The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Founder Dean Schroeder talks about the inaugural Handel Aria Competition at this year’s Madison Early Music Festival on Monday night, July 8.

July 5, 2013
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Dean Schroeder is known primarily as a knowledgeable, helpful and amiable local businessman who, with his wife Carol “Orange” Schroeder, owns and runs Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street.

But the Schroeders are also serious fans of classical music. They attend, participate in and sponsor many events, including the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and the Madison Bach Musicians.

Their latest venture, though, is especially interesting: they founded the first annual Handel Aria Competition, which they hope will become an annual event at the Madison Early Music Festival that starts tomorrow, on Saturday, and runs through Friday, July 12. Given the global Handel revival in the past decade, the timing couldn’t be more perfect to build audiences for Handel and audiences for the festival.

memf 14 logo

The final round of the competition will be held on Monday night, July 8, at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall as part of the 14th annual Madison Early Music Festival. Admission is FREE and open to the public.

Handel etching

Here are links to a previous blog post about the festival overall, and to the festival’s own website and to a special website about the Handel aria competition:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/classical-music-qa-co-artistic-directors-paul-rowe-and-cheryl-bensman-rowe-discuss-the-14th-annual-madison-early-music-festival-that-begins-this-saturday-and-ends-next-friday-it-will-explore-th/

http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/lsa/memf/

http://www.handelariacompetition.com/Handel_Aria_Competition/Welcome_to_the_Handel_Aria_Competition.html

Dean Schroeder (seen below with his wife Orange) recently talked with The Ear in an e-mail about the Handel aria contest:

Carol %22Orange%22 and Dean Schroeder

How and when did you come up with the idea for the Handel aria competition?

Over the past few years, I have realized my strong affinity to Handel’s vocal music, especially the arias and duets from his many operas and oratorios.

I previously had no appreciation for opera, but one day I was driving down Monroe Street and heard, on Wisconisn Public Radio’s WERN (88.7 FM), an aria that was so delightfully melodic and lively that I had to pull over and listen. It was “Tornami a vagheggiar,” sung by Natalie Dessay (below in a different live performance in a YouTube video) on William Christie’s recording of “Alcina,” also featuring Renee Fleming and Susan Graham.

In that life-changing moment I knew I had to seek it out, and eventually found great pleasure in discovering dozens of other arias from Handel’s works. We are lucky to be in a period of revival of Handel’s music, and I’d recommend YouTube for its countless selection of arias to explore.

How will the contest be run and judged?

The judges will be tenor William Hudson (below top), soprano Ellen Hargis (below middle) and the local music critic, retired UW-Madison medieval history professor and choral singer John W. Barker (below bottom).

The first two are regulars on the Madison Early Music Festival’s faculty, and will be performing in the week’s concerts as well.

The three will have to coordinate on the criteria, applying their expertise to determine the standards they will use to judge. They will determine the top three prizes, which are cash.

The audience will get to vote via ballot for their favorite.  This winner will get a free ticket for tuition to the Early Music Festival next year.

William Hudson

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

John-Barker

Why did you want to create such a contest? Do you think it will expand the audience for the Madison Early music Festival?

About a year ago, I learned of the annual Handel aria competition in London, which is part of a month-long celebration of Handel (below). Thanks to Paul and Cheryl Rowe, we have been able to create our own competition to encourage young singers as part of the annual Madison Early Music Festival.

They have generously welcomed the idea and worked to make it happen, and I believe it will result in additional interest and enthusiasm for the Festival in the coming years. We were delighted to have almost 50 singers audition this year, and anticipate an increase in future years.

handel big 2

Do you yourselves have a favorite Handel aria or favorite Handel arias? Do you have favorite performers of those arias you could recommend recordings of?

A few years back I was lucky to attend the Lyric Opera’s production of Handel’s “Hercules,” conducted by Harry Bicket.  He brought with him a soprano, for a supporting role, who stunned the audience with her gorgeous voice:  Lucy Crowe (below).

Her latest recording project, Handel’s “Il pastor fido,” is one that I am highly recommending for the talent of the young singers and musicians, as well as the sonic beauty of the performance space: the Temple Church in London.  (There is also an interesting YouTube video of the making of the recording:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVRZzt90SNw

lucy crowe

In addition to those singers mentioned, I really enjoy hearing Joyce DiDonato, David Daniels (below), Ian Bostridge, Andreas Scholl, Mark Padmore, Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, Sandrine Piau, Maite Beaumont … the list is long and growing larger!  A good starting CD might be Harmonia Mundi’s CD box “Handel: Famous Arias.”

David Daniels

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

I’ve been taking singing lessons from Ben Luedcke (below) for about four years, and have been in all three of his choirs: Madison Choral Arts Society, UW Men’s Choir and Madison Summer Choir (the latter two he founded).

