The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet closes its 14th season this Friday and Saturday nights in Janesville and Madison with works by Beethoven, Brahms and Shostakovich.

May 19, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed Madison-based Ancora String Quartet (below) will present two concerts this weekend to close its 14th season.

Ancora CR Barry Lewis

The two events are:

A FREE performance this Friday night, May 22 at 7:30 p.m., at the Janesville Woman’s Club Association. Donations will be gratefully accepted.

A ticketed performance on Saturday night, May 23 at 7:30 p.m., in the Landmark Auditorium in the meeting house of the First Unitarian Society of Madison (below), designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, at 900 University Bay Drive, in Madison.

Tickets are general seating and available at the door. They cost $15 for the general public, $12 for seniors and students, $6 for children under 12.

FUS exterior BIG COLOR USE

The program includes:

The Quartet No. 1 in C major, Op. 49, by Dmitri Shostakovich, which presents the composer’s trademark quirkiness in fresh, innocent and fantastical form.

The String Quartet No. 11, Op. 95, “Serioso” Ludwig van Beethoven, where the terse energy is lightened by a melting, lilting Allegretto.

The String Quartet No. 3 in B-Flat Major, Op. 67, by Johannes Brahms, where the beautiful lyricism of the composer’s final string quartet closes with a delightful Theme and Variations movement. (You can hear the theme-and-variations movement, as performed by the Jerusalem String Quartet, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

A reception will follow the concert.

Current members of the Ancora (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) are cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who teaches at the UW-Whitewater; violinist Robin Ryan, left) and violist Marika Fischer Hoyt, who also plays with the Madison Bach Musicians and Madison Symphony Orchestra, and is a weekend host for Wisconsin Public Radio.

Ancora 2014 2 Marika, Benjamin, Robin

With first violinist Leanne League on leave until next fall, we are excited to work this spring with guest violinist Eleanor Bartsch (below), a University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music graduate and a musician of superb musicality with an impressive resume and a devoted local following.

Eleanor Bartsch

The members’ credentials include degrees from the Indiana University School of Music and the University of Texas-Austin, as well as study at the New England Conservatory and Eastman School of Music. Individually, they have attended numerous chamber music festivals and performed across the United States and Europe.

The four players have well-established individual musical careers as soloists, chamber musicians and orchestral players. They perform constantly in Madison and beyond, appearing regularly in such ensembles as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Bach Musicians, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble, and the Bach Collegium of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

 


Classical music: Did Beethoven borrow from Beethoven? And how do you think the Madison Symphony Orchestra did with Beethoven’s Ninth? Plus, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) finish up their spring concerts this weekend.

May 15, 2015
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REMINDER: This weekend the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) finish up their spring concerts at Mills Hall and Overture Hall, where the music students will perform a Side-by-Side concert with the professional players of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Here is a link to more information and details:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/classical-music-education-wyso-spring-concerts-start-i-this-saturday-and-run-again-on-may-16-17/

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, you have to hand it to music director and conductor John DeMain as well as the orchestra players, the chorus members and the guest soloists: The Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) sure knows how to finish up a season with a bang.

A very Big Bang.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Last weekend in Overture Hall, they closed the current season with a stratospheric performance of Beethoven’s Ninth.

Sure, all parties — especially concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) — also did a terrific job in performing Leonard Bernstein’s violin concerto-like “Serenade” (after Plato’s “Symposium”), which preceded the iconic Beethoven symphony.

Naha Greenholtz [playing

But it was the Beethoven symphony that grabbed everyone’s ears and didn’t let go, earning a well-deserved and instant standing ovation.

This was Beethoven at his exciting best.

All the musicians played tightly and DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) managed to make the old radical piece sound radically new, with a driving rawness and roughness (lots of loud and highly accented percussion) coupled with flawless precision and great balancing of the winds and strings as well as the brass.

This interpretation was both dramatic and transparent in a way that both thrilled you and helped you to understand the music and its structure.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

A couple of years ago I remarked that DeMain – who came here from the Houston Grand Opera as primarily an opera conductor – had developed into a great Brahms interpreter.

Now I can say the same thing about his having become an outstanding Beethovenian.

But I did have one question:

Am I the only one who hears the slow movement of Beethoven’s early “Pathétique” piano sonata in the opening of the slow movement of his Ninth Symphony?

Listen for yourself and decide by using these YouTube videos:

First, here is the Pathétique’s slow movement, played by Daniel Barenboim, that has been used as a theme song by many musicians including Karl Haas:

And now here is the slow movement, also with Daniel Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra made up of Israeli and Palestinian students, of the Ninth Symphony:

Maybe I am hearing things that aren’t there.

Or maybe musicologists have long established the similarity between the early and the late work as fact -– though I cannot recall having seen it mentioned.

What do you think of the comparison?

Can you think of other pieces that sound as if they were twins separated at birth? Leave names – and maybe a YouTube link – in the COMMENTS section.

