The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Brazilian pianist Alexandre Dossin makes his Madison debut Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in an overlooked masterpiece of American Romanticism. Plus, the amateur Madison Community Symphony Orchestra performs a FREE all-Russian program on Friday night at MATC

March 22, 2018
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ALERT 1: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features violinist Wendy Adams and pianist Ann Aschbacher in music by Schubert, Brahms and Hovhaness.

ALERT 2: The amateur Madison Community Symphony Orchestra will perform a FREE concert Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Norman Mitty Theater, 1701 Wright Street on the Madison Area Technical College campus on the east side. The all-Russian program, under the baton of Blake Walter of Edgewood College, features works by Glazunov, Prokofiev, Khachaturian and Balakirev. For more information and the complete program, go to: http://www.madisoncommunityorchestra.org/pages/concerts.htm

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top), under music director Andrew Sewell (below bottom), always puts together memorable programs, often with new and exciting soloists plus neglected or little known repertoire.

That is once again the promise of the WCO concert this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, 201 State St.

Tickets are $15-$80. See below.

First, the program offers the Madison debut of Alexandre Dossin (below), the 2003 winner of the Martha Argerich International Piano Competition.

Trained at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, Dossin seems a power player. Little wonder that he has recorded music by Liszt, Prokofiev, Kabalevsky and Leonard Bernstein for Naxos Records as well as by Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky for G. Schirmer Music. You can also hear and see a lot of his performances on YouTube.

Moreover, Dossin, who has taught at the UW-Eau Claire and the University of Louisiana and who now teaches at the University of Oregon, will be playing a relatively neglected masterpiece of American Romantic music: the Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 23, by Edward MacDowell (below).

MacDowell’s work is a dark, dramatic and virtuosic work that was once championed by Van Cliburn. (You can hear Cliburn with the third movement with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the late Walter Hendl in the YouTube video at the bottom.).

For most listeners, that will be the discovery of the evening.

Rounding out the program are two more widely known masterpieces: the Orchestral Suite No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Symphony No. 3, the “Rhenish,” by Robert Schumann.

The Ear is especially pleased that the WCO is doing Bach.

Too often modern instrument groups defer to period-instrument ensembles for Bach – which means that audiences don’t hear as much Bach (below) as they should and as previous generations did, as the prize-winning composer John Harbison has often lamented in public.

Of course, it is safe to bet that the WCO will borrow some of the faster tempi and historically informed performance techniques from the early music movement. Still, The Ear says Bravo to the programming of Bach by a group that uses modern instruments. We can always use more Bach.

The symphony by Robert Schumann (below) will also have an unusual, if subtle, aspect to its performance.

It is usually played by larger symphony orchestras. But using a chamber orchestra creates a certain intimacy and lends a transparency that reveals structure and themes in an engaging way.  Yannick Nézet-Séguin – the highly acclaimed music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and music director-designate of the Metropolitan Opera — recently proved that with his outstanding recording of the four symphonies by Robert Schumann (below) with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

For more background and information about tickets, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-iii-3/

For more information about Alexandre Dossin, go to his two websites:

http://www.dossin.net/alexandredossin/Welcome.html

https://music.uoregon.edu/people/faculty/adossin

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Classical music: Four UW concerto competition winners and the student composer winner are featured in the annual Symphony Showcase concert this Sunday night. Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s “Final Forte” high school concerto competition airs tonight at 7 on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television

March 14, 2018
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REMINDER: The final round of the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s teenage concerto competition, “The Final Forte,” will be broadcast live TONIGHT at 7 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television.

ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Ave., features a “Triple Play” of trumpeter David Miller, cellist Amy Harr and pianist Jane Peckham in music by Pärt, Piazzolla, Scarlatti, Levy and Verdi. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

This sure is the week for concerto competitions.

The Big Event this week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is the annual Symphony Showcase concert devoted to student performances of concertos and the world premiere of new music by a student composer.

The concert takes place on Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Tickets are $10, free to students and children.

The concert features the UW Symphony Orchestra (below top) under the baton of its new conductor, Chad Hutchinson (below bottom).

The four winners of the concerto competition will perform and the work by the UW composition winner will receive its first public performance.

There will be reception in the lobby following the concert.

The four concerto winners, who study at the UW’s Mead Witter School of Music, are:

Violinist Kaleigh Acord (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson), who will perform the first movement from the Violin Concerto in D Major by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Percussionist Aaron Gochberg (below), who will perform the “Prism Rhapsody” by Japanese composer Keiko Abe.

Bassoonist Eleni Katz (below), who will perform the Bassoon Concerto in B-Flat Major, K. 191, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Pianist Eric Tran (below), who will play the Keyboard Concerto No. 4 in A Major, BWV 1055, by Johann Sebastian Bach.

“Blooming” is by UW composition student Mengmeng Wang (below), who is from China.

