The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The second week of programs by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society offers vocal and instrumental music that spans four centuries and includes a world premiere

June 15, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last weekend, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opened its 26th season with two programs in three venues that all proved highly successful.

Building on that success, the chamber music festival with top local and guest performers, now turns to vocal and instrumental music that ranges from the late 18th century up to today, including a world premiere.

As usual, the BDDS venues are suitably intimate for chamber music: The Playhouse (below top) at the Overture Center at 201 State St.; the jewel box historic Stoughton Opera House (below middle) at 381 East Main St.; and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside Theater (below bottom) at Taliesin on County Highway 23 in Spring Green.

Concerts are spiked with stories about the music, mystery guests and even door prizes.

This season’s theme is Alphabet Soup, because it’s BDDS’ 26th year and there are 26 letters in the alphabet. Each program is named after a combination of letters used in everyday language. Sometimes the musical interpretation of those letters is literal and sometimes it’s quite loose.

The second weekend of concerts features the San Francisco Piano Trio (below) Axel Strauss, violin; Jean-Michel Fonteneau, cello; and Jeffrey Sykes, piano).

They are joined by UW-Madison’s pianist Christopher Taylor, soprano Emily Birsan (another Madison favorite and a graduate of the UW-Madison and Lyric Opera of Chicago) and internationally acclaimed clarinetist Alan Kay.

TWO PROGRAMS

Two Bs or not Two Bs includes evocative songs by Maurice Ravel for soprano, flute, cello and piano and an entertaining bouquet of earthy cabaret songs by composers Benjamin Britten, William Bolcom and Arnold Schoenberg, sung by Emily Birsan.

The program also features Bela Bartok’s “Contrasts” for clarinet, violin and piano, a work commissioned by the legendary jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman (below), and Johannes Brahms’ epic Piano Trio in C Major, Op. 87. (You can hear a historic recording of Benny Goodman performing the Bartok work, with the composer playing the piano, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Two Bs or not Two Bs will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts, on Friday, June 16, 7:30 p.m., and at the Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green, on Sunday, June 18, 2:30 p.m.


Special K is a showcase for Alan Kay, principal clarinetist of the renowned Orpheus Chamber Ensemble.

It includes “The Shepherd on the Rock” for soprano, clarinet and piano by Franz Schubert; the hip tour-de-force “Techno Parade” by Guillaume Conneson (below) for flute, clarinet and piano; and the Midwest premiere of “Living Frescoes” for clarinet, violin, cello and piano by American composer Kevin Puts.

Many will remember that Kevin Puts (below) was the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer BDDS commissioned for the song cycle “In At The Eye” in its 25th season last summer.

The program is rounded out with Mozart’s Piano Trio in E Major and three songs by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (below) sung by Emily Birsan, accompanied by Jeffrey Sykes.

Special K will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts, on Saturday, June 17, 7:30 p.m., and at the Hillside Theater, Taliesin, in Spring Green, on Sunday, June 18, 6:30 p.m.

Photos by Dick Ainsworth of BDDS performances and behind-the-scenes will be on exhibit in The Playhouse through Sunday, July 9.

Single general admission tickets are $43. Student tickets are always $10.

For tickets visit: http://www.overture.org/events/bach-dancing

For more information about the programs, performers, performances and background, visit www.bachdancinganddynamite.org or call (608) 255-9866.

Tickets can also be purchased at Overture Center for the Arts, (608) 258-4141, www.overturecenter.org (additional fees apply).

Tickets are also available at the door at all locations.


Classical music: New Orleans seeks to once again become an American opera capital with an emphasis on diversity

May 31, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

When you think of opera in America, chances are good that you think of New York City with the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera; the Lyric Opera of Chicago; the Houston Grand Opera; the Santa Fe Opera; and countless other opera companies in many major cities.

And when you think of New Orleans, you understandably think of jazz.

But the truth is that for a long time, New Orleans was an American capital for opera, more important than many of the other cities mentioned above.

Consider the fact that the first opera performed in the United States was performed in New Orleans in 1796. And that at one point, New Orleans was home to five opera companies.

Plus, the opera that was performed there in the past brought racial, cultural and gender diversity to an art form that often lacked it and was largely Euro-centric. (You can hear the company sing “We’re Goin’ Around” from ragtime great Scott Joplin‘s opera “Treemonisha” in the YouTube video at the bottom,)

Now some singers and others (below) have formed an organization – OperaCreole — with the aim of correcting racism and restoring New Orleans’ reputation for opera,  especially that of the many African-American and Creole opera composers who were native to New Orleans.

