The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera’s “Seraglio” stood out for its singing and staging, its local sets and costumes, and provided a crowd-pleasing comic romp in trying times. Plus, Friday brings FREE piano and viola da gamba concerts

February 15, 2018
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FRDAY ALERTS: This Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features Eric Miller playing the viola da gamba in a recital of early baroque music by Marais, Forquery, Sainte-Colombe, Abel, Hume and Ortiz. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

Then on Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the critically acclaimed guest pianist Marina Lomazov will perform a FREE recital of all-Russian music that includes “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky. Lomazov’s recital is part of a larger event, “Keyboard Day,” that has a French focus and takes place all day Saturday at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. See tomorrow’s post for more information about Saturday. For more about Lomazov, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-artist-marina-lomazov-piano/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Opera Guy filed this review of last weekend’s production by the Madison Opera:

By Larry Wells

On Sunday afternoon, I attended the second and final performance of Madison Opera’s production of Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio” in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

This comic romp utilized a beautiful set and wonderful costumes designed and constructed in-house. (Below, Matt Bueller as Osmin peers out the door of the palace, or seraglio, at David Walton as Belmont.)

The orchestra, drawn from the Madison Symphony Orchestra and ably led by maestro John DeMain, was situated backstage. This was an effective novelty, although the sound was somewhat muffled, at least from where I sat in mid-orchestra.

The dialogue was in English while the singing was in German with English supertitles. I looked over the lengthy original libretto and was thankful that it had been heavily abridged for this two-hour production.

It had also been updated to be both hip and politically correct about Islamic culture and Turkey, where the story takes place. But it made me idly wonder what the reaction would be if the music had been likewise updated to be more in tune with the times.

The production was all about the singing.

David Walton’s Belmonte (below right, with Amanda Woodbury as Konstanze) was beautifully sung, particularly in the second act. He has a Benjamin Britten tenor voice with remarkable breath control.

Eric Neuville’s Pedrillo was also admirably sung. Neuville is an accomplished comic actor, as well.

Ashly Neumann’s singing as Blonde (below center, with women of the Madison Opera Chorus) was clean, clear and bell-like.

Amanda Woodbury as Konstanze (below right with Brian Belz as Pasha Selim)  was virtuosic. She displayed vocal fireworks several times and was especially effective in her lament toward the end of the first act.

This quartet’s ensemble work in the second act was a vocal high point. (You can hear the quartet from a different production in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

But to me the most impressive singing and comic acting belonged to Matt Boehler as Osmin. His bass was simply majestic. (Below, from left, are Brian Belz as Pasha Selim; David Walton as Belmonte; Matt Boehler as Osmin; Eric Neuville as Pedrillo; Ashly Neumann as Blonde; and Amanda Woodbury as Konstanze.)

The well-prepared chorus appeared briefly in each act, adding some color and motion to the production.

Musically and visually the production was a success. The audience responded with 19 ovations during the performance – yes, I counted. Every time the orchestra reached a cadence and paused, the audience members applauded as if they were at a musical. With the incessant coughing throughout the performance, I felt like I was at a performance of “South Pacific” in a tuberculosis ward.

The audience leapt to its feet at the end, and this made me wonder what it was that they found so praiseworthy. The story itself is inconsequential and has little relevance to life today.

The singing was very good, but this is not La Scala.

The music itself, with the exception of a couple of sublime moments, does little more than foreshadow the mature Mozart of “The Magic Flute.”

I concluded that the opera is unalarming, unthreatening, and simple. This is perhaps what people long for in these trying times.

I do look forward to the Madison Opera’s production of Daniel Catan’s “Florencia en el Amazonas” this spring. Based on repeated hearings of the recording, I guarantee that Madison will be in for a treat. And there is nothing threatening or alarming or complex about the music, despite it being a work of the late 20th century.


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Classical music: Bellini’s opera “Norma” opens the new season of “Live From the Met in HD” at movie theaters this Saturday and Wednesday

October 6, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

At a time when so many classical music programs are striving desperately for commercial success and popularity with the public, one program stands out as phenomenally successful: The Metropolitan Opera’s “Live From the Met in HD” broadcasts.

Those broadcasts reach hundreds of cinemas around the world in North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. Here is a list of the international showings:

http://www.metopera.org/season/in-cinemas/international-locations/

The new season of the live broadcasts by the Metropolitan Opera (below) opens this Saturday.

The broadcasts in Madison will take place at two Marcus Corporation cinemas: at the Point Cinemas on the far west side and the Palace Cinemas in Sun Prairie on the far east side.

The first of 10 operas in the season is a new production of Vincenzo Bellini’s Druid-based bel canto opera “Norma.”

The outstanding cast of singers and actors includes Sondra Radvanovsky, Joseph Callejo and Joyce DiDonato. Carlo Rizzi is the conductor. (You can hear a preview of this production in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The running time is 3 hours 30 minutes.

Tickets are $18.

