The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Founder and conductor Mikko Utevsky discusses the concert of music by Vivaldi, Haydn, Beethoven and Madison composer Jerry Hui this Friday evening by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) that also features the two Norris brothers, also from Madison, as soloists.

August 7, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know well the name of Mikko Utevsky. The young violist this fall will be a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, where he studies with Pro Area Quartet violist Sally Chisholm.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his performances and his work in music education, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (below and at the bottom conducting MAYCO in the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in a YouTube video), which will perform this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall on the UW-Madisob campus. (You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.)

MAYCO playing

Utevsky offered The Ear a short essay about the concert, and I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post as he was on tour last summer with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras‘ tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the essay by Mikko Utevsky (below in a photo by Steve Rankin):

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

By Mikko Utevsky

This Friday evening, the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) will present an eclectic and, I hope, compelling program.

The concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall (below), on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the foot of Bascom Hill. Tickets are $5 at the door; student admission is by donation.

MusicHall2

The concert’s centerpieces are two masterworks of the Classical period, written only a few years apart: Beethoven‘s Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21, and Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto in E flat. These two pieces, alongside a fantastic new work from Madison-based composer Jerry Hui that was commissioned for the orchestra, form the justification for the title “New Horizons.” Each work is a first in its own way.

The reasoning behind performing the work by the young Beethoven (below) is obvious: It is the composer’s first and strikingly mature essay into the symphonic form, which he would go on to revolutionize not once but three times in his career (his Third, Fifth and Ninth symphonies).

This relatively early work shows the depth of his debt to his teacher, Haydn, in its wit and formal clarity, though signs of the mature Beethoven are visible in the impetuous “sforzandi,” or sudden dynamic changes, and prominent wind writing.

young beethoven etching in 1804

The work by Haydn himself (below top) on the program is less obviously groundbreaking. It is one of his late works, composed when he was 64 for an old friend, trumpeter Anton Weidinger.

Its novelty lies in the instrument for which it was written: Weidinger (below middle) had developed a chromatically-capable trumpet (below bottom), intended to replace the natural trumpet that had been in common use up to this point. That instrument was incapable of chromatics, and even of stepwise melodies and scales in all but its highest register. Haydn exploits the new instrument to its fullest capacity in the most ingenious ways in this compact but brilliant concerto.

Haydn

anton weidinger

old trumpet anton weidinger haydn  hummel

I am delighted to welcome as our soloist Madison native, former “Final Forte” performer, “From The Top” guest, and two-time National Trumpet Competition winner Ansel Norris (below).

Ansel Norris

Finally, Madison composer Jerry Hui’s tone-poem “Glacies” will receive its world premiere on Friday.

The performance of new works is an important part of MAYCO’s educational mission, and whenever possible we seek out music from local composers for the ensemble. New music challenges us as performers in many ways, introducing us to new styles and daring us to find joy and excitement in the unfamiliar. Working with Jerry is always a pleasure, and I sincerely hope the orchestra and audience enjoy his music as much as I do.

“Glacies’” is a wonderfully colorful work that should be both exciting and accessible to all audiences.

Mikko Utevsky conducts MAYCO Steve Rankin

I’ll let him introduce it. Here are comments by composer Jerry Hui (below):

Mikko, founder of MAYCO, was a former composition student of mine, studying counterpoint and harmony with the support of the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY), and I’m glad to compose a piece for his wonderful ensemble.

 “Glacies is a orchestral tone-poem commissioned by Mikko Utevsky for the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO). Mikko, the founder of MAYCO, was a former composition student of mine, studying counterpoint and harmony with the support of the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY), and I’m glad to compose a piece for his wonderful ensemble. Glacies is the Latin word for ice, signifying my original inspiration for the work.

“As a Madisonian living near the lake for the past five years, I have become fascinated by the serene mystery of morning mist rising from the large frozen body of water, as well as the first spring day when the ice breaks–which sometimes can become an exciting and violent event known as an icequake.

“Glacies” does not attempt to tell a narrative; rather, I try to convey an impression of it through various sound and color of the orchestra.”