The concert will open with the Overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein. This year is the centennial of Bernstein’s birth.

For more information about the contestants and their photos, as well as how to get tickets, go to:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/symphony-showcase-concerto-winners-solo-recital-reception/

You can also hear interviews with the winners, who discuss the pieces and their teachers, in the terrific YouTube video below:


Classical music: Tucson celebrates the Leonard Bernstein centennial. Why not Madison?

February 17, 2018
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Editor’s note: Larry Wells, better known as The Opera Guy who writes for this blog, recently spent time in Tucson, Arizona, where he attended many events celebrating the Leonard Bernstein centennial.

Tucson isn’t alone. This fall has seen many similar celebrations, including those in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Milwaukee. But curiously there has been little in Madison.

Perhaps that will change next season. At least this week will see a FREE concert by the UW-Madison Wind Ensemble this Wednesday night, Feb. 21, in Mills Hall. The mixed program with other composers features “Profanation” from Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1.

Here is a link with more information and the program:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wind-ensemble-2/

And here are observations about the Tucson celebration:

By Larry Wells

I recently spent a few weeks in Tucson. Part of that time happily coincided with the annual Tucson Desert Song Festival which this year commemorated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell).

I was able to attend 13 of the performances and was struck by the consistently intelligent programming, large audiences, and high performance standards.

Many of the events were held at the Fred Fox School of Music at the University of Arizona. Some of these involved talented student and faculty singers performing Bernstein’s Broadway songs as well as his more serious vocal works. The venue also hosted outstanding recitals by Metropolitan Opera veterans Jennifer Johnson Cano (below top) and Lisette Oropesa (below bottom).

One of the highlights was a recital by dual pianists Steven Bleier (below top, on right) and Michael Barrett (below top, on left), founders of the New York Festival of Song. Their program included Bernstein’s final song cycle “Arias and Barcarolles” featuring the very talented Joshua Jeremiah (below middle) and Rebecca Jo Loeb (below bottom).

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra (below), under the direction of its new conductor José Luis Gomez,  filled the cavernous Tucson Music Hall for two performances of Bernstein’s underperformed Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish.” Joined by the symphony’s outstanding chorus, the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus, and soprano Kelley Nassief this monumental work was electrifying. The many percussionists were given a good aerobic workout, and the audience seemed hypnotized.

The only flaw was the narration rewritten and delivered by Bernstein’s daughter Jamie. The original narration by the composer is a monologue between a man and his god. Ms. Bernstein’s narration changed the tone to that of a daughter speaking about her father.

For someone familiar with the work, I felt somewhat cheated that I was not hearing the work as it had been composed. Still it was a total delight to hear a live performance of a work that should be heard far more often than it is.

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra offered a second program which featured a sparkling performance of Bernstein’s opera “Trouble in Tahiti” with the widely-praised, and rightly so, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke (below in a photo by Dario Acosta).

Ballet Tucson offered a somewhat strange program featuring Bernstein songs beautifully performed by Cadie Jordan (below top) and David Margulis (below bottom, in a photo by Kristin Hoebermann). Sometimes they were accompanied by dancers and sometimes not.

Then, after a number of these songs, a recording came on of portions of the suite from Bernstein’s score for the film “On the Waterfront” with dancers performing a sort of “Romeo and Juliet” narrative. It didn’t seem to make any cohesive sense, but it was fun to watch and the quality of the music never faltered.

Two other large events were the Arizona Opera’s “Candide” and Tucson’s resident chorus True Concord’s MASS.

I attended the premiere of “Candide” (below) which was also performed in the vast Tucson Music Hall. I had only seen it performed once before, and that was the charming, witty, and intimate Harold Prince version. The Tucson version was one of the overlong operatic versions that featured additional musical numbers, which was a good thing, but wordy spoken dialogue that was unfortunately under-amplified. Therefore, unless someone was very familiar with the work, the production was a long string of seemingly unrelated musical numbers linked by incomprehensible spoken dialogue.

The dialogues themselves are very witty, but since they were not accompanied by supertitles as was the singing, the performance was seriously flawed. Still the singing was excellent, with special praise for Katrina Galka’s Cunegonde, and the staging was colorful and often amusing. Hopefully the sound issues were rectified for the following four performances. (You can hear the famous Overture to “Candide”– conducted by the composer —  in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

MASS (poster with scenes is below) was performed in what is termed as the ‘Chamber Version.’ I was apprehensive that somehow the musical content would be diminished, but my worries turned out to be unfounded and the performance was uniformly dynamic and engaging. True Concord is an outstanding choral group, and its leader Eric Holtan led a thoroughly engaging and moving performance of this monumental work. I was so taken by the first performance that I attended the second as well. Both performances filled the huge Centennial Hall.

