The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: On Thursday and Friday nights, brass music and a modernist homage to Martin Luther King round out UW-Madison concerts before spring break

March 13, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Spring Break at the University of Wisconsin-Madison starts on Saturday. But there are noteworthy concerts right up to the last minute.

THURSDAY

On this Thursday night, March 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the acclaimed Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below, in 2017, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) will perform a FREE concert.

The program by the faculty ensemble  includes music by William Byrd; Isaac Albeniz; Leonard Bernstein; Aaron Copland; David Sampson; Anton Webern; Joan Tower; Ennio Morricone; and Reena Esmail.

For more details, including the names of quintet members and guest artists who will participate as well as the complete program with lengthy notes and background about the quintet, go to:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wisconsin-brass-quintet-3-14-2019/

FRIDAY

On this Friday night, March 15, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison bassoonist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) – who worked in Paris with the renowned 20th-century composer and conductor Pierre Boulez – will host another concert is his series of “Le Domaine Musical” that he performs with colleagues.

Vallon explains:

Every year, I put together a concert devoted to the masterpieces of the 1950-2000 period. We call it “Domaine Musical,” which was the group founded in Paris by Pierre Boulez in the 1950s. Its subtitle is : “Unusual music for curious listeners.”

“The series offers Madison concert-goers an opportunity to hear rarely performed music of the highest quality, played by UW-Madison faculty, students and alumni.

“The program features a deeply moving piece by Luciano Berio, O King, written in 1968 after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.” (You can hear “O King” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The all-modernist program is:

Pierre Boulez (below), Dialogues de l’Ombre Double (Dialogues of the Double Shadow) for solo clarinet and electronics.

Luciano Berio (below), O King and Folk Songs.

Also included are unspecified works by Karlheinz Stockhausen and Timothy Hagen.

Guest performers are Sarah Brailey, soprano (below); Alicia Lee, clarinet; Leslie Thimmig, basset horn; Sally Chisholm, viola; Parry Karp, cello; Timothy Hagen, flute; Yana Avedyan, piano; Paran Amirinazari, violin; and Anthony DiSanza, percussion.

For more information, including a story about a previous concert in “Le Domaine Musical,” go to:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/le-domaine-musical-with-marc-vallon/


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Classical music: Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. The murdered civil rights leader has become a character in opera, oratorios and musicals as well as popular songs

January 15, 2018
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the holiday to celebrate the 89th birthday of Martin Luther King (below), the American civil rights pioneer who was born on this day in 1929, won the Nobel Peace Prize and was assassinated in 1968, when he was 39.

For more biographical information, here is the Wikipedia entry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr.

There will be many celebrations, including the 38th annual one at noon in the State Capitol of Wisconsin in Madison, which will be broadcast live and recorded by Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and Wisconsin Public Television (WPT).

Music is always an important art of honoring King. There will be spirituals and gospel choirs.

But King himself has become a musical, and dramatic, figure.

Maybe you knew that.

The Ear didn’t.

So here are some links to sample from YouTube, which has many of King’s speeches and much of the music done to honor King over the years.

MLK is a character is the opera by Philip Glass called “Appomattox,” which deals with civil rights from The Civil War onwards and was commissioned and performed by the Washington National Opera.

Here is part of it in rehearsal:

And in performance:

And here is the one-hour video called “I Have a Dream”:

Do you know of any other musical works in which Martin Luther King Jr. actually figures and plays a role?

What piece of classical music would you choose to honor King?- Perhaps the poignant aria “Give Me Freedom” from Handel’s opera “Rinaldo” (performed in the YouTube video at the bottom) or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy” finale about universal brotherhood.

Let us know in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Ear asks again — why hasn’t an opera about Martin Luther King Jr. been written? What classical music should be played to honor him?

January 16, 2017
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is an important and, in some parts of the United States, still  controversial holiday: Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

martin luther king 2

Such an occasion and its artistic celebration assumes even greater importance now that we are on the verge of the Trump Era, which starts this coming Friday with the Inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump.

Once again The Ear looked for classical music to mark the occasion and the holiday. But the results he found were limited. Do we really need to hear Samuel Barber’s famous and sadly beautiful but overplayed “Adagio for Strings” again on this day?

