The Well-Tempered Ear

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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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra announces its 2017-2018 season of nine concerts of “favorites combined with firsts”

April 13, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is the official announcement of the 2017-18 season by the Madison Symphony Orchestra:

The 2017-18 season of the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) presents nine programs that invite audiences to “listen with all your heart” and “feel the emotion, power and majesty” of great classical music.

Subscriptions are available now, and single tickets for all concerts go on sale to the public Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017.

For more information about tickets and ticket prices plus discounts for new subscribers and renewing subscribers, go to:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/17-18

MSO music director John DeMain, who will be marking his 24th season with the MSO, has created an exciting season that features favorites combined with firsts.

Says DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad): “I must point out two monumental firsts: the MSO debut of the great violinist Gil Shaham, renowned and sought after the world over, whose appearance Madison has waited for for many years; and the Madison premiere of the Glagolitic Mass by Czech composer Leos Janacek, a gargantuan work for chorus and orchestra with a prominent role for our “Colossal Klais,” the Overture Concert Organ.”

Performances are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays; 8 p.m. on Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays.

The 2017-2018 subscription series concerts begin on Sept. 15, 16 and 17 with “Orchestral Brilliance”—proudly presenting the Madison Symphony Orchestra performing the Johann Sebastian Bach/Leopold Stokowski version of the organ Toccata and Fugue in D minor; Felix Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony and Hector Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy” with MSO principal viola Christopher Dozoryst (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) as soloist(You can hear Leopold Stokowski conduct his own transcription of the work by Bach, which was used in Walt Disney’s film “Fantasia,” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“From the New World” on Oct. 20, 21 and 22 features the return of beloved pianist Olga Kern (below), a gold medalist in the Van Cliburn competition, performing Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto, and the MSO performing Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” and Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite.

On Nov. 17, 18, and 19 “Troubadour: Two Faces of the Classical Guitar” features sensational guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin (below) playing two works, one by American composer Chris Brubeck, and the other by the Spaniard Joaquin Rodrigo, with the MSO performing two Suites—Manuel DeFalla’s The Three-Cornered Hat and Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid.

The cherished kickoff to the holiday season, “A Madison Symphony Christmas,” returns on the first weekend in December — the 1, 2, and 3. Guest artists Emily Pogorelc, soprano, and Eric Barry, tenor, join John DeMain, the MSO, the Madison Symphony Chorus (below), Madison Youth Choirs and Mount Zion Gospel Choir on stage for the family-friendly celebration.

The MSO season subscription continues in 2018 with the long awaited appearance of violinist Gil Shaham (below) with the MSO—“Gil Shaham Plays Tchaikovsky” on Jan. 19, 20 and 21. This program features works by three of the most popular Russian composers of all time— Sergei Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges Suite, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 and Peter Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

“Richly Romantic” concerts take place on Feb. 16, 17 and 18 when one of MSO’s favorite cellists, Alban Gerhardt (below), returns performing the lyrical William Walton’s Cello Concerto, and the MSO presents Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 and Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide.

Spring arrives April 13, 14, and 15 with “String Fever” featuring Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1, Spring, Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem and Grammy Award-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich (below) performing the Antonin Dvorak’s Violin Concerto.

The season finale, “Mass Appeal,” takes place on May 4, 5 and 6. Star of NPR’s From the Top, pianist Christopher O’Riley (below), will open the program with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22. The MSO premiere of the monumental Glagolitic Mass by Czech composer Leos Janacek features the Overture Concert Organ and the Madison Symphony Chorus, along with soloists Rebecca Wilson, soprano, Julie Miller, mezzo-Soprano, Roger Honeywell, tenor, and Benjamin Sieverding, bass.

The MSO’s 17-18 season includes the popular multimedia production of Beyond the Score®, “Edward Elgar: Enigma Variations,” featuring live actors and visuals in the first half, with the entire work performed in the second half. Joining the orchestra are American Players Theatre actors James Ridge (below), Colleen Madden and Brian Mani, along with Wisconsin Public Radio’s Norman Gilliland of Wisconsin Public Radio as the Narrator. This single performance takes place on Sunday, March 18, 2018*.

NOTE: *Advance tickets for Beyond the Score® are available only to MSO 17-18 season subscribers prior to single tickets going on sale to the general public on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. Beyond the Score® is a production of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Gerard McBurney, Creative Director for Beyond the Beyond the Score®

ABOUT THE MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

The Madison Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 92nd season in 2017-2018 and its 24th season under the leadership of music director John DeMain.

