The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: University Opera’s production of “The Marriage of Figaro” draws raves from two local critics. There are still two performances left to see and hear: Today at 3 p.m. and Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

October 25, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Unfortunately, The Ear didn’t get to see and hear the opening night performance on Friday night at Old Music Hall of the season-opening production by University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

The chosen opera is a beloved and beautiful classic: “The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below in a rehearsal photo by Michael R. Anderson).

Marriage of Figaro dress rehearsal. Tia Cleveland (Marcellina), Joel Rathmann (Figaro), Anna Whiteway (Susanna), Thomas Weis (Bartolo).

Marriage of Figaro dress rehearsal. Tia Cleveland (Marcellina), Joel Rathmann (Figaro), Anna Whiteway (Susanna), Thomas Weis (Bartolo).

But The Ear is going to today’s matinee performance.

And two local reviews, by critics The Ear respects highly, agree that is a very successful production and puts another feather in the cap of guest director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) from New York City.

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

But also praised highly are set designer Dana Fralick, the student singers-actors and the student orchestra players under UW-Madison professor and conductor James Smith (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson). You can hear the infectious Overture in a curious but eye-catching and mind-engaging “bar graph score” in a YouTube video at the bottom.

UW Chamber Orchestra, James Smith, conductor

That makes The Ear, who loved last year’s production of “The Magic Flute,” all the more pleased and excited about going today.

Here is a review by John W. Barker (below), who often reviews concerts for this blog, for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/arts/stage/a-delightful-marriage-university-opera/

John-Barker

And here is the review by Greg Hettmansberger (below) for his column “Classically Speaking” in Madison Magazine and for WISC-TV Channel3000.com:

http://www.channel3000.com/madison-magazine/arts-culture/University-Opera-marries-all-the-best-elements-of-a-Mozart-masterpiece/36026940

greg hettmansberger mug

If you want to go, tickets are $25 for the general public; $20 for seniors; and $10 for student.

Here is a link to details about the show and about getting tickets:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-the-marriage-of-figaro/

 


Classical music: Meet Marin Alsop, the pioneering American maestra who will conduct the closing concert of the BBC British Proms concerts this Saturday night.

September 11, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

If you listen regularly to NPR, or National Public Radio, you will often hear stories featuring the American conductor Marin Alsop (below) and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra she leads on Saturday mornings. That is when Scott Simon interviews her about her latest projects for Weekend Edition.

Marin Alsop big

And you may know Alsop’s name as a student and protégée of the legendary Leonard Bernstein and as the music director and conductor of the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra in Brazil.

Marin Alsop marching

You might also know that Alsop thinks classical music has become elitist and so she works hard for educational programs and community outreach.

But you may not know that in 2013 Alsop was the first woman chosen to conduct the mammoth closing night of the popular Proms concerts (below) in London’s Royal Albert Hall for the BBC in England. (You can hear the rousing and popular speech she gave then in a YouTube video at the bottom. And be sure to read some of the sexist and homophobic reader comments.)

BBC Proms

This Saturday night she returns to the United Kingdom to conduct the closing concert of this summer’s Proms, which will have a huge audience of over 40 million listeners worldwide via TV, radio and the Internet.

Here is a link to the portal for listening to the concert:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/6vczskH1yMvp1bRKpDpnq4/last-night-of-the-proms-and-proms-in-the-park-2015-how-to-watch-and-listen

Thanks to a story and a Q&A interview in The Economist, here is a chance to meet Marin Alsop and learn more about this impressive musician:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2015/08/bbc-proms

 

 


Classical music: The critics are unanimous — iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and others streaming services do a grave injustice to classical music. CDs and vinyl are far better.

July 31, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The critics’ judgments are in and they seem unanimous: iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and other similar streaming services do a grave injustice to classical music. In the end, CDs and vinyl LPs are far better than streaming for a quality listening experience.

itunes logo complete

spotify logo

 

pandora logo

The difficulties apparently have to do with engineering and the limits of technology, specifically of the digital compression of sound.

Here are three good and convincing critiques to read:

From The Atlantic magazine:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/07/the-tragedy-of-itunes-and-classical-music/399788/

From the acclaimed prize-winning music critic Alex Ross (below) of The New Yorker magazine:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-anxious-ease-of-apple-music

Alex Ross 2

Here is an analysis from the prolific and always interesting reporter Anastasia Tsioulcas (below), who writes for National Public Radio (NPR) and its outstanding classical music blog Deceptive Cadence. She tackles other streaming services including Pandora and Spotify. She focuses on the organization and the difficulty of finding the music you want to listen to:

http://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/04/411963624/why-cant-streaming-services-get-classical-music-right

anastasia tsioulcas


Classical music: Founder Bruce Croushore explains how the “Grace Presents” series of FREE concerts came about and what it offers for the future.

