The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will perform music by Rossini, Wieniawski and Tchaikovsky this Tuesday night in Edgerton.

November 15, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a few years since the acclaimed and impressive Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below) –- still in the news (a link to a story on NPR, or National Public Radio, is below) because of the attempted theft of concertmaster Frank Almond’s $3-million Stradivarius violin — played an annual concert at the Wisconsin Union Theater. The Ear always looked forward to the top-flight playing and fine programs that the Milwaukee group brought to Madison.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/10/12/355623871/the-case-of-the-stolen-stradivarius

Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra 2

But this week, the MSO, playing under an assistant conductor, will perform in nearby Edgerton at the Edgerton Performing Arts Center.

Edgerton PAC

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra – without its music director Edo de Waart — will perform at the Edgerton Performing Arts Center on this coming Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door.

Here is some information from a press release: “The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, under the dynamic leadership of Music Director Edo de Waart, has embarked upon a new era of artistic excellence and critical acclaim. Now in his fifth season with the MSO, Maestro de Waart has led sold-out concerts, elicited rave reviews, and conducted an acclaimed performance at Carnegie Hall. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra has four purposes: to comfort, educate, entertain and exhilarate the human soul.” For more information, visit www.mso.org

The concert will feature conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong and violin soloist Jeanyi Kim.

The program will include the Overture to the opera “Semiramide” by the Italian composer Gioachino Rossini (below top); the Concerto for Violin No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 22, by the well-traveled Polish violin virtuoso and composer Henryk Wieniawski (below middle); and the popular Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Opus 64, by the Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (below bottom). You can hear the tuneful and melancholy Tchaikovsky symphony, played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Bernstein,  in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.

Rossini photo

Henryk Wieniawski

young tchaikovsky

Jeanyi Kim (below) is the associate concertmaster (third chair) of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra. In 2007, she served as a guest assistant concertmaster of the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis and Valery Gergiev.

As an orchestral musician, the Toronto native has performed in illustrious venues around the world, including Carnegie Hall, the Barbican Centre, Salle Pleyel, and the Concertgebouw.  In addition to maintaining a private studio, she has served on the faculties at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, University of New Haven, and Neighborhood Music School, to name a few.

She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Yale University, from which she also earned her BA, MM, and MMA degrees.

Jeanyi Kim

Francesco Lecce-Chong (below), currently associate conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, has worked with the Atlanta, Indianapolis, and St. Louis Symphony Orchestras, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Hong Kong, Pitesti (Romania), and Ruse (Bulgaria) philharmonic orchestras. Equally at ease in the opera house, Maestro Lecce-Chong has served as principal conductor for the Brooklyn Repertory Opera and as staff conductor for the Santa Fe Opera.

He has earned national distinction, including the Solti Foundation Career Assistance Award and The Presser Foundation Music Award. In summer 2014, he served as the associate conductor at the Grand Tetons Music Festival and had guest appearances with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Las Vegas Philharmonic and the Breckenridge Music Festival.

He is a graduate of the Mannes College of Music, where he received his Bachelor of Music degree with honors in piano and orchestral conducting.  Lecce-Chong also holds a diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music.

Francesco Lecce-Chong

Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door. They are available at the Edgerton Pharmacy and Edgerton Piggly Wiggly; and in Janesville at Knapton Musik Knotes and Voigt Music Center, and by calling (608) 561-6093.  Online, go to at iTickets.com

All performances funded by the William and Joyce Wartmann Endowment for the Performing Arts. An additional sponsor is the Edgerton Piggly Wiggly.

 

 


Classical Music Q&A: Bach’s Mass in B Minor is perfect music for Easter. It reconciles Catholicism and Protestantism, and is a distillation of Bach’s own Cantatas and Passions, says Trevor Stephenson, the director of the Madison Bach Musicians who, with the Madison Choral Project, will perform the Mass in B Minor on Friday and Saturday nights.

April 14, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear still remembers fondly the beautiful and moving performance he heard five years ago of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” by the Madison Bach Musicians. 

Since then the MBM has turned in many memorable performances of cantatas and concertos by Bach and other early music on period instruments, including works by Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli and George Frideric Handel.

But this Easter weekend will bring a special treat.

The Madison Bach Musicians, will partner with the Madison Choral Project, under Albert Pinsonneault, to perform Bach’s magnificent and monumental Mass in Minor.

Performances are at on this Friday night at 8 pm. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ. And on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison at 900 University Bay Drive, near UW Hospital.

Advance tickets are $20 for adults; $15 for students and seniors over 65; at the door, $25 and $20, respectively. For more information about how to buy advance tickets, visit:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/tickets/

For more information about the music and the performers, visit:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org

Stephenson (seen below, in a pre-concert lecture in a photo by Kent Sweitzer), who is a knowledgeable, articulate and entertaining speaker about Baroque music, agreed to an email Q&A about the Mass in B Minor.

Trevor Stephenson lecture at FUS October 2012 by Kent Sweitzer

Where do you place the B Minor Mass with Bach’s enormous body of work and choral music? How does it stand or rank in terms of quality and power to, say, the Passions and Cantatas?