And what did you think of the final concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet to perform Beethoven, Mozart and Kirchner this Friday to kick off the 25th season of Midsummer Music in Door County.

May 14, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement about the summer classical music festival in Door County:

Sister Bay, Wis. — On Friday, May 15, the world-famous Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) returns to Door County to kick off the Midsummer’s Music 25th anniversary season.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The Pro Arte Quartet, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, is often praised for its energy, precision and intensity.  Comprised of four world-class musicians, the group consistently delivers delightfully balanced and elegantly executed performances.

For this concert, the group will perform works by Beethoven, Mozart and Kirchner.  And to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the Pro Arte Quartet, every guest in attendance will receive an elegant coffee table book about the group’s rich history.

This concert takes place on Friday, May 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Ephraim Moravian Church (below).

Tickets to the Pro Arte Quartet performance are $30 for adults and $10 for students.  Ephraim Moravian Church is located at 9970 Moravia St, in Ephraim. (Below top is a photo on the exterior, below bottom of the interior.)

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First on the program is the String Quartet in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4, by Ludwig van Beethoven (below). It is one of six early quartets in the Opus 18 group dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz.  It is the only one of the six to be written in a minor key that is often considered Beethoven’s most typical and expressive key.)

Its composition dates from 1800 and is contemporaneous with his First Symphony and his Third Piano Concerto, both also in the key of C, plus the Septet for Winds and Strings in E-flat Major, which endured as one of his most beloved compositions during his lifetime.

This quartet also comes from a time in Beethoven’s life when the 30-year-old composer fell deeply in love with a younger woman, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi — only to be rejected, perhaps because she had higher social status than he did. (You can hear the dramatic opening movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

young beethoven etching in 1804

Following the Beethoven will be the String Quartet No. 4 by Leon Kirchner (below). Kirchner is one of America’s finest composers. He died in 2009 at the age of 90, only three years after completing his String Quartet No. 4, which was composed for the Orion Quartet.

His musical style has been described as linear, chromatic and rhapsodic, but also rhythmically irregular with contrasting textures and tempos. Kirchner waited nearly 40 years to write this last of his string quartets after winning the Pulitzer Prize for his Third Quartet in 1966.

leon kirchner

Concluding the program will be the Quartet in A Major, K. 464, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It is one of the six string quartets by Mozart known as “The Haydn Quartets.”  Mozart had recently met the older and revered composer Joseph Haydn, who had already made a significant name for himself as a composer of string quartet music.

In 1784, Mozart was invited to join Haydn, and two other well-established composers, Dittersdorf and Vanhal, in a private evening of chamber music playing.  Another such meeting took place the next year, which Mozart’s father, Leopold, was invited to attend.

This is where Haydn is reported to have told Leopold, “Before God, and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me in person or by name.  He has taste, and, what is more, the greatest knowledge of composition.”

The younger Mozart returned the esteem by dedicating this group of six quartets to Haydn, “From his friend, W. A. Mozart.”  Written in 1785, it comes from one of Mozart’s most prolific periods that saw several masterpieces come to fruition including not only this quartet but three of Mozart’s most beloved piano concertos.

Mozart old 1782

The original Pro Arte Quartet (below) was founded in 1911 by students at the Brussels Conservatory. The group was known for performing new works by composers such as Bela Bartók, Darius Milhaud, Arnold Schoenberg and Vitorrio Rieti. They made their American debut in 1926 at the Library of Congress and went on to tour the country 30 times.

Pro Arte Quartet in 1928 Onnou far left

While on tour in 1940, the group became stranded in Madison when Hitler invaded Belgium.  The University of Wisconsin came to their aid by offering them permanent residency. In the 1950s, Pro Arte became the University of Wisconsin’s faculty string quartet.  Over the years, there have been a total of 26 musicians who were official members of the Pro Arte Quartet.  The current four members have performed together since 1995.

Members (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) David Perry, violin; Suzanne Beia, violin; Sally Chisholm, viola; and Parry Karp, violoncello have performed together for over 20 years.  They perform every year as part of Midsummer’s Music Festival.

Pro Arte 3 Rick Langer copy

Midsummer’s Music is known for hosting superb chamber concerts at unique venues throughout Door County’s many charming communities. Midsummer’s Music Festival features top-tier musicians from the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Chicago Philharmonic and the Aspen Music Festival.

Performances take place in a variety of unusual spaces ranging from a quaint community church, to a 120-year old lakeside warehouse to an elegant private home of an area resident.

The main festival is comprised of 23 concerts and runs June 12 through July 14.  There is also a Labor Day series that made up of 10 concerts that take place Aug. 28 through Sept. 7.

For more information, visit the newly designed Midsummer’s Music website at www.midsummersmusic.com or call 920-854-7088.


Classical music: Here is the new season in June of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

May 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

There are still some smaller-scale concerts left to the season – some chamber music and vocal music by the Oakwood Chamber Players and the Madison Choral Project, for example.

