The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The 37th annual Karp Family Labor Day Concert is this Monday night and includes works by Bach, Beethoven and Britten as well as Shakespeare.

September 4, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

If there is a better embodiment of the saying “The show must go on,” I don’t know who it would be.

I am speaking of the Karp Family (seen below in an old photo), long considered Madison’s First Family of Music. (Members, from left, are Christopher Karp, Katrin Talbot, Howard Karp, Parry Karp and Frances Karp.)

karps 2008 - 13

For 37 years – and without repeating a piece — the Karps have given a Labor Day concert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where the event traditionally marks the opening of the new concert season.

This year, the FREE concert is at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall.

It is quite the achievement that a Labor Day concert will even take place this year.

Last summer, patriarch pianist Howard Karp – a longtime professor at the UW-Madison – died at 84 while on vacation in Colorado.

Then this summer, the matriarch pianist Frances Karp had an accidental fall that put her out of commission. (She has recovered well, but had to to give up performing temporarily.)

Yet the rest of the family came together and changed the program to carry on the tradition. (The original program for this year is now scheduled to be performed next year with Frances Karp back at the piano.)

The performers this year are Isabel Karp (seen below top left with her sister Natasha Karp), narrator; Katrin Talbot, the wife of Parry Karp, viola; son Parry Karp, cello; and son Christopher Karp, piano.

Karp Memorial Isabel, Natasha smiling better

The program includes: “Elegy and Vision for Solo Cello” (1993) by Laurence Sherr; Two Chassidic Dances for Viola and Cello (1941-2) by Zigmund Schul; “Thoughts Tending to Ambition” (2015) by Katrin Talbot and Isabel Karp — a setting of the final soliloquy of William Shakespeare’sRichard II” for narrator, viola and cello; and the Second Suite for Solo Cello, Op. 80 (1967) by Benjamin Britten.

After intermission comes the Suite No. 2 in D Minor for Solo Cello (ca. 1720) by Johann Sebastian Bach. And the well-known Sonata in A Major for Piano and Cello, Op. 69 (1808) by  Ludwig van Beethoven. (You can hear the Beethoven sonata performed by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax in the YouTube video at the bottom.)


Classical music: Superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman turns 70. Plus the Willy Street Chamber Players perform Beethoven on WORT this morning.

September 3, 2015
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ALERT: The Ear’s friend Rich Samuels of WORT 89.9 FM writes: At 7:21 a.m. today, Thursday, Sept. 3, I’ll be broadcasting the Willy Street Chamber Players’ performance of the Beethoven String Quartet No. 11 in F Minor. It was recorded live on July 11 at Madison’s Immanuel Lutheran Church. Featured are Eleanor Bartsch and Paran Amirinazari (violins), Micah Behr (viola) and Mark Bridges (cello).

By Jacob Stockinger

This past Monday, superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman (below, in a photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco) turned 70.

Itzhak Perlman by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Perlman, who possesses a sharp sense of humor,  likes to call himself a fiddler.

But he is so much more.

Perlman – who once made the cover of Time magazine and who used to fly in his private jet — has played a lot in Madison since the beginning of his concert career, at the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Madison Civic Center and the Overture Center.

The Ear thinks that his most memorable appearance in Madison was before his stratospheric concert fees made him either unaffordable or affordable only to the very well-heeled.

Violinist Itzhak Perlman photographed in 1984.

Violinist Itzhak Perlman photographed in 1984.

That was way back when WUT director Ralph Sandler booked the young Perlman to perform the complete solo violin sonatas and partitas by Johann Sebastian Bach. Perlman performed them over two back-to-back nights at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The event proved to be one of the highlights of all the music that The Ear has ever heard in Madison. It was pretty incredible, watching Perlman sit there by himself on stage as he poured forth these fabulous works.

Itzhak Perlman playing closeup

The Ear likes Perlman’s playing a lot, especially from the early days when he won his share of Grammy Awards.

A great example are his recordings of the sonatas for violin and piano by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that he did with Daniel Barenboim and the sonatas for violin and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms that he did with Vladimir Ashkenazy. His recordings of the Beethoven and Brahms concertos with conductor Carlo Maria Giulini are also outstanding classics.

But to be honest, the later Perlman often disappointed me.

