The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras perform the Evelyn Steenbock fall concerts TODAY and next Friday night. The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra performs this Sunday afternoon

November 10, 2018
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ALERT: This Sunday afternoon, Nov. 11, at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will give its fall concert. Conducted by Blake Walter, the chamber orchestra will play Franz Joseph Haydn’s “The Word on the Moon” Overture, Arthur Honegger’s Pastorale D’été (Summer Pastoral) and Symphony No. 1 in C minor by Felix Mendelssohn. Tickets are $5 for general admission, free with Edgewood College ID.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO, below) will present their first concert series of the 2018-19 season, the Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts TODAY, Saturday, Nov. 10, and next Friday, Nov. 16.

WYSO orchestras will perform works by Igor Stravinsky, Aram Khachaturian, Soon Hee Newbold and more. The Youth Orchestra concert will include a performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo” Variations with special guest cellist Joseph Johnson.

“Joseph Johnson is an extraordinary artist and person and it will be a treat for us all to hear and collaborate with someone of his stature,” says Youth Orchestra Conductor Kyle Knox (below).

Johnson has been heard throughout the world as a soloist, chamber musician and educator. Principal cellist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra since the 2009-10 season, he previously held the same position with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. (You can hear an interview with Joseph Johnson in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

He also serves as principal cellist of the Santa Fe Opera, and during the 2008-2009 season was acting principal cellist of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. Prior to his Milwaukee appointment, Johnson was a member of the Minnesota Orchestra cello section for 11 years.

“The Youth Orchestra couldn’t be more excited to present a program of all-Russian music for our first concert of the season,” Knox says. “We will begin with a rarely performed gem by 20th-century composer Igor Stravinsky, followed by one of the great solo works in the cello repertoire, the “Rococo” Variations by Tchaikovsky. Finally, we will finish the evening with the mighty Symphony No. 4 by Tchaikovsky, one of the most famous orchestral works in history, which features all sections of the orchestra.”

TODAY’S concerts begin at 11:30 a.m. in Mills Hall at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, 455 North Park Street, Madison.

The Nov. 16 Youth Orchestra concert with guest soloist Joseph Johnson begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, 2100 Bristol Street, next to Middleton High School, with a reception to follow.

WYSO students travel from communities throughout southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois each weekend throughout the concert season to rehearse on the UW-Madison campus.

Each orchestra performs three concerts per season, with additional performance opportunities available to students, including ensembles and chamber groups.

Concert admission is $10 for adults, and $5 for youth 18 and under, with tickets available at the door.

Full concert repertoire is available at https://www.wysomusic.org/evelyn-steenbock-fall-concerts-repertoire/

To learn more about Joseph Johnson, go to: www.joecello.com.

Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts

Saturday, Nov. 10, Mills Concert Hall
11:30 a.m. Opus One and Sinfonietta
1:30 p.m. Harp Ensemble & Concert Orchestra
4 p.m. Percussion Ensemble (below) and Philharmonia Orchestra

Friday, Nov. 16, Middleton Performing Arts Center
7:30 p.m. Youth Orchestra, reception to follow
With guest artist Joseph Johnson, cello


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Classical music: Tonight is that start of six weekly Concerts on the Square with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and guest artists under conductor Andrew Sewell. Here’s what you need to know

June 28, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight marks the first of this summer’s Concerts on the Square, performed by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) and guest artists under the baton of music director Andrew Sewell.

The FREE community event was first proposed by famed “American Girl” dolls creator, businesswoman and philanthropist Pleasant Rowland decades ago when she worked downtown and lamented how abandoned the Capitol Square got after dark. This is the 34th season of the popular Concerts on the Square. Each concert now draws tens of thousands of listeners.

The concerts will take place on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square. They run from 7 to 9 p.m. on six consecutive Wednesdays (rain dates are Thursdays). But of course people gather hours earlier to socialize and picnic.

Although pop,rock, folk and film music is often featured, tonight’s program is mostly classical – composers are Leonard Bernstein, Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Otto Nicolai — and performing will  be this year’s winner of the WCO teenage concerto competition. She is violinist Emily Hauer (below) and she hails from Appleton, Wisconsin, where she has studied at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music.

Here is a link to all you need to know about tonight, from the programs and a performer’s detailed biography to vendor menus, the way to volunteer and the ground rules for concert etiquette:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square-1-2/

You can see and hear a sampler of Concerts on the Square in the YouTube video at the bottom.

