The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The 35th annual summer Concerts on the Square start this Wednesday night and will feature a lot of classical music

June 25, 2018
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Maestro Andrew Sewell usually makes sure the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra programs a fair amount of classical music for its annual summer Concerts on the Square (below).

The FREE popular outdoor concerts — billed as “The Biggest Picnic of  Summer” — usually draw up to at least 20,000 people for each performance on the King Street corner of the State Capitol.

They start this Wednesday night at 7 p.m. – blankets can go down at 3 p.m. — and run for six consecutive Wednesday nights through Aug. 1.

But this year Sewell (below) seems especially generous with the classical fare he is serving up. In fact, four of the six concerts are all classical – a much higher percentage than in most past years, if The Ear recalls correctly.

For the complete lineup of the concerts – and to compare this year’s offerings with those of past years — go to the website: https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performance-listing/category/concerts-on-the-square

Then you can click on “More Info” for each individual concert date to get the full program and information about the performers.You can also find what you need to know about following rules, parking, reserving tables, listening etiquette, volunteering, donating and support, and finding menus for food providers.

For this opening concert “Carnival” on Wednesday, the WCO will showcase 18-year-old Kenosha high school senior Matthew Udry (below), a cellist who won this year’s Young Artist Concerto Competition. Udry will perform the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Also on the all-Slavic program are two Czech compositions:  the “Carnival” Overture by Antonin Dvorak (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); and “Three Dances” from the opera “The Bartered Bride” by Bedrich Smetana.

An all-Russian concert is slated for July 11 with another student cellist, Miriam K. Smith (below top), and the Middleton High School Choir (below bottom). The program includes the Concert Waltz No. 2 by Alexander Glazunov, the “Rococo” Variations by Peter Tchaikovsky and the Intermezzo and Women’s Dance by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The July 25 concert features the up-and-coming guitarist Colin Davin (below) in a programs of Spanish and Hispanic music including Joaquin Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez,” Alberto Ginastera’s “Estancia: Four Dances,” and Roberto Sierra’s “Fandango.”

Finally, on Aug. 1, baritone Jubilant Sykes (below) is featured in a program that includes: the “Norwegian Rhapsody No. 1” by Johan Halvorsen; Aaron Copland’s “Old American Songs,” including “Simple Gifts” and “I Bought Me a Cat” as well as two spirituals, “Were You There?” and “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”;  the Interlude from the symphonic ode, “La Nuit et l’Amour” (Night and Love), from the cantata “Ludus pro Patria,” by the French composer Augusta Holmes; and the Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” by Antonin Dvorak.

Of course other programs include pops and rock music, plus patriotic music for the Fourth of July concert — only fitting for the occasion.

But The Ear still thinks the classical fare is generous and noteworthy.

Of course, loud chitchat, eating and other neighborly noise could interfere with your ability to listen closely to the music.

But Andrew Sewell and the WCO still deserve a big shout out!

Bravo, all!


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Classical music: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) performs works by Bach, Elgar and Shostakovich plus a world premiere by Zachary Green this Saturday night

June 12, 2018
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following note to post from Mikko Rankin Utevsky – the founder and director of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) – and his concertmaster wife Thalia Coombs. Both are graduates of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Dear Friends:

Thalia and I are excited to announce the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra’s 2018 concerts that begin this coming Saturday night.

MAYCO is a mentorship-based training orchestra for advanced high school and college musicians, and we’ll be returning to our two-concert season format this summer. Details about the programs are below.

We have run MAYCO on a volunteer basis almost entirely on ticket revenue for the past eight years. But as expenses for space and music have risen, we’ve begun to outgrow that budget. If you’d like to help support our educational and performing work and keep this extraordinary organization going strong, you can make a tax-deductible contribution through our financial sponsor, Arts Wisconsin:

http://www.artswisconsin.org/programsservices/fiscal-receiver-services/supportmayco/

If you want to learn more about our work, you can follow us on Facebookand check out our website.

