The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Grammy-winning Eighth Blackbird performs Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Go early and don’t miss the half-hour student “warm-up” show

February 28, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Of course the main event at the Wisconsin Union Theater this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. is the performance by the four-time Grammy-winning group Eighth Blackbird (below), which specializes in performing contemporary composers and new music.

Here is a link with more information –  videos, sound samples, reviews, the program and tickets — about the concert by Eighth Blackbird, which you can hear giving a Tiny Desk Concert for National Public Radio (NPR) in the YouTube video at the bottom.

https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/eighth-blackbird/

But if you can, go to the concert early.

That’s because The Ear wants to give a loud shout-out to the Wisconsin Union Theater for offering a pre-concert concert of student players at 7 p.m. (There is also a free pre-concert lecture by conductor Randal Swiggum at 6 p.m.)

The students play Bach, Vivaldi, folk music and more. They set the mood and get you ready, kind of like the warm-up band at a rock concert. They also restore your faith in the future of classical music.

This time the young performers will be the Suzuki Sonora Strings of Madison.

They are fun, impressive and inspiring. The Ear remembers hearing violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn praise the Suzuki Sonora Strings and the Suzuki method for starting her on her own career. (Hahn, far right in the front, is seen below with the students.)

And below is a statement provided by Esty Dinur,  the director of marketing for the Wisconsin Union Theater, about why they feature the students — an idea that The Ear praises highly because he thinks it expands and rewards the audience as well as the students.

Music education needs more of this kind of public visibility that doesn’t isolate the young learners and performers but instead integrates them into the mainstream classical music scene.

Here is the statement by Dinur:

“We have so far hosted two groups of young musicians, the Suzuki Sonora Strings and the group known previously as Madison Music Makers and currently as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) Music Makers.

“The Sonora Strings (below, seen from the balcony) performed before the concerts by Hilary Hahn in the 2015-2016 season and Joshua Bell in the 2016-2017 season. They will be performing again this Saturday ahead of the concert by Eighth Blackbird.

“WYSO Music Makers (below) performed before last season’s Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (and I learned that one of the LAGQ musicians played with them—from behind the shell!). We may add other young musicians in the future.

“We view them as the artists, teachers, audience members and advocates of the future, the people who will continue loving and spreading the love of classical and other music.

“As such, we’re excited to have the ability to provide them with experiences by world-class musicians in a world-class venue.

“It is always wonderful to see them working so hard on stage, being serious and intent and excited. It is also wonderful to see their parents and families derive such pleasure and justified pride for the accomplishments of their kids.

“We are also delighted to be able to present groups that are more diverse than the usual classical music crowd. The future promises to be significantly more diverse than the present. It’s nice to be able to bring that future onto our stage and our audience right now.

“Reactions from all quarters have been great. The kids, their teachers and their families are all very appreciative of the opportunity. So far, I’ve heard nothing but good feedback from the audience which seems to enjoy both watching and listening to the youngsters and to appreciate the intent behind their performances.

“Finally, these shows may be taxing at times for our staff but they’re happy to shoulder the challenges in order to participate in this important work.”


Classical music: Despite overly traditional staging, the Madison Opera’s “Carmen” beguiled and bewitched through the outstanding singing

November 7, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Opera Guy attended Sunday’s sold-out performance of “Carmen” by the Madison Opera and filed the following review, with photos by James Gill:

By Larry Wells

When I learned that Madison Opera was going to produce Bizet‘s “Carmen,” I was not surprised. It is annually one of the most frequently performed operas internationally, and it is a surefire vehicle for filling seats. It is safe.

On the other hand, once one watches repeated performances of an old favorite, the appeal can diminish. One advantage of an opera is that novel approaches to the production can prevent a warhorse from becoming stale.

I would love to say that the approach both musically and dramatically to this production of “Carmen” broke new ground, but it did not. In fact, the production was as traditional as could be. (Below is the main set, rented from the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.)

I attended a performance of “Carmen” in Tucson a couple of years ago, and the conductor Keitaro Harada breathed new life into the familiar music through interesting tempi and finely nuanced dynamics.

Maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo  by Prasad) conducted the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a perfectly fine and occasionally uplifting manner, but there was little new to learn from his approach. The purely instrumental entr’actes shimmered, but during the rest of the opera the singing was at the forefront.

