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. He also took the performance photos.
By John W. Barker
Eschewing any seasonal or holiday connections, the UW-Madison Choral Union (below) gave its December concert last Friday night with a program of three “B’s”.
Well, two of the B’s are familiar ones. But in place of Bach, we got Leonard Bernstein, taking first place in reverse chronological order — his Chichester Psalms, dating from 1965.
This three-movement work probably represents Bernstein’s most important choral score. It sets texts in the original Hebrew, the middle movement calling for a boy treble to represent the young David in the rendering of Psalm 131 — a function here filled bravely by young Simon Johnson (below, front left) of the Madison Youth Choirs.
The platoon of percussionists in the first two movements confirms the composer’s flashy “modernism.” To be sure, there are some characteristic melodic twists that proclaim the composer familiar to us, and the swaying melodic tune of the third movement is really lovely.
But Bernstein (below) did not know what to do with it besides repeating it obsessively. Bernstein simply was not a savvy master of choral writing, and I firmly believe that this work—a trivial cross between Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Bernstein’s own Broadway musical West Side Story—would not merit much attention were it not for Bernstein’s name on it.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: You can decide on the work’s merits for yourself by listening to the live performance, conducted by the composer himself, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Just how inadequate Bernstein’s choral sense was emerged clearly with the next work, the short ode for chorus and orchestra by Johannes Brahms, Nänie, Op. 82.
The title adapts a Greek word for a lament, and Friedrich Schiller’s German text evokes the death of beauty in the death of Achilles. Brahms was among the supreme choral masters, and this particular example is one of several of his “minor” choral works that we hear too rarely.
The second half of the program was devoted to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Mass in C major, Op. 86. No, not the monumental Missa solemnis of the composer’s last years when (as with the Ninth Symphony’s finale) he had transcended the realities of choral writing. This earlier Mass setting, dating from 1807, was in the direct line of Mass settings for the Esterházy family composed by the aged Haydn.
But to Haydn’s incorporation of symphonic structure into Mass composition, Beethoven (below) brought his own strongly progressive personality, and a remarkable quality of melodic and thematic invention. This is a lovely work, and choirs who fling themselves doggedly against the Missa solemnis ought sometimes to revel in this beautiful work instead.
The forces arrayed included a solo quartet (below, in the front from left) are bass John Loud, tenor Jiabao Zhang and sopranos Jessica Kasinski and Anna Polum.
The UW Chamber Orchestra proved able. But the star was, of course, the Choral Union chorus itself. Its diction worked from indistinguishable Hebrew through respectable German to really lucid Latin. Above all, it made mighty, full-blooded sound that bolstered Beethoven’s lyricism with powerful projection.
Once again, conductor Beverly Taylor (below) has gone beyond stale conventions to bring us valued exposure to music outside the conventional boundaries.
By Jacob Stockinger
The end of the first semester is at hand. And this weekend two very appealing concerts will help finish off the first half of the new concert season at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
The orchestra and the campus-community chorus will be conducted by Beverly Taylor (below), the director of choral activities at the UW-Madison.
The program of works that are relatively rare on programs includes the Mass in C Major by Ludwig van Beethoven, “Nänie: Song of Lamentation” by Johannes Brahms (heard conducted by Claudio Abbado in the YouTube video below) and the “Chichester Psalms” by Leonard Bernstein.
Admission is $15 for adults; $8 for students.
Here are some notes about the works written by conductor Beverly Taylor:
“The Choral Union will present a 3 B’s concert, which includes masterpieces of three different types.
“The Bernstein “Chichester Psalms,” written in the 1960’s for a cathedral in Britain, is a setting of three psalms in Hebrew. The piece is for strings, brass and percussion, and lasts about 20 minutes. It features a flamboyant, joyful and somewhat dissonant opening full of exciting percussion writing.
“The second movement features a wonderful boy soloist, Simon Johnson, from the Madison Youth Choirs, with harp and strings. He is like the shepherd King David, who is peacefully in the fields with his sheep; contrasting that are the warring peoples, sung by the tenors and basses. The boy and women’s voices return singing peacefully above the warring mobs.
“The third movement starts in dissonant pain, but it dissolves into a beautiful, quiet psalm of praise and trust.
“The Brahms Nänie is a 15-minute setting of a poem by Friedrich Schiller on the topic of beauty and its inability to last; even beauty must die, and the gods weep too, but the beauty itself is worth all! The style is Romantic with the long arching melodic lines for which Brahms is well-known.
“The Beethoven Mass in C is one of just two masses that Beethoven wrote; in contrast to the long, loud, high, grand and overpowering “Missa Solemnis,” the Mass in C is more charming, Mozartean and approachable. It still has some Beethovenian touches of sudden dynamic changes, sforzandi (which are emphases or accents), and slow, elegiac quartets. Our solo quartet will be Anna Polum, Jessica Krasinki, Jiabao Zhang and John Loud.”
