The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society again brings its surefire summery approach to serious classical chamber music when it starts its 28th annual series this weekend

June 11, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s not just the calendar that makes the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society the official start of the increasingly busy summer classical musical season in Madison.

The real reason is that the summer chamber music series, about to start its 28th annual summer this Friday night, June 14, is downright summery in its approach.

Say “summer,” and you think of lightness, of fun, of playfulness. And those are the very same qualities – along with serious, first-rate performances of great music by outstanding musicians – that BDDS brings to its six programs spread out in 12 concerts over three weekends and three venues during the month of June.

By now both the performers (below, in a photo by Dick Ainsworth for BDDS) and the audiences know that the formula works, however finely tuned or slightly changed it is from one summer to the next.

WHAT’S THE SAME

This year much remains.

There are still door prizes, spoken introductions and stories, mystery guests and a colorful art installation by UW-Madison designer Carolyn Kallenborn.

The titles of the six programs for 12 concerts over three weekends still have groan-inducing puns — “Name Dropping” in the theme for this summer — that are based on the musicians’ names like “Founteneau of Youth” after the San Francisco cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau (below top) and “Quadruple Axel” after the Montreal-based violin virtuoso Axel Strauss (below bottom).

There are still the usual venues: the Playhouse in the Overture Center (below top); the Stoughton Opera House (below middle); and the Hillside Theater at Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright compound in Spring Green.

There are still the many distinguished and accomplished musicians among the many imported guest artists and the many local musicians, including the co-founders and co-artistic directors flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes (below). The Ear can’t recall ever hearing a bad BDDS performance, even of music he didn’t like.

And there is a mix of older well-known and classic repertoire along with newer and neglected composers and works.

WHAT’S NEW

But some things are different too.

The first concert this Friday will have a post-concert reception with free champagne and dessert to celebrate the 28th season.

This summer, unlike recent ones, there is no vocal music. All music is instrumental.

At both Stoughton and Spring Green, you can get food. Go to the home website for details.

Especially new and noteworthy is that the Russian virtuoso accordion player Stas Venglevski (below), from Milwaukee, will also perform on programs. Venglevski performs on the bayan, a Russian-style accordion noted for its deep bass sound and range and purity of tone.

Venglevski will be featured in works that range from polkas and heart-on-the-sleeve tangos by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky; down-and-dirty original works by Russian master Tatyana Sergeyeva and arrangements of favorite pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach and others.

This Wednesday night, June 12, from 7 to 9 p.m., Venglevski and Jutt will perform “Bayan-o-rama” at the Arts and Literature Lab, 2021 Winnebago Street. Tickets are $10 at the door. Refreshments will be served.

Here is a summary of the first weekend:

WEEK ONE

The elegance, charm, and finesse of French cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau is displayed in a program called “Fonteneau of Youth.”

It includes music written by great composers in their youth, including the ravishing Elegy for cello and piano of French composer Gabriel Fauré; the rhythmically exciting Trio for flute, cello and piano of living American composer Ned Rorem; and the astonishing D’un soir triste (One Sad Evening) and D’un matin de printemps (One Spring Morning), both for piano trio, of 21-year old Lili Boulanger (below), who was the Prix de Rome-winning composer sister of famed teacher Nadia Boulanger and who died very young. (You can hear both pieces by Lili Boulanger in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The great Franz Joseph Haydn—always the most youthful of composers, even into his late years—is represented by the masterful Piano Trio no. 28 in E major, in honor of BDDS’ 28th season.

“Fonteneau of Youth” will be performed at The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts on this Friday, June 14, at 7:30 p.m. A free champagne and dessert reception will be held following the performance to celebrate the 28th season opener. It will also be performed in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 16, at 2:30 p.m.

Audience favorite Axel Strauss—not just a virtuoso violinist, but a virtuoso musician and artist of the highest distinction—will brave gravity-defying musical heights in “Quadruple Axel.” Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Trio Sonata in D minor for violin, flute, cello and piano starts the program on an elegant note. Johannes Brahms’ fiery Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101, raises the temperature significantly. And all sorts of hijinks are on display in Maurice Ravel’s extraordinary and ravishing Sonata for Violin and Piano.

“Quadruple Axel” will be performed at The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 15, at 7:30 p.m. and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, Sunday, June 16, at 6:30 p.m.

