The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra opens its 94th season this weekend with the sonic sensuality of music by Wagner, Dvorak, Debussy and Barber

September 24, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

It has been warmer than the usual fall weather, so why not go sultry?

That’s what the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) will do when it opens its 94th season this coming weekend.

The program “Love, Lust and Redemption” will combine the power of the Klais organ (below top) with MSO principal organist and curator of the Overture Concert Organ Greg Zelek who opens the season with Samuel Barber’s Toccata Festiva.

The all-orchestral program also features the Madison Symphony Orchestra exploring the sonic sensuality of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser”Overture, Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7.

Performances will are in Overture Hall, 201 State Street, on Friday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 28, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 29, at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $19 to $95. For more information, see below.

MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below) says of the program:

“Our opening concert is both festive and gorgeously romantic as we present our star organist Greg Zelek (below) in his MSO concerto debut.

“We open with one of the most beautiful overtures ever written, Wagner’s Overture to the opera Tannhäuser and then, after intermission, the great Symphony No. 7 in D Minor by Dvorak.

In between is the little jewel by Debussy, his quintessential impressionistic masterpiece, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. All are favorites of mine, and I look forward to making them favorites of yours, if they aren’t already.”

Tannhäuser: Overture and Venusberg Music” by Richard Wagner (below) is frequently performed as a separate work in orchestral concerts, the first such performance having been given by Felix Mendelssohn conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in February 1846.

Wagner began revisions to the opera immediately, which resulted in two more versions: the Paris version in 1861 and the Vienna version in 1875. Members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra Chorus also perform in this piece.

TheToccata Festiva was written by the American composer Samuel Barber (below) as an occasional work for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy. It pairs organ and orchestra, and celebrated the inauguration of a new organ for the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, a gift from longtime patron Mary Curtis Zimbalist who had also commissioned the new piece.

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faunby French composer Claude Debussy (below) is a musical evocation of Stephane Mallarmé’s poem “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” in which a faun — a half-man, half-goat creature of ancient Greek legend — awakes to revel in sensuous memories of forest nymphs. Debussy begins the piece with a sinuous and well-known flute melody evocative of a graceful female form.

Symphony No. 7 by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak was greatly influenced by Johannes Brahms. Dvorak decided to compose this symphony after hearing Brahms’s new Symphony No. 3.

The piece is distinguished for its somber and dramatic atmosphere and its lack of Slavic-inspired melodies, a characteristic with which the composer’s style is usually associated. (You can hear the vivacious Scherzo in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

TICKETS AND EVENT DETAILS

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert. One hour before each performance, Randal Swiggum (below) will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience. It is free to ticket holders.

The MSO recommends that concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the Prelude Discussion.

Program notes for the concerts are available online: http://bit.ly/msosept19programnotes.

 

  • Single Tickets are $19-$95 each and are on sale now at: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/love-lust-redemptionthrough the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141. Fees apply to online/phone sales.
  • Groups of 10 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit, https://www.madisonsymphony.org/groups.
  • Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $15 or $20 tickets. More information is at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush
  • Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
  • Flex-ticket booklets of 8-10 vouchers for 19-20 symphony subscription concerts are available. Learn more at: https://madisonsymphony.org/flex
  • Subscriptionsfor the 2019–2020 season are available now. Learn more at: https://madisonsymphony.org/19-20

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.


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Classical music: Autumn arrives today. The Ear thinks Richard Strauss’ poignant orchestral song “September” is perfect for greeting Fall. What music would you choose?

September 23, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Fall officially arrives today.

The autumnal equinox takes place at 2:50 a.m. CST.

If you listen to Wisconsin Public Radio, it’s a certainty that you will hear music appropriate to the season. WPR does these tie-ins very well and very reliably — even during a pledge drive.

At the top of the list will probably be the “Autumn” section of three violin concertos from the ever popular “The Four Seasons” by the Italian baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi.

But there are lots of others, including late songs, piano sonatas and chamber music by Franz Schubert; slow movements from symphonies by Gustav Mahler; and many of the “autumnal” late works by Johannes Brahms, especially the short piano pieces and chamber music such as the Clarinet Trio, Clarinet Quintet and the two sonatas for clarinet or viola and piano.

Here is a link to a YouTube video with more than two hours of autumn music. You can check out the composers and the pieces, some of which might be new to you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fddGrDV2gw

And if you want less music with some unusual choices, complete with individual performances, try this much shorter compilation:

http://www.classical-music.com/article/best-classical-music-inspired-autumn

Yet this time of year, when the days end earlier and the mornings dawn later, one work in particular gets to The Ear: It is “Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss (below), one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century.

The second of the four songs is “September” and fits the bill very nicely.

In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear it sung by Renée Fleming, who will perform a recital next spring in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater. She is accompanied by the Houston Symphony Orchestra under conductor Christoph Eschenbach.

Here are the lyrics of the poem, in which summertime is the protagonist, by Nobel Prize winner Hermann Hesse:

The garden is in mourning

Cool rain seeps into the flowers.

