The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra concert shows Andrew Sewell is a born Bruckner conductor who uses a smaller orchestra to reveal structure

January 30, 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 FM. For years, he served 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 Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) gave the second concert of its season on Friday evening in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO lobby

The program opened with a rarely performed symphony, No. 30 in D Major, K. 202, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart did not muster in this score anything like the ideas he delivered in his symphonies on either side of this one.

Still, it is an engaging piece, and maestro Sewell always shows great sympathy for the Austrian Classical-era composers of the late 18th century, so the performance was nicely molded.

The guest soloist this time was Croatian-born guitarist Ana Vidovic (below). She was originally scheduled to play the Second Guitar Concerto by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, but for some reason she switched late on to the more substantial Concierto de Aranjuez by the 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo.

ana-vidovic-2017

Unfortunately, Vidovic followed other guitarists of today who feel they must fortify their performances with electronic amplification, so she brought her own rig with her. The result was a boomy, hollow sound, completely artificial, pitted in fake balance against the natural world of the orchestral writing that was rendered, by the way, with charm and delicacy.

The composer (below) was very careful about not allowing the orchestra to overwhelm the intimate guitar, and generations of guitar players have been able to perform this and parallel concertos without benefit of sonic hype.

Alas, the combination of technology with egotism! Vidovic is obviously a musician of genuine artistry, but she quite sabotaged her playing by use of this six-string howitzer. And the knobs were still on through an encore, a trivial Cavatina by one Stanley Meyer.

joaquin rodrigo

The evening was richly redeemed by the main work. Sewell has, in recent years, been working his way into the symphonies of the 19th century, late Romantic Austrian composer Anton Bruckner—a composer usually tackled by large orchestras. But he has brought off the first two numbered symphonies with aplomb, and now was the turn of the Third.

This is a work with a complex history of versions and revisions. Sewell bravely chose to use the 1874 revision of the original 1873 version, rather than the ill-fated revision of 1877 or the once-standard bowdlerization of 1889.

Sewell could command only 20 string players, but they proved quite sufficient, even with the occasional divisions of the violins. The reduced lushness resulting allowed inner parts to come through, and the rest of the orchestra played magnificently. Sewell understands Bruckner’s individual rhetoric, with its stop-and-start pacings and dramatic shifts between tremendous power and great delicacy.

Sewell (below) is indeed a born Bruckner conductor. The second movement in particular I have never heard played so eloquently. (You can hear the second movement of the 1874 edition in the YouTube video at the bottom.) I don’t know if Sewell plans to probe still further into Bruckner’s symphonies, but I am ready to follow him eagerly if he does.

AndrewSewellnew

Far from being put off by the often-maligned music of Bruckner, the very large audience gave the performance a justly deserved standing ovation. This was, I think, a genuine landmark in the WCO’s history.


Classical music: This Friday night, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performs Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” with guest guitarist Ana Vidovic as well as the Symphony No. 3 by Bruckner and the Symphony No. 30 by Mozart

January 24, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) opens the second half of its season with a promising concert that has both sunny lyricism and dark drama.

WCO lobby

Tickets run $10 to $80. Here is a link to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s website with information about the concert, the soloist and how to get tickets:

http://www.wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-ii-2/

As usual, WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) has created a program that mixes music of different moods from different eras.

AndrewSewellnew

The guest artist is classical guitarist Ana Vidovic (below top), who performed with the WCO two years ago to critical and audience acclaim.

This time Vidovic will perform the popular “Concierto de Aranjuez” by the 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo (below bottom), who took inspiration from Baroque music for this work. (You can hear the gorgeously tuneful slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Jazz great trumpeter Miles Davis also used to play the slow movement from the Rodrigo concerto.

ana-vidovic-2017

joaquin rodrigo

The concert will open with the Symphony No. 30 in D Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and will close with the Symphony No. 3 in D minor by the Austrian late Romantic composer Anton Bruckner (below), who is often coupled with Gustav Mahler.

Anton Bruckner 2

For many listeners, the big draw is the Bruckner symphony since Bruckner does not get heard often here.

