The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Why do we love Chopin? Ask pianist Jeremy Denk

August 12, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like playing or hearing the music of Chopin (below).

Can you?

But just why the 19th-century Romantic composer has such universal appeal is hard to explain.

One of the best explanations The Ear has read came recently from pianist Jeremy Denk, whose essay on “Chopin as a cat” appeared in The New York Times.

Denk, who has performed two outstanding solo recitals in Madison, is clearly an important musical thinker as well as a great performer. You can also see that at once if you read his excellent blog “Think Denk.”

The Ear suspects the current essay grew out of some remarks that Denk gave during a lecture on Chopin’s pedaling at the UW-Madison, and will be incorporated into the book he is working on that includes his previous acclaimed essays in The New Yorker magazine.

Denk (below), who has lately been performing an intriguing survey concert that covers 600 years of music, thinks that Chopin’s uniqueness resides in how he consolidated and fused both conservative values and radical, even modern, innovations.

To the Ear, it is the best modern analysis of Chopin that he has read since the major treatment that the acclaimed pianist-musicologist Charles Rosen wrote about the Polish “poet of the piano” in his terrific book “The Romantic Generation.”

Moreover, the online web version of Denk’s essay is much more substantial and satisfying than the newspaper print edition. It has not only audio-visual performances of important Chopin works by major artists such as Arthur Rubinstein and  Krystian Zimerman, it also suggests, analyzes and praises some “old-fashioned” historical recordings of Chopin by Ignaz Friedman, Alfred Cortot and Josef Hoffmann.

Now if only Jeremy Denk would record an album of Chopin himself!

Here is a link to the Chopin essay:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/04/arts/music/jeremy-denk-chopin.html

Enjoy!

Please listen to the wonderful clips that Denk suggests.

Then tell us what pieces are your favorite Chopin works, big or small, and what performers are your favorite Chopin interpreters.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Which well-known composers or works can’t you stand and consider overrated?

August 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

We all have them: Composers and well-known works we just don’t like and consider highly overrated.

Composers whose musical works are deemed masterpieces by some but just don’t speak to others.

The Ear recently saw a blog post on the Internet in which a musically sophisticated British listener ranted against Johannes Brahms (below) – the epitome for so many of carefully crafted, soulful late Romanticism — and about how unlistenable and overwritten Brahms’ music is.

The Ear also knows several people who think that the music of the Classical pioneer Franz Joseph Haydn (below) is boring beyond bearable, that his music is thoroughly second-rate or forgettable – even though the great contemporary American composer John Harbison calls Haydn the most undervalued and underplayed of the great composers.

The 12-tone, serial and atonal composers – Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alan Berg – also come in for more than their fair share of dismissal.

For The Ear, one of those composers who divide the world in two – into those who love him and those who hate him – is Alexander Scriabin (below), the late Russian Romantic (1872-1915).

Oh, some of the early piano preludes and etudes are OK, largely thanks to the obvious influence of Chopin.

But even though Scriabin died young, he developed his own mature style, including the use of a mystical chord and a taste for apocalyptic and visionary frenzy .

To The Ear, those late works seem way too over-the-top and out-of-control, lacking in discernible structure and significance.

Not long ago, Wisconsin Public Radio played Scriabin’s symphonic tone poem “The Poem of Ecstasy.” (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Is The Ear the only person who finds it more like “The Poem of Agony”?

And then there are the late, virtuosic and pretentious piano sonatas called “White Mass” and “Black Mass” – favorites of the great Russian piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz (below) who, as a child played for Scriabin.

When it comes to the Russian school, The Ear far prefers the emotion in the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev and even Peter Tchaikovsky.

Well, what can you do? Such is taste.

So today, The Ear wants to know: Are there famous composers or famous works that you just can’t stand and consider highly overrated?

Leave the name and the reason you hate it so much in the COMMENT section.

Here’s hoping for some interesting and surprising responses.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Madison native Ansel Norris returns to perform a FREE recital this Saturday night of songs transcribed for trumpet and piano

July 26, 2017
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CORRECTION: In some downloads of yesterday’s post, the performance by the Ancora String Quartet was mistakenly listed for Friday night. The performance is SATURDAY night. The Ear apologizes for the error. For more information, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/classical-music-the-ancora-string-quartet-will-give-two-performances-this-coming-weekend-one-is-free-of-a-program-that-features-works-by-beethoven-shostakovich-and-niels-gade/

By Jacob Stockinger

On this Saturday night, July 29, at 7 p.m., trumpeter Ansel Norris and pianist Beth Wilson will perform a FREE recital of vocal music in an unusual format — for solo trumpet and piano, with the poetry that inspired the music spoken in between each song.

