The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Tucson celebrates the Leonard Bernstein centennial. Why not Madison?

February 17, 2018
5 Comments

Editor’s note: Larry Wells, better known as The Opera Guy who writes for this blog, recently spent time in Tucson, Arizona, where he attended many events celebrating the Leonard Bernstein centennial.

Tucson isn’t alone. This fall has seen many similar celebrations, including those in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Milwaukee. But curiously there has been little in Madison.

Perhaps that will change next season. At least this week will see a FREE concert by the UW-Madison Wind Ensemble this Wednesday night, Feb. 21, in Mills Hall. The mixed program with other composers features “Profanation” from Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1.

Here is a link with more information and the program:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wind-ensemble-2/

And here are observations about the Tucson celebration:

By Larry Wells

I recently spent a few weeks in Tucson. Part of that time happily coincided with the annual Tucson Desert Song Festival which this year commemorated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell).

I was able to attend 13 of the performances and was struck by the consistently intelligent programming, large audiences, and high performance standards.

Many of the events were held at the Fred Fox School of Music at the University of Arizona. Some of these involved talented student and faculty singers performing Bernstein’s Broadway songs as well as his more serious vocal works. The venue also hosted outstanding recitals by Metropolitan Opera veterans Jennifer Johnson Cano (below top) and Lisette Oropesa (below bottom).

One of the highlights was a recital by dual pianists Steven Bleier (below top, on right) and Michael Barrett (below top, on left), founders of the New York Festival of Song. Their program included Bernstein’s final song cycle “Arias and Barcarolles” featuring the very talented Joshua Jeremiah (below middle) and Rebecca Jo Loeb (below bottom).

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra (below), under the direction of its new conductor José Luis Gomez,  filled the cavernous Tucson Music Hall for two performances of Bernstein’s underperformed Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish.” Joined by the symphony’s outstanding chorus, the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus, and soprano Kelley Nassief this monumental work was electrifying. The many percussionists were given a good aerobic workout, and the audience seemed hypnotized.

The only flaw was the narration rewritten and delivered by Bernstein’s daughter Jamie. The original narration by the composer is a monologue between a man and his god. Ms. Bernstein’s narration changed the tone to that of a daughter speaking about her father.

For someone familiar with the work, I felt somewhat cheated that I was not hearing the work as it had been composed. Still it was a total delight to hear a live performance of a work that should be heard far more often than it is.

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra offered a second program which featured a sparkling performance of Bernstein’s opera “Trouble in Tahiti” with the widely-praised, and rightly so, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke (below in a photo by Dario Acosta).

Ballet Tucson offered a somewhat strange program featuring Bernstein songs beautifully performed by Cadie Jordan (below top) and David Margulis (below bottom, in a photo by Kristin Hoebermann). Sometimes they were accompanied by dancers and sometimes not.

Then, after a number of these songs, a recording came on of portions of the suite from Bernstein’s score for the film “On the Waterfront” with dancers performing a sort of “Romeo and Juliet” narrative. It didn’t seem to make any cohesive sense, but it was fun to watch and the quality of the music never faltered.

Two other large events were the Arizona Opera’s “Candide” and Tucson’s resident chorus True Concord’s MASS.

I attended the premiere of “Candide” (below) which was also performed in the vast Tucson Music Hall. I had only seen it performed once before, and that was the charming, witty, and intimate Harold Prince version. The Tucson version was one of the overlong operatic versions that featured additional musical numbers, which was a good thing, but wordy spoken dialogue that was unfortunately under-amplified. Therefore, unless someone was very familiar with the work, the production was a long string of seemingly unrelated musical numbers linked by incomprehensible spoken dialogue.

The dialogues themselves are very witty, but since they were not accompanied by supertitles as was the singing, the performance was seriously flawed. Still the singing was excellent, with special praise for Katrina Galka’s Cunegonde, and the staging was colorful and often amusing. Hopefully the sound issues were rectified for the following four performances. (You can hear the famous Overture to “Candide”– conducted by the composer —  in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

MASS (poster with scenes is below) was performed in what is termed as the ‘Chamber Version.’ I was apprehensive that somehow the musical content would be diminished, but my worries turned out to be unfounded and the performance was uniformly dynamic and engaging. True Concord is an outstanding choral group, and its leader Eric Holtan led a thoroughly engaging and moving performance of this monumental work. I was so taken by the first performance that I attended the second as well. Both performances filled the huge Centennial Hall.

Besides the orchestra and chorus the work features a celebrant, in this case the appropriately named Jubilant Sykes, an ensemble of vocal soloists, a boys chorus and dancers. The choreographers decided to add an additional layer of complexity to an already complex work by having some of the dancers portray Rose, Jacqueline and Caroline Kennedy as well as what I think was supposed to be the spirit of JFK. This was not part of the original work, and I felt it was superfluous to an already multifaceted work. But the audience loved it all, and it turns out that Madison is not the only city that seems to give everything a standing ovation.

The takeaway moment of the festival occurred during a discussion involving composer Dan Asia, the festival director and conductor George Hanson, and Jamie Bernstein. When asked how younger audiences can be lured into concert halls, all three of them immediately concurred that the answer is to program 20th-century music. They claim that any time 20th-century music is programmed, ticket sales increase. My experience at this festival was that large venues were consistently filled with audiences of all ages.

This is something for Madison to think about.


