The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The world premiere of John Harbison’s Sonata for Viola and Piano this Sunday night headlines a busy weekend at the UW that includes wind music and band music

February 16, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is a big and busy weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

The most publicized event this week, justifiably, is the world premiere of a new Sonata for Viola and Piano by composer John Harbison, who has won many awards and honors including a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur “genius” Fellowship. The guest pianist, from Minnesota, is Timothy Lovelace.

The premiere takes place in Mills Hall on Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. The Pro Arte Quartet will also play the “Sunrise” Quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn and “Four Encores for Stan” by Harbison. Pro Arte violist Sally Chisholm (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) will perform the new work that was written for her. It was commissioned by an anonymous patron to mark the composer’s 80th birthday.


Admission is $25.

For more information about the concert, the piece and tickets, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/2018/12/17/world-premiere-of-john-harbisons-viola-sonata/

In addition, Harbison (below) will give a free and public master class on Monday, Feb. 18, from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the Mills Music Library Seminar Room (Room B162G in the Memorial Library).

But that is far from the only important or noteworthy event going on.

Here is a day-by-day schedule, not including the concert by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras’ Youth Orchestra with guest clarinetist Amitai Vardi that takes place TODAY in Mills Hall at 4 p.m. Here is a link to more about the WYSO concert:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/02/15/classical-music-wisconsin-youth-symphony-orchestras-wyso-to-perform-the-annual-winterfest-concerts-this-saturday-and-march-2/

TODAY

At 3 p.m. in Morphy Hall, the winners’ FREE concert of the Irving Shain Woodwind-Piano Duo Competition will take place. To see the four winners and their complete programs, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/irving-shain-woodwind-piano-duo-competition-winners-recital-2/

At 7:30 p.m., faculty member bassoonist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill), who plays with the Wingra Wind Quintet, and friends will give a FREE concert. Music to be performed includes works by Robert Schumann, John Harbison, Ida Gotkowsky, Emmanuel Chabrier, Georges Bizet, Jules Massenet and Marc Vallon, although specific titles are not listed. For more information, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/faculty-recital-marc-vallon-bassoon-2/

SUNDAY

At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, a FREE concert will be the inaugural Wind Ensemble Concerto Competition and its winner Midori Samson (below). Scott Teeple is the faculty conductor, and Cole Hairston and Ross Wolf are graduate student conductors. The concert will be STREAMED LIVE. Here is a link to the streaming portal, which also has an archive of other streamed concerts: https://www.music.wisc.edu/video/

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Concert Band will perform a FREE concert under the baton of its retiring director Mike Leckrone (below).

The program, subject to change, include: “Nessum Dorma” by Giacomo Puccini; “Universal Judgment” by Camille de Nardis; “Psalm for Band” by Vincent Persichetti; “La Boutique Fantastique” by Gioacchino Rossini, arranged by Ottorino Respighi; and “Nobles of the Mystic Shrine” by John Philip Sousa.

Here is a link to the program: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-concert-band/


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Classical music: Moscow and Paris meet through cello and piano music at the Wisconsin Union Theater this Saturday night at 7:30

December 4, 2018
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

What was the musical relationship between Paris and Moscow, especially after the Russian Revolution?

You can find out, and hear examples, this Saturday night, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall (below) at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Pianist Lise de la Salle and cellist Christian-Pierre La Marca (below right and left, respectively) will explore the musical relationship between Moscow and Paris through works by Gabriel Fauré (you can hear them play his Elegy in the YouTube video at the bottom), Camille Saint-Saëns, Jules Massenet, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. It is the subject of their latest recording from Sony Classical.

For the full program plus biographies and videos of the performers and information about obtaining tickets ($25-$42 for the general adult public, $20 for young people, $10 for UW students), go to: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/lise-de-la-salle-and-christian-pierre-la-marca/

Lise de la Salle made her debut at age 13 in a performance at the Louvre. According to Le Monde, she “possesses a youthful single-minded spirit and the courage of conviction seldom expected of such a young artist.”