The MSO has grown to be one of America’s leading regional orchestras, providing Madison and south central Wisconsin with cultural and educational opportunities to interact with great masterworks and top-tier guest artists from around the world.

Find more information at madisonsymphony.org


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Classical music: French composer Maurice Durufle’s quietly glorious but rarely performed Requiem will be sung for FREE twice this Sunday, March 29, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. Plus, the UW Hunt Quartet performs a FREE concert of Mozart, Janacek and Mendelssohn on Thursday night at 6:30 in Morphy Hall.

March 25, 2015
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ALERT: This Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall, the Hunt Quartet will perform three great string quartets: the String Quartet No. 23 in F Major, K. 590, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the String Quartet No. 1 “Kreutzer Sonata” by Leos Janacek; and the String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13, by Felix Mendelssohn.

The quartet is made up of four graduate students (below) at the UW-Madison School of Music. Here is a link to the event with impressive biographies and other information:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/hunt-quartet-recital/

Hunt Quartet 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friend Dan Broner, the music director of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, has sent the following note to The Ear: 

On Sunday, March 29, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. the Society Choir of the First Unitarian Society of Madison will be joined by guest singers and instrumentalists in two performances of a masterpiece by French composer Maurice Durufle (below): his Requiem, Op. 9

Maurice Durufle full frontal BW

Both performances will take place in the modern Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams).

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

Maurice Durufle (1902-1986) was a celebrated French organist and composer. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire with the two most important French organist-composers of the day, Charles Tournemire and Louis Vierne, and he surpassed them both.

Durufle (below) won every major prize – in organ, harmony, accompaniment, counterpoint and fugue, and composition. In 1939 he gave the world premiere of Francis Poulenc’s Organ Concerto and in the 1940s he was named Professor of Harmony of the Conservatoire. It was his exceptional penchant for self-criticism, however, that led to Durufle publishing only 13 works: six organ pieces, two works for orchestra, a chamber piece, and four choral compositions.

He kept re-writing and revising his compositions for years after they were completed. As a result Durufle is a relatively unknown composer to the general public, but is admired by composers and singers for the impeccable craftsmanship and sublime beauty of his work.

Durufle at organ

The Requiem for choir, soloists, orchestra and organ was completed in 1947 and is based on Gregorian chants from the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead. Stylistically it is influenced by the 20th-century organ music of Tournemire and Vierne, the Impressionist school of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, the elegant Romanticism of Gabriel Faure, Renaissance polyphony and above all Gregorian chant. These elements form a tapestry held together by Durufle’s command of harmony and structure.

Durufle wrote three different accompaniments for the work: the original for large orchestra, a version for organ accompaniment, and one for organ and chamber orchestra.  It is this last version that we will be using for our performances. (Below is a photo of Dan Broner conducting the choir. At bottom, you can hear the fourth movement, the Sanctus, as performed by Robert Shaw and the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Sorry, but I don’t know why there is no video to accompany the audio.)

fus choirs

The concert will also introduce the new Allen digital organ gifted by William Wartmann (below) in memory and honor of his late wife, Joyce Wartmann, and her lifelong friendship with retired FUS Assistant Music Director and Organist, Eva Wright.

SONY DSC

Joining the Society Choir will be guest singers from the Meeting House Chorus and community; baritone Paul Rowe (below top) and soprano Heather Thorpe (below bottom), who directs the FUS Children’s Choir.

Schubertiade 2014 Paul Rowe baritone BIG

Heather Thorpe

Retired UW-Madison professor and Concertmaster of the Madison Symphony, Tyrone Greive (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), will lead the string section, which will be joined by three trumpeters, timpani and harp, all conducted by FUS music director Dan Broner.  Linda Warren (below bottom) will be the harpist and the guest organist will be Sheri Masiakowski, a doctoral student of UW organist, John Chappell Stowe.

Tyrone Greive Talbot

linda warren

I hope you will be able to join us on March 29 to experience some of the most beautiful music ever penned for choir and orchestra.

 

 

 

 

 


Classical music: The Pacifica Quartet’s third volume of “The Soviet Experience” and Dmitri Shostakovich string quartets is yet another MUST-HEAR and MUST-BUY recording from this top-notch Midwestern chamber music group.

August 1, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

There are so many reasons to like the third 2-CD installment of a projected four volumes of “The Soviet Experience,” (below) performed by the Pacifica String Quartet and recorded by the non-profit Cedille Records that is based in Chicago and specializes in regional artists.