For future planning, here is a link to all six concerts with similar information:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performance-listing/category/concerts-on-the-square

Should you want to know more about WCO maestro Andrew Sewell (below),  music director since 2000 — and who has also just been named the music director of the San Luis Obispo Symphony in California — here are some profiles and interviews that make for good reading while you wait for the music to start.

Here is an excellent profile done by Sandy Tabachnik in 2014 for Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/music/andrew-sewell-the-malleable-maestro-of-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra/

And here is some background about the New Zealand-born Sewell, who became an American citizen 10 years ago, along with links to other news stories about his latest appointment:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/tag/sewell/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/06/16/classical-music-maestro-andrew-sewell-has-been-named-the-new-music-director-of-the-san-luis-obispo-symphony-in-california-while-retaining-his-longtime-post-as-music-director-of-the-wisconsin-chamber/

And from the “Only Strings” blog of Paul Baker, who hosts a show of the same name on WSUM 91.7 FM, the student-run radio station at the UW-Madison, here is an interview with ever-gracious Sewell:

https://onlystringswsum.wordpress.com/author/pbaker/page/3/


Classical music: On Saturday, the UW-Madison hosts a FREE and PUBLIC day of workshops, master classes and performances for pianists and other keyboard players

March 1, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Attention all pianists– amateurs, professionals and students — as well as other keyboard players.

This Saturday brings the first University of Wisconsin-Madison “Keyboard Day.”  The focus is comprehensive, having the title “From the Practice Room to the Stage: The Pathway to Artistry.”(The official logo is below.)

pathways-to-artistry-logo

The underlying reason may be to attract and recruit talented undergraduate students to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. But the net effect is that a lot of wisdom about keyboard playing – from practicing to performing — will be on display to be shared with those who attend.

All events are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Steinway Grand Piano

The event takes place in Morphy Recital Hall from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Here is a schedule:

9:30-10 a.m. Coffee and Pastries (Mills Lobby)

10 a.m.-noon UW-Madison Keyboard Faculty Workshops

Strategies for Learning a New Piece with Professor Martha Fischer (below top) and Professor Jess Johnson (below bottom)

Getting Inside a Composer’s Head with Professor John Stowe

Beyond Repetitive Drilling: Custom Exercises for Every Difficult Passage with Professor Christopher Taylor

Mindfulness and Self-Compassion in the Practice Room with Professor Martha Fischer and Professor Jess Johnson

Martha Fischer color Katrin Talbot

jessica johnson at piano

1:30-3:30 p.m. Master class for high school students with UW-Madison keyboard faculty

Etude in E major, Op. 10, No. 3 by Frederic Chopin; Yunyao Zhu, a student of Kangwoo Jin

Sonata in G major, Op. 49, No. 2 by Ludwig van Beethoven. George Logan, a student of Liz Agard

Sposalizio, by Franz Liszt. Owen Ladd, a student of  William Lutes

Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31, by Frederic Chopin. Jacob Beranek, a student of Margarita Kontorovsky

Morphy Hall 2

3:30-4 p.m. Reception in Mills Lobby

4-5 p.m. Recital featuring UW-Madison Keyboard Faculty

Sonata, Wq. 49 No. 5 by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788). From Sei Sonate, Op. 2 (1744). John Chappell Stowe, harpsichord (below top)

Quasi Variazioni. Andantino de Clara Wieck by Robert Schumann (1810-1856) from Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 14. Jess Johnson, piano. *Performed on a Steinbuhler DS 5.0 TM (“7/8”) alternatively-sized piano keyboard.

Don Quixote a Dulcinea (1933) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) Poetry by Paul Morand. Paul Rowe, baritone, and Martha Fischer, piano

The Banjo by Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869). Christopher Taylor, piano (below middle). You can hear the piece in the YouTube video at the bottom. Taylor will also play “Ojos criollos” (Creole Eyes) and “Pasquinade” by the American composer Gottschalk.

Nature Boy by George Alexander “eden ahbez” Aberle (1908-1895) Johannes Wallmann, jazz piano (below bottom)

BATC2 John Chappelle Stowe and Edith Hines

Christopher Taylor new profile

johannes wallmann playing


Classical music: In the next few days, three groups with a big and loyal local following will perform duo-piano music, woodwind music and clarinet trios.

March 12, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

With limited space — after all there are only so many days in the week and the local classical music scene keeps getting more and more crowded — sometimes The Ear has to combine performers and events. And that is the case today.

Several smaller concerts, some featuring performers with a loyal local following and all being offering for FREE, will take place this week and weekend.

