The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Pianist James Giles will replace Ya-Fei Chuang for TONIGHT’s recital at Farley’s House of Pianos

April 6, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the followed announcement from Farley’s House of Pianos about its solo recital tonight.

“We are sad to announce that pianist Ya-Fei Chuang has sustained an injury that will prevent her from performing for us TONIGHT and teaching a master class on Sunday. It is our intent to reschedule her as soon as her health and schedule permit.

“In the meantime, we are very fortunate that James Giles (below), of Northwestern University, is able to step in and perform for us, and we are excited about the program and repertoire he has shaped for us.

“We apologize for this last-minute change, but are excited to introduce James Giles to our Salon Piano Series audience, and look forward to seeing you TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. at 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne Mall.”

His recital at Salon Piano Series will include works of Johannes Brahms, Franz Schubert, Isaac Albeniz, Ignaz Jan Paderewski, Leopold Godowsky and others.

An artist’s reception will follow the concert.

Tickets are $50 in at the door ($10 for tickets) and $45 in advance at:

https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3499200

For more information about the master class, including participants and repertoire, call Farley’s at (608) 271-2626 or go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/04/04/classical-music-acclaimed-pianist-ya-fei-chuang-plays-works-by-schubert-liszt-and-ravel-this-saturday-night-at-farleys-house-of-piano/

Giles has been praised as “a technically polished, elegant pianist” (Sibelius Academy, Helsinki), “with a riveting intelligence given to everything he play[s],” (Wigmore Hall, London), a “distinctive interpretive persona [and] beautiful pianism … direct and unmannered” (Alice Tully Hall, New York). His Paris recital at the Salle Cortot in 2004 was hailed as “a true revelation, due equally to the pianist’s artistry as to his choice of program.” (You can hear Giles playing the Humoresque by Robert Schumann in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Giles regularly performs in important musical centers in America, Europe, and Asia, in solo and chamber recitals and as concerto soloist. A native of North Carolina, he studied at the Manhattan School, the Juilliard School, Eastman School of Music, and at Oberlin College. He was awarded a Fulbright Grant to study in Italy with the legendary Russian pianist Lazar Berman.

Coordinator of the Piano Program and Director of Music Performance Graduate Studies at Northwestern University, Giles is director of the Amalfi Coast Music Festival during the summers, and was director of the 2017 American Liszt Society Festival.


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Classical music: The third annual Madison New Music Festival features three world premieres and 25 composers, and takes place this weekend with three concerts

August 7, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a good year for new music in Madison, which has often seemed inhospitable to that music in the past.

Among major contributors have been the LunART Festival of contemporary women composers; programs by the UW Symphony Orchestra and other UW-Madison groups and individuals; the Madison Opera; the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society; the Willy Street Chamber Players; and the Oakwood Chamber Players. Plus, The Ear is sure there are many other contributors he is overlooking.

But the largest share of the credit has to go to a three-day annual festival of living composers that will take place for the third year this coming weekend. (Photos from last year’s well-attended festival are by Max Schmidt.)

Here is an announcement from the festival with the details:

The third annual Madison New Music Festival will take place this coming Friday, Aug. 10, Saturday, Aug. 11, and Sunday, Aug. 12.

The Madison New Music Festival is an annual weekend-long concert series dedicated to strengthening Madison’s cultural vitality through the celebration of fresh classical music from our lifetimes.

Founded by Madison native composer Zachary Green (below bottom), the festival presents new works by some of the world’s leading living composers, shines a spotlight on new music created in Wisconsin, and shares underplayed music of the 20th and 21st centuries with the Madison community.

Every concert will also have a world premiere of music that has never been heard before. On the opening night, Conduit is performing a new piece by Kyle Tieman-Strauss called Abject. The next day, organist Tyler Jameson Pimm premieres his new piece Psalm 22. Then on Sunday, listeners get to hear the premiere of They’re Still Here by BC Grimm, featuring music for nine different instruments (all of which will be played by Grimm himself).

Over the course of three concerts around town, we are featuring a total of 17 musicians playing the works of 25 composers, all of which were written in the last 50 years.

Though each concert has a different theme, every performance features music by Wisconsin composers, composers of color, and both men and women.

Fifteen of our musicians were born, raised or currently reside in Wisconsin, but we’re bringing several back to town just for the festival. They include members of the Madison, Milwaukee and Quad City symphonies; and graduates of Juilliard, the Manhattan School of Music, Mannes Conservatory, Northwestern University, and, of course, the UW-Madison.

We invite you to join us for the following three concerts:

CONCERT 1: Sounds of the ‘60s and Beyond – Friday, Aug. 10, at 7:30 p.m.

Hear sounds born out of the ’60s counterculture with works exploring minimalism, social and political engagement, and electronic experimentation, as well as the music they inspired for decades to come. There will be a cash bar, as well as opportunities to explore the exhibits.

Where: Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMOCA), 227 State Street

Who: Caitlin Mead, soprano; Heather Zinninger Yarmel, flute; Kristina Teuschler, clarinet; Jeremy Kienbaum, viola; Alex Norris, violin, and Zou Zou Robidoux, cello; and Conduit (below, Zach Manzi, clarinet and Evan Sadler, percussion).

Program: Music by Melissa Dunphy, Angelica Negron, Evan Williams, Steve Reich, Gilda Lyons, Anna Meadors, Kyle T. Strauss, David Lang and Andy Akiho

CONCERT 2: Sounds of Reflection – Saturday, Aug. 11, at 2 p.m.