For more information about the full BDDS season and how to purchase tickets ($43 and $49), go to: https://bachdancing.org


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Classical music: Violinist Axel Strauss and pianist Trevor Stephenson will recreate a historic concert of Beethoven, Debussy and Bartok this Friday night

September 10, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this coming Friday night, Sept. 14, at 7:30 p.m. at West Middleton Lutheran Church, the prize-winning and internationally acclaimed violinist Axel Strauss (below) — a Madison favorite through his many wonderful concerts with the San Francisco Trio for the Bach, Dancing and Dynamite Society — and pianist Trevor Stephenson, artistic director of the Madison Bach Musicians, will collaborate on a program of masterpieces by Beethoven, Bartok and Debussy.

The event is something of a re-creation of a legendary concert given by famed violinist Joseph Szigeti (below top) and pianist-composer Bela Bartok (below bottom) at the Library of Congress on April 13, 1940 when Bartok, fleeing Europe and World War II, had been in the U.S. only a couple of days.

You can hear a recording of their historic performance of the Rhapsody by Bartok in the YouTube video at the bottom.

At the Sept. 14 concert, Strauss — who now teaches at McGill University in Montreal, Canada — and Stephenson will perform three major works that Szigeti and Bartok also played that April evening in 1940: Beethoven’s Sonata in A major Op. 47 (“Kreutzer”), Bartok’s Rhapsody No. 1 and Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, the last completed major work by Debussy (below) finished less than a year before his death in 1918. (You can find more about the impressive biography of Axel Strauss at http://www.axelstrauss.com and at  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axel_Strauss  on Wikipedia.)

Stephenson will bring his 1855 Boesendorfer concert grand piano (both are below in a photo by Kent Sweitzer). Although heavily strung like a modern piano, this mid 19th-century Boesendorfer piano has no metal plate to alleviate the tension of the strings, but relies instead upon an ingenious wooden frame design.

The resonance of the sound is thus carried entirely by the wood, resulting in a complex and dark tone wonderfully suited to the sensibility of 19th- and early 20th-century music.

The West Middleton Lutheran Church (below top and bottom) is at 3763 Pioneer Road — the intersection of Mineral Point Road and Pioneer Road, just 10 minutes west of West Towne Mall.

It has superb acoustics for chamber music. The seating is very comfortable. The sight-lines are terrific. And there is plenty of parking.

Concert tickets are $25 available at the door (credit card, check and cash) or in advance (check only). Seating is limited to 225.

To reserve tickets, email trevor@trevorstephenson.com

Find more information at www.trevorstephenson.com.


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Classical music: Juilliard violin professor Laurie Smukler continues a great season of string playing on Saturday night with a FREE recital at the UW-Madison

November 18, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is a post about a very appealing FREE concert by Juilliard violinist Laurie Smukler (below) on this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.

laurie-smukler

But for The Ear, some context seems fitting.

Some seasons are memorable for great singing or great piano playing or great orchestral playing. And there certainly has been, and will continue to be, lots more of all three this autumn and winter.

But what has really stood out to The Ear this Fall is the string playing, especially the violin.

stradivari-solomon-ex-lambert

Actually it started in the summer with a sizzling, white-hot performance by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. The BDDS interspersed Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires.”

Violinist Suzanne Beia (below top) played the Vivaldi seasons and McGill University violinist Axel Strauss from Montreal (below bottom) played the Piazzolla seasons. The dueling violins were something to behold and to hear! And the alternation kept listeners from tiring of one particular composer or style. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly memorable concert. 

suzanne-beia-bdds-2016-vivaldi

axel-strauss-bdds-2016-piazzolla

Then came an unforgettable performance of the Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky, played with intimacy and clarity as well as stunning virtuosity by the prize-winning Russian-born Ilya Kaler with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell.

ilya-kaler

Then came wonderful performances by Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud of the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Max Bruch and some works by Kraggerud himself, accompanied by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain.

Henning Kraggerud playing

Over at the Wisconsin Union Theater, superstar Joshua Bell didn’t disappoint. Appearing in a recital with pianist Alessio Bax, Bell played music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, Eugene Ysaye, Pablo de Sarrasate and Manuel Ponce. Violin recitals just don’t get better.

joshua-bell-2016

In between came several performances by the four always reliable and always outstanding string players of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in a photo by Rick Langer) as well as the newly reformed Ancora String Quartet (below bottom).

Pro Arte 3 Rick Langer copy

ancora-2016-group-1

And there were many other events.

But The Season of Strings isn’t over yet.

This Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, there is a FREE recital by Laurie Smukler, a violin professor at the Juilliard School who is also doing a guest residency here that features master classes in the violin and chamber music.

Smukler was invited by and will be joined by Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt), who teaches violin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and whose debut recital last year still lingers in The Ear’s ear.