Maestro Harada (below), whom Madison should be actively courting, is currently conducting “Carmen” in Sofia, and the accompanying publicity clip in the YouTube video at the bottom (bear with the Bulgarian commentary) shows that the production is unconventional in its approach although it clearly is still “Carmen.” I would have enjoyed something other than the ultra-traditional staging and sets experienced here in Madison.

At times the production was so hackneyed and hokey that I chuckled to myself – ersatz flamenco dancing, the fluttering of fans, all of the cigarette factory girls with cigarettes dangling from their lips, unconvincing fight scenes, annoying children running across the stage, dreary costumes that hardly reminded me of Seville. And I could go on.

Yet “Carmen” has a way of drawing one in despite oneself. The music is marvelous, and the singing was uniformly excellent.

The four principals were luminous both in their solo pieces and ensembles. Cecelia Violetta López as Micaëla (below right) was lustrous in her two arias as well as in her duet with Sean Panikkar’s Don José (below left).

Panikkar started the performance off with little flair, but from the time he became besotted with Carmen toward the end of the first act he was on fire. He then maintained a high degree of passion and zest in his vocal performance.

Corey Crider (below right) was a wonderful Escamillo, singing his toréador role with great élan despite his unfortunate costumes.

And Aleks Romano (below) as Carmen made the most of her complex character. Her singing was luscious, and her acting – particularly her use of her expressive eyes – was terrific.

Likewise, the lesser roles – Thomas Forde as Zuniga, Benjamin Liupaogo as Remendado, Erik Earl Larson as Dancaïre, a radiant Anna Polum as Fransquita, and Megan Le Romero as Mercédès – were equally well sung. The ensemble work in the quintet at the end of Act II and in the card scene was outstanding.

The chorus (below) sounded terrific throughout, although the women’s costumes and the stage direction made the choristers appear ludicrous as times.

When all is said and done, “Carmen” still beguiled me by drawing me into its characters’ complex psychologies and motivations. Likewise, its music still bewitched me in much the same way as Carmen inexplicably bewitched hapless Don José (below).

But I seem to always wish for more – more compelling productions, more daring music making, more risk-taking.

I do look forward to this coming spring’s production of “Florencia en el Amazonas.” The recording is captivating, and the opera’s performances have pleased a wide variety of audiences by all accounts. And it is something new. Hallelujah!

Did you go to “Carmen”? 

What did you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music education: Madison Music Makers becomes part of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras

June 26, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras has sent The Ear the following news announcement to post on the blog   He is very happy to do so and urges everyone to support the new venture. It is one of the best investments in the future of classical music that you can make:

“Recently, the Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras unanimously voted to acquire the Madison Music Makers program (below are participants), founded by Bonnie Greene in 2007, making it a program of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

“This historic decision was the culmination of two years of research and due diligence to lay the groundwork for this action. This will insure that the mission of Madison Music Makers — to provide access to music education and performance opportunities for underserved children — will be properly supported well into the future.

“Says Greene (below): “I’m absolutely thrilled that the WYSO organization is willing to adopt the Music Makers program, which has been so meaningful for so many children. This is another instance of how much support is in place in the Madison area community for children whose opportunities are so limited. This move will better ensure the long-term health of Music Makers.” (You can learn more about Madison Music Makers in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“The members of the WYSO Music Makers program will have the opportunity to take private lessons on violin, guitar, piano and drums at a free or reduced cost. Group lessons will be held each week. There will be no audition required to be a part of WYSO Music Makers.

“WYSO has hired Paran Amirinazari (below) to act as the Program Director of WYSO Music Makers.

Says Amirinazari: “Over the years it has been a joy getting to know both Music Makers and WYSO students and families. I’m honored to be able to work closely with Bonnie Greene and WYSO to continue the vision of quality music education for all. I’m constantly inspired by the amount of support the city of Madison has for the arts and I look forward to becoming closer and more engaged in the community at large.”

“Amirinazari is a WYSO chamber music coach and has led the Music Makers Honors Ensembles for the past few years. Her many musical accomplishments and her familiarity with both WYSO and the Music Makers programs make her uniquely qualified to build a successful program that will benefit many children in our community.

