The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Symphony Orchestra’s music director John DeMain discusses the 2017-18 season with critic John W. Barker

May 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, an interview with the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s music director John DeMain about the next season, conducted and 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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

Last month, I had a welcome opportunity to sit down with John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, together with his marketing director, Peter Rodgers, to discuss the orchestra’s recently announced 2017-18 concert season. (NOTE: Today is the deadline for current subscribers to renew and keep their seats. You can call 608 257-3734 or go to https://www.madisonsymphony.org/reneworder)

This meeting allowed me new insights into the various factors that go into selecting a season’s repertoire. It also gave me further appreciation of Maestro DeMain’s personality and talents.

It further revealed the unfairness of some criticism made that the coming season is “conservative” and repetitive of familiar works. In fact, his programming involves very thoughtful awareness of the differing expectations of the varied audience.

It has become customary to make the season’s opening concert a showcase for talented members of the orchestra, rather than for guest soloists.

The September program thus offers a masterpiece I particularly relish, Hector Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, a symphony with viola obbligato — featuring the orchestra’s principal violist, Chris Dozoryst (below).

But the inclusion of the neglected Fifth or “Reformation” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn was decided as a link to this year’s 500th-anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther’s launching of the Lutheran Reformation in 1517. Also on the program is Leopold Stokowski’s orchestral arrangement of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The October program contains a notable example of a familiar and popular “warhorse,” Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” This was indeed performed by the MSO two seasons back as part of the “Beyond the Score” presentations. DeMain indicates that the close repetition is made deliberately to connect with that past event, to expand further the audiences’ understanding of the work.

He is also juxtaposing the symphony with the appearance of the acclaimed Olga Kern (below), playing the Piano Concerto by Samuel Barber and with the “Mother Goose” Suite by Maurice Ravel.

The November soloist is guitarist Sharon Isbin, in two concertos, one new (“Affinity” by Chris Brubeck) and one old (Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo)  She plays with her instrument electronically amplified, something very off-putting in my experience. But DeMain notes that all guitarists do that now in concert work, and he wanted to include the guitar to bring in new and different audience members.

Inclusion of suites by Aaron Copland and Manuel de Falla – “Billy the Kid” and “The Three-Cornered Hat,” respectively — also represent popular appeal.

January will bring a triumph for DeMain: the appearance of violinist Gil Shaham (below), after 15 years of efforts to secure him. Shaham will perform the Violin Concerto by Peter Tchaikovsky.

The all-Russian program also allows DeMain to venture for the first time into “The Love for Three Oranges” suite by Sergei Prokofiev and the Third Symphony of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The issue of “warhorse” repetition is raised by the First Symphony by Johannes Brahms in the February program. But DeMain points out that it has been 10 years since the MSO played the work, a significant one that richly deserves performance by now.

He is also proud to include with it the outstanding Rossini opera overture (Semiramide) and the rarely heard Cello Concerto, with German cellist Alban Gerhardt (below), by the 20th-century British composer William Walton.

DeMain admits to mixed feelings about the “Beyond the Score” presentations of music and background context, but he is confident that the one offered (one night, outside subscriptions) on March 18, about the monumental Enigma Variations, by Sir Edward Elgar, (below) will work well.

The combination in April of Benjamin Britten’s powerful Sinfonia da Requiem and Robert Schumann’s First Symphony (“Spring”) with Antonin Dvorak’s sadly neglected Violin Concerto has special meanings for the maestro. It allows the return of the greatly admired Augustin Hadelich (below) as soloist.

But it also allows DeMain’s return, for his first time since 1974, to the Schumann score, with which he had a crucial encounter in a youthful appearance with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Finally, the May program is an unusually exciting combination of Mozart’s too-little-appreciated Piano Concerto No. 22 with soloist Christopher O’Riley (below) of NPR’s “From the Top” with the roof-raising Glagolitic Mass, featuring the Madison Symphony Chorus, of Leos Janacek.

DeMain has made important commitments to the orchestral music of Janacek (below) before this, and his advance to the composer’s great blockbuster choral work is a landmark.

Amid savoring DeMain’s thoughts on the season – which also includes the MSO’s traditional Christmas concert in early December — and his wonderful recollections of past experiences, I came to recognize more than ever the remarkable combination of talents he brings to his Madison podium.

Beyond so many conductors, DeMain has had deeply engaging phases of his career in orchestral literature (large and small), in opera and musical theater, and in chamber music, while being himself an accomplished pianist.