The festival continues with an afternoon program invoking spirituality, morality and reflection. Organ interludes will be interspersed throughout the program of vocal and instrumental music.

Where: Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Ave.

Who: Greg Zelek, Madison Symphony Orchestra organist (below); Jeremy Kienbaum, viola; Satoko Hayami, piano; Tyler Pimm; organ; Kristina Teuschler, clarinet; Alex Norris, violin; Micah Cheng, cello; Caitlin Mead, soprano; and Scott Gendel, piano.

Program: Music by Toru Takemitsu, Trevor Weston, Morton Feldman, Daniel Ficarri, John Weaver, Tyler Pimm, Tania Leon, John Musto and Scott Gendel

CONCERT 3: Festival Closing Party 2018 – Sunday, Aug. 12, at 7:30 p.m.

Kick back a drink as local musician BC Grimm plays his original works for instruments from cello to Chinese Guqin zither, followed by a set of music for solo strings. Then, the musicians from all three concerts come together for a performance of the 1973 piece “Stay On It” — heard in the YouTube video the bottom — by Julius Eastman (below).

Where: Robinia Courtyard, 829 East Washington Avenue

Who: BC Grimm, Jeremy Keinbaum, Aaron Yarmel, and All Festival Performers

Program: BC Grimm, Philip Glass, Ursula Mamlok, Aaron Yarmel, and Julius Eastman

All individual concerts are $15 for general admission, $5 for students. You can also subscribe to all three concerts for $35.

For more information, please visit our website http://madisonnewmusic.org or find us on Facebook (@Madison New Music Festival) or Instagram (@madisonnewmusic).


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Classical music: Grace Presents offers a FREE violin and piano concert of music by Mozart, Schumann and Fritz Kreisler this Saturday from noon to 1 p.m.

February 18, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

A FREE concert this weekend by Grace Presents features violin and piano music played by local musicians.

The concert takes place from noon to 1 p.m. this Saturday at Grace Episcopal Church, where West Washington Avenue runs into the Capitol Square.

grace episcopal church ext

Grace Episcopal harpsichord

The performers are violinist Kangwon Kim and pianist Seungwha Baek.

The program is: Sonata for Piano and Violin in A major, K. 526, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791); Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano in A minor, Op. 105, by Robert Schumann (1810-1856); and “Liebesleid” (Love’s Sorrow, performed by Anne Akiko Meyers in a YouTube video at the bottom) and “Liebesfreud” (Love’s Joy) by Fritz Kreisler (1875–1962).

Kangwon Lee Kim (below) is a versatile violinist with repertoire ranging from baroque to 21st century using both Baroque and modern violins. She performs with the Madison Bach Musicians.

Kangwon Kim earned her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also holds degrees from the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, the Manhattan School of Music and Temple University.

Kangwon Kim close up

A native of Seoul, Korea, pianist Seungwha Baek (below) is currently working towards the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in collaborative piano at the University of Wisconsin-­Madison under Professor Martha Fischer.

Seungwha Baek

For more information about upcoming concerts in a variety of genres and style, plus a chance to let Grace Presents know what you think of a specific concert or performers, go to:

http://gracepresents.org


Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society will wind up its current summer season of masterful music-making with two MUST-HEAR programs this weekend.

June 25, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you needed more proof about why you should take in one or both of the final two programs – “Crooked Business” and “Highway Robbery” — by the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, you should have been at one or both of the BDDS concerts last weekend.

BDDS poster 2015

For this coming weekend of the 24th season: “Crooked Business” features the Sonata for Flute and Keyboard in B Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach; the chamber music reduction of the Piano Concerto in C minor, K. 491, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and a chamber music arrangement version of the Serenade in D Major, Op. 11, by Johannes Brahms.

“Highway Robbery” offers the First Rhapsody for Clarinet by Claude Debussy; “Seven Seascapes” by the American composer Kevin Puts, who won the Pulitzer Prize; and the great Octet by Franz Schubert.

For more information about programs and performers, venues and tickets, visit: http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society continues to be incapable of being boring, ordinary or mediocre. It’s just not in their genes or DNA.

Last Saturday night, The Ear took in the “Breaking and Entering” concert in The Playhouse of the Overture Center. The theme was meant to explore how composers broke new ground and violated boundaries.

The theme might seem a bit of a stretch — they often do — and when one of the two fake security guards frisked an audience member for a gun or weapon, it might have struck some audience members as uncomfortable or in questionable taste rather than amusing or funny, given the recent shootings in Charleston, South Carolina.

BDDS Breaking 2015 guard

But humor and silliness aside, there is no question that the music received the superb performances it deserved.

The San Francisco Trio, veteran BDDS guest artists, delivered two masterful readings of two Romantic masterpieces. The trio opened the concert perfectly with the lovely and short “Notturno” (1827) by Franz Schubert. Then it closed the concert with the revised version of the substantial and even epic Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major (1854, revised in 1889), Op. 8, by Johannes Brahms. The trio is made up of pianist Jeffrey Sykes (a co-founder and co-artistic director of BDDS), violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau.

BDDS Breaking SF Trio

Then came the somewhat eccentric Sonatina for Trio (1934) by the rarely performed French composer and eccentric music critic Florent Schmitt.