Here is a season trailer:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwjdLOBRCkARIsAFj5-GBXxKzE43SMmgIUAPUrx1p2YrxzvDPG4cMZZk_7JwaoFQOMy22lf_0aAl8xEALw_wcB

The live performance is this Saturday, Oct. 7, at 11:55 a.m.:

http://www.marcustheatres.com/movies/met-norma-live

Encore presentations and rebroadcast are on Wednesday, Oct. 11, at 1 pm. and 6:30 p.m.:

http://www.marcustheatres.com/movies/met-norma-encore

For this production of “Norma,” here are:

A link to a synopsis and cast list:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas/SynopsisCast/norma/?performanceNumber=14827

Links to production notes and program notes:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/2017-18-Season/norma-bellini-tickets/

http://www.metopera.org/metoperafiles/season/2017-18/operas/norma/programs/100717%20Norma.pdf

Much of the upcoming season features standard tried-and-true operas by Mozart (“The Magic Flute” and “Cosi fan tutti“); Puccini (“Tosca” and “La Bohème”); Verdi (“Luisa Miller”)’ Rossini (“Semiramide”) and Donizetti (“The Elixir of Love”). But there is also a contemporary work, “The Exterminating Angel,” by Thomas Adès and a holiday production of Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel.”

What do you think of the “Live From the Met” screenings?

What do you think most makes them so successful? The quality of the productions? The affordable price? The accessibility?

And what do you think of the choice of operas in the new season?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Did she know or didn’t she? Here is the factual background about a flawed diva if you go to see the movies “Florence Foster Jenkins” or “Marguerite”

August 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week, The Ear saw the movie “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a story about the amateur singer Florence Foster Jenkins (below, in the 1920s in a photo from Getty Images), who was famous in the early- to mid-20th-century for singing terribly, painfully and laughably off-key but who nonetheless pursued performing in public and sold a lot of records.

Florence Foster Jenkins in the 1920s GETTY IMAGES

During the Wisconsin Film Festival, The Ear also saw a French movie, “Marguerite,” with a similar story line and main character.

Of the two, he much preferred “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Meryl Streep (below) plays the flawed diva with total commitment. The Ear suspects it will garner Streep, who did her own bad singing to perfection, her 20th Academy Award nomination, even if she doesn’t win a fourth Oscar.

British actor Hugh Grant might also be nominated for his supporting role as the British out-of-work actor who becomes her protector, promoter and caring love partner St. Clair Bayfield.

In additon, her piano accompanist Cosmé McMoon, played by Simon Helberg, who could also receive an Oscar nomination, develops into a memorable secondary character.

The English script — directed by the talented Stephen Frears –seemed more tightly written with better characters and dialogue than the French one, which dragged on too long and seemed forced in its ending, although both movies share similarities in their endings.

But to be honest, with both of the films The Ear had a major problem with suspending disbelief.

He just can’t believe that Jenkins didn’t know how badly she sang.

You can hear her butcher the famous and difficult “Queen of the Night” aria from “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Anyway, the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR, or National Public Radio, has provided an excellent background piece, a very factual biography of Jenkins, that also asks famous singers whether it is possible for Jenkins not to have known how flawed her singing was.

All The Ear knows is that if he played the piano that badly, he sure wouldn’t go perform a recital in Carnegie Hall.

Here is a link to the blog piece by Tom Huizenga:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/10/488724807/killing-me-sharply-with-her-song-the-improbable-story-of-florence-foster-jenkins

Now if you go to either or both movies, here is what The Ear wants to know:

Which film about Florence Foster Jenkins did you prefer, and why?

And do you think it is possible to sing as badly as Jenkins did without knowing it?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Madison Opera announces its 2016-17 season. It’s both reassuringly classical and adventurously jazzy

June 2, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Even as it prepares for the annual Opera in the Park gala on July 23, the Madison Opera has announced its 2016-17 season, which is a combination of both the classic and the adventurous, even the intriguingly experimental.

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/

Here is a list of productions with links to more details about the productions, cast, tickets and related events:

Nov. 4 and 6 in Overture Hall: “Romeo and Juliet” by Charles Gounod (below) with conductor John DeMain and members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/romeo-and-juliet/

Charles Gounod

Feb. 10 and 12 in the Capitol Theater: “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” by Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder (below) with John DeMain and members of the MSO:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/charlie-parkers-yardbird/

Daniel Schnyder

April 21 and 23 in Overture Hall: “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below) with guest conductor Gary Thor Wedow:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/

Mozart old 1782

The operas by Gounod and Mozart are well-known staples of the repertoire.

But “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” is new and will be a local, perhaps even regional, premiere and one of the earliest repeat performances of the new work.

The Ear thinks early Bravos are in order for such contemporary crossover programming that also focuses on race, diversity and African American culture. It also seems like a natural choice for John DeMain, who won a Grammy for the first all-black production of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”

The new opera opened recently to fine reviews at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in New York City. (Below, in a photo by Dominic Mercier for Opera Philadelphia, is tenor Lawrence Brownlee in the title role of alto saxophonist and jazz great Charlie Parker.)

