The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Should the Madison Symphony Orchestra program more 20th-century music?

April 14, 2017
21 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

A friend and reviewer for this blog – his specialty is opera but he also is very experienced with the symphonic repertoire — sent in the following opinion piece.

It is being posted in the wake of the announcement by the Madison Symphony Orchestra of its 2017-18 season.

For reference, here is a link to the lineup of the next season’s concerts that was posted yesterday:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/classical-music-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-announces-its-2017-2018-season-of-nine-concerts-of-favorites-combined-with-firsts/

By Larry Wells

I received my subscription renewal package for the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a  photo by Greg Anderson) a couple of weeks ago, and I was struck then by how conservative and prosaic most of the offerings are.

I’ve mentioned my feelings to acquaintances, and one of the prevailing arguments is that they have to fill the seats.

The assumption seems to be that the patrons will only tolerate music written before 1850.

I’m 70 and I grew up with Stravinsky. I can recall the world premieres of Shostakovich’s final three symphonies. I once eagerly awaited recordings of Britten’s latest works. And I heard the first performances of several works by John Adams (below) while living in San Francisco in the 1980s.

If the assumption is that most reliable patrons are in their 70s and 80s, this seems like a dead-end (pardon the pun). There will be no audience in 20 years.

I believe that audiences can tolerate music of the 20th century — look at the glowing reviews of and enthusiastic ovations for last week’s performances of Witold Lutoslawski’s “Concerto for Orchestra’’ — and attracting younger patrons with bolder musical choices seems an economic necessity.

How can the MSO not be commemorating the centenary of Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell)? The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is performing several of his pieces in its upcoming season.

Why do we have to endure another Brahms symphony when we could hear Dmitri Shostakovich’s 11th or 15th or Jean Sibelius’ Fourth or Fifth or even Anton Bruckner’s 8th?

On a positive note, I was heartened to see that Benjamin Britten’s “Sinfonia da Requiem” is scheduled next season since that has been on my wish list for years. Likewise, Leos Janacek’s “Glagolitic Mass” is a nice surprise.

However, when will we hear Britten’s “War Requiem,” Bernstein’s “Mass” or “‘Songfest,” a symphony by Walter Piston (below top) or William Schuman (below middle) or Alan Hovhannes (below bottom)?

I’m really tired of going to concerts where only one of the works is of interest to me and the others are historic artifacts. I’d like to see a reversal wherein Brahms, Mozart and Beethoven are brought out occasionally, but the bulk of the music performed comes from the rich source of the 20th century.

What do you think?

Leave word in the COMMENT section.


Classical music: Prize-winning Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara has died at 87

July 30, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

He was a contemporary composer who wasn’t afraid to change or adapt his compositional style in radically differently ways, and who found a broad public as well as great respect from fellow composers and performers.

He was Einojuhani Rautavaara (below, in a photo from Getty Images), who was considered the most important composer of his country since Jean Sibelius, and he died at 87 this past week.

einojuhani rautavaara GETTY IMAGES

Here is a fine summary and obituary by Tom Huizenga for the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR or National Public Radio.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/07/28/487824438/eclectic-finnish-composer-einojuhani-rautavaara-dies-at-87

And here, in the YouTube video below, is the piece, complete with recorded bird songs recorded by the composer — Cantus Arcticus, Op, 61, from 1972 — that Rautavaara is perhaps best known for. It is also the piece that his fellow Finn, conductor Osmo Vanska, now the music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, says he most admires.


Classical music: Madison Summer Choir addresses current events with outstanding performances of great choral music

June 28, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

For eight years, the Madison Summer Choir (below) has been giving an annual concert. This year’s, on Saturday night, under founder and conductor Ben Luedcke, was built around the theme “This is My Song! – Music in the Struggle for Peace and Justice.”

Madison Summer Choir 2016 with piano JWB

And, indeed, Luedcke (below) introduced most of the selections with pointed remarks, addressing issues faced today, and the need for making ours a better world.