For more background and information about how to get tickets, go to:
On this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top), under the baton of James Smith (below bottom, in a photo by Jack Burns), will give a FREE concert.
The program features three works: the late “King Stephan” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven (heard below in a YouTube video as conducted by Leonard Bernstein with the Vienna Philharmonic) the “Billy the Kid” Suite by Aaron Copland; and the Symphony No. 4 “Inextinguishable” by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.
The Ear has heard both groups often and highly recommends both concerts.
He was quite amazed at how good the last UW Symphony Orchestra program he heard was. It offered two Fifth Symphonies — by Sergei Prokofiev and Jean Sibelius – only about three weeks into the semester.
It was nothing short of amazing how well the orchestra had come together in such a short time. It was a tight and impassioned performance. The Ear expects the same for this concert, which has had a lot more rehearsal time.
By Jacob Stockinger
By Larry Wells
In the past few years I’ve seen Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” set in the Spanish Civil War, Wagner’s Ring cycle re-imagined as the history of cinema, and Puccini’s “Turandot” presented as a performance by a traveling circus.
Thus, Verdi’s ‘Falstaff’ set in 1930’s Hollywood seemed a reasonable reinterpretation, and so it proved at its final performance Tuesday evening by University Opera.
“Falstaff,” drawn from three plays by Shakespeare, is Verdi’s final opera and a rare comedy. More importantly, gone are his familiar forms of a recitative followed by an aria with lots of oom-pa-pa orchestral accompaniment, now replaced with a conversational style that to me shows Wagner’s influence. It just doesn’t sound like Verdi, but it certainly sounds good.
I felt that the whole evening was a triumph.
The sets were beautifully dressed, the costumes were excellent and the lighting was effective.
The UW Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Smith, played wonderfully, although from where I sat the sound was occasionally muffled.
Thank goodness a new music building is being built, and I trust that there will be a theater within it that will accommodate operatic performances. The current Music Hall has its limitations, one being that much of the orchestra was playing underneath the stage and another being that for some reason the theater’s temperature cannot be controlled. It was stiflingly hot during the performance.
As for the singing and acting, the cast I saw was uniformly strong. Falstaff, performed by UW-Madison faculty member Paul Rowe (below), was very robust and was particularly affecting during his act III soliloquy. The Ear mentioned to me his Oliver Hardy mannerisms, and once I noticed that I was constantly amused.
Yanzelmalee Rivera as Alice was hilarious in her seduction scene and really came alive in Act III. Courtney Kayser as Meg was a compelling comic actress. Rebecca Buechel’s Mistress Quickly was an equally adept comic actress and had an excellent voice. Emily Weaver as Nannetta was a beautiful singer who shone in her third act moments as Queen of the Fairies. These four women had some outstanding ensemble moments, and I was constantly diverted by their antics as they outwitted the men.
Among the hapless male characters, Brian Schneider was a standout as Ford and the deep voice of Benjamin Schultz (below left, with Paul Rowe and Jiabao Zhang) made the minor character Pistola noticeable whenever he was on stage.
But the voice of the evening belonged to tenor José Daniel Muñiz (below right) as Fenton. He excelled not only in his solo moments but blended extremely well with his paramour Nannetta (Claire Powling, below left).
The outstanding ensemble work exhibited throughout the opera culminated in the grand fugue at the end of the opera, and the nearly full-house audience was blown away by those final moments. (You can hear the fugal finale, conducted by Sir George Solti, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The 1930’s Hollywood concept worked well. It seemed completely fitting and was undoubtedly more amusing than it would have been had the opera been set in the time of Henry IV.
“Well done” to the University Opera’s new full-time director David Ronis (below center) for his imagination and direction. I look forward to his production of Benjamin Britten’s “Turn of the Screw” in early March.
And since this University Opera production and other events are being presented to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the exhibition of a First Folio at the Chazen Museum of Art, I want to put in a plug for Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sir John in Love” which has almost exactly the same plot as “Falstaff” and is woefully underperformed.
I also want to draw your attention the FREE Opera Scenes concert by University Opera that will be presented this Tuesday night, Nov. 22, at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. Featured are singers, with piano accompaniment, in scenes from: Charles Gounod’s “Faust”; Claudio Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea“; Giacomo Puccini‘s “La Rondine”; Leonard Bernstein‘s “Trouble in Tahiti”; Gioacchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”; Dominick Argento’s “Postcard From Morocco”; and Marc Blitzstein’s”Regina.”
The program features works by Igor Stravinsky, the Symphony No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven and the Concerto for Two Pianos by Francis Poulenc, with the Madison-born twin sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton as soloists.