Besides the orchestra and chorus the work features a celebrant, in this case the appropriately named Jubilant Sykes, an ensemble of vocal soloists, a boys chorus and dancers. The choreographers decided to add an additional layer of complexity to an already complex work by having some of the dancers portray Rose, Jacqueline and Caroline Kennedy as well as what I think was supposed to be the spirit of JFK. This was not part of the original work, and I felt it was superfluous to an already multifaceted work. But the audience loved it all, and it turns out that Madison is not the only city that seems to give everything a standing ovation.

The takeaway moment of the festival occurred during a discussion involving composer Dan Asia, the festival director and conductor George Hanson, and Jamie Bernstein. When asked how younger audiences can be lured into concert halls, all three of them immediately concurred that the answer is to program 20th-century music. They claim that any time 20th-century music is programmed, ticket sales increase. My experience at this festival was that large venues were consistently filled with audiences of all ages.

This is something for Madison to think about.


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Classical music: Here are the classical music nominations for the 2018 Grammy Awards. They make a great holiday gift list of gives and gets

December 2, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This posting is both a news story and a holiday gift guide of recordings you might like to give or get.

It features the classical music nominations for the Grammy Awards that were just announced this past week.

The winners will be announced on a live broadcast on Sunday night, Jan. 28, on CBS.

Read them and then in the COMMENT section tell us which title you think will win in a specific category and what you think of the recordings you know firsthand.

HISTORICAL ALBUMS:

  • “The Goldberg Variations — the Complete Unreleased Recording Sessions June 1955” — Robert Russ, compilation producer; Matthias Erb, Martin Kistner & Andreas K. Meyer, mastering engineers (Glenn Gould)
  • Leonard Bernstein — the Composer” — Robert Russ, compilation producer; Martin Kistner & Andreas K. Meyer, mastering engineers (Leonard Bernstein)

ENGINEERED ALBUM, CLASSICAL

  • “Danielpour: Songs of Solitude & War Songs” — Gary Call, engineer (Thomas Hampson, Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony)
  • “Kleiberg: Mass for Modern Man” — Morten Lindberg, engineer (Eivind Gullberg Jensen, Trondheim Vokalensemble & Trondheim Symphony Orchestra)
  • “Schoenberg, Adam: American Symphony; Finding Rothko; Picture Studies” — Keith O. Johnson & Sean Royce Martin, engineers (Michael Stern & Kansas City Symphony)
  • “Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Barber: Adagio” — Mark Donahue, engineer (Manfred Honeck & Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
  • “Tyberg: Masses” — John Newton, engineer; Jesse Brayman, mastering engineer (Brian A. Schmidt, Christopher Jacobson & South Dakota Chorale)

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, CLASSICAL

  • Blanton Alspaugh
  • Manfred Eicher
  • David Frost
  • Morten Lindberg
  • Judith Sherman (below)

ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE

  • “Concertos for Orchestra” — Louis Langrée, conductor (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra)
  • “Copland: Symphony No. 3; Three Latin American Sketches” — Leonard Slatkin, conductor (Detroit Symphony Orchestra)
  • “Debussy: Images; Jeux & La Plus Que Lente” — Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony)
  • “Mahler: Symphony No. 5” — Osmo Vänskä, conductor (Minnesota Orchestra)
  • “Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Barber: Adagio” — Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)

OPERA RECORDING

  • “Berg: Lulu” — Lothar Koenigs, conductor; Daniel Brenna, Marlis Petersen & Johan Reuter; Jay David Saks, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra)
  • “Berg: Wozzeck” — Hans Graf, conductor; Anne Schwanewilms & Roman Trekel; Hans Graf, producer (Houston Symphony; Chorus of Students and Alumni, Shepherd School of Music, Rice University & Houston Grand Opera Children’s Chorus)
  • “Bizet: Les Pêcheurs de Perles” — Gianandrea Noseda, conductor; Diana Damrau, Mariusz Kwiecień, Matthew Polenzani & Nicolas Testé; Jay David Saks, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus)
  • “Handel: Ottone” — George Petrou, conductor; Max Emanuel Cencic & Lauren Snouffer; Jacob Händel, producer (Il Pomo D’Oro)
  • “Rimsky-Korsakov: The Golden Cockerel” — Valery Gergiev, conductor; Vladimir Feliauer, Aida Garifullina & Kira Loginova; Ilya Petrov, producer (Mariinsky Orchestra; Mariinsky Chorus)

CHORAL PERFORMANCE

  • “Bryars: The Fifth Century” — Donald Nally, conductor (PRISM Quartet; The Crossing)
  • “Handel: Messiah” — Andrew Davis, conductor; Noel Edison, chorus master (Elizabeth DeShong, John Relyea, Andrew Staples & Erin Wall; Toronto Symphony Orchestra; Toronto Mendelssohn Choir)
  • “Mansurian: Requiem” — Alexander Liebreich, conductor; Florian Helgath, chorus master (Anja Petersen & Andrew Redmond; Münchener Kammerorchester; RIAS Kammerchor)
  • “Music of the Spheres” — Nigel Short, conductor (Tenebrae)
  • “Tyberg: Masses” — Brian A. Schmidt, conductor (Christopher Jacobson; South Dakota Chorale)