Now 29, de la Salle has established a reputation as one of today’s most exciting young artists and as a musician of uncommon sensibility and maturity. Her playing inspired a Washington Post critic to write, “For much of the concert, the audience had to remember to breathe … the exhilaration didn’t let up for a second until her hands came off the keyboard.”

She specializes in Russian composers and has played with symphony orchestras in London, Paris, Munich, Tokyo, Baltimore, Detroit and Quebec. Says Bryce Morrison of Gramophone magazine,“Lise de la Salle is a talent in a million.”

In just a few years, through his international concert appearances, the young cellist Christian-Pierre La Marca already ranks among the masters of the cello. He has performed in concert halls such as the Louvre, the Philharmonie of Berlin, the 92nd Street Y in New York City, and Izumi Hall in Osaka, among others.

La Marca has appeared as a soloist with many leading orchestras and is also highly sought after in chamber music. He plays a unique golden period Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume cello (1856) and the Vocation Foundation has provided him a rare Jacob Eury cello bow (1825). An exclusive Sony Classical artist, La Marca has already released three albums unanimously praised by international press and international critics.

Before the performance, enjoy a lecture by Kyle Johnson (below) at 6 p.m. Check Today in the Union for room location. Johnson is a pianist who recently received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the UW-Madison.

His performing experience ranges from solo and festival appearances throughout the U.S. and U.K., co-founding the Madison-based contemporary ensemble Sound Out Loud, and as a performance fellow in the Longitude Contemporary Ensemble in Boston, Mass.

His research interests strongly correlate with his interest in 20th-century piano repertoire, of which he produces a podcast series around (Art Music Perspectives). For more information, visit www.kyledjohnson.com.

This performance is presented by the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Performing Arts Committee. This project was supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. WORT-FM 89.9 is the media sponsor.


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Classical music: Violinist and concertmaster David Kim will discuss becoming a professional musician and will give two public master classes plus a student performance of string music by Vivaldi, Massenet and Brahms

October 16, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison about upcoming events:

“From oboist to organist, whether one performs pop or Prokofiev, every musician has a story of an intricate and sometimes unsettling pathway to a professional career.

“Violinist David Kim, (below) who will visit the School of Music TODAY and Tuesday, Oct. 16 and 17, is no different. Since 1999, Kim has been the concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

“On Tuesday at 7: 30 p.m. in Mills Hall, Kim will offer a talk, “From Prodigy to Professionalism – A Life in Music.” (Editor’s note: You can sample Kim’s terrific conversational style and accessible analysis in the interview with him about his violin in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“He’ll describe his experiences and struggles to reach the pinnacle of his career, interspersed with performances of some of Mr. Kim’s favorite works. It will be a humorous, sometimes jarring, and often poignant story not to be missed.

“Kim’s talk will be followed by a concert with UW-Madison strings and pianist Thomas Kasdorf. The program will include “Sonatensatz” (Sonata Movement) by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897); “Banjo and Fiddle” by William Kroll (1901-1980); “Meditation” from the opera “Thais” by Jules Massenet (1842-1912); and “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741).

“I’ve always shared anecdotes about my crazy upbringing,” Kim wrote in an email. “From the beginning, my story seemed to resonate, especially with parents. After all, who doesn’t have a story of an overzealous parent from some stage of life!

“Now I share my story numerous times each season and have been urged by many to write a book – a la the widely read book, ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom.’

“But that will probably never happen as I prefer speaking during my concerts and love seeing the audience react in person.”

“Join us for our “Conversation & Concert” with David Kim, our strings players and pianist Thomas Kasdorf (below), a UW-Madison alumnus and graduate student. Tickets are $15 for adults, $5 for students, except Mead Witter music majors, who receive free admission. Buy tickets here. They will also be sold at the door, starting at 6:30 p.m.

“Additional Events: 
Violin Master Class is TODAY, Monday, Oct. 16, at 7 p.m. in Morphy Hall;
 Strings Orchestral Excerpts Master Class is on Tuesday, Oct. 17, at 11 a.m. in Morphy Hall. Both classes are free and open to the public.