So The Ear thought it might be useful to read comments about Bruckner by the world-famous maestro Daniel Barenboim, who was the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for many years.

This week, Barenboim (below top conducting and below bottom in an informal portrait photo by Andrea Gjestvang for The New York Times) is leading the Staatskapelle Berlin in a complete cycle of Bruckner symphonies — coupled with Mozart piano concertos played and conducted by Barenboim himself from the keyboard — in Carnegie Hall in New York City. He also recently recorded all the Bruckner symphonies with the same orchestra. And just yesterday he got rave review from The New York Times for the first two Bruckner-Mozart concerts.

daniel barenboim with baton

daniel-barenboim-portrait-ny-times-andrea-gjestvang-2017

Here is a link to the interview and story in The New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/13/arts/music/a-long-party-of-concerts-to-celebrate-anton-bruckner.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FBarenboim%2C%20Daniel&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection&_r=0


Classical music: Read about American composer Steven Stucky, who recently died. The Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform his Symphony No. 1 this weekend.

April 1, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

A musician in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, whom The Ear holds in very high regard, says that the four-section, continuous movement Symphony No. 1 by contemporary American composer Steven Stuckey (below) is “beautiful.”

This is a discerning man and musician, and The Ear – who has never heard works by Stucky — trusts his judgment.

Steve Stucky

Even so, the work will be The Big Unknown on the MSO program this weekend. It also features pianist Garrick Ohlsson in the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Johannes Brahms and the tone poem “Don Juan” by Richard Strauss. Both works are major standards of the Romantic and Late Romantic repertoire.

Here is a link with more information about the performances, which will be held tonight, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/classical-music-pianist-garrick-ohlsson-will-solo-in-the-piano-concerto-no-1-by-johannes-brahms-with-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-this-weekend/

John DeMain, the longtime music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, recently told The Ear about how he had wanted to program a work by a living composer. After all, DeMain has championed other new music, including the world premiere of John Adams’ famous opera “Nixon in China.”

But a very aggressive form of brain cancer took away that chance when Stucky, who composed chamber music and choral music as well as symphonic music, taught at Cornell University and the Juilliard School, died just two months ago at 66.

Steven Stucky

So The Ear thought that it might be good to have more background about Stucky.

Here is Stucky himself talking about his 2012 Symphony that will be performed by the MSO and its emotional journey. It includes a performance by superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which commissioned the work:

Here is a terrific background piece on Stucky that appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog hosted by NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/02/16/466942466/remembering-composer-steven-stucky

And here is a lengthy and detailed obituary about Stucky that appeared in The New York Times. It also includes excerpts of reviews of his works and gives readers a context by which to judge Stucky’s achievement.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/16/arts/music/steven-stucky-composer-who-won-a-pulitzer-dies-at-66.html

The Ear is looking forward to hearing the work. (Another sample, in a YouTube video at the bottom, is his 2011 work “Silent Spring,” composed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s landmark book about DDT and pollution in the environment and nature.

He is also looking forward to hearing from others about the work.

So if you go to the MSO concert and hear Steven Stucky’s Symphony No. 1, why not leave your opinion or assessment in the COMMENTS section?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players offer an appetizing preview of its second summer season with masterful performances of string quartets by Mozart, Webern, Shostakovich and Philip Glass. Plus, the Pro Arte Quartet concert on Feb. 3 has been CANCELLED

January 26, 2016
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ALERT: The concert on next Wednesday night, Feb. 3, by the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet has been CANCELLED due to an injury of one of its players.

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. Barker also took the performance photo.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Willy Street Chamber Players have already awakened us to Madison’s East Side as a promising new locale of our musical life. And in presenting their program in A Place to Be, the old store converted into a conversation haven at 911 Williamson Street, they have given us further reminder of that area’s lively community life and activities.

On last Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the Willys offered an hour-long program, admission-free but by reservation. (I attended the Saturday performance.)

The small space was certainly the kind of intimate venue ideal for music by string quartet: indeed, it made for virtually an in-your-face confrontation.

Four members (below) of the Willys’ core ensemble were on hand. Violinists Eleanor Bartsch and Paran Amirinazari (alternating in second and first chairs), violist Beth Larson and cellist Mark Bridges made up a well-balanced string quartet.