“In music for voice and piano there lies a special intimacy, and the composers featured each captured something close to the essence of the form,” Norris (below) told The Ear. “I wanted to see what happened if I split the songs up into a poem, read it out loud, and then played a wordless melody to follow. The result was interesting and felt meaningful, so I’ve decided to give it another go.”

The recital, in the Grand Hall at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, downtown and three blocks off the Capitol Square.

The program includes: Richard Strauss, “Morgen”; Robert Schumann, “Liederkreis,” Op. 24, No. 5;” Richard Strauss, “Die Nacht”: Robert Schumann, “Liederkreis,” Op. 24, No. 1; Robert Schumann, “Liederkreis,” Op. 24, No. 9; Johannes Brahms, “Die Mainacht”; Franz Schubert, “Der Einsame”; Johannes Brahms, “Unbewegte laue Luft”; Robert Schumann, “Liederkreis,” Op. 24, No. 3; Richard Strauss, “Befreit”; and Peter Tchaikovsky, “Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt” (“None but the Lonely Heart,” sung by Elizabeth Schwarzkopf in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Admission is FREE and open to the public.

Ansel Norris grew up on the east side of Madison, and last set foot in Capitol Lakes (below) in the spring of 2010, for his graduation recital. In recent years, he has distinguished himself as a soloist, orchestral and chamber musician of enthusiasm and diverse taste.

Norris has won a number of prizes as a soloist, including first-prize twice in the National Trumpet Competition, and has drawn acclaim as an orchestral player, performing with the Chicago and Boston Symphonies and holding a fellowship with the New World Symphony in Miami Beach, Florida.

Norris has also worked in close relationship with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, at the Tanglewood Music Center, in the summers of 2014 and 2015.

He says he is fascinated with the relationship between music and storytelling, and is currently exploring interesting formats of solo recitals to draw new connections between them. In a sense, this recital is an experiment, but one conducted with great love, care and curiosity.

While in Madison, Ansel Norris said, he was lucky to participate in a number of the diverse opportunities available to young musicians. He was a three-year member of Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Youth Orchestra and a four-year, inaugural member of the Winds of Wisconsin.

He was also a participant in the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s “Final Forte” was a winner of the Neale-Silva Young Artist Competition held by Wisconsin Public Radio. He was a devoted student of the UW-Madison’s recently retired professor of trumpet, John Aley (below), who to this day is one of his greatest inspirations.

As he grows older, Norris says, he often reflects on what a special place Madison was to grow up in, and he looks forward to every chance he has to be home.

Beth Wilson (below) currently lives in Madison and is a freelance musician and professional pianist. She is a member of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, playing for the “Nutcracker Ballet” and “Concerts on the Square.” She also performs with Grupo Candela, a salsa band. Broadway touring shows contract her to play in the pit orchestra including the recent shows “Wicked,” “Book of Mormon,” “Sound of Music” and “Beautiful –The Carole King Musical.”

As an accompanist, Beth Wilson has collaborated with Bernhard Scully of the Canadian Brass; Diana Gannett of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; and Ansel Norris — with whom she is now reunited after seven years.


Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players open a new season with an impressive program impressively played

July 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Willys never disappoint.

Last Friday night, the six Willy Street Chamber Players (below) opened their third summer season at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street.

And once again, even though The Willys are relative newcomers, it is hard for The Ear to imagine a more perfect or more enjoyable concert.

The large and enthusiastic audience (below), which has grown considerably over the past two years, seemed to agree, judging by the standing ovations, loud applause and overheard comments.

So what made The Willys’ concert so great and so enjoyable?

Start with the basics

It was summery and informal. Shorts, T-shirts and sandals felt entirely appropriate.

It wasn’t expensive. A $15 ticket seems very affordable compared to what so many other local groups charge.

It wasn’t too long. They played just three pieces – two short and one long — that lasted under 80 minutes. That way you can enter the zone; concentrate hard and focus while you stay in the zone; and then leave the zone for good with time to do other things, including attend the post-performance reception with cookies, ice cream and coffee.