Musicians often talk about their “desert island piece”— the work they would most want to have at hand if they were forced to live on a desert island. For me, the B minor Mass has always been my desert island piece. (But if I could sneak in the Well-Tempered Clavier too, that would be great.)

The Passions are incomparable investigations into the relationship between the human embodiment of divine spirit and the dark machinations of this world. The Passions are also Bach’s great statements on the importance of self-sacrifice for the greater good of love. (Jesus gave up his life for love of us, and we should in turn give of ourselves to that which we love.)

The Cantatas are the laboratory where Bach worked out–on a nearly weekly basis–the fusion of musical and textual material toward a spiritual end.

The Mass in B minor focuses more on the relationship between—and really the joining of–the metaphysical and the everyday. Just as an example, as Bach expert John Eliot Gardiner (below) points out in his wonderful new book, “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven,” look how the opening of the Credo fuses the gravitas, dignity, and mysticism of plainchant (in the voices) with the elegant, bubbling stride of the baroque bass line. And together these elements create a third thing, beyond themselves, a new joy. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the uplifting and joyous “Gloria” movement, performed by Karl Richter leading the Munich Bach Orchestra.)

John Eliot Gardiner

Why did a devout Lutheran like Bach turn to a Roman Catholic musical form? Is it appropriate to the Easter season, like the Passions and certain cantatas? What kind of liberties does Bach take with it? How does he reinvent it, if he does?

In Bach’s family, the work was often referred to as “The great catholic mass”–precisely because it was not usual Lutheran practice to set the entire Latin mass. The first appearance of the Mass in B minor comes in 1733 when Bach and his family copied out a beautiful set of presentation parts for the Dresden court–which had not only one of the greatest orchestras and vocal ensembles in Europe, but was also a Catholic court.

I’ve always felt that Bach’s Mass in B minor is something of a reconciliation with the Catholic church after the spiritual and political upheaval of the 17th century and the devastation of the 30-years War.

The Mass in B minor, though it is certainly Christian, also points toward a more inclusive picture of humanity’s universal — the original meaning of catholic — spiritual quest. It is hard to quantify, but I feel there is something in this music that speaks to—and really helps and inspires–us all.

Bach1

Why will Marc Vallon conduct it rather than you?

Marc and I have been working together for several years now. He has played several bassoon concertos with MBM; also with MBM he has conducted symphonies and concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus, Franz Joseph Haydn and Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach.

Marc, who now teaches and performs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, was principal baroque bassoon—for 20 years—with the internationally acclaimed Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra under Ton Koopman. And during that time Marc performed and recorded many of Bach’s Cantatas, Passions and the B minor Mass.

Marc’s tremendous performance background with the Mass, and his infectious enthusiasm for this timeless masterpiece make him perfectly suited to lead the rehearsals and the concerts. I really can’t wait to hear what happens on Friday and Saturday when these amazing musicians and Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) and a great audience gather for the Mass in B minor.

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

What are the special aspects (one-on-one versus larger chorus, for example, or the Madison Choral Project or the period instruments and practices) that you would like to point out about this performance?

The Madison Choral Project is providing a 17-voice choir for the Mass in B minor concerts. In this work, since Bach usually uses a five-part choral texture (soprano I, soprano II, alto, tenor, bass), this comes to about three voices per part, depending on how things are distributed in a particular moment.

In two movements of the Mass (first Credo and Confiteor), we’ll have the soloists sing one-voice-per-part.

The orchestra will consist of 25 players, all on period instruments: 12 strings, 2 baroque oboes, 2 baroque flutes, 2 baroque bassoons, natural horn, 3 baroque trumpets, timpani, and continuo organ, which I what I will play. The balance between choir, soloists and orchestra should work out beautifully. (Below is the Madison Bach Musicians performing the “St. Matthew Passion” in a photo by Karen Holland.)

MBM in 2009 St. Matthew Passion CR Karen Holland

What should the public listen for in the mass both musically and performance-wise?

I would say notice how Bach contrasts grandeur with intimacy, metaphysical inquiry and prayer with rollicking celebration, and yet makes an exquisitely coherent whole. I think the Mass in B minor is a miracle of form.

Also, these concerts will feature an entirely period-instrument orchestra of outstanding baroque performance specialists hailing from throughout the United States — Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

The wonderful thing about playing this incomparable baroque masterwork on instruments that Bach was familiar with, is that the sound becomes fresh and energized in a way that is readily apparent. It really is a way of going Back to the Present!

The 18th-century instruments typically speak faster than their modern descendants — that is, the pitch actually forms more quickly, often by just a fraction of a second. But in music-making—especially very intricate baroque music-making—that fraction of a second can be the critical difference.

Bach’s absolutely amazing counterpoint in the Mass in B minor, which he often weaves effortlessly in 4 and even 5 independent parts is much more transparent when played on period instruments. You can peer more deeply into the infinite world of Bach’s fugues.

Period instruments are also set up to articulate quite deftly, that is, baroque instruments help the players define the shorter musical groupings of connected and non-connected notes. This in turn assists the audience in assimilating the elegant rhetorical shapes of Bach’s lines.