The Ear heard one performance in Madison where Perlman seemed bored by the music, as if he were phoning it in or going through the motions without much emotional engagement. (Below is Perlman in the 1960s.)

itzhak perlman ca 1960s BW

Then there was the time when he relied too much on his post-intermission shtick of pretending to choose and call out impromptu virtuosic encore-like pieces for the second half of his program while he also related to the audience the baseball scores from the World Series with his beloved home town team, the New York Yankees.

Then there was the time when many people went to hear him play the deeply emotional theme from “Schindler’s List” by John Willliams as an encore. He didn’t. (Listen to the YouTube video of it, with over 6 million hits, at the bottom.)

Nonetheless, Perlman remains a charismatic major talent who sure knows how to fill seats and please high-end audiences.

By some accounts, Perlman’s playing has declined in recent years. The Ear wonders if post-polio syndrome has anything to do with it, but can’t recall reading anything about that.

But whatever you think of his own playing, Perlman continues to devote himself to teaching young students with the program established by him and his wife Toby (below left) and to conduct as well as to perform solo recitals and concertos.

Toby and Itzhak Perlman Music Program Mission

This past week NPR or National Public Radio featured a look back at the many facets of Perlman’s long career. It included some great photos as well as some terrific audio samples.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/08/31/435224636/itzhak-perlman-charting-a-charismatic-career

What do you think of Itzhak Perlman and the various phases of his career?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: You can hear Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” on 5,000 kazoos at this year’s Burning Man Festival.

August 31, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about counter-cultural!

This year’s famed Burning Man festival started yesterday and runs through Sept. 7.

The unusual event, held in the north Nevada desert, features many noteworthy things including nudity, drugs and lot of talk about peace and love — kind of like an updated Woodstock festival but on a much grander and more ambitious scale. (See the YouTube video at the bottom.)

One remarkable thing is the sheer size of the event (below, in an aerial photo by Kenny Reff), a temporary city estimated to be more than 60,000 strong this year:

Burning Man aerial CR Kenny Reff

Another is the impressive and dramatic sculpture that is set aflame (below is last year’s) at the festival’s end:

Burning Man 2014

But there is also classical music included at the iconic pop event.

In fact this year, the “Ode to Joy,” from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, will be played 5,000 kazoos.

In addition, there will be strings (below top in a photo by Jaki Levy) and a certain conductor named Dr. FireTuba (below bottom in a photo of Eric Yttri by Jaki Levy) as part of the 63-piece pickup symphony orchestra that also includes winds such as flute and clarinets. The group will perform music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Edvard Grieg and other composers on the playlist.

Burning Man music cellist 2014 Jaki Levy

Burning Man Dr FireTuba (Erio Ittry) CR Jaki Levy

Here is an illuminating and entertaining story about classical music at Burning Man that was reported in NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/08/29/435244975/beethoven-flaming-tubas-and-5-000-kazoos-classical-music-at-burning-man

 


Classical music: The Lydian String Quartet of Boston returns this Thursday night to the Token Creek Festival to perform two contemporary works and a quartet by Felix Mendelssohn. On Sunday, they will perform Baroque works.

August 25, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Token Creek Festival write:

The Token Creek Festival is pleased to announce the return to Madison of the Lydian String Quartet from Boston on this Thursday night, Aug. 27, at 8 p.m. The Lydians last appeared at Token Creek in 1999, for a pair of outstanding concerts with the soprano Benita Valente.

The Lydian’s recital features two string quartets by two contemporary composers whose work they have championed for many years — Lee Hyla and John Harbison — along with the Mendelssohn Quartet in E flat, Op. 12 (1829).

The Lydian Quartet (below) has performed a large number of new pieces. Their Token Creek program includes two that were composed within a four-year span, but which speak two very different American musical languages.

Lydian Quartet USE

Both Hyla’s Quartet No. 3 (1989), commissioned by Chamber Music America, and Harbison’s Quartet No. 3 (1993), commissioned by Brandeis University, are single-movement works.

The work by Lee Hyla (below, in a photo by Mark Wilson for The Boston Globe) begins consonantly and reflectively, with a ravishingly beautiful homophonic passage that haunts much of the subsequent music. (You can hear the haunting Hyla work played by the Lydian Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The work traverses a wide terrain and gradually branches out into a discourse that is hardly inferable from its opening strains, and that ultimately leads to a major climax and a quiet, inevitable conclusion.

Lee Hyla CR Mark Wilson Boston Globe

The quartet by John Harbison (below) is hymnodic, rarely contrapuntal, and sustains its central musical declaration throughout, with the exception of two  “out of the blue,” unexplained interludes.