A fine story, with an illuminating interview, recently appeared on NPR (National Public Radio).

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/05/28/530085480/a-new-orleans-company-shines-a-light-on-operas-diverse-history

Another excellent story, with more focus on repertoire and history, appeared in The New Yorker magazine:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/a-small-step-toward-correcting-the-overwhelming-whiteness-of-opera

And here is a link to OperaCreole’s own website with more information about the company and its productions:

http://www.operacreole.com


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s organ concert on Tuesday night features two male singers in music from oratorios and operas

February 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming week, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will present  organist Samuel Hutchison (below) and acclaimed singers Andrew Bidlack and Kyle Ketelsen performing as a trio in vocal and instrumental music from oratorios and operas.

Sam Hutchison with organ (c) JoeDeMaio

The concert is Tuesday night, Feb. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street.

Principal Organist and Curator for the Madison Symphony Orchestra Samuel Hutchison joins forces with two outstanding singers in the first half to perform a program of favorite arias and overtures from Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Rossini’s Stabat Mater.

Opera will be the focus of the second half, featuring arias and selections from Bizet’s Carmen, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Gounod’s Faust.

For the full program, go to: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/organopera

Featured by Opera News as one of their top 25 brilliant young artists, tenor Andrew Bidlack (below) — who is replacing David Portillo — makes his debut in Overture Hall following performances at The Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Welsh National Opera and London’s Covent Garden.

andrew-bidlack-vertical

Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a photo by Dario Acosta), who lives in nearby Sun Prairie, has sung with major opera companies throughout the world including The Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the State Opera of Berlin. He is praised for his vibrant stage presence and his distinctive vocalism.

In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Kyle Ketelsen sing the role of Don Escamillo in a Barcelona, Spain, production of Bizet’s “Carmen.” He is singing the same role in the Metropolitan Opera’s current production of “Carmen.”

Kyle Ketelsen face shot 1 Dario Acosta

General Admission for each Overture Concert Organ performance is $20. Tickets can be purchased at madisonsymphony.org/organopera, (608) 258-4141 or the Overture Center Box Office.

Student Rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $10 tickets.

This performance is sponsored by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund.

With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.

Overture Concert Organ overview


Classical music: UW-Madison opera students are on display at a concert this Sunday afternoon along with guest professional and UW opera graduate Lindsay Metzger

September 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from UW Opera Props, the support organization for University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

We invite you to attend a benefit concert showcasing the University of Wisconsin-Madison opera program’s talented students, along with special guest artist, distinguished alumna and mezzo-soprano, Lindsay Metzger (below top) who will be accompanied by pianist Daniel Fung (below bottom).

lindsay-metzger-1

daniel-fung

Please join us for a program of songs and arias, followed by a reception. Enjoy conversation with the singers, faculty and other musical friends, along with light refreshments including artisanal cheeses, fruit, wine, juices and chocolatier Gail Ambrosius’s delicious creations.

The concert is this Sunday, Sept. 18, at 3 p.m. followed by light refreshments and conversation. Sorry, no word about the composers or works to be sung.

The concert will take place in the Landmark Auditorium at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison

Admission is a contribution of $25 in advance ($30 at the door), and $10 for students. All proceeds go to UW Opera student scholarships.

For more information, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1838139499750385

http://www.uwoperaprops.org/uw-opera-props-student-showcase-concert/

Lindsay Metzger (below) hails from Mundelein, Illinois. She spent two summers as an apprentice artist with Des Moines Metro Opera and was a studio artist in 2014-15 with Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera (Gannett in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore).

lindsay-metzger-2

Among her other recent portrayals have been Daphne/Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s La descente d’Orphée aux enfers (Chicago’s Haymarket Opera Company), Cherubino in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (La Musica Lirica in Novafeltria, Italy), Nella in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi (DuPage Opera Theatre), the title role in Handel’s Ariodante, Béatrice in Berlioz’ Béatrice et Bénédict, and Beppe in Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz (all at the University of Wisconsin-Madison).

With Lyric Unlimited’s community-engagement program “Opera in the Neighborhoods,” Metzger was heard in the title role in Rossini’s La Cenerentola.

A soloist featured frequently in numerous Chicago-area venues, Metzger debuted with the Grant Park Symphony singing the soprano solo in Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem.

