ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison 900 University Bay Drive, features cellist Leonardo Altino playing Suites Nos. 1, 5 and 6 for unaccompanied cello by Johann Sebastian Bach. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
WYSO will kick-off its 51st season with the Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts on this Saturday, Nov. 12, and next Saturday, Nov. 19. Nearly 500 young musicians will display their talents to the community during the concerts, which are dedicated to music teachers.
Kenneth will be playing cello and Cynthia will be conducting in the Cello Concerto by British composer Philip Sawyers. (You can hear Kenneth Woods conduct the opening movement of the cello concerto in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Youth Orchestra, under the direction of James Smith, will also be playing Symphony No. 2 by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Overture to the opera “Der Freischuetz” by Carl Maria von Weber.
Cynthia Woods (below) is currently the Music Director of the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and the conductor for the Youth Preparatory Orchestra at the New England Conservatory, where she serves on the violin, chamber and conducting faculty.
Along with her conducting activities, Ms. Woods is also a frequent speaker and writer. She has been a guest lecturer at institutions such as MIT and the Longy School of Music of Bard College, a panelist for radio shows such as WGBH’s Callie Crossley, and a frequent contributor to The Boston Herald’s State of the Arts blog. Cynthia was a member of WYSO from 1984–1989 in Concert, Philharmonia and Youth Orchestra.
For more background about Cynthia Woods, go to:
Kenneth Woods (below) is currently the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra. As a cello soloist and chamber musician, Wood’s collaborators have included members of the Toronto, Chicago and Cincinnati symphonies, the Minnesota, Gewandhaus and Concertgebouw orchestras and the La Salle, Pro Arte, Tokyo and Aubudon String Quartets.
He also is currently cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo, with whom he performs regularly in the UK, Europe, and the USA. He writes a popular blog, “A View From the Podium.” Kenneth was a member of WYSO from 1980–1986 in Concert, Philharmonia and Youth Orchestra. He also studied cello at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music with Parry Karp, of the Pro Arte Quartet.
For more background and an interview with Kenneth Woods, go to:
Schedule and Programs
November 12, 2016 – 1:30 P.M., Mills Hall
November 12, 2016 – 4 P.M., Mills Hall
CONCERT ORCHESTRA (below)
November 19, 2016 – 7 P.M., River Arts Center
YOUTH ORCHESTRA (below)
The Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the UW Humanities Building, 455 N. Park Street, Madison, and at the River Arts Center, 105 Ninth St. Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin.
WYSO concerts generally run about an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.
Tickets are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and under.
This project is supported by Dane Arts with additional funds from the Evjue Foundation, Inc., the charitable arm of The Capital Times. This project is also supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.
ALERT: A noteworthy new event — and perhaps a new tradition — will take place at 7 p.m. this SUNDAY night (NOT Saturday night as mistakenly first listed here) in Mills Hall. That’s when the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra welcomes sitarist Chitravina N. Ravikiran (below) in the third edition of the cross-cultural and world music Melharmony Festival. The music is by Indian composer Dikshitar and Ludwig van Beethoven, who were contemporaries at the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century. Andrew Sewell will conduct.
For more information about the event, the players and tickets ($10-$35), visit:
By Jacob Stockinger
Friends at The Festival Choir of Madison have sent the following word:
The Festival Choir of Madison (below top) will perform “The Romance of Music,” conducted by Sergei Pavlov (below bottom), who also teaches at Edgewood College.
The concert is this Saturday night, Nov. 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.
Tickets are $15 for general admission; $12 for seniors; and $9 for students.
Do you remember when you fell in love with music? Was it a time and place? A person and feeling? Rediscover your love of music with trios of sacred songs, gypsy tunes and lullabies, straight from our heart to yours.
The program features such favorites as: “Jesu Meine Freude” (Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring) by Johann Sebastian Bach (at bottom in a YouTube video); “Hear My Prayer” by Felix Mendelssohn; “Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; the “Humming Chorus” from “Madama Butterfly” by Giacomo Puccini; the “Gypsy Chorus“or “Anvil Chorus” from the opera “Il Trovatore” by Giuseppe Verdi; “Cantique de Jean Racine” by Gabriel Faure; and more.
