The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera’s “Seraglio” stood out for its singing and staging, its local sets and costumes, and provided a crowd-pleasing comic romp in trying times. Plus, Friday brings FREE piano and viola da gamba concerts

February 15, 2018
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FRDAY ALERTS: This Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features Eric Miller playing the viola da gamba in a recital of early baroque music by Marais, Forquery, Sainte-Colombe, Abel, Hume and Ortiz. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

Then on Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the critically acclaimed guest pianist Marina Lomazov will perform a FREE recital of all-Russian music that includes “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky. Lomazov’s recital is part of a larger event, “Keyboard Day,” that has a French focus and takes place all day Saturday at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. See tomorrow’s post for more information about Saturday. For more about Lomazov, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-artist-marina-lomazov-piano/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Opera Guy filed this review of last weekend’s production by the Madison Opera:

By Larry Wells

On Sunday afternoon, I attended the second and final performance of Madison Opera’s production of Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio” in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

This comic romp utilized a beautiful set and wonderful costumes designed and constructed in-house. (Below, Matt Bueller as Osmin peers out the door of the palace, or seraglio, at David Walton as Belmont.)

The orchestra, drawn from the Madison Symphony Orchestra and ably led by maestro John DeMain, was situated backstage. This was an effective novelty, although the sound was somewhat muffled, at least from where I sat in mid-orchestra.

The dialogue was in English while the singing was in German with English supertitles. I looked over the lengthy original libretto and was thankful that it had been heavily abridged for this two-hour production.

It had also been updated to be both hip and politically correct about Islamic culture and Turkey, where the story takes place. But it made me idly wonder what the reaction would be if the music had been likewise updated to be more in tune with the times.

The production was all about the singing.

David Walton’s Belmonte (below right, with Amanda Woodbury as Konstanze) was beautifully sung, particularly in the second act. He has a Benjamin Britten tenor voice with remarkable breath control.

Eric Neuville’s Pedrillo was also admirably sung. Neuville is an accomplished comic actor, as well.

Ashly Neumann’s singing as Blonde (below center, with women of the Madison Opera Chorus) was clean, clear and bell-like.

Amanda Woodbury as Konstanze (below right with Brian Belz as Pasha Selim)  was virtuosic. She displayed vocal fireworks several times and was especially effective in her lament toward the end of the first act.

This quartet’s ensemble work in the second act was a vocal high point. (You can hear the quartet from a different production in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

But to me the most impressive singing and comic acting belonged to Matt Boehler as Osmin. His bass was simply majestic. (Below, from left, are Brian Belz as Pasha Selim; David Walton as Belmonte; Matt Boehler as Osmin; Eric Neuville as Pedrillo; Ashly Neumann as Blonde; and Amanda Woodbury as Konstanze.)

The well-prepared chorus appeared briefly in each act, adding some color and motion to the production.

Musically and visually the production was a success. The audience responded with 19 ovations during the performance – yes, I counted. Every time the orchestra reached a cadence and paused, the audience members applauded as if they were at a musical. With the incessant coughing throughout the performance, I felt like I was at a performance of “South Pacific” in a tuberculosis ward.

The audience leapt to its feet at the end, and this made me wonder what it was that they found so praiseworthy. The story itself is inconsequential and has little relevance to life today.

The singing was very good, but this is not La Scala.

The music itself, with the exception of a couple of sublime moments, does little more than foreshadow the mature Mozart of “The Magic Flute.”

I concluded that the opera is unalarming, unthreatening, and simple. This is perhaps what people long for in these trying times.

I do look forward to the Madison Opera’s production of Daniel Catan’s “Florencia en el Amazonas” this spring. Based on repeated hearings of the recording, I guarantee that Madison will be in for a treat. And there is nothing threatening or alarming or complex about the music, despite it being a work of the late 20th century.


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Classical music: Did anyone else hear Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony and think of Donald Trump’s America as well as Stalin’s Russia?

November 21, 2016
15 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has to agree with a knowledgeable friend.

If you heard the Madison Symphony Orchestra, under music director John DeMain, perform the famous Symphony No. 5 in D minor — the same key as Beethoven’s Ninth — by Dmitri Shostakovich almost two weeks ago, you heard a performance that rivals or surpasses any other one, live or recorded, you’ve probably heard.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The performance was nothing short of stunning. And it was especially moving, given its timing in coming right after the presidential election in which Republicans Donald Trump and Mike Pence won an upset surprise victory over Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.

mike-pence-and-donald-trump

So here is what The Ear wants to know:

Was The Ear the only one who found himself thinking that the symphony proved an especially fitting, perhaps perfect, choice even though it was programmed a year ago? (You can hear the moving third movement, a lament with such pathos that people cried at its premiere, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Was The Ear the only one who identified with Shostakovich, who felt an even deeper empathy with the oppressed composer (below), who, fearing with good reason the dictator Joseph Stalin and his reign of Terror in the USSR, always kept a small suitcase packed with pajamas and a toothbrush by the front door in case the KGB secret police came knocking at 3 a.m., the usual arrest hour?

dmitri shostakovich

The symphony is dark music for dark times. And The Ear hopes he wrong when he fears that America is headed for some dark times of its own, times when various people and members of our society will live in constant fear and dread of what they might suffer?