DUO-PIANISTS VARSHAVSKI AND SHAPIRO

On Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the Oakwood Village West Center for Arts and Education, 6205 Mineral Point Road on Madison’s far west side near West Towne, duo-pianists Stanislava Varshavski and Diana Shapiro (below) will perform.

The program includes the “Allegro Brilliante” by Felix Mendelssohn; the “Lebenssturme” (Life Storm) by Franz Schubert; and “Petrushka” by Igor Stravinsky as arranged by Varshavi and Shapiro. (At the bottom you can hear a YouTube video in which the two women perform a beautiful Barcarolle from a suite by Sergei Rachmaninoff.)

For more information about the duo-pianists and samples of their music, visit:

http://www.piano-4-hands.com

Stanislava Varshavski-Diana Shapiro

THE KAT TRIO

On this Friday at 7:30 p.m., the Kat Trio -– short for the Ekaterinberg Trio that uses the violin, clarinet and piano  — will perform a FREE concert at First United Methodist Church, 203 Wisconsin Avenue in Madison.

The original violin, clarinet and piano ensemble (below) from Ekaterinburg, Russia, was formed in May of 1998 in Ekaterinburg by three friends: Victoria Gorbich (violin), Vladislav Gorbich (clarinet) and
 Vasil Galiulin (piano). They had just graduated from the Ural State Music Conservatory.

original Kat Trio

Today’s “The Kat Trio” (below) -– which is well-known to Madison audiences -– is made up of Victoria, Vladislav and pianist Justin Snyder (below standing). Victoria and Vlad are doctoral graduates of Arizona State University. Justin is a graduate of University of Michigan and recently finished studying in London at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

According to publicity materials, Kat Trio concerts showcase unique Russian arrangements and transpositions of timeless melodies and feature classical works, well-known inspirational songs, and even American pop standards, including Scott Joplin’s rags.

This week’s program includes: a trio by Aram Khachaturian, plus works by Vladimir Vavilov, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, Peter Tchaikovsky, Louis Moreau Gottschalk; Amy Beach; Samuel Barber; Michael Joncas; Joseph Lamb; Jerry Bock; and Peter Schickele (aka PDQ Bach).

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., but the three performers will do an audience Q&A prior to their performance, so you might arrive early.

The concert is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. A free will offering will be taken.

The Ekaterinburg Trio’s website, www.thekattrio.net, features a Music page where fans can hear music files from all 10 CDs. The Video link also features dozens of Kat Trio videos on YouTube.

kat trio with justin

BLACK MARIGOLD

This week will also see two performances by the Madison-based woodwind quintet Black Marigold (below).

Black Marigold will perform on this Friday, March 14, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s FREE Noon Musicale from 12:15 to 1 p.m. They will perform in the Landmark Auditorium of the historic building that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Then on Sunday, Black Marigold will perform on “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen.” The FREE concert will be held from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery 3 of the Chazen Museum of Art on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The concert will also be broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN 88.7 FM in the Madison area).

The program for both concerts includes: the Quintet, Op. 88, No. 2, by Anton Reicha; Six Bagatelles by Gyorgy Ligeti; “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky, and arranged by Jonathan Russell; and “Vignettes Balletiques” by Brian DuFord.

For more information about Black Marigold, visit or write to:

https://www.facebook.com/BlackMarigold

blackmarigoldwinds@gmail.com

Black Marigold

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Classical Music Education: A Piano Vortex will descend this Friday and Saturday on the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — all FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. On Friday night, classical virtuoso Christopher Taylor will perform a FREE recital of Prokofiev and Liszt-Beethoven; on Saturday morning jazz master Johannes Wallmann will hold a workshop. Plus the UW’s inaugural high school piano competition will take place Friday and Saturday in Morphy Recital Hall with the public invited to preliminary rounds and a final concert. Plus, UW-Madison music students will play blues and jazz-inspired classical music.

February 26, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend will find us not only in the fading grip of the Polar Vortex but also in the full force of The Piano Vortex.

Steinway Grand Piano

Here is an overview, with a complete schedule and list of names and repertoire, from Fanfare, the terrific new music blog at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music written and compiled by concert and publicity manager Kathy Esposito:

“Piano Extravaganza! will feature well-known pianists as well as rising stars”

“Hear the UW’s best collegiate pianists, faculty and high school talents at an all-day festival this Saturday at UW-Madison. Masterclasses, workshops and performances hosted by UW-Madison faculty and students. This year’s Piano Extravaganza will feature piano works influenced by jazz and blues.”