She was awarded the Paul Collins Fellowship from University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Virginia Cooper Meier Award from the Musicians’ Club of Women, and an Encouragement Award from the Metropolitan Opera National Council District Auditions.

Metzger is an alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and DePaul University. Last season at Lyric she was featured in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (debut) and Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. In the 2016-17 season the mezzo-soprano will perform in Massenet’s Don Quichotte and Bizet’s Carmen.


Classical music: Collaborative pianist and UW-Madison professor Martha Fischer is The Ear’s “Musician of the Year” for 2015

December 31, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

There is now so much outstanding classical music in the Madison area that it is hard to single out one performer or even one group as the Musician of the Year.

So this year The Ear was wondering how to honor all the musicians who generally go nameless but perform so well — all those string, brass, wind and percussion players and all those singers –- and not just the higher-profile conductors or soloists.

Then he was sitting at the astounding debut recital by Soh-Hyun Park Altino, the new violin professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, given the night of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

Her partner was faculty pianist Martha Fischer.

And then is when The Ear decided that the Musician of the Year for 2015 should be Martha Fischer (below).

Martha Fischer color Katrin Talbot

I’d say “accompanist,” but we really don’t call them accompanists any more. The better term, and the more accurate term, is collaborative pianist.

And if you heard Martha Fischer play the thorny piano parts of the violin sonatas by Charles Ives and Johannes Brahms, you know you heard amazing artistry. (Park Altino also played a solo work by Johann Sebastian Bach.)

Here is the rave review by The Ear:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/classical-music-if-a-perfect-debut-concert-exists-new-uw-madison-faculty-violinist-soh-hyun-park-altino-gave-it-last-friday-night/

Now, The Ear has to disclose that he knows Martha Fischer and is a friend of hers as well as of her husband Bill Lutes.

But none of that takes away from Fischer’s many accomplishments, which too often fly under the radar and go uncredited.

Indeed, by honoring her, The Ear also hopes to draw attention to and to honor the many mostly anonymous ensemble and chamber players, including those in the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top in a photo by Greg Anderson), the Middleton Community Orchestra, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra as well as the UW Symphony Orchestra, the Edgewood College orchestras and choirs, the UW Chamber Orchestra and the UW Choral Union (below bottom) and other UW choirs.

Too often, the members of those groups and so many others — such as the Ancora and Rhapsodie String Quartets, the Oakwood Chamber Players and the Willy Street Chamber Players, the Madison Choral Project, the Festival Choir and the Wisconsin Chamber Choir — pass unnoticed or under-noticed, much like Fischer. But like her, they deserve attention and respect.

Because they too are collaborators.

They serve the music. The music does not serve them.

And the truth is that most music-making is collaborative -– not solo performing.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Choral Union Joel Rathmann, Emi Chen

In addition, Fischer is also the model of the kind of academic that Gov. Scott Walker and the go-along Republican Legislators don’t seem to recognize or appreciate. They prefer instead to scapegoat and stigmatize public workers, and to hobble the University of Wisconsin with budget cuts and so-called reforms.

Remember that old saying: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach? It’s nonsense, especially in this case.

Martha Fischer is someone who both teaches and performs. She also participates in faculty governance and heads up the committee searching for a new opera director. When The Ear asked her for an update on the search, she provided records with complete transparency up to the limits of the law. Our corrupt, secretive and self-serving state government leaders should be so honest and so open.

Fischer is a first-rate collaborator who performs and records regularly with other faculty instrumentalists and singers. They include UW trombonist Mark Hetzler, trumpeter John Aley and singers baritone Paul Rowe and soprano Julia Faulkner, who has since moved on to the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

A model of the Wisconsin Idea in action, Fischer also serves as a juror for piano competitions, gives talks around the state and helps recruit talented students.

As a researcher, Fischer – who trained at the Julliard School, Oberlin College and the New England Conservatory of Music — traveled to England and interviewed famous collaborative pianists about playing Schubert’s art songs.

By all accounts, Fischer is a phenomenal teacher of both undergraduate and graduate students. The Ear has heard her students in concerto and solo recital performances, and was impressed. He also talked to her students and heard nothing but praise for her teaching.

He has heard Fisher herself sing, from Schubert lieder to Gilbert and Sullivan songs. She does that amazingly well too.