But the next big series of classical music events on tap are the concerts over three weekends in Madison, Stoughton and Spring Green during June by the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below).

bddsgroup

As usual, the group – co-founded and co-directed by UW-Madison professor and Madison Symphony Orchestra principal flute Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes, a UW-Madison grad who teaches in Berkeley — is known for showcasing well-known and neglected works as well as imported and local musicians.

Stephanie jutt and Jeffrey Sykes  CR C&N photographers

For full information, including tickets information and samples from the 2014 season, here is a link to the BDDS website:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

In the meantime, here is a round-up of this summer’s programs and a schedule of performances.

WEEK ONE | JUNE 12, 13, 14

Stephanie Jutt, flute

Jeffrey Sykes, piano
 Sponsored by Ellen White, in memory 
of Barbara Ekholm

Katarzyna Bryla, violin

Parry Karp (below top), cello
 Sponsored by Sue Cleary Koch

Timothy Jones, bass-baritone

Emily Birsan (below middle), soprano

Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom), piano
 Sponsored by Tim Teitelbaum, 
in memory of Susan Horwitz

Parry Karp

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

 STOLEN MOMENTS

Johann Sebastian Bach: Arias and Duets — Sponsored by Carla & Dick Love

Felix Mendelssohn: Cello Sonata in D Major, op. 58

Gian Carlo Menotti: “Steal Me” from The Old Maid and the Thief

Franz Joseph Haydn: Divertimento in G Major, Hob. IV: 7 — Sponsored by Barbara Johnson

Ludwig van Beethoven: Scottish and Irish Folk Songs and Duets

The Playhouse, Overture Center, Madison on 
Friday, June 12, 7:30 PM

Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green
 Sunday on June 14, 2:30 PM

ROB THE CRADLE

Dick Kattenburg: Sonata for flute and piano

Dmitri Shostakovich: Seven Romances on Poems of Alexander Blok, op. 127

Modest Mussorgsky: Songs and Dances of Death

Louise Farrenc: Trio in E minor, op. 45

The Playhouse (below), Overture Center, Madison on 
Saturday, June 13, 7:30 PM

Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green
 on Sunday, June 14, 6:30 PM

BDDS Playhouse audience

WEEK TWO | JUNE 19, 20, 21

Stephanie Jutt, flute

Jeffrey Sykes, piano
 Sponsored by Ellen White, in memory 
of Barbara Ekholm

Axel Strauss, violin Sponsored by James Dahlberg & 
Elsebet Lund

Jean-Michel Fonteneau, cello 
Sponsored by Dan & Karen Baumann

Alan Kay, clarinet 
Sponsored by Vicki & Jerry Stewart and Katherine Naherny & Roger Ganser

Thomas Kasdorf, piano
 Sponsored by Anne & Peter Wadsack

Axel Strauss

Jean-Michel Fonteneau

Alan Kay 1 BDDS 2014

HONOR AMONG THIEVES

Johann Sebastian Bach: Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1038

John Harbison: Songs America Loves to Sing

Ludwig van Beethoven: Trio in E-flat Major, op. 38, arranged from the Septet, op. 20

Stoughton Opera House on 
Friday, June 19, 7:30 PM

Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green
 on Sunday, June 21, 2:30 PM

BREAKING AND ENTERING

Florent Schmitt: Sonatina in trio, op. 85 — Sponsored by Jane & David Villa

Paul Schoenfield: Country Fiddle Pieces Sponsored by Martha & Charles Casey

Paul Desenne: Haydn Tuyero, Chicharras, Galeones Sponsored by Jane Blumenfeld & Willow Harth

Johannes Brahms: Piano Trio in B Major, op. 8 — Sponsored by Jacob Stockinger, in memory of Judy Schwaemle

The Playhouse, Overture Center, Madison on Saturday, June 20, 7:30 PM

Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green 
on Sunday, June 21, 6:30 PM

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

WEEK THREE | JUNE 26, 27, 28

Stephanie Jutt, flute

Jeffrey Sykes, piano
 Sponsored by Ellen White, in memory 
of Barbara Ekholm

Romie de Guise-Langloise, clarinet

Orlando Pimentel, clarinet

Cynthia Cameron-Fix, bassoon

Richard Todd, horn

Carmit Zori (below), violin
 Sponsored by Daphne Webb

Hyejin Lee, violin

Ara Gregorian, viola 
Sponsored by the family of John Stoelting, 
in loving memory

Katja Linfield, cello

Zachary Cohen, bass

CarmitZori0752

CROOKED BUSINESS

Johann Sebastian Bach: Sonata in B minor, BWV 1030Sponsored by Linda & Keith Clifford

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto in C minor, K. 491 — Sponsored by Norma & Elliott Sober

Johannes Brahms: Serenade in D Major, op. 11, arr. Alan Boustead — Sponsored by Michael Bridgeman, in honor of Jack Holzhueter

Stoughton Opera House on 
Friday, June 26, 7:30 PM

Hillside Theater (below), Taliesin, Spring Green
 on Sunday, June 28, 2:30 PM

HIGHWAY ROBBERY

Claude Debussy: Première Rhapsodie — Sponsored by Tim Teitelbaum, in memory of Susan Horwitz