Spoken informal introductions to the pieces – each given by a different player – served as program notes, and they were kept short and to the point. (Below is cellist Mark Bridges humorously explaining the complicated love life of Brahms and how it affected his composing the string sextet.)

The playing itself was exemplary. (It featured the six core members plus guest violinist Suzanne Beia, below front left, of the Pro Arte Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.)

The Ear detected no sour notes, no false starts or stops, no uncertain passages or interpretation. The well-rehearsed Willys played with precision as well as heart.

The program was typical Willy fare. It mixed short and long, old and new.

The old classics were two: Hugo Wolf’s charming “Italian Serenade” for string quartet (below) and with the String Sextet No. 2 in G major, Op. 36, by Johannes Brahms, a long piece that received an energetic and thoroughly compelling reading.

But the star of the evening for The Ear came first: Jennifer Higdon‘s string quartet setting and contemporary take on the classic hymn “Amazing Grace.”

The riffs on the familiar tune by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer (below) was new to The Ear and proved completely engaging, unmistakably modern-sounding yet accessible. (You can hear the Higdon work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Higdon string quartet (below) recalled an American tradition of using religious music for non-religious purposes. Think of how Charles Ives and Aaron Copland used old hymns and camp meeting songs, the most famous being Copland’s use of the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” in “Appalachian Spring.”

To be honest, a lot of new music just doesn’t speak to The Ear or reach him emotionally. It often makes him feel superfluous.

But The Willys have a knack for picking the right kind of new music that captures and holds The Ear’s attention, including the String Quartet No. 2 by Philip Glass, the String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks” by Daniel Bernard Roumain and “Entr’acte” for string quartet by Caroline Shaw.

It is a gift The Ear hopes they keep as they choose other contemporary composers and new music to perform with tried-and-true classics.

And if you want to hear more, you can go to The Willys’ website for details about the two remaining concerts this summer plus a FREE family-friendly Community Connect appearance at the east side Goodman Center from noon to 1 p.m. this Saturday. There they will play the works by Caroline Shaw and Daniel Bernard Roumain as well as “Tango for Four” by Astor Piazzolla and the Viola Quintet No. 1 in G major, Op. 111, by Brahms. (NOTE: An earlier mistake here and on the Willys’ website listed the String Sextet by Brahms rather than the Viola Quintet.)

The Willys complete the regular subscription season with performances at Immanuel Lutheran on two Fridays, July 21 (with music by Elvis Costello, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Dmitri Shostakovich) and July 28 (with music by Franz Schubert, Osvaldo Golijov and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). Both performances are at at 6 p.m.

For more details about the performers and the programs, here is a link:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/calendar.html

You shouldn’t miss The Willys in concert.

But if you do, you should know that Madison’s classical music documentarian and chronicler, Rich Samuels (below), is recording all the concerts to play this fall on his Thursday morning radio program “Anything Goes” on WORT-FM 89.9. Stay tuned for more information about air times.


Classical music: The UW Concert Choir, Choral Union and Symphony Orchestra will perform world premieres, local premieres and new music in three concerts this weekend

April 26, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following messages from UW composer Laura Schwendinger and from Beverly Taylor, the director of choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who is also the assistant conductor and chorus director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra:

Writes conductor Beverly Taylor: This is a busy and musically fascinating weekend for me coming up.

On Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, there is a special concert by the Concert Choir (below) on the subject of Art Born of Tragedy, with the acclaimed guest cellist Matt Haimovitz.

Tickets are $15, $5 for students. For more information about tickets as well as the performers and the program, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-concert-choir-4-matt-haimovitz/

Then in Mills Hall at 8 p.m. on Saturday night and at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday night, there are two performances of When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed by the 20th-century composer Paul Hindemith by the UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra (below). It is a work that to my knowledge has never been performed in Madison.

Tickets are $15, $8 for students. For more information about obtaining tickets and about the concert, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-choral-union-uw-symphony-orchestra/

Here is more information about the events:

CONCERT CHOIR

The Concert Choir performance explores in music of several centuries the theme of “Art Born of Tragedy” — how outside events can be the spark that causes the creation of works of substance that range from the gentle and comforting to rage and despair.

We will sing music from the Renaissance: part of the Thomas Tallis’ “Lamentations of Jeremiah (on the ancient destruction of Jerusalem),” and a John Wilbye madrigal “Draw on Sweet Night for a Broken Heart.”

