominations and decided the winner of the award.)

For more information regarding the Award for Excellence in Music Education, visit http://madisonsymphony.org/award.


Classical music: On Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m., SoundWaves moves to Mills Hall to present a FREE and PUBLIC discussion and performance of inventions and music from the 1920s.

October 20, 2015
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Daniel Grabois (below, in a photo by James Gill), a professor of horn at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and a friend of The Ear, writes:

Daniel Grabois 2012 James Gill

I’m not sure if you know about my FREE and PUBLIC series SoundWaves. But I’d like to tell you about it because we have our first-ever presentation in the UW-Madison School of Music next week. It is part of the statewide Wisconsin Science Festival.

The basic idea is this: I choose a theme and get four scientists from different disciplines (or sometimes academics from the humanities) to explore the theme — for the layman — in short 15-minute talks.

I then give a short talk about the theme as it relates to music.

Then, there’s a related music performance.

To make this concrete for you, our program coming up is about The Roaring ’20s.

Now in its fourth year, the SoundWaves series is underwritten by Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF, below with founder Prof. Harry Steenbock), which is celebrating its 90th anniversary. So it seemed fitting to explore the decade of its creation for our first event of the year.

Harry Steenbock WARF bldg

Accordingly, we will have a historian of science speaking about Vitamin D, which was discovered and synthesized by Steenbock,  explaining things like “What the hell IS a vitamin, anyway?”

Vitamin D

Then, a dermatologist will talk about bandaids (invented in 1920). Kids love them, but do they work? How? Why does someone invent a bandaid?

bandaid

Next, a law professor will discuss the lie detector, also invented in 1920. We see them on cop shows, but do they work? Is their evidence admissible in court? How do they work?

lie detector

Then, an industrial engineer will speak about automotive breakthroughs from the 1920s that have shaped our driving experience. Power steering, the traffic light, the car radio (invented by Motorola, hence the “motor” in the company name) — all were invented in the 1920s and all have had a broad impact on cars and driving today.

traffic light

Then I’ll be talking about music of the 1920s. I’m particularly interested in what was then the recent invention of the 12-tone system by Arnold Schoenberg (below). If you are a composer, how on earth do you respond to that? Do you reject it, and if so, what do you do instead? How is the musical aesthetic reshaped by such a radical (and difficult to listen to) idea?

Arnold Schoenberg 1936

At the end, there will be a performance of the String Quartet No. 1 (subtitled “Kreutzer Sonata,” based on the short story by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy) by Czech composer Leos Janacek (below top), written in 1923, played by the Rhapsodie String Quartet (below bottom, in a photo by Greg Anderson), made of Madison Symphony Orchestra players including Suzanne Beia, our own second violinist of the Pro Arte Quartet. (You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Leos Janacek

Rhapsodie Quartet MSO Greg Anderson

We’ve been getting around 175 people for our programs at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, including lots of people who come back over and over.

For me, doing this series is hugely stimulating — being able to collaborate across traditionally rigid academic boundaries is one of the reasons I was excited to come to Madison.

Here are the specifics:

Date: This Saturday, Oct. 24, at 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Speakers and performers:

Kevin Walters, WARF historian-in-residence

Klint Peebles, Department of Dermatology

Keith Findley, UW Law School

John Lee, Department of Industrial Engineering

Daniel Grabois, School of Music and SoundWaves curator

Rhapsodie String Quartet

For more information, visit:

http://discovery.wisc.edu/home/town-center/programs–events/soundwaves/soundwaves.cmsx

Sales pitch over!

Hope to see you there.

 


Classical music: Streaming gains even more momentum. Korean carmaker Hyundai will abandon in-dash CD players and titan CD seller Naxos will launch a high-definition streaming service.

January 24, 2015
3 Comments

No doubt about it.

Streaming seems the sound wave of the future.

That’s what the news about sales and trends points to, anyway.

Streaming through such services at Spotify or various app stores and retailers like Amazon.com looks to be the inevitable next step from CDs, just as CDs followed tapes and tapes followed LPs and vinyl (78, 45 and 33-1/3 RPM)-– even though vinyl is making something of a comeback among audiophiles because of its superior, less harsh sound quality.

But consider some new developments coming out of Asia, which seems to be setting the trend for the dissemination of Western classical music more than Western culture or Western industry is doing in Europe and the United States.

Korean carmaker Hyundai will get rid of CD payers in its next year’s models. Instead the music connections will run through Bluetooth electronics that link up solely to MP3 players and iPods. (Below is a photo of the new dashboard taken at a recent industry show.)

Hyundai new car audio system

Here is a link to a story that has more technical details plus a defense of KEEPING in-dash CD players – below is Japanese carmaker Honda’s more traditional in-dash CD player and changer — and the virtue of listening to one entire CD:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/posts/la-et-ms-who-still-listens-to-cds-in-the-car-20150114-story.html

Honda in-dash CD player and changer

Then consider the fact that Naxos – the Hong Kong-based budget CD label that now dominates the CD industry – is about to launch a high-definition streaming service.

http://www.classicalmusicmagazine.org/2015/01/naxos-launches-hd-streaming-service/

Naxos Records logo

Penderecki Wit Naxos

Here is some background about the company, based in Singapore, that will service Naxos’ streaming site:

http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/2422084

The Ear has very mixed feelings about this news. He listens to all sorts of formats in the car — radio, CDs and iPods.

What about you?

Would you buy a new car without an in-dash CD player, a car that relies only on wireless and streaming technology?

And how dissatisfied are you with the sound quality of CDs versus streaming or other formats?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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