Fisher is one of the co-founders, co-organizers and main performers of the UW’s Schubertiades (below). The third annual Schubertiade is on Saturday, January 30, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. Go there and you can hear her sing and play piano duets and other chamber music. It is always one of the outstanding concerts of the year.

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

Well, The Ear could go on and on. The personable but thoroughly professional Martha Fischer works so hard that there are plenty of reasons to honor her.

So, for all the times her playing and other talents have escaped attention, The Ear offers a simple but heartfelt Thank You to the Musician of the Year for 2015.

Please feel free to leave your thanks and remarks in the COMMENTS section.

If you want to hear Martha Fischer in action, here is a link to the SoundCloud posting of her playing the Brahms Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100, for Violin and Piano with violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino:

https://soundcloud.com/uw-madisonsom

Then listen to the delicacy, balance and subtleties, of Fischer’s playing in this YouTube video of a lovely Romance for Trumpet and Piano:


New Life for “The Great Gatsby”: John Harbison’s “Roaring ‘20s” opera has its European premiere this month in Dresden, Germany

December 5, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s good friend, Sarah Schaffer, who works with composer John Harbison, writes:

Many Madisonians were among those who travelled to New York City in 1999 for the world premiere of John Harbison’s opera, “The Great Gatsby,” which is based on the iconic novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald and which was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera in celebration of renowned conductor James Levine’s 25th anniversary there. (Below, from the original production, are the late tenor Jerry Hadley as Jay Gatsby and soprano Dawn Upshaw as Daisy Buchanan.)

Harbison Great Gatsby Gatbsy (Hadley) and Daisy (Upshaw)

The work has since been presented by Lyric Opera of Chicago, in Boston and at Tanglewood by Emmanuel Music, and, in a reduced orchestra chamber version, by Opera Parallele in San Francisco and at the Aspen Music Festival.

A suite from the opera, commissioned by conductor David Zinman, was performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under Maestro John DeMain here in 2010.

And of course, John Harbison and his wife, violinist Rose Mary Harbison, are best known in Madison as the artistic directors of the fiercely imaginative annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, held in their refurbished barn near Sun Prairie just before Labor Day each summer.

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

Now, the first European performance of “The Great Gatsby” will take place at Semperoper (below) in Dresden, Germany from this Sunday, Dec. 6, through Dec. 21. It will be presented in English, with German surtitles.

semperoper dresden exter

Semperoper interior

Preceding the first performance, Semperoper is offering a preview event where two film versions of “The Great Gatsby” will be shown: the 1974 version with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow; and the 2013 Baz Luhrman version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan.

According to Semperoper, “The opera blends modern classical music with jazz and swing to paint a thrilling portrait of a debauched and decadent society, where double standards clash with idealism. European audiences can now enjoy this work for the first time.”

John Harbison directing Gatsby

Wayne Marshall is music director, Keith Warner stage director, with dramaturgy by Stefan Ulrich, and set design by the late John Engels, whose stunning and evocative work was seen last spring in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of The Passenger, Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s powerful opera about how the horrors of Auschwitz impact people’s lives in the present.

Wayne Marshall, renowned interpreter of the works of George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Duke Ellington and other 20th-century American composers, serves as music director.

In making a new production of The Great Gatsby, Director Keith Warner does not adopt an “update” strategy, often seen in recent European productions.  Instead he goes directly to the period, the American mid-1920s, making its excesses, its excitements, and its cloak of impending doom the essential color of the opera. (below is the party scene.)

Harbison Great Gatsby Party Scene

In the upcoming Dresden production, tenor Peter Lodahl makes his Semperoper debut in the role of Jay Gatsby. For more information, visit: www.peterlodahl.co

Daisy Buchanan will be performed by soprano Maria Bengtsson. For more information, visit: www.mariabengtsson.com

A complete cast list and production personnel can be found at https://www.semperoper.de/en/whats-on/schedule/stid/Gatsby/60545.html

A brief video regarding the launching of Gatsby at Semperopera can be found at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7x_dVimgYg

While not without its detractors, over the years and through its many productions Gatsby has garnered significant praise from some of the most respected critics and publications.

With such an iconic and thoroughly American novel, story and music as its origin and soundscape, it will be fascinating to see what kind of reception Gatsby’s eagerly anticipated European premiere will garner across the pond.

Harbison Great Gatsby 2

Europeans, very conversant with the Fitzgerald novel, tend to emphasize the role of class more than American readers.  Warner uses a number of theatrical devices to starkly outline the attitudes and surroundings of the Wilsons, the working-class couple so crucial to conflicts within the story.

