The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Starting Wednesday, the second LunART Festival will again spotlight women in the performing and creative arts. Here is the first of a two-part preview

June 2, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received a long and detailed announcement about the upcoming second LunART Festival. Here is Part 1 with background and participants. Tomorrow will be Part 2 with more information about new music and a schedule of events.

The LunART Festival is back for its second season from this Wednesday, June 5, through Sunday, June 9, and will continue its mission of supporting, inspiring, promoting and celebrating women in the arts.

The 2019 season brings 10 events to eight venues in the Madison area, providing accessible, high-quality, engaging concerts and events with diverse programming from various arts fields.

The festival will showcase over 100 artists this season, including many familiar local artists and performers as well as guest artists hailing from Missouri to Texas, Minnesota to Florida and as far away as Peru.

LunART’s inaugural 2018 season was a success on numerous fronts. From showcasing a wide variety of artists and arts disciplines to building lasting relationships and collaborations, LunART has distinguished itself from other arts events in Madison.

Both artists and audiences have commented that the LunART atmosphere is one of camaraderie, love and acceptance. Festival directors Iva Ugrcic and Laura Medisky (below right and left, respectively) have set this season to come back even stronger, with expanded dates and more diverse programming.

Like last year, the three ticketed evening gala concerts are centered on classical chamber music. Other art forms — including contemporary and aerial dance, poetry, spoken word and visual arts — are interwoven throughout the programs to create a unique atmosphere for performers, artists and audiences.

This year’s Grammy-nominated composer-in-residence is flutist Valerie Coleman (below), a former member of Imani Winds, who was described as one of the “Top 35 Female Composers in Classical Music” by The Washington Post.

Coleman embodies LunART’s vision by challenging norms and being a strong advocate for diversity in the arts. Her rich compositional output infuses elements of jazz and African secular music into the Western classical tradition, creating a soundscape that honors both worlds. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Valerie Coleman playing her own composition “Fanmi Imen” at the 2018 convention of the National Flute Association.)

Coleman’s music will be featured throughout the festival among the works of other remarkable women who shaped music history, from Baroque composer Barbara Strozzi to Romantic composer Clara Schumann to living composer Missy Mazzoli.

Drawing from Madison’s rich arts scene and community, LunART 2019 features local artists including: former Madison poet laureate Andrea Musher (below); actor and theater artist Deborah Hearst; choreographers and dancers Liz Sexe and Kimi Evelyn; and aerial dancer Linda DiRaimondo.

Also featured are musicians from arts organizations such as Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Fresco Opera Theatre, Arbor Ensemble, Madison New Music Ensemble and Sound Out Loud Contemporary Music Collective. Under the direction of Edgewood College professor Kathleen Otterson, Madison’s only women’s choir ARTemis Ensemble returns in greater numbers and will present a work by LunART 2018 “From Page to Stage” alum Meg Huskin among others.

Visual art will have a stronger presence in the 2019 Festival. From May 11-July 7, Overture’s Playhouse Gallery will house “Women Against Hate United by Love,” a collaborative, traveling art exhibition and multi-step “anti-hate” campaign united against bigotry, intolerance and racism, created by J. Leigh Garcia (below), Rachael Griffin and Kelly Parks Snider.

A gallery reception on Wednesday, June 5, serves as LunART’s opening event, in which Snider will give a talk about the exhibit and her use of art to educate communities about targeted issues in the hopes of shaking up the status quo. This engaging and thought-provoking exhibit is meant to provide a meaningful and hopeful community experience for all who attend.

In collaboration with Studio 84 and ArtWorking, two nonprofit art studios specializing in the creative development of people with disabilities, the final Gala concert at First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, on Saturday, June 8, will showcase 40 artworks. This exhibit will feature 20 women artists whose works will be displayed, flanking the Atrium Auditorium stage as well as in the lobby.

