The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: University Opera announces a new season that is politically and socially relevant to today. The two shows are a virtual revue of Marc Blitzstein and a live operatic version of “The Crucible.”

August 7, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

David Ronis (below), the director of the University Opera at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music, has posted the following notice about its upcoming season on social media.

The award-winning Ronis is known for being creative both in programming and staging. The new season is yet another example of that. It features one virtual original production about an American composer to see and hear online, and two live performances of a mid-20th century American opera.

Both works seem especially pertinent and cautionary, given the times we currently live in in the U.S.

Here are the details:

FINALLY!!!

Things have fallen into place for the University Opera 2020-21 season and we are happy to announce our productions:

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein — the Man in His Music”

“A biographical pastiche featuring songs and ensembles from Marc Blitzstein’s shows, spoken excerpts from his letters and working notes, and a narration. 

“Oct. 23, 2020

8 p.m. Video Release

____________________________________________________________________________________

“The Crucible” (1961)

Music by Robert Ward

Libretto by Bernard Stambler

Based on the 1953 play by Arthur Miller

March 19 and 21, 2021

Shannon Hall, Wisconsin Union Theater

_____________________________________________________________________________________

We will post more information as we get it. For now, we are very excited about both projects! Stay tuned.”

(Editor’s note: To stay tuned, go to: https://www.facebook.com/UniversityOpera/)

_____________________________________________________________________________________

And what does The Ear think?

The revue of Marc Blitzstein seems a perfect choice for Madison since his papers and manuscripts are located at the Wisconsin Historical Society. For details, go to: http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi/f/findaid/findaid-idx?c=wiarchives;view=reslist;subview=standard;didno=uw-whs-us0035an

Focusing on Blitzstein (1905-1964) also seems an especially politically relevant choice since he was a pro-labor union activist whose “The Cradle Will Rock, directed by Orson Welles,” was shut down by the Works Progress Administration of the federal government.

For more about Blitzstein (below in 1938) and his career, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Blitzstein

“The Crucible” also seems an especially timely choice. In its day the original play about the Salem witch trials was seen as a historical parable and parallel of McCarthyism and the Republican witch hunt for Communists.

Read about the Salem witch trials here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_witch_trials

Now that we are seeing a time when Democrats and others with progressive ideas are accused of being radical leftists, socialists and destructive revolutionaries, its relevance has come round again. Like McCarthy, President Donald Trump relies on winning elections by generating fear and denigrating opponents.

For more about the operatic version of “The Crucible” (below, in a production at the University of Northern Iowa) — which was commissioned by the New York City Opera and won both a Pulitzer Prize and the New York Music Critics Circle Award in 1962 — go to this Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crucible_(opera)

You can hear the musically accessible opening and John’s aria, from Act II, in the YouTube video at the bottom. For more about composer Robert Ward (1917-2013, below), go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Ward_(composer)

What do you think of the new University Opera season?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The New Milwaukee Consort performs Renaissance and early Baroque love songs this Monday night in Spring Green

August 3, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Rural Musicians Forum will present the New Milwaukee Consort in a program of Baroque love songs on this coming Monday, Aug. 5, at 7:30 p.m. at the Unity Chapel in Spring Green.

This group of professionals and experts in early music includes soprano Kristin Knutson (below top), who competed in the 2015 Handel Aria Competition  in Madison (in the YouTube video at the bottom);  cellist and viol player Charlie Rasmussen (below middle); and lutenist Tim Sterner Miller (below bottom). They will perform on period instruments, bringing audiences back in time to the courts and chambers of Italy, England and France.

The New Milwaukee Consort is dedicated to the music of the European Renaissance and Baroque eras, crafting intimate performances around stories in words and music that resonate across the centuries.

They particularly relish bringing lesser-known sounds of the 17th century to modern audiences, from the work of women composers such as Barbara Strozzi (below) to music from handwritten manuscripts documenting the early development of the cello and ongoing experiments on the lute.

This concert features music from the chamber cantatas of the Venetian singer and composer Strozzi to celebrate her 400th birthday as well as works by her compatriots Claudio Monteverdi and Taruinio Merula; Elizabethan songs by lutenist and composer John Dowland (below); and “airs de cour” (Court music) by French court composer Etienne Moulinie.

Interwoven with these vocal works are pieces for the lute by Dowland and his contemporary Nicholas Vallet; for the viola da gamba by Tobia Hume and Marin Marais (below); and for the cello by Giulio Ruvo, Francesco Supriani and Giuseppe Jacchini.

This is an opportunity to enjoy some of the most precious pieces of Renaissance and Baroque era in the beautiful Unity Chapel (below) designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Chapel is located at 6597 County Highway T in Spring Green.

