The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s organ concert on Tuesday night features two male singers in music from oratorios and operas

February 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming week, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will present  organist Samuel Hutchison (below) and acclaimed singers Andrew Bidlack and Kyle Ketelsen performing as a trio in vocal and instrumental music from oratorios and operas.

Sam Hutchison with organ (c) JoeDeMaio

The concert is Tuesday night, Feb. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street.

Principal Organist and Curator for the Madison Symphony Orchestra Samuel Hutchison joins forces with two outstanding singers in the first half to perform a program of favorite arias and overtures from Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Rossini’s Stabat Mater.

Opera will be the focus of the second half, featuring arias and selections from Bizet’s Carmen, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Gounod’s Faust.

For the full program, go to: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/organopera

Featured by Opera News as one of their top 25 brilliant young artists, tenor Andrew Bidlack (below) — who is replacing David Portillo — makes his debut in Overture Hall following performances at The Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Welsh National Opera and London’s Covent Garden.

andrew-bidlack-vertical

Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a photo by Dario Acosta), who lives in nearby Sun Prairie, has sung with major opera companies throughout the world including The Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the State Opera of Berlin. He is praised for his vibrant stage presence and his distinctive vocalism.

In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Kyle Ketelsen sing the role of Don Escamillo in a Barcelona, Spain, production of Bizet’s “Carmen.” He is singing the same role in the Metropolitan Opera’s current production of “Carmen.”

Kyle Ketelsen face shot 1 Dario Acosta

General Admission for each Overture Concert Organ performance is $20. Tickets can be purchased at madisonsymphony.org/organopera, (608) 258-4141 or the Overture Center Box Office.

Student Rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $10 tickets.

This performance is sponsored by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund.

With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.

Overture Concert Organ overview


Classical music: Pianist Gabriela Montero plays music by Schubert and Schumann and then does her own spontaneous improvisations this Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater

February 8, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Pianist Gabriela Montero (below, in a photo by Shelley Mosman) will perform in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater on this Saturday night, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m. Montero last performed in Madison with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and wowed the house at the Overture Center.

On this Friday, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in Mills Hall, Montero will also hold a master class, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

gabriela-montero-2017-shelley-mosman

Here are ticket prices for her recital: UW-Madison students are $10; Union members and non-UW students are $42, $38 and $25; UW-Madison faculty and staff are $44, $40 and $25; the general public is $46, $42 and $25; and young people 18 and under are $20.

Tickets can be bought online; by phone at 608-265-ARTS (2787); or in person — see locations and hours here.

The first half of Montero’s program features the first set of Four Impromptus, Op. 99, D. 899, by Franz Schubert and the playfully Romantic “Carnival” by Robert Schumann.

After intermission, the former prodigy will perform the spontaneous improvisations – usually on themes suggested by the audience – that she is acclaimed for.

According to The New York Times, “[Gabriela] Montero’s playing has everything: crackling rhythmic brio, subtle shadings, steely power in climactic moments, soulful lyricism in the ruminative passages and, best of all, unsentimental expressivity.”

Here she is performing the third Schubert impromptu, in G-flat major, in the set of four that she will play here:

Montero was born in Venezuela and gave her first performance to a public audience at the age of five. When she was eight, she made her concerto debut in Caracas, which led to a scholarship for private study in the United States.

Montero played with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman and clarinetist Anthony McGill at Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential Inauguration.

She has been invited to perform with the world’s most respected orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Liverpool Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony and more, performing in the Kennedy Center, Avery Fisher Hall and Wigmore Hall, among others.

Celebrated for her ability to brilliantly improvise, compose and play new works, Montero is an award-winning and best-selling recording artist.

She has received the Bronze Medal at the Chopin Competition, two Echo Klassik Awards in 2006 and 2007, and a Grammy nomination for her Bach and Beyond follow-up Baroque work in 2008.

She participated in the 2013 Women of the World Festival in London and spoke at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. She has also been recognized as a composer for her Piano Concerto No. 1.

In the YouTube video at the bottom you can hear Montero improvise on a famous melody by Sergei Rachmaninoff in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach.