Tomorrow: New music to be premiered, comedy and the full schedule of events


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Classical music: On Saturday, concerto competition winners perform with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). On Sunday, Edgewood College gives a FREE concert of choral and guitar music

May 3, 2019
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ALERT: This weekend at Edgewood College, the Women’s Choir, Chamber Singers, Guitar Ensemble and Chorale will give FREE concerts. The performances are on Sunday, May 5, at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

The concert features the Women’s Choir, directed by Kathleen Otterson; the Chorale and Chamber Singers, both conducted by Sergei Pavlov; and the Guitar Ensemble, directed by Nathan Wysock. 

The Women’s Choir will perform works including “One Voice” by Ruth Moody; the Chamber Singers continue with a variety of works, including “Ballad to the Moon” by Daniel Elder. The Guitar Ensemble performs “Walk, Don’t Run,” arranged by Nathan Wysock, and “New Beatles Medley,” arranged by Guitar Ensemble member Dick Stransky. The concert concludes with the Chorale performing works including “Schlof Mayn Fegeleby” by Mikhail Lermontov.

The Women’s Choir and Chamber singers are student ensembles, while the Chorale and Guitar Ensemble have both student and community members. 

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will start presenting the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family Spring Concerts series on Saturday, May 4 and Saturday, May 18 in Mills Concert Hall, 455 North Park Street, in Madison. A schedule of times and groups is below.

Winners of the annual Youth Orchestra (below) and Philharmonia Orchestra Concerto Competitions will perform a concerto with their orchestra.

Youth Orchestra cellist Grace Kim (below), of Waunakee, will perform the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Camille Saint-Saens.

Youth Orchestra violinist Ellen Zhou (below), of Middleton, will perform the Violin Concerto by Felix Mendelssohn.

Philharmonia Orchestra percussionist Anais Griffith-Oh (below), of Madison, will perform the Concertino for Xylophone and Orchestra by Toshiro Mayuzumi.

WYSO orchestras will also perform pieces from Modest Mussorgsky, Lili Boulanger, Jean Sibelius, Antonin Dvorak and more. Visit wysomusic.org to view the concert repertoire and learn more about the WYSO program. You can listen to young participants talk about WYSO in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Tickets for each concert are available at the door 45 minutes prior to each concert, and are $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and under.

WYSO students travel from communities throughout southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois during the concert season to rehearse on the UW-Madison campus.

Each orchestra performs three concerts per season, with additional performance opportunities available to students.

Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family Spring Concerts

Saturday, May 4, in Mills Hall at 4 p.m. — 
Youth Orchestra

Saturday, May 18, in Mills Hall — 1 p.m. Opus One and Sinfonietta; 4 p.m. Harp Ensemble and Concert Orchestra; 7 p.m. Percussion Ensemble and Philharmonia Orchestra


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Classical music: Edgewood College closes out the concert season with FREE performances of choral, band and guitar music on Friday night and Sunday afternoon

May 2, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Edgewood College will close out its 90th academic year and the current concert season with two FREE performances this weekend.

On this Friday night, May 4, at 7 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, choral and guitar performances will take place.

The Women’s Choir (below top), directed by Kathleen Otterson (below bottom), performs a wide variety of traditional and modern music specifically for women’s voices.

The Chamber Singers (below top) and the Edgewood Chorale both perform under the direction of Sergei Pavlov (below bottom). The Chorale offers students and Madison-area singers the opportunity to perform larger choral works. The Chamber Singers is Edgewood College’s premier a cappella choral ensemble.

Sorry, no words about composers or works on any of the programs.

The Guitar Ensemble, under the direction of Nathan Wysock (below), is an acoustic guitar group that performs music ranging from medieval dances to modern compositions. Again, there is no word on specific composers or works on the program.

Then on Sunday afternoon, May 6, at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive. The Edgewood Concert Band and Jazz Ensemble will give their spring concerts.

Admission is free, with a freewill offering to benefit the Luke House Community Meal Program.

The Concert Band is under the direction of Walter Rich (below), and the Jazz Ensemble performs under the direction of Dan Wallach.

No word on composers or works to be performed.