Willy Street Chamber Players string quartet cr JWB

Their program of four works displayed anew the level of enthusiastic music-making these players have set for themselves, but also of their wide-ranging mix of repertoire.

The opening piece was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s beloved Serenade, Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music). As first violinist, Bartsch – who won honors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — set an exuberant tone for what became a newly fresh masterpiece.

The second work, Anton Webern’s early Langsamer Satz (Slow Movement), can sometimes seem too extended for its 9-minute length. But these players imparted a forward-moving pulse to its heavily Late Romantic character that made it a lovely experience. And I must say that Larson made me aware for the first time of just how significant a role the viola part has in holding together the dense texture.

The contemporary American composer Philip Glass (below) is inevitably typecast as the arch-exponent of minimalist repetition. His 9-minute String Quartet No. 2 “Company” certainly reflects such techniques, but its four short movements allow a dispersion of their effects without making them unwelcome.

I found myself impressed, too, at least by Glass’s awareness of the characters of the four instruments—their different ranges and potentials for interaction. (You can hear Philip Glass’ String Quartet No. 2 performed by Brooklyn Rider in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Phlip Glass 2015

Finally, Dmitri Shostakovich’s 15-minute, four-movement String Quartet No. 1, dating from 1938, revealed a composer enjoying energy and affirmation, with only traces of the deeper, darker, more introverted writing that would come about in his subsequent 13 quartets. Particularly striking was the nostalgic second movement, largely dominated by the viola, the role of which Larson brought off to eloquent perfection.

These two concerts served as mid-season reminders of the projected second summer season by the ensemble (below), to come in July. Full announcement of its program details and other news will come in a week or so. But the teasing hints about the repertoire ahead sounded fascinating. I, for one, found my mouth watering at many of them.

Willy Street Chamber Players group color

So you are all on notice, then, that this exciting ensemble, bursting with youthful talent, will once again bring special novelty and artistry to another summer’s musical life.


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and soloist Ben Beilman deliver the best Beethoven Violin Concerto that The Ear has ever heard live

October 8, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Many people see the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) as competitors.

WCO lobby

But that’s not how The Ear sees them.

The Ear sees symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras not as competitors but as complements.

The two can serve as role models for each other. A symphony orchestra can aim to achieve the transparency and clarity of the smaller group; the chamber orchestra can aim to achieve the richness and bigger sound of the larger ensemble.

Almost two weeks ago, that is exactly what the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) and conductor John DeMain did with the “Leonore” Overture No. 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven, the Clarinet Concerto by Aaron Copland and especially the big, loud and brassy Ethel Merman-like Symphony No. 4 by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky.

Here is how The Ear heard that performance:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/classical-music-heres-why-the-opening-concert-of-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-proved-a-stunning-success/

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

So how did the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra do in meeting the challenge?

In a word — superbly.

The WCO did so last Friday night in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater under its longtime music director Andrew Sewell.

The program started with one of those welcome rarities that Sewell has a knack for unearthing. This time the native New Zealander played the piece “Landfall in Unknown Seas” by Douglas Lilburn (below), whom Sewell described as the Kiwi Copland.

Well, maybe, though The Ear finds Aaron Copland’s music more interesting and emotionally moving than the clearly modern but tonal and accessible music by Lilburn, whose centennial is this year.

douglas lilburn

The piece — written to commemorate the tricentennial of the discovery of New Zealand — was hobbled with one of those puffily pretentious and over-the-top occasional celebratory poems, which was recited by actor James Ridge (below) of American Players Theatre in Spring Green. It treated navigation and discovery as metaphors of something much bigger than the discovery of New Zealand.

All in all, it proved an interesting but not arresting piece, a curiosity worth hearing but not repeating.

 

James Ridge

Then came the rarely played Symphony No. 2 in A minor by Camille Saint-Saens. It is a kind of Late Romantic pastiche that reminds one of the “Classical” Symphony by Sergei Prokofiev. One could hear strains of earlier composers such as Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn in this charming work that once again is worth hearing but maybe not repeating or at least not soon.