Here are the two programs this summer:

Saturday, June 16, at 7:30 p.m. in Immanuel Lutheran Church (below top), 1021 Spaight Street

Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048 (in the YouTube video at the bottom)

Elgar: Serenade for Strings, Op. 22

Shostakovich: Chamber Symphony in C minor, Op. 110, (from the String Quartet No. 8)

Zachary Green (below bottom): “Semblance” a 2018 New Music Project commissioned work

 

Saturday, August 4, at 7:30 p.m. in First United Methodist Church (below top), 203 Wisconsin Avenue

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major with Trevor Stephenson (below bottom) of the Madison Bach Musicians on fortepiano

Copland: Appalachian Spring

 This program will be repeated on August 5 at 12:30 p.m. as part of the live-streamed Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen Museum concert series.

Tickets for the June 16 and August 4 performances are $10 at the door; students are admitted by donation. Tickets can also be purchased in advance via Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/madison-area-youth-chamber-orchestra-craft-tickets-46700364046.

Thank you all for your support, and we hope to see you this summer.

Mikko and Thalia

This project is funded in part by a grant from the Madison Arts Commission, with additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board; and by Dane Arts, with additional funds from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, The Evjue Foundation, Inc., charitable arm of The Capital Times, the W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation, and the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.


Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players mix classical and contemporary string quartets and again show off their exceptional artistry and adventurousness

January 23, 2017
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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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also provided the performance photo.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

A Place to Be, at 911 Williamson Street, is a former store converted into a kind of near East Side clubhouse. Amid the chaos and entanglements of this weekend, it has been, indeed, the place to be for lovers of chamber music.

Just as last year, the Willy Street Chamber Players gave a concert in this intimate “chamber” on last Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

The string quartet fielded from the larger group consisted of violinists Paran Amirinazari and Eleanor Bartsch (who alternated recurrently in the first and second chairs), violist Beth Larson and cellist Mark Bridges.

willy-street-chamber-players-at-a-place-to-be-jan-2017-cr-jwb

Their program mixed music of two traditional classical composers with that of two contemporaries.

Opening the program was the String Quartet in D, Op. 20, No. 2 (1772), by Franz Joseph Haydn, which was played with delightful elegance and spirit.

Later came Felix Mendelssohn’s “Four Pieces for String Quartet,” dating from 1843 to 1847 and published as a set designated Op. 81. These called for a richer playing style, which the Willys managed easily, and with strong feeling for the extensive fugal writing in two of the movements.

For more recent material, the group offered a tango tidbit by the Argentinian Astor Piazzolla, and a recent work (2005) by Hawaiian-American, Harlem-based, crossover composer, string player and band leader Daniel Bernard Roumain.

The piece by Piazzolla (below), Four for Tango (1988, presumably scored for him by somebody else), is a kind of anti-quartet venture, requiring defiant employment of unconventional string sounds.

astor piazzolla

Even more unconventional is the three-movement String Quartet No. 5 (2005) by Roumain (below). Given the subtitle of “Rosa Parks,” it pays tribute to the heroic African-American civil rights leader who sparked the desegregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama.

Roumain is a classically trained musician who draws upon a range of Black music styles in his compositions. He too asks the players to break norms by using hand-clapping and foot-stomping as well as exaggerated bowings.

His musical ideas are interesting but few, and developed only in constant, almost minimalist, repetition. I was impressed, however, by his command of quartet texture, and by how the instruments really could work both together and in oppositions, especially in the long first movement. (You can hear the String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks” by Daniel Bernard Roumain in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is performed by the Lark Quartet, for which it was composed.)

daniel-bernard-roumain

The four Willys dug into this novel repertoire with zest and careful control. In the entire program, indeed, they displayed an utter joy in making music together. Their artistry and their exploratory adventurism mark the group, more than ever, as Madison cultural treasures, richly deserving of their designation by The Ear as “Musicians of the Year for 2016.”

They will be giving FREE and PUBLIC performances at: Edgewood High School’s Fine Arts Fest (Feb. 14); the Northside Community Connect Series at the Warner Park Community Center (Feb. 19); the Marquette Waterfront Fest (June 11); and at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green (June 12). And we await impatiently their announcement of plans for their third series of Friday concerts this July.