So The Ear asks the same question he asked two years ago: Why hasn’t anyone written an opera about the pioneering civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr., who was assassinated in 1968 and would today be 88? 

Martin Luther King speech

Here is a link to that more extended post that asks the same question:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/classical-music-why-hasnt-anyone-written-an-opera-about-martin-luther-king-jr-and-the-civil-rights-movement/

If you know of such an opera, please let The Ear know in the COMMENT section.

Or perhaps a composer could write something about King similar to Aaron Copland‘s popular “A Lincoln Portrait.” King certainly provided lots of eloquent words for a inspiring text or narration.

And if there is classical music that you think is appropriate to mark the occasion, please leave word of it, with a YouTube link if possible.

In the meantime, in the YouTube video below The Ear offers the first movement from the “Afro-American Symphony” by the underperformed  black American composer William Grant Still (1874-1954):


Classical music: Civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King Jr. was the Abraham Lincoln of his age – a Great Emancipator. To celebrate his birthday, here is Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait.”

January 18, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today we celebrate the birthday of the civil rights pioneer Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Ear thinks of him as The Great Emancipator of the modern age.

As the Abraham Lincoln of our age.

Just as Lincoln freed slaves, Martin Luther King Jr. (below) helped free so many members of different social groups from discrimination.

martin luther king 2

Blacks, of course.

But also women.

Latinos.

Asians.

Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.

Disabled people.

The poor.

The old and elderly.

So it seems fitting, then, to listen to Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait.”

The Ear loves the way that the Gertrude Stein-like repetitions of Lincoln’s own words build into a moving testament of the need for both compassion and democracy – a combination that today’s right-wing freedom-spouting and Constitution-citing bigots might do well to cultivate.

So we can listen about one man and think about the other.

Here is a great version, in a YouTube video at the bottom, with actor Henry Fonda as the narrator. There are other fine versions, including one with Leonard Bernstein conducting and composer Aaron Copland speaking the narration. But this version is the one that most moves The Ear.

And please leave your COMMENTS about this offering or other music appropriate to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day for others to read.


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra will unveil its first “Beyond the Score®” multi-media performance of Antonin Dvorak’s popular Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”) this coming Sunday afternoon.

January 20, 2014
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger 

Today is the birthday celebration of the murdered Nobel Peace Prize-winning civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (below) with celebrations around the nation, including a live broadcast from the state Capitol on Wisconsin Public Radio at noon CST. (The MLK tribute will also air tonight from 8 to 9 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.)

martin luther king 2

So one could hardly think of a better time to perform classical music that pioneered the use of Negro spirituals and indigenous American Indian music.

And that is exactly what the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) will do this coming Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall in a first-time and one-time only concert that looks, according to marketing director Teri Venker, headed for a sellout.

MSO playing

Here is the MSO press release:

“Bohemian Antonín Dvořák’s uniquely American composition, Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” will be the focus of Beyond the Score®, a multimedia concert experience Sun., Jan. 26, 2014, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall in Madison, WisconsinThis is a Madison first and a one-time only performance.

“Beyond the Score® will feature videos and photos, actors and narrator, and musical examples, as well as a full performance of the symphony by Conductor John DeMain and the musicians of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The experience will fully immerse the audience in the “New World Symphony’s” context in history, how it relates to Dvořák’s other works, and the events in the composer’s life that influenced its creation.

“MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) said: “This is an entertaining way to learn more about one of the world’s masterpieces through video, music, and actors. Hopefully, you’ll hear the symphony in a whole new way. This is an opportunity you won’t want to miss!” (At the bottom is a popular YouTube video , that has over 1.3 millions hits, and that features superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic leading the exciting final movement of the :”New World” symphony in a special concert for Pope Benedict XVI.)

John DeMain full face by Prasad

“Other professional talent will also play key roles.

“Anders Yocom, of Wisconsin Public Radio, will narrate.

anders yocom studio  head shot cr Jim Gill

“Actor David Daniel (below top), a core member of American Players Theatre, will perform the role of Antonin Dvorak (below bottom).

david daniels color

dvorak

Actor James Ridge (below), also a core member of American Players Theatre, will enact multiple roles.