CHAMBER MUSIC/SMALL ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

  • “Buxtehude: Trio Sonatas, Op. 1” — Arcangelo
  • “Death & the Maiden” — Patricia Kopatchinskaja & the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
  • “Divine Theatre — Sacred Motets by Giaches De Wert” — Stile Antico
  • “Franck, Kurtág, Previn & Schumann” — Joyce Yang & Augustin Hadelich
  • “Martha Argerich & Friends — Live From Lugano 2016” — Martha Argerich & Various Artists

CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO

  • “Bach: The French Suites” — Murray Perahia
  • “Haydn: Cello Concertos” — Steven Isserlis; Florian Donderer, conductor (The Deutsch Kammerphilharmonie Bremen)
  • “Levina: The Piano Concertos” — Maria Lettberg; Ariane Matiakh, conductor (Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin)
  • “Shostakovich: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2” — Frank Peter Zimmermann; Alan Gilbert, conductor (NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester)
  • “Transcendental” – Daniil Trifonov

CLASSICAL SOLO VOCAL ALBUM

  • “Bach & Telemann: Sacred Cantatas” — Philippe Jaroussky; Petra Müllejans, conductor (Ann-Kathrin Brüggemann & Juan de la Rubia; Freiburger Barockorchester)
  • “Crazy Girl Crazy — Music by Gershwin, Berg & Berio” — Barbara Hannigan (Orchestra Ludwig)
  • “Gods & Monsters” — Nicholas Phan; Myra Huang, accompanist
  • “In War & Peace — Harmony Through Music” — Joyce DiDonato; Maxim Emelyanychev, conductor (Il Pomo D’Oro)
  • “Sviridov: Russia Cast Adrift” — Dmitri Hvorostovsky; Constantine Orbelian, conductor (St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra & Style of Five Ensemble)

CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM

  • “Barbara” — Alexandre Tharaud; Cécile Lenoir, producer
  • “Higdon: All Things Majestic, Viola Concerto & Oboe Concerto” — Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Tim Handley, producer
  • “Kurtág: Complete Works for Ensemble & Choir” — Reinbert de Leeuw, conductor; Guido Tichelman, producer
  • “Les Routes de l’Esclavage” — Jordi Savall, conductor; Benjamin Bleton, producer
  • “Mademoiselle: Première Audience — Unknown Music of Nadia Boulanger” — Lucy Mauro; Lucy Mauro, producer

CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION

  • “Danielpour: Songs of Solitude” — Richard Danielpour, composer (Thomas Hampson, Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony)
  • “Higdon: Viola Concerto” — Jennifer Higdon, composer (Roberto Díaz, Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony)
  • “Mansurian: Requiem” — Tigran Mansurian, composer (Alexander Liebreich, Florian Helgath, RIAS Kammerchor & Münchener Kammerorchester)
  • “Schoenberg, Adam: Picture Studies” — Adam Schoenberg, composer (Michael Stern & Kansas City Symphony)
  • “Zhou Tian: Concerto for Orchestra” — Zhou Tian, composer (Louis Langrée & Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra)


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Classical music: Madison Opera’s festive and fun 16th annual Opera in the Park is this Saturday night

July 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

It serves as a preview of the indoor winter opera season.

But one of the summer’s major events in Madison is primarily a fun time unto itself — with outdoors picnicking and socializing, and lots of outdoor music making, some of it with the audience helping to “conduct” with glow-in-the-dark light sticks.

The Madison Opera’s annual FREE Opera in the Park concert will take place this coming Saturday night starting at 8 p.m. in Garner Park, on Madison’s west side near the junction of Mineral Point Road and Rosa Road. (You can get a taste of the event in the YouTube video from 2010 at the bottom.)

The park opens at 7 a.m. Blankets, chairs, food and beverages are allowed. The rain date is the next day — Sunday, July 23.

Here is what Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), the general director of Madison Opera, has to say about the event:

“Opera in the Park has become a Madison summer tradition since the first concert in 2002. When the weather is good, we have over 15,000 people in the audience, which is the highest per-capita attendance of any such opera event in the U.S.

“I think there are many reasons for its success, from the beautiful music to the beautiful park, and the fact that our community enjoys spending time together outside in the summer.

“We don’t make massive changes each year, but it is of course a new set of singers and a new program, so it’s a fresh musical experience.

“This year, for example, we have two arias from zarzuelas or traditional Spanish musical comedies,, including the zarzuela version of “The Barber of Seville” – which will be complemented by an aria from Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” naturally.

“Audience members might also choose to vary the contents of their picnic basket each year – perhaps with Bizet’s “Carmen” and “The Barber of Seville” on the concert, they might want to include Spanish foods.