To be fair, critic John W. Barker disagreed in his review for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/arts/stage/wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-opens-2015-season/

In both cases, Sewell (below) and the various sections of the WCO brought not only the kind of transparency or clarity that one expects from the WCO but also a robustness that made the orchestra seem bigger than it looked.

AndrewSewellnew

Yet it was in the second half where the WCO really showed its stuff.

The piece was the formidable Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The soloist was the 25-year-old Benjamin Beilman (below), making his Madison debut.

Benjamin Beilman close up playing

Together, Beilman and Sewell delivered what is the finest and most exciting live performance of the famous and famously difficult concerto that The Ear has ever heard. It possessed intimacy as well as heroics. (You can hear Itzhak Perlman and Daniel Barenboim conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in the last movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Sewell shaded the piece and brought both chamber orchestra transparency and symphony orchestra heft to the work. He also emphasized Beethoven’s mastery of counterpoint, a legacy from his days as a student of Franz Joseph Haydn. This time the often thorny Beethoven score seemed smoother and more decipherable.

Beilman, for his part, is already a master of the kind of small details that make a huge difference. He is also not afraid to play softly.

Beethoven (below) was a master crafter but not a great melody writer, and often the opening movement can often seem little more than a patchwork of scales and runs, chords and arpeggios.

beethoven BW grim

But not this time. Beilman made this often flat-sounding violin part exciting with the subtleties he brought to it. He found hidden melodies and camouflaged suggestions of a theme, all delivered with a great tone from his modern 2004 violin.

One unusual touch was the cadenzas. Beethoven didn’t write any for the violin. When he transcribed this work for the piano he composed piano cadenzas. And those were the basis of what Beilman, the top winner of the Montreal International Violin Competition and the recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, used for his exciting cadenzas.

Tempi mattered too. This long, dense concerto moved right along, and when it was done, the performance drew an immediate standing ovation from the audience of 900 or so.

And here’s the thing: At no point did the chamber orchestra seem to lack the horsepower needed to drive this big and iconic piece of music. Sewell and Beilman were well matched in projecting a big, rich sound and intense interpretation that engaged and excited you from beginning to end.

The audience even drew two encores from Beilman, both solo pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach (below), the ultimate test of a violinist. One was the songful slow movement from the Solo Sonata in C Major; the other was the lively Gavotte from the Solo Partita in E Major that almost seems a mirror image of the last movement of the Beethoven concerto.(ATTENTION ALL SOLOISTS: Please announce your encores!)

Bach1

The first Bach movement, by the way, was also the piece that Beilman played at the wedding this summer where his sister married Joe Morris, the gifted principal clarinet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra who so stood out in the Copland concerto two weeks ago.

Plus, Beilman’s parents and grandparents hail from Madison.

So young Benjamin Beilman has roots in and ties to Madison.

Could that mean he will return soon?

The Ear sure hopes so.

 


Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet welcomes back first violinist Leanne Kelso League and turns in an outstanding performance of an unusual program to kick off its new season.

September 21, 2015
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to a technical glitch, a post about the Madison Symphony Orchestra principal clarinet Joseph Morris was mistakenly released earlier today. It was and is scheduled to appear tomorrow, getting posted tonight at midnight. The Ear regrets the mistake and any inconvenience.

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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Ancora String Quartet opened its new season at the First Unitarian Society of Madison on Saturday night. An immediate feature of the event was the return of Leanne Kelso League as the group’s first violinist.

(In the photo below taken by John W. Barker, League is on the far left followed by violinist Robin Ryan, cellist Benjamin Whitcomb and violist Marika Fischer Hoyt.)

Her absence on sabbatical for the past two seasons has prompted some experimentation, last season with two different guest first violinists. Each was individual, and brought individual new qualities with each shift.

But it was good to have League back again, bringing her powerful and incisive qualities of playing and leadership once more to the group.

Ancora Quartet 2015 JWB

The program was an interesting venture in relative novelties.