Soh-Hyun Park Altino CR caroline bittencourt

Both women, who are personal friends, are terrific musicians and highly accomplished violinists.

The intriguing program, with the distinguished pianist Victor Asuncion, features the popular work “The Lark Ascending” by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams; the Sonata for Two Violins by Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev; and the Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor by Brahms. (You can hear the heart-rending slow movement of the Brahms, played by violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Daniel Barenboim, in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more information about all events related to the Smukler residency, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/distinguished-guest-artist-residency-laurie-smukler-violin-free-event/

 


Classical music: On Graduation or Commencement weekend, take a look what at UW-Madison music graduates and alumni have done and their plans for the future as well as a sneak preview of next year’s season at the UW-Madison School of Music.

May 16, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend is Graduation or Commencement Weekend.

That seems a good time to check out the year-end issue of “A Tempo,” the new blog done by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

The issue features stories about graduates and where they are headed.

It also offers photos from the tour that UW-Madison percussionists recently took to China , some updates on alumni and a sneak peek at some of the guest artists for next season.

Here is a link:

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/news-from-our-grads-alumni-pictures-from-percussion-in-china-sneak-peek/

 


Classical music: The Ear names the Middleton Community Orchestra and adult amateur music-makers as Musicians of the Year for 2014.

December 31, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is New Year‘s Eve, 2014.

Each year, I close out the old year and greet the new year by naming a Musician of the Year.

I heard a lot of great music this past year.

Much of it you can relive in the year-end roundup by John W. Barker, the regular classical music critic for Isthmus who also contributes so much to this blog.

Here is a link that that roundup:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/classical-music-here-is-a-wrap-up-of-the-best-of-2014-in-madison-thanks-to-isthmus-critic-john-w-barker/

One of the ways in which John and I agree –- and in fact, we usually do agree — is regarding the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) for its admirable achievements in only four seasons.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

As loyal readers know, I am a big supporter of music education. In fact, for the sake of full disclosure, I should say that I sit on the board of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). And music education for young people and young students is about a lot more than music, as so much social science and psychological research continues to prove.

But this year I want to recognize ADULT amateur musicians.

These days, adult amateurs may seem unusual or an exception. But the historical fact is that for centuries, classical music was primarily the domain of amateur rather than professional performers.

So I am singling out the Middleton Community Orchestra, which uses some professional talent, but relies mostly on amateurs.

I have already written about how they point the way to the future for larger ensembles with the shorter programs; with the kind of music that is programmed; with the low price of admission ($10 for adults and FREE for students); and with the post-concert socializing with musicians and other audience members (below) — all of which adds up to a laudable community service that integrates a performing art into everyday life and society. That is a mission worth supporting.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

Here is a older review that I did. In it I talk about some of what I admire by giving nine reasons to attend the MCO:

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 the MCO, founded by members Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic, is as much about hearing great and accessible music as it is about community service.

I will long remember piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Edvard Grieg played by UW-Madison pianist Thomas Kasdorf, who will perform the famously popular Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor — the signature concerto of Van Cliburn — by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky with the MCO this spring.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

I will also remember Madison-born, UW-trained and Juilliard-trained violist Vicki Powell (below) in shorter and unknown works by Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Max Bruch.

Vicki Powell at MCO

I will long remember former MCO concertmaster Alice Bartsch, who studied at the UW-Madison School of Music, in a wonderful interpretation of a Romance by Antonin Dvorak before she left for graduate studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

The same held true for Alice’s gifted violinist sister, Eleanor Bartsch,when she was joined (below) by fellow UW-Madison grad Daniel Kim in Mozart’s sublime Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola.

Eleanor Bartsch and Daniel Kim MCO Mozart

And I will remember the most recent performance with Madison Symphony Orchestra’s amazing principal clarinetist Joe Morris performing a rarely heard concerto by the under-appreciated 20th-century English composer Gerald Finzi.

joe morris playing CR Cheryl Savan

I will also remember fondly performances of symphonies by Antonin Dvorak and Johannes Brahms done by the MCO under the baton of conductor Steve Kurr (below), who teaches music at Middleton High School. (The MCO performs in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to the high school.)

Steve Kurr conducting

As with so many groups, including professional ones, booking great soloists seems to push the performers in the group to an even high level of playing. But the MCO takes care to book soloists with local ties, including soprano Emily Birsan who recently was at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which adds an element of local pride to the event.

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

The MCO has some appealing concerts coming up in 2015. It deserves to have even larger audiences at its mid-week concerts.

Here is a link to their website, where you can see photos and learn about how to support the group and how to join the group as well as what concerts and program the MCO will perform during the rest of this season.