Here is the schedule of events, all of which are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC:

FRIDAY, FEB. 28

8 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall: A FREE recital by Christopher Taylor, Faculty Concert Series. Here is what Taylor said about his program to the UW’s Fanfare blog about his program of the Sonata No. 6, Op. 82 (1939) by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) and the Symphony No. 3 in E-Flat Major (“Eroica”), Op. 55, by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), as transcribed by Franz Liszt (1811-1886).

Taylor writes: “I find altogether exhilarating the opportunity to re-experience works that inspired me even before taking my first piano lesson.

“Although, needless to say, a pianist cannot hope to duplicate the precise effect of Beethoven’s orchestrations, the attempt to simulate a few of them gives rise to endlessly fascinating pianistic possibilities.

“Virtually every technical resource of fingering, voicing, articulation, and pedaling (even the middle pedal, a device that Liszt himself lacked till late in his career) proves useful in these mighty transcriptions.

“While tonight’s version of the Eroica can obviously never displace the original form, I do hope that the pairing of a single musician with one versatile instrument can produce a fresh view of this immortal work, whose turbulent historical genesis and juxtaposition of heroism, tragedy, and redemption complement the Prokofiev so aptly.”

And here is a profile of Christopher Taylor that local critic Greg Hettmansberger wrote for Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Madison-Magazine/February-2014/A-Q-A-with-Pianist-Christopher-Taylor/

Christopher Taylor at Miller Theater in NYC CR Richard Termine of the NYT

And here is a link to the complete Fanfare blog entry:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/02/24/brailey-wbq-tour-pianofest/

And here is a previous post with some background:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/high-school-piano-competition/

AND BECAUSE THE EAR FEELS THAT STUDENT MUSICIANS DESERVE TO GET AT LEAST AS MUCH MEDIA COVERAGE AND PUBLIC ATTENTION AS STUDENT ATHLETES, I HAVE INCLUDED A LENGTHY AND MUCH LONGER THAN USUAL LIST OF THE PIANO CONTESTANTS, REPERTOIRE, PARTICIPANTS AND JUDGES.

PIANO EXTRAVAGANZA! of Concerts, a Masterclass, a Young Pianists Competition (For High School Students) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music on Friday, February 28—Saturday, March 1, 2014. (1st Prize: $1,500; 2nd Prize: $1,000; 3rd Prize: $500)

SATURDAY, MARCH 1

8:30-11 a.m.: Piano Extravaganza Competition

11 a.m.-noon: Professor Johannes Wallmann, Jazz Improvisation Workshop

1:30-3:30 p.m. Masterclass and Q&A with UW-Faculty

3:45-6:30 p.m.: Jazz and Blues in Classical Music Extravaganza (Performed by UW-Madison Piano Majors)

ALL EVENTS ON SATURDAY TAKE PLACE IN MORPHY RECITAL HALL (below) ARE FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

Morphy Hall 2

SATURDAY, MARCH 1, 2014

8:30-11 a.m.: Piano Extravaganza Competition

FINALISTS WERE SELECTED FROM PRELIMINARY RECORDING ROUND.

8:30 a.m.: Anthony Cardella (17, from Porterfield, WI): Sonata Op. 2, No. 3, I. Allegro con brio –by Ludwig van Beethoven; Toccata, Op. 11, by Sergei Prokofiev

8:45 a.m.: Ethan Nethery (17, from Hartland, WI); “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder and “How Little We Know” by Phillip Springer

9 a.m.: Olivia Montgomery (18, from Fitchburg, WI): Prelude No. 1 Allegro ben ritmato e deciso George Gershwin; Sonata in C minor, Op. 10, No. 1, I. Allegro molto e con brio –Ludwig van Beethoven

9:15 a.m.: Vivian Wilhelms (15, from Waunakee, WI); French Suite No. 6, BWV 817- Johann Sebastian Bach; Sonatine, I. Modéré – Maurice Ravel

9:30 a.m.: Michelle Xie (16, from Verona, WI): Sarcasm, Op. 17, No. 1 Tempestoso – Sergei Prokofiev; Sonata Op. 31, No. 1, I. Allegro – Ludwig van Beethoven

9:45 a.m.: Garrick Olson (17, from Madison, WI): Fantasy in C Major, II. Mäßig. Durchaus energisch – Robert Schumann; Etude No. 6, Omaggio a Domenico Scarlatti – Marc-Andre Hamelin