The players were an unusual combination of flutist Stephanie Jutt (the UW-Madison professor is a co-founder and co-artistic director of BDDS as well as principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra); local pianist Thomas Kasdorf, who is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music; and the incredible clarinetist Alan Key from New York City who teaches at the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School, and who plays with the respected Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

BDDS Breaking 2015 Jutt, Kasdrof, Kay

Violinist Axel Strauss, who teaches at McGill University in Montreal, sure showed some impressive fiddling skills in two crossover pieces – “Pining for Betsy” and “Who Let the Cat Out Last Night?” — by Paul Schoenfield (b. 1947). It brought audible WOWs and cheers from the audience. (Listen for yourself to the virtuosic “Cat” piece in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

BDDS breaking 2015 Axel Strauss

An unusual and rarely heard piece by the Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne (b. 1959)  imagines Franz Joseph “Papa” Haydn and a South American composer discussing music at the Esterhazy estate where Haydn worked. The work was delivered with great panache by flutist Stephanie Jutt, clarinetist Alan Kay and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau.

BDDS Breaking 2015 Jutt, Fonteneau, Kay. jpeg

Both the variety of the repertoire and the players and the quality of the performances recommend the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society to any serious classical music fan as well as to beginners. The Ear says: Go have some classical fun!

 


Classical music: Metropolitan Opera radio host Margaret Juntwait is dead at 58.

June 6, 2015
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ALERT: This month’s “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” concert will take place tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III.

The concert features local violinist Kangwon Kim, violist Micah Behr and cellist Mark Bridges. The program includes a suite for solo viola by Quincy Porter and an arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous “Goldberg” Variations for string trio done by Russian violist Dmitry Sitkovetsky.

Admission is FREE. Since Wisconsin Public Radio ended live broadcasts of the concert after 36 years, you can stream it live starting at 12:30. Just go to the Chazen Museum of Art’s website where you will find the necessary link:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/the-goldberg-trio-sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-on-june-7

By Jacob Stockinger

Her expressive voice became as identifiable with the opera -– with the Metropolitan Opera -– as have some of the world’s great singers.

Her name is Margaret Juntwait (below in a photo by Jonathan Tichler) and she hosted the live radio broadcast from the Met that started in December and ran through May. Every Saturday, she reached more than one million fans worldwide with her commentaries and her outstanding interviews with singers and conductors.

Margaret Juntwait CR jonathan-tichler

This past Wednesday, Margaret Juntwait died at 58 of complications from ovarian cancer, which she had battled with for a decade.

Because today is Saturday, it seems like the perfect day for The Ear to post about her passing.

Here are three stories about Margaret Juntwait and her career plus a very short YouTube video about Puccini’s “La Boheme” that shows her quick wit.

From the Deceptive Cadence blog on National Public Radio (NPR):

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/06/03/411784750/met-opera-and-public-radio-host-margaret-juntwait-dies

From the Metropolitan Opera:

http://metopera.org/metopera/news/features/news-flash/remembering-margaret-juntwait

From the famed radio station in New York City, WQXR and WNYC:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/margaret-juntwait-former-wnyc-host-and-voice-metropolitan-opera-dies-58/

Feel free to leave your thoughts and feelings in the COMMENTS section of the blog.

The Ear wants to hear – and so do others.

 

 


Classical music: Is this the minority report of a dissenter? The Ear offers some thoughts and after-thoughts from recent concerts by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Pro Arte String Quartet, the Middleton Community Orchestra and pianist Christopher Taylor. Plus, here are links to rave reviews of this afternoon’s final all-Beethoven concert by pianist Yefim Bronfman and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

March 9, 2014
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ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center is the final performance of the all-Beethoven concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain. It features pianist Yefim Bronfman (below) in TWO piano concertos (Nos. 2 and 5 “The Emperor”) plus the Symphony No. 1 and “The Creatures of Prometheus” Overture. Here are links to two rave reviews of the concert by Madison Magazine critic and blogger Greg Hettmansberger and by Isthmus critic John W. Barker, who also guest blogs for The Ear. It sure sounds like a NOT-TO-BE-MISSED concert. See you there!

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/March-2014/A-Piano-Concerto-Doubleheader-and-Beethoven-to-the-Max/

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42237

Yefim Bronfman portrait

By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a very busy time musically in Madison, with a lot of previews to post, which often supplant reviews since The Ear thinks previews are more useful than reviews to most listeners and performers. And this coming week and weekend are even worse. So much music, and so little space!

But here are some “outdated” capsule reviews, impressions really, with accompanying afterthoughts that come to The Ear as he listened and later thought about what he had heard:

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND TRUMPETER TINE THING HELSETH

It seemed a curious, even odd theme for a Valentine’s Day program. But BRASS – not romantic love — marked the Valentine’s Day weekend performances by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below), although ending with the “Rosenkavalier” suite by Richard Strauss did indeed prove an inspired choice to combine brass and love. Plus by all accounts, the concert sold very well. It sure got standing ovations. In short, it may have seemed odd, but it worked.

MSO playing

The “Doctor Atomic” Symphony by the contemporary American composer John Adams (below), who put the instrumental work together from his own opera score, was powerful, and also fit the brass bill, with great solos by MSO trumpeter John Aley, and was impressive to hear –- though also hardly romantic.