“Learn more here: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/david-kim-vivaldis-four-seasons/


Classical music: The Ear hears the impressive young pianist Joyce Yang and thinks Madison needs more piano recitals. Plus, a FREE concert of female vocal duets is at noon on Friday.

October 22, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held 12:15-1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature sopranos Susan Savage Day and Rebekah Demaree with pianist Sharon Jensen in duets by Gabriel Faure, Jacques Aubert, Jules Massenet, Claudio Monteverdi, UW-Madison alumnus Lee Hoiby and more.

By Jacob Stockinger

There he was last Thursday, sitting in the lower balcony in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The Ear was in Piano Himmel, listening to a masterful performance.

The occasion was a solo piano recital by Joyce Yang (below), an up-and-coming, prize-winning Korea-born and America-trained pianist, still in her late 20s, who was making her Madison debut.

Joyce Yang

And the same thought haunted The Ear, himself an avid amateur pianist, that also came to him during a fine student piano recital this summer.

That thought was simply this: Madison needs to have many more solo piano recitals.

The piano is perhaps the one most commonly studied musical instrument and is a staple of music education, so the potential audience should be there. The repertoire is vast and wonderful. And the piano just hasn’t been receiving its due compared to the many new choral groups and chamber music ensembles that always seem to be proliferating in the area.

The Wise Teacher recalls years ago when almost a dozen solo piano recitals happened during a single season. This season there are only three -– and two have already taken place.

One was the recital of Mendelssohn, Franck and Chopin by Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino (below top)  on Oct. 4 at Farley’s House of Pianos on its Salon Piano Series. (The Ear couldn’t go because he is was in Chicago that afternoon hearing a piano recital by Maurizio Pollini.) The second was by Joyce Yang. The third one will be the performance by UW-Madison virtuoso professor Christopher Taylor (below bottom) on Friday, Feb 26. (No program has yet been announced.)

Daniel del PIno square

Christopher Taylor new profile

Here is an afterthought: Maybe the Madison Symphony Orchestra could start a piano series like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra offers on Sunday afternoons?

Let’s be clear: This is a matter more of pleasure and education than of justice.

Take Yang’s performance, which drew an unfortunately small house of only 300-400.

The first half was remarkable for both the clarity and color she possessed. Ethnic themes, folk songs and folk dances, especially Latin American and Spanish in nature, united the first half of her program.

She opened with two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, the three “Estampes” or Prints by Claude Debussy and two pieces from “Iberia” by Isaac Albeniz and three virtuosic “cowboy” dances by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera.

In all those works, Yang proved a complete and mature keyboard artist. Her technique is rock solid, but it is her musicality that most impresses the listener. The Ear was particularly struck by Yang’s command of dynamics, her ability to play softly and still project, and to delineate and balance various voices.

The second half, all works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, proved less satisfying to The Ear, if not to the audience. It featured two transcriptions of vocal works or songs — “Dreams” and  “Vocalise”  — by the late American virtuoso pianist Earl Wild (below).

earl wild

Unfortunately, Wild himself possessed a Lisztean (or Horowitzean) command of keyboard technique. And like Franz Liszt (or Vladimir Horowitz), Wild just couldn’t resist adding Liberace-like flourishes, flash and trash to his transcriptions in places where simplicity rather than Big Chords would have more than sufficed.

At certain points in a Wild transcription, the work inevitably sounds louche or decadent and over-the-top, like something you might hear at a piano bar or in a cocktail lounge. In short, they are more piano than music. (You can listen to Earl Wild himself performing his own transcription of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Then came  the Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor by Rachmaninoff (below) in its revised 1931 edition. To be honest, this is a Big Piece that is full of sound and fury signifying not very much that The Ear can discern. (The Ear much prefers Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos, preludes and Etudes Tableaux.)

To be sure, the bombastic sonata requires impressive and powerful piano playing, which must explain the muscular work’s popularity among professional pianists and certain segments of the public. It is a Wower and wow us it does, although many of us would rather be seduced than wowed.