Ben Luedcke.1jpg

The first part of the program began with the “big tune” from Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia, set to English words. This was sung a cappella, while the four short items that followed had piano accompaniment.

Two of those pieces—by composers Stephen Chatman and Sven Lekberg—carried poems by Walt Whitman, while another, by Joan Szymko, set a text by Wendell Berry. But the gem of the set was a short partsong, An die Heimat (To my Homeland), by that truly great choral master, Johannes Brahms. 

After the intermission, the chorus of 66 voices was joined by an orchestra (below) of 32, for the musical plateau.

Madison Summer Choir 2016 with orchestra JWB

Felix Mendelssohn is one of the handful of supreme choral composers (think of his oratorio Elijah!). As a warmer-upper, we were given his brief setting of Martin Luther’s translation of the Latin Dona nobis pacem as Verleih uns Frieden (Grant us Peace). (You can hear Mendelssohn’s beautiful “Verleih uns Frieden” in a YouTube video at the bottom)

But the true main event was a rousing performance of Mendelssohn’s unfairly neglected cantata, Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night). This sets a ballad by Goethe portraying a band of Druids arranging to celebrate a holy solstice rite in the face of newly triumphant Christian intolerance. By making an unholy racket, they drive away their persecutors and launch the myth of St. Walburga’s Night (Walpurgisnacht, on April 30) as an occasion of Satanic rumpus (think Goethe’s and Gounod’s Faust).

The work calls for three solo singers (below), this time contralto Jessica Timman Schwefel, tenor Dan O’Dea, and baritone Ben Li (of whom the tenor was the most impressive). This score is one of striking dramatic effect and musical force, but it is too brief to find a place in most concert repertoire.

Madison Summer Choir 2016 3 soloists No. 2 JWB

Singers and players threw themselves into it with wonderful gusto under propulsive direction. We must thank Luedcke for giving us a rare chance to enjoy it.

The final piece was a movement from a choral symphony by Srul Irving Glick: making a truly splendid choral sound that, however, quite obliterated the uplifting words.

Overall, the program showed that Luedcke had nurtured, in a short time, a choir of nicely balanced and blended voices. With the best of their material, they made a wonderfully glowing sound.

One more example, then, of the quite stunning riches of Madison’s summer musical life!


Classical music: Madison Summer Choir auditions are on Monday and Tuesday nights, May 16 and 17, when rehearsals also start. Performance is on Saturday, June 25. Plus, a FREE concert of flute music is this Friday at noon

May 4, 2016
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the historic Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features the Madison Flute Club Chamber Ensemble. It will perform music by Phyllis Louke, George Gershwin, Daniel Harrison, Julius Fucik and Ken Kreuser.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Summer Choir (below) has announced this summer’s auditions, rehearsals, program and concert.

Madison Summer Choir ovation

The Madison Summer Choir, which was founded by and is directed by UW-Madison alumnus Ben Luedcke and which usually has about 80 voices, meets for six weeks in May and June to prepare major choral and choral-orchestral works.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

This year, the featured works on the “This Is My Song: Music in the Struggle for Peace and Justice” program, will be “Die erste Walpurgisnacht” (The First Walpurgis Night) and “Verleih uns Frieden” (Grant Us Peace, a beautiful work you can hear in the YouTube video at bottom) by Felix Mendelssohn; “Finlandia,” by Jean Sibelius, and other works by Johannes Brahms ad Sven Lekberg.

Complete information about dates, music, and concert tickets can be found on the website: www.madisonsummerchoir.org

Auditions will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, May 16 and 17, when the first rehearsals begin. Auditions will take place in UW-Madison Humanities Building, Room 1351, 455 N Park St, Madison WI 53706. 

Weekly rehearsals – WHICH START ON  THE MAY 16 TIME — will be held weekly on the same days and times.