John Adams

Given conductor John DeMain (below) and his stupendous taste and talent for choosing great singers who are also affordable, I kept thinking: How I would like to have heard some great singers perform familiar and unknown love arias from operas by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Saint-Saens, even Wagner. Now those would be symphony tickets to throw in with a box of chocolates and a bouquet of roses. But The Ear has been informed that such concerts often do not sell well and might also be seen as competing with the local opera company.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

All that said, I thought that the guest soloist, Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth (below), proved an inspired, if unexpected, choice. She showed an uncanny power for playing softly. Brass instruments are not easy to control with little breath and with soft tone. But she did both beautifully in two concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn and Alexander Arutiunian. She clearly has the lung power to blow down the Walls of Jericho. But what impressed and seduced me was her quietness, which nonetheless possessed rich tone and unwavering pitch. That is a rare talent, and one to be cherished — and brought back to Madison!

Tine Thing Helseth big profile

WISCONSIN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

Maestro Andrew Sewell (below) has a never-failing knack of finding terrific music that has been overlooked but is actually very good, if not revolutionary or pioneering.

Sure, at his last concert I too, like the rest of the audience, loved what he did with the Jupiter Symphony of Mozart –- not too hectic, clear voicing, propulsive energy even with all the repeats. And the talented and congenial soloist Joshua Roman proved an irresistible highlight in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major.

Andrew Sewell BW

But the real surprise of the night was the 20th-century Concerto Grosso by Vittorio Giannini (below), who taught composition at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music and then established the North Carolina School of the Arts. What a discovery! I want to hear more by this guy.

Vittorio Giannini

And Sewell will soon unwrap another surprise this week –- and I expect, as usual, that it will be modern music that is accessible and tuneful, not R&D Music (that’s short research and development) that sounds like jet noise or broken plumbing.  Could that help explain why he gets full houses?

Sewell and the WCO will probably do so again THIS COMING FRIDAY NIGHT at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. That is when he and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra combine the famous famously listenable and lovely Violin Concerto (with guest soloist Karina Canellakis) by Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Clock” Symphony (Symphony No. 101 of his 104 symphonies) with “Elements” by American composer Michael McLean (below, and with a sample of  “Elements” in a YouTube video at the bottom). Sounds like another MUST-HEAR concert  to The Ear.

Michael McLean 1 REAL not mormon

PRO ARTE QUARTET

Well, the headlines and chit-chat went rightfully to the world premiere of Belgian composer Benoit Mernier’s commissioned String Quartet No. 3, which sounded fiendishly difficult and seemed based largely on technical stuff like trills, tremolos and glissandos instead of themes and infectious rhythms. And the Pro Arte Quartet, artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music since 1940 and celebration its centennial, played it with impressive aplomb and apparent ease.

Pro Arte Quartet in Haydn at Mernier

“Do you like the music?” someone asked me right after the performance.

I think the better question is: “Does the music like me?”

Think about it: What is the composer’s responsibility to you the listener, and what is your responsibility to the composer (Mernier, below), especially if he seems to ignore you?

Benoit Mernier 1

I also loved the rarely heard and beautifully performed viola quintet by Anton Bruckner and particularly the contrasts between Sally Chisholm’s viola and Samuel Rhodes’ viola (the two are below side-by-side). If you liked the combination –- and what is not to like with the darker hued voice of the viola –- be sure to try the viola quintets by Mozart and Brahms, which I would also like to hear the Pro Arte do more of.

Sally Chisholm and Samuel Rhodes in Bruckner Quintet

But for old-fashioned me, the star of the evening was the Haydn Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4. It just cleaned out your ears and was proof again that, at its best, the genre is indeed still as it was described by Haydn himself when pretty much invented in the 18th century: A conversation of equals. And did the Pro Arte ever play it with accuracy, clarity and texture. It sparkled like a diamond. The string quartet may have evolved, changed or morphed over the centuries, but it has simply not gotten any better than Haydn.

So: Is there any chance that we night get of a multi-year Haydn cycle by the Pro Arte, which decades ago in another avatar or configuration of players started to record the complete Haydn quartets in the famous Abbey Road studio in London for RCA. They have done Beethoven and Shostakovich cycles. What about Papa Haydn? And if not a complete cycle of the 68 or so quartets, how about a fairly comprehensive survey or at least a very large sampler of Haydn’s early, middle and late styles?

Haydn

PIANIST CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR

What more can you say about the award-winning, audience-approved star talent pianist Christopher Taylor (below) who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and concertizes around the world, and his stunning solo recital this year?

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

I loved the “War” Sonata No. 6 by Sergei Prokofiev, a great piece that he performed greatly with both riveting energy and heartbreaking lyricism. I also loved the encore — Scott Joplin’s “Pineapple Rag” –- as a contrast and change of pace.

But I have to be honest: I have heard enough of the Liszt piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies. Trust the genuine original! Accept no substitutes!

The next day I listened to a recording of the same work by a real orchestra — the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig under conductor Riccardo Chailly. What a difference when the “Eroica” is played with real brass countering, with jarring dissonance, real strings; when it is real tympani drumbeats rather than bass tremolos on the piano. Ludwig (below) simply had more of IT – whatever musical genius is — than Franz.

Beethoven big

The real “Eroica” Symphony doesn’t — and shouldn’t — sound so much like a Hungarian Rhapsody or a Transcendental Etude. In their day, these transcriptions served a purpose and they stretched the resources of the piano, or at least, of pianists. Now, they strike The Ear as precious, more of a sideshow of amazing and ingenious pianism and not much little else aside from some strokes of minor genius here and there by the Paganini of the Piano.