The racist and elitist rants of Tom Buchanan, perhaps more comfortably folded into his familiar character by American fans of the book, emerge in stark outline in Warner’s conception.

 


Classical music: Puccini makes us all bohemians. Madison Opera scores a big heart-rending success with “La Bohème.” The final performance is this afternoon.

November 15, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Rankin Utevsky. The young violist, baritone and conductor is a senior at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm, plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra, and sings with the University Opera.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO – www.MAYCO.org), which will perform its sixth season this summer. He also directs a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest preview review of this past weekend’s performance of “La Bohème” by the Madison Opera.

I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, has done other opera reviews and who blogged for this post when he was on tour with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below):

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Rankin Utevsky

Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème” is perhaps the most beloved of all operas, adored by newcomers and veterans alike for its richly Romantic melodies, subtly shaded score and sheer vocal magnetism. (Performance photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.)

This weekend’s production anchors Madison Opera’s writer-themed season, which continues with Mark Adamo‘s “Little Women” in February and Jacques Offenbach’s “Les Contes d’Hoffman” (The Tales of Hoffmann) in April.

The famous numbers in “La Boheme” — the first-act arias “Che gelida manina” by the poet Rodolfo (Mackenzie Whitney) and “Si, mi chiamano Mimi” by Mimi (Eleni Calanos), and the following duet “O soave fanciulla” in particular — are familiar showstoppers, and were well sung Friday night. (You can hear Jussi Bjorling and Renata Tebaldi sing the arias and duets in the YouTube video at the bottom. Can you not be moved?)

Boheme Madison Opera USE Mimi and Rodolfo GILL

But the indisputable star of this production was Maestro John DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad), whose flexible leadership in conducting united a remarkably even cast and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, whose lush, supple sound filled Overture Hall to the rafters with a powerful reading of Puccini’s rich and colorful score.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

One was struck by the tightness of composition. For a composer often accused of pandering to popular tastes, sacrificing musical integrity for cheap emotional tricks, the score to “La Bohème” is densely motivic and self-referential.

As in Mozart or Verdi, the orchestra often represents the subtext or the emotional undercurrents of the scene, with snatches of remembered melody drifting throughout the drama. The only complaint must be that we sometimes heard a bit too much of this lovely orchestra, to the detriment of balance with the singers.

Among the cast, the sense of camaraderie between the members of the male quartet — Marcello, Rodolfo, Colline and Schaunard — was palpable, by turns rowdy and rambunctious and in the fourth act deeply moving.

Madison Opera Boheme cafe sceneJames Gill

Whether this was the result of some special chemistry between the singers (Dan Kempson, Mackenzie Whitney, Liam Moran, and Alan Dunbar) or something drawn out by director David Lefkowich (below), it brought the ensemble scenes to life marvelously, and drew the audience into the lives of the four friends quite powerfully.

David Lefkowich 2013

Dan Kempson (below) deserves special praise as the painter Marcello, a somewhat unsympathetic role, both for humanizing the jealous lover and for his rich and warm singing throughout the evening.

Madison Opera boheme Rodolfo GILL

Tenor Mackenzie Whitney brought a clear and smooth tone to the role of Rodolfo, shining brightest in ensemble singing.

Evan Ross, in the buffo roles of Benoit and Alcindoro, brought humor, but not enough sound to be consistently heard over the orchestra, leaving the audience chuckling at his mannerisms and the supertitles rather than what he actually sang.

Soprano Emily Birsan (below), a favorite of local audiences and a UW-Madison graduate, who recently graduated out of the Ryan Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, made an excellent showing as the flirtatious Musetta, whose gentle side in the fourth act was extraordinarily poignant.

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

And Eleni Calenos’ Mimi (below, second from right) was both credibly fragile and vocally excellent, with warmth to spare and the ability to draw the audience into the intimate final moments of her life.

Madison Opera Boheme death scene

Sets from the Lyric Opera of Kansas City made subtle but evocative use of perspective, drawing the eye where it needed to be without drawing attention away from the action. (I was particularly fond of the Cafe Momus.)

Madison Opera Boheme outdoor scene GILL

The city beyond the garret was subtly shaded by Connie Yun’s lighting design. And Anthony Cao’s chorus, together with the Madison Youth Choirs, brought the necessary sense of spectacle to the outdoor scenes in Act II.