Returning summer choir members and members of auditioned ensembles in the area do NOT need to audition. Those who need to audition should contact the conductor. The contact email is: madisonsummerchoir@gmail.com

The concert will be in Mills Hall on Saturday, June 25, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.


Classical music: The amateur Middleton Community Orchestra excels in difficult music by Wagner and Sibelius.

April 16, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

It was a short program — lasting under an hour — but an outstanding one, that the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) gave on Wednesday evening.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

There were only two works, but profoundly challenging ones, and associate conductor Kyle Knox (below) really put his amateur players’ feet to the fire.

Kyle Knox 2

The first work was the Prelude to Act I of the opera Lohengrin by Richard Wagner (below). This is music of spun silk, noteworthy for its use of divided violins most of the way through.

That creates a uniquely etherial sound, but one that takes great effort to bring off. The MSO has been developing a surprisingly fine string band. Its violinists met the demands of tone and balance beautifully, producing a performance of transcendent beauty.

Richard Wagner

The other, longer, work was a symphony heard far too rarely. This was the Symphony No. 3 of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (below).

I say quite frankly that it is my favorite among the symphonies of Sibelius. After the post-Tchaikovsky bombast of the First and Second, it was in this Third that the composer first found his own orchestral voice, establishing how to make his instruments and their ensembles work in ways that were totally his.

In its use of variations, and especially of thematic evolution, the Third also drafted the blueprint for the Fifth Symphony, which conductors and audiences adore, but to the cruel eclipse of the Third.

sibelius

This Third– which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom– is not an easy work to bring off. Its orchestral textures are full of tricky intricacies. No surprise that, here and there, one might hear quick moments in which the tension slackened. But Knox drew the players through a performance of beauty and power, finely honed and sonorously rendered.

The players clearly relish working under Knox. (The orchestra’s founding father, Steve Kurr, was sitting modestly in the viola section for this concert.) Knox’s own growth as a conductor is paired with his guiding of the orchestra to higher and higher achievements. Just for programming the Sibelius Third, I award him strong praise, but for bringing it off so well I must multiply my accolades.

I take this as a landmark event for the MCO—a genuine achievement. It is sad that the audience was not larger. Madison music-lovers, where are you when music and artistry like this is available to you?

I anticipate ranking this as my “concert of the year” when the final returns are in!


Classical music: The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will perform music by Cimarosa, Delibes, Mozart and Sibelius this Sunday afternoon

February 19, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following note from Edgewood College (below):Edgewood College 1000

The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra, under the direction of Blake Walter (below, in a photo by John Maniaci) will perform a concert on this Sunday, February 21 at 2:30 p.m. in St. Joseph Chapel, 100 Edgewood College Drive.

blake walter john maniaci

Included on the program are: the Secret Marriage Overture by Domenico Cimarosa; the incidental music from “Kuolema” by Jean Sibelius (heard at bottom in as YouTube video); the ballet suite from “Le Roi s’amuse” (The King Has Fun) by Leo Delibes, and the Symphony No. 38 in D Major, K. 504, “Prague,” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Founded in 1993 with a generous endowment established by benefactors William O. Hart and Vernon Sell, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra fulfills a unique role in the Madison community, providing high-quality performances and unique educational opportunities.

The ensemble is the permanent, in-house chamber orchestra of the College, and is known for featuring world-class soloists and distinctive programming.

Admission for this event is $5, with tickets available at the door, and is free with an Edgewood College ID.


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s 10th anniversary FREE “Final Forte” concert of young concerto winners is this Friday at 7 p.m. in Overture Hall. It will also be broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio and rebroadcast by Wisconsin Public Television.

January 25, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It is described as “Wisconsin Young Artists Compete.”

“The Final Forte” event is the final round of the Bolz Young Artist Competition in which the four finalists perform in a FREE concert with the Madison Symphony Orchestra that is broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and rebroadcast by Wisconsin Public Television (WPT).