The opening work was the penultimate string quartet by Felix Mendelssohn (below), his Op. 44, No. 3. Mendelssohn’s chamber works, especially his quartets, are often kept in the shadows; but they deserve attention, especially this one. In E-flat major, it offers first two movements marked by stormy assertiveness. The third movement is a thing of warm beauty and slightly sad nostalgia, while the final movement seemed to establish a balance between the contrasting moods of what preceded.

The performance was superb, certainly belying the idea many have that Mendelssohn was just a lightweight composer. This is powerful music. That the Ancora performance was so strong and passionately articulated certainly owed a lot to League’s renewed participation.

mendelssohn_300

The surprise of the program, though, was the second of the three quartets by Ernst von Dohnanyi (1877-1960, below). The chamber music by this Late Romantic or Post-Romantic Hungarian master is not often performed and recorded, but the Ancora performance made it clear it should be heard more often.

In D-flat major, this quartet dates from 1906, and shows its roots well back in 19th-century traditions. Its three movements are filled with beautiful melodiousness amid busy aggressiveness, and the work is, in effect, a kind of debate between such opposed spirits. (You can hear the lovely third movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The members of the Ancora — who also play with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra — gave it a superbly committed, convincing rendition. More, please!

ernst von dohnanyi

Finally, the quartet played one of the few chamber works by the Viennese Hugo Wolf (1860-1903, below in 1902), famous for his German Lieder or art songs. The Italian Serenade is certainly his most recurrent concert work, a piece of durable froth that is always a pleasure to hear, and provides an upbeat way to end a program.

Hugo Wolf 1902 photo

The Ancora String Quartet is scheduled to return on May 21.


Classical music: This afternoon is your last chance to hear pianist Christopher Taylor and the Madison Symphony Orchestra in rave-receiving performances of concertos by Bach and Liszt and the Symphony No. 7 by Anton Bruckner. Then this Tuesday night, organist Samuel Hutchison will continue the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Overture Concert Organ with a recital of Bach, Mozart, Widor and other composers.

April 12, 2015
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear what may be the best concert of this season by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The program features UW-Madison virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor (below) in Keyboard Concerto No. 4 by J.S. Bach and Piano Concerto No. 1 by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt as well as a “landmark” performance of the Late Romantic Austrian composer Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7.

Here is a rave review by John W. Barker, the dean of Madison’s music critics who writes for Isthmus and for this blog:

http://www.isthmus.com/arts/stage/piano-virtuoso-joins-madison-symphony-orchestra-christopher-taylor/

Christopher Taylor new profile

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Organist and Curator Samuel Hutchison will mark a decade of memorable performances on the Overture Concert Organ (below) in a recital on this coming Tuesday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, 201 State Street.

Overture Concert Organ overview

The program will include music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Alexander Guilmant, Jehan Alain, Charles-Marie Widor and Charles Villiers Stanford. (You can hear one of the Bach works he will play — the Fantasy and Fugue in G  Minor, BWV 542, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

For the specific works on the program and more information, go to:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/hutchisonrecital

Hutchison (below) has presented many recitals in the U.S and in Europe in locations that include the Riverside Church, New York City; St. Paul’s Cathedral, London; and Notre Dame, St. Sulpice and St. Étienne-du-Mont, Paris.

Sam Hutchison with organ (c) JoeDeMaio

He also performed the complete works of J.S. Bach – himself primarily an organist — in a series of 11 weekly recitals for the 300th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 1985.

General admission for the concert is $20 and tickets can be purchased at www.madisonsymphony.org/hutchisonrecital, the Overture Center Box Office or (608) 258-4141.

Student rush tickets are $10 day of show with a valid student ID see http://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush).

This concert is sponsored by Friends of the Overture Concert Organ.

For more Overture Concert Organ information, including recital, hymn sings and community visit http://www.madisonsymphony.org/organseason

 


Classical music: Behold Bruckner! Conductor John DeMain explains the monumental beauty and major technical and interpretative challenges of Anton Bruckner, whose mammoth Seventh Symphony he will perform this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

April 8, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend brings what, for The Ear, is the most interesting program of the season from the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The combination of Baroque, Romantic and Late Romantic music includes the long-awaited performance of a major symphony—the Seventh—by Anton Bruckner (below).