Madison Opera Boheme outdoor 2 parade GILL

All in all, despite some balance issues early on, the gorgeous playing of the orchestra alone makes this a production worth hearing, and the largely young cast brings Puccini’s “verismo” (realistic) masterpiece vividly to life.

It’s another feather in the caps of artistic director John DeMain and general director Kathryn Smith of the Madison Opera.

It is sung in Italian with projected English supertitles. The final performance, with two intermissions, will be this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center.


Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opens with a Big Bang and makes The Ear look forward to Weekend 2 this coming weekend. You should too.

June 17, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Every year, the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society chooses a theme to unify their three-weekend season.

This year’s theme is “Guilty as Charged” and you can read about its rationale in a previous post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/classical-music-the-madison-based-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-gets-its-24th-three-week-summer-season-called-guilty-as-charged-underway-this-coming-weekend-here-i/

BDDS poster 2015

But of course the theme is really just a pretext.

What really matters is the fine and eclectic repertoire that the BDDS chooses to perform and the undeniably first-rate performances they consistently turn in by using outstanding local and guest performers.

And boy, did the BDDS ever deliver the goods!

So here, in a series of mini-reviews — one-liners or maybe two-liners — are five reasons why The Ear loved the opening concert and is looking forward to the second series of concerts in Madison, Stoughton and Spring Green this coming weekend, which you can check out at the following link:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

WHAT THE EAR LOVED

  1. The inventive and unobtrusive backdrop by artists Dianne Soffa and Thomas Kovacich, with broken rearview mirrors and luminous colors in abstract shapes, adds visual beauty to sonic beauty. It greets you and enlivens the performance stage by adding a certain entertainment and class to the otherwise bare stage:

BDDS 2015 backdrop

  1. UW-Madison School of Music graduate soprano Emily Birsan (below) who, after completing further training at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, came to sing a wonderfully poignant and moving aria “Steal Me, Sweet Thief” by Gian Carlo Menotti (you can hear Dawn Upshaw singing the Menotti aria in a YouTube video at the bottom) as well as wonderful solo arias and duets by Johann Sebastian Bach plus Irish and Scottish folk songs arranged by – YES — Ludwig van Beethoven:

BDDS 2015 Emily Birsan

  1. Bass-baritone Timothy Jones, who is superb and who returned to BDDS to sing solo and with Birsan in music by Bach and Beethoven:

BDDS 2015 Timothy Jones

  1. The breezy chamber music by Franz Joseph Haydn, a divertimento for flute (BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Stephanie Jutt), violin (Katarzyna Bryla) and cello (Parry Karp), substituting the cello for the outdated baryton that Haydn’s longtime patron Prince Esterhazy played and favored:

BDDS 2015 Haydn divertimento

  1. UW-Madison and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp and BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Jeffrey Sykes in an impressively virtuosic, vivacious and sensitive performance of the Cello Sonata No. 2 by Felix Mendelssohn. Loved that slow movement based on a Bach chorale!!

BDDS 2015 Mendelsson Cello Sonata

I was not alone in my enthusiasm.

The audience in The Playhouse at the Overture Center jumped to its feet as soon as the Mendelssohn cello sonata ended.

BDDS 2015 audience

And here is the rave review that veteran critic John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/arts/stage/bach-dancing-opener-is-smashingly-diverse/

 


Classical music: Door County’s Midsummer’s Music Festival hosts opening night gala is this Friday night. Performers include the Preucil Family plus David Perry and Sally Chisholm of the Pro Arte Quartet at the UW-Madison.

June 10, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends in Door County write:

Sister Bay, Wis.  –  Door County’s Midsummer’s Music Festival kicks off with a gala opening night concert and celebration on this Friday night, June 12, at 7 p.m. in Juniper Hall at the Birch Creek Music Performance Center (below) in Egg Harbor.

Birch Creek Music Performance Center exterior

Birch Creek interior concert

For this special 25th anniversary season opener, the festival will welcome to the stage the talented Preucil family (below) whose story is deeply entwined in the history of Midsummer’s Music Festival.

After a special pre-concert performance by the Preucils, the renowned musicians of Midsummer’s Music will perform lovely chamber works — including the Piano Quartet by Robert Schumann that they played on their very first concert in 1991 — to celebrate the opening of this year’s Midsummer’s Music concert season. (You can hear the heartbreaking slow movement of Schumann’s Piano Quartet, played by the Beaux Arts Trio, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Twenty-five years ago, festival founders Jim and Jean Berkenstock invited a young couple, along with other top-flight musicians from the Midwest, to join them for the first season of the Midsummer’s Music Festival.