With the breadth of his range, he brings a particular sensitivity to the contexts and diversities of what he conducts. He has become to his musicians not only a skilled guide, but also a subtle teacher, deepening their understanding without any hint of pedantry.

It cannot be said enough how truly blessed we are to have him with us in Madison.

For more information about the 2017-18 season, including specific dates and times, and about purchasing tickets for new subscribers and renewing subscribers, go to:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/17-18

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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra announces its 2017-2018 season of nine concerts of “favorites combined with firsts”

April 13, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is the official announcement of the 2017-18 season by the Madison Symphony Orchestra:

The 2017-18 season of the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) presents nine programs that invite audiences to “listen with all your heart” and “feel the emotion, power and majesty” of great classical music.

Subscriptions are available now, and single tickets for all concerts go on sale to the public Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017.

For more information about tickets and ticket prices plus discounts for new subscribers and renewing subscribers, go to:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/17-18

MSO music director John DeMain, who will be marking his 24th season with the MSO, has created an exciting season that features favorites combined with firsts.

Says DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad): “I must point out two monumental firsts: the MSO debut of the great violinist Gil Shaham, renowned and sought after the world over, whose appearance Madison has waited for for many years; and the Madison premiere of the Glagolitic Mass by Czech composer Leos Janacek, a gargantuan work for chorus and orchestra with a prominent role for our “Colossal Klais,” the Overture Concert Organ.”

Performances are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays; 8 p.m. on Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays.

The 2017-2018 subscription series concerts begin on Sept. 15, 16 and 17 with “Orchestral Brilliance”—proudly presenting the Madison Symphony Orchestra performing the Johann Sebastian Bach/Leopold Stokowski version of the organ Toccata and Fugue in D minor; Felix Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony and Hector Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy” with MSO principal viola Christopher Dozoryst (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) as soloist(You can hear Leopold Stokowski conduct his own transcription of the work by Bach, which was used in Walt Disney’s film “Fantasia,” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“From the New World” on Oct. 20, 21 and 22 features the return of beloved pianist Olga Kern (below), a gold medalist in the Van Cliburn competition, performing Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto, and the MSO performing Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 “From the New World” and Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite.

On Nov. 17, 18, and 19 “Troubadour: Two Faces of the Classical Guitar” features sensational guitar virtuoso Sharon Isbin (below) playing two works, one by American composer Chris Brubeck, and the other by the Spaniard Joaquin Rodrigo, with the MSO performing two Suites—Manuel DeFalla’s The Three-Cornered Hat and Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid.

The cherished kickoff to the holiday season, “A Madison Symphony Christmas,” returns on the first weekend in December — the 1, 2, and 3. Guest artists Emily Pogorelc, soprano, and Eric Barry, tenor, join John DeMain, the MSO, the Madison Symphony Chorus (below), Madison Youth Choirs and Mount Zion Gospel Choir on stage for the family-friendly celebration.

The MSO season subscription continues in 2018 with the long awaited appearance of violinist Gil Shaham (below) with the MSO—“Gil Shaham Plays Tchaikovsky” on Jan. 19, 20 and 21. This program features works by three of the most popular Russian composers of all time— Sergei Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges Suite, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 3 and Peter Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

“Richly Romantic” concerts take place on Feb. 16, 17 and 18 when one of MSO’s favorite cellists, Alban Gerhardt (below), returns performing the lyrical William Walton’s Cello Concerto, and the MSO presents Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 and Gioachino Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide.

Spring arrives April 13, 14, and 15 with “String Fever” featuring Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1, Spring, Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem and Grammy Award-winning violinist Augustin Hadelich (below) performing the Antonin Dvorak’s Violin Concerto.

The season finale, “Mass Appeal,” takes place on May 4, 5 and 6. Star of NPR’s From the Top, pianist Christopher O’Riley (below), will open the program with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22. The MSO premiere of the monumental Glagolitic Mass by Czech composer Leos Janacek features the Overture Concert Organ and the Madison Symphony Chorus, along with soloists Rebecca Wilson, soprano, Julie Miller, mezzo-Soprano, Roger Honeywell, tenor, and Benjamin Sieverding, bass.