Anton Bruckner 2

The program, to be performed under the baton of longtime MSO music director John DeMain, includes the Keyboard Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Franz Liszt. The soloist for both works is the dynamic and versatile Christopher Taylor (below), the resident virtuoso at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Here is a link to an interview with him that appeared here earlier this week:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/classical-music-uw-madison-pianist-christopher-taylor-says-bach-wouldnt-mind-being-played-on-the-piano-and-the-public-should-get-to-know-the-less-virtuosic-side-of-liszt-he-plays-concertos/

Christopher Taylor new profile

Performances are in Overture Hall in the Overture Center. Times are Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12-$84.

For details, go to https://www.madisonsymphony.org or call the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Maestro DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) recently agreed to do an email Q&A about Bruckner with The Ear:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Why has the MSO gone so long without playing a Bruckner symphony? Why did you choose the Symphony No. 7 as the first Bruckner symphony to be performed by the MSO during your tenure?

When I first came to Madison, I was so focused on Mahler that I didn’t think much about Bruckner. Doing so much Mahler in a short season of seven classical concerts, I felt that adding Bruckner to the mix was too much for our audiences from this period.

Now I can focus on other composers from the late Romantic period, most notably Anton Bruckner. The MSO performed Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony (“Romantic”) in the mid-1980s. So I felt the Seventh would be the right symphony to perform after such a long hiatus, and one the audience would have enormous pleasure listening to.

Do you plan to program other Bruckner symphonies in future seasons? What is the next one you would like to conduct?

I’m certainly interested in a reload at the Fourth Symphony as well as the Eighth and Ninth in some future year.

What makes Bruckner great and how does his music differ from that of his contemporaries such as Gustav Mahler? What are his musical signatures?

Bruckner’s music is monumental in structure. The music basks in tonal beauty. His melodic lines are long, and he loves sequences, modulating as he goes along, building to temporary climaxes, until the big ones come along. The slow movement of the Seventh Symphony is achingly beautiful and moving.

At times, he sounds like Mahler (below), and why not? They were both writing at the same time, so musical trends are going to creep into the composers’ writing in any given era. The lilting waltz in the middle of the slow movement and the scherzo are two such examples that call to mind the music of Mahler.

For me, Mahler’s music struggles more, from the depths of human misery to the glories of newfound salvation. Bruckner doesn’t do that. His music is more architectural in its dramatic unfolding, relying on sequential melodic and harmonic tension, and powerful eruptions from the brass sections of the orchestra.

Gustav Mahler big

What are the major challenges, technical and interpretive, for you and the MSO players in doing Bruckner?

Bruckner is not as explicit as Mahler or Richard Strauss in his directions to the interpreter. Often a movement will have one, or, at the most, two or three general tempo indications. This leaves enormous leeway for the conductor to interpret Bruckner’s intentions. Listening to a variety of past performances by some of our greatest German and Austrian conductors of the past reveals enormous differences regarding tempo, consistency of tempo and general shaping. My influences will be more recent to reflect the scholarship and musical sensibilities of our time.

The challenge for the orchestra will primarily be endurance, particularly for the brass, as Bruckner the loves repetition during his big climaxes, literally embracing the audience with rapturous sound. Also, the strings are asked to play tremolo a lot, and that can be fatiguing. The effect, however, is wonderful. (Note: You can hear that for yourself in a YouTube video at the bottom that features an excerpt from the Scherzo movement of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 as performed by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic.)

The biggest challenge for me will be the shaping of the symphony. Finding the right tempo, and knowing when to depart from it, so the music can breathe, are additional challenges, as well as paying strict attention to the long crescendos, diminuendos and sudden dynamic changes.

I can’t wait to get to work on it. Other aspects of orchestral playing are always present, like the intonation of the Wagner tubas that we will be using and strict adherence to dynamic changes that are bold, frequent and often extreme.

MSO-HALL

John DeMain conducting 2

What would you like the audience to pay special attention to in the symphony and your performance of it?