Kevin Puts: Seven Seascapes Sponsored by Miriam Simmons & Jim Cain

Franz Peter Schubert: Octet in F Major, D. 803 — Sponsored by Larry Bechler & Patty Struck

The Playhouse, Overture Center, Madison on 
Saturday, June 27, 7:30 PM

Hillside Theater (below), Taliesin, Spring Green on 
Sunday, June 28, 6:30 PM

taliesin_hillside2

 

 


Classical music: It’s Mother’s Day. What music would you play for her? What music would she like to hear? Tell The Ear. Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the final, critically acclaimed concert of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s season with Beethoven’s Ninth on the program. Read the reviews here.

May 10, 2015
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the season finale by the Madison Symphony Orchestra: a program of  the “Serenade” after Plato’s “Symposium” by Leonard Bernstein, with concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) as soloist, and the famous Ninth Symphony — the “Ode to Joy” or “Choral” symphony — by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The reviews are unanimous in their enthusiastic praise.

Here is a link to the one that John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/arts/stage/mso-closing-with-a-bang/

And here is one written by Lindsay Christians for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/review-big-voices-and-beethoven-bring-mso-season-to-a/article_ea23e056-f5bb-11e4-8b8f-5780d0daa395.html

And here is a review written by Bill Wineke for WISC-TV‘s Channel 3000.com:

http://www.channel3000.com/news/opinion/Symphony-review-MSO-ends-season-on-exuberant-note/32912810

Naha Greenholtz 2014 CR  Chris Hynes

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Mother’s Day 2015.

Mothers Day clip art

And nothing says love like music.

So what music would you like to play for your mother?

And what music would she like to hear?

They aren’t necessarily the same.

So here are The Ear’s choices.

For the first I am torn between a work by Antonin Dvorak and one by Johannes Brahms.

The Dvorak work is “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” which you can hear below in a YouTube video by superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman playing a transcription from the original for voice.

The second is the movement of the “German” Requiem by Brahms in which he evokes his recently deceased mother. Here it is performed in a classic rendition by soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf with Otto Klemperer conducting:

And the piece my mother would love to hear? She loved it when I practiced the piano – and to think I wondered how anyone could enjoy listening to someone practicing? And she especially loved it when I practiced Chopin.

And her favorite piece by Chopin that I played was the bittersweet and elegant Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2, heard below in a YouTube video played by Arthur Rubinstein, whom she took me to hear when he played an all-Chopin concert in Carnegie Hall in 1961 – and we sat on stage.

What are your choices in each category?

Leave word plus, if possible, a YouTube link in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.

And wishes you a Happy Mother’s Day.


Classical music: Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz explains Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade,” which she will perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend in concerts that also feature Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

May 7, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear supposes that Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade for violin and orchestra  qualifies as program music since it aims to translate Plato’s famous dialogue about love — “Symposium” — into music. (At the bottom, is a YouTube video of Joshua Bell performing the work with the New York Philharmonic under conductor Alan Gilbert in 2013.)

This much is sure. The 1954 work by Bernstein — to be performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) — is part of what makes this weekend’s one of the most interesting programs, maybe THE most interesting, of the season from the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Naha Greenholtz [playing

The combination of Romantic and post-WW II modern music includes the performance of a major symphony that is beloved around the world: the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, also known as the “Choral” and Ode to Joy” symphony.

That was the symphony that Leonard Bernstein himself famously conducted in Germany to celebrate to fall of the Berlin Wall. So, what better offering is there to accompany it than something composed by Bernstein?

(John DeMain talked about the Beethoven symphony in a Q&A here earlier this week. Here is a link to that post: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/classical-music-maestro-john-demain-talks-about-the-challenges-and-rewards-of-beethovens-ninth-the-choral-or-ode-to-joy-sympho/ )

Love and joy: Can there be a better way to finish out a season?

The program will be performed under the baton of longtime MSO music director John DeMain, who studied and worked with Leonard Bernstein. It will feature the Madison Symphony Chorus, as prepared by MSO assistant conductor Beverly Taylor, who heads the UW-Madison choral department.

Guest vocal soloists are: soprano Melody Moore; contralto Gwendolyn Brown; tenor Eric Barry; and bass Morris Robinson.

Performances are in Overture Hall in the Overture Center. Times are Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12-$84.

For details, go to https://www.madisonsymphony.org or call the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information, including audio samples and a link to program notes by MSO bass trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen, visit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/beethoven

Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) recently agreed to do an email Q&A about Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade” with The Ear:

Naha Greenholtz profile

How would you compare Leonard Bernstein’s work to the great historical violin concertos by Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius? What about to modern and contemporary violin concertos by, say, Samuel Barber and Philip Glass, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich? Are there any you would draw parallels or contrasts to?