The BBC Music Magazine called the piece “a fascinating, alluring, and moving musical argument,” and the Boston Globe considers it one of Harbison’s finest works, an important addition to the repertory for the string quartet. . . The moods are volatile and wide‑ranging ‑ intimate, public, ferocious, suave, passionate, masked, fleeting and sustained.”

John Harbison MIT

The string quartets by Felix Mendelssohn (below) are among his finest and most striking compositions. They reconcile classical models with romantic passion.

Mendelssohn’s admiration of Ludwig van Beethoven shines brightly in this work. It is lovely music throughout, ebullient and euphonious, and its third movement, the Canzonetta, is probably the single best-known chamber music movement in Mendelssohn’s output.

mendelssohn_300

In addition to their own recital, the Lydians will also appear on the closing concerts of the Token Creek Festival (Saturday, Aug. 29, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 30, at 4 p.m.). They will anchor a program of Baroque concerti (with some related smaller chamber pieces), including the irrepressible Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 by Johann Sebastian Bach as well as works by George Frideric Handel and Arcangelo Corelli.

Tickets are $30 ($10 for students) for all performances.

Tickets can be bought by using the order form at the Token Creek website www.tokencreekfestival.org, by phone at 608-241-2525, by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org, or by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 5201, Madison WI, 53705.

Performances take place at the Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek (10 minutes north of Madison) with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small—early reservations are recommended.

TokenCreekentrance

TokenCreekbarn interior

More information about the Token Creek Festival and all events can be found at the website, http://www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling 608-241-2525.


Classical music education: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has lined up its schedule of events for the 2015-16 season. Here it is in two parts. Today is Semester 1.

August 13, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

The final schedules for the upcoming season by most major classical music groups in the area are now available.

Last but not least is the biggest of them all: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which offers some 300 events in a season, most of them FREE to the public.

UW logos

Some things are new. For example, you will note that the UW Choral Union has gone to just ONE performance instead of two, as in the past for many years.

Concert manager and public relations director Kathy Esposito (below) writes:

Katherine Esposito

The UW-Madison School of Music is jazzed about its upcoming season and we’d like the world to know. Please make plans to attend!

Here is a link to the online calendar, which is now complete except for specific pieces on programs and last-minute changes: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Our events of 2015-2016 range from performances by a vocal dynamo (soprano Brenda Rae, Sept. 27) to a in-demand LA jazz woodwind musician (Bob Sheppard in April) plus an enterprising young brass quintet (Axiom Brass, October) and a dollop of world music in March (duoJalal). In addition, we offer ever-popular opera productions, faculty concerts and student ensembles ranging from classical to jazz to percussion.

Full concert calendar link: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Other social media connections include:

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

https://www.facebook.com/UWMadisonSchoolOfMusic

https://twitter.com/UWSOM

Our Newsletter, A Tempo!

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/

Hear our sound: https://soundcloud.com/uw-madisonsom

Here’s a partial list with highlights (Semester 1 is posted today; Semester 2 will be posted tomorrow):

SEMESTER 1 

August 30: “Performing the Jewish Archive”: Shining a Spotlight on Forgotten Jewish Performance Works. Various venues and times; click link for details.

The U.S. component of an international research project led by the University of Leeds, England, with UW-Madison leadership provided by Teryl Dobbs, chair of music education. Featuring a Sound Salon with Sherry Mayrent and Henry Sapoznik (below) of the Mayrent Institute; Chamber Music with the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society; and a Cabaret Performance with Mark Nadler. Events continue in May, 2016. All events are free.

Link to event: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/performing-the-jewish-archive/

BDDS Henry Saposnik

September 7: 37th Annual Karp Family Concert. Mills Hall, 7:30 PM.

Chamber music of the 19th and 20th centuries for piano and strings. Pianist and patriarch Howard Karp (below center) passed away last summer, but the family continues with a long-standing tradition. With Suzanne Beia, Violin; Katrin Talbot, Viola; Parry Karp, Violoncello; Frances Karp, Piano; Christopher Karp, Piano. Free.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/37th-annual-karp-family-concert/

karps 2008 - 13

September 26: Soprano Brenda Rae with the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra. Mills Hall, 7:30 PM.

On the program: Reinhold Gliere’s Concerto for Coloratura Soprano. A benefit for University Opera.