The MSO’s 17-18 season includes the popular multimedia production of Beyond the Score®, “Edward Elgar: Enigma Variations,” featuring live actors and visuals in the first half, with the entire work performed in the second half. Joining the orchestra are American Players Theatre actors James Ridge (below), Colleen Madden and Brian Mani, along with Wisconsin Public Radio’s Norman Gilliland of Wisconsin Public Radio as the Narrator. This single performance takes place on Sunday, March 18, 2018*.

NOTE: *Advance tickets for Beyond the Score® are available only to MSO 17-18 season subscribers prior to single tickets going on sale to the general public on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. Beyond the Score® is a production of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Gerard McBurney, Creative Director for Beyond the Beyond the Score®

ABOUT THE MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

The Madison Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 92nd season in 2017-2018 and its 24th season under the leadership of music director John DeMain.

The MSO has grown to be one of America’s leading regional orchestras, providing Madison and south central Wisconsin with cultural and educational opportunities to interact with great masterworks and top-tier guest artists from around the world.

Find more information at madisonsymphony.org


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Classical music: Farley’s House of Pianos announces its Salon Piano Series for this season and offers subscription tickets for the first time. It opens on Sunday, Oct. 4.

September 17, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at Farley’s House of Pianos write:

The Salon Piano Series offers inspiring performances in an intimate salon setting. Each concert is followed by an artist’s reception and some performances include introductions by music scholars and commentators.

Farley Daub plays

Season tickets are being offered for the first time this year and they provide substantial savings as well as the assurance that you won’t be left out. You can buy tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com

Here is the lineup:

DANIEL DEL PINO  – Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, 4 p.m.

Daniel del Pino (below) returns to play music by Felix Mendelssohn, Cesar Franck‘s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, and Twelve Etudes, Op. 10, by Frederic Chopin. (You can hear him perform a transcription of the “Ritual Fire Dance” by Manuel de Falla during a concert at Farley’s House of Pianos in January of 2013.)

Daniel del PIno square

ALESSIO BAX and LUCILLE CHUNG (below) – Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, 4 p.m.

This concert will include pieces for one piano-four hands and for two pianos. The two-piano pieces will be played on rare “twin” pianos restored by Farley’s House of Pianos: a 1914 Mason & Hamlin CC and a 1914 Mason & Hamlin BB.

alessio bax and lucille chung

CELLIST AMIT PELED (below) – Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016, 7:30 p.m.

Hear the exact program that famed cellist Pablo Casals performed 100 years ago, played on Casals’ own 1733 Goffriller cello with Noreen Polera accompanying on a 1914 Mason and Hamlin piano restored by Farley’s House of Pianos.

Amit Peled 1

DICK HYMAN, Jazz Clinic-Lecture, Saturday, May 7, 2016, 4 p.m.

Jazz legend Dick Hyman presents his third clinic at Salon Piano Series.

Dick Hyman – Jazz Concert – Sunday, May 8, 2016, 4 p.m.

Dick will play solo piano for half the concert. Then bassist John Schaffer and drummer John Lombardo will join Dick in a jazz trio.

Since he began his career in the early 1950s, Dick Hyman has been a pianist, organist, arranger, music director and composer while recording over 100 albums under his own name.

Hyman is a masterful improviser with a unique style of piano that spans from early jazz such as Scott Joplin and Jelly Roll Morton to George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and beyond. He is one of the first people to record on the Moog synthesizer and his track “Minotaur” landed on the Billboard magazine’s US Top 40.

Hyman has served as composer, arranger, conductor and pianist for 12 Woody Allen films. He also won an Emmy for his original score to the daytime drama “Sunshine’s on the Way” and for musical direction of a PBS special on Eubie Blake. His recording, Dick Hyman’s “Century of Jazz Piano” is an encyclopedic series of solo performances that covers the last 100 years in jazz over the course of 121 performances.

dick hyman

All concerts are held at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west wide near West Towne.

See complete concert programs and more at www.salonpianoseries.org

Salon Piano Series Tickets Available Online at www.brownpapertickets.com

Tickets cost $45 in advance, $50 at the door. The Jazz Clinic is $20.

Buy the series for $160, and save $40. Tickets are also available at Farley’s House of Pianos and Orange Tree Imports. Service fees may apply.


Classical music education: WYSO’s Youth Orchestra will perform a FREE concert of music by Antonin Dvorak, Peter Tchaikovsky, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Manuel DeFalla and more from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday night at Old Sauk Trails Park, thanks to the Gialamas Company.