“I try to invite principal artists from our upcoming season when possible, so that audiences can get to know singers they can then hear in full roles later in the year.

“This summer our singers include soprano Cecilia Violetta López (below), who will be in “Carmen” in November;

tenor David Walton (below), who will be in Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio” in February;

and mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala (below), who will be in Daniel Catan‘s “Florencia en el Amazonas” in April.

“Baritone Will Liverman (below) is not in the upcoming season, but he has had major success here as “The Barber of Seville” and in last season’s “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” so I’m delighted he is able to join us this summer in the park.

“Putting on Opera in the Park is a complex production, from renting the generators and the stage to coordinating with the City Parks Department and the Madison Police.

Full Compass Systems and Bag End donate the sound system and their services to run it every year, and there are hundreds of people involved, from our production team to our volunteers, from the IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) stage crew to the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra.

“I often say that Opera in the Park is the most important thing Madison Opera does, and I think everyone involved believes that as well.

Now if only the weather will cooperate …”

For more information about Opera in the Park, including the times; the complete concert program that includes selections from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” on the occasion of the composer’s centennial; detailed biographies of the soloists and the guest conductor Joseph Mechavich (below); reservations for the supporters’ Prelude Dinner at 6:30 p.m.; rules about reserving seating in the park; and how to become a volunteer, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/park/


Classical music: What is your favorite Sousa march for the Fourth of July? What other classical music celebrates the holiday?

July 4, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the Fourth of July, Independence Day, when we mark the day and the Declaration of Independence when the U.S officially separated from Great Britain to become not a colony but its own country.

Over the past decade The Ear has chosen music from many American composers to mark the event – music by Edward MacDowell, Charles Ives, William Grant Still, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, William Schuman, Joan Tower, John Adams and so many others.

And of course also featured around the nation will be the “1812 Overture” by Peter Tchaikovsky.

You will probably hear a lot of that music today on Wisconsin Public Radio and other stations, including WFMT in Chicago and WQXR in New York City.

Here is a link to nine suggestions with audiovisual performances:

http://www.classical-music.com/article/nine-best-works-independence-day

But The Ear got to thinking.

It is certainly a major achievement when a composer’s name becomes synonymous with a genre of music. Like Strauss waltzes. Bach cantatas and Bach fugues. Chopin mazurkas and Chopin polonaises.

The Ear thinks that John Philip Sousa is to marches what Johann Strauss is to waltzes. Others have done them, but none as well.

So on Independence Day, he asks: Which of Sousa’s many marches is your favorite to mark the occasion?

The “Stars and Stripes Forever” — no officially our national march — seems the most appropriate one, judging by titles. “The Washington Post” March is not far behind.

But lately The Ear has taken to “The Liberty Bell” March.

Here it is a YouTube video with the same Marine Band that Sousa, The March King, once led and composed for:

And if you want music fireworks in the concert hall to match the real thing, you can’t beat the bravura pyrotechnical display concocted and executed by pianist Vladimir Horowitz, a Russian who became an American citizen and contributed mightily to the war effort during World War II.

Horowitz wowed the crowds – including fellow virtuoso pianists – with his transcription of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” in which it sounds like three or four hands are playing. Judge for yourself. Here it is:

Of course, you can also leave the names of other American composers and works to celebrate the Fourth. Just leave a word and a link in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear!


Classical music: Let us celebrate Brit Grit after the Manchester terrorist attack with Elgar’s Symphony No. 1

May 24, 2017
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

First came the unforgettable.

Then came the unforgivable.

In the first case, I am talking about the woefully under-attended performance on Sunday afternoon at the Wisconsin Union Theater by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (below) under its outgoing maestro Edo de Waart.

The MSO played the Overture to the opera “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; “Schelomo: A Hebraic Rhapsody” by Ernest Bloch, with principal cellist Susan Babini as soloist; and the Symphony No. 1 by Sir Edward Elgar.

In each case, all sections of the orchestra performed stunningly well and the caliber of performance made you wonder: “Why don’t we hear this group more often?”

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra used to tour to Madison every year or so. It should do so again.

Then not long after the concert came word of the deadly terrorist attack by a suicide bomber at a pop concert in Manchester, England.

Sure, sometimes these things just happen. But coincidences can have power.

The Ear can’t think of a more stately and forceful statement of British fortitude and stoicism – the same grit that saw Britain through the Nazi blitz — than the poignant march-like opening of the first movement of Sir Edward Elgar’s Symphony No. 1.

Chances are you don’t know the symphony.

Chances are you know Elgar from his “Pomp and Circumstance” Marches, from his “Enigma Variations” for orchestra, from his Cello Concerto, from his Violin Concerto, from the violin miniature “Salut d’amour.”

But this is grand and great Elgar (below) who, like Brahms, turned to writing symphonies only late in his life.