Admission is by free will offering, with a suggested donation of $15.


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Classical music: Prize-winning composer John Harbison has turned 80. In February, Madison will see many celebrations of his birthday, starting this Friday night with the Imani Winds

January 30, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Feb. 1, a month-long celebration in Madison of the 80th birthday of critically acclaimed and prize-winning composer John Harbison (below) gets underway.

The festivities start with a concert by the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds (below), which will perform this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. – with a pre-concert lecture at 6 p.m. — in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater. The program includes Harbison’s popular Wind Quintet.

Here is a link with more information about the group, the program and tickets: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/imani-winds/

Among America’s most distinguished artistic figures, Harbison is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, among them a MacArthur ”genius grant’ and a Pulitzer Prize. His work encompasses all genres, from chamber music to opera, sacred to secular. (You can hear Harbison discuss his approach to composing in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

He has composed for most of America’s premiere musical institutions, including the Metropolitan Opera, the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle and New York; and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

Institute Professor at MIT, Harbison serves as composer, conductor, performer, teacher and scholar. He divides his time between Cambridge, Mass., and Token Creek, Wis., where he co-founded and co-directs a summer chamber music festival with his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison.

Other local birthday events include a performance by the Madison Symphony Orchestra; several chamber music and choral concerts at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, including one by the Mosaic Chamber Players; an exhibition of books and manuscripts at the Mills Music Library at UW-Madison’s Memorial Library.

There are also several concerts, including the world premiere of a new Sonata for Viola, and a composer residency at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music; and the world premiere of a new motet by the Madison Choral Project.

Harbison will also be featured in radio interviews and broadcast retrospectives by both Wisconsin Public Radio and WORT community radio.

National and international celebrations include other world premieres of commissions, many new recordings and the publication of Harbison’s autobiographical book about Johann Sebastian Bach, “What Do We Make of Bach?”

For more details about the many local celebrations, you can go to the following two links. Schedules, programs and updates – events are subject to change — will be posted at www.tokencreekfestival.org and www.johnharbison.com.

To receive “Harbison Occasions,” an intermittent e-newsletter, write to arsnova.artsmanagement@gmail.com


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Classical music: The UW Pro Arte Quartet in Belgium -– Day 5. The Belgian premiere of a Belgian composition at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels draws a big enough crowd to run out of programs and bring three curtain calls. A visit to the Royal Conservatory Library reveals the notebooks of Mozart’s wife Constanza and takes the quartet back to its roots for a performance. Plus, the Pro Arte gets recorded by Belgian TV and radio.

May 31, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Editor’s note: The Well-Tempered Ear has asked people on tour with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) to file whatever dispatches. updates and photos are possible — from iPads, computers, cameras and smart phones — so that they can to keep the fans back here at home current with what is happening on the concert stage and off. 

By now it has become apparent that the Pro Arte Quartet’s tour of Belgium is as big an event to the Belgians and to local residents there as it has been to Madisonians, Wisconsinites and alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Pro Arte Qartet  Overture Rick Langer

Just before taking a day’s rest, Sarah Schaffer (below), who manages the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte String Quartet, sent this text and this photo essay. They cover the return to Brussels from Dolhain Limbourg, the hometown of founding violinist Alphonse Onnou. Then the members of the quartet visited the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels where they toured the archives and library and also performed, including a rehearsal that was recorded for the national radio network.

Current members are violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia; violist Sally Chisholm; and cellist Parry Karp.

Sarah Schaffer mug 

Today’s Part 5 covers the extensive events at the Royal Conservatory of Music, where the frenetic pace just kept gathering speed. A concert tour is hard work, no glamorous vacation!

If you want background or need to catch up, here are links:

To Day 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/classical-music-the-university-of-wisconsin-pro-arte-quartet-lands-in-belgium-gets-detained-at-customs-and-is-rescued-in-time-for-practicing-and-playing-concerts/

To Day 2:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/classical-music-on-day-2-the-university-of-wisconsin-pro-arte-quartet-is-offered-rehearsal-time-in-a-bar-meets-descendants-of-the-original-members-of-the-quartet-and-performs-its-first-concert-to/

To Day 3:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/25/classical-music-on-day-3-in-belgium-the-university-of-wisconsin-pro-arte-quartet-plays-at-the-royal-library-gives-a-gift-to-king-philippe-and-keeps-performing-a-lot-of-hard-and-varied-music/

To Day 4, Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/classical-music-here-is-a-photo-essay-of-the-pro-arte-quartets-day-long-homage-stop-at-the-belgian-hometown-of-dolhain-linburg-of-the-groups-founding-violinist-alphonse-onnou/

To Day 4, Part 2:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/classical-music-the-pro-arte-quartet-in-belgium-day-4-part-2-the-quartet-performs-in-the-town-of-dolhain-limbourg/

Sarah Schaffer writes:

Today brought the Belgian premiere of Belgian composer Benoît Mernier’s Quartet No. 3, commissioned by Pro Arte Quartet for its centennial, a special commission harking back to its Belgian origins, in the very hall at the Royal Conservatory of Music where the founding quartet played countless times, both as students and after.