10 a.m.: Theodore Liu (15, from Waunakee, WI): Sonata in D Major, Op. 10, No. 3, I. Presto- Ludwig van Beethoven; Nocturne in D-flat Major, Op. 27, No. 2– Frederic Chopin

10:15 a.m. Quentin Nennig (15, from Sherwood, WI): Waldesrauschen”- Franz Liszt; Concerto in E-flat Major, KV 449 – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

10:30 a.m. Kaitlin Lalmond (17, from Germantown, WI): Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp Major, BWV 848 – Johann Sebastian Bach; Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 7, I. Allegro molto e con brio – Ludwig van Beethoven

11 a.m.-Noon: Jazz Improvisation Workshop with Professor Johannes Wallmann (below): “Milestones,” John Lewis (1920-2001) of The Modern Jazz Quartet; “Night and Day,” Cole Porter (1891-1964); “Sonnymoon For Two,” Sonny Rollins (b. 1930). All selections performed by Johannes Wallmann (below) and local guest artist Dave Stoler

johannes wallmann playing

Noon-1:30 p.m.: Lunch

1:30-3:30 p.m.: Masterclass and Q&A with UW-Faculty

3:45-6:30 p.m.: Jazz and Blues in Classical Music Extravaganza, Performed by UW-Madison Piano Majors

Opening Remarks by Susan C. Cook, Professor of Musicology and Director of the School of Music

“Alla Turca Jazz,” (1993) Fazil Say, Jason Kutz (b. 1970)

“Nightmare Fantasy,” (1979) William Albright, Oxana Khramova (1944-1998)

“Prelude No. 1,” (1926) George Gershwin, Yana Groves (1898-1937)

From “Preludes, Book 2” (1912-1913) Claude Debussy, “General Lavine Eccentric” (1862-1918); Emili Earhart

“Fantasy on Bill Evans’ “Turn Out the Stars,” Jonathan Thornton (b. 1985), Jonathan Thornton

“Lonely House” from Street Scene (1947) Kurt Weill (1900-1950), Thomas Leighton, Tenor, & Emily O’Leary

Impromptu, Op. 66, No. 2 (2004) Nikolai Kapustin (b. 1937) ; Haley O’Neal

“The Serpent’s Kiss” (Rag Fantasy) (1969), William Bolcom, Sara Giusti (b. 1938)

Sonata for One Piano, Four Hands (1919), Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), Prelude Rustique

Ian Tomaz and Jason Kutz

“Milonga del Angel” (1965), Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), Cody Goetz

From Gershwin Songbook (1932) George Gershwin (189801937): “My One and Only,”  “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” and “I Got Rhythm,” Dino Mulic 

“Etudes on Gershwin Songs,” (1973) Earl Wild (1915-2010), “Embraceable You,”  Yusuke Komura

INTERMISSION

Excursions,” Op. 20, No. 1 (1942), Samuel Barber, Andrew Mlynczak (1910-1981)

“Carnaval Noir,” (1997) Derek Bermel, Ying Wang (b. 1967)

“Bamboula,” (1844-45) Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Duangkamon Wattanasak (1829-1869)

“A Little Jazz Exercise,” (1970) Oscar Peterson (1925-2007), Evan Engelstad

“Jazz Waltz” from Suite Impressions (1996) by Judith Lang Zaimont, Shengyin Chen (b. 1945)

“Magnetic Rag” (1914) Scott Joplin, Zach Campbell

“Deuces Wild” (1944) and “The Duke and the Count” (1944), Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981), Henry Misa

“Dreadful Memories” (1978), “Down by the Riverside” (1979)  Frederic Rzewski (b. 1938) Sungho Yang

From Preludes, Book 1 (1909-1910) Claude Debussy (1862-1918)  “Minstrels,” Jace Rockman

Sonata No. 2 in G Major for Violin and Piano (1927), II. Blues, Maurice Ravel  (1875-1937) Elspeth Stalter-Clouse, violin, and Tiffany Yeh

From “Carnival Music” (1976), George Rochberg (1918-2005), Emily O’Leary

Three Preludes (2000), Shuai Zhang  (b. 1979), I. Rubato: appassionato abandano, II. mesto misterioso, III. estemporale impetuoso, Zijin Yao

piano keys

MEET THE UW-MADISON KEYBOARD FACULTY

Martha Fischer (below) is Professor of Piano and heads the Collaborative Piano Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. American Record Guide recently wrote: “…she is a marvelous pianist, profound interpreter, and expert collaborator.” She has recorded extensively and will soon release the complete works for two pianists at one keyboard by Robert Schumann with her frequent duet partner and husband, Bill Lutes. The Washington Post described their performance of Schubert’s F minor Fantasie as “bursting with heartfelt intensity.” A singer as well as pianist, Fischer is an expert on the works of Gilbert and Sullivan and has also presented unique recitals of art song in which she accompanies herself. A dedicated teacher, she has participated in international festivals, symposia, and competitions.