“The Final Forte” will take place this Friday night at 7 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center. Seating is FREE but you must register with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. John DeMain will conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

According to the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which organizes and conducts the competition:

“The Final Forte 2016 finalists (above) were selected from several young Wisconsin artists who competed in the Bolz Young Artist Competition’s two preliminary rounds. The event gave these four artists the chance to perform a movement from a concerto with the MSO.

The 2016 contestants are (below, left to right): Pianist Audrianna Wu of Madison, who will perform the third movement of the Piano Concerto in A minor by Edvard Grieg (you can hearing the famous concerto played by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes in a YouTube video at the bottom); pianist Liam Mayo of Green Bay, who will perform the first and third movement of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by German composer Felix Mendelssohn; violinist Tabby Rhee of Brookfield, who will perform the first movement of the Violin Concerto by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius; and marimbist Robert Rockman of Sun Prairie, who will perform the “Fantasy on Japanese Prints” by American composer Alan Hovhaness.

final forte 2016

This year’s anniversary event features special guest co-host, concert pianist Christopher O’Riley, who hosts NPR’s “From the Top” that airs here on Sunday night 8-9 p.m.

Christopher O'Riley

The most comprehensive information about the FREE concert, the live broadcasts, the biographies the four young contestants, the complete list of sponsors and a link to register to reserve a seat (you can also call 608 257-3734) can be found at the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s website:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/finalforte

According to the MSO: “This competition has captured an enormous following and numerous honors, including an Emmy nomination, First Place in the “Special Interest” category from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association in 2007, and fifth most-watched program in the February 2007 Nielsen ratings.

The 2008 WPT and WPR broadcasts reached more than 60,000 viewers and listeners in the Madison market alone and the 2009 broadcasts reached an estimated 200,000 statewide.”

This event will be broadcast on: Wisconsin Public Television: Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 7, at 12 p.m.

Milwaukee Public Television: Friday, Feb. 5, at 8 p.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 4 a.m.

Wisconsin Public Radio: Sunday, Jan. 31, at 12:30 p.m.

Here is a link to Wisconsin Public Television, which features introductory videos about each performer:

http://wpt.org/final_forte

And here is a link to Wisconsin Public Radio, where Thursday right after the noon news on The Midday, Christopher O’Riley, host of NPR’s popular classical music program From The Top, chats with radio host Stephanie Elkins (below) about his show and the young musicians from Wisconsin that have appeared on his show in the past. O’Riley is in town to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Bolz Young Artists Final Forte.

Elkins,Stephanie_100

http://www.wpr.org/search/site/final%20forte


Classical music: Happy Halloween! Here is some spooky music along with a spooky way to listen to it.

October 31, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

BOO!

Today is Halloween 2015.

halloween

Trick or treat?

The Ear is giving out treats today.

Eeriness has played a role in classical music since its beginning.

So here are the 13 scariest pieces of classical music – with links to performances – as determined by Limelight magazine:

http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/features/13-scariest-pieces-classical-music-halloween

halloween black cat

And here is another selection of Halloween music, 10 pieces also with links to performances, from The Imaginative Conservative:

http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2014/10/classical-music-pieces-for-halloween.html

Together the two websites offer a wide variety of composers: Camille Saint-Saens, Franz Liszt, Johann Sebastian Bach, Modest Mussorgsky, Hector Berlioz, Bela Bartok, Arnold Schoenberg, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Gyorgy Ligeti, Antonin Dvorak, Josef Suk, Jean Sibelius, Andre Caplet, Carl Maria von Weber and Franz Schubert.

You could stream them loudly as you do trick-or-treat with neighborhood children.

Halloween witch and haunted house

But The Ear also wants to share what he finds to be a fascinating and irresistible but nonetheless spooky way of listening to the famous Organ Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Johann Sebastian Bach, a work that made both lists of music appropriate to Halloween.