Classical music: Edgewood College’s FREE Fall choral concert is this Sunday afternoon. Plus, three sopranos sing for FREE this Friday at noon

October 20, 2016
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features sopranos Susan Savage Day, Rebekah Demure and Arianna Day in music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, John Corigliano, Ottorino Respighi, Richard Strauss and others. It runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

Edgewood College will present its Fall Choral Concert at 2:30 p.m. this Sunday in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Admission is FREE.

The Women’s Choir and the Chamber Singers, under the direction of Kathleen Otterson (below top) and Sergei Pavlov (below bottom), will feature a wide variety of musical selections.

Kathleen Otterson color

isSergei Pavlov

The eclectic program includes the Johann Sebastian Bach-Charles Gounod setting of “Ave Maria,” heard in the YouTube video at the bottom; Sydney Carter’s beautiful arrangement of “Lord of the Dance”; and music of Pentatonix.

The Chamber Singers is the College’s premier a cappella choral ensemble, open to students of all majors. The choir performs literature from the medieval period to the 21st century, participating in multiple concerts throughout the school year.

Edgewood College Chamber Singers

The Women’s Choir performs a wide variety of traditional and modern music specifically for women’s voices.

Edgewood College Women's Choir


Classical music: Women’s History Month will be celebrated at Edgewood College this Sunday afternoon with a FREE choral concert of works by female composers. Plus, the piano duo Troika performs a FREE concert on Friday at noon.

March 4, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature the Piano Duo “Troika” — made up of Vladislava Henderson and Ludmilla Syabrenko (below) — in music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Sergei Rachmaninov, Antonin Dvorak and others.

Troika piano duo

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Sunday, March 8, at 2:30 p.m., in Edgewood College’s St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, two choral groups at Edgewood College (below) will present their winter concerts.

Edgewood College 1000

The Chamber Singers will perform under the direction of Albert Pinsonneault (below top), and the College Women’s Choir will sing under the direction of Kathleen Otterson (below bottom).

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Kathleen Otterson 2

In recognition of Women’s History Month, the Women’s Choir will feature works by female composers, including Hildegard von Bingen (below top), Linda Kachelmeier (below second), Francesca Caccini (below third), and Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (below bottom). Sorry, no word on specific works to be performed.

ST. HILDEGARD OF BINGEN DEPICTED IN ALTARPIECE AT ROCHUSKAPELLE IN GERMANY

Linda Kachelmeier

Francesca Caccini USE

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel

The Chamber Singers will perform “Ave Verum Corpus” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which you can hear at bottom in a performance with Leonard Bernstein in a YouTube video that has almost 3 million hits).

Also included are “Famine Songs” by Matthew Culloton (below top) and “Lammaa Badaa Yatathannaa” by Shireen Abu-Khader (below bottom).

Matthew Culloton

Shireen Abu-Khader

There is no admission charge.

 

 

 


Classical music: Friday night is another big Train Wreck that offers lots of great classical music choices: the Westminster Abbey Choir of London, the UW-Madison Pro Arte String Quartet and Edgewood College’s Fall Choir Concert as well as the opening night of University Opera’s production of “Albert Herring.”

October 21, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night is, as The Wise Critic likes to call them, another big “Train Wreck.”

That is because there are so many fine but conflicting concerts to choose from.

Yesterday, The Ear posted an interview with David Ronis, who talked about his own background and about the University Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s comic opera “Albert Herring.” It opens Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall with repeat performances at 3 p.m. on Sunday and 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday night.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/classical-music-qa-meet-opera-director-david-ronis-who-makes-his-local-debut-in-the-university-operas-production-of-benjamin-brittens-albert-herring-this-frid/

But that opera opening night is just the beginning.

Here are three other events that merit your attention and consideration:

The WESTMINSTER ABBEY CHOIR

On Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, The Westminster Abbey Choir of London, England opens the 10th anniversary season of the Overture Concert Organ (below), custom built by Klais of Bonn, Germany.

Overture Concert Organ overview

From the Madison Symphony Orchestra: “For nearly 1,000 years, inspiring choral music has filled the vast cathedral of London’s Westminster Abbey, the site of every British coronation since 1066. (At the bottom in a popular YouTube video, you can hear the choir singing British composer John Rutter’s “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” at the 60th wedding anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.)