For more information about concerts and about the group, go to: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

Then click on concerts or events.


Classical music: The amateur Middleton Community Orchestra brings its fifth season to an impressively brassy close

June 4, 2016
2 Comments

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. He also took the performance photos.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below) finished its fifth season with a concert on Wednesday night that was a kind of brass sandwich—that is, a brass filling between two noisy slices of bread.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The opener was the popular “Carnival” Overture by Antonin Dvorak, the closest this composer ever came to producing a cheap crowd-pleaser.

(I wish that the enterprising conductor Steve Kurr (below), had chosen instead one of the other two overtures in Dvorak’s trilogy of “Nature, Life and Love,” which are much more substantial.)

The orchestra gave the overture a lusty performance, revealing some interesting wind details that one does not often hear.

Steve Kurr.

There were two sandwich fillers.

The first was a concerto for tuba, dating from 2015. The composer, local musician and University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music alumnus Pat Doty (below), was also the soloist.

Of its three movements, the first was clearly in the idiom of music for marching band, in which Doty has had long UW experience. The second movement was an attempt at a waltz, while the finale had Latin American odors and featured a prominent part for marimba. What to say? The program bio made the sensible point that Doty’s music “never takes itself too seriously.”

Pat Doty playing CR JWB

A more substantial score was the other filling, the Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, Op. 91, by Russian late-Romantic Reinhold Glière, also in three movements. (Sadly, the program booklet failed to list the movements for each concerto.)

While this score may not be really great music, it is a splendid, if difficult, vehicle for the soloist.

Another UW-Madison grad, Paul Litterio (below), a player in many area orchestras including both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (and with a sideline in handbells), was the soloist. Playing with perfect technique, an elegant style and just a touch of teasing vibrato, Litterio gave a fascinating demonstration of his instrument in a solo capacity that we do not often hear.

Paul Litterio playing CR JWB

The closing bread for the sandwich was another example of near-vulgar bombast by one of its masters: Tchaikovsky (below). If that was the kind of music to be written, he was the one to do it, and still make you admire him.

Tchaikovsky 1

The Capriccio Italien, Op. 40, was the composer’s reaction to a visit to Rome. He evoked his neighborhood and, above all, the riotous sounds and songs of a Roman Carnival. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Tchaikovsky’s capacity for making bombast sound like fun creates a really delightful score, and the Middleton players poured all their energies into it.

(An interesting footnote: Tchaikovsky’s other musical product of his visits to Italy is a very different work, the gorgeous string sextet Souvenir de Florence (Memory of Florence), which is less about Italy itself and more a picture of the composer’s homesickness. As it happens, that masterpiece will be played on July 8 by the Willy Street Chamber Players.)


Classical music: Today is the Fourth of July or Independence Day when many American composers will be featured. But the music of composer Charles Ives best embodies the spirit of American Independence.

July 4, 2013
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Each year, there are usually two holidays on which American classical music is featured: Thanksgiving and TODAY, the 237th Fourth of July, or Independence Day.

fireworks

Radio hosts and concert programmers come up with all sorts of patriotic, all-American choices.

Many are names that are common and predictable — like George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, John Philip Sousa, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, Duke Ellington, John Adams, Virgil Thomson, Philip Glass, John Corigliano and Steve Reich.

Others are less well-known American composers. They include Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Amy Beach, William Grant Still, Edward Joseph Collins, Roger Sessions, Milton Babbitt, John Harbison, Elliott Carter, Henry Cowell and John Cage.

In between are the known and the unknown you will find Charles Ives (1874-1954, below), the Yankee iconoclast who was asked to give up his music career as a church organist because of his daring harmonic improvisations on hymn tunes.

Charles Ives BIG

Trained at Yale University, Ives did quit music as a profession and went into the insurance business in his native Connecticut. He made a fortune while he continued to compose new and modern music with only his own standards and pleasure in mind.

Ives loved to use multiple keys at the same time, to use polyrhythms and to mix vernacular music with original music.