We will present three works from modern composers: one is a world premiere by the prize-winning composer Laura Schwendinger (below top), my colleague at the UW-Madison, for viola — played by Sally Chisholm (below bottom) of the UW Pro Arte Quartet — and wordless chorus. It is called “For Paris” in memory of those killed in the Paris terrorist bombings of 2015.

(Adds composer Laura Schwendinger: “The viola starts this short work by referencing only for a moment the merest idea of a ‘musette song,’ one that might be heard on an evening in a Paris cafe. The choir enters with a simple refrain that repeats again and again, each time with a little more material, as an unanswered question of sorts. Each time the viola reenters the texture, the music becomes more pressing in a poignant manner, until it arrives in its highest register, only to resolve with the choir as it quietly acquiesces in the knowledge that the answer may not be known.”)

We will present a short “O vos omnes” (O you who pass by) written by Pennsylvania composer Joseph Gregorio (below), composed in memory of a Chinese girl hit by a car and left to die.

The third piece is a reprise of “Après moi, le deluge” by Luna Pearl Woolf (below top), which we premiered and recorded 11 years ago. We are lucky to have back the wonderful internationally known cellist Matt Haimovitz (below bottom), who premiered this work with it. The text, written by poet Eleanor Wilner, mixes the Noah story with the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

The term “Après moi, le deluge” is a term attributed to Louis XV or his mistress Madame Pompadour, and means “after me the flood” — referring either to the chaos after his reign, or that what happens afterword bears no importance for him.

The work has four different moods like a symphony — with strong themes at the start and cries for help, followed by the slow movement despair, a scherzo-like depiction of havoc, and a final movement that is like a New Orleans funeral, upbeat and Dixieland.

Throughout the program we also present spirituals that depict loneliness or salvation from trouble.

UW CHORAL UNION

In certain ways, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed resembles the Concert Choir concert in that it contains a number of moods and styles as well, under a dark title. The subtitle of the work is “a Requiem for Those We Love.”

It was commissioned by the great choral and orchestral conductor Robert Shaw as a tribute to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on his death and the train ride that carried him from Warm Springs, Georgia, to Washington, D.C.

The text that Paul Hindemith (below top) chose is by Walt Whitman (below bottom), who wrote his poem on the death of Abraham Lincoln, and the funeral train from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Illinois.

Whitman’s grief is combined with pride and joy in the countryside that the train traverses, and his feelings find an outlet in the thrush that sings out its song. His sense of a sustaining universe is a contrast to his depiction of the despair and ravages of the Civil War.

Hindemith’s calling the work a “Requiem for Those We Love,” puts it, like the Brahms’ “German” Requiem, into a class of non-liturgical requiems — that is, the texts are not those that are part of the Catholic Mass for the Dead, but are other selected texts of joy or remembrance.

Hindemith’s style can loosely be described as tonal that veers away into dissonance and returns again to the home key. The Prelude and opening movement are dark; the solo songs of baritone (James Held, below top) and mezzo-soprano (Jennifer D’Agostino, below bottom) are marvelous; the fugue on the glories of America is glorious and other sections are soft and tender. (NOTE: You can hear the orchestral prelude of the work, with composer Paul Hindemith conducting the New York Philharmonic, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The work is hard for both chorus and orchestra, but well worth the effort. The piece is about 80 minutes long and will be performed without interruption. It’s a work I’ve always wanted to do, having heard it performed at Tanglewood many years ago. I’m delighted to have the chance now.


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: Mozart masterfully melds the emotional and the intellectual, says maestro Gary Thor Wedow, who will conduct two performances of “The Magic Flute” this weekend for the Madison Opera. Here is Part 1 of his two-part interview with The Ear

April 18, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will stage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute this Friday night, April 21 at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, April 23, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. (Production photos are courtesy of the Arizona Opera, from which the Madison Opera got its sets and costumes.)

Here are an introduction and some details, courtesy of the Madison Opera:

Written in the last year of his life, Mozart’s opera is part fairy tale, part adventure story, and is filled with enchantment.

Set in a fairy-tale world of day and night, the opera follows Prince Tamino and the bird-catcher Papageno as they embark on a mission to rescue Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night. Pamina had been kidnapped by Sarastro, the leader of a religious order. But it turns out that exactly who is “good” and who is “evil” is not always what it appears.