July 17, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Bruce Croushore is leaving Madison this month.

Croushore founded Grace Presents, a monthly FREE concert series that features performances of eclectic music. He agreed to answers questions about his role as a local music entrepreneur or amateur impresario.

Croushore, a retired corporate attorney, and his wife Michele Hilmes, who retired last month from her position as Professor in the Communication Arts Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, are moving to New York, where they met and married 38 years ago and where their daughter, her husband and their infant grandson live.

Bruce Croushore

What motivated you to start Grace Presents?

It occurred to me for years that Grace Church’s historic and beautiful nave or sanctuary (below top) is the right size and has pleasant acoustical properties for music performed by soloists and small ensembles.

Having attended concerts in churches in cities in the US and in Europe, I figured Grace -– a lovely and peaceful space ideally situated (below bottom) on Madison’s Capital Square and on the music venue axis from Monona Terrace to Overture Hall and on to Mills Hall -– is perfectly suited for a concert series.

MBM Grace altar

grace episcopal church ext

How did you piece together Grace Presents?

To put it together, I figured the series first needed the support of Grace’s clergy, staff and lay leadership, which came quickly and unanimously in March of 2011, with some caution about staff time demands.

Next, I held a meeting of several folks I knew in Madison’s music community to seek their input on feasibility, frequency, format, timing and programming. Their questions and comments helped launch the series, which in a fit of rare creativity I dubbed, “Grace Presents.”

How is Grace Presents managed and operated?

Out of the planning meetings arose a task force without whose support and hard work the Grace Presents series would not have advanced. Members of the task force worked diligently, not only at the concerts but also in start-up efforts to negotiate a mission statement and work out processes and procedures.

More goes on behind the scenes in organizing and presenting a concert series than one might imagine. I feel the scheme we devised suits our purpose well.

In a stroke of fortune, Laura Weiner (below) came on board as our first program coordinator. Laura is a gifted horn player who was working at the time on a Master’s degree at the UW-Madison School of Music and who was a leader in the “Classical Revolution” movement in Madison.

Laura Weiner

She brought the energy, organizational skills and musical connections Grace Presents needed in its inaugural season. (Below are violinist Laura Burns, of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and pianist Jess Salek playing the complete violin sonatas of Johannes Brahms, whose “Liebeslieder” Waltzes can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Laura Burns Jess Salek Brahms Grace Epis

Did the series take off as you had hoped?

That first experimental season began in June 2011 and met with success. We tried different days of the week and different times of the day. We also experimented with varied programs, from a UW-Madison student brass quartet to Caravan, a local gypsy swing band.

Very importantly, we stuck to the guiding principles of charging no admission but paying an honorarium to all performers and keeping the music secular and eclectic. The quality of the performances was outstanding and attendance was gratifying.

Over the years, the task force realized that noon on Saturdays, especially when the Dane County Farmers’ Market is open, works best, as does keeping the concerts between 45 and 60 minutes long.

Scheduling was and remains a challenge because of conflicts such as events at the Overture Center and around the Capitol Square, as well as Badger football games. We surveyed the first concertgoers – and we have surveyed all that followed – and found that diverse programming has wide appeal.

Grace Presents sign

What did you learn over Grace Presents’ seasons?

Despite satisfying turnouts and positive comments on the surveys, we learned quickly that Grace Presents could not be sustained by free-will donations tossed into a basket at the concerts.

With Laura Weiner’s diligence in researching and writing a proposal, we had the good fortune to obtain a grant from Dane Arts near the end of the first season. That grant, along with a few generous individual donations and gifts from Grace Church, allowed us to meet our obligations. Funding for the following seasons came from the same sources. (Below are the Madison Bach Musicians performing a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach.)

MBM Grace cantatas ensemble

What does the future look like for Grace Presents?

The 2015 season line-up features many gifted musicians who perform a wide variety of music genres. Some members of Grace Presents’ voluntary task force attend Grace Church and others do not.

This is in keeping with the series’ mission of offering quality yet informal performances of secular music to the broader Madison and Dane County community, at no charge.

It also provides an attractive, historic and acoustically pleasing space to artists who perform a wide range of music and who are paid a decent honorarium.

The current program coordinator, Andrea Mauch (below), has the drive, charm and savvy required to move the series to the next level. She is talented in using the Internet and social media to promote Grace Presents. I am especially grateful to Andrea and to task force members Lynn Morgan (the current chair), Tino Balio, Bill Foote, Kia Karlen and Ginny Shannon for all they do to keep the Grace Presents concert series going strong.