The five-movement format in Bernstein’s “Serenade” differentiates it substantially from some of the 18th and 19th century classics. While there’s no literal program, there is the suggestion of a basic narrative in Bernstein’s re-imagination of Plato’s communal dialogue. This element alone connects the work more closely to the late 19th and 20th century sub-genre of “program music.” (Below is a portrait of Leonard Bernstein composing at the piano in 1955, around the time of the “Serenade.”)

In its familiar tonal language — combing modal and traditional harmonic elements — it has some resemblance to the Barber concerto. I don’t think middle-of-the-century American composers like Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein were consciously adhering to style parameters.

That said, there is a distinctive “American-ness” to their works.  Much the same way music by Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev has a “Russian” sound, without necessarily being nationalistic.  It’s subtler than that.  It is more like these composers shared some common aesthetic DNA due to their national and cultural origins.

Leonard Bernstein composing in 1955

Where do you place it among Bernstein’s body of works? Is he generally underappreciated as a composer compared to his work as a conductor and his music for the Broadway theater?

To the latter question, this is certainly true.  He was such a charismatic public figure in music, especially in his work as an educator, conductor and composer of popular music. In light of this, I think his remarkable contributions to “art” music are easily overlooked.

In the Serenade he manages to blend many stylistic elements.  I hear the Devil’s Dance from Igor Stravinsky’s “Histoire du Soldat” and, in the fourth movement, glimpses of Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.  The instrumentation is a nod to Bela Bartok in his “Music for Strings Percussion and Celeste” and the tonal language shows Paul Hindemith’s influence.

But despite all of that, Bernstein’s unique language is apparent within the first five seconds of the piece when the rising augmented 4th resolves up a half step.  That’s what is so remarkable about Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell) — he manages to blend disparate elements of other great artists without losing his own intrinsic style.

Leonard Bernstein CR Jack Mitchell

How does Bernstein express the idea of Platonic dialogue?

Each of the movements is loosely based on the themes of the seven speakers in the work by Plato (below is an ancient sculptural depiction of the philosopher). The concerto begins with the soloist alone in a rhetorical statement and the piece unfolds as each orator presents his perspective on the topic of love. By the end of the fifth movement, drinking seems to have taken over the gathering, leading to a thrilling depiction of a boisterous dinner party.

Plato

How is the idea of love as a carnal and spiritual subject that the guests discuss get expressed?

On describing the duality of love, as a force that cuts both ways, Bernstein is explicit. For example in the third movement Erixymathus, he uses the soloist and orchestra as warring factions. The orchestra explodes with a three-note jab. Then the soloist introduces a quasi-tone row that’s passed back and forth with contrasting intensity. Further into the movement, he piles these themes on top of each other in a frenetic fugue that expresses the mystery and ecstasy of love.

In contrast, the next movement Agathon features the same three-note motive that opened the previous movement, but stretched to 10 times its initial length, utterly transforming it into a spiritual and intimate aria. Bernstein does this all over the piece, taking material from previous movements and showing them in a new light. (Below is a fresco depiction of the Symposium.)

Fresco of Symposium USE

What do you think of the work itself and how its fits with Beethoven’s Ninth? Have you played it before or is it new to you?

Until last year I’d only known the Serenade by recording, so I was thrilled when John suggested we perform it here with the MSO.

It’s strangely neglected in the solo violin repertoire. Maybe that is because of the unconventional five-movement format, or that the title “after Plato’s Symposium”   is somehow intimidating or off-putting.

It’s clearly one of Bernstein’s great orchestral works and is a firework of a showpiece for the violin. As far as pairing with Beethoven’s Ninth, the themes of brotherhood and platonic love feature prominently in both works.

How challenging is it to play and what are the challenges both technically and interpretively? What would you like the audience to pay special attention to?

I find all music challenging. Mozart is simpler in terms of notes and patterns than, say, Shostakovich or Bernstein, but in its own way it is just as hard to play and requires just as much diligent work to pull off.

The Bernstein is full of musical challenges and requires lots of imagination and characterization to communicate the narrative of Plato’s dialogue.

That being said, it’s a major 20th-century solo work so it’s also chock full of technical hurdles. Isaac Stern (below, in 1977) – for whom this piece was written — has left us fingering and bowing suggestions, so I know the thorny passages are at least theoretically possible!

Isaac Stern in 1979

In any event, I’m really looking forward to these performances and think these will be fantastic concerts for anyone who loves great music.

 


Classical music: The UW-Madison Choral Union and Symphony Orchestra plus soloists turn in a “glorious” performance of the rarely performed choral symphony “Hymn of Praise” by Felix Mendelssohn.

May 6, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John Barker

By John W. Barker

This weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will bring us that giant among symphonies, Beethoven’s Ninth. We now take that work so for granted as a musical summit by itself that we lose sight of its enormous impact on composers of the rest of the 19th century.

The introduction of solo and choral voices into an orchestral symphony score was radical, and inspired many responses. One was the efforts of Hector Berlioz to infuse the elements of opera into a symphonically structured work, resulting in that masterpiece, his “dramatic symphony” Romeo et Juliette. Richard Wagner, by contrast, built an entire career of casting operas in symphonic terms. The culmination of the “choral symphony” came with three of the symphonies by Gustav Mahler (Nos. 2, 3 and 8).