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee in Charlie Parker's Yardbird CR Dominic Mercier for Opera Philadelphia

Here is a link to a background story about the work that appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog of National Public Radio, or NPR, which first broadcast it on All Things Considered:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/03/31/472431884/opera-and-jazz-mingle-in-charlie-parkers-yardbird

Here are members of the world premiere production talking about the work:

And here is a trailer with samples of the music and singing:


Classical music: Famous and historic cellist Pablo Casals and his 1733 cello come alive again through the artistry of Amit Peled. Plus, the Quey Percussion Duo gives a FREE recital Thursday night at the UW-Madison

March 1, 2016
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ALERT: This Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, guest artists the Quey Percussion Duo – Gene Koshinsky and Tim Broscious – will perform an eclectic combination of original and existing repertoire for percussion duo. Sorry, no word about specific works on the program.

By Jacob Stockinger

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

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Once again, Farley’s House of Pianos has shown what a unique outpost it is for classical music in Madison.

On last Saturday night, it presented the brilliant young Israeli-American cellist Amit Peled (below), with his working accompanist, Noreen Cassidy-Polera, having snared them along the line of their current national tour.

Amit Peled 1

Peled will be recalled from his performance of the Schumann Cello Concerto with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in March of 2015.

For this visit, he brought with him not only his own talents, but a remarkable instrument. This was a cello  made in 1733 by Matteo Gofriller, once owned and played on by no less than Pablo Casals (below). Two years ago, it was entrusted to Peled on loan by Marta Casals Istomin, the great cellist’s widow.

Casals and his cello

For the recital at Farley’s, Peled played a program that Casals had presented himself back in 1915. Thus, listeners heard a century-old program, played on an almost 300-year old instrument, accompanied on a hundred-year-old (1914) Mason and Hamlin piano restored by the Farley workshop.

Before the program began, the history of this cello and its maker was discussed by Dan Hendricks (below), a local maker and repairer of string instruments.

Dan Hendricks

The cello (below) is a handsome playing-piece of burnished color. It underwent serious restoration after a long period without being played. It has an extraordinarily rich sound through its entire range—a fact that Peled has been learning to exploit, on his own terms. In effect, he played on it as if making love to it, bringing out sound ranging from almost thunderously bold to exquisitely delicate.

Casals cello

That range of playing technique was, indeed, the image of Peled’s own remarkable artistry. And the 1915 program was his revival of what used to be typical of a concert menu, in the form of a veritable dinner.

The appetizer was an adaptation of an Oboe Sonata by George Frideric Handel, followed then by the “steak”, the Third of the Sonatas for Unaccompanied Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach. After an intermission, the “salad” was Beethoven’s witty variations on Mozart’s “Bei Männern” duet from The Magic Flute opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Then followed an array of “desserts”: three short pieces by Gabriel Fauré, an aria by Bach in transcription, and an aptly titled “Allegro appassionato” by Camille Saint-Saëns. (You can hear Peled play a Faure piece, “Elegy,” on the Goffriller cello in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

All this music was presented with sensitivity, power and endlessly moving nuance by Peled (below). As if his musical artistry were not enough, however, he talked about the “dessert” pieces with the audience, showing fine historical perspective, wittily presented. He even took questions from the house.

Amit Peled playing 2016

Beyond that, he and Cassidy-Polera stayed on after the concert to talk at length with any audience member interested—following, as he pointed out, a practice of Casals himself in his appearances.

It was, in all, a remarkable musical evening, teaching us much about fine old instruments, delighting us with wide-ranging selections, and revealing a superb musical artist who is also a warm and wonderful human being.


Classical music: A new early music vocal group — “Voces aestatis” (Summer Voices) — makes its debut this Friday night with early music by Byrd, Palestrina, Lasso and others. Also, the Madison Area Youth Orchestra (MAYCO) performs Barber, Shostakovich and Mozart on Friday night. Plus, the Wisconsin State Music Honors air on Wisconsin Public Television on Thursday night at 7.

August 20, 2014
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ALERT: If you want to hear some wonderful young musicians performing, be sure to tune into the Wisconsin State Music Honors concert, which spotlights young musicians in middle and high school.  The orchestral and vocal performances took place in Overture Hall at the Overture Center for the Arts and will air on Wisconsin Public Television (WPT) this Thursday night, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m.

The Ear promises you: Tune in and listen and you will be impressed. And kudos to WPT for giving student artists the kind of public recognition that is usually lavished on student athletes.

Here is a link to the schedule blurb:

http://wptschedule.org/episodes/44717914/2013-State-Honors-Concerts/

wpt state honors concert 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

The Latin name means “Summer Voices.”

That’s not surprising. The leader of the new early music vocal group “Voces aestatis” (below top) is Ben Luedcke, the church music director who for years has also led the Madison Summer Choir (below bottom), which usually performs later repertoire.