Liszt photo by Pierre Petit

From one of those transcriptions I learned something and I enjoyed it. But now that makes three down (symphonies numbers 3, 4 and 5) for Taylor. I, for one, sure hope we don’t have the other six to go. How much more I would have preferred to hear this supremely talented pianist and gifted musician in some serious and original piano repertoire –- maybe a late Schubert sonata, or a Bach partita, or a Chopin ballade, or a Schumann cycle. I want to hear Christopher Taylor in something that puts depth over display, substance over style.

Am I alone in that wish?

MIDDLETON COMMUNITY ORCHESTRA

Guest reviewer John W. Barker covered this recent concert of the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below), which featured music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Johannes Brahms and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, thoughtfully and thoroughly for this blog.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

All I would add is a lesson that every teacher knows: Students with lesser abilities rise to meet high expectations. That is why symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras should book the best soloists they can get and afford: The Ear is convinced that the level of playing and performing usually rises to match the soloist and fosters cohesion.

With the MCO, it was two lifelong friends and award-winning, UW-Madison trained string players -– violinist Eleanor Bartsch and violist Daniel Kim (below) who soloed and who seemed in complete synch, down to the timing of their trills, during Mozart’s sublime Sinfonia Concertante.

Their playing was superb, and the amateur orchestra rose to meet them and give them the beautiful support they deserved. And with Mozart there is no place to hide, so flaws or mistakes are quickly revealed.

Eleanor Bartsch and Daniel Kim MCO Mozart

Well, now it is on to another busy week of concerts.

Where, I wonder, will the music lead The Ear this time?

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Classical music: Brass Week in Madison kicks off with tuba and French horn concerts at the University of Wisconsin by John Stevens and Daniel Grabois, who will highlight works by contemporary UW composers.

February 10, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Call it Brass Week in Madison.

Concerts this week will feature three different brass instruments: the tuba, the French horn and the trumpet.

brass instruments

The Ear guesses it is all due more to happenstance than planning.

But whatever the origin, Brass Week begins Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music with a FREE recital by tuba professor and composer John Stevens, who will retire at the end of this semester.

It continues on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall with a FREE recital by French horn professor, who also is the latest addition to the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, Daniel Grabois.

And then on Thursday, Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth will start her three performances as soloist in concertos by Haydn and Alexander Arutiunian with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain.

Helseth will be featured in a separate Q&A on this blog tomorrow.

But here are details, drawn from the UW School of Music calendar of events, about the first two concerts.

JOHN STEVENS

UW tuba professor John Stevens (below) will perform three well-known masterpieces – the Horn Quintet by Mozart, the “Songs of a Wayfarer” by Gustav Mahler and the Horn Trio by Johannes Brahms– all adapted for the tuba.

Guest artists include violinist David Perry, violist Sally Chisholm, cellist Parry Karp, all of the UW Pro Arte Quartet, and UW pianist Martha Fischer.

John Stevens

John Stevens (below with his instrument) has enjoyed a distinguished career as a teacher, orchestral, chamber music, solo and jazz performer and recording artist, composer/arranger, conductor and administrator. He has performed with every major orchestra in New York and was a member of the New York Tuba Quartet and many other chamber groups. He was principal tubist in the Aspen Festival Orchestra; toured and recorded with a wide variety of groups including Chuck Mangione, the American Brass Quintet and the San Francisco Ballet; and was the tuba soloist in the original Broadway production of BARNUM.

john stevens with tuba 1

Stevens has released two solo recordings; an LP of his own compositions titled POWER (Mark Records, 1985) and a CD titled REVERIE (Summit Records, 2006). He joined the UW-Madison faculty in 1985 and, in addition to his other duties, was the Director of the School of Music from 1991 to 1996 and 2011 to 2013.

As a composer and arranger with over 50 original compositions and almost as many arrangements to his credit, Stevens is internationally renowned for his works for brass, particularly for solo tuba, euphonium and trombone, tuba/euphonium ensemble, brass quintet and other brass chamber combinations. He is the winner of numerous ASCAP awards and has received many composition grants and commissions.

In 1997 Stevens (below, composing at his Madison home and at bottom in an interview in a YouTube video) was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to compose a tuba concerto. This work, entitled JOURNEY, was premiered by the CSO, with tubist Gene Pokorny as soloist. Recent compositions include the CONCERTO FOR EUPHONIUM AND ORCHESTRA, SYMPHONY IN THREE MOVEMENTS, a composition for wind band commissioned by a consortium of 14 American universities, and MONUMENT for Solo Tuba and String.

And here is a link to a long story by local writer Paul Baker about Stevens, his career and the activities surrounding his retirement this semester. It appeared on the outstanding blog “Fanfare” at the UW-Madison School of Music:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/stevens/

John Stevens writing

DANIEL GRABOIS

The program by horn professor Daniel Grabois (below, in a photo by James Gill), who also curates the SoundWaves program at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, and pianist Jessica Johnson will perform a program of “All in the Family: 21st Century Music by UW-Madison Composers.”

Daniel Grabois 2012  James Gill

The works include “Gossamer Snowfall, Crystalline Pond” (2000), by UW saxophone professor Les Thimmig (below); 
the world premiere of “War Suite” (2014) by
 Alex Charland
 (1. War Song, 
2. Dirge, 
3. Ballad); “Indigo Quiescence” (2000) by Les Thimmig; “Soliloquy in June” (2000) by Les Thimmig; the world premiere  “Antilogy” (2014) by Daniel Grabois;
Sonata for Horn and Piano (2008) by John Stevens; and “Song at Dusk” (2000) by Les Thimmig
.