This performance is presented by the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Performing Arts Committee and was supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Media sponsors are WORT 89.9 FM and the UW-Madison student station WSUM 91.7 FM. 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opens its new season at 7:30 p.m. – NOT 8 — this coming Friday night. The program includes symphonies by William Boyce and Franz Schubert along with the Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky

October 10, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

One by one, the major groups in town are getting their new concert season under way.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) will take its turn this coming Friday night in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

PLEASE NOTE: The traditional starting time for the WCO Masterworks concerts has been changed from 8 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The Ear isn’t sure whether it is for the convenience of audiences or because of the new security measures at the Overture Center. But he likes the earlier starting time since WCO programs are usually very generous.

WCO lobby

True to his programming philosophy, WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell is mixing the very popular with the rarely heard and the almost completely unknown.

andrewsewell

The most popular and well-known work, the Violin Concerto in D major by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky features Russian violinist Ilya Kaler (below) at the soloist in the surefire work.

Kaler sounds very promising, since he is the only violinist ever to won gold medals at three prestigious competitions — the Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Paganini competitions. In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear him perform a work by Fritz Kreisler at the Heifetz Festival.

ilya-kaler

The Symphony No. 4 in C minor by Franz Schubert (below) is a youthful work, but it possesses a surprisingly mature power deriving from its mood and mystery — perhaps because he composed it in the favorite key of his mentor and idol Ludwig van Beethoven. Hence its nickname, “Tragic.”

It should also be an outstanding performance because Schubert’s music is one of conductor Sewell’s many strengths.

Franz Schubert big

William Boyce (1711-1779) was a Baroque-era English composer, a contemporary of George Frideric Handel, who was more popular in his own day. But who has been making something of a comeback, thanks to the early music movement.

Boyce (below) wrote six symphonies, and No. 5 in D Major on this program promises some pleasant surprises. The Ear doesn’t recall ever hearing Boyce performed live in Madison, though that is hardly the definitive word. Maybe he just missed it.

william-boyce

Single tickets are $10 to $80. For tickets, a sample of Ilya Kaler’s playing and background information, visit:

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


Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians perform Baroque and Renaissance English music this coming Friday night and Sunday afternoon

October 3, 2016
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ALERT: The strike by the players in the Philadelphia Orchestra has been settled. For details, go to this website:

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20161003_Philadelphia_Orchestra_strike_ends__contract_vote_73-11.html

For more background about that strike and others, which The Ear writes about yesterday, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/10/02/classical-music-the-pittsburgh-and-philadelphia-symphony-orchestras-start-their-seasons-with-a-strike-by-the-players/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Bach Musicians will open its 2016-17 season this coming weekend with two performances of a program that features English music from the Baroque and Renaissance eras.

mbm-2016

The first performance is this Friday, Oct. 7, at 7:30 p.m., preceded by 6:45 lecture, in the Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

The second is this coming Sunday, Oct. 9, at 3:30 p.m., preceded by a 2:45 lecture, at the Holy Wisdom Monastery (below), 4200 County Highway M in Middleton.

Holy Wisdom Monastery interior

If bought in advance, tickets are $28 for the general public and $23 for students and seniors over 65; at the door tickets will be $30 and $25, respectively. Student rush tickets are $10, require a student ID and are available 30 minutes before the lectures. For more information, visit www.madisonbachmusicians.org

The program features: Sonata in Four Parts in F major “Golden Sonata” by  Henry Purcell (1659−1695); Suite No. 2 in D major from “Consort of Four Parts” by Matthew Locke (c. 1621−1677); Songs to texts by William Shakespeare by Robert Johnson (1583−1633); “Diverse bizzarie Spra La Vecchia” by Nicola Matteis (c. 1650−c. 1709); Division No. 7 for two bass viols by Christopher Simpson (c. 1606−1669); “Solus cum sola” for solo lute solo  by John Dowland (1563−1626); “The Broken Consort” Part 1, Suite no. 2 in G major by Matthew Locke; “The Carman’s Whistle” by William Byrd (c. 1540−1623); “Light of Love” by Anonymous as arranged by David Douglass; “John Come Kiss Me Now” by John Playford (1623−c. 1686) as arranged by David Douglass; “Long Cold Night” and “Queen’s Jig.”