August 8, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

All reports say that the 10-day tour to Argentina, completed just last weekend, was a rousing success for both members of the Youth Orchestra (below) of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and for their many South American hosts and audiences.

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

Here is a link to the live real-time blog with the complete set of postings done for the tour:

www.wysotour2014.blogspot.com

But why take someone else’s word for it?

You can hear the musicians for yourself in some of the same music that the young performers played in several different locations in Argentina.

They will once again perform, under the baton of UW-Madison School of Music conductor James Smith, on this coming Wednesday night from 7 to 9 p.m. in Old Sauk Trails Park on Madison’s far west side at 1200 John Q. Hammons Drive..

WYSO Concert in the Park, playing under Jim Smith 3

The event actually starts at 5 p.m. when the park opens to audiences for picnicking and eating, kind of like a smaller Concert on the Square for the far west side and to greet the approaching end of summer and to reach lots of young people.

The concert typically attracts thousands. Just look at the parking!

WYSO Concert in the Park Photo aeriel view

Here is a link to the official site:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/events/concerts-recitals/

And here is a link to the major sponsor and underwriter, the real estate development firm The Gialamas Company, with more information:

http://www.gialamas.com/Events/tabid/164/vw/3/itemid/26/sm/615/d/20140813/Default.aspx

If you want to know about food, you will probably want at least to check out the two providers  — Benvenuto’s and Sprecher’s — with whom you can reserve food and beverages if you don’t want to bring your own.

http://www.gialamas.com/Portals/0/CITP2014/Benvenuto’s%20Menu.pdf

http://www.gialamas.com/Portals/0/CITP2014/Sprecher’s.pdf

WYSO Concert  the Park Tent 4

Finally, courtesy of WYSO, here is the complete program with approximate timings:

CONCERT IN THE PARK, AUGUST 13, 2014

Overture to Candide. By Leonard Bernstein. (6 minutes)

Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op.36, Fourth movement: Finale: Allegro con fuoco. By Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky. (10 minutes)

El sombrero de tres picos Three-Cornered Hat) Suite No. 2        By Manuel de Falla     (12 minutes)

  1. Los vecinos
  2. Danza del molinero (Farruca)
  3. Danza final

Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28. By Camille Saint-Saëns (12 minutes) with WYSO concerto contest winner violinist Savannah Albrecht (bel0w)

Savannah Albrecht

INTERMISSION

Symphony No. 8, in G major, Op. 88, Movement 4: Allegro ma non troppo. By Antonin Dvořák   (10 minutes)

“Billy the Kid” Suite. By Aaron Copland (22 minutes)

  1. The Open Prairie
  2. Street in a Frontier Town
  3. Card Game at Night (Prairie Night)
  4. Gun Battle
  5. Celebration Dance (after Billy’s Capture)
  6. Billy’s Death
  7. The Open Prairie Again

“Over the Rainbow.” By Harold Arlen (4 minutes) with the acclaimed local jazz singer Gerri DiMaggio (below top). The performance is dedicated to the memory of Candy Gialamas (below bottom on the right, with her husband George Gialiamas).

“Malambo” from Estancia Suite, Op. 8a. By Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (4 minutes). It is an audience favorite, a participation piece in South America. You can hear the high-octane and colorful orchestral music performed to an uproar of approval at the BBC Proms by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestsra of Venezuela in a YouTube video at the bottom.)                                                      

Gerri DiMaggio

George and Candy Gialamas

Have some fun, hear some fine music and learn how good music education is in WYSO and in this part of Wisconsin.

See you there.

Come say hi to The Ear.

 

 


Classical music: Acclaimed Spanish conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos dies at 80 of cancer.

June 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The acclaimed Spanish conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos died on Wednesday. He was 80, and the cause of death was cancer that caused him to announce his retirement just a week ago. (He is seen below conducting The New York Philharmonic in a photo by Richard Termine of The New York Times.)

Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos NY PHil CR Richard Termine

The Ear gives credit to Wisconsin Public Radio and afternoon radio host Lori Skelton (below top), who, it seems, probably made a quick programming change and played a recording by him and the legendary Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha (below bottom, 1923-2009) of Manuel de Falla’s lushly quiet piano concerto-like tone poem “Nights in the Garden of Spain.”

Lori Skelton in studio

Alicia de Larrocha BIG at piano

It is refreshing to see arts events treated as newsy and important as, say, politics, sports and economics.