We don’t hear Elgar’s first symphony often enough.

And this just happens to be the right time, both because of the world-class performance by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and because the symphony was premiered in 1908 — in Manchester — and then went on to be popular enough to have some 100 performances in its first year.

But it has fallen out of favor. The last time the Ear heard it live was years ago when the UW Symphony Orchestra played it under the baton of guest conductor and UW-Madison alumnus Kenneth Woods (below), who now leads the English Symphony Orchestra and the Colorado Mahler Festival.

So here, in the YouTube video at the bottom, is a complete recording from the BBC Proms in 2012. Perhaps you will only listen to the opening movement, or even just the opening of the opening movement, with its moving theme that recurs throughout and then returns at the end.

But however much you listen to — and you shouldn’t miss the glorious slow movement – it seems a fitting choice to share today.

After all, as Leonard Bernstein once said: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”

If you have another choice of music to listen to on this deadly occasion, leave word and a YouTube link in the COMMENT section.

Solidarity through music!


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra takes The Ear over the rainbow and turns in an impressive season-closing concert that leaves him looking forward to the next season

May 3, 2017
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

To The Ear, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) just keeps getting better and better, each concert building on the last one.

Take the final concert of this season last Friday night in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

It proved typical WCO fare in the quality of the soloists and orchestra players and in the variety of the program.

WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) continues to mold his group into the tightest of ensembles. You know you are hearing precision when the rests and silences become as important to the music as the sound. And when you are listening, you feel how relaxing it is to rule out worrying about raggedness.

Here’s a rundown:

The concert opened with a tried-and-true masterpiece, the “Le Tombeau de Couperin” by Maurice Ravel (below). Each of the five dance movements pays homage to a friend of Ravel who fell in World War I, the centennial of which, the gracious Sewell explained, is being marked this year. The Ear likes such tie-ins. (The Ear also loves the original piano version, which has a sixth movement, a fabulous toccata conclusion.)

The Symphony No. 2 in C Major by Romantic master Robert Schumann is not The Ear’s favorite Schumann symphony – that would be No. 4 – and The Ear thinks that Schumann’s orchestral writing is generally not up to his piano writing, his chamber music or his songs.

Indeed, long-form music was not Schumann’s strength, as his many miniature movements in his longer suites and his fragmentary esthetic attest. Perhaps it had to do with his mental illness; perhaps it was just his preference and temperament, much as was the case with his contemporary Chopin, who also preferred the miniature to the epic.

Still, the work proved enjoyable and moving, especially in the vivacious and energetic Scherzo that was executed so precisely and then in the poignant slow movement, which was beautifully shaped with the romantic yearning that Schumann (seen below, with his wife Clara Wieck Schumann) was peerless at expressing. (You can hear the third movement, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

And once again, the smaller size of the chamber orchestra — versus a full symphony orchestra — created transparency. Listeners got to hear inner voices and the interplay of parts in all sections of the orchestra that they might otherwise miss.

But the piece that everyone came to hear was the finale: The world premiere of a Two-Piano Concerto by American composer Thomas Cabaniss (below top). The WCO commissioned the piece with help from two local patrons (Jun and Sandy Lee) and the soloists, Michael Shinn and Jessica Chow Shinn (below bottom), who have ties to Madison.

The work and its three movements – “Surfaces,” “Disturbances” and “Revelation” — did not disappoint and received a rapturous reception from the large audience, which demanded and received a piano-four hands encore.

The concerto struck The Ear as perfectly fitting its title, “Double Rainbow.” You heard elements of Maurice Ravel and John Adams. But you did NOT hear the typical standout solo playing of, say, a piano concerto by Beethoven or Brahms, Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev.

This was a much more atmospheric ensemble work that shimmered and glittered, much like a rainbow. It almost seemed in many places similar to a Baroque concerto grosso, with the piano incorporated into the orchestral texture rather than standing out against it.

That is not to say the concerto, more mood than melody, wasn’t impressive. The score seemed very difficult, even virtuosic, and it certainly had moments that allowed the two soloists to show off their first-rate, Juilliard-trained chops.

Will this new concerto join other two-piano staples, such as the famous two-piano concertos by Poulenc and Mozart? It would take more hearings to be sure, but The Ear suspects not. It will surely get repeated hearings, especially from the Shinns, without becoming a go-to default piece in the two-piano repertoire. But he could well be wrong.

In any case, one would be hard put to find a better summary of the WCO approach to music-making than this outstanding concert that combined the old and the new, that mixed works from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and performed them with technical precision and moving interpretation.

Bravos to all.

And all the more reason to look forward, after the WCO’s six summer outdoor Concerts on the Square from June 28 to Aug. 2, to the next indoors Masterworks season, both of which you can find here:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances


Classical music: Madison Opera’s “Magic Flute” proved enjoyable, opulent and superb

April 25, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friend and opera veteran filed this review:

By Larry Wells

I attended last Sunday’s matinee performance of the Madison Opera’s production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” (Performance photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.)