Rachmaninoff

The sonata surely is effective in live performance and brought an immediate standing ovation. That, in turn, was rewarded with another Earl Wild transcription this time of George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Too bad the love once again seemed overpowered by difficult but flawlessly executed scales and runs.

But putting those shortcomings aside, the sound of an amazingly played piano recital was such a welcome experience.

The Ear hopes that many more of them are somehow in store.

 


Classical music: The German hunka-hunka tenor Jonas Kaufmann is profiled at length as he heads into the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Massenet’s “Werther” and prepares for his Carnegie Hall debut next Sunday. Plus, Sony releases his CD of Schubert’s “Winterreise.”

February 15, 2014
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ALERT:  The University of Wisconsin School of Music’s Guest Artist series will present flutist Sarah Frisof (below) of the University of Kansas and pianist-composer Daniel Pesca in a FREE recital on this Sunday night at 7 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall.  The program includes Ballade by Frank Martin; Sonata in E minor by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach; “A Memory of Melisande” and “Brief Pause” by Daniel Pesca; and Sonata No. 1 in A Major for Violin by Gabriel Faure (transcribed by Stallman).

Frisof trained at the University of Michigan, the Juilliard School theEastman School of Music. She was a semi-finalist in the 2009 Kobe International Flute Competition, and 2nd Prize winner of both the National Flute Associations’ Young Artist Competition in 2008 and the Heida Hermann?s International Woodwind Competition in 2007. Dr. Frisof is the principal flute of the Dallas Wind Symphony and a frequent performer with the Dallas Symphony. She has performed with the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony and Boston Symphony. Daniel Pesca (b. 1985) is currently pursuing a DMA in Composition at the Eastman School of Music. He is the recipient of many commissions; his work for wind ensemble. Pieces by Pesca have been performed by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the Huntsville (Alabama) Symphony Orchestra, and Eastman’s Musica Nova.

Sarah Frisof

By Jacob Stockinger

The 40-year-old German heart-throb tenor from Munich, Jonas Kaufmann is on a roll.

jonas kaufmann leather coat

Well, truth be told, he has been for years.

But this week seems a kind of trifecta for Jonas (pronounced Yonas) Kaufmann.

On Friday, Feb. 17, Maestro Hunka-Hunka opens the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of French composer Jules Massenet’s “Werther,” the opera based on the famous and influential early 19th century Storm-and-Stress novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Jonas Kaufmann in %22Met's Werther%22

Then two days later, Kaufmann makes his Carnegie Hall debut – presumably and unfortunately, if you have seen his Met production of Wagner’s “Parsifal” (below, in a photo by Sara Krulwich of The New York Times), with his shirt on — with a recital of Romantic songs by Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. It seems rather late for his first appearance at Carnegie Hall, but I bet it is a sell-out.

The Ear hopes they have some smelling salts handy, just in case.

Jonas Kaufmann as Parsifal Sara Krulwich NYT

All that plus Sony Classical is releasing an album of Franz Schubert’s famous and season-appropriate song cycle “Winterreise” (Winter Journey, below top) on the heels of Kaufmann’s bestselling and critically acclaimed CDs for Decca Records of arias by Richard Wagner (below  bottom) and Giuseppe Verdi (below bottom and in a YouTube video of “La donna e mobile” from “Rigoletto” at the bottom of the post).

Jonas Kaufmann Winterreise CD cover

Kaufmann Wagner CD

Well, what can you say such success?

Not much.

But you can read about how Kaufmann’s career has developed and what kind of rather modest and thoughtful person lies behind the glamorous and charismatic tenor, who may be the first really BIG vocal and operatic talent to emerge in this century.

I mean, Kaufmann has it all: strength and endurance, great tone, variety and handsome looks.

Did I mention handsome looks?

Yep. Kaufmann is thoroughly beautiful in his singing and thoroughly believable in his acting. Now that is a combination devoutly to be wished, don’t you think?