Plus, music by Manuel de Falla (below top) was a specialty of the conductor, as was other Spanish music, including works by Isaac Albeniz (below bottom). But he was also known for his interpretations of standard repertory, and led orchestras around the world to popular and critical acclaim. He also recorded many standard works for many different labels.

manuel de falla

Isaac Albéniz 1901

Here is a link to the background story and obituary on the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog at NPR:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/06/11/320927999/rafael-fr-hbeck-de-burgos-versatile-spanish-conductor-dies-at-80

And here is a link to the obituary in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/12/arts/music/rafael-fruhbeck-80-dies-made-the-world-a-podium.html?_r=0

And here is a YouTube video in which the conductor discusses his family and personal history and in which you can hear him conduct music from Franz Schubert ‘s Symphony No. 8 “Unfinished” and Manuel de Fall’s “La vida breve.”


Classical music: It’s time to go back to the future. The classical music scene needs more professional groups to act like the Middleton Community Orchestra and break down barriers between performers and listeners.

June 7, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

There was a time when no professional symphony orchestras existed, at least outside of royal courts. Even Ludwig van Beethoven had to hire freelance pick-up orchestras to premiere his monumental and iconic symphonies and concertos.

That meant that classical music was much more of a home activity and much more of a community affair that it usually is today.

But there are exceptions.

I was reminded of that on Wednesday night when – in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School — I attended the concert that closed the fourth season of the Middleton Community Orchestra (below).

MCO June 2014 orchestra

As I sat there, I realized I was simultaneously getting a glimpse of both the past and the future of classical music, which is under siege and needs some new strategies to thrive and prevail if it is to attract new and younger audiences.

I have written before about why I like the Middleton Community Orchestra so much.

Here is a link to a 2012 review with the nine reasons why I like them and think you should too:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/classical-music-review-let-us-now-praise-amateur-music-makers-and-restoring-sociability-to-art-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-liked-and-you-should-attend-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

But this most recent concert only deepened and expanded those convictions.

So here are some of my more recent thoughts, not necessarily deep but perhaps helpful and even insightful:

First and foremost, I liked the way the barriers between the performers and the audience members were broken down. I took some photos of what I saw: brass and string players talking with friends, family members, admirers and strangers both before the concert, during the intermission and then during the social dessert reception after the concert.

It all made the act of music-making seem more humane, more do-able, more central to daily life. Music seemed a cohesive bond for the entire community.

MCO trombonist and public 6-2014

MCO violinist and public 6-2014

I also liked that the community orchestra –- which used some professional members but also many amateur musicians — once again turned in convincing readings of great music.

And they did so by once again spotlighting local talent.

One was pianist and Middleton native, Thomas Kasdorf, who did his undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who returns there in the fall for a graduate degree.

Kasdorf  (below) gave an absolutely thrilling and gorgeous reading of Edvard Grieg’s popular Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16. Here is a link to an interview The Ear did with him:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/classical-music-qa-native-son-pianist-thomas-kasdorf-talks-about-playing-solo-recitals-chamber-music-and-the-grieg-piano-concerto-with-the-middleton-community-orchestra-which-also-closes-out-i/

MCO june 2014 Thomas Kasdorf plays Grieg

Kasdorf played with dynamism and lyricism, drawing a big sound out of the smaller-than-concert grand Steinway. He captured the many moods and beautiful tunes, the infectious rhythms, the long and songful phrases, and the stirring harmonies of Grieg’s evergreen concerto.

Not everyone agreed. Here is critic John W. Barker’s dissent for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/music/article.php?article=42912

No less than pianist-composer Sergei Rachmaninoff  (below) told Arthur Rubinstein that the Grieg Piano Concerto was the best and most effective piano concerto ever composed. And Rachmaninoff, who himself used the Grieg as a model, knew a thing or two about composing and performing piano concertos.

Rachmaninoff

Kasdorf wasn’t alone in excelling.

UW-Madison graduate violist Alice Bartsch (below) also turned in a sublime and moving reading of Antonin Dvorak’s soaringly lyrical Romance in F Minor, Op. 11, for Violin and Orchestra. It was all the more moving because it was her last concert as concertmaster of the MCO before she moves on to a professional job. (You can hear Dvorak’s lovely Romance at the bottom in a popular YouTube video. Tell me it doesn’t make you want to hear more of the tuneful Dvorak’s music.)