Performers include: Dann Coakwell, tenor; David Walker, lute and theorbo; Kangwon Kim violin and concertmaster; Brandi Berry, violin; Anna Steinhoff and Martha Vallon, viola de gamba; and Trevor Stephenson, harpsichord.

mbm-playing-2016

PROGRAM NOTES

Here are some edited notes by MBM founder and director Trevor Stephenson (below):

Madison Bach Musicians is delighted to start off its 13th season with a foray into new repertoire for the group: English music from the Renaissance and Baroque.

A special feature of the program will be the recognition in song of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

Both the smaller lute and the larger theorbo were considered ideal for accompanying the voice in songs, and the theorbo could project a bit better in larger ensembles.

Like the lute, the viola da gamba is also fretted, but it is bowed and not plucked. Moreover, the gamba is held between the legs, the “gams,” and its name literally means “viol of the legs.”

MBM Trevor Stephenson at Immanuel concertos

The baroque violins we’ll use in this program will be strung in the usual fashion of the 16th and 17th centuries, that is, with gut strings (from dried sheep intestine); and the bows will be of the Elizabethan “short” variety (shorter length, and with the stick arching away from the hair), which make them ideally suited for the intricate articulations and lively dance rhythms of this repertoire.

All of these instruments enjoyed great popularity in England during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Henry Purcell (below) flourished during the arts boom of the Restoration period under King Charles II and is widely known for his theater music and operas. However, he also wrote quite a bit of instrumental music.

The four parts of this sonata refers here not to numbers of movements, but to the number of simultaneous instrumental lines—in this case, four, which is notably different from the typical three-part (or trio sonata) Italianate texture of the 17th century.

purcell

The Purcell sonata is followed by an instrumental Suite in D major by Matthew Locke (c. 1621-1677). Locke was a close friend of the Purcell family and in particular of Purcell’s father, Henry Purcell Sr. The younger Henry Purcell wrote a musical elegy on Locke’s death in 1677.

Locke’s years of greatest musical activity in London began as the period of Puritanical Commonwealth rule, under Oliver Cromwell, was waning in the late 1650’s. The Commonwealth had severely restricted the theater and the arts in general. Fun fact: Locke (below) was the first composer to indicate a musical crescendo and decrescendo in a score.

matthew-locke

The texts for the songs are from various Elizabethan poets—John Fletcher, John Webster and Shakespeare himself—and all of the music was composed by lutenist Robert Johnson (below, 1583-1633).

Johnson worked closely with Shakespeare in theatrical productions at the court of James I during the first few years of the 17th century. Johnson even provided music for Shakespeare’s original production of “The Tempest.”

robert-johnson-lute

The first part of the MBM program will conclude with two works that explore a favorite 17th-century technique of ornamentation over a repeated bass line, sometimes called a ground bass or chaconne.

The first is by the Italian virtuoso violinist Nicola Matteis (below, in a painting by Gottfried Kneller, c. 1650-1709), who enjoyed a successful career in London during an era when the English were importing Italian music masters by the dozens.

nicola-matteis-by-godfrey-kneller

The second work, by Christopher Simpson (below, c. 1606-1669), explores “divisions” or variations tossed back and forth between two bass viols (gambas) while they simultaneously repeat a ground bass.

christopher-simpson

The second half of the program will feature songs for tenor and voice by John Dowland (below). We’ll also play Locke’s Broken Consort, “broken” meaning “mixed”–in that violins and gambas, which were considered in Elizabethan times to be artistically quite different instruments—were being asked by the composer to play nicely together.

John Dowland

Following that, I’ll play a rousing set of variations for harpsichord, “The Carman’s Whistle,” by William Byrd (below).