Summertime shudders,

quietly awaiting his end.

 

Golden leaf after leaf falls

from the tall acacia tree.

Summer smiles, astonished and feeble,

at his dying dream of a garden.

 

For just a while he tarries

beside the roses, yearning for repose.

Slowly he closes

his weary eyes.

Is the Ear the only person who wishes that the Madison Symphony Orchestra and maestro John DeMain, who has a gift for finding great young voices, would perform Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” some autumn?

With the right vocal soloist it could make for a memorable season-opening concert.

What music do you identity with the fall season?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Gramophone magazine names its Best of 2014 Classical Recordings. Here it is, along with several other major compilations.

December 28, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This post wraps up the holiday gift-giving season for this year.

Over the past month or so, I have offered several major roundups of the Best of 2014 classical music recordings.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/classical-music-here-are-the-best-classical-recordings-of-2014-from-the-new-york-times-and-the-boston-globe-as-well-as-npr/

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

The posts have included a Top 10 list from NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/12/11/370067981/best-classical-albums-of-2014

A list from the critics at The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/arts/music/classical-critics-pick-the-top-music-recordings-of-2014.html?_r=1

A list — really, two lists — from the prize-winning critic Alex Ross (below), who writes for The New Yorker Magazine:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/ten-notable-performances-recordings-2014

Alex Ross 2

A link from critic Jeremy Eichler at the Boston Globe:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/music/2014/12/13/the-best-albums/6q7Tin4lPvj5RmqfCCSTFP/story.html

And a list of the classical nominations for the 57th annual Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/classical-music-the-57th-annual-grammy-award-nominations-provide-a-useful-guide-to-holiday-gift-giving/

grammy award BIG

Now, as the year ends, here comes the annual compilation by the venerable Gramophone magazine out of Great Britain. Top honors go to Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra for their cycle of orchestral works, symphonies and overtures and more, by Johannes Brahms on the Decca label.

Brahms Chailly cover

But there is a lot more to look at and listen to, and, predictably, a lot of choices with ties to United Kingdom.

Anyway, if you still need to give a gift or maybe to redeem a gift card or spend cash you received, here is the story along with the direct link to the FREE digital magazine issue (below):

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/recordings-of-the-year-2014-free-digital-magazine-out-now

http://www.exacteditions.com/read/gramophone/recordings-of-the-year-2014-41178

Gramophone recordings of 2014 cover


Classical music: Today, Sept. 22, 2014, is the first day of Fall. So The Ear plays two of Richard Strauss’ “Four Last Songs.” But what would you listen to to mark the coming of Autumn?

September 22, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the first day of Fall in the Northern Hemisphere. The Autumn Equinox arrives tonight at 9:29 p.m. CDT.

autumn-leaves

This year, the timing of the season and the music I recently listened to worked out just perfectly.

Last week, you see, The Ear went to see the film “The Trip to Italy” (below), a sequel with British funnymen Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. It was made by the award-winning director Michael Winterbottom, who also directed the first installment.

Steve Coogan and Rob†Brydon in†Camogli, Italy

I loved the first one, “The Trip,” in 2010. But like so many sequels, this film suffers from self-indulgence. There was too little plot, a lot of impersonations that are not immediately recognizable or entertaining, and the film goes on for too long.

The movie has its enjoyable, entertaining  and touching moments. to be sure.  But the really outstanding characters in this film are the Italian landscape and Italian cuisine, captured in stunning cinematography.

But, oh, the music! That was the high note, so to speak, for The Ear.

A recurrent theme is from “Four Last Songs” by the Late Romantic Richard Strauss (below, in 1914). It is “Im Abendrot,” and it strikes the right notes, even for The Ear, who not a big voice fan, whether in choral music, opera or Lieder and art songs.

richard strauss in 1914 Hutton Archive Getty Images

I was thinking of some appropriate music to play for the coming of the new season. There is always “Autumn” from “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi or the new “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla.

Then there is the late piano music and chamber music of Johannes Brahms, so often and aptly described as “autumnal.” Of course, the symphonies and songs of Gustav Mahler qualify as do many of the songs of Franz Schubert. And there is more, much more.

But this year, perhaps because of personal circumstances and sheer coincidence, anyway I found the Strauss songs — which were composed in 1948, a year before Strauss died at 84 — perfectly appropriate and fitting in mood.

Here are two of them, found on YouTube video and sung by the incomparable soprano Jessye Norman with Kurt Masur conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra on the Philips label.

The first is “In Abendrot” (At Sunset). The poem or text, written by Joseph von Eichendorff — which is translated on the YouTube site if you click on “Show More” – – does not deal with autumn per se, but with loss and death. So the mood is surely autumnal and, I find, deeply moving. And it is a common motif in the film:

And then there is “September” from the poem by Nobel Prize-winning German writer Hermann Hesse.

I hope you enjoy these two songs by Strauss and also find them fitting to the season, just as I hope we have sunny and warm, a long and colorful Fall.

And I would love to know what other music best expresses the new season for you.

Just leave your suggestions, with YouTube links if possible, in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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