James Ridge

“Mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Colbert (below), who is director of the women’s chorus at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Madison and is president of the Madison Symphony Chorus, will sing excerpts of spirituals that influenced Dvorak.

Jacqueline Colbert

“Dan Lyons (below), principal pianist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will be the accompanist.

Dan Lyons

“Dvorak, already an internationally renowned composer, came to America in 1892 at the invitation of wealthy East Coast philanthropist Jeannette Thurber. He headed the American Conservatory of music in New York City and his main goal was to discover “American Music” and employ it in his own compositions. He also vacationed in the Czech community Spillville, Iowa, which holds an annual Dvorak festival each summer.

“Dvorak was particularly taken with the music of both African-Americans and Native Americans, and in 1893 began work on Symphony No. 9.  To this day there is a lively debate as to whether the piece more prominently reflects these “new world” cultures or rather Dvořák’s native Bohemia. 

“According to notes from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, “For Americans, this is the first great symphony about America. For African-Americans, this is the first great orchestral work to use themes inspired by their songs and spirituals. For Native Americans, it is the first, and so far the only, great work inspired by Native American music.” Beyond the Score® is a complete exploration of these varied and intriguing influences.

“Tickets are $15-$60 each, and are available at www.madisonsymphony.org/beyond ; through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, Madison, Wisconsin or by calling the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

“Beyond the Score® is produced by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Gerard McBurney, creative director, and Martha Gilmer, executive producer. Major funding for this concert is provided by an anonymous friend of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.”

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Classical music: Chicago’s South Side natives and inspirational brothers Anthony and Demarre McGill set an example for young African-Americans about the importance of classical music. Plus, Classical Revolution Madison performs Mozart and Schubert this morning.

March 3, 2013
1 Comment

ALERT: Just a reminder that this morning from 11 a,m. to 1:20 p.m., members of Classical Revolution Madison (below) will perform a free concert a Fair Trade Coffee House, 418 State Street. The program includes the first movement of Franz Schubert‘s sublime cello Quintet in C Major; the first movement of Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata in A Minor for cello as arranged for guitar and viola; “Deh Vieni” from the opera “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and “Flow My Tears” by John Dowland.

Classical Revolution Madison

By Jacob Stockinger

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that twice in the past month or so, I have written about the lack of African-American young people going into or at least studying classical music.

The first blog entry by me, written for Martin Luther King Jr. birthday holiday and the second Inauguration of President Barack Obama (below), brought in some great reader comments that you should be sure to read:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/classical-music-on-martin-luther-king-jr-day-and-president-barack-obamas-second-inauguration-day-the-ear-wonders-why-arent-there-more-african-american-players-in-and-audiences-fo/

obama

And then I wrote again about this on the occasion of Black History Month, which is held each February, and specifically linked to NPR’s story about conductor Marin Alsop rediscovering the classical side of jazz great James P. Johnson (below, in a photo by William Gottlieb).

Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/classical-music-conductor-marin-alsop-helps-to-rediscover-jazz-master-james-p-johnson-as-a-serious-classical-musician-and-composer-of-symphonies

alsop_johnson

Now it turns out that I am hardly alone in thinking about this question and about how to draw young black students from hip-hop, rap, pop, R&D and jazz to classical music.

NBC reporter Ron Mott filed a terrific report, one that is even inspirational that aired this past week on the top-rated network news show, the NBC Evening News with Brian Williams.

It is a story about the very accomplished McGill brothers (below), originally from the South Side of Chicago – much in the news these days for gun violence. Their parents supported their music lessons and they played in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. (See the joint YouTube video at bottom.)

Brother Anthony is the principal Clarinet player in the prestigious Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

Brother Demarre is the principal flute player in the well-known and highly respected Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

demarre and anthony-mcgill th egrio

Both brothers have played with many orchestras and performed a lot of chamber music, Both teacher and do outreach to schools as well as perform. Both won Avery Fisher grants – the only sibling ever to do so. And their list of accomplishments goes on and on.

Anthony and Demarre McGill performing

Both men speak not only musically with eloquence on their chosen instruments; they are also articulate spokesmen for why classical music can be beneficial and should be pursued by more black youth – and, I would add, by more black adults as audience members.