PAQ in Belgium Conservatory Hall 1

PAQ in Belgium Conservatory Hall 2

PAQ in Belgium Conservatory Hall 3

Engineers from musiq3, the French-speaking Belgian national radio, set up equipment and record the concert rehearsal for later broadcast. TV and newspapers have also covered the quartet.

PAQ in Belgium  Radio sets up in conservatory hall

PAQ in Belgium conservatory whole quartet and radio

PAQ in Belgium play in Conservatory before microphone

It was so perfectly appropriate, and so very moving: this hall, this city, this composer, this work, this audience of mainly students, all at the ages now that the original Pro Arte Quartet members (below) Onnou, Halleux, Prevost and Maas would have been back then.

Pro Arte Quartet in 1928 Onnou far left

There were so many concert attendees that the printed programs (below) ran out.

PAQ in Belgium Conservatory program for concert 1

PAQ in Belgium conservatory program old and new quartets

The short program included — after remarks from Anne van Malderen (below top) on the history of the quartet and an introduction of his work, with examples played by PAQ, by Messieur Mernier (below bottom): Mernier’s Third Quartet, the Adagio and Fugue, K. 546, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, American composer Randall Thompson‘s “Wind in the Willows” and the famous Adagio for Strings from the String Quartet No. 1 by American composer Samuel Barber.

PAQ in Belgium conservatory hall  5 Anne van Malderen welcome

PAQ in Belgium conservatory hall 6 Benoit Mernier talks

Applause called the PAQ back to the stage three times.

PAQ in Belgium bows 1 at conservatory SS

PAQ in Belgium Bows at conservatory USE 2

Our visit to the Conservatoire began earlier in the day with a tour by librarian Olivia Wahnon (below).

PAQ in Belgium Library 1 at conservatory

This distinguished archival collection contains the most manuscript holdings among all Belgian libraries, and she had prepared for our benefit some beautiful displays of rare materials.

PAQ in Belgium Conservatory library mss.

Some of what we saw was related to the Pro Arte and string quartets. There were many manuscript scores and parts, particularly from the collection of second violinist Laurent Halleaux, and many concert programs.

PAQ in Belgium Library quartet scores

But not everything was about PAQ! We see a Medieval handbook manuscript of chant:

PAQ in Belgium Library Medieval non-PAQ stuff 3

We also had a glimpse of Constanze Mozart’s diary (below, in a photo by Sally Chisholm, you can see it is multilingual, and contains many beautiful drawings and paintings), a page of manuscript by Franz Liszt, and the teensiest, tiniest bound volume of Medieval manuscripts. Such treasures! Constanza wrote about her husband Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: “Husband genius. Still poor.”

PAQ in Belgium Constanza Mozart's notebook in Royal  Conservatory Library CR Sally

For us, the division of the institution into two nationalities—Flemish and Walloon—seems somewhat incomprehensible and impossible to manage and navigate. Yet it is so much the history and culture of the whole country, especially evident after yesterday’s elections, it is simply taken in stride.

Although the whole infrastructure (below are photos of the conservatory’s exterior) is in a state of dilapidation—built in the mid-19th century, with a major renovation planned beginning in 2015 — it was in its way more touching and meaningful to see it now, while we can more easily imagine how it looked and felt when the first Quatuor Pro Arte (QPA) inhabited its halls and spaces a century ago.

PAQ in Belgium Conservatory exterior 2

PAQ in Belgium conservatory exterior 3

PAQ in Belgium conservatory exterior 4 photo 3

Composer Benoit Mernier (below top, applauding the Pro Arte Quartet, and below bottom) reports he is well pleased with the progress that he hears in the playing of his piece, from its world premiere March 1 in Madison to now, just 2-1/2 months later. He hears the players inhabiting the work more: details are more precise; at the same time they bring more fluidity; and the overall arc and shape are now more convincingly presented.

PAQ in Belgium Mernier applauds

Benoit Mernier 1

One more chance to improve even more at the final concert tomorrow at the university in Louvain-la-Neuve.

Tomorrow: Our last day and final concert, at Louvain-la-Neuve. The week has sped by.

 

 

 

 

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