–Jerry Hui

Jerry Hui

Rounding out the program is a short double concerto in B-flat major by Antonio Vivaldi (below), originally for oboe, violin and string orchestra with basso continuo. The oboe part will be played on the trumpet, as recorded by the inimitable Maurice Andre, as an encore for our soloist from the Haydn concerto.

vivaldi

Ansel Norris will be joined by his brother, violnist and MAYCO’s concertmaster Alex Norris, himself a graduate of the UW-Madison School of Music. (Both brothers are pictured below, Alex on the left and Ansel on the right, in a photo by their mother Kathy Esposito.)

Alex and Ansel Norris CR Kathy Esposito

As for MAYCO’s future plans: While a lack of foreknowledge about instrumentation and the dates of competing summer offerings prevents me from providing concert dates or program details for next summer, I can give a few general hints about what is to come in the orchestra’s fourth season:

– Two varied concert programs featuring Classical masterworks and lesser-known gems.

– The world premiere performance of a work written for the orchestra by a local composer.

– The showcasing of local artists as soloists, including both younger performers and established older musicians.

Mikko Utevsky with baton

More specifically, I hope to program the orchestra’s first piano concerto, and have been eyeing the prospect of working with vocalists again since I heard UW-Madison graduate student Shannon Prickett’s marvelous singing of Verdi and Puccini last summer, perhaps in the context of a concert performance of some opera scenes. But neither of those are promises. Stay tuned! (Shannon Prickett is shown below.)

Shannon Prickett soprano

Finally, I am planning to extend some of MAYCO’s offerings into the school year. We will be holding at least one outreach and reading session on a Saturday afternoon, at which current WYSO members will be invited to read some of the Classical repertoire that the orchestra specializes in and learn about the program we offer.

(Editors note: For more background information, read the entry of the UW School of Music’s outstanding blog “Fanfare”:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/mayco-four-seasons/


Classical music: Radio station WORT FM will air music and interviews by local composers Jerry Hui and John Harbison starting this Thursday morning. Plus, tonight at 7 the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opens its 30th annual Concerts on the Square.

June 26, 2013
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ALERT: Tonight, at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square downtown, is the opening the 30th annual series of Concerts on the Square (below top) by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Although most of the programs for the next  six Wednesdays (rain dates are Thursdays)  feature mostly pop, folk and rock music, tonight’s is an all-classical program with the student violinist David Cao (below bottom), who won this year’s WCO concerto competition for young people. He will solo in the tuneful and irresistible Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (the opening with Janine Jansen is in a YouTube video at the bottom). Also featured are works by Prokofiev (“Peter and the Wolf”), Tchaikovsky (excerpts from “Sleeping Beauty”)  and Respighi. For more information about tonight’s event and all six Concerts on the Square, use this link:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square/

Concerts on Square WCO orchetsra

David Cao WCO

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s good friend Rich Samuels (below), who loves classical music and hosts his weekly radio show “Anything Goes” every Thursday morning from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. on the community-sponsored radio station WORT-FM (89.9) writes:

“I’ll be broadcasting Madison composer Jerry Hui’s Internet opera “Wired for Love” on my show in two segments: Acts I and II (beginning at 7:08 am) on June 27; the final act will begin at 7:08 on July 4. I’m airing the work in two segments on account of its length. I also want it to air during the 7 a.m. hour when more people are able to listen.

Rich Samuels

“Pre-recorded interviews with Jerry  – who wrote and staged the opera (below) as his Doctor of Musical Arts thesis at the UW-Madison School of Music — will be included on both dates.

Wired for Love 1 P1000703

“It will be interesting to see what Jerry Hui — below — comes up with for the next Madison Area Youth Chamber orchestra (MAYCO) concert on Aug. 9.

Jerry Hui

“On July 11, I’ll be airing a pre-recorded interview with the Pulitzer Prize-winning and MacArthur Fellow or “genius” grant-winning composer and Token Creek Chamber Music Festival co-director John Harbison (below).

“I will also play a recording of his “Remembering Gatsby,” a precursor of his opera based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A concert version of “The Great Gatsby,” which was commissioned and premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, will be performed at Tanglewood that same evening.”