Ben Luedcke.1jpg

I’m a tenor, and the Handel I’ve attempted includes: “As Steals the Morn” (a gorgeous duet, sung by Ian Bostridge and Lynne Dawson in a YouTube video at the bottom); “Waft Her, Angels” (a plaintive aria from the oratorio “Jeptha,” which we just saw in Boston by the Handel and Haydn Society and which will be sung by our tenor on Monday); AND I’ve sung the soprano part an octave down in these duets: “Io t’abbraccio” and “Son nata a lagrimar” (the lament from “Giulio Cesare”) … I love the duets, and it works surprisingly well to “flip” parts!

Handel was a master of every voice range and expresses a wide range of emotions.  His arias are very approachable and engaging, and many are extremely moving.  It is so good to see the increase in appreciation for Handel’s genius, beyond just “Messiah,” (which everyone knows and loves).  I loved the Madison Opera’s and John DeMain’s production of “Acis and Galatea,” and look forward to more local productions of Handel, including the University Opera’s upcoming presentation of “Ariodante” on  October 25–29.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/opera

Along with hearing more Handel, I hope more people will try singing his gorgeous arias and duets.  I’ve only been singing a few years, but have attempted a few of them with credible results. They are not beyond the average singer, and they are greatly satisfying to sing.

 


Classical music CD review: The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra of San Francisco can stand up to the best of the large European early music, period-instrument ensembles.

October 7, 2012
2 Comments

 

By Jacob Stockinger

For several decades now, the gold standard of early music, period-instrument music has been located in Western Europe, with many groups established in Great Britain and Germany, although France, Italy and the Netherlands have also produced their share.

Just some of the big names that come to mind are the Academy of Ancient Music and the English Concert, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra,  Musica Antiqua Koln, Concentus Musicus of Vienna, La Petite Bande, the English Baroque Soloists and Il Giardino Armonico.

But increasingly America has joined the trend. Major music schools now offer degree programs and majors in early music and period instruments. Early music festivals regularly take place around the country, including here in Madison.

And the U.S. increasingly has some larger early music groups as well as smaller, very accomplished ensembles such as Chicago’s Newberry Consort and Piffaro, which often take part in the Madison Early Music Festival each summer.

There are more, to be sure.

But the one group, now 30 years old, that seems most on the ascendant is the Phiharmonia Baroque Orchestra (below top), which is based in San Francisco and performs around the Bay area. It has been led for 25 years by veteran conductor Nicholas McGegan (below bottom), one of the world acclaimed pioneers of historically informed performances.

As has happened with many famous performing arts organizations large and small, the state of the recording industry has led the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra to produce its own recordings.

The results are very good. They have now released several CDs and I am convinced from listening to them that the group can stand beside the best of their European counterparts. True, the Boston Baroque may also be a competitor. But so far, I give the edge to the Philharmonia Baroque, which recently received rave reviews for its performance of Haydn’s ‘The Creation”in San Francisco and Handel‘s “Messiah” at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

Take a look at the orchestra’s home website and you will be impressed just by the current season.

You will notice that this season even such a renowned mainstream musician as pianist Emanuel Ax (below top) is scheduled to join them in an all-Beethoven concert, when he will perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 on a fortepiano. The group will also see Japanese scholar and performer Masaaki Suzuki (below bottom), who had recorded a masterful set of Bach cantatas and orchestral works. And the alcclaimed British baroque violinist Rachel Podger will join them.

Here is a link:

http://www.philharmonia.org

I have listened now to several of the more recent CDs, including the one that will be released this week, of Brahms’ two Serenades (below).

That one goes right to the top of the list – right beside the touching CD of the late singer Lorraine Hunt Lieberson doing Handel arias and Berlioz’ “Les Nuits d’Ete” and the great CD that featured three Haydn symphonies, Nos. 88, 101 “The Clock” and 104 “London,” which was nominated for a 2011 Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance. McGegan has a clear affinity for Haydn and it shows in his recordings.

There is also an all-Vivaldi CD with the “The Four Seasons” and several other violin concertos on it. I am less fond of that CD, but it has to do more with the repertoire than with the quality of the performances.

Another recording that is a winner and shows a future path for the group is of the Handel opera “Atalanta.” Vocalists and instrumentalists alike do the ensemble proud in an area — the rediscovery of Handel operas — that has become a major event.

But there are many more if you go to their website and click on SHOP, you will find a complete listing of recordings of Arne, Corelli, Haydn, Handel, Purcell and many other composers – although, surprisingly, no J.S. Bach and just a little Mozart and Beethoven!

Here is a direct link to the catalogue, current and back reissues, of CDs:

http://www.philharmonia.org/shop/recordings-for-purchase/

In any case, I hope the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra one day comes to the Madison area on tour. In the meantime I intend to listen to its recordings and follow its career as it continues to pick up speed and put American early musicians on par reputation-wise with their more famous, but not necessarily better, European counterparts.

 


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