This is not to suggest that President-elect Donald Trump can be equated to the murderous Joseph Stalin (below), or the United States in 2016 to the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

jospeh-stalin-2

But it is to suggest that some comparisons — if not equations — might be in order.

It is to suggest there will be a constant and unsettling anxiety in the US created by a new ruling order that seems based on insults and intolerance, that excludes and condemns what it doesn’t approve of, that seeks to suppress or destroy opposition?

Like Latino and Syrian immigrants.

Like Muslims, Jews and other non-Christians.

Like African-Americans, Native Americans and other non-whites.

Like poor people.

Like liberals and progressives, dissenters and protesters .

Like LGBT people.

Like women and women’s health advocates and organizations that favor reproductive rights.

The list could go on and on.

But you get the idea.

If either as a musician or an audience member you agree – or disagree – leave a COMMENT.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What music would you play to honor and mourn the dead, wounded and traumatized victims of the gay night club shooting in Orlando, Florida?

June 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a week now.

A very long, hard and emotional week.

The Ear has heard some classical music dedicated to the victims — 49 killed, some 50 wounded and countless traumatized — of the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando, Florida, that took place one week ago. (Below is a vigil in support of the LGBT community.)

Orlando shooting vigil crowd 1

Others might choose a standard like the famous “Adagio for Strings” by Samuel Barber. It is undeniably moving and perfectly appropriate.

But so far the piece that most moved The Ear, unexpectedly, was a familiar one that aired on Wisconsin Public Radio: the “Nimrod” variation from the “Enigma Variations” by Sir Edward Elgar.

The Ear hears tenderness, gentleness and even love in the music. But in it he also hears strength, resilience and pride as well as sorrow, acceptance and resignation.

Plus, he likes the idea of enigma that is attached to it, given all the issues and questions — terrorism, Islamic radicalization and extremism, homophobia, self-hatred, hate crimes, gun control, protests, mass grieving — that still surround the incident and remain to be solved.

You can listen to the piece of music in the YouTube video at the bottom that features conductor Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It has more than 3 million hits.

But The Ear is also sure that there is a great deal of other music that would suit the purpose. They include:

The passions, oratorios and cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The Requiems of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Giuseppe Verdi and Gabriel Faure.

The symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky and Antonin Dvorak.

The string quartets, piano trios, duo sonatas and other chamber music by Joseph Haydn and Franz Schubert as well as the solo piano music of Chopin, Schumann and so many others.

The masses of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.

The songs of Schubert and arias and choruses from all kinds of operas, but especially those of Giacomo Puccini.

And on and on.

Leave your personal choice, with a YouTube link if possible, and your reason for choosing it in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Conservative Republican presidential candidate and Evangelical Christian Ted Cruz wants to ban the tritone – or Devil’s chord – from classical music. NOT. Then again, maybe he does

March 21, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the first day when you can vote early via absentee ballot for the presidential primary election in Wisconsin on Tuesday, April 5, when you can also vote to fill a seat on the state Supreme Court.

And tomorrow, Tuesday, brings more presidential primaries for both Republicans and Democrats in the Western states of Arizona and Utah. Plus, there will also be Democratic caucuses in Idaho.

So the following political piece — a pseudo-news report — seems timely and appropriate, especially given the drive by establishment Republicans to rally and choose the ultra-conservative U.S. Senator Ted Cruz from Texas (below) as a way to stop New York City businessman Donald Trump.

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Defending the American Dream summit hosted by Americans for Prosperity at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Defending the American Dream summit hosted by Americans for Prosperity at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Sure, it’s a satire.

But it is a very well done satire — about something that was indeed banned in the Renaissance and Baroque eras by the Roman Catholic  Church.

But like so much satire, it is fun that also cuts close to the bone and contains more than a grain of truth about Cruz and about his many “first day on the job” promises if he gets elected president.

Cruz, the son of an evangelical minister, is such a devout and intolerant Christian fundamentalist, it is almost as if he is waging his own jihad, much like the Islamic terrorist state ISIS, on any culture he considers unChristian and heretical to his personal faith and what he considers to be the inerrant and literal truth of the Bible.