Voces aestratis 1

Summer Choir 2011 orchestraI

Here is an official announcement:

“VOCES AESTATIS” TO GIVE DEBUT CONCERT IN MADISON

Voces Aestatis (pronounced VOH-ches eh-STAH-tees) is a new early music choral ensemble, and Madison’s only professional choir specializing in 16th-century repertoire.

This ensemble features 12 voices, striving for a clarity of tone and pure blending, with expressive singing in an intimate setting.

Director Ben Luedcke (below) has selected several well-known Renaissance favorites for the debut concert, as well as a few surprises.

Ben Luedcke conducts voces aestratis

The first half features sacred pieces exploring Christ’s birth, death and legacy. It features works by William Byrd, Michael Praetorius, Tomas Luis de Victoria, Giovanni da Palestrina, Orlando di Lasso (below), Antonio Lotti, Johannes Ockeghem, Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons, and Heinrich Schütz.

The second half of the concert focuses primarily on the pinnacle genre of secular Renaissance repertoire — Italian and English Madrigals. It features works by Carlo Gesualdo, Claudio Monteverdi, Thomas Weelkes, Michael Cavendish and John Wilbye.

Orlando di Lasso

The one-time-only performance is this Friday night, August 22, at 7:30 p.m. in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below), 1833 Regent Street, on Madison’s near west side near Randall Elementary School.

General admission tickets are $10, and are available at the door.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

MAYCO PERFORMS LAST CONCERT THIS SUMMER

“Train wrecks,” as The Wise Critic calls them when he refers to excellent but conflicting events, are happening more and more frequently in classical music around Madison.

Even the summer doesn’t take us away from them.

Take, for one example, the conflict between the closing concert of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival at 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, Aug. 31, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music memorial for longtime pianist Howard Karp, which is slated for the same approximate time, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., with a reception following.

Another such “train wreck” is this Friday night.

In addition to the vocal concert previewed above, the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below) will perform its second and last concert of this summer.

MAYCO playing

The concert is under the baton of MAYCO’s founder and UW-Madison student violist Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below top), and will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall (below bottom), on the UW-Madison campus at the foot of Bascom Hill.

Admission is $7; by donation for students.

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

MusicHall2

The program includes: Overture to “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; “Knoxville, Summer 1915” (at bottom in a YouTube video with the ravishing voice and clear diction of Dawn Upshaw) by Samuel Barber with text by James Agee, and featuring soprano soloist Caitlin Ruby Miller; and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor.

caitlin ruby miller

Here is a link to MAYCO’s website and to a previous story and review from earlier this summer:

http://www.madisonareayouthchamberorchestra.org

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/07/28/classical-music-the-ear-does-some-more-catching-up-this-time-he-takes-in-the-madison-area-youth-chamber-orchestra-mayco-plus-here-is-more-news-from-day-4-of-wysos-tour-in-argentina/

 

 

 


Classical music: Candid Concert Opera brings a pared down performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” to Edgerton with enchanting results.

May 13, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Founder and music director Codrut Birsan has been moving on steadily with his Chicago-based Candid Concert Opera project. I was lucky to catch his latest presentation at the Edgerton Performing Arts Center (below top is the exterior, below bottom is the interior and concert hall) on this past Saturday evening, May 11. (At bottom is a YouTube video of Birsan speaking with excerpts from a production of “Die Fledermaus.”)

edgerton performing arts center exterior

Edgerton PAC stage

Edgerton is blessed to have so fine a performance venue as that incorporated into its high school.  The house is ample, the acoustics excellent, the sightlines uniformly open, and the seating comfortable. Its annual seasons are full of fine visiting ensembles, and it is to the particular credit of Edgerton’s stellar benefactor, William Wartmann (below), that an effort is made to attract operatic offerings.  For those, Madisonians can find it worthwhile to make the trip down to this quiet and welcoming little city.

wiiliam wartmann

The CCO production this time was a version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” sung in the original German, with English surtitles projected.  One of the defining patterns of evolution that Birsan has made is gradually to develop a mini-orchestral accompaniment for his presentations.  This time, he had the largest showing yet: 13 players, made up of four winds (one each of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon), eight strings, and piano. 

Candid Concert Opera 8

This group, conducted by Birsan (below), made a credible Mozartean sound, even when shorn of brass and timpani.

Codrut Birsan

Such restrictions meant some sacrifices, such as the symbolic three chords of Freemasonry. Indeed, much of Mozart’s Masonic imagery was bypassed for a simplified story of the main characters. In the inevitable cutting, we lost the Three Boys, and the two Armed Men, along with a few musical numbers.

The spoken dialogue was gone also, with a narrator (Tom Kastle, below on the far right) filling in the context for the numbers.  With all that, we were still left with a big bundle of Mozart’s wonderful music.  And, marshaling his solo singers, Birsan was able to deliver some of the important choral work.  Indeed, his clever trimming and adjusting resulted in a very enjoyable show.

Tom Kastle far right

As usual, he could draw upon a lot of young vocal talent from the Chicago area.  Their names will be unfamiliar, but–who knows–some of them might develop into famous singers.