Here is a link to the comprehensive profile of Jonas Kaufmann by Zachary Woolfe that shows just how much consideration goes into Kaufmann’s personal life and professional career. All that talent, plus he seems like a nice guy:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/arts/music/jonas-kaufmann-chooses-his-met-roles-carefully.html

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Classical music: What classial music do you like to hear to commemorate 9/11? This Sunday promises a lot of UW-Madison opera and chamber music by both alumni as well as current students and faculty. Plus, Edgewood College singer Kathleen Otterson’s recital is SUNDAY at 2:30 p.m., NOT Saturday as was mistakenly stated yesterday.

September 11, 2013
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TODAY IS 9/11: WHAT PIECE OF CLASSICAL MUSIC DO YOU LIKE TO HEAR TO MEMORIALIZE THAT TRAGIC DAY IN 2001? LET THE EAR KNOW IN A COMMENT WITH A LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO, IF POSSIBLE.

AN IMPORTANT CORRECTION: Yesterday The Ear mistakenly said that Edgewood College mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson will give a recital on this Saturday – which was WRONG. The concert is SUNDAY AFTERNOON AT 2:30 P.M. Otherwise the story and the details are correct. I apologize for the error.

Here is a link to the corrected story:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/classical-music-edgewood-college-mezzo-soprano-kathleen-otterson-will-perform-a-recital-of-songs-by-gustav-and-alma-mahler-berlioz-rossini-and-andre-previn-this-coming-saturday-afternoon/

Kathleen Otterson 2

By Jacob Stockinger

True, the new concert season at the University of Wisconsin School of Music officially opened up over a week ago with the 36th annual Labor Day Concert by the Karp Family.

But this is a reminder that this Sunday – really the first busy weekend of the academic year the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music – promises to have a lot of music.

Here are the various concerts, as described in press releases:

— Sunday, Sep. 15, 2013 at 1 p.m. in Mills Hall.

UW Professor Les Thimmig will give the first Faculty Concert

Thimmig (below) will present “The Feldman Trios,” Part One. Three lecture-performances of the late-period work of American composer Morton Feldman (below).  The other sessions are on October 27 and February 2, 2014.

Les Thimmig color

The First concert is: “Why Patterns?” It features Prof. Les Thimmig on flutes; Jennifer Hedstrom on keyboards; and Sean Kleve on percussion. (See the YouTube video at the bottom.)

American composer Morton Feldman (1926-1987, below in a New York Times photo from 1985) was first noted for his inclusion in the “Cage School,” a group of four composers, the others being Earle Brown and Christian Wolff, associated with the composer John Cage. The three trios for flute, piano, and percussion included in this series were written for the members of this group during the last nine years of Feldman’s life. During this period, his works radically increased in length, lasting from 30 minutes to multiple hours of single-movement, very slowly unfolding development. At issue were the distinction of “form” and “scale.”

Morton Feldman NYT 1985

— Also on Sunday, Sept. 15, at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall is the Second Annual “School of Music Alumni Association Showcase.” For more information, go to http://uwsomaa.org/and click “alumni recital.”

The program features:

Hornist Alex Weaver playing: Concert Etude for Solo Horn by Esa-Pekka Salonen (b. 1958) and Suite for Horn and Piano by Alec Wilder (1907-1980).

Alex Weaver

Flutist Kristine Rominski (below) playing: “Tenderness of Cranes” by Shirish Korde

Kristine Rominski

Percussionist Michael Mixtacki (below) playing: “Uma Mulher” by Seu Jorge, arr. Mixtacki and “Obbatalá,” Traditional Afro-Cuban, arr. Mixtacki.

Michael Mixtacki

Kristine Rominski and Michael Mixtacki playing duets: “Piedra en la Piedra” by Ricardo Lorenz and “Kembang Suling” by Gareth Farr

Singer Sam Handley (below, in a performance of Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Lyric Opera of Chicago) performing:  “L’air de Sancho” from “Don Quichotte” by Jules Massenet  (1842-1912); “Bin ich nun frei?” from  “Das Rheingold” by Richard Wagner  (1813-1883); “Her Face” from “Carnival!” by Bob Merrill (1921-1998); and “La Calunnia” from “The Barber of Seville” by Gioachino Rossini  (1792-1868).