Brenda Rae (below) is a 2004 graduate of the School of Music, and has been impressing audiences and critics all over Europe for many years. Her 2013 U.S. debut as Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata” won her praise from James R. Oestreich of The New York Times: “Ms. Rae soared beautifully in the early going, but it was in her pianissimo singing that she really shone.”

Tickets $25.

Master class: Friday, September 25, Music Hall, 5-7 PM.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/soprano-brenda-rae-with-the-uw-symphony-orchestra/

Soprano Brenda Rae

October 7: Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in a photo by Rick Langer) with Violist Nobuko Imai (below bottom, in a photo by Marco Borggreve). Mills Hall, 7:30 PM.

Nobuko Imai is considered to be one of the most outstanding viola players of our time. After finishing her studies at the Toho School of Music, Yale University and the Juilliard School, she won the highest prizes at both the Munich and the Geneva international competitions.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-with-violist-nobuko-imai/

Master class: October 6, 7:30 PM, Mills Hall. Both events are free.

Pro Arte 3 Rick Langer copy

Imai Nobuko 018.jpg

October 9-10-11:  BRASS FEST II!

Last year’s Celebrate Brass festival was so much fun, we decided to program another. Three days of exhilarating music from leading brass players and ensembles, including the award-winning Axiom Brass Quintet (below, now in residence at the Tanglewood Music Festival) and trumpeter Adam Rapa. With the Wisconsin Brass Quintet and students from the UW-Madison School of Music. 

October 9: Axiom Brass, Mills Hall, 8 PM. Tickets $15.

October 10: Festival Brass Choir with Axiom Brass, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet and trumpeter Adam Rapa. Tickets $15.

October 11: Trumpeter Adam Rapa and vocalist Elizabeth Vik. Classical and jazz. Free concert.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/brass-fest-2/

Buy tickets for both concerts for $25.

Axiom Brass Quintet

October 23-24-25-27: University Opera presents Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Mozart and da Ponte’s masterpiece of comedy and intrigue, shows the two geniuses at the height of their powers. Directed by David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke De Lalio); music conducted by James Smith.

Music Hall. Tickets $25/$20/$10.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-the-marriage-of-figaro/

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

November 5-6: Celebrating Alumni Composers. UW-Madison prize-winning alumni composers of new music Andrew Rindfleisch (below), Paula Matthusen, Jeffrey Stadelman, Bill Rhoads and Kevin Ernste return for a two-day event featuring their acoustic and electronic music.

November 5, Mills Hall, 7:30 PM: Performances by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, the Wingra Woodwind Quintet, and smaller ensembles of faculty and students.

November 6, 7:30 PM: Performance with the UW Wind Ensemble, Scott Teeple, conductor.

Both concerts are free.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/celebrating-alumni-composers-two-free-concerts/

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

November 13: Debut Faculty Concert with Violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt). Altino takes the stage as the newest member of the school’s string faculty. With pianist Martha Fischer.

Mills Hall, 8 PM.

Tickets $12. Students free

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/debut-faculty-concert-soh-hyun-park-altino-violin/

Soh-Hyun Park Altino Carroline Bittencourt

December 10: Wingra Woodwind Quintet (below, in a photo by Michael Anderson). With Stephanie Jutt, flute; Marc Vallon, bassoon; Kostas Tiliakos, oboe; and welcoming new members Wesley Warnhoff, clarinet; and Joanna Schulz, horn. 

Morphy Hall, 7:30 PM. Free.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wingra-woodwind-quintet/

Wingra Woodwind Quintet 2013 Michael Anderson

December 12: UW Choral Union & UW Symphony Orchestra with Beverly Taylor, conductor. Presenting “Gloria” of Francis Poulenc and “Symphony of Psalms” by Igor Stravinsky.

Mills Hall, 8 PM.

Tickets $15/$8.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-choral-union1/

UW Choral Union and Symphony Nov. 2014

Tomorrow: Highlights of Semester 2

 


Classical music: Today marks 70 years since the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The Ear commemorates the event with Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” What music would you choose?

August 6, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is August 6, 2015 – the 70th anniversary of the United States dropping the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in the hope of ending World War II. (That took a second atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.)

Controversy still rages about whether it was the right decision to make.

The Ear has an opinion about that, but is keeping it to himself.