Les Thimmig color

Daniel Grabois is Assistant Professor of Horn at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. The former Chair of the Department of Contemporary Performance at the Manhattan School of Music, he is the hornist in the Meridian Arts Ensemble, a sextet of brass and percussion soon to celebrate its 25th anniversary. With Meridian, he has performed over 50 world premieres, released 10 CDs, received two ASCAP/CMA Adventuresome Programming Awards, and toured worldwide, in addition to recording or performing with rock legends Duran Duran and Natalie Merchant and performing the music of Frank Zappa for the composer himself.

UW School of Music

The author/composer of two etude books for horn, Grabois has appeared as a frequent guest with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and has performed in New York and on tour with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and many other ensembles. He also appears on over 30 CD recordings, and has recorded a concerto written for him by composer David Rakowski. Grabois taught horn for 14 years at The Hartt School, and has taught courses on the business of music at both the Hartt and the Manhattan School of Music.

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Classical music: Mary Mackenzie, a former Madisonian now singing in New York City is seeking help to finance the first recording of composer John Harbison’s “Songs After Hours.”

January 6, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Mary Mackenzie (below), a very accomplished singer, a friend of the blog and a former Madison resident, writes:

mary mackenzie

Dear Mr. Stockinger,

It has been quite a while since you saw me perform — I suspect it may have been “Brundibar” with Madison Opera in 2000! — but I always enjoy keeping up with your blog about all things musical in Madison.

I was last in Madison in August, and gave a recital at the Token Creek Music Festival (below, and art bottom in a YouTube video). Returning home to Madison to share my life-long love of song with family and friends is always a treat for me.

TokenCreekbarn interior

I was fortunate to have an extensive musical education in Madison. I was involved in the music programs at West High School, WYSO (Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra) and the Madison Opera, and I was able to see my mother play almost every week, either with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or the Oakwood Chamber Players.

I went on to receive a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and later moved to New York City, where I received a Master of Music in Vocal Performance from the Manhattan School of Music.

I made my Carnegie Hall debut in the Stern Auditorium in November with the American Symphony Orchestra, singing “Warble for Lilac Time” by Elliott Carter (bel0w).

Elliott Carter

My eight years in New York City have been rich with a busy and varied singing career. I have made a name for myself as an interpreter of contemporary music – particularly art song and chamber music – and have worked with many prestigious living composers. (Below is Mary Mackenzie performing Harrison Birtwistle’s “Three Settings of Celan” with the Juilliard School’s Axiom Ensemble in a photo by The New York Times). It is one piece in particular, and the relationship I forged with the composer  John Harbison that has resonated with me.

Mary Mackenzie ii in Harrison Birtwistle's %22Thee Settings of Celan%22 with the Juilliard School's Axiom Ensemble NYT

I am writing to tell you a bit about the jazz songs, Songs After Hours, by John Harbison (below) and a unique new artistic endeavor of mine, which includes creating the first-ever recording of these works. It is my hope that you will see the value in this project, and consider supporting its production.

JohnHarbisonatpiano

Five years ago, I performed John’s Songs After Hours at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. Though scored only for piano and voice at the time, John mentioned his wish to see the music developed further for a jazz combo.

Fast forward to 2012, when I had an opportunity to work with some of the most exceptional jazz musicians in New York City. Through their artistry and creativity, I knew that I’d found the group to realize John’s vision. We created original arrangements of the songs for voice and combo and are going into the studio soon to make the debut recording in 2014. The album will ultimately be released by Albany Records.

There are many financial obligations involved in making a record, and while I am applying for grant funding and running a crowd-funding campaign through Kickstarter, I am looking for outside donors as well.  In particular, I would like to find donors to sponsor each of the five musicians involved in the project. (Below is a photo of Mary Mackenzie performing Hector Parra’s “Hypermusic — Ascension” at the Guggenheim Museum.)

Mary Mackenzie in Hector Parra %22Hypermusic -- Ascension%22 at the Guggenheim Museum

As for the Kickstarter, the deadline is January 17, so not that far away. The link for the page is:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1472615144/the-john-harbison-project-songs-after-hours-debut.

The goal of the Kickstarter is to raise $10,000, which would go towards studio costs, engineering, mixing, and mastering.  Of course, if we exceed our goal, then that’s more money towards the overall budget. I am hoping that I can find some donors that are separate from the Kickstarter to help sponsor the musicians.

I will be applying for a grant through the Aaron Copland Fund for the remainder of the funds.

I have some of the best jazz musicians accompanying me on this project, and I believe they deserve to be compensated with at least $1,500 for their work on this record. Ideally, I’d like to give them more if funding allows. This totals at least $7,500 for five musicians.

I am hoping Madisonians will consider supporting this record.  Of course, any amount anyone can give would be a great help, perhaps even a sponsorship of one of the musicians. You and others can contact me at mmackenzie981@gmail.com or at www.mary-mackenzie.com or call me at (608) 215-9261.

Sincerely,

Mary Mackenzie


Classical music news: UW-Madison hornist Daniel Grabois will pay homage to his department with his recital on Wednesday night.

February 3, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

The second semester of the University of Wisconsin School of Music’s Faculty Concert Series opens mid-week next week, on Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall.

The FREE and PUBLIC series begins with a recital by UW-Madison hornist Daniel Grabois (a Roumanian name pronounced gra-BOY) who is just in his second year of teaching in Madison.