Sam Handley in Britten A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Lyric Opera of Chicago

— The third concert, the Opera Props Showcase, on this Sunday will held at 3 p.m. NOT on the UW campus but instead at the historic landmark and Frank Lloyd Wright Unitarian Meeting House (below), 900 University Bay Drive. For information, visit:

http://cpanel101.mulehill.com/~uwoperap/

FUS exterior  madison

Opera Props annual fall Showcase Concert will introduce University Opera’s extraordinary singers in a program of celebrated arias. This benefit event includes several new singers who will be featured in the upcoming season’s productions. 

University Opera Director William Farlow has selected eight young singers and a program of favorite arias for Opera Props’ fall Showcase Concert this year.

It includes several new singers who will be featured in the upcoming season’s productions. Opera Props is a booster group for the UW School of Music’s opera program, and acts as liaison between the program and the local community. So a valued part of this annual event is the reception, which follows the concert:  Singers and their teachers enjoy sharing discussion with the audience, along with lavish chocolate and other treats.

Tickets are $25 per person ($10 for students) and may be purchased at the door.  Proceeds will help recruit and fund young artists for the University Opera program.

Here is more information: The student singers (below is a photo of Opera Propos singers in 2011) will sing arias by George Frideric Handel, Jules Massenet, Giocchino Rossini, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, accompanied by pianist Thomas Kasdorf.

Opera Props 2011

One of the singers is mezzo-soprano Lindsay Metzger (below), who will sing the aria “Parto, ma tu ben mio” from Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito.”

Metzger hails from Chicago, where she studied with Jane Bunnell at DePaul University. Last year she was an Apprentice Artist with the Des Moines Metro Opera, and this past summer she sang the role of Cherubino in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” with Musica Lirica in Novafeltria, Italy.

Mezzo Lindsay Metzger

Metzger is now completing the second year of a Master’s degree at the UW-Madison where she holds a Paul Collins Fellowship. She already is rehearsing the title role of “Ariodante” for this semester’s production on campus of George Frideric Handel’s opera.  Next semester she is scheduled to sing Béatrice in Hector Berlioz’s opera “Béatrice et Bénédict.” 

For more information about Opera Props and University Opera productions and events, visit:

http://cpanel101.mulehill.com/~uwoperap/


Classical music: University Opera director Wiiliam Farlow talks about his retirement at the end of this season, and the rewards and challenges of staging opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

September 5, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

University Opera director William Farlow has announced that he will retire at the end of the current season, after spending 15 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

During his tenure, attendance has grown and the productions have received critical acclaim. (Below is soprano Emily Birsan, who went on to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, in the University Opera’s production of Jules Massenet‘s rarely heard opera “Thais.”)

Thais Birsan

The Ear knows Farlow as an amiable man who is always willing to help the local music scene and to promote his own vocal and instrumental students, a number of whom have gone on to important careers.

His productions at the UW-Madison are staged at Music Hall (below) at the foot of Bascom Hill.

MusicHall2

Farlow’s repertoire choices have ranged from such standards as Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” (below) and Franz Lehar‘s “The Merry Widow,” in a YouTube video at the bottom) to rarities and out-of-the-way works that he felt would be good for students to do. He has used both traditional and updated stagings.

University Opera La Boheme Photo 2

Here is a link to the University Opera home website that incudes productions, dates and times, and other information:

http://music.wisc.edu/opera

And here is a link to Opera Props, the support group that helps University Opera:

http://cpanel101.mulehill.com/~uwoperap/

Farlow (seen below in a photo by Kathy Esposito, the new concert manager and director of public relations at the UW School of Music) recently gave an email interview to The Ear.

William Farlow by Kathy Esposito

Can you give us some brief personal and professional background including when and why you came to the UW and why you are retiring? 