All he wants to do today is commemorate the historic event with music.

hiroshima1ruinslarge

First, as background, here is a story from The Washington Post about what it was like to survive the bombing of Hiroshima:

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/what-it-was-like-to-survive-the-atomic-bombing-of-hiroshima/ar-BBlpDXY,

I can’t think of a better piece of music to listen to this day than the sadly eloquent, heart-wrenching and poignant Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber (below), which is at the bottom in a YouTube video and is performed by Leonard Bernstein conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The moving music does not take sides, but simply expresses profound sorrow.

Samuel Barber 2 composing

Perhaps you have other choices for this day. Maybe a chorale from a passion or cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach? Maybe an aria by George Frideric Handel? Perhaps a Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Johannes Brahms, Giuseppe Verdi or Gabriel Faure? Maybe the  Ninth Symphony “Ode to Joy” by Ludwig van Beethoven or the Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” by Gustav Mahler? Maybe the opera “Doctor Atomic” by John Adams?

Leave your thoughts and choice in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: On the eve of Opera in the Park, Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith recaps the last season and previews the next.

July 23, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Madison Opera’s Opera in the Park marks its 14th anniversary this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side.

The annual FREE concert of opera and Broadway favorites closes the company’s extraordinary 2014-15 season and provides an appetizing preview of the 2015-16 season that celebrates writers and their inspirations.

Typically, Opera in the Park attracts over 14,000 people every year.

Opera in Park 2012 crowd 1 James Gill

This year, Opera in the Park stars soprano Eleni Calenos, contralto Meredith Arwady, tenor Harold Meers and local bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen, and features former Madison Opera Studio Artist Anna Laurenzo.

Here is a link to Kyle Ketelsen’s Q&A with The Ear:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/07/21/classical-music-local-opera-star-kyle-ketelsen-talks-about-returning-to-madison-operas-free-opera-in-the-park-this-saturday-night-and-why-he-continues-to-live-here/

Artistic Director John DeMain conducts the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra. The evening will be hosted by Madison Opera’s General Director Kathryn Smith and by WKOW TV’s 27 News “Wake-Up Wisconsin” anchor Brandon Taylor.

Opera in Park 2012 stage

“I love Opera in the Park,” says Smith, in a prepared statement. “It is by far the most important performance Madison Opera gives. The magic combination of thousands of people sitting under the summer night sky and our singers and orchestra performing beautiful music on stage creates something truly inspiring. It is a testament to Madison’s love of music – and love of being outdoors – that we have the highest per capita attendance of any such concert in the country.”

The program for Opera in the Park 2015 includes arias and ensembles from Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème,” which opens the 2015-16 season in November; Mark Adamo’s “Little Women,” which will be performed in February; and Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann,” which will be performed in April.

The concert will also offer arias and ensembles from such classic operas as Antonin Dvorak‘s “Rusalka,” Charles Gounod’s “Faust,” Arrigo Boito‘s “Mefistofele” and Georg Frideric Handel‘s “Semele.” Broadway hits from “The Music Man,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Kiss Me, Kate” and “Wonderful Town” will round out the evening of music, which always includes one number conducted by the audience with light sticks.

Garner Park is located at 333 South Rosa Road, at the intersection of Mineral Point Road, west of Whitney Way. Parking is available in the CUNA Mutual Group and University Research Park lots. Attendees are encouraged to bring picnics, blankets and chairs. Alcohol is permitted, but not sold in the park.

On the day of the concert, Garner Park will open at 7 a.m. Audience members are not allowed to leave items in the park prior to this time. The rain date for Opera in the Park is Sunday, July 26, at 8 p.m.

Here are two links to help you find information about Opera in the Park.

For general information, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/park/

And for more information about the cast, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/park/cast/

For information about the next season, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2015-2016/

On the eve of the outdoor event, Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill) – who is the general director of the Madison Opera – agreed to revisit the past season and talk about the upcoming season with The Ear.

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

What kind of artistic and financial shape did the Madison Opera emerge from for the past season?

Our fiscal year doesn’t end until the end of August, but overall it has been a great year on all fronts. From the triumphant music of our first staged Fidelio (below, the prisoners’ chorus in a photo by James Gill) to the sold-out Sweeney Todd and the joyous The Barber of Seville, it was an immensely satisfying season.

Audience and critical response to each opera was strong, and often included some surprise that the individual enjoyed that particular show more than he or she had expected. It feels like we have proved in the past few seasons that we can produce consistently great opera across the spectrum. I am also encouraged by the new audiences we attract and the diversity of age range I see in our lobbies.