But an earlier response was brought to us last Saturday night by the UW-Madison Choral Union and Symphony Orchestra (below). This was Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2, known as the Lobgesang or “Hymn of Praise.” It was composed in 1840, a mere 16 years after Beethoven’s Ninth was premiered.

Choral Union and UW Symphony Lobgesang

Mendelssohn (below) did not simplistically imitate the prototype, but adapted its idea to his own purposes. In place of three elaborate and individual movements, the work’s No. 1, called “sinfonia,” is a set of three successive orchestral sections that flow with limited breaks one after the other, for a total of 15-20 minutes. Then follows a series of nine numbers constituting a cantata for soloists and chorus, running close to 60 minutes.

mendelssohn_300

It sets either Scriptural or devotional texts pertaining to faith in and celebration of the Almighty, with thematic references made to material in the preliminary “sinfonia.” This “choral finale” alone is in the line of sacred choral works, many on Psalm texts, that the composer wrote recurrently.

This cantata may lack the etherial daring of Beethoven’s choral finale, but it is far more idiomatically vocal and choral than what late Beethoven had come to. With its inclusion of Lutheran chorale elements and fugal counterpoint, it is in a class with Mendelssohn’s glorious oratorio Elijah. (Below is a photo of the performance by Margaret Barker.)

Lobgesang Margaret Barker

Because of the extra-orchestral resources the work calls for, it is not often performed, so that it has not become as familiar, and therefore as well-loved, as the composer’s popular Symphonies 3, 4, and 5, the so-called “Scottish,” “Italian” and “Reformation” symphonies. Some might find No. 2 less than top-drawer Mendelssohn, but it is certainly high-quality Mendelssohn, and readily rewards the hearing. (You can hear an excerpt featuring Claudio Abbado conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

This was the sole work on this Choral Union program. With the absence of regular conductor Beverly Taylor, who is on sabbatical this semester, the podium was assumed by the splendid James Smith (below), who seemed altogether comfortable drawing magnificent sounds from the large chorus, while working his usual wonders with his student orchestra.

Version 3

There are parts for three soloists. The main soprano was Elizabeth Hagedorn (below top, left), whose wide vibrato and squally high range represented for me the one disappointment of this performance. The reliable Mimmi Fulmer (below top, center) was drawn in only for a two-soprano duet: I wish she had been given the top assignment. Thomas Leighton (below bottom) is not the most lyrical of tenors, but he conveyed honestly the spiritual searching of his solos.

Mimmi Fulmer Lobgesang

Thomas Leighton Lobgesang

Here, then, was the Choral Union at its best. It offered stirring choral singing, while giving us an opportunity to experience an unfairly neglected but wonderful score.

 

 


Classical music: Maestro John DeMain talks about the challenges and rewards of Beethoven’s “Ninth” – the “Choral” or “Ode to Joy” symphony that he will conduct this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Symphony Chorus plus soloists.

May 4, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

It could well be a case of saving the best for last.

This weekend brings what, for The Ear, is the one of the most interesting programs – maybe THE most interesting program — of the season from the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The sonic combination of a Romantic classic and post-World War II modern music includes the performance of a major symphony that is a beloved icon around the world: the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven (below), also known as the “Choral” and “Ode to Joy” symphony.

Beethoven big

The Ninth was the symphony that Leonard Bernstein famously conducted in Germany to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall.

So what better offering to accompany it than something composed by Bernstein – his 1954 “Serenade” for solo violin and orchestra, with MSO concertmaster Naha Greenholtz, that is based on the Socratic dialogue “Symposium” by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. (Greenholtz will talk about the Bernstein work in a Q&A here later this week.)

Love and joy: Can there be a better way to finish out a season?

The program will be performed under the baton of longtime MSO music director John DeMain, who studied and worked with Leonard Bernstein. It will feature the Madison Symphony Chorus, as prepared by MSO assistant conductor Beverly Taylor (below), who also heads the UW-Madison choral department.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

Guest vocal soloists are: soprano Melody Moore (below top); contralto Gwendolyn Brown (below second); tenor Eric Barry (below third); and bass Morris Robinson (below bottom).

Melody Moore

Gwendolyn Brown

Eric Barry

Morris Robinson

Performances are in Overture Hall in the Overture Center. Times are Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12-$84.

For details, go to https://www.madisonsymphony.org or call the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information, including audio samples and a link to program notes by MSO bass trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen, visit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/beethoven

Maestro DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) recently agreed to do an email Q&A about Beethoven’s Ninth with The Ear:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Why does Beethoven’s Ninth always appeal and what makes it an icon in the public mind? What makes it at the same time so revolutionary and so typically Beethoven?