The men were a mixed group.  Their standout was Dan Richardson (below top), who has a very appealing baritone voice, and who displayed real acting talent as the comic birdman Papageno. Tenor Javier Bernard has a pleasant voice, but needed a bit more strength and projection as Prince Tamino. Bass Neil Edwards had the vocal dignity of Sarastro, but lacked full power in the crucial lower notes of his solos.  With a limited tenor voice but a lively acting flair, Eric Mason (below bottom) was delightful as the wicked slave Monostatos.

Dan Richardson

Eric Mason USE BW headshot

More uniform were the women. Soprano Amanda Compton (below) was pert and winning as the birdgirl Papagena. Remarkable strength, ensemble, and stage presence were displayed by the Three Ladies (Leila Bowie, Marci Wagnon Jackson, and Robin Bradley).

amanda compton

As the Queen of the Night, soprano Amanda Kingston (below) had ringing tone and strong personality.  Her command of the fearsome high-range pyrotechnics was somewhat challenged in her first big aria, but was much more secure in the second. 

Amanda Kingston

The star of the show in general, however, was Chelsea Morris (below) as Pamina: her firm, truly beautiful voice, with absolute technical confidence, offered consistently lovely singing.

Chelsea Morris soprano

The staging (below) was, even more than usual, minimal, with the sequence of numbers indeed like a standup concert progression.  Still, some interaction of the singers, lots of body language, and some simple movements, all sustained the sense of theater.

Candid Concert Opera 9

Birsan’s CCO deserves support and delivers satisfaction in bringing opera in direct ways to wider audiences.  Next season it will offer Rossini’s “La Cenerentola and Mozart’s “Così fan tutte.”  Watch for them, wherever they turn up.


Classical music Q&A: Do cellist Parry Karp and pianist Eli Kalman have favorite cello sonatas by Beethoven? What should audiences listen for this Friday night and Sunday afternoon? How did the two performers meet and develop their collaboration? Part 2 of 2. Plus, violist Mikko Utevsky gives a FREE recital of J.S. Bach and Shostakovich on Saturday night.

April 17, 2013
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ALERT: Mikko Utevsky — a prize-winning UW student violist as well as sometimes Madison Symphony Orchestra player and the founder-conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) — will give a viola recital at Capitol Lakes Retirement Home, 333 West Main Street, off the Capitol Square, at 7 P.M. this SATURDAY (NOT Thursday) night, April 20, and would love for a big audience to attend the FREE concert. The ambitious program includes playing J.S. Bach‘s Cello Suite No. 5, transcribed for viola; Dmitri Shostakovich’s late Viola Sonata; and a Kaddish by Tzvi Avni. Utevsky (below) will be accompanied by pianist John Jeffrey Gibbens. A reception will follow the concert.

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend brings one of the major and memorable events of the current season: Performances in two parts of the complete original works for cello and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

The performances will take place this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and this Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. (NOT 3:30 p.m. as mistakenly first listed) in the concert hall at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side, near West Towne Mall.

The performers are longtime collaborators: University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of cello and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp and UW-Oshkosh professor of piano Eli Kalman, who received his doctoral degree from the UW-Madison School of Music.

Tickets are $25 for each individual concert or $40 for the package of two. For more information call (608) 271-2626, go to Farley’s website. Here is a link:

http://www.farleyspianos.com/pages/events_main.html

Here are the programs for the two concerts:

Friday at 7:30 p.m.: Sonata In C Major, Op. 102 No. 1 (1815); Sonata in F Major, Op. 5 No. 1 (1796); Seven Variations on a theme “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen” from Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, WoO 46 (1801); Sonata In D Major, Op. 102 No. 2 (1815)

Sunday at 4:30 p.m.: Twelve Variations on a Theme from Handel’s Oratorio “Judas Maccabeus,” WoO 45 (1796); Sonata In G Minor, Op. 5 No. 2 (1796); Twelve Variations on a theme “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, Op. 66 (1798); Sonata in A Major, Op. 69 (1807-8)

Both Parry Karp (below left) and pianist Eli Kalman (below right) agreed to answer a wide-ranging email Q&A. This is the second of two parts. The first part was posted yesterday and covered the evolution and development of Beethoven writing for the cello and piano throughout his career.

Parry Karp and Eli Kalman

Do you both have favorite works among Beethoven’s sonatas for cello and piano? Which ones and why?

Parry Karp: It sounds like a cliché, but whatever work I am playing at the moment is my favorite. A week and a half ago Eli and I played three of the works for the Music in Performance class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

We played an early sonata, a sets of variations and a late sonata. We were both struck by how completely different each work was and how magnificent they all were. The range is extraordinary. As my father (retired UW pianist Howard Karp) is fond of saying about Beethoven (below is a print of the young Beethoven): “He was great from the beginning, he just kept changing.” Probably the first Cello Sonata is the least performed, but when you are performing it, it is an overwhelming experience.