Fidelio prisoners' chorus James Gill

Can you rank each show in terms of popularity? Did you learn anything special from the season?

It’s difficult to rank this season’s shows, because we know they drew very different audiences. For example, the audience at Sweeney Todd was definitely younger than the audience at Fidelio — the non-subscription performance in particular seemed to have an average age of 30 — and a number of people brought their young children to The Barber of Seville for their first opera.

In absolute numbers, the order would be Barber (below, in a photo by James Gill), Sweeney Todd and Fidelio, but there was not a wide gap between them.

The main thing I’ve learned with each successive season is that we are doing the right thing by having such a mix of operas. Some of our patrons love Beethoven, some only like comedy, and some were only interested (or very much un-interested) in Sweeney Todd.

By doing such a range, we serve a much wider audience than if we focused on only one segment of our audience. Hopefully this adds to the growing understanding that opera is not a monolithic art form.

Madison Opera barber of seville cast action

How and why did you choose the operas for next season? Why Puccini’s “La Boheme”? Why Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”? Does “Little Women” represent something of a departure for Madison Opera? Is there an umbrella concept or unifying theme to the season?

Choosing a season’s operas is a question of balancing the classic, the rare and the new; picking a range of composers and languages; and in general coming up with the “mix” that defines us.

We have not performed La Bohème in eight years, so it was time to bring back the greatest love story in opera. While some long-time opera-goers may have seen it many times, we also have many in our audience who have only come to opera recently, so this will be their first Bohème.

la boeme banner

Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann is a brilliant piece that is both scarily large and immensely exciting to produce, packed with beautiful music and special effects. It happens to be a personal favorite opera not only for me, but also for John DeMain and Kristine McIntyre, our stage director. We look forward to sharing this literally fantastic work on the Overture Hall stage, as we have not performed it in 20 years.

tales of hoffmann banner

Little Women came out of Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, to some extent. After the success of Dead Man Walking, many people — particularly those who were surprised by how much they enjoyed a 21st-century opera — asked me what we were doing next. I did not want another nine years to go by before we did another major American opera, but I also wanted a completely different story, so that it would not be a literal comparison.

Mark Adamo’s Little Women has been one of the most-performed American operas since its 1998 premiere; its basis in a story that has been beloved for generations makes it the perfect way to keep growing our American repertoire.

As is often the case, the season theme emerges after I’ve picked the operas. Next season turned out to be a season of writers: Rodolfo is a poet; so is Hoffmann. Jo March writes stories for magazines and is in fact the only writer we see succeeding in her craft during the opera.

That said, the unifying theme is the same one I strive for every season: Great operas that tell wonderful stories with enthralling music.

little women banner

What role did the new Madison Opera Center play in the past season’s productions? Has it lived up to expectations?

Over the past two years, the Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center (below) has played a major role in defining who we are. On a basic level, it is where we rehearse, fit costumes and have our offices. It is also where the singers hang out, give press interviews, do their laundry, cook the occasional meal, work on music for their next gig and bump into our trustees in the common areas.

Having our own space has enabled us to add programs like the free Opera Novice series and hold more workshops with our high school apprentices.

On a financial level, revenue from the parking ramp in particular is an increasingly important part of our budget, as it is not dependent on donors or ticket sales. On a community level, having our rehearsal hall regularly used by groups such as CTM, Theatre Lila, and Capital City Theatre shows that we truly are part of the larger artistic fabric of Madison. The Center was designed to be a home on many levels, and we are well on the way to achieving that dream.

Madison Opera Center interior

What else would you like to say or add about the past season, the next season and perhaps also the Opera in the Park?

I am always grateful for the enormous number of people who make Madison Opera possible. Opera has never been cost-effective, and our patrons, volunteers, artists, production teams, and staff are all committed to sharing this glorious art form with everyone from the 2,000 teenagers at our student matinees to the 15,000 people at Opera in the Park.

Our season ends with this summer’s Opera in the Park this Saturday, which is always the perfect way to finish the year. This summer is the concert’s 14th year – which means that 2016 will be the 15th year, a milestone that was perhaps unthinkable when we started in Garner Park in 2002.

We have the highest per capita attendance for such an event in the U.S., which is a strong testament to the greater Madison community’s love for what we do. I won’t reveal the repertoire for this summer’s concert yet, but we have four amazing soloists and plenty of light sticks (below), so I hope everyone has the date on their calendars.

Opera in the Park 2014 light sticks


Classical music: NPR discusses famous composers and well-known works that were inspired by real birds.

July 18, 2015
17 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Recently, NPR or National Public Radio featured a story that The Ear found very interesting and engaging.

Reporter Wade Goodwin spoke to a bird expert  — Roy Brown, the host of “Talkin’ Birds” — who also possesses a fine knowledge of classical music.

The subject was how certain composers took inspirations from bird songs and even tried to imitate specific bird songs — such as that of the Ceti’s warbler (below) — in certain compositions including Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2.

Ceti's warbler

And when the connection wasn’t specific, the composers still tried to evoke the bird sonically.

The composers cited in the four-minute story were Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van BeethovenRalph Vaughan Williams (listen to the YouTube video at the bottom with Hillary Hahn and Sir Colin Davis conducting the London Symphony Orchestra) and Ottorino Respighi.

The Ear is sure there are many other examples of composers, works and specific bird species that are all linked. Antonin Dvorak comes to mind immediately.

If you know of any, please leave the names in the COMMENT section.

http://www.npr.org/2015/07/11/422008465/classical-composers-feathered-influences


Classical music: Founder Bruce Croushore explains how the “Grace Presents” series of FREE concerts came about and what it offers for the future.

July 17, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Bruce Croushore is leaving Madison this month.

Croushore founded Grace Presents, a monthly FREE concert series that features performances of eclectic music. He agreed to answers questions about his role as a local music entrepreneur or amateur impresario.

Croushore, a retired corporate attorney, and his wife Michele Hilmes, who retired last month from her position as Professor in the Communication Arts Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, are moving to New York, where they met and married 38 years ago and where their daughter, her husband and their infant grandson live.

Bruce Croushore

What motivated you to start Grace Presents?

It occurred to me for years that Grace Church’s historic and beautiful nave or sanctuary (below top) is the right size and has pleasant acoustical properties for music performed by soloists and small ensembles.

Having attended concerts in churches in cities in the US and in Europe, I figured Grace -– a lovely and peaceful space ideally situated (below bottom) on Madison’s Capital Square and on the music venue axis from Monona Terrace to Overture Hall and on to Mills Hall -– is perfectly suited for a concert series.

MBM Grace altar

grace episcopal church ext

How did you piece together Grace Presents?

To put it together, I figured the series first needed the support of Grace’s clergy, staff and lay leadership, which came quickly and unanimously in March of 2011, with some caution about staff time demands.

Next, I held a meeting of several folks I knew in Madison’s music community to seek their input on feasibility, frequency, format, timing and programming. Their questions and comments helped launch the series, which in a fit of rare creativity I dubbed, “Grace Presents.”

How is Grace Presents managed and operated?

Out of the planning meetings arose a task force without whose support and hard work the Grace Presents series would not have advanced. Members of the task force worked diligently, not only at the concerts but also in start-up efforts to negotiate a mission statement and work out processes and procedures.

More goes on behind the scenes in organizing and presenting a concert series than one might imagine. I feel the scheme we devised suits our purpose well.

In a stroke of fortune, Laura Weiner (below) came on board as our first program coordinator. Laura is a gifted horn player who was working at the time on a Master’s degree at the UW-Madison School of Music and who was a leader in the “Classical Revolution” movement in Madison.

Laura Weiner

She brought the energy, organizational skills and musical connections Grace Presents needed in its inaugural season. (Below are violinist Laura Burns, of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and pianist Jess Salek playing the complete violin sonatas of Johannes Brahms, whose “Liebeslieder” Waltzes can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Laura Burns Jess Salek Brahms Grace Epis

Did the series take off as you had hoped?

That first experimental season began in June 2011 and met with success. We tried different days of the week and different times of the day. We also experimented with varied programs, from a UW-Madison student brass quartet to Caravan, a local gypsy swing band.

Very importantly, we stuck to the guiding principles of charging no admission but paying an honorarium to all performers and keeping the music secular and eclectic. The quality of the performances was outstanding and attendance was gratifying.

Over the years, the task force realized that noon on Saturdays, especially when the Dane County Farmers’ Market is open, works best, as does keeping the concerts between 45 and 60 minutes long.

Scheduling was and remains a challenge because of conflicts such as events at the Overture Center and around the Capitol Square, as well as Badger football games. We surveyed the first concertgoers – and we have surveyed all that followed – and found that diverse programming has wide appeal.

Grace Presents sign

What did you learn over Grace Presents’ seasons?

Despite satisfying turnouts and positive comments on the surveys, we learned quickly that Grace Presents could not be sustained by free-will donations tossed into a basket at the concerts.

With Laura Weiner’s diligence in researching and writing a proposal, we had the good fortune to obtain a grant from Dane Arts near the end of the first season. That grant, along with a few generous individual donations and gifts from Grace Church, allowed us to meet our obligations. Funding for the following seasons came from the same sources. (Below are the Madison Bach Musicians performing a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach.)

MBM Grace cantatas ensemble

What does the future look like for Grace Presents?

The 2015 season line-up features many gifted musicians who perform a wide variety of music genres. Some members of Grace Presents’ voluntary task force attend Grace Church and others do not.

This is in keeping with the series’ mission of offering quality yet informal performances of secular music to the broader Madison and Dane County community, at no charge.

It also provides an attractive, historic and acoustically pleasing space to artists who perform a wide range of music and who are paid a decent honorarium.

The current program coordinator, Andrea Mauch (below), has the drive, charm and savvy required to move the series to the next level. She is talented in using the Internet and social media to promote Grace Presents. I am especially grateful to Andrea and to task force members Lynn Morgan (the current chair), Tino Balio, Bill Foote, Kia Karlen and Ginny Shannon for all they do to keep the Grace Presents concert series going strong.

They’ll do a great job maintaining the series on a sound footing. I pray it remains for years to come “a masterpiece of eclecticism,” as John McPhee once described Bill Bradley’s graceful hook shot.

Andrea Mauch - long scarf color

For more information, you can go to this link:

http://gracepresents.org

 

 

 


Classical music: The Ear recommends hearing the July performances by the new east-side group, The Willy Street Chamber Players. The next concert is tomorrow at noon.

July 16, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Consider it the musical equivalent of being a “locavore.”

Last Friday evening -– at the early concert time of 6 p.m. – the new ensemble The Willy Street Chamber Players (below is its great logo) made its debut.

Willy Street Chamber Players logo

Its home venue is the Immanuel Lutheran Church at 1021 Spaight Street.

immanuel lutheran church ext

Immanuel Lutheran interior

The Ear went to see how the eastsiders, who drew a large and enthusiastic inaugural crowd, would perform.

He is happy to report that it is well worth the trip and the admission fee is low ($12 for adults, $8 for seniors and students.)

The hour-long program last weekend was: an instrumental version of the sublime “Ave Verum Corpus” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Passacaglia of Georg Frideric Handel as arranged for violin and viola by Johan Halvorsen; and the String Sextet in B-flat Major, Op. 18, by Johannes Brahms, with guest violinist Suzanne Beia of the Pro Arte Quartet.

It proved to be a memorable and impressive concert. True, one missed the heavenly singing in the Mozart (below). But the all-string version was nonetheless a brief but terrific curtain-raiser.

Willy Street Mozart Ave

In the Handel-Halvorsen “Passacaglia,” it was engaging to follow the theme as it moved virtuosically back and forth between the violin (below right) and viola (below left).

Willy Street Passacaglia

The Brahms sextet (below) especially felt driven and well-rehearsed, carefully worked out and controlled to sound more transparent in its lines and structure, less muddy or thick in its texture.

Willy Street Brahms Sextet

Here is a link to the website with members of the group and news of the remaining concerts in July. (There will NOT be any concerts in August.)

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

And here is a link to the initial post by The Ear with the group’s background:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/07/08/classical-music-the-new-group-willy-street-chambers-players-makes-it-debut-this-friday-evening-in-a-brahms-sextet-and-has-concert-every-friday-in-july/

PLEASE NOTE: The concert this Friday – tomorrow — is at NOON and it’s designed to be a family event for children with parents. It will feature music by Antonin Dvorak, Eugene Ysaye and Ludwig van Beethoven. (Sorry, no word on specific pieces to be performed.)

The concert the following Fridays return to the 6 p.m. time.

Parking can seem hard to find, but the church (below, exterior and interior) has generous parking lot space. It also has terrific acoustics.

And there is a reception after the concert with some light snacks to carry to you into the rest of the evening.

The new group — made up of graduates of the UW-Madison School of Music who also play professionally in the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and other ensembles — offers yet more proof of the vitality and ingenuity of the classical music scene in Madison.

You would be wise not to miss its concerts.


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