Aside from the Ninth Symphony being a great musical composition, one cannot get away from the inclusion of the poem by Friedrich Schiller (below, in a painting by Ludovick Simanowiz). The “Ode to Joy” literally shouting that all men in our universe are brothers is what makes this symphony an icon in the public mind. (At bottom is a more informal street scene flash mob performance in a YouTube video that has more than 8 million hits.)

The first three movements are typically Beethoven in style, though consummate in his compositional development. It is the inclusion of voices in the last movement, and the length and structure of the last movement that makes this symphony truly revolutionary. This was the first symphony to have included a chorus and soloists for its final movement.

Friedrich Schiller by Ludovike Simanowiz

It isn’t hard to guess what meaning it holds for the public and why audiences find it popular. But what does this music do to you? How do you feel when you perform it and have finished it?

Music for me is a powerful aural emotional experience. While there is great beauty, majesty and excitement to be found in the first three movements, it is that last movement that fires up my own emotions, not dissimilar to what the listening audience is feeling as well.

Literally shouting for a united brotherhood on Earth under our Maker in heaven, Beethoven develops this movement from a lovely and simple melody in the beginning, to a massive and wild declaration at the end.

It is always a uniquely significant event, often conjuring up whatever injustices are occurring in our contemporary world. Certainly our challenges in the Middle East, and our domestic situations, most recently in St. Louis and Baltimore, will resonate in people’s minds as they listen to this music. It’s a call for harmony in the universe.

When you finish conducting the Beethoven Ninth, you are emotionally and physically drained having conducted not one, but two symphonies, as the last movement is a symphony unto itself.

John DeMain conducting 2

What are the challenges, technically and interpretatively, for you, as a conductor and for the orchestra players, the soloists and the chorus?

There is rather elaborate contrapuntal writing for the orchestra, which always poses a problem for ensemble and clarity. Length poses a challenge for endurance, particularly for the strings. The recitative sections for the orchestral basses as well as the soloist are particularly challenging for the conductor, as are the on the spot pull backs in tempo during the last movement.

We all know that the vocal writing is a challenge to both the soloists and the chorus, but particularly for the chorus. The high tessitura (average pitch range) of the writing makes it extremely difficult for the sopranos and tenors to sustain a thrilling fortissimo, for example. (Below is a photo of the Madison Symphony Chorus by Greg Anderson.)

Beethoven was completely deaf at this point in his life, and was writing what was in his mind, not paying particular attention to what was doable. But then, isn’t that how musical innovation and the stretching of form sometimes happen?

MSO Chorus from left CR Greg Anderson

Why did you choose to pair The Ninth with the Bernstein’s Serenade? Do you see certain parallels or contrasts?

Well, Lenny was a real devotee of Beethoven, and in this composition, he does marvelous things with the use of leitmotif. I love juxtaposing 20th century harmonies with the musical language of the early 19th century. Both composers use dissonance as a part of their language, but in very different ways.

The Serenade, while not specifically programmatic, deals with the various aspects of love, and relates to the Beethoven in that love has to be the basis that binds all men and women together.

I  also love featuring our wonderful concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz (below), and when she suggested the idea, I thought it would make a wonderful contrast to the Ninth, and fill out the concert in a truly wonderful way to close our season.

Naha Greenholtz [playing


Classical music: Stephen Hough explains why the piano concerto by Dvorak is not heard more often — even as he is about to record it. Hear it here. Plus, you can hear via live streaming the Pro Arte Quartet play works by Mozart, Beethoven and Benoit Mernier at the Chazen Museum starting at 12:30 p.m.

May 3, 2015
1 Comment

ALERT: It is the first Sunday of the month. That means the Chazen Museum of Art will broadcast its own version of “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” — abandoned by Wisconsin Public Radio after 36 years — via live streaming as well as FREE and public attendance.

Today’s concert features chamber music starting at 12:30 p.m. with a link directly from the Chazen website. The artists are the UW-Madison’s popular Pro Arte Quartet performing the String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the String Quartet in A Major, K. 414, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier, which the Pro Arte (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) is about to record.

Here is a link to the Chazen for streaming the concert:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/visit/events-calendar/event/sal-5-3-15/

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

By Jacob Stockinger

British pianist, composer, painter, blogger and polymath Stephen Hough is one of the outstanding concert pianists on the scene today. He has performed several times in Madison, with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and at the Wisconsin Union Theater, giving master classes at the UW-Madison School of Music.

Known for both his outstanding technique and his deep musicality, Hough (below) has won numerous of awards and Hyperion will soon release three new CDs that each feature his own compositions as well as other standard repertoire.

Hough_Stephen_color16

So The Ear was pleased to read what Hough recently had to say about the neglected Piano Concerto by Antonin Dvorak (below top) whose Violin Concerto and Cello Concerto have fared much better, to say nothing of his symphonies and chamber music.

After all, the work’s last great champion was the Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter (below bottom), whose recorded performance you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom.

dvorak

Sviatoslav Richter

Wouldn’t it be fun to hear the Dvorak Piano Concerto performed live by some soloist – maybe Hough himself– and the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a future season? What a chance to resurrect the neglected past and to explore an unknown work by a very well known and beloved composer.