Eli Kalman: The one you are playing has always to sound like your favorite -– that is so true. But personally, I have a very strong connection to the fourth sonata, Op. 102, No. 1 (at bottom, in a YouTube video), and I am happy to overlook the words for the reasoning.  I could advocate for any sonata as for the first favorite in a rational manner, but I choose to go with my strongest emotional reaction regarding the fourth sonata.

young beethoven etching in 1804

What would you like audiences to listen for or hear in your performances of these works? Are there neglected works you would especially like people to pay attention to?

Parry Karp: In general, I don’t like to tell audiences what to listen for in performances. I think these works can be enjoyed and understood in many different ways and on many different levels. In fact every time I play, listen or study them I find new things.

However the works do demand intense concentration from the listener as well as the performer! This music doesn’t work as background music.

In addition to the sonatas, we are performing the three sets of variations that Beethoven wrote for piano and cello. The variation form is one that also held interest for Beethoven from early in his compositional career right through to the huge “33 Variations on a Theme of Diabelli” at the end. He was a master at writing variations and these three sets show that well. (Below is a manuscript sketch of Beethoven’s most popular Cello Sonata, Op. 69.)

Eli Kalman: It is fascinating to follow the composer’s mind at work along with the musically beautiful of many sorts. Instrumental musical treatment is usually of abstract nature but can turn also operatic at times. The singing and the interplay are worth listening to and the passion and the dedication with which the potential of the duo unfolds.

The collaboration is complex, exciting and never really predictable.  It is like a mountain of piano sound and one happy hiker — the cello climbing towards the highest peak.

Beethoven Ms. Cello Sonata Op. 69

You have played together a lot. Can you recall first getting together and tell us what makes your partnership – or any partnership — so successful?

Parry Karp: I first met Eli Kalman through a door! I walked by a studio and heard a pianist practicing Schumann’s Piano Sonata in F-sharp minor, a work rarely heard. I knocked on the door to find out who this excellent pianist was, and it was Eli.

It turned out he was in Madison auditioning for the graduate program in Collaborative Piano. He arrived in Madison the following fall in the graduate program and had an immediate impact on our string program.

He was very generously making it possibly for all of our advanced string students to perform the great piano-string duo repertoire of Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Respighi, Bartok, Rachmaninoff, etc.

After a year Eli asked if we could do some playing together. I was only too happy to oblige. We have been performing together since that time, some 11 years. We have explored both much of the well-known repertoire as well as many works that we consider unjustly neglected works. It is always a great treat to have Eli as a duo partner.

Eli Kalman: Parry was the most inspiring musical figure of my last musical decade starting from his own recitals in which he was never letting go easily of any note and all the way to the his insatiable appetite for music. I never met somebody hanging on with so much passion to every measure — quite a model to follow!

How did we start? As a student, I told him once about my dream of including Rachmaninoff’s cello sonata and Ravel piano trio in my repertoire and he commented warmly: “You had a dream, let’s make this happen” – and this is how it started. Ten years later, we have shared so many wonderful and often challenging stage experiences in which we stay together serving music the best we can and continue to marvel about its powers.

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

Parry Karp: We are very excited to be performing these seminal works at Farley’s House of Pianos, a beautiful intimate space, and a perfect environment for hearing these pieces. Eli and I rehearsed there yesterday and it was a wonderful treat.

There was a plethora of great pianos to chose from, “an embarrassment of riches” as it were. We picked an 1877 “Centennial” Steinway Concert Grand (below), lovingly and magnificently rebuilt by Farley’s. It seemed perfect for these two upcoming recitals.

Eli Kalman: One is fortunate if the repertoire, the partner and the concert series are special. In this case, Farley’s unique restoration of this piano is a significant addition to other aspects. Performing Beethoven’s complete cycle of piano and cello works is one of the most exciting moments of my musical life. We are looking forward to it very much!

Steinway Centennial


Classical music Q&A: Do Beethoven’s sonatas for cello and piano evolve, and how important are they in the overall cello repertoire? Cellist Parry Karp and pianist Eli Kalman discuss their upcoming performances on Friday night and Sunday afternoon at Farley’s House of Pianos of Beethoven’s complete music for piano and cello. Part 1 of 2.

April 16, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend brings one of the major and memorable events of the current season: Performances in two parts of the complete original works for cello and piano by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

The performances will take place this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and this Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. (NOT 3:30 as mistakenly first announced) in the concert hall (below) at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side, near West Towne Mall.

The performers are longtime collaborators: University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of cello and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp and UW-Oshkosh professor of piano Eli Kalman, who received his doctoral degree from the UW-Madison School of Music.