William Byrd

And to conclude the program, the consort will play a set of sprightly dances originally published in 1651 in the collection “The English Dancing Master” by John Playford (below).

john-playford

 


Classical music: Spend a week in the Age of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I when the 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival is held, starting this Saturday. Part 2 of 2.

July 6, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Starting this Saturday, the 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival will take place on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

The theme this year focuses on William Shakespeare and the Age of Queen Elizabeth I.

You can check out all the details of the festival at: http://www.madisonearlymusic.org

The co-directors of the festival – the wife-and-husband team of singers Cheryl Bensman Rowe and Paul Rowe (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot and signaled in the answers by the initials CBR and PR) took time out from the hectic preparations to answer an email Q&A with The Ear.

Here is a link to Part 1 that appeared yesterday:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/classical-music-spend-a-week-in-the-age-of-shakespeare-and-queen-elizabeth-i-when-the-17th-annual-madison-early-music-festival-is-held-starting-this-saturday-part-1-of-2/

Today is the last of two parts:

Paul Rowe and Cheryl Bensman Rowe 2016 CR KATRIN TALBOT

Why was the theme of the “Shakespeare 400: An Elizabethan Celebration” chosen for this year’s festival? What composers and works will be highlighted?l

CBR: We chose the theme to honor the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the musical connections in his plays and sonnets, which also reflect the world of Queen Elizabeth I.

Audiences will hear many works of famous Elizabethan composers including Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Tallis, Anthony Holborne, John Dowland and others.

How does Elizabethan music differ from its counterparts in, say, Italy, France and Spain. What is the historical origin and role of the music from that era?

PR: The most familiar music from this time, the madrigal, is “borrowed” from the Italians. There were several Italian composers who came to England to instruct the English in their music. The most famous collection of these pieces is called “Musica transalpine” or Italian madrigals “Englished.”

The lute song also originated in Italy but was taken to new poetic heights by John Dowland and his compatriots.

The English composers did create a unique style of sacred music with William Byrd (below top) and Thomas Tallis (below bottom) as the greatest of these Elizabethan composers.

William Byrd

Thomas Tallis

What music and composers of the era have been most neglected and least neglected by historians and performers? What big things should the public know about Elizabethan music?

PR: Audience members may be less familiar with the vocal and instrumental consort music of this era. Many of these pieces were not intended for public performance, but were played as home or parlor entertainment. The pieces were designed to be very flexible and could be played with a variety of voices and instruments.

The reign of Queen Elizabeth I (below) with her active encouragement of the arts was a peak of artistic achievement in the long history of the British Empire. Music, poetry, dance and theater all thrived for more than 20 years and produced some of the greatest masterworks of Western culture, including the plays of Shakespeare.

Queen Elizabeth I

Can you tell us about the All-Festival concert program on Saturday night, July 16?

CBR: The All-Festival Concert will feature MEMF students and faculty performing a new program created exclusively for MEMF by Grant Herried (below), “Shakespeare’s Musical World: A Day in the Life of Elizabethan London.

Grant Herreid

The program is organized by times of the day with speeches from different plays of Shakespeare. Musical reflections include several wonderful pieces by Orlando Gibbons including “The Cries of London,” “O Come Let Us Sing Unto the Lord” and a setting of the “Magnificat” by Orlando Gibbons, “Music Divine” by Thomas Tomkins, a motet by Thomas Tallis, and other works by Thomas Weelkes, Thomas Morely, John Coperario and John Dowland.

Retired UW-Madison history professor John W. Barker will be giving the 6:30 p.m. pre-concert lecture on “Queen Elizabeth I: The Politician” in the Elvehjem Building of the Chazen Museum of Art.

MEMF all festival concert 2015

Are there other sessions, guest lectures and certain performers or performances that you especially recommend for the general public?

PR: We would like to encourage everyone to see all the concerts and experience the entire week. It’s like stepping back in time to a different era—a living history lesson complete with an authentic sound track.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

CBR and PR: Check out our website for more details about everything. There is a lot to hear, see, and experience! You can purchase tickets: online; at the Vilas Hall Box Office; at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office (Memorial Union); by calling 608-265-ARTS (2787); or the door. For more information about the MEMF concert series and workshop, please visit our website: http://www.madisonearlymusic.org

 


Classical music: At 75, does opera superstar Placido Domingo still have what it takes?