McGill brothers performing 2

In fact, they are so impressive, I think they should be invited again (Anthony played his clarinet at the first Inauguration) to The White House for a nationally broadcast concert of classical chamber music. What great role model they are for all young people, but especially African-American young people, who often either get negative press coverage or are ignored by the mainstream media.

Here is the report as it appeared on NBC  TV:

http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nightly-news/50964613#50964613

And here is the version that appeared on NBC’s website devoted to news and features about African-Americans called ‘The Grio” (the name is derived from the West African word for the tribal member who keeps oral history and is a “storyteller” who passes along music, poetry and drama as well as stories and news):

http://thegrio.com/2013/02/27/thegrios-100-anthony-mcgill-and-demarre-mcgill-brothers-making-it-big-in-classical-music/

You can keep up with the latest developments of the these two remarkable brothers. You can find a lot of their individual and joint performances and master classes by going to YouTube and typing their names in the search engine. It is well worth the effort, believe me, and was eye-opening.

You find yourself wondering: HOW CAN SUCH ADMIRABLE ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND INSPIRATIONAL HUMAN INTEREST ESCAPE THE NOTICE OF THE MAINSTREAM PRESS AND MEDIA FOR SO LONG? So thank you, Ron Mott, Brian Williams and the NBC crew.

And, most of all, thank Anthony and Demarre McGill and their parents!

You can also follow Anthony McGill on Twitter at @mcgillab


Classical music: On Martin Luther King Jr. Day and President Barack Obama’s second Inauguration Day, The Ear wonders: Why aren’t there more African-American players in and audiences for classical music? Check out this website devoted to black classical musicians.

January 21, 2013
21 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It happens every year around this time.

Only this year it is a two-fer, so the feelings or thoughts are more intense.

That’s because today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, complete with live radio and delayed TV broadcasts of ceremonies from the Wisconsin State Capitol (at noon on Wisconsin Public Radio and at 8 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television)  and other places. (Below is the poster for Martin Luther King Jr. ceremonies with host Jonathan Overby.)

MLK Day at Capitol

But this year it is also President Barack Obama’s second Inauguration Day – well, at least the ceremonial one since the official one took place by law yesterday on Sunday. (In 2008, cellist Yo-Yo Ma (below bottom) played with violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Gabriela Montero at the first Inauguration.)

obama

YoYoMaObama INaugurationGetty Images

Anyway, on this day I always think back to all the many concerts I go to in a year — professional, amateur and student concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). And I always find myself asking:

Why don’t I see more African-American audiences at the concerts. And especially, Why don’t I see more African-American players in the various symphonic and chamber groups or as soloists? 

Sure, I see a lot of whites and a lot of Asians. I see some Hispanics, though also far too few. But I am especially struck at how few African Americans I see – although opera seems to outpace symphonies and chamber groups in this regard. (Sorry to say, I can’t think of any black conductors, violinists or cellists and only one pianist — at bottom, you will find a YouTube video of the African-American pianist Awadagin Pratt performing J.S. Bach at a concert in 2009 at the Obama White House — even though the sports world has at least some black managers, coaches and quarterbacks.)

I don’t see many African-Americans in the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below), whose music director and conductor John DeMain is world-famous for his Grammy-winning black production of Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess”:

MSO-HALL

Or in the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below):

WCO lobby

Or in the University of Wisconsin Symphony or Chamber Orchestra and UW Choral Union (below):

UW Choral Union  12:2011

Or even in the middle school and high school groups sponsored by WYSO (below).

Thomas Buchhauser  conducting WYSO Philharmonia Cheng-Wei Wu

It is similar to the thoughts I have every New Year’s Day when I tune in the “Live From Vienna” concert with the Vienna Philharmonic and am once again disappointed to see how few women are in that august ensemble – even in the year 2013.

Vienna Philharmonic

That’s not to say that we won’t today see and hear a lot of blacks in music. But I suspect we will hear jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, spirituals and pop.

And sure, some people may say: Well, after all, those are the traditional genres of music-making in the African-American culture and community.

And they are right in large part, and those are excellent forms of music.

But there is also a large number of blacks who have contributed to classical music. And more blacks – to say nothing of all whites and members of other ethnic groups – could stand to learn more about the contributions of African-Americans to classical music.