“Now, this renowned 40-voice choir (below) comes to Madison to sing with the Overture Concert Organ in a program of music from the 11th century to the Renaissance and 20th century, featuring the works of Orlando Gibbons, George Frideric Handel, Sir Hubert Parry and William Walton.

“Praised by the Sydney Morning Herald as “…One of the great choral powerhouses of our time,” The Choir of Westminster Abbey has performed for numerous notable events including, Evening Prayer in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 and the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011, which was seen by a worldwide television audience of over two billion people. In June 2012, the Choir made a historic visit to Rome, when it sang, at the Pope’s invitation, alongside the Sistine Chapel Choir.

Westminster Abbey 3

“When not touring the world with destinations such as Sydney, Hong Kong, Washington, D.C., and Moscow, The Choir of Westminster Abbey works on a celebrated series of recordings for Hyperion. Their critically acclaimed recording Mary and Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey received the Gramophone Critics’ Choice Award and has been hailed as “a showcase for English choral singing at its most charismatic.”

Westminster Abbey in abbey 2

General admission for the concert is $20 and tickets can be purchased at www.madisonsymphony.org/westminster, the Overture Center Box Office or (608) 258-4141. Student rush tickets are $10 on the day of show with a valid student ID (see www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush).

This concert is sponsored by Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation, and Alfred P. and Ann M. Moore.

To see the Overture Concert Organ series of concerts for 2014-15 or to subscribe at a 25 percent savings, visit:

www.madisonsymphony.org/organseason14-15 or call (608) 257-3734.

Westminster Abbey in abbey CR Bill Prentice

PRO ARTE QUARTET

On Friday night at 7:30 p.m.in Mills Hall, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), which has been artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music since 1941, will perform a FREE concert.

The program is: String Quartet in D Major, Op. 71 No. 2 (1793) by Franz Joseph Haydn; String Quartet No. 4 (1936) by Alexander Zemlinsky (1936); and the popular String Quartet in F Major, Op. 96 “American” (1893) by Antonin Dvorak.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

EDGEWOOD COLLEGE

On Friday night at 7 p.m., Edgewood College will present its Fall Choral Concert in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive. Admission is FREE.

The Edgewood Chamber Singers, under the direction of Albert Pinsonneault (below top), will be joined by the Women’s Choir, under the direction of Kathleen Otterson (below bottom) and the Men’s Choir, under the direction of Sergei Pavlov.

There is no admission charge.

Sorry, The Ear has received no word about specific works on the program.

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Kathleen Otterson 2


Classical music: Opera director David Ronis of CUNY is named to succeed William Farlow. University Opera’s production of Hector Berlioz’ charming “Beatrice et Benedict” is a fine and fitting tribute to the longtime tenure of retiring director William Farlow. The last performance is tonight at 7:30 p.m.

April 15, 2014
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Please note that some reviews of productions last weekend are being delayed to make room for previews of the many upcoming concerts and musical events this week.

NEWS:  David Ronis (below) of Queen’s College and the Aaron Copland School of Music at the City University of New York (CUNY) has just been named as the interim one-year visiting director of University Opera, to succeed William Farlow. Here is a link to the official press release with his impressive resume on the blog Fanfare:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/ronis_press_release/

David Ronis BIG BW USE

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 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

The University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a long history of including rarities in its productions, rarities that audiences are not likely to see elsewhere.

For his farewell offering as he retires at the end of this academic year, director William Farlow (below, in a photo by Katherine Esposito) has put on a particularly enterprising novelty. That “Beatrice et Benedict: — is the last and most successful of the three operas by the early French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz.