I came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall of 1998 after teaching at University of Arkansas-Fayetteville for five years. I came here because I felt I needed a new challenge -– which it certainly turned out to be!

I am retiring because I have spent the last 50 years of my life doing opera. It started when I was 15 and played in the second violin section for a production of Verdi’s “Aida.” I have continued into my mid-60s and feel it’s time to move on to the next chapter of my life. (Below is a photo of William Farlow in a rehearsal.)

Farlowrehearsing Cosi2004

Will you stay in Madison after you retire?

I have no immediate plans to move.

What are your plans for after retirement? Do you have special hobbies or activities you want to pursue? Will you continue to freelance as an opera director?

I will continue as Artistic Advisor to Fresco Opera Theatre and Operations Consultant to the Des Moines Metro Opera as well as continue to judge voice competitions –- I’ve been a judge for the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions for 30 years –- and to give master classes.

I do not plan on directing in the future and have turned down all offers for 2014, one of which was a complete “Ring” cycle of Wagner.

I can’t wait to cook more and read.

William Farlow witn roses

What are you most proud of during your tenure at the UW?

The huge variety of repertoire and quality productions we have been able to offer, and the phenomenal younger singers and instrumentalists.

What makes doing opera at a university school of music special or distinctive in your view, and what advice would you pass along to your successor?

There are so many more repertoire choices for university opera than for many professional companies. My advice is “Good luck” and “Leave no stone unturned.”

What was the best part of directing at the UW? The most frustrating part?

The best part was working with the opera’s music director and conductor James Smith (below top), who is such an extraordinary musician and colleague, and with soprano and associate director of University Opera Mimmi Fulmer (below bottom), who is the best everything.

The most frustrating part? FUNDING!!

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Mimmi Fulmer

How healthy is the opera program now at the UW-Madison? What challenges do you see in the future?

The program is in good shape for now, but the challenges will continue to be recruitment and funding.

Why did you choose operas by  George Frideric Handel (“Ariodante” on Pct. 25, 27 and 29) and Hector Berlioz (“Beatrice and Benedict” on April 13, 15 and 19) for your farewell season?

My choices for this season are the same as they always have been — operas that give the most opportunities to the most singers.

Handel etching

berlioz

Is there anything else you would like to say? 

The last 15 years have been the most challenging and rewarding of my career. I have had the great honor of directing so many great works that I wouldn’t have dreamed would be possible at this point in my career.


Classical Music: Meditate on this — NPR asks if French opera composer Jules Massenet be rediscovered, revived and performed for more than his famous “Meditation”?

September 16, 2012
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

These days, about the only piece by the 19th century French composer Jules Massenet (below, in a photo from Getty Images) you hear often is the lovely “Meditation” from the opera ‘Thais,” usually scored for violin and orchestra or violin and piano but also available in transcriptions.

But recently the director of NPR’s “Deceptive Cadence” classical music blog Tom Huizenga (below) made the case for rediscovering and reviving Jules Massenet. The occasion was the centennial of Massenet’s birth and the issuing of a 23-CD box set by Decca, from which he took  samples. He also cited some interesting statistics about the popularity of performances of Massenet’s usually sentimental works.

True, Massenet was an unabashed sentimentalist, but he certainly had an undeniable great gift for melody and harmony. He knew how to write a line that sings and music that pleases.

Huizenga’s essay is even filled with several audio snippets to help make his case and to help you decide or reach a verdict.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/08/14/158750921/making-a-case-for-massenet-the-misunderstood-sentimentalist

Maybe it is just more proof that the great rediscoveries made in the 17th and 18th centuries, in the Baroque and Classical periods, that took place over the past several decades with early music and period instrument groups are now reaching into the 19th and early 20th centuries.

We will see.

Let’s think about it. Let’s meditate on it.

And while we do, here is the popular, famous and beautiful – though some would even say banal or trite – “Meditation” from “Thais,” first from superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman with an orchestra, then from superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma with pianist Kathryn Stott. You can decide which version you like more,  and then let us know in the COMMENT section along with what you think of Massenet:


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