The opera’s mystifying combination of fairy tale and Masonic ritual has been better explained by others, including the legendary Anna Russell. Those who know her only through her analysis of Wagner’s “Ring” Cycle should seek out her lecture on “The Magic Flute, which is accompanied on the CD by an equally humorous look at Verdi’s “Nabucco.” A search through the iTunes store will easily yield these treasures.

The scenery and costumes (below), which were borrowed from Arizona Opera, were superb. I was captivated by the clever set, the opulent costumes and the amazing props.

The choice to have the spoken dialogue in English, while the sung parts remained in German with supertitles in English, was a smart move and helped move the ridiculous plot lines along.

The playing by members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of guest conductor from the Juilliard School, Gary Thor Wedow, (below) was, as usual, brilliant.

And the singing was, for the most part, first-rate.

Special mention should be made of Andrew Bidlack (below top) as a consistently arresting Tamino and Amanda Woodbury (below, right, with Scott Brunscheen as Monostatos) as a crystalline Pamina. Their first act duet was perfection.

Likewise, Caitlin Cisler played the Queen of the Night (below center) and her vocal fireworks were spectacular, plus she was a delight to watch in her bizarre winged costume. (You can hear the Queen of the Night’s astonishing and virtuosic aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

I enjoyed Alan Dunbar’s Papageno (below). He has a gift for comedy.

And probably my favorite characters, the three ladies (below, from left, with Tamino) portrayed by Amanda Kingston, Kelsey Park and Anna Parks were brilliantly sung and acted.

UW-Madison graduate Anna Polum (below) did not disappoint in the smaller role of Papagena, and we will be fortunate to hear her again soon in Johannes Brahms’ “German Requiem” with the Madison Symphony Orchestra next month.

The three spirits, sung by local schoolboys, were fun to watch with their steampunk attire and props, but they were vocally rather thin.

Nathan Stark’s Sarastro tested the limits of his vocal range. It’s a difficult role in any event since Sarastro has the unfortunate habit of stopping the opera’s action in its tracks whenever he appears.

The audience loved the whole thing, laughing at the comic absurdities and applauding whenever the music paused. But I cannot help wondering why “The Magic Flute” is such a popular opera. Its plot is basically incomprehensible, its second act goes on a half hour too long, the Queen of the Night’s downfall is never satisfactorily explained, and despite a number of memorable tunes, there are, in my mind, many more musically satisfying operas.

Next season we can look forward to yet another of the countless performances of Bizet’s “Carmen” and yet another Mozart opera “The Abduction from the Seraglio.” Madison does seem to love its Mozart. But we will also be hearing the late Daniel Catan’s lush, Puccini-esque “Florencia en el Amazonas,” for which I give praise.

I got to thinking about what other lesser performed operas that are not 200 years old might please the Madison crowd and quickly came up with: Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul”; Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide”; Douglas Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe”; Samuel Barber’s “Vanessa”; and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sir John in Love.”

Each of these is as melodic as “The Magic Flute” and each has certainly more compelling storylines.

What are your suggestions?


Classical music: “I like tunes,” says Academy Award-winning composer Thomas Cabaniss, who talks about his “Double Rainbow” piano concerto. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and guest soloists will give the world premiere of the work this Friday night.

April 24, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Even for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), which likes to mix things and up during its winter season, the concert this Friday night is something special to close out the current season.

The WCO will give the world premiere of the “Double Rainbow” Piano Concerto by Thomas Cabaniss, which was commissioned for the WCO.

The performance will also feature husband-and-wife duo-pianists Michael Shinn and Jessica Chow Shinn.

The concert is Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

Also on the program is Maurice Ravel’s Neo-classical homage to World War I, “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” and the Symphony No. 2 by Robert Schumann.

Tickets are $10 to $80.

For more information about the program, the soloists and tickets, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-v-2/

Composer Thomas Cabaniss recently did an email Q&A for The Ear:

Can you briefly introduce yourself and your career to the reader?

I’m Thomas Cabaniss (below). I am a composer and teaching artist from Charleston, South Carolina. I have lived in New York for the last 30 years, and so I greedily claim both places as home. I teach at the Juilliard School — where I met Michael and Jessica Shinn — and I also lead arts education projects at Carnegie Hall.

After graduating from Yale in 1984, I was an assistant conductor on a variety of projects including Leonard Bernstein’s opera A Quiet Place at La Scala and the Kennedy Center. Setting out to forge a career as a composer, I moved to New yolk City, which had the added benefit of being the same city where my girlfriend was attending medical school. A few years later we married and settled in Manhattan.

To start, I worked primarily as a theater composer, but I was also writing piano and chamber music on the side, and doing arts education work in between shows. In 1990 I scored and arranged a short film called The Lunch Date, which won the Palme D’Or and the Academy Award. In 1995 I joined the New York Philharmonic education programs, eventually becoming the orchestra’s Education Director.