Along the way to happily-ever-after, Pamina, Tamino and Papageno face many challenges, but are assisted by a magic flute, magic bells, a trio of guiding spirits and their own clear-eyed sense of right and wrong.

“The Magic Flute has been beloved around the world since its 1791 premiere,” says Kathryn Smith (below in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director. “It has been called a fairy tale for both adults and children, with a story that works on many levels, all set to Mozart’s glorious music. I’m so delighted to be sharing it again with Madison, with an incredible cast, director and conductor.”

The opera runs about 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

Tickets are $18 to $130.

“The Magic Flute” will be sung in German with English supertitles.

For more about the production and cast, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/

And also go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/cast/

Dan Rigazzi, who has been on the directing staff at the Metropolitan Opera for 10 years, makes his Madison Opera debut with this beautiful production that incorporates some steampunk elements into its fairy-tale setting.

Gary Thor Wedow, a renowned Mozart conductor, makes his mainstage debut with this opera, after having conducted Opera in the Park in 2016 and 2012.

Conductor Wedow (below) recently agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers?

Hello! I’m an American conductor, born in LaPorte, Indiana. A faculty member at The Juilliard School, I spend a lot of time with music of the 18th century — Handel and Mozart and often earlier, like Monteverdi, Purcell and Cavalli. But I conduct everything and grew up in love with the Romantics. I’ve also always done a lot of contemporary music. I love it all.

Mozart’s music sounds so clear and easy or simple, but the reality is quite different, musicians say. What do you strive for and what qualities do you think make for great Mozart playing?

Mozart engages both the brain and the heart. He challenges your intellect with amazing feats of counterpoint, orchestration and structure while tugging at your heart, all the time pulling you along in a deep drama.

Mozart was an Italian melodist with a German contrapuntal, harmonic engine – like an incredible automobile with an Italian slick body and a German motor.

Do you share the view that opera is central to Mozart’s music, even to his solo, chamber and ensemble instrumental music? How so? What is special or unique to Mozart’s operas, and to this opera in particular?

From all accounts, Mozart (below, in his final year) was a huge personality who was full of life and a keen observer of the human condition; his letters are full of astute, often merciless and sometimes loving evaluations of family, colleagues and patrons.

Mozart’s music speaks of the human condition: its passions, loves and hopes— no matter what genre. His music is innately dramatic and primal, going immediately to the most basic and universal human emotions with breathtaking nuance, variety and depth. (You can hear the Overture to “The Magic Flute,” performed by the Metropolitan Opera orchestra under James Levine, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Tomorrow: Tricks to conducting Mozart and what to pay special attention to in this production of The Magic Flute.


Classical music: Here is a love story, Steinway-style, that benefits UW-Madison students

March 28, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Take a Steinway vintage Model M baby grand piano from 1927.

Add in the love of music as well as the love between a husband-father and wife, and then between a mother and daughter (below, on the left is mother Julia Monteros Wooster and on the right is daughter Mariah Wooster-Lehman).

Finish it off with some rebuilding and repairing, and the desire to make a generous gift to a university under siege from budget cuts dictated by an anti-intellectual governor, Scott Walker, and the Republican state legislature.

What you end up with is a love story, Steinway-style, that took place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music. (And this piano is already in use in a practice room, 1268, of the George L. Mosse Humanities Building.)

It doesn’t need much introduction. The photos and the words, simple but eloquent and moving, written by the daughter, do the work.

The only thing to add is that The Ear recalls reading a new story that owning pianos in the home has become less popular nationwide. A lot of pianos even get junked or thrown out in the garbage, let alone neglected until they fall into disrepair and can’t be used any more.

So maybe there are more such pianos, with or without the love story, out there to benefit students and staff at the UW-Madison.

If so, leave a message in the COMMENTS section or call (608) 263-5615.

Here is a link to the story:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/love-story-steinway-piano/

Enjoy!


Classical music: Don’t “monetize” the Pro Arte Quartet, which performs three FREE concerts this week. It embodies the Wisconsin Idea

February 1, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s no secret that the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is strapped for money, especially for hiring staff and funding student scholarships — if less so for the construction of new buildings that are financed by selling naming rights.

Certain events, such as the UW Choral Union, have always charged admission. And most UW-Madison musical events, especially faculty and student performances, remain, thankfully, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

But under increasing financial pressure, a few years ago the UW started charging admission to more events: the UW Brass Festival, the UW Concerto Competition Winners’ Concert and the annual Schubertiade to name a few.