By Jacob Stockinger
With less than a month left in the first semester’s concert schedule, the performances are really starting to pile up.
Tomorrow, on Sunday, Nov. 20, five groups will perform two FREE concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:
For more information and the complete program, go to:
For more information and the full program, go to:
ALERT: Tonight at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is a FREE concert of choral music by the UW-Madison group Chorale under its director Bruce Gladstone. Sorry, no word on the program.
By Jacob Stockinger
This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear twin-sister, Madison-born pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton (below top) perform a Mozart concerto with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below bottom). Works by Claude Debussy and Dmitri Shostakovich are also on the program conducted by MSO music director John DeMain.
The program has received fine reviews from the critics:
Here is a review written by John W. Barker for Isthmus:
Here is the review by Greg Hettmansberger for his blog “What Greg Says”:
And here is a review written by Jessica Courtier for The Capital Times:
For more information about the concert and program, go to:
NEW MSO POETRY PROGRAM “COUNTERRPOINTS” DEBUTS TODAY
In addition, as a part of its 2016-17 season offerings, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will today launch The Counterpoint Readings, a special event series where poets will respond to a selected symphonic piece, culminating in a reading in Overture Center’s Promenade Lounge the weekend the piece is performed. It is scheduled to start after the performance, at around 4:30 p.m. today.
NOTE: There is a $10 admission charge to the poetry reading, which includes a wine and cheese reception. But because notice was given late, the original deadline of Nov. 10 for reservations will be overlooked.
The first reading focuses on Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 by Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich (below), performed by the MSO as part of its “Paired to Perfection” concerts this weekend. (You can hear the famous finale of the Shostakovich symphony performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Counterpoint Readings debut will happen following today’s performance, beginning at approximately 4:30 p.m. Eight poets will perform original works— world premieres for each artist.
Coordinated by MSO violist and poet Katrin Talbot (below, writing poetry in a photo by Isabel Karp), the series seeks to expand the audience’s musical experience and bring Madison’s poetry into a new light. Another such music-based poetry reading, to take place in the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, is scheduled for March, according to Talbot.
Katrin Talbot shares her vision of the how the power of words can respond to this significant historical composition, “Stalin is trumpeting out Soviet dominance. Yet somehow, he (Shostakovich) overcame it to generate art. Deception to get his voice heard.”
Among the poets slated to appear include MSO bassist August Jirovec, former Wisconsin Poet Laureate Marilyn Taylor, former Madison Poet Laureate Sarah Busse, Richard Merelman, Eve Robillard, Timothy Walsh, Marilyn Annucci and Rita Mae Reese.
Here is a preview: August Jirovec’s inspiration leading up to the reading:
“If there be meaning in this world askew,
let toils and rhyming gripes slide—disappear
your cross of blood drawn in the dirt austere
and lavish canvases of nascent hue
with brilliant visions! Let your whimsy brew
brash, crazen potions inspired by this tier
of music hefted from chests, as time’s spear
pierces the heart that must love art—through you.”
And here is a link to a long interview with Talbot by Lindsay Christians for The Capital Times:
For more information go to:
The Counterpoint Readings, direct link: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/counterpointreadings
Paired to Perfection concerts: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/naughtons
By Jacob Stockinger
It has been a busy weekend for music, and tomorrow, Sunday, Oct. 16, it continues.
Here is the lineup:
At 1 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University Bands (below top) at the UW-Madison will perform under conductors Darin Olson (below bottom), Nathan Froebe, Justin Lindgre. Sorry, no word on the program.
At 2:30 p.m. St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood College Concert Band presents its Fall concert.
Admission is FREE with a free will offering to benefit the Luke House Community Meal Program.
The program, under the direction of Walter Rich (below, in a photo by Edgewood College) will perform music by John Williams, Leonard Bernstein and Richard Strauss.
The program combines those three legendary names with a selection of new music by three young composers: Brian Balmages, Sean O’Loughlin and the emerging American star Daniel Elder.
The Edgewood College Concert Band provides students and Madison-area community musicians with the opportunity to perform outstanding wind literature. The band has performed a variety of works, ranging from classic British band literature of the early 20th century to transcriptions, marches, and modern compositions.
The group charges no admission for concerts, but often collects a freewill offering for Luke House, a local community meal program. The group rehearses on Wednesday evenings from 7-9 p.m.
At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will host the FREE Choral Collage Concert (its logo is below).
The concert features many groups: the Concert Choir (below top), Chorale, Madrigal Singers, Women’s Choir (below bottom), University Chorus and Master Singers.
The program, drawn from the Baroque, Classical and Modern eras, includes music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (the beautiful “Ave Verum Corpus,” which you can hear with Leonard Bernstein conducting, in the YouTube video at the bottom), Benjamin Britten, Johann Schein, Arvo Part (below), Orlando di Lasso and others.