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

But I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention other ways that are outlets for adult amateur musicians.

They include the University of Wisconsin Choral Union (below) and many other local choirs, including the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble, the Madison Symphony Chorus and Madison Opera Chorus, the Wisconsin Chamber Symphony Chorus, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, the Festival Choir -– to say nothing of the many church choirs, secular choirs and adult amateur performing groups in Madison and the surrounding area.

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

So leaving 2014 and heading into 2015, The Ear -– who is himself an avid amateur pianist — proclaims the new year to be The Year of the Adult Amateur.

If you want to sing, join a choir.

If you want to play an instrument, start practicing or sign up for lessons. It is never too late, even after retirement.

And if you want to perform and share the joy and love of music with others, find an outlet, including the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Nothing beats the thrill of experiencing music from the inside.

So don’t just listen to music.

Make it!

 


Classical music: Is it au revoir — or adieu? The UW Chamber Orchestra will play a FREE concert this Sunday night, but then will be axed and fall silent next season.

April 29, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear hears: The UW Chamber Orchestra (below) will NOT exist next school year.

uw chamber orchestra USE

But not before it performs its final concert of the current season -– FREE and open to the public — this coming Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. Under the baton of acclaimed longtime conductor James Smith (below), the chamber orchestra will perform what seems a fitting final program.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

What could be a better farewell than a program that features two homages: One to Francois Couperin (Dance Suite) by Richard Strauss (below top) and one to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by French composer Jacques Ibert (below bottom). And then comes the true Mozart in a true masterpiece: the Symphony No. 39 in E-Flat Major.

richard strauss

Jacques Ibert

The UW-Madison has not released any specific information yet about the reasons involved in canceling the UW Chamber Orchestra, which, together with the UW Symphony Orchestra, makes up the orchestra program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

But from what The Ear hears, the decision has to do with several factors.

Because there are fewer scholarships, there are fewer students coming into the school and therefore entering the performance groups.

There are also fewer students because some major professors who attract a loyal following from afar are retiring. They include tuba player John Stevens, University Opera director William Farlow and pianist Todd Welbourne.

Other full-time faculty are leaving the UW-Madison School of Music (violinist Felicia Moye, below, to McGill University, soprano Julia Faulkner to the Lyric Opera of Chicago school) and have been replaced with one-year appointments (oboist Kostas Tiliakos, singer Elizabeth Hagedorn, violinists Eugene Purdue of Madison and Leslie Shank of the Twin Cities, below, tubist Tom Curry and University Opera director David Ronis from CUNY’s Aaron Copland School of Music in New York City). And short-term instructors simply do not attract as many loyal students, especially those whose talent is on a superior or professional level.

Felicia Moye color

Leslie Shank

Here are some links to stories about the new incoming academic staff from the terrific blog Fanfare:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/paq-tour-disanza-award-new-faculty/

Plus, there have been some financial problems, which have also caused the UW-Madison School of Music to scale back the new performing space it is seeking to build, and to substitute one-year appointments for tenure-track professorships.

All in all, the UW-Madison School of Music, which has traditionally enjoyed a fine reputation and a high ranking among public music schools, faces some serious challenges.

The only large instrumental classical ensemble that will continue to exist will be the UW Symphony Orchestra, but all the musicians I have talked to say the two groups offer very different playing experiences.

And The Ear finds it ironic that the smaller-scale chamber orchestras generally seem to be thriving around the country far more than the larger, more ambitious and more expensive symphony orchestras and opera companies, many of which face serious financial challenges. (Below is the famed St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, in which violinist Leslie Shank plays.)

St Paul Chamber Orchestra

I have not heard reactions about axing the UW Chamber Orchestra from staff or students -– perhaps because they have not yet heard the news — but I would welcome hearing some in the COMMENTS sections of this blog. I also think that members of the public and listeners should chime in with their reactions.

To The Ear, the demise of the UW Chamber Orchestra is a sad shame. After all, the question seems to ask itself: How does a major public School of Music maintain its status without providing the experience and repertoire of the smaller orchestra?

We will see.

In the meantime, I suggest that the performance this Sunday night is a MUST-HEAR concert. (Below is the UW Chamber Orchestra rehearsing with conductor James Smith.)

UW Chamber Orchestra rehearsing under James Smith

We really don’t know yet whether this is an au revoir or an adieu -– a temporary good-bye or a permanent farewell, no matter what the initial intent is.