Grabois (below, in a photo by James Gill) agreed to  Q&A in which he talks about the special program he has chosen to play to pay homage to his department and predecessors, and how satisfied he is with his teaching post and performing life:

Your recital program is intended to pay homage to the horn department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where you now teach and also perform with the Wisconsin Brass Quintet. Can you elaborate on that, and on your view of the UW horn department and how it compares to other places you have taught?

Perhaps what has distinguished the horn teaching at UW is: first, the quality of the teaching; and secondly, the longevity of the teachers. My immediate predecessor, Douglas Hill, started teaching here in 1974 when I was finishing up fourth-grade, and he retired last year. I am only the fourth horn professor in the UW School of Music’s history.

Beyond that, however, every place I have taught employs adjunct professors, who are in and out of school quickly, without being a real on-site presence for their students. Having a full-time faculty makes a very special situation for UW students: They can find their professor in his or her office, ready to help by listening, talking, giving advice, or whatever. A student can run in and play through audition material. The faculty members are a resource for the students.

Can you give a brief description of what listeners should look for or pay attention to in each piece, and how each piece fits into the overall theme?

I’ll go in program order.

The piece by Alec Wilder (below) uses a language that I would call almost jazz. You can feel the jazz bubbling beneath the surface (in the third movement, it actually comes to the surface). The piece was written for John Barrows, who taught at the UW (he was also the teacher of one of my teachers). I love the piece because it is very approachable and fun but also a nicely structured piece of classical music.

The second piece is by Todd Hammes (below), the percussionist who is playing with me on the recital. After our first rehearsal, we were talking about – what else? – music, and I was telling him about an instrument I had sort of invented. I showed it to him, and he said “I have a piece we could play together and you could play that thing.” We tried it out, and it worked great, so I put it on the program. I love discovering things by accident like that. The piece itself is a simple slow meditation. If you want to see what the instrument is, you’ll have to come to the concert!

After that is a piece I wrote called “The Spikenard.” I wrote it as a solo horn piece, but in the concert Todd will be accompanying me on some really great drums from the Middle East. That fits perfectly with the flavor of the piece. I think of it as Middle Eastern chant meets rock and roll, for solo horn. Pretty odd idea, I know. I wrote the piece in little chunks backstage on tour waiting to go on stage.

After intermission, there are two pieces. The first requires a little explanation. I used to run a contemporary music degree program at Manhattan School of Music (below), and I had students with all kinds of creativity. One violinist had been an art major in college, and she found a way to fuse art and music by writing graphic scores.

These are basically sequences of pictures that you read from left to right and interpret musically as you please. They are beautiful to look at and are structured in a very “musical” way (for example, there might be a shape on the first page, that is repeated with variations on the second page and returns again on the seventh page). The composer’s name is Leah Asher, and I commissioned a graphic score from her for this concert, which will be the world premiere. I’ll be projecting the images on a big screen as I play the piece.

The last piece is by Doug Hill (below, in  photo by Katrin Talbot), who taught at UW from 1974 until his retirement last year. It’s a five movement work called “Song Suite in Jazz Style.” It’s written for horn and piano, but I decided to have Todd play drum set to make it even more in a jazz style. It’s very fun to play and very fun to listen to.

In summary: a piece written for my predecessor’s predecessor, a piece written by my predecessor, a piece I wrote, a piece I commissioned, and I piece I discovered here through collaboration.

What current or upcoming projects are you involved in?

Lots. This coming summer, I’ll be writing a brass quintet for the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, which is the faculty ensemble I play in. I also have been in the Meridian Arts Ensemble (below top)  for the last 24 years. It’s a brass quintet plus percussion. With that group, I just finished recording 3 CDs (yes, three of them), and we’ll be editing and releasing them. I’m also working with another faculty member at UW, trombone professor Mark Hetzler (below bottom, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), on writing and playing tunes that involve lots of electronics and lots of groove. When we get together, it’s like two kids messing around with fun stuff.

How have you found Madison as place to live, to teach and to perform in the year since you arrived here? High points? Low points?

I love it. There’s lots to do. Believe it or not, this is my first full-time job – and I’m 47 years old. I have always been a freelancer with about a million different jobs all put together in a crazy patchwork schedule. Now, I wake up, eat breakfast, and go to work. Have you ever heard of such a thing? I hadn’t.

Anyway, I don’t feel like I’ve hit any low points yet, knock on wood. My students are incredibly talented and motivated, the faculty is wonderful, the city is great, my family is happy, and I eat Thai noodle soup for lunch two or three times a week. I’ve been dealt a royal flush!

What else would you like to say about the horn department, your recital, your life and career here, or the classical music scene in Madison?

I would like to speak more generally. Across the country, classical music is in grave trouble. Orchestras are folding, musicians are out of work, people aren’t going to concerts. Please note that this seems not to be the case, thank God, in Madison. But, as an educator, I have to look at my students’ futures.

We classical musicians need to figure out what our purpose is, what the role of serious music is in society. We need to play music that is enjoyable, yes, but that stretches people, makes them see (and hear) the world in a richer way, opens them to experience bigger than themselves and to see the connections between things. In a tiny way, I’m hoping to do that in my concert.

I want to thank my two performer collaborators, Todd Hammes (percussion) and Kirstin Ihde (piano, and she’s a graduate student who REALLY gets the job done), and Leah Asher (below), who wrote me a really cool piece, and all my fellow faculty members who have been so supportive in my first year at the UW.