For more information and a link to the complete program, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement from the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra:
The Middleton Community Orchestra (below top) is excited to open its sixth season and present its Fall Concert on Thursday, Oct. 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below bottom), which is located at 2100 Bristol Street and is attached to Middleton High School.
The program includes: Overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein, who conducts his own work in the YouTube video at the bottom; and songs by Stephen Sondheim and George Gershwin, with mezzo-soprano Jessica Kasinski (below top) and baritone Gavin Waid (below middle). Both singers study at the UW-Madison.
Also featured is the Concerto in F by George Gershwin with piano soloist Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom). Kasdorf, a native of Middleton who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, frequently performs with the MCO .
Tickets are $10. All students are admitted free of charge.
Tickets are available at the door on the night of the concert, and in advance at the Willy St. Coop West. The box office opens at 7 p.m.
There will be an informal meet-and-greet reception after the concert.
For more information about how to support or join the MCO, go to www.middletoncommunityorchestra.org or call (608) 212-8690.
We hope to see you there!
Co-founders Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic
By Jacob Stockinger
Sure, you know of Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber, and you hear their music performed and played often.
But what about Roy Harris, Peter Mennin, Elliott Carter, Walter Piston and William Schuman (below)? Or even the concert music of Leonard Bernstein? (You can hear Bernstein conducting one of his favorite works by William Schuman, the energetic “An American Festival Overture,” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
You rarely hear their music.
And you rarely hear about them.
Why is that?
And how can it be fixed – if it should be fixed?
Here is Teachout’s take, which involves the focus of the programs at this summer’s Aspen Music Festival.
Read it and see what you think:
Then let us know.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement to pass along:
“This year’s event will take place this coming Wednesday, Aug. 10, from 5 to 10 p.m. at Old Sauk Trails Park, 1200 John Q. Hammons Drive on the far west side of Madison.
“For eight consecutive years, WYSO has been invited by The Gialamas Company to be a part of this spectacular event. This special FREE concert is a highlight of the summer for concertgoers young and old.
“This particular year features the Youth Orchestra (below) and will celebrate several special anniversaries: the 50th anniversary of WYSO, the 40th anniversary of The Gialamas Company, and the 15th anniversary of Concert in the Park.
“WYSO’s Youth Orchestra will begin their performance at 7 p.m. The Youth Orchestra, under the direction of WYSO Music Director James Smith, will perform: the fourth movement of Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 17, by Peter Tchaikovsky; Highlights from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt, featuring conductor Michelle Kaebisch; the first movement of the Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35, by Tchaikovsky featuring Aurora Greane (below top) on violin; “Our Town” by Aaron Copland; the fifth movement of Symphony No. 9 in E flat major, Op. 70, by Dmitri Shostakovich; and an annual rendition of Over the Rainbow by Harold Arlen.
“The evening will also see performances of “A Radiant Spirit,” which was composed in honor of WYSO’s 50th anniversary by Andrew Kinney, and of a stunning arrangement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, from his Symphony No. 9 “Choral,” arranged by Donald Fraser.
“The evening will be capped off with a fireworks display.
“Before the event there will be an instrument petting zoo, face painting and an ice cream social. Tables, food and drinks are available for purchase.
“For more information, visit www.gialamas.com.
“Be sure to stay after the event for a spectacular fireworks show. Set up lawn chairs, layout blankets and put out your picnic baskets as you enjoy all of the music and activities this FREE event has to offer.
“For additional information, please contact WYSO at (608) 263-3320 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.”
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has some catching up to do on several fronts.
Well, that is what happens in a city with such a busy musical life and in a year with so many news items.
And it also happens when you give priority to previews, then reviews and then trend stories, as The Ear likes to do.
Plus, there are only seven days in the week, which usually means just seven posts.
Anyway, one neglected or belated item is a generous piece — a recollection homage — that was kindly sent to The Ear by Beverly Taylor, the longtime director of choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and the assistant music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
Her remarks concern the death at 86 in late May of Swiss-born conductor Gustav Meier (below, in a photo by Doug Elbinger), who trained several other Madison-area musicians as well as her. Born in Switzerland, Meier was a quiet celebrity who trained many students at Yale University, the Eastman School of Music and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and who led the Lansing Symphony Orchestra for 27 years.
Taylor (below) writes:
“Did you know Gustav Meier died in this year of losing so many?
“Maybe the others were more famous, but he was my teacher, mentor and friend from 1990 on, and we visited regularly. I even coached the Beethoven Ninth with him a year ago, before our performance here.
“I wanted you to know how many people he influenced. I wouldn’t have had the life I’d had without his help. He was a GENEROUS musician and he was beloved.”
Here is a link to a fascinating obituary, one that is well worth reading, in the Lansing, Michigan newspaper that Taylor shared: