By Jacob Stockinger
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.
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:
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.
“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:
And for more information about the cast, go to:
For information about the next season, go to:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Jacob Stockinger
Recently, NPR or National Public Radio featured a story that The Ear found very interesting and engaging.
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.
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 Beethoven, Ralph 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.
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.
Its home venue is the Immanuel Lutheran Church at 1021 Spaight Street.
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.
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).
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.
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.)
And here is a link to the initial post by The Ear with the group’s background:
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.
By Jacob Stockinger
Chances are you have never heard his name.
Yet the Russian native Kirill Petrenko (below) has just been appointed to succeed Sir Simon Rattle as the music director and conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, which is often seen as the finest and most prestigious orchestra in the world.
Petrenko sounds like a maestro who is worth getting to know.
And Tom Huizenga allows you to do just that in a terrific interview he did with a musician of the Berlin Philharmonic (below) about the new maestro who, it turns out, is publicity shy.
It will be interesting to see what his initial concert programs and recordings are.
But while you wait, here is a link to the interview, which also includes some audio-video clips as samples of Kirill Petrenko’s music-making:
By Jacob Stockinger
It happened on the last night of the successful three-weekend, six program, three-venue summer season –- the 24th such season for the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society -– that just ended.
The founders, artistic directors and performers were all milling around in the hallway of the Overture Center and were already talking about what a big event next summer will be because it will be the 25th season.
Clearly, planning the next season starts right away.
That night is when The Ear asked them if they wanted to get ideas from the public.
Yes, they said heartily, the more, the better!
So I said I would post about it, including my own suggestions and soliciting suggestions from the public.
Here they are. They include music from the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern eras.
As you’ll see, I like the idea of using the number 25 as a symbol of the silver anniversary.
As in No. 25.
As in Opus 25.
If I had more patience and time, I might also do what a close friend suggested: Look for pieces of music that were written when the composer was 25. Maybe some of you know of such works and can suggest them!
Anyway, here are The Ear’s suggestions:
Here is a link to a YouTube recording and video:
Specifically, I think of the Piano Concerto in C major, K. 503 – and No. 25 of 27 -– by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. If you heard BDDS perform the reduction of the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K. 491, this summer, you know how beautiful it can be, especially with the transparency of the different parts. And No. 25 is both majestic and sublime.
Find a transcription or make one.
Other orchestral candidates include: Mozart’s great Symphony No. 25 in G Minor (the Little G Minor to distinguish it from the Big G minor, No. 40) and Haydn’s Symphony No. 25 in C Major.
But I have also heard some wonderful transcriptions of the etudes for other instruments. Op. 25, No. 7 in C-sharp minor, for example, is meant to sound like a cello. (You can hear it below played soulfully by Daniil Trifonov.)
The cello was Chopin’s second favorite instrument. It might be impressive fun to see what BDDS comes up with if they do their own transcriptions of some etudes. The solo piano version is still the best, but a transcription might emphasize color and show the musicality in the pioneering keyboard studies!
6. Antonio Vivaldi, Cello Concerto in A minor, RV 422, No. 25
7. Antonio Vivaldi, Bassoon Concerto in F major, RV 491, No. 25
8. Johann Sebastian Bach, Cantata No. 25, “Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ” BWV 623. One could do the entire original version or perhaps use excerpts, like the Bach arias and duets that BDDS performed this summer.
9. Sergei Prokofiev, Symphony No. 1 “Classical,” Op. 25, in another reduction. It would go especially well with something by Haydn, who was the model for this Neo-Classical work.
You can hear all these works on YouTube.
And The Ear is sure there are a lot more works to name.
So send in your suggestions in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
And so does the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.
By Jacob Stockinger
Late word has reached The Ear about a promising new chamber music group that has been formed on Madison’s near east side. It will make its debut in a concert this Friday evening at 6 p.m. Admission is $12 for the general public; $8 for seniors and students.
It is called the Willy Street Chamber Players and a has a great logo (below) that combines the isthmus and a violin.
For complete information, here is a link to the group’s website:
And here are excerpts from their website:
“The Willy Street Chamber Players are the new faces of chamber music in Madison, Wisconsin. In residency at Immanuel Lutheran Church in the Williamson/Marquette neighborhood, our group features musicians who live on the East Side of Madison and also perform with the city’s major arts organizations.
“Our performances are of the highest quality and are sure to leave a lasting impression on all who attend. Concerts begin at the unique time of 6 p.m., allowing audiences to leave for the evening with enough time left over to enjoy summertime dinners and venture off to the next great event happening around town.
“A special lunch-time family concert will also be held at noon on Friday, July 17, for those who are looking for an enriching and creative way to spend their lunch hour.
“Chamber music revolves around the concepts of collaboration and building relationships, and we believe those activities affect everyone in the room, not just the musicians on stage. Post-concert social activities are an integral part of our programming and we encourage everyone to stay after each performance to meet our musicians.
“We founded this festival as a way to strengthen ties with the neighborhoods that we call home. By sharing diverse programs of the music we love most we hope to share a bit of ourselves with our community in a welcoming and inclusive environment.
“We are the musicians that you hear practicing in the windows on Spaight Street or biking down the Capitol City trail on Atwood Avenue.
“We play your weddings, teach your kids and play impromptu concerts on your street corners.
“We play as members of Madison’s leading ensembles including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Bach Musicians, the Ancora String Quartet and have all gone through the graduate studies program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
“Some of us — Eleanor Bartsch — have even gone viral on YouTube serenading elephants with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. But most importantly we shop local, eat local, bike local and live local.
“Come join us for these exciting concerts. We would love to meet you!
Here is the 2015 Core Roster of Performers
Eleanor Bartsch, Violin (below)
Lindsey Crabb, Cello (below)
Beth Larson, Violin (below)
Rachel Hauser, Violin/Viola (below)
Mark Bridges, Cello (below)
Paran Amirinazari, Violin (below)
Jason Kutz, Piano (below)
Here is the JULY 2015 CONCERT SCHEDULE:
ALL CONCERTS WILL BE HELD AT IMMANUEL LUTHERAN CHURCH (below), 1021 SPAIGHT STREET, MADISON
Friday, July 10 at 6 p.m.: WSCP Welcomes You!! Our inaugural season will take off with the epic Brahms Sextet in B-flat major, Op. 18– you can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom — with special guest violinist Suzanne Beia (below) of the Pro Arte Quartet, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
Friday, July 24, at 6 p.m.: Hear and Now — A special concert of music written by living composers; many of whom have ties to the Midwest. Come partake in a fun evening of living, breathing music!
By Jacob Stockinger
Today, the stock markets, banks and many businesses are closed in observance of the Fourth of July.
But Saturday is the real Independence Day for the United States of America.
Now, The Ear has some ideas about what classical music to celebrate the event -– and the choices do NOT include the “1812 Overture” by Peter Tchaikovsky or the “Marseillaise,” the French national anthem that started during the French Revolution. Maybe one of the overtures by Ludwig van Beethoven or an aria by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Giuseppe Verdi would do. Try and see if you can convince me.
But here is your choice to play DJ.
Leave your choice -– with a YouTube link, if possible -– in the COMMENT section.
Then I will decide which choice is most appropriate and best, and post a YouTube video of the work on Saturday to mark the real Fourth of July, the real Independence Day.
Thanks for your help.
I know I have some very knowledgeable readers, so I am looking forward to the seeing and hearing their suggestions.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society finished up its three-week, 24th annual season this past weekend.
The populist chamber music group used local and imported artists to perform six programs over three weekends in three different venues -– all based around the theme of “Guilty as Charged,” which meant emphasizing borrowings and similar transgressions. Talk about a hard-working group of performing artists!
Over the next week or two, The Ear wants to share some of the lessons that he learned from attending several of the BDS concerts.
Today is Lesson 1: Chamber music transcriptions, arrangements and reductions of large orchestral works deserve a wider hearing so that more people can enjoy those works more often.
I cite two examples from the “Crooked Business” program that BDDS performed at the Stoughton Opera House (below, where I saw and heard it) and at the Hillside Theatre on the Taliesin compound of architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Spring Green.
First, there was the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. BDDS co-founder, co-artist director and house pianist Jeffrey Sykes led the group of 11 players from the keyboard and played with his back to the audience.
(Believe it or not, if The Ear recalls music history correctly, that was the standard performance practice, as was playing with the score, until the legendary piano virtuoso Franz Liszt turned the piano to the side to highlight his dramatic profile and also memorized the music to astonish his audiences.)
The Mozart piano concerto is a great work — you can hear the whole work in its full orchestral version with pianist Mitsuko Uchida in a YouTube video at the bottom. And the arrangement or reduction they used made it seem even more remarkable. That is because the smaller size of the forces allowed one to hear more clearly the interplay of various parts.
Then on the second half of the program came a second example: The Serenade No. 1 in D Major, Op 11 (1857) by Johannes Brahms. It was performed with nine players in a reduction by Christopher Nex.