They’ll do a great job maintaining the series on a sound footing. I pray it remains for years to come “a masterpiece of eclecticism,” as John McPhee once described Bill Bradley’s graceful hook shot.

Andrea Mauch - long scarf color

For more information, you can go to this link:

http://gracepresents.org

 

 

 


Classical music: Go behind the scenes of the NEW Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen concerts with audio engineer Buzz Kemper. There is a song recital this Sunday at 12:30 p.m. to be attended or streamed.

April 2, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear got a request from audio engineer Buzz Kemper. He wanted to write about streaming live the NEW monthly format of Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen.

It is a timely topic because the once-a-month live chamber music concerts run from February through December on the first Sunday of the month. That means there is one this Sunday at 12:30 p.m. It offers a song recital of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert and Brahms with soprano Chelsea Morris (below top) and fortepianist Trevor Stephenson (below bottom) of the Madison Bach Musicians.

At bottom you can hear a YouTube video of Chelsea Morris singing an aria from the opera “Giulio Cesare” by George Frideric Handel that helped her win first prize in the 2014 Handel Aria Competition at the Madison Early Music Festival.

Chelsea, Trevor CD cover shot

The concert is FREE and OPEN to the public.

It will also be streamed live at: http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/listen-to-sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-live-stream-4.5.15

and also at:

www.audioforthearts.com/afa-live.html

Here is the essay by Buzz Kemper (below):

buzz kemper smiling

By Buzz Kemper

Traditions change and evolve, sometimes disappearing completely.

One long-running Wisconsin musical tradition has been saved from extinction, and indeed will not only continue, but will do so in a newer, more contemporary form.

Last spring, Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen (below) — the much-loved, statewide live broadcast chamber music series – was abruptly canceled by Wisconsin Public Radio after a 36-year run. The cancellation looked very much like the death knell of this very long-running and vital live music showcase.

SALsetupgallery

SALmicrophone sign

Public reaction was swift and strong, and almost completely negative, as you can see from the announcement on this blog:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=Sunday+Afternoon+cancelled

The leadership at the Chazen, however, had a larger vision: Could the series be continued in some form, even without a broadcast outlet?

Museum Director Russell Panczenko (below) met with me and Steve Gotcher — my business partner at Audio for the Arts– as well as representatives from the Chazen and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music to discuss possibilities. The obvious solution was to do a series utilizing a more contemporary means of public distribution: live streaming via the Internet.

ChazenMusArt_open11_7430

While the cancellation of the broadcasts was unwelcome news to me, the opportunity to be involved once again in this series was quite welcome indeed.

I have a unique history with Sunday Afternoon Live. From 1983 until 1998, I served as Technical Director continuously, and had a long stint as host as well.

On one Christmas edition of the show, I even appeared as a performer, singing a real duet by a fake composer, “Please, Kind Sir” by PDQ Bach, with fellow engineer Richard Moses. We discovered after the fact that Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Harbison and his wife, violinist Rose Mary Harbison (below), were in attendance. (I’m glad we didn’t know this ahead of time.) The Harbisons had very kind words for our musical shenanigans.

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

With such a long and varied history with the show, I was delighted that Audio for the Arts, the audio company of which I am co-owner, would be involved in the new incarnation of the series. (Below is a photo of Buzz Kemper in his commercial recording studio.)

Buzz Kemper studio

Along with the changes, there are several aspects that remain the same: Lori Skelton (below top), longtime producer and host of the series, has signed on once again. Also, the concerts will, as before, take place in Gallery III (below bottom), though on a monthly rather than weekly basis, and on the first Sunday of the month.

Lori Skelton

SALProArteMay2010

The dedication and commitment to this series by Lori Skelton, the Chazen Museum of Art and the musical community — in particular the UW School of Music — is commendable. Gratitude is also due to Kato Perlman, who provided a generous gift to get us started.

Here’s hoping for another 36 years.

 

 


Classical music: Attention, Downton Abbey fans! Here is what you should know about the history of the real-life opera singers in last week’s episode in which Dame Kiri Te Kanawa portrayed Dame Nellie Melba.

January 18, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

No doubt about it, “Downton Abbey” has become a global television drama phenomenon. Fans of the new season, which started two weeks ago, are eagerly looking forward to the third installment of the new season that will air this Sunday night on PBS  (and Wisconsin Public Television at 8 p.m. CST).

Just how seriously “Downton Abbey” writers and producers also take the show could be seen in last week’s episode. There is where a side plot and secondary character -– a special gala performance by the Australian opera diva Dame Nellie Melba – was taken seriously. Where should she stay? was one issue. Another was whether a performing artist like Melba, who had been privately hired for a small command performance in the salon (below) should eat with the servants and help or with the aristocratic landowners? 

melba concert downton abbey

And how many of you realized that Nellie Melba was played by the New Zealand opera diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (below)? The Ear sure didn’t, but now he knows why the singing of Puccini arias and Dvorak songs sounded so good.