So one can well imagine the temptation to “monetize” — charge admission to – concerts by the popular Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), which typically draws both critical acclaim and large audiences.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

Yet The Ear thinks that would be a mistake, even if the purpose or intent is the best.

The Pro Arte Quartet, which ended up here from its native Belgium when it was exiled here on tour during World War II when Hitler and the Nazis invaded and conquered Belgium, is a primary example of The Wisconsin Idea in action.

The Wisconsin Idea – under siege now by the governor and many legislators — is that the boundaries of the UW are the borders of the state and that the UW should serve the taxpayers who support it.

No single musical group at the UW does that job that better than the hard working Pro Arte Quartet, which has done it for many decades.

The quartet practices for three hours every weekday morning. It tours and performs frequently in Madison and elsewhere in the state, including Door County. It has played in Carnegie Hall in New York City and toured Europe, South America and Asia. It has commissioned and premiered many new works. It has made numerous outstanding recordings. It is a great and revered institution.

The Pro Arte Quartet is, in short, a great ambassador for the state of Wisconsin, the UW-Madison and the UW System. It has given, and will continue to give, countless listeners a start on loving chamber music.

If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Pro Arte Quartet, which is now over 100 years old and is the longest lived active quartet in the history of Western music, go to this link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/pro-arte-quartet/

Pro Arte Haydn Quinten

And you might consider attending or hearing one of the three FREE PUBLIC performances this week in the Madison area:

THURSDAY

From 7 to 9 p.m., the Pro Arte Quartet will perform FREE at Oakwood Village Auditorium, 6209 Mineral Point Road on Madison’s far west side near West Towne. The program is the same as the one listed below on Saturday.

The Oakwood Village concert is OPEN to the public.

Here is a link to more information:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-at-oakwood-village/

Oakwood Village Auditorium and Stage

SATURDAY

At 8 p.m., in Mills Hall, the Pro Arte Quartet, joined by University of Maryland guest pianist Rita Sloan (below top), will perform a FREE program that features the Fuga in E-flat Major, (1827) by Felix Mendelssohn; the String Quartet No. 20 in F major, Op. 46, No. 2 (1832-33) by the prolific but neglected 19th-century French composer George Onslow (below bottom); and the rarely heard Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84, (1919) by Sir Edward Elgar. (You hear the lovely slow movement from the Elgar Piano Quintet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For information, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-6/

rita-sloan

george-onslow

SUNDAY

At 12:30 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery III (below) of the Chazen Museum of Art, the Pro Arte Quartet will perform for “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” where over the years it has become the chamber music ensemble in residence.

The program is the same as the one on Saturday night.

Here is information about reserving seats and also a link for streaming the concert live via the Internet:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/index.php?/events-calendar-demo/event/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-2-5-17/

SALProArteMay2010

Do you have an opinion about the Pro Arte Quartet?

Should admission to Pro Arte concerts be started? Or should the quartet’s performances remain free?

Leave a COMMENT below with the why and your reasoning.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The fourth annual Schubertiade at the UW-Madison takes place this Sunday afternoon – with some important changes

January 25, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The fourth annual Schubertiade – a concert to mark the birthday of the Austrian early Romantic composer Franz Schubert (below top, 1797-1828) – is now a firmly established tradition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music (below bottom, in Mills Hall, which is rearranged for more intimate and informal on-stage seating.)

Franz Schubert big

Schubertiade 2016 stage

Over the past there years, the Schubertiade has become a popular and well-attended event. And with good reason.

Every time The Ear has gone, he has enjoyed himself immensely and even been moved by the towering and prolific accomplishments, by the heart-breaking beauty of this empathetic and congenial man who pioneered “Lieder,” or the art song, and mastered so many instrumental genres before g his early death at 31.

But there are some important changes this year that you should note.

One is that the time has been shifted from the night to the afternoon – specifically, this Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Admission is $15 for adults, $5 for students. (Below is this year’s poster, mistaking this year’s event of the third, with a painting by Gustav Klimt of Schubert playing piano at a salon musicale.)

schubertiade-2017-painting-by-gustav-klimt

After the concert, there is another innovation: a FREE reception, with a cash bar, at the nearby University Club. There you can meet the performers as well as other audience members.

The program, organized by pianist-singers wife-and-husband Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes (below), will last a little over two hours.

martha fischer and bill lutes

Usually there is a unifying theme. Last year, it was nature.