I kept composing, and wrote a chamber opera called The Sandman, which was premiered in New York in 2002 and revived again the following season. In 2004 I was appointed to special education position with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and at the same time I wrote a series of evening length dance scores that were premiered in New York.

In 2009, I began working as composer-in-residence for the LinkUp program at Carnegie Hall, which has grown in that time to serve over 95 orchestras around the world and across the U.S. – including the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

I also helped to create the Lullaby Project at Carnegie Hall, which serves young parents in shelters, hospitals and prisons, and we are working hard to extend that work across the country through a series of partnerships.

How would you describe your musical style in general and the style of the new two-piano concerto specifically? Accessible? Tonal or atonal? Modernist or Neo-Classical? Melodic or percussive? Are there composers or works that have influenced your style?

I like tunes. I like to write songs, and I like to sing, so my music tends to value melody. My works are generally tonal, often spiked with cluster chords and other atonal devices, but I am always interested in the musical gravity of tonal centers. (You can hear a sample of Thomas Cabaniss’ music in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This piece is inspired by its soloists, Michael and Jessica Shinn (below), and by the image of a Double Rainbow (also the work’s title). I have written Michael and Jessica pieces for piano-four hands, and there is one piece they have championed called Tiny Bits of Outrageous Love. Something about the chemistry of their relationship as musicians (and as husband and wife) has inspired me to create music that is particularly exciting and intimate.

And yes, I suppose most composers embed hints of the music they love in the music they write, and I am no different. Tiny Bits was a kind of homage to the Brahms Waltzes for piano-four hands, and Double Rainbow nods to Leonard Bernstein, Olivier Messiaen, Leos Janacek and John Adams. I’m sure listeners will hear other influences, too.

What would you like listeners to know about and listen for in the piano concerto? What were the special challenges of writing for duo-pianists?

This is from the program note I wrote for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra:

DOUBLE RAINBOW is based on an experience I had with my family on the Isle of Palms, South Carolina, about 20 years ago. On this particular August day, there was a huge rain in the early afternoon, many dark clouds, thunder (but no lightning). After the storm, from the porch of our beach rental house, we saw not one, but two rainbows (below). My sister-in-law is an avid photographer, and so she coaxed us all down onto the beach so she could get a pristine angle. That alone might have been enough inspiration for a piece of music, but when we got to the water’s edge, as Julia was snapping her photos, a dolphin jumped out of the water in a vertical launch, the tail clearing the water’s surface. It was one of those moments that seemed so unbelievable that none of us said a word. 

I have always been fascinated by the search for the elusive “perfect moment,” and DOUBLE RAINBOW is a sort of study of that kind of exploration. It is all bound up in the idea of “doubleness,” represented by the two pianos. It is divided into three movements: “Surfaces” (exploring the accumulation of drops of water from tiny, atomized particles), “Disturbances” (exploring imbalances and the storms that result from them), and “Revelation” (of the Double Rainbow). Not surprising in a double concerto, there is a great deal of dialogue between the pianos, and the orchestra has more of an accompanying role in the first two movements. The final movement is different, though. Everybody is in, and the music pulses with magic. The movement seems to be headed for a big climax, but at the last moment, it suddenly slows down and there are stars.

The main challenge for me in writing a double piano concerto is all those fingers! Twenty of them, and they are capable of so much. The music I write does not usually focus on virtuosity, and yet I also wanted it to be a vehicle for them to be expressive and dynamic. I worked hard to achieve a balance between the lyricism and the fireworks – we’ll see how audiences experience it.

What else would you like to say?

I am especially excited to be able to visit Madison for the premiere. I’ll get to meet members of the family of Jessica Chow Shinn (below, she is a Madison native), and I have a former student in the orchestra (Midori Samson, Second Bassoon). My Carnegie Lullaby Project collaborators include another Madison native (Ann Gregg) and Elizabeth Snodgrass, who is originally from Appleton (I think) but recently moved to Madison. I will get to meet WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) in person. We have been doing some Skype rehearsals and phone consultations. It will be great to watch Andrew in action.

While we are here, my wife Deborah will be giving Grand Rounds at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, and my son Will leads an a cappella group at University of Chicago (Voices In Your Head), and this year they have been singing frequently with a wonderful University of Wisconsin group (Fundamentally Sound).

The last few seasons the Madison Symphony Orchestra has been offering Carnegie Hall LinkUp concerts to kids in grades 3-5, and this year is no exception. They will perform The Orchestra Moves in May, for which I wrote two of the works (Come To Play and Away I Fly) and arranged another (Cidade Maravilhosa).

This project has been a few years in the making, and so for Michael and Jessica and me, this is a kind of celebration. We can’t wait to share DOUBLE RAINBOW with you.


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