Hmm. Does that qualify him as an extremist or radical?

To The Ear, what is really and truly scary is Cruz — not the music.

And it is hard to say who is more threatening as a potential president: Donald Trump or Ted Cruz?

Well, make up your own mind, fellow music-lovers.

Here is the satire from submediant.com. It’s a good read with lots of details, specific composers and food for thought.

http://www.submediant.com/2016/03/15/citing-evangelical-faith-ted-cruz-calls-to-ban-satanic-tritone/

And here is a YouTube lesson in music theory that offers an explanation with examples of the Satanic tritone:


Classical music: Remember the Cellist of Sarajevo from 23 years ago? Now there is a Cellist of Baghdad. Read or hear all about him on NPR.

June 20, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

How music persists and endures in even the hardest and bloodiest and most unlikely of circumstances!

Perhaps you remember that during the Balkan wars, when Serbian snipers threatened daily life in Sarajevo, there was Vedran Smailovic (below), better known as the Cellist of Sarajevo, who defied the killers and resisted terror with beauty.

Sarajevo cellist Vedran Smailovic 1992

Now in the midst of the chaos created by religious conflict and the barbarism of ISIS comes The Baghdad Cellist. If you listen to the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear him playing — and it seems to be music, an excerpt from the solo suites for cello, by Johann Sebastian Bach, perhaps the most universal of composers.

And why the cello in both cases? Perhaps, The Ear thinks, because it so approximates the human voice and seems a perfect stand-in for a human being in such inhuman situations. What do you think?

Cellist of Baghdad 3 at home

Cellist of Baghdad

Read or hear about Karim Wasfi, the extraordinarily brave professional musician who performs at the sites of terrorist car bombings and who was recently featured on NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/2015/06/08/412284066/amid-violence-in-baghdad-a-musician-creates-a-one-man-vigil

 

 

 


Classical music news: Let’s support the atheist Turkish pianist Fazil Say in his fight against the religious intolerance of Islam. Leave a comment of protest and support.

June 30, 2012
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Offhand, I can’t think of many Turkish pianists who have stood out in their interpretations of Western classical music.

But the young keyboard wizard Fazil Say (below), 42, is one of the exceptions.

Maybe the only one.

Say, who is also a composer and who plays and performs jazz, has the impressive technique — the chops if you will — plus the interpretive ability and artistic affinity to leave you deeply impressed with his reading of, say, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Ravel among others.

Just look at all the 5-star User Ratings his CDs get on Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dclassical&field-keywords=Fazil+Say

Here is a link to his official fan website:

http://www.fazilsay.org/

But now it looks as if Say, who admits to being secular and to supporting a secular government in his native Turkey, will have to take up a home in exile (probably in Japan, he says) because he has been charged with the equivalent of heresy or blasphemy by Turkey’s government and threatened with arrest, trial and prison. (Below is the famed Blue Mosque in Turkey.)

Specifically, he is accuse of, and investigated for, insulting Islam, and other religions, because he Tweeted that he is an atheist. He was indicted and a trial is set for Oct. 18.

It all sounds very similar to what happened to the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk (below) who was charging with libeling or insulting the Turkish government because he referred to the Armenian genocide by Turkey in 1915 — which Turkey officially denies ever took place, despite the testimony and evidence provided by many experts and historians.

After worldwide protest, Turkey dropped those charges,

Maybe the same outcome could happen for Fazil Say (below and at bottom, playing ironically Mozart’s “Turkish” Rondo).

Here are links to stories and other blogs about Say’s unfortunate predicament:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/02/world/europe/turkey-charges-pianist-fazil-say-over-twitter-posts.html

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tomchiversscience/100152667/fazil-say-and-turkeys-war-on-atheism/

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2012/06/01/turkish-pianist-charged-with-insulting-islam/

http://www.nationalturk.com/en/turkish-pianist-fazil-says-twitter-messages-to-be-investigated-in-turkey-17534

http://www.todayszaman.com/news-282207-turkish-pianist-charged-with-insulting-religious-values.html

No matter what the right-wing here says about the need for more state-sponsored religion, now you can see why the Founders wisely wanted in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to establish a wall of separation between church and state. In their own lifetimes, they had seen what the mix of religion and government or politics did in Europe and elsewhere.

So: Looks like it’s time to speak up for free speech, artistic freedom and freedom of religious in Turkey.

What do you say about Say and his plight?

Leave a note of protest and support in the COMMENTS section. Maybe it will persuade Turkish authorities to relent – although I wouldn’t count on it.

Shame on Turkey!

Shame on Islam, Christianity, Judaism and all other forms of religious intolerance and oppression!

Shame on religious zealots of all kinds in all places and at all times!


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