MCO June 2014 Alice Bartsch plays Dvorak

In fact, conductor Steve Kurr, who teaches at Middleton High School, also recognized other members of the orchestra who were moving on after this valedictory concert and asked them to stand up for applause — which they received:

MCO June 2014 players who will leave

I also loved the audience. I don’t know them by name, but enough people were there that the house seemed plenty full. Moreover, many of the listeners were very young or looked like people you don’t usually see at events like the Madison Symphony Orchestra or the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Well, one reason is that the price is right. WCO admission has two prices: $10 for adults and free for students. At that level, who can’t afford to take a chance? It might be nice if bigger groups tried cutting costs instead of increasing them. Affordability begets accessibility, The Ear suspects.

The orchestra, of course, also played on its own. It gave a respectable and at times moving reading to Sir Edward Elgar’s ambitious musical portraits in the “Enigma” Variations. As happened in also in the Grieg, I found especially the brass and percussion outstanding, though all sections, and especially the strings and winds, also held their own and had much to be proud of.

That’s not to say there weren’t mistakes or lapses or shortcomings. But, hey, this isn’t the Berlin Philharmonic. Besides, imperfection is an inherent part of most performing arts. But the orchestra clearly communicated the music’s emotion to the audience, and that is what matters most.

MCO June 2014 Orchestra stands up

The concert finished with the suite of three dances from Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s ballet score for “The Three-Cornered Hat.”

And there was my one criticism.

I am afraid the MCO has unfortunately expanded to imitate more professional organizations. I prefer the 90-minute, no intermission format. I think that could have been done if they had programmed this way: open with the Dvorak Romance; then do the Grieg Piano Concerto; and then finish with the Elgar Variations. (By my reckoning that would add up to about 85 minutes of music, with time left over for some stage changes.)

This concert was just a bit too long. People were tired, especially on a weekday night. And beside, it is nice to get in The Zone and then leave The Zone –- and not try to renter the Zone after intermission. It is also nice to get back home early when work is facing you the next day.

Then came the FREE desserts and the chat between hungry musicians and hungry audience members.

MCO June 2014 reception

But it seemed everyone left with their appetite for music satisfied.

So congratulations then to the MCO co-founders Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic plus conductor Steve Kurr. Over four seasons, they have grown an experimental project into a new tradition that seems to be attracting more people who appreciate them -– as you could tell from the cheers and hearty applause and prolonged standing ovations.

MCO June 2014 standing ovation

Next season promises very good things: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8; Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”; the famous “William Tell” Overture (the “Lone Ranger” theme) by Giacchino Rossini and the Academic Festival Overture and Tragic Overture by Johannes Brahms; plus Thomas Kasdorf again in the great Piano Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky (with, three cheers, Thomas Kasdorf as soloist in what The Ear jokingly calls the Van Cliburn Piano Concerto No. 1) and more.

It is something to look forward to.

All that music and all that fun for all that affordability.

See you then, see you there!

 

 

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Classical music Q&A: Native son pianist Thomas Kasdorf talks about playing solo recitals, chamber music and the Grieg Piano Concerto with the Middleton Community Orchestra, which also closes out its fourth season on Wednesday night with Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations, a Romance for violin and orchestra by Dvorak, and a suite by de Falla.

June 2, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Wednesday night, June 4, at 7:30 p.m. the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will close out its fourth season.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The concert will take place in the comfortable Middleton Performing Arts Center (below), located at 2100 Bristol Street and attached to Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC1

The program is very appealing and ambitious. It features some popular works that are also first-rate music: the Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16, by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg; a Romance for violin and orchestra by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak; the enthralling “Enigma” Variations by the British composer Sir Edward Elgar; and a suite of dances from “The Three-Cornered Hat” by Spanish composer Manuel de Falla.

The conductor is Steve Kurr. The soloists are both graduates of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music: pianist Thomas Kasdorf, who hails from Middleton and who is returning to perform with the MCO; and concertmaster Alice Bartsch.

Tickets are $10 general admission. All students get in free.

Tickets are available at Willy St. Co-op West three weeks prior to each concert and at the door on the night of the concert.

Student tickets are available at the door only on the night of the show. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m.