The YouTube video uses an ingenious but spooky visual bar graph bar way to follow the music. Try it and see for yourself! Over 25 million people have!

Then leave any suggestions you have for Halloween music, along with a link to a YouTube or other performance if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: Need gift suggestions? NPR names its Top 10 classical music albums of 2014. Plus, though Dec. 24 the Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering cut-rate holiday tickets for four spring concerts.

December 14, 2014
2 Comments

ALERT: The Madison Symphony Orchestra has started its annual holiday cut-rate ticket sale. And you can get some great deals. Between now and Christmas Eve (Dec. 24), you can buy seats for $20 (with a value up to $44) and $45 (valued up to $88). The spring has four concerts, two of which feature piano concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt plus a concert of music by exiles from Nazi Germany in Hollywood during World War II and the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven and a violin concerto by Leonard Bernstein. For more information, visit: http://www.overturecenter.org/events/madison-symphony-orchestra/

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, today is another Shopping Day left before Christmas and other holidays.

With that in mind, The Ear usually offers lists that other media suggest about the best classical music recordings of 2014.

If you recall, I have already posed a link to the 57th annual Grammy Award nominations, which can be useful when it comes to holiday gift-giving.

Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/classical-music-the-57th-annual-grammy-award-nominations-provide-a-useful-guide-to-holiday-gift-giving/

grammy award BIG

And below is a link to the Top 10 classical albums that appeared on the appeared on the NPR (National Public Radio) blog Deceptive Cadence over the weekend. It is an eclectic list that features early music, well-known classics and new music.

You will find music by composers John Dowland, John Adams (below and at bottom in a YouTube video), John Luther Adams and Thomas Adès as well as Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen.

John Adams

Performers include violinist Augustin Hadelich (below), who has played twice with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and Leon Fleisher, who performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater; mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato; the New York Philharmonic under music director and conductor Alan Gilbert; and the Danish String Quartet playing works by Danish composers.

Augustin Hadelich 1

The list also shows CD covers and feature sound snippets and samples.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/12/11/370067981/best-classical-albums-of-2014

 


Classical music: The Minnesota Orchestra will try performing shorter and more informal concerts next season. What do you think? Should that be tried here in Madison and elsewhere?

November 16, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

You may remember that at the beginning of November, The Ear posted a series of 10 suggestions  to improve orchestral concerts (below bottom) intended to draw in bigger, newer and younger audiences.

concert

The suggestions were made by conductor Baldur Bronniman (below).

Baldur Bronniman

I added two suggestions of my own: Make concerts shorter and make tickets cheaper.

The post drew a lot of strong responses, mostly con but some pro, from readers. You should check them out.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/11/02/classical-music-an-orchestra-conductor-suggests-10-ways-to-improve-concerts-the-ear-adds-two-more/

Now I see that, with the help of a grant, the Minnesota Orchestra will try putting on some shorter and more informal concerts. The orchestra recently returned from the brink of bankruptcy and disaster under Finnish Grammy-winning music director Osmo Vanska, who took the same percentage pay cut at his players. (He is below and at bottom in a YouTube video conducting symphonies by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius), 

osmo vanska

While The Ear proposed 90-minute concerts without intermission, it seems the Minnesota Orchestra will try out the 60-minute formula in three concerts between this coming January and June. The programs look pretty good.

(Thanks for directing me to the story goes to Steve Kurr, below, the Middleton High School  music teacher and conductor of the Middleton Community Orchestra, which generally follows a short and more informal programs  for its concerts.)

Steve Kurr conducting

I will be anxious to see the results. So will a lot of other orchestra maestros and administrators, I suspect.

Just maybe we are beginning to see the start of a trend in bringing concert hall practices up to – or down to? — the standards of a high-tech and very busy society that is both timed-deprived and driven by a shorter attention span.

Here is a link to the story:

http://m.startribune.com/entertainment/music/280257972.html

What do you think of the ideas in general and the experiments in Minnesota?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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