June 16, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

He is 75.

He was a superstar tenor for decades, often competing with the late Luciano Pavarotti for top honors in the opera world.

Then he became a conductor and now he sings as a baritone since his voice dropped with old age.

But does Spanish-born and Mexican-raised Placido Domingo (below) still have what it takes to be in the top ranks of the opera world?

FRENI

Famed critic Norman Lebrecht, who lives and works in the United Kingdom, recently heard Domingo sing in “Nabucco” by Giuseppe Verdi at Covent Garden in London.

Here is his review and first-hand account from his blog Slipped Disc:

http://slippedisc.com/2016/06/domingo-you-pitiful-old-man-a-shadow-of-what-you-were/

 


Classical music: Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. So here are guides to this summer’s local, national and even international festivals of classical music

May 29, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

Madison now has great classical music year-round, including in the summer, which long ago ceased being an artistic desert.

LOCAL

This summer’s offerings include:

The 25th anniversary season, filled with new music but also tried-and-true treasured masterpieces, of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society that runs June 10-26:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

The 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival, which runs from July 10-16 and will focus on William Shakespeare in honor of the 400th anniversary of his death:

https://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/

The annual Madison Savoyards’ production of Gilbert & Sullivan will stage “The Gondoliers” for six performances July 29-Aug. 7:

http://madisonsavoyards.org

The second season of the Willy Street Chamber Players (below):

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

The 27th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which runs Aug. 27-Sept 4 and this year features music celebrating water and the natural world. Programs include music by Johann Sebastian Bach,  English Renaissance music of John Dowland, William Byrd and Henry Purcell and a Wisconsin premiere by composer and co-director John Harbison plus Franz Schubert’s song cycle “Die Schöne Müllerin” and his equally famous masterpiece, the “Trout” Piano Quintet:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

Plus there are a lot of smaller groups including the Madison Summer Choir and the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble, both of which have received critical acclaim. And there is the Green Lake Festival. Some I might also include the six Concerts on the Square by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, which this year features a hefty dose of classical fare.

NATIONAL

But if you don’t stay around town and hit the road instead, there is a lot that might interest you in the way of summer music festivals around the country. There are festivals of chamber music, orchestral music and opera.

And The Ear has always wanted to attend the Bard Music Festival (below), which emphasizes the cultural context of the music, and the Mostly Mozart Festival. One of these years! (You can hear from co-artistic director and Bard College president Leon Botstein how the unique Bard Music Festival is run in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Bard Music Festival Frank Gehry Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts hall

Here is a roundup by The New York Times, which put all kinds of genres together. Just scroll down until you hit the Classical Festivals section that was compiled and annotated by the Times’ trustworthy critic Vivien Schweitzer:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/05/19/arts/summer-festivals.html?_r=0

Here is a fairly comprehensive national guide from Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Classical_music_festivals_in_the_United_States

Here is a guide from two years ago, done by NPR or National Public Radio, that includes the Madison Early Music Festival and divides up the selection by regions of the country:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2014/05/01/307968750/10-cant-miss-classical-music-festivals

And for good measure, for those taking international vacations here is a guide to international music festivals:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_classical_music_festivals

Happy hunting and choosing. Then happy and safe traveling. And finally Happy Listening.

The Ear hopes you have a classic “classical” summer.


Classical music: William Shakespeare died 400 years ago today. What is your favorite music inspired by The Bard, the greatest writer of all time?

April 23, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

He is generally acknowledged as the greatest writer of all time and of any culture.

The English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (below) died 400 years ago today – on April 23, 1616 — in his hometown of Stratford-on-Avon where he returned to after his stage career in London. He was 52 years old.

shakespeare BW

You may have heard that a touring copy of the rare 1623 First Folio edition of his plays, on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.,  will be on display this fall at the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dates of the exhibit are Nov. 3-Dec. 11, 2016.