Tickets are $25 for each individual concert or $40 for the package of two. For more information call (608) 271-2626, go to Farley’s website. Here is a link:

http://www.farleyspianos.com/pages/events_main.html

Here are the programs for the two concerts:

Friday at 7:30 p.m.: Sonata In C Major, Op. 102 No. 1 (1815); Sonata in F Major, Op. 5 No. 1 (1796); Seven Variations on a theme “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen” from Mozart‘s opera, The Magic Flute, WoO 46 (1801); Sonata In D Major, Op. 102 No. 2 (1815)

 Sunday at 4:30 p.m.: Twelve Variations on a Theme from Handel’s Oratorio “Judas Maccabeus,” WoO 45 (1796); Sonata In G Minor, Op. 5 No. 2 (1796); Twelve Variations on a theme “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute, Op. 66 (1798); Sonata in A Major, Op. 69 (1807-8)

Both Parry Karp (below left) and pianist Eli Kalman (below right) agreed to answer a wide-ranging email Q&A. Their responses will run in two parts today and tomorrow. Today is Part 1:

Parry Karp and Eli Kalman

Where would you place the Beethoven cello sonatas and his other works in the overall cello repertoire? What makes them challenging individually and as a whole?

Parry Karp: The Beethoven Cello Sonatas are amongst the most important works in the cello-piano duo repertoire. These are seminal works, in that up until the time that Beethoven wrote the first two Sonatas, Op. 5, there had really never been works written for this combination of instruments in which both instruments had important music to play and were equal partners.

Before that, the duos for cello and keyboard had the cello performing the important music and the keyboard part was basically accompanying. However, Beethoven changed that for good with his generous duo compositions for piano and cello. While there was a wonderful precedence for duo repertoire by Mozart for keyboard and violin (well over 30 compositions) Mozart managed only 11 measures of a Sonata for piano and cello and then stopped!

Because there wasn’t a history of duo sonatas for piano and cello, I think Beethoven (below) felt freer to experiment when he wrote the Cello Sonatas. He wrote them throughout his entire career and with the exception of the great A Major Sonata, Op. 69, they are revolutionary works.

Beethoven big

The first two Sonatas of Op. 5 were written in 1796 when Beethoven was a brilliant young performing pianist and composer. These two Sonatas were written for the only “concert tour” Beethoven ever took. They are dedicated to King Frederick of Prussia who gave Beethoven a gold snuff box for his efforts.  The form of these early Sonatas is very unusual. Both of them are in two movements, and the first movements have very lengthy slow introductions.

As far as I know, no sonata allegro movement written up until these two Op. 5 Sonatas had a slow introduction that approaches the size and emotional scope of the ones found in these works. Also, the first movements of these two Sonatas are a bigger canvas than the first movement of any Haydn or Mozart Symphony, or previous work written by Beethoven up to this time.

The late Op. 102 Cello Sonatas are virtually the only works that he wrote in 1815 and are basically the first works completely in his  “late style.” If you know and love the five late Beethoven Piano Sonatas and haven’t heard these late Cello Sonatas, you are in for a treat getting to know them. The Op. 102 Cello Sonatas were actually written just before the Op. 101 Piano Sonata.

Most striking for me is how the relatively smaller Op. 102, No. 2, Cello Sonata seems to lead to the great and grand-scale “Hammerklavier” Piano Sonata, Op 106. Both works have incredibly profound and personal slow movements that lead into wild and thrilling last movement fugues; and there are even motivic similarities between the two works. It is as if Beethoven experimented with these new ideas initially with his new ensemble (the piano-cello duo) and then went to town with these ideas and expanded them in the Op. 106 Piano Sonata.

These works, as a whole, inspired composers from this time forward to the possibilities of writing outstanding works for this duo combination and the influence was immediate; both Mendelssohn and Hummel wrote Cello Sonatas that are strongly influenced by Beethoven’s Op. 69 Sonata. This influence has continued to the present day.

Eli Kalman: It is in some way confusing that although the cello and piano repertoire starts with Beethoven, the complete cycle of these works makes it sound more like the genre starts and ends at the same time. Playing all the works grants a sense of totality and the gratification of a complete journey.

The confusion is only enhanced by the unusual shapes and ideas of the early sonatas because of the formal eccentricity and the variety of what Beethoven deliberately planned to sound fresh and “unpredictable.

cello choir 2

How does the writing for the two parts – cello and piano – evolve separately and together from the first works to the last? Do the cello works show the same kind of musical and spiritual development as, say, the piano sonatas and string quartets?

Parry Karp: The works do evolve in a similar way to the piano sonatas and string quartets, but I am not sure they get better. The early works are amazing and compelling on an ultimate scale.

Eli Kalman: If the fugue of the last sonata would not contradict my statement, I would be comfortable saying that the composer moves each sonata towards the idea of “less is more” in the way he treats the piano writing. The later works prefer lesser notes and more transparency serving a very different affect.

Moving away from great classical principles of Op. 69 (the first movement is performed by pianist Glenn Gould and cellist Leonard Rose in a popular YouTube video), which is the ultimate expression of duo-sonata “perfection,” must have felt like a compositional necessity. Beethoven defines an unmatched and new type of musical sophistication.

Tomorrow: Do the performers have favorite cello sonatas by Beethoven? What should audiences listen for? How did the performers first get together?


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir unveils Robert Gehrenbeck’s own version of Mozart’s Requiem in a impressive concert that showed the links between Bach and Mozart.