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Classical music: Oakwood Chamber Players perform “Looking Within: Can We See Within Ourselves Those Who Have Gone Before?” this coming Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Plus, a FREE concert of French music is Friday at noon

January 18, 2017
2 Comments

ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features the Ann Arbor Ensemble. The group consists of Berlinda Lopez, flute; Marie Pauls, viola; and Stacy Feher-Regehr, piano. The all-French program includes the Trio Sonata by Claude Debussy and the Trio No. 2 in A minor, Op. 34, by Cecile Chaminade.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) continue their 2016-2017 season with a concert titled Looking Within on this coming Saturday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 22, at 2 p.m.

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

The concerts will both be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.

Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students. Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com for more information.

Here are notes to the eclectic and unusually noteworthy program:

In 2011, American composer Byron Adams (below top) wrote a piece to honor the notable Czech-American composer Karel Husa (below bottom), who was also his composition teacher at Cornell University. The Serenade (Homage de Husa) not only illuminates Husa’s Czech heritage through musical references but also captures the essence of his positive influence in a piece that shows musical charm and wit. With the death of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Husa this past December, the intended tribute is particularly appropriate.

Byron Adams

karel-husa

The Notturno (Nocturne) by Arnold Schoenberg (below) is a sweetly atmospheric, late Romantic work for harp and strings. After premiering in 1896 to an appreciative audience, this lovely piece of music was lost for decades and not rediscovered until 2001.

Arnold Schoenberg

Originally written by French composer Maurice Ravel (below) in 1914, Kaddisch was set as a song using Aramaic text from the Jewish prayer book. The Oakwood Chamber Players will perform an evocative arrangement by David Bruce for a mixed ensemble of strings, winds, harp and English horn.

ravel2

Music by British composer Gabriel Jackson (below, in a photo by Joel Garthwaite) is written with directness and clarity. In the Mendips, written in 2014, depicts the natural beauty of limestone hills in Somerset, England. The influence of generations of British composers, such as Vaughan Williams who was also inspired by pastoral beauty, is deftly woven into this piece for flute, clarinet, string trio, and harp.

gabriel-jackson-cr-joel-garthwaite

Composer Frances Poulenc (below) was surrounded by the impressionist influence of his fellow French contemporaries Debussy and Ravel.

However, known for humor in how he approached his compositions, his creativity is resoundingly experienced in the high-energy Sextet for piano and woodwind quintet.

The listener will experience quicksilver shifts from the zesty vivace opening to glimpses of introspection to a dazzling high velocity finale. (You can hear the opening of the Sextet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Francis Poulenc

The Oakwood Chamber Players are joined by guests Geri Hamilton and Maureen McCarty, violins; Brad Townsend, string bass; Aaron Hill, oboe and English horn; and Mary Ann Harr, harp (below).

mary ann harr

This is the third of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players’ 2016-2017 season series entitled Perspective. Remaining concerts will take place on March 18 and 19, and May 13 and 14.

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years.

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation


Classical music: Oakwood Chamber Players start their “Perspective” concerts on Sept. 10

August 31, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) have long been known for programming new music as well as neglected old music or neglected composers that they perform with top-quality music-making – often with a unifying theme to the programs.

Just look at the details of the following announcement of the new season:

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

The Oakwood Chamber Players are excited to announce their 2016-2017 concert series, “Perspective.”

Full of interesting viewpoints on life and relationships, the blended use of diverse musical styles with film and theater will help concertgoers see things from another’s point of view.

All concerts will be held in the auditorium (below) at Oakwood’s Center for Arts and Education, 6002 Mineral Point Road, on the far west side of Madison.

Oakwood audience 2

Tickets can be purchased at the door: $20 for general admission, $15 for seniors, and $5 for students. More information can be found at www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com

LOOKING ACROSS THE TABLE: CAN WE FIND COMMON GROUND?

Saturday, September 10, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, September 11, at 2 p.m.

Paul Schoenfield (below) – Café Music for piano trio

Michael Colina – Stairway to Midnight Café for mixed instruments

Jean Françaix – Dixtuor for woodwind quintet and string quintet

Edward Elgar – Elegy for string quintet

Paul Schoenfield BW klezmerish

LOOKING BACK AND FORWARD: CAN THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE CHANGE US?

Sunday, November 27, 2016 at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Frank Bridge (below) – Sir Roger de Coverly Christmas Dance for strings

Jon Deak – “Passion of Scrooge” for large mixed ensemble with baritone voice

Frank Bridge

LOOKING WITHIN: CAN WE SEE WITHIN OURSELVES THOSE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE?

Saturday, January 21, 2017 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, January 22, 2017 at 2 p.m.

Byron Adams (below) – Serenade (Homage de Husa) for large mixed ensemble

Arnold Schoenberg – Notturno (Nocturne) for strings and harp (in the YouTube video at the bottom)

Francis Poulenc – Sextet for woodwind quintet and piano

Maurice Ravel/David Bruce – Kaddish for large mixed ensemble

Byron Adams

LOOKING THROUGH THE LENS: CAN WE SPEAK WHEN THERE ARE NO WORDS?

Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 19, 2017 at 2 p.m.

Gail KubikGerald McBoing Boing for large mixed ensemble, percussion and narrator

Paul Bowles (below) – Music for a Farce (Movie – The Fireman) for clarinet, trumpet, piano and percussion

Dan Visconti – Low Country Haze with film for large mixed ensemble

Gaetano Donizetti – Trio for flute, bassoon and piano

paul bowles

LOOKING CLOSELY AT THE SCORE: CAN WE GET INSIDE THE MINDS OF THE COMPOSERS?

Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 14, 2017 at 2 p.m.

Joan Trimble (below) – Phantasy Trio for piano trio

Vincent d’Indy – Chanson et Danses (Song and Dances) for winds

Luise Adolpha Le BeauPiano Trio

Joachim Raff – Sinfonietta for double woodwind quintet

joan trimble

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.


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