Martha Fischer color Katrin Talbot

Jessica Johnson (below left, with UW percussionist Anthony Di Sanza) serves as Professor of Piano and Director of Graduate Studies in Piano Pedagogy at UW-Madison, where she was the 2006 recipient of the prestigious Emil Steiger Distinguished Teaching Award. She frequently commissions and programs contemporary solo and chamber works, regularly performing with Sole Nero, duo for piano and percussion. Johnson has been featured in workshops and recitals throughout North America, Europe and China. A two-time winner of AMT’s Article of the Year Award, Johnson has articles published in American Music Teacher, Piano Journal of EPTA, Klavier Companion and Piano Pedagogy Forum. Passionate about community engagement and arts outreach, she serves as Director of Piano Pioneers, a program that brings high quality piano instruction to low-income community members and high-risk youth in Wisconsin.

sole nero Jessica Johnson piano and Anthony Di Sanza percussion

John Chappell Stowe (below) is Professor of Organ and Harpsichord at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. He graduated from Southern Methodist University and Eastman School of Music, studying organ with Robert Anderson and Russell Saunders. Stowe holds the Doctor of Musical Arts degree and Performer’s Certificate from the Eastman School and was the first-place winner in 1978 of the National Open Organ Playing Competition of the American Guild of Organists. In his appearances throughout the United States as a solo organist, Stowe’s recital repertoire includes a wide variety of literature extending from 1550 to the present day. His programming reflects both strong commitment to contemporary music and dedication to great repertoire of past generations.

BATC2 John Chappelle Stowe and Edith Hines

Christopher Taylor (below) has performed extensively around the world, having appeared in recent years not only throughout the U.S. but in Russia, China, Korea, the Balkans, and elsewhere. Critics hail him as “frighteningly talented” (The New York Times) and “a great pianist” (The Los Angeles Times), and nu-merous awards have confirmed his high standing in the musical world (a Van Cliburn Competition Bronze Medal, an Avery Fisher Career Grant, an American Pianists’ Association Fellowship). Apart from concertizing, he has taught at UW-Madison since 2000 and pursues a wide variety of additional interests — most recently using his mathematical and computer skills in the design and construction of a new double-manual keyboard instrument.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Johannes Wallmann (below) joined UW Madison as Director of Jazz Studies in 2012. He previously taught at California State University East Bay, New York University, and at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. As a pianist, composer, and bandleader, Wallmann has released four critically acclaimed CDs, The Johannes Wallmann Quartet (1997), Alphabeticity (2003), Minor Prophets (2007), and The Coasts (2012). Over twelve years in New York City and five years in the San Francisco Bay Area, Wall Coasts (2012). Over 12 years in New York City and five years in the San Francisco Bay Area, Wallmann also established himself as a prolific sideman in styles as diverse as mainstream jazz and electric fusion, American spirituals, Cantonese pop music, and 20th century classical music. He has toured throughout North America and in Europe and Asia.

johannes wallmann mug

Todd Welbourne (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) is a pianist and chamber musician with appearances in this country as well as in Europe and South America. He has performed and given presentations on new music at national conferences of the Society of Electro/Acoustic Music (1995, 1997, 2009), the International Society for Electronic Arts, (1993, 1997, 2010), College Music Society (2001, 2003, 2006), and Music Teachers National Convention (1999, 2004) and has lectured and performed at new music festivals around the country. Welbourne uses the Yamaha Disklavier in his teaching providing students with the latest in teaching techniques and he has been an innovator in the area of interactive music performance systems using the Yamaha Disklavier and Max/MSP. He currently serves as Director of Graduate Studies at the School of Music.