William Farlow by Kathy Esposito

Berlioz (below) wrote the libretto as well as the music, freely adapting his stripped-down version from the play “Much Ado About Nothing by” Shakespeare — an author whose works he adored. Berlioz cast it in the form of the opéra comique, combining set-piece musical numbers with spoken dialogue. It was the same form used not only by Jacques Offenbach, but also by Georges Bizet for his “Carmen.” Nevertheless, Berlioz infused the form with his own individual wit, imagination, and personality. The score is full of absolutely beautiful music, with a dip into satire as well. (You can hear the opera’s Overture performed by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields at Carnegie Hall in You Tube video at the bottom.)

berlioz

The UW Opera presented this opera before, in 1988, in the days of Karlos Moser, in a semi-staged concert performance. This time, Farlow has given it a complete staging, employing mostly exemplars of the gifted vocal talent the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has been drawing lately.

(The last of three performances is tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall at the foot of Bascom Hill.)

In the performance I attended Sunday night, the feuding lovers, the two title characters, Shakespeare’s Beatrice and Benedick, were sung by the agile soprano Lindsay Metzger and high tenor Daniel López-Matthews. (Below right and left, respectively, in a photo by Max Wendt). The other pair of lovers, Hero and Claudio, were portrayed by the powerfully voiced soprano Anna Whiteway and tenor Jordan Wilson. The local commander, Don Pedro, was taken by bass Erik Larson.

berlioz UW Opera Beatrice et Benedict 2 CR Max Wendt

To these the cast added two veterans. Edgewood College teacher and mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson (below) is a long-standing veteran of UW Opera and Madison music-making, always welcome any time, in anything, including the role here of Ursula, Hero’s friend. And baritone Benjamin Schultz, a returned alumnus, sang the comic role that Berlioz invented, Somarone, as a caricature of the pompous rivals and academics who were the composer’s life-long opposition.

Kathleen Otterson 2

Following a frequent practice when this opera is presented outside of France, the vocal numbers were sung in the original French, while the revised dialogue was given in English. It’s a workable solution to a problem for singers who can sing in French, but really can’t speak it well. Fine as the singing was, it was clear that they were not uniformly comfortable singing French.

Still, many moments were truly gorgeous, notably the Hero-Ursula duet in Act I, and the ladies’ trio in Act II, as well as the offstage wedding chorus.

By and large, Farlow’s stage direction was careful: in the vocal set pieces often relatively static, though, that was certainly preferable to too much action. In the case of Somarone’s Act I scene, Schulz was made to go much too far beyond satire, into exaggerated silliness. And Beatrice’s over-acting in Act I really compromised the character’s self-assured sassiness before her “fall.”

Still, even with so much of the dueling wordplay of Shakespeare’s original removed, Metzger and López-Matthews engaged well as the couple who had to be tricked into discovering that their outward hostility covered a profound attraction.

A particular asset was the pit orchestra that conductor James Smith (below) was able to work up very successfully to Berlioz’s tricky requirements.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

William Farlow departs leaving us with many debts to him, including this demonstration that Berlioz’s gem of a comic opera really deserves more regular presentation.

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Classical music: Edgewood College performs its Spring Choral Concert this Sunday afternoon.

March 21, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday, March 23, at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, Edgewood College (below) will present its Spring Choral Concert.

Edgewood College 1000

Performing groups include The Edgewood College Chamber Singers (below top and in a YouTube video at the bottom) and Men’s Choir, under the direction of Albert Pinsonneault (below middle), will join the Edgewood College Women’s Choir, under the direction of Kathleen Otterson (below bottom), in a joint appearance.

Edgewood Chamber Singers

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Kathleen Otterson 2

The program includes works by Orlando di Lasso (below top), Gabriel Faure (below middle) and Richard Wagner (below bottom), along with gospel, folk and world music selections. Sorry, no word about specific pieces.

ADMISSION IS FREE.

Orlando di Lasso

faure

Richard Wagner

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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra triumphs with all-American Copland and sexy Wagner, while Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” is a long-winded “Bolero.” Plus, the memorial concert for Ilona Kombrink memorial is set Oct. 20.

October 2, 2013
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ALERT: In Memoriam: A University of Wisconsin-Madison Emeritus Professor of voice, soprano Ilona Kombrink (below) died on Friday, August 9, 2013 in Stoughton, Wisconsin, at the age of 80. A Memorial Concert and celebration of her life will be held on Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 3 p.m. in the Grand Hall at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, Madison. A reception will follow. No word on the program yet, but you can be sure that it will be memorable since it is being organized by Edgewood College voice teacher mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson, who was a student of Kombrink.