I tend to trust Hough’s judgment, although he is especially close to the work these days as he prepares to record it. After all, he has played and often recorded most of the standard piano concertos and quite a few of the more rarely heard Romantic concertos.

Here are his remarks:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/stephenhough/100076512/probably-my-favourite-piano-concerto/

And here is the famous performance by Sviatoslav Richter:

 


Classical music: Why is Beethoven so popular? And why do all-Beethoven concerts work so well? Conductor Andrew Sewell answers these questions even as he prepares to perform the all-Beethoven concert tonight by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

May 1, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, conductor Andrew Sewell (below top) will lead the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below bottom) and guest pianist Bryan Wallick, who won the Vladimir Horowitz Prize and is returning to Madison, in an all-Beethoven concert to wrap up this season of the WCO indoors Masterworks programs.

AndrewSewellnew

WCO lobby

The program includes the “Leonore” Overture No. 1, the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” and the Symphony No. 7.

Tickets are $15-$62. For more information, visit: http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks-v

The Ear asked the guest pianist Bryan Wallick and WCO’s longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell to explain why all-Beethoven concerts work so well and why Beethoven remains so popular with the general public. (Coincidentally, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will also close its season with Beethoven, specifically the Symphony No. 9 (“Choral” or “Ode to Joy”) on May 8, 9 and 10.

Wallick’s answers appeared here on Wednesday and offered the perspective of an instrumentalist. Here is a link to his answers:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/classical-music-why-is-beethoven-so-popular-and-why-do-all-beethoven-concerts-works-pianist-bryan-wallick-explains-these-questions-even-as-he-prepares-to-play-the-emperor-concerto/

And here are the answers by conductor Andrew Sewell (below), who kindly responded to an email Q&A:

andrewsewell

Beethoven (below), along with a handful of other composers, including Mozart and Tchaikovsky, is one of the few composers who can make up a single-composer concert that also attracts the public. What accounts for that, do you think?

I think his name is synonymous with classical music. His music defines it — the working out of themes, melody and development — from his overtures, symphonies, concertos, piano sonatas and string quartets.

Beethoven big

What role has Beethoven played in your career? Are there works in particular that you were drawn to as a student or a performing professional?

As a young concertgoer, at the age of 8, I heard his Symphony No. 9 “Choral” and fell in love with the “Ode to Joy.” I was captivated by his life and biography, about his deafness overtaking him, and stories of his inner personal struggles. I remember reading all about his life as a youngster, and I loved playing his music.

As a violinist, I loved getting to know his violin sonatas and symphonies. One of my first significant orchestral experiences at age 16 was playing his “Leonore” Overture No. 3 with the New Zealand Youth Orchestra, and a year later, the Fifth Symphony. Beethoven’s overtures and symphonies are the bread and butter of any orchestra.

Andrew Sewell BW

Beethoven consistently ranks as the general public’s favorite classical composer. Why is that, do you think? The consistently high quality of the music? The diversity of works and forms that his creativity expressed itself in? The sense of overcoming struggle and personal hardship you find in his works?

All of the above. You said it in the wide variety of forms he used –- symphonies, overtures, sonatas, chamber music. The string quartets alone, like Mozart’s Piano Concertos, are a lifetime testament in which we see his development as a composer and inner struggles.

His personal life is intertwined with the complexities of his later works, as he stretched the boundaries of form and development. His Ninth Symphony and the late string quartets testify to this. Overcoming struggle and personal hardship give the music its triumphal drive.

beethoven BW grim

Is there an aspect of Beethoven that you think the public needs to pay more attention to and that you intend to emphasize in your interpretations?

The “Leonore” Overture No. 1 is probably the least played of the four overtures related to his one and only opera, “Fidelio.” Inadvertently he created a new form, known as the Concert Overture, and which Mendelssohn later took up.

This overture, does not include the off-stage trumpet reverie, as in Nos. 2 and 3. For some reason, Beethoven was not satisfied, and continued to refine it in later compositions. What I find intriguing about this overture is the way he transitions from slow to fast sections and back again so seamlessly and how he experimented with a continuous form.

The Symphony No. 7  — below is a page of the work’s manuscript from Beethoven’s almost illegible notebooks — is among his most energetic symphonies. It never lets up and is physically demanding on all sections of the orchestra. One needs stamina for this music. It is also extremely exciting to play and to listen to, hence it is a very popular symphony. (At the bottom,  in a popular YouTube video with almost 8 million hits, you can hear the famous and well-known Allegretto movement from the Symphony No. 7 with an intriguing bar graph score.)

Beethoven Symphony no 7 MS

Is there anything you would like to say or add?

An all-Beethoven program is a great way to end the season, especially when you have pianist Bryan Wallick (below) returning to perform with us. We are most excited to hear and share his performance of the mighty “Emperor” Piano Concerto.

Bryan Wallick mug

 


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