Walter Preucil was a cellist with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and his wife Stephanie was an accomplished violinist.  Stephanie gave birth to the couple’s first child eight months before the start of the first season.  Over the next several years, the couple had two more sons – Anthony and James.  And the apple did not fall far from the tree.  Each of the Preucil boys shared the family’s musical talent.

Preucil Family 2 2

Walter and Stephanie have spent every summer in Door County performing with the Midsummer’s Music Festival, and their boys have become favorites of Door County audiences who have essentially watched them grow up.

Now Zachary is an accomplished cellist at age 24 and is on the cello faculty of the renowned Music Institute of Chicago. He holds a degree from the New England Conservatory of Music and recently graduated with a masters degree from the Eastman School of Music.

Eighteen-year-old Anthony has been concertmaster for the Schaumburg Youth Symphony Orchestra as well as the District 211 Honors Orchestra. Anthony was also Principal Viola for Illinois All-State Honors Orchestra.  He will be attending Pennsylvania State University in the fall where he will pursue a double degree in meteorology and violin performance.

And 13-year-old James is a skilled violinist who also is the youngest member to have been accepted into the Schaumburg Youth Symphony Orchestra.

To showcase the story of a very important part of the Midsummer’s Music family, all five Preucils will take the stage and captivate the audience with a performance of the slow “Andante con moto” movement from the String Quintet in E-flat Major by Max Bruch (below).

max bruch

After the special performance by the Preucils, the prestigious ensemble known as Midsummer’s Music will take the stage to present works in a program entitled “Romantic Legacy.”

The group will perform the Piano Trio by Nino Rota, famous for his film scores  for Italian director Federico Fellini, with Jean Berkenstock, flute; UW-Madison professor and Pro Arte Quartet member David Perry, violin; and William Koehler, piano.

nino rota at piano

Next will be the Quintet in C Minor, Op. 54, by Robert Kahn with Elizandro Garcia-Montoya, clarinet; John Fairfield, horn, David Perry, violin; Walter Preucil, cello; and William Koehler, piano.

Robert Kahn

Closing out the program will be the Piano Quartet in E-flat, Opus 47, by Robert Schumann with William Koehler, piano; David Perry, violin (below top); UW-professor and Pro Arte Quartet member Sally Chisholm, viola (below bottom); and Walter Preucil, cello.

Pro Arte Quartet Rehearsal with composer Benoit Mernier

Pro Arte Quartet Rehearsal with composer Benoit Mernier

Sally Chisholm

Following the concert, guests will have the opportunity to mingle with the Preucils, the Berkenstocks and all of the Midsummer’s Music performers at a special reception of wine and hors d’oeurves.

A selection of large photos showcasing the Midsummer’s Music Festival’s family over the 25 years will be on display.

During the reception portion of the evening, Midsummer’s Music will unveil a brand new artwork designed by Door County artist Charles “Chick” Peterson to celebrate the festival’s 25th anniversary season. Peterson is best known for his watercolor paintings and has established a world-class reputation for his maritime works. Many of his pieces depict fond memories of everyday life.

The painting will capture the collegial spirit of the Midsummer’s Music ensemble.  Patrons can purchase matted copies of the limited edition print beginning June 12 and continuing through the Big Top Door County event on July 12. Proceeds will support the Midsummer’s Music mission of bringing exceptional classical music to Door County audiences at affordable prices.

Midsummer’s Music Festival features world-class musicians from organizations such as the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), Aspen Music Festival, the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra and artist faculty from major universities.

Pro Arte 3 Rick Langer copy

The festival presents a series of more than 30 classical music concerts in a host of unique venues ranging from a 120-year old bay side warehouse, to a quaint community church from the 1850s, to luxury homes of private residents. Each venue exudes character and offers a distinct musical experience for the listener.

This year’s festival runs June 12 through July 14, with an additional concert series of 10 performances during the week and a half leading up to Labor Day.

Tickets for the opening night gala are $60.

For more information on the opening night gala or any of the Midsummer’s Music concerts, visit www.midsummersmusic.com or call 920-854-7088.

The Birch Creek Performance Center is located at 3821 County Road E, Egg Harbor, WI 54209.

 

 

 

 

 


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.)

01-01

01-01

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.


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