A free informal reception, where you can meet and greet the performers, follows the performance.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

Here is a link to the website with information about the MCO, how to support it, how to join it and what its next season will offer:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org/home

And here is a link to a previous review by me -– guest critic John W. Barker has done many other reviews for this blog and you can use the blog’s search engine to find them. My review will help to explain why The Ear so looks forward to the upcoming concert:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/classical-music-review-let-us-now-praise-amateur-music-makers-and-restoring-sociability-to-art-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-liked-and-you-should-attend-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

Pianist Thomas Kasdorf recently answered an email Q&A for The Ear:

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

Can you briefly introduce yourself, your achievements and current or future plans, and your personal history including how and when you started playing the piano and the Aha Moment (artist, piece) when you knew you wanted to do it professionally?

I am 27 years old. I grew up in Middleton and completed my Bachelor’s of Music in Piano Performance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music where I studied with Professor Christopher Taylor.

I was an inaugural member of the Perlman Piano Trio (below), which gives scholarships to musicians at the UW-Madison with a particular interest in chamber music.

Currently, I am working as co-Artistic Director and Musical Director for Middleton Players Theatre on their summer 2014 season productions of “Rent,” which plays June 27–July 5, and “A Chorus Line,” which runs August 8-16.

In the fall I will begin my graduate studies with Professor Martha Fischer at the UW-Madison studying Collaborative Piano as a Paul Collins Fellow.

I started playing piano in the first grade. My grandmother was a choir director at our church and so I was constantly hearing music. One day, I decided that I wanted to play and sat down at the piano to try to fake my way into it alongside her.

Regarding an Aha! moment, I had several. The first time I played in recital, I was so at ease with the whole process and enjoyed the fact that people were listening to everything I was doing, the control and the demonstrative ability to express myself for an audience. It was something I knew I would never be able to give up.

Perlman-Trio Thomas Kasdorf piano, Eleanor Bartsch violin and Maureen Kelly cello

How does playing the piano differ for solo repertoire, chamber music and concertos, all of which you have done? Do you have a favorite genre and advice to other pianists about each kind of playing?

That’s an interesting question.

I’m not sure how to express what is different when I approach these genres, or if I even do think of them differently. I think the scale of audience expectations changes between them.

If you are playing a full-length solo recital, there is less room for hiding. It is you, the music and an audience.

But in chamber music and concertos, which I find to be very linked, there is direct communication between you and the other musicians, or between you and a conductor and the other musicians, and that communication is linked to the audience’s perception.

I think that when I approach any piece of music, I think about the soundscape of it, the soundscape for me at the keyboard, the soundscape for the audience in whatever seat in whatever venue.

My advice to other pianists is to listen intently to what you are producing, and to what is being produced around you, and not to settle for a single sound that you do not feel fully expresses what you want — in any genre. (Below, Thomas Kasdorf is seen playing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488, with the Middleton Community Orchestra.)

Middletopn Community Orchestra Thomas Kasdorf playing

What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto by Edvard Grieg (below)? Why is it so popular?

I fell in love with the Grieg a long time ago. One of my first teachers and I played this old piano, four-hands version of the themes from the first movement, eased off in technical difficulty but retaining the grandeur and emotion.

The first movement of Grieg (Editor’s Note: Readers can hear it played by Arthur Rubinstein in a YouTube video at the bottom) was the first piece that I performed with an orchestra, when I won the Madison Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition, and that experience has a lingering memory of pride; performing in the then Oscar Mayer Theater  in the then Madison Civic Center (where I was constantly hearing and seeing events all through my childhood), with the orchestra so dear to my heart, the MSO.

I think that there exists a public familiarity with the Grieg, and its popularity is probably due to the fact that it really does possess such a wide array of colors and textures. There are so many different mood shifts over the course of the piece, and juxtapositions between repose and struggle, lyricism and percussiveness, between the soloist and the orchestra. Plus, it seems so accessible and consistently intense for the audience.

edvard grieg

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

I urge people to come and listen to the Middleton Community Orchestra. This is my third time as a soloist with them, and I can honestly say that there is something unique happening in Middleton with this organization.

The orchestra is made up not only of a fabulous bunch of musicians, but also of people who really do their all to express their passion for the music for their audience.

Also on this program is the phenomenal violinist Alice Bartsch (below), their concertmaster, soloing on an incredible “Romance” by Anton Dvorak that I just heard in rehearsal for the first time last night and was blown away by.

Hearing the two soloists is well worth the admission. But the two orchestral works in this concert –- British composer Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations” and the dance suite from “The Three-Cornered Hat” by Spanish Manuel De Falla — are also amazing and challenging, and a lot of fun for both players and audience.