Does the cause of such ignorance have to do with racism and bias?

With faulty music education?

With family or community  values?

With a lack of role models?

With the lack of aggressive recruiting and hiring by local groups?

Now it just so happens that there are websites that offer visitors comprehensive histories and biographies of blacks in classical music – and even offers a quiz to see how much you know about who they were and the contributions they made.

So on this day when all of the U.S. and, one hopes, the world celebrate the achievements of African-Americans, maybe people can take time to visit this site, educate themselves and get a renewed and greater appreciation for the role that African-Americans have played in classical music.

Here are is a link to one of those websites:

http://Africlassical.com

Do you have observations to offer in the COMMENTS section about causes of remedies of such a shortage?

Names of composers and performers to pass along?

Is it something we have to accept as a cultural given?

Are there other websites you can suggest where readers can learn about African Americans and classical music?

 


Classical music: The Peninsula Music Festival in Door County turns 60 and runs Aug. 7-25. It features Madison singer Jonathan Overby in Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait” as well as pianist Orli Shaham in Gershwin and Mozart plus violinists Henning Kraggerud in Beethoven and Hilary Hahn in Prokofiev.

August 1, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s no secret that Wisconsin’s rural Door County (below) is a beautiful, well-known and popular vacation spot, not only for Badgers but also for people from surrounding areas including Chicago and the Twin Cities.

The scenic location is famed for its sailing, swimming and water sports on Lake Michigan as well as its fine food and arts.

You can also hear some great classical music up north.

This year’s marks the 60th anniversary of the Peninsula Music Festival, which takes place near Fish Creek in the Door County Auditorium. The festival, which features symphony music performed by the Peninsula Festival Orchestra (below) and guest soloists, opens next Tuesday, Aug. 7, and continues through Aug. 25 with concerts on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

For a full schedule and more information about the Peninsula Music Festival, visit http://www.musicfestival.com

There is a lot of music to take note of. But I want to single out one local performer.

He is baritone Jonathan Overby (below), the acclaimed Madison-based singer who is also a radio host for Wisconsin Public Radio (listen to “Higher Ground” on Saturday night) and who teaches at Edgewood College. He will perform as the narrator in Aaron Copland’s famous “A Lincoln Portrait. It is an inspired choice, The Ear says, for a presidential election year in which the nation’s first African-American president is seeking reelection and for the narrator who organizes Madison’s annual tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. in the state Capitol.

The other outstanding soloists who with perform with the Peninsula Festival Orchestra under conductor Victor Yampolsky (below) include violinists Hilary Hahn and Henning Kraggerud as well as pianist Orli Shaham.

Both Kraggerud (below top) and Hahn (below bottom) have performed to acclaim in Madison, and I have never heard a live or recorded performance by them  – recital or concerto – that disappointed me. I find them both to be among the best all-around, most dependable and engaging violinists in the world today.

Overby will narrate Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” with the Peninsula Music Festival on Saturday, Aug. 11 at 6:30 p.m. The concert entitled “Rhapsody in Blue” features the music of Aaron Copland and George Gershwin, and will take place in the Door Community Auditorium.

In addition, the concert will also include Copland’s full orchestral version of “Appalachian Spring” Suite as well as Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” and “Rhapsody in Blue.” Orli Shaham will be the pianist for “Rhapsody in Blue.”

Pianist Orli Shaham (below) is making her sixth appearance with the Festival Orchestra. In addition to her solo turn in Gershwin on Saturday, Aug. 11, Shaham will also solo on Tuesday, Aug. 14, at 8 p.m. in a program of “All Mozart, All the Time.” Shaham will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. Mozart’s Serenade No. 12 and Symphony No. 39 will also be heard.

The opening concert next Tuesday night features violinist Henning Kraggerud in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Hilary Hahn will perform Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1.

Concerts are held in the Door Community Auditorium with air conditioning and reserved seats.

Tickets — along with other information including programs and a video — are available for all concerts and can be purchased at the Festival’s box office at 3045 Cedar Street in Ephraim, or on-line at www.musicfestival.com or by calling (920) 854-4060. You can also find several video previews at YouTube. Here is the first:


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