The Festival Choir is a mixed voice choir of 40 to 50 singers.
Special guest musicians — who often perform with the Kat Trio, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra — for this concert include: Victoria Gorbich (below top) on violin; Vladislav Gorbich (below second) on clarinet; Mary Ann Harr Grinde on harp (below third); and James McKenzie (below bottom) on percussion.
For more information and tickets, visit:
By Jacob Stockinger
Can it really be that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra –- The Little Orchestra That Could -– is finally getting the long overdue recognition and larger audiences that it deserves? One hopes so, and it certainly seems so.
Last Friday night on the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opened its new winter season to a full and enthusiastic house.
So perhaps the tide is indeed turning and the WCO will not continue to be hamstrung by its own success, by which I mean its historic role and pops repertoire in the always popular summertime Concerts on the Square. The WCO should be taken more seriously by the area’s classical fans.
Friday saw a full house – but not necessarily a sold-out house since the WCO generously offers tickets to students and others in need -– which was what they deserve, and have deserved, for a longtime.
Here are the points that The Ear took away.
1. The music of the famous 18th-century composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below top) and Franz Joseph Haydn (below bottom) can by now seem so safe and so predictable. The Classical-era style is that well established. So it is high praise to the WCO ‘s longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, who his starting his 15th season, that these most established of Classical composers again seemed vital and even, at times, daring and radical. No music box Mozart from the WCO!
Sewell’s readings of both composers is not timid in any way, but robust and energetic. Not that Sewell (below) sacrifices the elegance and balanced proportion that we expect to hear in Classical compositions. But he also brings an approach that features up-beat tempi, sharply accented beats, long phrases and an emphasis on dissonant harmonies that helped listeners see how such staple Classical composers were innovative revolutionaries in their day and helped pave the way to modernity.
Really, at one point during Haydn’s late Symphony No. 96 “The Miracle” The Ear could look down the road of music history and see not only Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert coming, but even Gustav Mahler (below), with his use of peasant dances, harmonic suspensions and dissonances, and a kind of tightly knit theme-and-variations method of composing and adding to the music’s momentum.
2. The WCO knows how to book outstanding and exciting soloists. Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below), playing a violin once chosen by Johannes Brahms himself, showed superb tone and musicianship with just the right splash of head-turning virtuosity. But she can sing too, and she held the audience in her hand when she played the famous quiet Lullaby by Brahms as an encore.
One very discerning listener whom The Ear knows thought that Barton Pine’s stellar rendition of Camille Saint-Saens’ showpiece “Introduction and Rondo capriccioso” was the best version of the several he had heard in three performances over the past several months. It helped, I think, that you could watch the playing as well as hear the piece. As the composer Igor Stravinsky used to advise: Listen with your eyes.
Similarly the violist Matthew Lipman (below), who was making his WCO debut, did a terrific job. He may look about 16, but he plays like a seasoned veteran with confidence and fine tone.
The two string players excelled in the Double Concerto for Violin and Viola by Benjamin Britten -– but more about that performance and work later. Yet what really brought the string duo a prolonged standing ovation was their encore: the famous solo Passacaglia for Violin and Viola by George Frideric Handel, as arranged by Johan Halvorsen. (You can hear a version of this great violin and viola piece, with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, in a YouTube video at the bottom.) What fun it was to hear it live!
3. The hybrid programming proved typical of Andrew Sewell, who likes to combine the familiar with the unknown. So Mozart’s popular Overture to the opera “The Marriage of Figaro” and the well-known late Haydn symphony were balanced out by the rarely programmed Violin Concerto No. 5 by the mid-19th century Romantic Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps (below), a competent but, to The Ear’s ears, not a particularly inspired composition. I think I can wait another decade or two before hearing a repeat performance.
The Double Concerto for Violin and Viola by the young Benjamin Britten is another matter. I need to hear it again, and that will not be easy since it is not often programmed or recorded.
But the hallmarks of mature Britten (below) all seemed there, if not yet seamlessly assembled. The music sounded modern but accessible, clearly not academic. This was real music, not what The Ear calls R&D Music — Research and Development Music — that is designed more to make a point or win tenure than to please the ear or touch the heart.