“She is also a professional violinist with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Willy Street Chamber Players. She will receive her Doctor of Musical Arts in Violin Performance from UW-Madison in the fall and is looking forward to carrying out the WYSO Music Makers mission and being a part of the WYSO team.

“The acquisition of Madison Music Makers will not only help to serve the mission of WYSO by enriching lives by providing transformational musical experiences and opportunities, but also provide access to a quality music education, the opportunity to improve confidence, focus and discipline to achieve better academic results, and performance opportunities that will make members proud of themselves and improve their self-esteem.

“Over the last 52 years, WYSO has continued to evolve and grow both in the size of its membership and the scope of its programs. Without a doubt, under the WYSO umbrella, WYSO Music Makers will continue to evolve and grow as well.

“With the addition of WYSO Music Makers, WYSO will be able to expand the outreach of its music education program to a wonderfully diverse group of children who will come to know the joy of music.”

For more information about WYSO, got to: https://www.wysomusic.org

For more information about Madison Music Makers of Madison, go to: http://madisonmusicmakers.org


Classical music: The Green Lake Festival of Music announces this summer’s FREE family concerts in various area libraries.

June 16, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Green Lake Festival of Music have sent the following announcement:

Green Lake Festival of Music logo

FREE FAMILY CONCERT SERIES

Come and enjoy our free family and community concerts! These family-friendly concerts are appropriate for ages 5-95 — virtually anyone who desires a lively introduction to fine music presented in an entertaining format by the Festival’s outstanding artists.

A special feature of this series is the coordinated programs the libraries of Berlin, Green Lake, Kingston, Markesan, Princeton and Ripon (below) are offering in conjunction with the concerts.

Ripon public library

These three free 45-minute concerts start at 2 p.m. All children must be accompanied by an adult. No tickets are required, and seating begins at 1:30 p.m.

This year each child who attends will be given a “passport,” and when it is returned to his/her library there will be a special treat in store.

This is the ninth year of the series, made possible by the generous sponsorship of Tom Caestecker as a free service to the community.

The concerts and related library programs are designed to reach out to parents, kids and seniors. They offer a brief, lighthearted introduction to music with an up close and personal experience with the performers. Tom Caestecker said, “I can’t think of a better pairing than music and books. Encouraging kids and adults alike to visit their libraries and experience high quality, live music will build a foundation for lifelong rewards.”

Here is a schedule:

Music of Our Heroes: The Akropolis Reed Quintet

Saturday, June 20, Ripon Public Library, Ripon

The nationally acclaimed Akropolis Reed Quintet (below) presents a concert of stories and music, sharing the untold story behind five of their musical heroes.

Akropolis Reed Quintet

Peter and the Wolf: The Bergonzi String Quartet (below)

Friday, July 17, Caestecker Public Library, Green Lake

A heroic tale of a boy who seeks justice for his friends and faces his fears head on.

bergonzi string quartet

“La Courte Paille” by Poulenc: Virginia Rogers, Harp and Cara Davis, Soprano

Friday, July 24, Princeton Public Library

This suite of children’s songs for soprano features poems by Maurice Carame.

The Oshkosh Area Community Foundation has also sponsored several free family concerts this season, as has the Oberreich Foundation. These family concerts take place at the public libraries in Berlin, Oshkosh and Fond du Lac.

A German Folk Tale: Virginia Rogers, Harp (below) and Johannes Deegen, Violin

Friday, June 26, Berlin Public Library, Berlin

This charming antique picture music book is in German, and the performers will translate it into English as well as play the violin with the lever harp.

Virginia Rogers

Peter and the Wolf: The Bergonzi String Quartet

Thursday, July 16, Fond du Lac Public Library, Fond du Lac

A heroic tale of a boy who seeks justice for his friends and faces his fears head on.

The Green Lake Festival of Music is supported in part by the Arts Midwest Touring Arts Fund, a program of Arts Midwest, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional funding from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Crane Group and General Mills Foundation. Additional support comes from the Horicon Bank, the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, Agnesian Healthcare, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, and private and corporate donations.

Please visit www.greenlakefestival.org for information about these and other artists performing at the Festival or to purchase tickets.


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