This year, it is friends Schubert knew and events that happened to him. It is called “Circle of Friends” and is in keeping with the original Schubertiades, which were informal gatherings (depicted below, with Schubert at the keyboard) at a home where Schubert and his friends premiered his music.

Schubertiade in color by Julius Schmid

Performers include current students, UW-Madison alumni and faculty members. In addition, soprano Emily Birsan, who is a graduate of the UW-Madison and a rising opera star, will participate.

Emily Birsan 2016

For more about the event, the performers and how to purchase tickets, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2016/12/19/schubertiade_birsan2017/

Here is a complete list of performers and the program with the initials of the perfomer who will sing the pieces:

Performers

Emily Birsan (EB), Rebecca Buechel (RB), Mimmi Fulmer (MFulmer), Jessica Kasinski (JK), Anna Polum (AP), Wesley Dunnagan (WD,) Daniel O’Dea (DO), Paul Rowe (PF), Benjamin Schultz (BS), singers. Bill Lutes (BL) and Martha Fischer (MF), pianists.

Program

Trost im Liede (Consolation in Song ), D. 546 (MF, BL)

Franz von Schober (1796-1882)

Der Tanz (The Dance), D. 826 (AP, RB, WD, PR, MF)

Kolumban Schnitzer von Meerau (?)

Der Jüngling und der Tod (The Youth and Death), D. 545 (PR, BL)

Josef von Spaun (1788-1865)

4 Canzonen, D. 688 (EB, BL)

No. 3, Da quel sembiante appresi (From that face I learnt to sigh) 

No. 4, Mio ben ricordati (Remember, beloved) 

Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782)

From the Theresa Grob Album (November, 1816)

Edone, D. 445 (WD, MF)

Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803)

Pflügerlied (Ploughman’s Song), D. 392 (BS, MF)

Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis (1762-1834)

Am Grabe Anselmos (At Anselmo’s Grave), D. 504A (JK, MF)

Matthias Claudius (1740-1815)

Mailied (May Song), D. 503 (DO, BL)

Ludwig Hölty (1748-1776)

Marche Militaire No. 1, D. 733 (MF, BL)

Viola (Violet), D. 786 (EB, BL)

Schober

Ständchen (Serenade), D. 920A (RB, DO, WD, PR, PR, MF)

Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872)

Epistel ‘An Herrn Josef von Spaun (Letter to Mr. Joseph von Spahn), Assessor in Linz, D. 749 (EB, MF) Matthäus von Collin (1779-1824)

Intermission

Geheimnis (A Secret), D. 491 (EB, MF)

Johann Mayrhofer (1787-1836)

Des Sängers Habe (The Minstrel’s Treasure), D. 832 (PR, MF)

Franz Xavier von Schlechta (1796-1875)

An Sylvia, D. 891 (MF, BL)

Shakespeare, trans. Eduard von Bauernfeld (1802-1890)

Nachtstück (Nocturne), D. 672 (DO, BL)

Mayrhofer

Das Lied in Grünen (The Song in the Greenwood), D. 917 (MFulmer, BL)

Johann Anton Friedrich Reil (1773-1843)

8 Variations sur un Thème Original, D. 813 (MF, BL)

Cantate zum Geburtstag des Sängers Johann Michael Vogl, D. 666 (AP, DO, PR, BL) Albert Stadler (1794-1888)

Ellens Gesang No. 3, Ave Maria, D. 839 (EB, MF)

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), from The Lady of the Lake, trans. Adam Storck (1780-1822)

An die Musik, D. 547 (You can hear it performed by the legendary soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and pianist Gerald Moore in the YouTube video at bottom)

Schober

Everyone is invited to sing along. You can find the words in your texts and translations.

Schubert etching

Here is a link to a story in The Wisconsin State Journal with more background:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/music/bringing-back-the-schubert-house-party/article_a0d27e9d-7bc7-5f32-bb57-590eb0bc7b91.html

And if you want to get the flavor of the past Schubertiades, here are two reviews from past years:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/classical-music-what-classical-music-goes-best-with-the-nfls-super-bowl-48-football-championship-today-plus-university-of-wisconsin-madison-singers-and-instrumentalists-movingly-celebrate-franz-s/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/classical-music-the-third-annual-schubertiade-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-school-of-music-was-so-popular-and-so-successful-it-should-serve-as-a-model-for-other-collaborative-concerts-feat/


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