In all, it was a delightful night of music-making, and if you are not going to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, you are only cheating yourself of great pleasure and great performances.
Reviews, of course, are by nature subjective. So here is another one you can compare this review to:
It is a review by the highly respected John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus:
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 hosts 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.
By John W. Barker
While the Wisconsin Union Theater is still under renovation, it is sharing its season’s programs with the University of Wisconsin School of Music, and the first one this year was a terrific winner!
Two guests graced the stage at Mills Hall, with the resources of the UW Symphony orchestra placed at the disposal of one of them, conductor Kenneth Woods, himself a product of the UW School of Music who is now making a very individual career for himself from his home in Wales in the United Kingdom.
Woods chose to begin with a short orchestral piece, “In the Gale of Life,” composed in 2006 by Philip Sawyers (below). The British composer took his inspiration, and his title, from lines in a poem by A.E. Housman.
That fact matters little in the listening, for the piece is basically intended to be a zippy concert overture, designed to show off Sawyers’ mastery of a large orchestra. It might better be called an orchestral “Essay,” on the model of Samuel Barber’s works of that title, save that Sawyers lacks Barber’s clearly focused concision. Thematic materials appear but are denied explorations of their potentials. Just more of your in-one-ear-and-out-the-other repertoire, then.
The first of the servings of real meat came with the appearance of the second guest, Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below). She is surely the best violinist the US has produced, certainly presently active. I have long admired her versatile and imaginative work through her many prize-winning and best-selling recordings as well as at least one previous concert appearance (with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra).
Her vehicle this time was Johannes Brahms’ monumental Violin Concerto. She clearly regards it as a work of serious ideas, to which she is committed, rather than to simplistic showiness. In some ways, she understated the virtuosity, but when impassioned outbursts were called for she threw herself into them body and soul.
She also understands that any Brahms concerto is a partnership between soloist and orchestra. She was collegial, and even deferential when appropriate. The second movement opens with a gorgeous passage for wind ensemble, and when it briefly recurs at the end she joined in as if sharing their conversation.
Woods led the orchestra, meanwhile, in a solid and worthy realization of its role.
Pine also, by the way, eschewed the usual first-movement cadenza written by the concerto’s dedicatee, Joseph Joachim (below), and instead used her own–which she has published in a volume of such cadenzas and arrangements that was available in the lobby.
A musician not only of rich talent but genuine personal grace, Barton Pine used the traditional encore slot to talk to the audience about the remarkable history of the instrument she plays, one selected by Brahms himself for a gifted lady violinist in his circle. She then played the composer’s familiar Lullaby in a solo arrangement by Albert Spalding. (You can hear it a YouTube video at the bottom and on her recent acclaimed CD of lullabies.)
As if one great masterpiece was not enough for a great concert, the second half offered another, the second serving of meat.
For a long time, the Fifth Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich (below) was regarded as a vulgar capitulation to the brutal Stalinist regime, which had put the composer in serious jeopardy. Shostakovich himself described it as “a Soviet artist’s response to just criticism,” and the work was immediately acclaimed as a model of accessible socialist art.
It has only been in recent years that all of Shostakovich’s music, and especially this work, have been perceived as carrying dark subtexts of personal and political import.
Woods himself clearly follows this line, and in an introductory talk pointed up the evidence for the Fifth as a work not of subservience but of defiance. He then led a performance that was, in effect, a testimonial to that viewpoint.
It was a searing, powerful, riveting approach, its revisionism best displayed in the final movement. Woods launched into its opening march ferociously, faster than most conductors. After its less hectic middle section, he approached its coda-apotheosis not as a paean of Soviet triumphalism, but as a slower, more unsettling challenge to the audience.
The UW Symphony Orchestra (below top, in a photo by John W. Barker) followed him magnificently. How wonderful it is to see these students perform at a virtually professional level, utterly at one with their conductor. Once more, a tribute to what UW Professor of Conducting James Smith (below) has done to build up a playing tradition of confidence and polish.
And, once more, this concert was a reminder of the kind of glorious musical experiences that are to be had on the UW-Madison campus, ones too often ignored or overlooked by the public and the media.