Kiri Te Kanawa as Nellie Melba

In fact, the historical episode was taken so seriously that NPR’s terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence” this week posted a primer on just how important, acclaimed and controversial the real Nellie Melba (below, in a photo taken around 1900, and singing at the bottom in a YouTube was) really was.

nellie melba ca 1900

Here is a link to Episode 2 of Season 4 that aired last week on “Masterpiece Theatre” and can be streamed via the Internet or viewed in an encore broadcast this Sunday night at 7 p.m. CST:

http://video.wpt.org/program/masterpiece/

Here is a link to the NPR story about Nellie Melba and the episode:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/01/17/263356751/note-to-downton-abbey-viewers-nellie-melba-was-a-big-deal

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Classical music: Write a guest blog post for The Well-Tempered Ear.

September 16, 2013
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

BECOME A GUEST BLOGGER

I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner, well before The Well-Tempered Ear blog recently passed 800,000 hits, but I just didn’t.

Yet judging from a lot of the remarks I get in the COMMENT section of this blog, many of the readers of The Well-Tempered Ear could do some fine blog writing themselves.

So I am offering all readers a chance to write a guest blog post. (The final decision about publication or posting, however, is mine.)

By necessity, The Ear is imposing some rules, restrictions and requests.

Ear1

Your entry has to be written in English with correct grammar and relatively short sentences. Of course, no cheating or plagiarizing will be allowed.

POSSIBLE SUBJECTS FOR A BLOG POST

The subject could be a concert review or feature preview – maybe a profile or a Q&A — in the Madison area or related to the University of Wisconsin or other education institution and groups as well as individual and group performers . But please do not have a conflict of interest or else explain your connection with a full disclosure.

You could also write a review of a recording or book – either something new or an old favorite — related to classical music.

the rest is noise BIG USE

joshua bell ASMF beethoven cd cover

Or a TV or radio show that relates to or uses classical music.

SALmicrophone sign

Or perhaps an Internet site or another classical music blog that you highly recommend.

Maybe you want to write something about playing an instrument or singing or making music yourself, with some tips or advice for others. Hearing from students (below is a shot of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras or WYSO) and young people about the rewards of making music would be especially welcome. So is an adult’s recollection of a life-altering musical experience, be it a live concert or a recording  — an Aha! Moment.

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

Or maybe something explaining a favorite composer, piece and performer — with a YouTube link, if possible — so the rest of us can share in listening to it.

Or how to bring more of the general public and young people to classical music, based on your own experiences and thoughts.

I think a good length is 250 to 350 words, but I will certainly consider shorter and longer ones if the length seems justified by the subject matter.

Please include some brief introductory information about yourself and your own involvement with classical music.

And don’t forget basic journalism. After you do the WHO, the WHAT, the WHEN, the WHERE, please do NOT forget the WHY.

That is what will really interest us and help me to choose the entries that I will post on the blog site.

Why do you like this composer (such as J.S. Bach, below) or this piece or this performer? Why should the rest of us listen? Why do you consider it important or a neglected MUST-HEAR?

Bach1

SUBMISSION INFORMATION

Submit you entry to me at theear22@gmail.com in a regular text format, either attached as a document or included in the body of the email.

Include an email signature or your real full name, your email, your street address and a phone number in case there is an editing question I have to ask. But of course I can conceal identity or grant anonymity, if that is what you wish and ask for.

Please do not use fancy or complicated formatting, such as separate columns or lists, because it gets difficult to copy and paste them and reproduce such formats in the blog.

Please send text that is aligned to the left and ragged right — NOT hyphenated and justified — and in the Lucida Grande, Verdana or Helvetica fonts in the of size 14 points. The type color should be just plain black. Please avoid underlining, though using capital letters for emphasis is fine.

The Internet or web is a largely visual medium. So please help me illustrate your entry. For any photos of you or artists of other subjects, please size them down and attach them in SMALLER than a 1 MB size and do NOT embed them in the text, which just compounds formatting problems. Include IDs and any photo credit.

digital pocket camera

I am sorry if these requests seem complicated, but they are meant to expedite things and help ensure accuracy and fairness.

If you have a proposal or questions, you can use the same email address to contact me.

And be sure to share the news with any friends or acquaintances.

I look forward to hearing from you — both what you think of the idea of guest bloggers and your own guest blog post, which you can then share with others and spread the word about.

Thank You and Good Luck!

The Ear


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