Todd Welbourne by Katrin Talbot

GUEST ARTIST AND ALUMNUS

Madison native Dave Stoler (below) is one of the busier professional musicians in the Midwest, and was named 2009 Isthmus Jazz Personality of the Year. His current projects include the Tony Castaneda Latin Jazz Sextet and his own group, which has performed at Smalls Jazz Club in New York City. His CD “Urban Legends” features drummer Billy Hart, bassist Ron McClure and tenor saxophonists Rich Perry and Rick Margitza. He received a Master of Music degree from the University of Miami-Coral Gables in Jazz Performance, and a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Composition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was a semi-finalist in the Thelonious Monk Piano Competition and the American Jazz Piano Competition, and a finalist in the Jacksonville Jazz Piano Competition. 

Dave Stoler

Sponsors of The Piano Extravaganza are The Evjue Foundation, the charitable arm of The Capital Times, and UW-Madison Chancellor Emeritus Irving Shain.

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Classical music review: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra outperforms The Five Browns on the underwhelming opening night of the new season.

October 8, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

What is the key to the best-selling success of the brother and sister pianists known as The Five Browns (below), who were the guest soloists with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra on Friday night’s season opener?

I wish I could say the key is the music.

But it isn’t.

That key was revealed in the one encore, a solo for all five, that they played at the end of the concert, after they had performed a Mozart three-piano concerto and a work specially composed for all five of them by Nico Muhly.

Up to that point the very large audience in Overture Center’s Capitol Theater had applauded the gracious and appealing family quintet with a relatively quiet enthusiasm.

But by the of the solo encore – a flashy, trashy, souped up five-piano version of Mozart’s “Rondo a la Turca” or Turkish Rondo finale from the solo piano sonata in A major, K. 331 — the audience was on its feet. The public had been wowed.

And why not? Cascading scales, fast octaves, repeated notes and complex finger work are all impressive physical feats, even when they serve as little else than musical filler. It all bought back memories from my youth of bestsellers and fellow chart-busting duo-pianists Ferrante and Teicher (below), who scored a similar commercial success but long ago were artistically forgotten. Remember them?

http://www.ferranteandteicher.com

And that pretty much tells the story. The Five Browns (below) are certainly more serious; but they too are nonetheless more about showmanship than musicianship. In the end, they make lucrative recordings and have had  10-year concert career because they provide a novelty or musical sideshow, and not because they are great musicians. Show biz saves them, not great interpretations. In short, they are more about entertaining than enlightening.

That is not to say that individually they are not fine musicians. After all, these two brothers and three sisters must have plenty of talent since they all attended Juilliard and all showed the chops to play very well as soloists.

But sometimes more is just more or even too much, and this one of those times. Playing the piano is not the same as making music.

When you want to open a new season with great attendance, a wise orchestra marketer once told The Ear, the statistics are clear: Choose a piano concerto.

After all, everyone loves the piano; there are plenty of piano concertos that are both popular and great; and a lot of piano students and frustrated amateur pianists will buy tickets. A great piano concerto is soul-stirring and dramatic, a metaphorical battle, like a football game with the University of Solo Pianists against the University of Big Orchestras.

But five very good pianists are not necessarily five times better than one great pianist. That point was proved in a concert that, overall, was musically underwhelming or disappointing.

True, given the soloists, the modest program of minor youthful works and no masterpieces was well-chosen –- a vintage blend of unknown pieces by well-known composers that has become the signature of WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below).

Sewell opened the concert with a light and sprightly version of the 19-year-old Mozart’s Overture to “The Good Shepherd.” It was energetic, well voiced and transparent — what you look for in fine playing of even minor Mozart. And even minor Mozart has plenty of charm, if not substance.

Then Sewell led the orchestra in an energetic and convincing reading of Mendelssohn’s rarely heard youthful Symphony No. 1. You hear hints of the great “Italian” and “Reformation” symphonies and the “Hebrides” Overture, and you see the 15-year-old Mendelssohn, who loved accessibility and clarity, mastering the past — including the taste for counterpoint that led him to pioneer the revival of J.S. Bach. He was indeed a fast learner, but still a student — not a master.

The second half was devoted to The Five Browns.

It started with the most impressive and substantive work of the evening: “The Edge of the World,” four pieces – described as “Four Nocturnes for Five Pianos” –- by the “young” 30-year-old up-and-coming American composer Nico Muhly (below).

While not a prodigy on the order of Mozart or Mendelssohn — and the unifying theme of the evening’s program was youth – Muhly has created a very atmospheric, if episodic, piece that reminded The Ear of Minimalists such as John Adams and Steve Reich, only with more variety, nuances and finesse.

It seemed to me a very difficult work, at least as I heard it in what was only its second public performance. The Browns have had a lot of time to rehearse and master it, and they play it impressively.