Alice Bartsch

 

 

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Classical music education: Trust The Ear — you will be pleased and perhaps even astonished by the annual Winterfest concerts of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras on this Saturday and Sunday on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

March 11, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend brings the annual Winterfest concerts given by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

WYSO Winterfest logo 2014

Once again, The Ear predicts, audiences will see and hear some of the city’s biggest, most enthusiastic and youngest audiences (below) greet equally young, enthusiastic and talented young players who turn in performances of astounding and often unexpected high quality.

The Ear knows that from personal experience. I will never ever forget a remarkable performance of the Symphony No. 8 by Antonin Dvorak that I heard at a spring WYSO performance several years ago. It was serious music-making, not just student music-making.

WYSO young audience

In retrospect, all that should be no surprise. Young people from all around southcentral Wisconsin become members of WYSO only through a rigorous audition process, and the training is hard and long. But WYSO’s young performers end up making great music greatly, so that when they are invited to go on tour to Europe (two summers ago) and South America (this coming summer) it seems a natural outcome.

wyso violas

The concerts on this Saturday and Sunday are the primary concert fundraisers for the group that holds the most promise of insuring the future of classical music and music education among young people, especially at a  time when arts funding is being taken away from many public schools.

The concerts also serve as the run-up to the all-important Art of Note gala fundraiser on Saturday, March 29, from 6 to 10 p.m. at CUNA Mutual. The concerts are guaranteed to whet your appetite for the Art of Note, which will feature fine food, wine, live music by student groups, auctions of items from sports matches and restaurants to vacations and entertainment, and old violins (below bottom) recycled as art.

Art of Note 2014 logo

Art of Note violins 2014

(In the interest of full disclosure, The Ear has to say that he is a member of the Board of Directors of WYSO — precisely because he considers it such a vital investment in the future of the performing arts and arts education. You should attend the concerts if you can, and also donate what you can to WYSO because I can’t think of a better or more deserving investment you can make.)

On this Saturday and Sunday, March 15 and March 16, more than 350 talented young musicians will perform both classical and contemporary works.

The Winterfest Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the University of Wisconsin-Madison George L. Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park Street, in Madison.

WYSO concerts generally last about 1-1/2 hours, and provide a great orchestral concert opportunity for families. Dress is casual and the atmosphere is respectful, but informal. These concerts are, in a word, fun. 

Tickets are available at the door: $10 for adults and $5 for children under 18 years of age.

WYSO was founded in 1966 and has served nearly 5,000 young musicians from more than 100 communities in southern Wisconsin.

The concert series kicks off on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. with Sinfonietta (below) performing works by Aaron Copland, Peter Illich Tchaikovsky, Bedrich Smetana, Gazda, and Leyden.

WYSO Sinfonietta

Then on Saturday at 4 p.m. the Concert Orchestra (below) will perform numerous works, including “Three Songs of Chopin” by Frederic Chopin, “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Gustav Holst, “Band of Brothers” by Michael Kamen, and “The Great Gate of Kiev” from “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modeste Mussorgsky.

wyso concert orchestra brass

On Sunday at 1:30, the Philharmonia Orchestra (below, rehearsing) will perform the irresistible final movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s famous Symphony No. 5 in C minor, the fourth movement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s searing Symphony No. 5, “Peer Gynt Suite No. 1” by Edvard Grieg, “March and Procession to Bacchus” by Leo Delibes, and finally “Procession to the Cathedral” by Richard Wagner.

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

Then also on Sunday at 4 p.m., the Youth Orchestra (below, in performance under WYSO’s music director and UW-Madison conducting professor James Smith) will close the concert series with Symphony No. 4 in E-Flat by the 19th-century Romantic Russian composer Peter Illich Tchaikovsky (it is The Ear’s favorite of Tchaikovsky’s six wonderful  symphonies); “Liturgical Scenes” by the 20th-century American composer Ellsworth Milburn; and “El sombrero de tres picos” (The Three-Cornered Hat) by the 20th-century Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the finale to Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 as performed at last year’s WYSO Winterfest.)

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

For more information about the Winterfest concerts and the Art of Note gala fundraiser on Saturday, March 29, as well as for information about auditioning to join WYSO and ways to support WYSO, visit:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu

WYSO extends special thanks to Diane Endres Ballweg for her generous multi-year support of the Winterfest Concerts. The concerts are also generously supported by Dane Arts, with additional funds from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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