Pacifica Quartet Soviet Vol 3

I suppose one has to start with the music and the performances.

Suffice it to say that I have never heard the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich (below) performed with such appeal and subtlety as by this group. These performances grab and hold your attention as much as the music does. (See the YouTube video at bottom with a member of the Pacifica explaining the appeal of Shostakovich.)

dmitri shostakovich

Yes, I much admire and often listen to the Grammy-winning set by the Emerson String Quartet. And I also like the softer readings by the St. Petersburg Quartet. But there is something special about these performances from the Pacifica Quartet (below).

pacifica quartet

For one, I find the Pacifica projects a lot of subtlety, flexibility and nuances, and also emphasizes a certain a traditional Russian sound or musicality that extended right into Soviet music.

That is, the Pacifica Quartet – the members are now artists-in-residence at the famed Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University — has been acclaimed for its compete Mendelssohn quartet cycle and for a terrific turn-of-the century recital (“Declarations,” below) of music by Leos Janacek, Ruth Crawford Seeger and Paul Hindemith.

pacifica quartet %22declarations%22 CD

Most of that music is much less dark than Shostakovich’s. But the members of the Pacifica Quartet can be as modern, spiky and aggressive as Shostakovich’s music demands; yet the quartet also knows when to interject a contrasting lyricism that can be traced back to Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.

I am especially partial to this latest release. The third volume has my favorite Shostakovich quartet – No. 14 in F-sharp-minor – that is short and with seven uninterrupted movements and a cyclic structure you can easily discern.

Some listeners might prefer the first volume (below) because it has the most famous of the 16 Shostakovich quartets — No. 8 in C minor dedicated to victims of fascism, by which the composer meant both Nazi and Soviet cruelty and terror.

Pacifica Quartet Soviet Experience Vol. 1

Others might prefer volume No. 2 (below) that includes some of the first big and mature quartets.

Pacifica Quartet Soviet Experience 2 CD

I say get all three and also the fourth, which is supposed to be released this October and will complete the Shostakovich cycle with Quartets 13, 14 and 15 plus Alfred Schnittke’s String Quartet No. 3.

But here are other reasons to like this 2-CD recording.

The packaging, art and liner notes by David Fanning are all first-rate. The timings are generally very generous.

The engineering is superb, with a sonic presence that makes it sound like the quartet is playing right in front of you. There is no reverb or resonance allowed for since your own livingroom or car interior IS the playback venue.

In fact, I am particularly fond of the engineering because the freelancer producer and engineer is Judith Sherman. She is a legend in the business for winning several Grammy awards.

Plus, Sherman (below) is the engineer for the four commissions by the University of Wiscosin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet for its centennial two seasons. They includes quartets by Walter Mays and John Harbison, and piano quintets by Paul Schoenfield and William Bolcom.

Judith Sherman Grammy 2012

The Pro Arte Quartet’s 2-CD centennial commission set will be released on Albany Records this fall. And Sherman has told The Ear that the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a recording session for Sherman,  who si adjusting microphones in Mills Hall) at the UW-Madison is the equal of any she has recorded and could well be nominated for a Grammy since the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences favors new contemporary works, small labels and unknown performers – all of which apply to the Pro Arte commissions.

Judith Sherman with Pro Arte

But back to the Pacifica’s Soviet CD.

It is worth recalling that Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets served roughly the same purpose at Beethoven’s cycle of 16: a workshop or laboratory to work out ideas and confide private thoughts and techniques that might be too revolutionary or unsuitable for other genres and bigger public consumption.

But I like that more than being a survey of just the Shostakovich quartets, each volume includes a quartet by as contemporary composer of Shostakovich –- Sergei Prokofiev, Nikolai Myaskovsky and Mieczslaw Weinberg. That program format helps to put a frame around the picture and show what makes Shostakovich so distinctive and original in his time and also gives a sense of that terrible time so that you can also hear what similarities he shares with his contemporaries. 

To be fair, The Ear is not alone in his praise for this recording.

The BBC Music Magazine singled out the CD for a Recording of the Month award.

Here is a link:

http://www.classical-music.com/monthly-choice/shostakovich-string-quartets

And the Telegraph newspaper of London also raved about it. Here is a link to that review, reproduced in a newsletter from Indiana University:

http://blogs.music.indiana.edu/strings/2013/06/13/pacifica-quartet-receives-rave-review-in-londons-telegraph-for-the-soviet-experience-vol-3-cd/

When that many discerning a critics agree, you can be pretty sure that this is a recording that is a must-have and must-hear.


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