Classical music datebook: Despite Sunday’s Super Bowl 46, February opens with an emphasis on young performers and chamber music spotlighting three successive generations of German Romanticism.

February 1, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

There’s really no arguing about it: The second half of the concert season is well under way with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera both having turned in superb performances.

This weekend will be quite a bit quieter. Could it be because Sunday’s Super Bowl 46 will cause fall-offs in audience attendance and create scheduling conflicts?

You can have both football and music. There is still time to catch concerts on Sunday afternoon and make the kick off at 5:30 p.m. CST on NBC TV.

Anyway, despite football there is still much to listen to and many good choices to make. Here is the line-up:

FRIDAY

The FREE Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the historic Landmark Auditorium at the First Unitarian Society Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature Madison native and violinist Mary Theodore (below), cellist Michael Allen and violist Chris Dozoryst in the music of Bartok and Ravel. For information, call 608 233-9774 or visit www.fusmadison.org

SATURDAY

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will hold a free open rehearsal this Saturday in Mills Hall, on the UW-Madison campus in the Humanities Building at 455 North Park Street, starting at 10 a.m. Music students, families, and teachers are invited to come and see what WYSO has to offer. Guests will be able to talk with WYSO staff and parents of current members, and will get a chance to tour WYSO’s four orchestras in rehearsal. After the tour, guests will have an opportunity to speak with current WYSO members in a Q&A session.

For more details, visit: www.wyso.music.wisc.edu

Since 1966, WYSO has been providing excellence in musical opportunities for more than 5,000 young people in southern Wisconsin. WYSO includes three full orchestras and a string orchestra, a chamber music program, a harp program, a percussion ensemble, and a brass choir program.

The orchestras rehearse on Saturday mornings during the academic year, perform three to four public concerts per season, and tour regionally, nationally and internationally. The Youth Orchestra will tour to Prague, Vienna and Budapest in July 2012; and has toured to Canada, Japan, Scotland, Spain, France, Colorado, Iowa and Washington, D.C., in the past.

SUNDAY

“Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” welcomes the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater faculty ensemble on Sunday from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery Number III at the Chazen Museum of Art.

The program features three piano trios: Beethoven Piano Trio in E-flat, Op. 70, No. 2; Schubert’s “Notturno” in E-flat, D. 897; and Brahms’ Piano Trio No.1 in B major, Op. 8.

As usual, it will be broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Radio.

According to a press release, the faculty of the UW-Whitewater School of Music (below) is made up of  performers, composers and scholars dedicated to educational excellence whose work is known across the nation. The School of Music produces up to 130 musical programs per year including student recitals and ensembles as well as the Faculty/Guest Artist concert series.

The UW-Whitewater music faculty have received highest acclaim as educators, awarded six W.P. Roseman Awards, the highest University-wide teaching award for faculty, four University-wide awards for outstanding teaching by academic staff, and numerous College of Arts and Communication Excellence Awards.

Members of the Chazen Museum of Art or Wisconsin Public Radio can call ahead and reserve seats for Sunday Afternoon Live performances. Seating is limited. All reservations must be made Monday through Friday before the concert and claimed by 12:20 p.m. on the day of the performance. For more information or to learn how to become a museum member, contact the Chazen Museum at (608) 263-2246.

A reception follows the performance, with refreshments generously donated by Fresh Madison Market, Coffee Bytes and Steep & Brew. A free docent-led tour in the Chazen galleries begins every Sunday at 2 p.m.

Then at 2:30 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave. across from Camp Randall, the local chamber music ensemble Con Vivo! (Music with Life, below) will open continue to mark its 10th anniversary season.

The concert will feature the music of three successive masters of German Romanticism: Johannes Brahms, Alexander Zemlinsky and Max Reger.  The program includes the String Quintet in F Major, Op.88 by Brahms, the Trio for piano, clarinet and cello Op. 3 by Zemlinsky and the “Fantasy on Ein Feste Burg” by Max Reger played on the magnificent organ at First Congregational Church.

Tickets can be purchased at the door:$12 for adults and $10 for seniors and students.

Audience members are invited to join Con Vivo! musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss this chamber music literature and to celebrate their 10th tenth season.

Artistic Director Robert Taylor, in remarking about the concert said, “We have always strived to present chamber music in an enjoyable and enlightening manner. This program shows the progression of the late German Romantic era with Brahms as the traditionalist and Zemlinsky (below top), a student of Brahms, showing new directions in harmony. Closing the concert is a piece by Max Reger (below bottom), one the last of the tonal German composers, who shows the way forward to what would become the atonal music of the Second Viennese School in the early 20th century. With our 10th season, we continue the tradition of bringing our audience works that are familiar and some that are perhaps new. ”

Con Vivo! is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.

WEDNESDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall. The University of Wisconsin School of Music will open the second half of the season Faculty Concert Series with a FREE and PUBLIC horn recital by Daniel Grabois (below, in a photo by James Gill), who has chosen a program to pay homage to the horn department at the UW School of Music.

Grabois (pronounced Gra-BOY) will be joined by pianist Kirstin Ihde and percussionist Todd Hammes.

The program includes Sonata No. 3, by Alec Wilder (below top); “Prelude to Sunrise” by Todd Hammes; and “The Spikenard” by Grabois; the world premiere of “Roda” by Manhattan School of Music student Leah Asher, whose artwork will be displayed during the piece’s performance; and the “Song Suite in Jazz Style” by retired UW hornist and composer Douglas Hill (below bottom, in a photo by Katrin Talbot).


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