So today The Ear offers two Charles Ives pieces of very different natures.

To celebrate in the usual way, here is a YouTube video of Ives’ extroverted and celebratory “Fourth of July” movement from his “Holidays Symphony.” The conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is Michael Tilson Thomas. Try to hear the traditional tunes treated in a his own untraditional way:

But perhaps the most beautiful and haunting piece by Ives is “The Unanswered Question.” I offer this video (also by Michel Tilson Thomas and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) because I am haunted this holiday by my own question concerning liberty and patriotism: Why are second-rate politicians in Wisconsin and elsewhere trying to ruin a first-rate state, a first-rate university and a first-rate country?

And whatever your answer or whether you agree with the question or not, I hope you enjoy the music. And I hope you pass a memorable and enjoyable Fourth of July.

So as an encore, I’ll throw in a third spirited audio clip. It is of Russian-born piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz playing his own astonishing and knuckle-busting piano transcription of Sousa’s march “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” which I believe he came up with to mark his new status as an Americanized citizen in 1945.

Happy Fourth of July!


Classical music: Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, or Independence Day in the U.S. So how did Russian music such as the “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky – which will be featured at tonight’s patriotic Concert on the Square by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and at the competing Rhythm and Booms celebration — become such a popular and all-American event?

July 3, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight, Wednesday, July 3, at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the downtown Capitol Square  in Madison, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s second Concert of the Square (below), under conductor Andrew Sewell — a native New Zealander who is now a naturalized American citizen — will celebrate the Fourth of July.

Concerts on Square WCO orchetsra

Also tonight, with fireworks beginning at 9:30 p.m., the radio-broadcast soundtrack for the gigantic regional celebration Rhythm and Booms show (below) in Madison’s Warner Park will no doubt include the same piece, or at least its finale.

For more information about that event, including the official traffic plans,  here is a link: http://www.rhythmandbooms.com

Rhythm and Booms

And tomorrow night, Thursday, July 4, at 7 p.m., Wisconsin Public Television will also broadcast PBS’ live coverage of “A Capitol Fourth,” the Fourth of July concert from Capitol Hill and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Here is a link with information about the event and the performers, who include singers Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow and Jackie Evancho as well as composer John Williams conducting the National Symphony Orchestra.

http://www.pbs.org/capitolfourth/bios.html

And like Fourth of July concerts all over the country, all of those concerts or musical celebrations  will likely once again end with a rousing version of the “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky (below) with cannon shots booming and church bells ringing – perhaps with a Sousa march for an encore. (At bottom is the most popular YouTube video of The 1812 Overture that has more than 1.5 million hits.)

Tchaikovsky 1

The rest of tonight’s Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s “Red, White and Blue” program features piano soloist Michael Mizrahi (below) playing what The Ear calls The Gershwin Card. (Next spring, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will also play The Gershwin Card to close its upcoming season that will mark the 20th anniversary of maestro John DeMain‘s tenure.)

Michael Mizrahi

I use the term The Gershwin Card to mean a kind of appealing crossover programming of the tuneful  and jazzy music by George Gershwin (below) that draws big audiences like pops and is easy to digest like pops, but also has a more serious side and is closer to having a classical pedigree than being pops.

gershwin with pipe

In particular, the WCO concert features Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “I Got Rhythm” Variations as well as Robert Lowden’s “Armed Forces Salute.”

So far, so American!

But how did music celebrating a Russian victory over Napoleon (below, seen in painting retreating in defeat from Moscow) and the French army in 1812 become so emblematic of the Fourth of July and American independence?

Napoleon's retreat from Moscow

Well, like the American Revolution itself, the musical tradition started in Boston.

Only much, much later.

Care to take a guess?

Here is a link to the story as told to NPR’s Scott Simon on last Saturday morning’s “Weekend Edition”:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/06/29/196682351/why-tchaikovskys-bells-and-cannons-sound-every-july-4

For more information about this second Concert on the Square go to this page, which also has information about the entire series and the remaining four concerts:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square/59/event-info/


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