I think the audience should let the power and beauty of this symphony take them on their own personal journey. The Wagnerian and Mahlerian influences, as well as the Germanic nature of the music, should be immediately apparent to the listener and put them on familiar territory.

Is there anything else you would like to say about Bruckner?

I would just like to say to the audience, that if they haven’t had a chance to hear Bruckner live, or much at all, this is the perfect choice and chance to get closer to this major composer of 19th-century German Romanticism.


Classical music: UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor says Bach wouldn’t mind being played on the piano and the public should get to know the less virtuosic side of Liszt. He plays concertos by both composers this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

April 6, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s guest Q&A is the acclaimed UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below), who won a bronze medal in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and who has been praised by critics around the world.

Christopher Taylor new profile

Taylor will play a big role this weekend in what, for The Ear, is the most interesting program of the season from the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below).

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The program, to be performed under the baton of longtime MSO music director John DeMain, includes the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Franz Liszt. The soloist for both is the dynamic and versatile Taylor (below), the resident virtuoso at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Christopher Taylor playing USE

The second half of the program is the Symphony No. 7 by the Late Romantic Austrian composer Anton Bruckner – the first time the MSO has tackled one of Bruckner’s mammoth symphonies.

Anton Bruckner 2

Performances are in Overture Hall in the Overture Center. Times are Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12-$84.

For details, go to https://www.madisonsymphony.org or call the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Taylor recently agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

What do you say to early music and period instrument advocates about performing Bach on a modern keyboard versus a harpsichord? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

In matters musical I hope to foster a generally tolerant attitude. I think our art form is a broad and diverse enough domain to allow for the peaceful coexistence of interpretations that pursue varied goals.

Some may seek to recreate, in as precise a way as possible, the experiences of listeners living back in Bach’s day, a perspective that can undoubtedly prove illuminating and satisfying for contemporary audiences.

Others may pursue interpretations that employ more recent, or even completely novel, musical resources, with results that Bach himself might well find startling were he suddenly to return.

Still, given Bach’s documented flexibility regarding instrumentation — the Keyboard Concerto No. 4 was probably originally composed for oboe — I like to think he would be open-minded both towards the piano’s sonority and the interpretive possibilities it suggests.

The piano’s rich and varied sound undoubtedly fits naturally into the modern concert hall setting, and for me personally its character is what I understand and appreciate best.  But again, I am always eager to learn about alternative approaches, and hope that others will listen to me with a similar mindset. (Below, Taylor is seen with the unusual two-keyboard Steinway piano he uses to play Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.)

Christopher Taylor with double keyboard Steinway

How would you compare the Keyboard Concerto No. 4 to Bach’s other ones?

Like all the Bach concertos this work possesses irresistible energy and momentum, paired with lyricism and ingenious construction.  It strikes me as a particularly cheerful specimen — not so imposing or stern as the D minor or F minor concertos, for instance, but more modest in scale and upbeat in mood.

Right from the opening the first movement features an interesting back-and-forth relationship between the soloist and orchestra, with the keyboard seeming suitably soloistic on some occasions, more accompanimental at other moments, and completely united with the strings yet elsewhere.

The slow middle movement has particularly long phrases and sinuous lines, while the finale displays remarkable rhythmic variety, with relatively staid eighth notes taking turns with bustling sixteenth-notes and downright scrambling thirty-second-notes. (You can hear the Bach concerto for yourself in the YouTube video below that features the British pianist Nick Van Bloss who, curiously, suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome except when he is playing.)

A lot of listeners know you especially for your interpretations of modern and contemporary composers such as William Bolcom, Gyorgy Ligeti, Derek Bermel and especially Olivier Messiaen. But you are also known for your performances of the “Goldberg” Variations. What are the attractions of Bach’s music for you?

I find in Bach (below) the supreme balance of heart and brain. It is music whose intricacy provides endless material for intellectual stimulation and study, but which nonetheless, in its restrained and elegant way, evokes every imaginable shade of human feeling.

It is hardly surprising that composers as diverse as Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin and Arnold Schoenberg found inspiration in his immortal creations.

Playing his music is a foundational skill for me, providing essential training and background when I approach, for instance, the more recent composers whose challenging works you mention.