Here is a link with more information:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/visit/events-calendar/event/first-folio-the-book-that-gave-us-shakespeare/

First Folio

And this summer’s Madison Early Music Festival will focus on Shakespeare and music of the Elizabethan Age when it is held from July 9 to July 16.

Here is more information about that event:

https://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/

Today, what The Ear wants to know is what is your favorite piece of music inspired by Shakespeare?

The Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Felix Mendelssohn? (The Ear loves that richly atmospheric work. You can hear it, complete with the braying of the “rude mechanical” human who is transformed into a donkey — in a YouTube video at the bottom)

The operas ”Otello” or “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi?

The opera versions of “Romeo and Juliet” by Hector Berlioz and Charles Gounod?

The incidental music to “Henry V,” “Hamlet” and “Richard III” by William Walton?

Franz Schubert’s song “Where is Sylvia”?

The “Romeo and Juliet” Fantasy Overture by Tchaikovsky?

Various setting of songs and ditties in Shakespeare’s plays?

If you need something to jog your memory about possible choices, here is a link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Music_based_on_works_by_William_Shakespeare

Leave your choice, with a YouTube link if possible, in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The music of John Field remains underappreciated. Pianist John O’Conor will perform concertos by Field and Mozart this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

April 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), under its longtime music director Andrew Sewell, will close out its current Masterworks season this Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO lobby

The program – which features guest pianist John O’Conor (below) – includes the Piano Concerto No. 1 by John Field; the Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467 (“Elvira Madigan”), by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Suite No. 1 for Small Orchestra by Igor Stravinsky; and the Symphony No. 1 by Carl Maria von Weber.

john o'conor pink shirt horizontal

Tickets are $15-$80.

For more information, including a full biography of John O’Conor and the purchasing of tickets, visit:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks-v-1/

John O’Conor, who has an extremely busy career performing, teaching, recording and judging piano competitions recently agreed to a Q&A with The Ear:

john o'conor with piano

John Field is best known as the precursor of Chopin when it comes to composing nocturnes. How right or wrong is that perception and how would you change it? What else should we know about Field, his stylistic roots and his influence, especially through his other piano music, in particular his concertos?

John Field (below) is indeed the originator of the Nocturne form for piano music. He realized that the usual forms of music of the 18th century (sonatas, variations etc.) were not really suitable for after-dinner performances at the residences of the nobility in the 19th century, so he published various short pieces entitled “Pastorale” and other such names until he happened on the idea of the “Nocturne” in 1814 (when Chopin was only 4 !!) when he published his first three.

They were an immediate sensation and he quickly published many more. It is said that one of his Polish students in St. Petersburg went back to Poland in the 1820s, played some of his Nocturnes, Chopin heard them and wrote his own and the rest is history.

John Field

Field was a prodigy in his native Dublin where he was born in 1782. His father recognized his talent and spent the enormous sum of 100 pounds to apprentice him to Muzio Clementi in London when he was only barely in his teens. Clementi was not only a famous pianist and composer but also a piano manufacturer.

He soon realized that when Field demonstrated his pianos, he sold more pianos! So he brought him on a promotional your around Europe in 1802. They visited Paris and Vienna and then St. Petersburg, when winter set in and they had to stay there until they could travel again in spring.

But during the winter the very handsome Field became the darling of the salons and all the daughters of the nobility wanted to study piano with him. So when Clementi (below) left in spring, Field stayed on. He spent most of the rest of his life in Russia and died in Moscow in 1837.

Muzio Clementi

What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major by Field that you will perform in Madison?

Apart from Nocturnes, Field also wrote four sonatas and seven piano concertos. The concertos were tremendously popular in the 19th century and his second concerto was often the debut concerto of young virtuosi — in the same way that Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Concerto No. 2 became so in the 20th century.

The problem with the concertos is that they often lack an advanced sense of form and meander quite a bit — but quite beautifully!

I love the first concerto because it is the most concise and best organized of the concertos. It is full of youthful exuberance and he obviously wanted to show off his considerable technique in the flying fingers of the outer movements.