Ilona Kombrink color

By Jacob Stockinger

So, someone seated nearby asked, what did The Ear’s think of the season-opening concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below in a photo by Greg Anderson)?

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Here we it is.

By and large, I completely agree with the local critics (links are below) who raved about the MSO’s concert to mark the 20th anniversary season of MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad).

John W. Barker in Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=41041&sid=7853c5de52499cbd8d735576acaa10e0

Greg Hettmansberger in Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/September-2013/Demonstrating-What-All-the-Fuss-Is-About/

John DeMain full face by Prasad

But here are some other impressions I took away from the Sunday afternoon performance, which seemed well attended by an enthusiastic audience.

There can be no disagreement with the critical assessment of how professional the entire orchestra sounded and how masterly the conducting and interpreting by John DeMain proved.

Especially noteworthy was the enthralling and rapturous violin playing by concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson) as well as the new principal clarinet Joseph Morris (below bottom) and such veterans as trumpeter John Aley and oboist Marc Fink.

Naha Greenholtz playing CR Greg Anderson

Joseph Morris principal clarinet MSO

Still, I found the special all-orchestral program a bit clunky in practice if not design.

So here are the three main points I took away:

FIRST

I am convinced that Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring, which opened the concert, is The Great American Symphony, just as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” is The Great American Novel.  So fret no longer, American composers. The summit has been scaled. Just do what you want.

In its harmonies, rhythms, themes and use of folk elements and indigenous music like the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” (at bottom in a popular YouTube video that features photographs by another great American artist,  Ansel Adams), the dance score by Copland can’t be anything but American.

It is a gorgeous work and received a beautiful, even inspired reading from the America-born and America-trained DeMain and his players.

aaron copland

SECOND

I came away confirmed in my opinion that Richard Wagner’s “Liebestod” or “Love Death” from “Tristan und Isolde” is the sexist music ever written. It reminds me of the legend that the ancient Greek prophet Tiresias was allowed by the gods to make love as both a man and a woman. Then, when asked who had the better deal and received more pleasure, he was unequivocal: Women.

Indeed, this music by Wagner (below) music shows the composer’s rich imagination and makes him seem like the soul and libido of a woman dressed as a man.

It also supported my long-held contention – which other are free to disagree with — that Wagner’s orchestral writing is superior, in most cases, to his vocal writing. I, at least, generally find his instrumental music more singing and songful than his singers.

Richard Wagner

THIRD

Finally came Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” It is, all agree, a war-horse that every youngster has heard, one of the great “starter” pieces in the classical Romantic repertoire. It is a showcase that we all supposedly love by a master orchestrator and master colorist (below) who taught Igor Stravinsky. And it did bring the audience to a prolonged standing ovation.

But quasi-dissenter that I am, I have to file a minority report.

I found “Scherherazade” a bloated, repetitious and ultimately unsatisfying work. It is the Tolstoy novel of tone poems- the long-winded Russian equivalent of Ravel’s “Bolero” in its etude-like construction designed to showcase various sections of the orchestra.

The players and conductor did indeed shine and did so brilliantly. It certainly seemed a work that is more fun to conduct and perform than it is to listen to. True, the work did have memorable moments of drama and lyricism. But too often the 40 minutes of music — well, it is based on the 1,001 Nights — grew downright tedious. At least in live performance, I find the Ravel more exciting, catchy and fun, and also more easily instructive for sonic comparisons of different instruments and what they add to the score.

Oh, I found myself daydreaming, if only the first half of the MSO concert had been followed by a really great symphony by especially Brahms, or perhaps Beethoven, Dvorak or Tchaikovsky – something with substance as well as style. “Scheherazade” was sonically splashy, but compared to the Copland and Wagner it is superficial.

Rimsky-Korsakov

So there it is: What The Ear Heard at the MSO Opener.

What did you hear?

And what do you think of what The Ear heard? And how he heard it?

The Ears wants to hear.


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