Bach1

Liszt is known as probably the greatest piano virtuoso in history who reinvented keyboard technique. How do you see the first concerto in terms of both deeper musicality and sheer spectacle and technical virtuosity?

While Bach may sometimes be stereotyped as hyper-academic and dry, the stereotype associated with Liszt is quite the opposite:  flashy and intellectually shallow.

Neither caricature captures the reality, and I hope that this week’s pair of concertos helps to illustrate the unexpected facets and depths of both composers.

While I have been familiar with the Liszt from a very early age, I only performed it for the first time fairly recently. While learning it I found myself continually surprised by its formal sophistication and intriguing quirkiness.

Certainly it has its moments of raw virtuoso display, but these only constitute one ingredient in a varied dramatic structure. Just as important are the lyrical characters (sometimes cut off short), the playful elements, the eccentric, the grand, the angelic. I have thus come to appreciate how experimental, individualistic, and sophisticated this work really is.

andsnes

How do you view Liszt as a composer compared to his reputation as a performer and teacher? What should the public pay attention to in the Liszt Concerto and is there anything special or usual you try to do with the score?

As I suggested above, I think there’s often a tendency to underestimate Liszt’s compositional import — although admittedly he did produce certain works that feed into the stereotypes distressingly well.

Liszt photo by Pierre Petit

I will hope to bring out this concerto’s interplay of characters and its individualism as vividly as possible. The virtuoso elements will play their part, but I do not wish for them to be the sole focus. (You can hear the concerto played by Martha Argerich in the YouTube video that is below.)

 


Classical music: Critics for The New York Times name their favorite works by and performers of Richard Strauss. Plus, catch the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Early Music Festival on radio this Sunday.

January 3, 2015
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HERE ARE TWO ALERTS FOR SUNDAY:

At 10 a.m, on WORT FM 89.9: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) under the direction of Mikko Utevsky will be featured in an hour-long broadcast this coming Sunday (January 4).

The “Summer Voices” concert was recorded live last August 22 at Music Hall on the UW-Madison campus. Included are interviews with MAYCO founder and conductor Mikko Utevsky and guest soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller (below).

The program includes: the Overture to “The Magic Flute” by Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the cantata “Knoxville Summer of 1915” by American composer Samuel Barber; and the Symphony No. 9 in E-Flat Major by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The hosts of Musica Antiqua yielded the final hour of their early music show so that WORT can provide these young musicians with the station’s largest classical music audience.

MAYCO 2014 Caitlin Ruby Miller and Mikko Uevsky

Then at 1 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio (88.7 FM in the Madison area and online at wpr.org): Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) will broadcast a concert of 16th-century Renaissance music from Italy inspired by “I Trionfi” by Francesco Petrarch (1304-1374). The concert was designed and conducted by Grant Herreid, and was performed at the Madison Early Music Festival’s concluding All-Festival Concert (bel0w) in July 2014 at Luther Memorial Church in Madison. This recording is part of WPR’s new program, “Wisconsin Classical.”

Listen to station 88.7 FM at 1 p.m.or stream it online at http://www.wpr.org/

MEMF 2014 All-Festival

By Jacob Stockinger

One of the public’s favorite Late Romantic composers is Richard Strauss, seen below in old age in a photo by H. Hoffmann and Ullstein Bilderdienst.

Richard Strauss  old CR H. Hoffmann Ulstein Biulderdienst

Writing about Strauss is timely, if belatedly so, because 2014 was the 150th anniversary year of his birth.

But better late than never.

Strauss composed in every genre, from orchestra and opera to chamber music, and the last part of his career was controversial because of his involvement with Hitler and Nazi Germany during World War II.

What is your favorite work by Richard Strauss?

Your favorite performances and performers?

Your favorite recordings?

Various critics for The New York Times recently offered their own year-end takes on those questions.

Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/26/arts/music/richard-strauss-recordings-recommended-by-critics.html?_r=0

And here is my favorite Strauss music — the Suite from the opera “Der Rosenkavalier” in a YouTube video — although it is also hard to beat “Four Last Songs” for soprano and orchestra:


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