The Ear found the work to be a bit too long and repetitive — the structure of its six movements lacked the tightness of a symphony. But then again, a tuneful serenade is by definition supposed to be lighter and have a looser structure, to spur more relaxed and informal listening and to demand less focused attention.
Such reductions originated in the desire of amateurs to make house music at a time when professional orchestras and chamber music groups and commercial concerts did not exist in a widespread way.
It is an approach that can and should be revived. To be fair, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has also done a few of these transcriptions or arrangements, often with the Harvard University Mozart scholar and pianist Robert Levin.
But nonetheless it is largely thanks to the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society that listeners can make their way through the 27 piano concertos by Mozart and the 104 symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn -– to say nothing of the many Baroque, Classical, Romantic and modern works that must already exist in similar arrangements or could be rearranged on demand.
To which The Ear simply says: Bravo! Do more of them!
What do you say?
The Ear -– along with BDDS organizers and performers – wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear’s friends at the Green Lake Festival of Music write to tell us about a program important to music education – which means a program important to the future of classical music:
Here is the press release:
On Sunday, July 5, at the Thrasher Opera House (below bottom) in Green Lake, The Green Lake Chamber Players open the 17th annual Green Lake Music Festival Chamber Music Camp, as string and piano students (below top) from nine states, ages 11 to 20, convene at Ripon College for two weeks of stimulating music-making along with just plain fun.
Part of the fun includes a trip to Larry Miller’s farm and a shopping scavenger hunt at K-Mart.
The daily schedule includes coaching sessions by Thomas Rosenberg (Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition Director, cellist and the Camp’s Artistic Director); Samantha George, Associate Professor of Violin at Lawrence Conservatory of Music; Karen Kim, Grammy Award winning violinist; David Perry, Professor of Violin at the UW-Madison and first violin of the Pro Arte String Quartet; Renee Skerik, Instructor of Viola at Interlochen Arts Academy; Andrew Armstrong from the Amelia Piano Trio; James Howsmon, Professor of Instrumental Accompanying at Oberlin College Conservatory; and guest artists, including Shen Lu, 2014 Hilton Head International Piano Competition Winner, the Jupiter Quartet (below top), and the Bergonzi String Quartet (below bottom).
Join us for the first of several Green Lake Chamber Players concerts on Sunday, July 5, at 3 p.m. This concert is a “BUY ONE, GET ONE” ticket concert. The Green Lake Chamber Players includes the Green Lake Festival Chamber Music Camp faculty and guest artists who will perform music by Alexander Scriabin, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms. This is also the first concert in a series of matinees that offer a special package for bus pick up and ticket from Appleton, Oshkosh, and Beaver Dam. Call the Festival office for more details on this package.
The 2014 Hilton Head International Piano Competition Winner, Shen Lu (below) will perform Thursday, July 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the Thrasher Opera House, along with teaching a piano master class on Friday, July 10, at 10 a.m. John O’Conor, the Jury Chair from the 2014 Hilton Head International Piano Competition, says, “Shen Lu is a young Chinese pianist with an exciting future. His interpretations have great depth, his technique seems effortless and he communicates wonderfully with his audience.”
Students will attend master classes and five Festival concerts, and perform a variety of community service engagements in such facilities as nursing homes, service clubs, and libraries.
The program includes three public concerts – a Chamber Camp Student Recital on Saturday, July 11, and the popular “Circle of Sound” string orchestra concert at the Boston Barn on Tuesday, July 14, as part of the Boston Barn Concert package that includes appetizers and music by the Bergonzi String Quartet, and the final Chamber Music Celebration at Rodman Center for the Arts, Ripon College, on Saturday, July 18.
Please visit www.greenlakefestival.org for information about these and other artists performing throughout July at the Festival or to purchase tickets. Tickets are also available by calling the office at 920-748-9398. You can also stop by one of the following ticket outlets: Green Lake Bank (Green Lake) and Ripon Drug (Ripon).
The Green Lake Festival of Music is supported in part by the Arts Midwest Touring Arts Fund, a program of Arts Midwest, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional funding from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Crane Group, and General Mills Foundation. Additional support comes from the Horicon Bank, Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, Agnesian Healthcare, Wisconsin Department of Tourism, Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, and private and corporate donations.
Chamber Workshop FREE Public Events
Get the inside story on the rehearsal process as you watch these artists work with talented students. All master classes will be held at the Rodman Center for the Arts at Ripon College.
Chamber Workshop Concerts