“I’ll be programing lots more Harbison in weeks to come. He turns 75 at the end of the year.

JohnHarbisonatpiano


Classical music review: University of Wisconsin-Madison composer Jerry Hui’s new chamber opera “Wired for Love” is hardwired for success.

January 23, 2012
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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 hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

I had to miss the official “world premiere” performance of the new comic opera “Wired for Love” by Jerry Hui (below) on Friday night, but I was able to catch the follow-up performance the next evening at Music Hall.

As readers of The Ear have already been informed, it is a one-act chamber opera, running about 70 minutes and is Hui’s dissertation project for his doctoral degree at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.  It calls for four singers, and a pit orchestra of nine players (a string quartet with flutes, oboe/English horn, clarinets, trombone, percussion and piano).

To recap previous information, it has a libretto written jointly by Hui with Lisa Kundrat (below). In rhymed verse, it traces the confrontation made to a Nigerian scammer, who uses a male alias on the Internet, by a British counter-scammer, who uses a female alias. The two electronic “dummies” begin to take on independent characters of their own, fall genuinely in love, betray their creators, and escape to independent existence.

It is, in a sense, a piece of sci-fi satire. But it did remind me just a little of Menotti’s little comic one-act opera, “The Telephone,” which spoofed the intrusion of a modern gadget into real life circumstances. Menotti (below) also captured a lot of American colloquial English, in the way Hui and Kundrat mocked the pseudo-pigeon-English of those Nigerian scam e-mails we all seem to receive.

I was also alert to possible influences on Hui’s musical style. As he promised, he composes in an eclectic mode, reflecting and synthesizing a number of idioms.

There was jazz, and Broadway, but also conventional opera–complete with a witty quotation of the “Tristan chord.” The instrumentation at times reminded me of the “Histoire du Soldat” by Stravinsky (below top) while the overture carried for me some of the episodic writing techniques of Virgil Thomson (below bottom, with his librettist Gertrude Stein).

But Hui is his own man. His handling of the instruments is thoroughly confident, and I even wonder if he might consider fleshing out the score for a fuller orchestra. Above all, while he certainly does not attempt traditional “bel canto” vocalism, he can write genuinely idiomatic vocal lines.

There are several full-scale arias, amid a lot of “parlando” writing. And the most brilliant touch is an ensemble epilogue, a kind of Baroque operatic “coro,” offering moralizing sentiments in an echoing the final ensemble to Mozart‘s “Don Giovanni,” but cast in the form of a kind of post-Renaissance madrigal.

Hui has admitted, after all, that he is very much influenced by early musical styles. And all the music in this work is sustained in a very accomplished contrapuntal texture.

Hui was fortunate in his performers, certainly so with the instrumentalists.

Of his four singers (below, all from the UW School of Music), undergraduate baritone James Held (below, far left) was solid as the British counter-scammer–bringing a fine touch of humor to his acting. The role of the Nigerian scammer was written for a countertenor, of all things, and the very promising  Peter Gruett (below,  far right) invested his part with an appropriately bizarre quality.

Particularly outstanding, however, were the two avatars. Daniel O’Dea as the imaginary Zimbabwean frontman offered a lovely tenor voice and some quite emotionally moving expressiveness. Soprano Jennifer Sams, a familiar singer to Madison audiences, not only brought off her role as the Britisher’s phony American avatar (can you forget a name like “Ethel Wormvarnish”?) with versatility and flair but also contributed the clever stage direction.

A further plaudit goes to to Chelsie Propst for contributing imaginative surtitles, set in different type-faces to fit different characters, notably helpful in duets and ensembles.

In sum, this is a witty and enjoyable stage piece, and the audience of which I was a member just loved it. It is worth experiencing again, I think, so it is good news that Hui plans to record it soon.

Above all, “Wired for Love” is a demonstration of the very impressive dimension of Jerry Hui as a composer, amid all his other enterprises. I have already compared him to the late Steve Jobs for his boundless energy and diversely imaginative productivity.

But dare we wonder if he is perhaps also another Leonard Bernstein in the making? Time will tell. But this production is certainly a tantalizing hint. Watch for future developments …


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