But even more impressive to me was how, with a lot less time, Sewell and his orchestra players (below) kept the difficult rhythms and played with conviction all those notes that can quickly become repetitive and boring. Given what they did with Mozart and Mendelssohn as well as Muhly, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra turned out to be the best part of this concert and clearly outperformed the guest soloists.

Some will see Muhly’s work as great contemporary music. To me, it is competent music that will probably find a place in the repertoire as an oddity, much like The Five Browns themselves. It seems the 21st century equivalent of a piece for a monster concert by Louis Moreau Gottschalk or perhaps the contemporary Verbier Festival in Switzerland. But I suspect that Muhly, who has written successful movie scores and operas, has composed better music and has a big future ahead of him.

Who writes a piece for five pianos except on a weird commission to make money or honor a friendship or both. (Muhly was at Juilliard while the Browns were.)

Take a listen to other works at YouTube (at bottom) or at his website:

www.nicomuhly.com

The Browns finished the program with Mozart’s early Three-Piano Concerto, which is pleasant enough but, again, no masterpiece when compared to Mozart’s 26 other piano concertos. Here again we heard Mozart Lite.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of The Five Browns was their unwillingness to bang. Until the very end, they did not indulge in silly pyrotechnics and virtuosity or in competitions of the “Anything You Can Play, I Can Play Louder” school. Their playing showed a lightness and clarity that helped, a subtlety and cooperation that proved especially productive in Mozart’s music.

In the end, it all made me wonder, and want to hear, what just One Brown could do individually with a truly great piano concerto. Plus, I ended up really wanting the WCO’s “Masterworks” series to program at least one masterwork per concert.

Here are what other local critics had to say:

Here is what John W. Barker had to say in Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=37952

Here are Mike and Jean Muckian in their blog Culturosity for Brava Magazine:

http://culturosity.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/hey-wco-why-5-browns-when-fewer-would-do/

Here is what Greg Hettmansberger had to say in his “Classically Speaking” blog  for Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/October-2012/Doubleheader-Weekend-for-the-Wisconsin-Chamber-Orchestra/

And here is what Lindsay Christians had to say for 77 Square, The Capital Times and the Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/reviews/classical-music-review-from-five-steinways-many-surprises/article_90437390-0fd5-11e2-bdc1-0019bb2963f4.html

One last PS: In case you looked at the orchestra pit and wondered about the five Steinways provided for The Five Browns: The Ear was told the pianos – two concert grands and three smaller grands – travel with the pianists. They are Steinway artists. And membership – along with best-selling siblingship – has its privileges.

 


Classical music: Trevor Stephenson’s next “house concert” is this Saturday night and features America classics for voice and solo piano by Gottschalk, Foster, Ives and Joplin.

July 30, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Classic American songs and solo piano pieces will be featured this coming Saturday at one of the appealing “house concerts” by keyboardist Trevor Stephenson (below), an early music expert who also founded and directs the Madison Bach Musicians,  and tenor Peter Gruett.

The concert is at 7 p.m. at Stephenson’s home at 5729 Forsythia Place, on Madison far west side. Admission is $35 per person. Refreshments will be served.

Reservations are required: You can make them by sending an email to trevor@trevorstephenson.com or by calling (608) 238-6092.

I have attended several of these concerts, and I can attest that they are both fun and informative as well as thoroughly enjoyable and congenial in a pleasant and comfortable, informal setting (below).

Here is a more detailed description of the concert and program written by Stephenson:

“Please join us on Saturday evening, August 4, for a program of American music featuring works for solo piano as well as songs for tenor and piano.

“We’re delighted that outstanding tenor Peter Gruett (below) will join us — many of you have heard Peter frequently with the Madison Bach Musicians.

“I will play Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s other-worldly F-sharp major piano arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” (from “Union,” which Gottschalk (below) performed for Lincoln at the White House during the Civil War); two piano rags by Scott Joplin (the “Sycamore” Rag and the “Wall Street” Rag); and Charles Ives’ “The Alcotts” movement (at bottom) from his Piano Sonata No. 2 “Concord.”

Peter will sing selections by Stephen Foster (below), as well as Ives, and other masters.

I will play on two of the historical pianos here at the house — the Victorian English Parlor Grand (c. 1850), below top; and the English Cottage Upright (c. 1840), below bottom.

I’ll also talk about the spirit of the age in the late 19th century, the process of rebuilding these wonderful pianos, and the historical tunings (forms of Well Temperament) that we’ll use for the concert.


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