I will also preface both the concerts starting at 6:45 p.m. with a 30-minute lecture on period instruments (below is Stephenson discussing the keyboard action of an 18th-century fortepiano), approaches to singing baroque music, and the structure and history of the Mass in B minor.

HousemusicStephensonfortepianoaction

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

I’d like to say a bit about the two venues where we’ll perform the Mass in B minor. “Where is it?” is one of the first questions most people ask when they hear of an exciting upcoming musical event. Because–particularly for classical music–the acoustics really matter. And the feel of the place, the vibe, needs to be right too.

The sound will be rich and the mood will be spiritually focused on Friday and Saturday as the Madison Bach Musicians and the Madison Choral Project collaborate in two performances of J. S. Bach’s monumental masterpiece the Mass in B minor, BWV 232.

The Friday concert will be given in the magnificent setting of the sanctuary at First Congregational United Church of Christ, at 1609 University Avenue, a landmark building in Madison’s cultural life.

MBM Bach canata 2013 Dec

The Saturday concert will be in the acoustically brilliant Atrium Auditorium (below in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. The performances will feature a 24-piece period-instrument baroque orchestra, 5 outstanding vocal soloists, and a 17-voice professional choir from the Madison Choral Project.

Bach composed the Mass in B minor during the final 18 years of his life; adding, editing, and re-working it into his final year, 1750. The result is about 100 minutes of music that is instantly engaging, highly varied in its variety of ensemble and style, unified to the Nth degree, and structurally perfect. And somehow the Mass in B minor it is at once both magnificent and intimate.

The First Congregational United Church of Christ, with its neo-Georgian design (begun in 1928), captures the 18th-century ideals of dignified ambiance and sonic balance that Bach understood. The sound has tremendous detail, yet everything contributes to the warm cumulative tonal glow.

The much more recent Atrium Auditorium (below), built in 2008, at First Unitarian Society brings out the immediacy of the music-making. The sight lines are direct, and the acoustics brilliant; the audience feels very connected with the performers.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

Both venues are absolutely perfect for period-instrument performance, which emphasizes the detail and vitality of the music rather than sheer decibels.

Seating is limited at both venues, so purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended.

 

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Classical music: Is it an opera or a musical? Verdi’s operatic masterpiece “Rigoletto” travels to Las Vegas in the “Live in Hi-Def” broadcast by the Metropolitan Opera this Saturday afternoon. Plus, cellist Karl Lavine plays a FREE concert of Rachmaninoff on Friday at noon.

February 13, 2013
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ALERT: This week’s FREE  Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, features Madison Symphony’s Orchestra principal cellist Karl Lavine (below) and pianist Karen Boe in the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Karl Lavine, principal cello of WCO

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the all-time great opera masterpieces is Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”

In fact, one nationally famous opera expert – who had studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison – once told me it was his top choice to see for people who didn’t yet know opera. (The Ear would have surely thought that his choice for a first-timer would be Puccini’s “La Boheme.” But, nooooo.) The inexperienced listener would surely fall in love with the art form of opera after experiencing “Rigoletto,” he claimed.

Well, no one can deny that the 1851 opera by Verdi (below) does have its share of great drama and great tunes, including the famed  “La donna e mobile” and “Questa o quello” (at bottom in a YouTube video).

Verdi Giuseppe

You can see and hear why the work is so great this Saturday afternoon when “Live From the Met in HD” will broadcast the newest production by the Metropolitan Opera of the classic work.

Rigoletto HD poster

The live broadcast – complete with commentary and behind-the-scenes looks – will be at Point Cinemas on Madison’s west side and the Eastgate cinemas on Madison’s east side.

The show will begin at 11:55 CST and run about 3-1/2 hours. But seats often fill up quickly, and many audience members arrive at least one hour early to get the best seats or the ones they like.

The adventurous concept staging (below) updates the opera from 16th-century Italy, complete with a palace, duke and court jester, to mid-20th century Las Vegas, complete with show girls. The production has drawn some interesting and conflicting reviews. Is it really opera or a musical? some have asked.

Rigoletto Met HD

Rigoletto Met HD

Met Rigoletto Sara Krulwich NY TImes

So in preparation for going, you can look at these:

Here is a review by the senior critic for The New York Times, Anthony Tommasini (below), who spoke in Madison during the centennial celebration of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/arts/music/an-unsteady-rigoletto-rat-pack.html?ref=metropolitanopera&_r=0

tommasini-190

And here is a review by Pulitzer Prize-winner Manuela Hoelterhoff (below), who now works for Bloomberg News but who used to work for the Wall Street Journal:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-01-30/las-vegas-welcomes-verdi-s-hunchback-at-met-review.html

Manuela Hoelterhoff

Here is some background and context I found particularly interesting at boston.com:

http://www.boston.com/2013/01/23/fdd-entry-cont/AoBFnQeymje6Ie9FeF9BxI/story.html

And here is a link to the actual promos for “Rigoletto” at the website for “Live From the MET in HD.” It features video and audio samples as well as links to a synopsis, a cast list and other information:

http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/liveinhd/LiveinHD.aspx

What do you think of the new production? The Ear wants to hear.


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