The middle movement is a set of variations on a Scottish folk song and though he composed this piece while still living in London with Clementi you can already hear the gentle filigree figurations that became such a characteristic of his later Nocturnes.

The Piano Concerto No. 21 by Mozart (below) is best known for its slow movement that was used as the soundtrack to the popular film “Elvira Madigan.” What else would you like to point out about this particular concerto to the public? In your view, where does it rank among Mozart’s 27 piano concertos?

There is no connection between Field and Mozart that I know of. But the Mozart Concerto is another example of a composer showing off his virtuosity. Both the outer movements sparkle with vivacity and charm, and the beauty of the slow movement needs no introduction from me. It is one of the most beautiful movements that Mozart ever wrote. (You can hear the slow movement in the YouTube video — with 39 million hits!~ at the bottom.)

Mozart old 1782

You are very well known internationally as a both a teacher and an award-winning performer. For you, how does each activity inform the other?

I love teaching. I have always loved teaching piano. To some people, it might seem like drudgery, but I hope none of my students have ever felt that.

Nowadays I have incredibly gifted students who regularly win prizes at international piano competitions. But even when I started teaching, I hope I made the music fun for all my less talented students. It is a privilege to give them a love of the art that will keep for the rest of their lives.


Classical music: A FREE CD and a dedicated concert are perfect memorial tributes for flutist Robin Fellows — or for any musician

March 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

There was so much to like about last Friday night’s concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), including a fantastic performance of the sublimely beautiful Violin Concerto by the American composer Samuel Barber.

WCO lobby

The concerto, with its soaring melodies, poignant harmonies and spiky perpetual motion finale, was played superbly by Russian-born, London-based virtuoso Alexander Sitkovetsky (below), who received a masterful accompaniment from longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell and the WCO. (As an encore and change of pace, Sitkovetsky played the soulful Sarabande from the Partita No. 2 in D Minor for Solo Violin by Johann Sebastian Bach.)

Here are two very positive reviews, written by John W. Barker for Isthmus and Greg Hettmansbeger for Madison Magazine, with which The Ear agrees:

http://isthmus.com/music/dashing-brilliance-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra/

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/sewell-and-sitkovetsky-bring-out-the-best-of-a-couple-of-bs/

alexander-sitkovetsky

But The Ear notes this: Perhaps the most touching moment came off-stage.

As you may have heard, last October Robin Fellows died of cancer at 66. For 26 years, he had been the principal flutist of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He also played and taught at many other places.

If you went to the indoor classical Masterworks concerts by the WCO, you heard him.

And if you went to the popular summertime Concerts on the Square, you heard him.

So it was right and fitting, as they say, for the WCO to dedicate the concert to Fellows (below). Indeed, the program seemed perfect in its homage.

We heard a new principal flutist and heard lots of prominent flute playing in works by Irish composer Joan Trumble, Swedish composer Lars-Eric Larsson and especially the Symphony No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven.

robin fellows with flute

But the most stirring tribute happened off-stage.

That is because the family gave out a FREE memorial tribute CD of 20th-century flute music – with singers, bassoonists, clarinet, harp and piano — that was played by Fellows, recorded and released in 2002.

It includes music by Aaron Copland, Walter Piston, Albert Roussel, Ernst Toch, Daren Hagen (a UW-Madison alumnus) and Vincent Persichetti.

Out in the lobby of the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center was a table with not only the new season brochures for 2016-17, but also many stacks of FREE CDs. The audience was invited to take one by a current WCO flutist and oboist.

Robin Fellows CD table

And as you entered and left the theater, there was a large poster with a picture of Fellows and a paragraph about his life and accomplishments.

Robin Fellows poster

The Ear is still sampling all the pieces on the CD.

So far, it is both enjoyable and enlightening. The Ear would include a sample, but unfortunately he doesn’t see that any tracks have been uploaded to YouTube.

Still, one cannot imagine Fellows — or any musicians, for that matter — wishing for a better tribute.

The Ear says: Kudos to the Fellows family and to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra for providing such memorable memorials.


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