April 15, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Conductor and director Robert Gehrenbeck’s annual April concerts with his Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) have come to be important events on our musical scene, and his latest one, held at Luther Memorial Church on Saturday night, set new standards of enterprise.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Nov 17, 2012 Bethel Lutheran

The essential point of the program was to observe the impact of music by Johann Sebastian Bach on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s creativity, as illustrated in works composed in the final months of the latter’s foreshortened life.

After a prologue of Mozart’s late motet, “Ave verum corpus,” we were given Bach’s glorious motet, “Jesu, meine Freude” to represent music that Mozart discovered among the works by the Leipzig master.

The first half ended with a march and the trial-by-fire scene from Act II of The Magic Flute.  Then, after the intermission, came the pièce de résistance, Mozart’s great Requiem.

For the program’s first half, Gehrenbeck (below) limited himself to his own group, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir, which is 48 members strong.

Robert Gehrenbeck

Scholars and musicians argue over how to treat this particular chorale-motet masterpiece — whether all of its 11 sections should be for full choir, or whether it should be done with a single singer per part, or whether some of its sections might be reserved for a consort of soloists.

While Gehrenbeck chose to give one section to a very tiny mini-chorus of eight singers, he opted otherwise for full five-part chorus throughout. Though the work comes to us as an a cappella piece, it is thought that instrument doublings were used by Bach (below).

Bach1

Gehrenbeck avoided that approach, but he added a basso seguente, a doubling of the bass line by cello and organ, that was really not necessary musically, though it probably helped the singers on pitch.

Given the church’s acoustics, different parts of the very large sold-out audience received a varied choral sound, somewhat blended at the rear but still quite clear where I sat, up front, and given a beautiful glow in a careful but very satisfying performance

The March of the Priests and then the “Armed Men” scene, both from Mozart’s last opera, are full of spiritual and Masonic meaning. Here Gehrenbeck drew not only on some young solo singers, but also a small orchestra of 22 seasoned local players.  While some parallels with Bach might be traced in these excerpts, the real influence for such material, not properly recognized, was Gluck (below).  (Mozart never used trombones in his operas, save when he was drawing inspiration from Gluck’s techniques for solemn and ceremonial music.)

Christoph Willibald von Gluck

For the second half, devoted to the Requiem, Gehrenbeck added to the scene the 31 members of the Chamber Singers (below) of his home base, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He did, at least at one point, pare things down to his smaller local group, but otherwise he took the opportunity to create a very full and ample choral sound.

UW- Whitewater Chamber Singers BW

To be sure, his tempos were judiciously cautious, designed so as not to push the pulses or strain the total bulk, but there was fine discipline throughout.

The conductor produced some subtle nuances along the way.  I particularly appreciated his clever pattern of decrescendo-to-crescendo on the repetitions of the words “quam olim Abrahae” in the Offertory.

Instead of having a single vocal quartet, Gehrenbeck used constantly changing groups of singers drawn mainly from the choir ranks.  This gave rotating opportunities to lots of singers, some of them really good–I want to hear more of contralto Sarah Leuwerke–though at the price of constant parading of bodies on and off of the scene.

This performance had some very special qualities, however. An acknowledged and beloved masterpiece, Mozart’s Requiem nevertheless has textual problems that keep generation after generation of musicologists and editors in business. (Below is a manuscript of the Dies Irae from Mozart’s Requiem with annotations by Joseph Eybler).

Mozart Requiem mss Dies Irae K626 Requiem Dies Irae

Mozart died before he could complete this last score, as is well known. His widow, desperate to have it finished to win the needed fee, first tried to have one Mozart student, Joseph Eybler, complete the work, but he soon pulled out, and her second choice was a lesser student, Franz Xaver Süssmayer, who carried out the task. (Below is an etching of Sussmayer at Mozart’s death bed.)

Franz Xaver Sussmayrwith dying at Mozart's deathbed

Süssmayer’s version of the score long stood as its “standard” performing version, but in recent decades editors have been seeking ways to overcome its weaknesses and get closer to what Mozart himself would have done.

Thus, Franz Beyer has cleaned up the orchestration, and has added notes to the end of the “Hosanna” refrains to the Sanctus and Benedictus which bring Süssmayer’s abrupt conclusions more into line with Mozartean style.  Other editors have gone much further into rewriting what are understood to be just Süssmayer’s own contributions.

Robert Gehrenbeck (below, conducting) has now entered these lists on his own merits.  He has basically used the Beyer edition, but replaced the wind and timpani parts in the Dies irae with those that Eybler had originally proposed. Gehrenbeck has also interpolated a short passage in the Benedictus to allow for an appropriate change of key.

Robert Gehrenbeck conducting

In all these respects, Gehrenbeck’s educated guesses are as good as anybody else’s. In this uniquely personal collation, he has created a fully plausible text for a fully convincing performance.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir 1

What a refreshing, thought-provoking, and inspiring concert!  Remember, Madisonians, how lucky we are.

video


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