But The Ear knows this much: In almost any organization, it is a lot easier to get rid of something than to revive it or bring it into being. Inertia is a powerful institutional force. So I would like to see a public groundswell or reaction to either keep  the UW Chamber Orchestra active next academic year or to bring back the UW Chamber Orchestra after a one-year sabbatical — if that sabbatical really is necessary.

The Ear has many wonderful memories of the UW Chamber Orchestra, in both solo concerts but also in collaborating with the UW Choral Union (below) and the UW Concert Choir.

UW Choral Union and Chamber orchestra full view 12-2011

Here, at the bottom in a YouTube video is one of those moments: from several years ago, the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s iconic Fifth Symphony:

 

 

 

 

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Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society triumphs and gets a standing ovation from a full house for bringing dramatic story-telling to the romantic music of Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.

June 25, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

It was nothing short of a triumph for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

The Ear surely couldn’t be the only listener who came  away Saturday night deeply moved from the Overture Center’s Playhouse — and from the fourth concert of the six that the Madison-based BDDS is offering this month — with one overpowering thought: We need more of this!

We need more concerts with first-rate songs and first-rate singing. And we need more concerts that have a narrative and tell the personal story behind the music and musicians they feature.

BDDS deuces are wild logo

A lot of musical groups and individuals today offer brief introductory remarks to help prepare audiences. And that is fine. Experts say that providing that kind of listener-friendly context will help draw younger, newer and bigger audiences.

In this 22nd summer season, when the theme of card playing is highlighted, BDDS trumped that wisdom and raised the stakes by going one better, by upping the ante: Co-founder and co-director pianist Jeffrey Sykes, who got his doctorate at the UW School of Music and now teaches at the University of California-Berkley, showed his inventive theatrical side by creating an original story about the complex romances of Robert Schumann, his wife Clara Wieck Schumann and the young Johannes Brahms –- whose photographic portraits were projected on the backdrop (below).

BDDS 4 backdrop photos

Moreover, Sykes’ two-act mini-drama -– an experimental scissors-and-paste tapestry woven together with snippets of letters, diary entries and of course music -– proved successful on every count. It was greeted with cries of Bravo! and an enthusiastic, prolonged standing ovation.

BDDS 4 ovation

Of course, Sykes was not alone in bringing this successful experiment off. He had the help of his co-founder and co-director flutist Stephanie Jutt.

Most importantly, for this concert he had the top-flight talents of bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below top), whose diction and tone are superb, and of the UW-Madison graduate and Lyric Opera of Chicago soprano Emily Birsan (below bottom), who possesses equally beautiful tone and excellent German as well as French.

Timothy Jones posed portrait

Emily Birsan less tarty 2 NoCredit

BDDS also drew on the talents of Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera maestro John DeMain, a willing sport who did terrific double-duty as a pianist and as Clara’s difficult father Friedrich Weick. The singers also did double duty with Jones playing Robert Schumann and Birsan playing Clara Weick.

Flutist Jutt played Romances by both Robert and Clara Schumann, the first transcribed from the oboe and the second from the violin. Her performances and her readings too were expressive and fit right in with the playing and recitations from others.

The excerpts that Sykes chose from song cycles were spot on, especially from the heart-wrenching cycle by Schumann’s “A Woman’s Life and Loves.”

But nowhere was the formula of tinkering with tried-and-true classics more successful than in Robert Schumann’s song “Widmung” (Dedication), which was used to mark the consummation of the romance when a German court decides, over father Friedrich Wieck‘s libelous objections, that Roberta and Clara can indeed marry.

The song, usually sung by either a male or female voice, was shared. (For the usual interpretations, see the YouTube videos at the bottom with Jessye Norman and Hermann Prey.) And the duet was profoundly moving as Jones’ Robert and Birsan’s Clara walked free and in love off the stage and arm-in-arm to conclude the first half (below).

BDDS 4 Timothy Jones, Emily Birsan

Similarly, when Birsan’s Clara sang “Now you have hurt me for the first time” after her beloved Robert had died, was there a dry eye in the house? Not where I sat – and I doubt where many others sat too.

Sykes wove his tapestry seamlessly. He also took a letter about a short musical theme or motif that came to the delusional Robert Schumann in the insane asylum, where his wife Clara was forbidden from visiting him until two days before he died. And then he wrapped a letter by Robert around it as well as a letter that Brahms later wrote to introduce to Clara his variations on that theme same for piano-four-hands, performed by Sykes and DeMain as the conclusion finale.

Of course one can nitpick. Given how much solo piano music, filled with bittersweet longing, that both Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms composed, I kept wondering why the program didn’t include the short and deeply moving Romance in F-sharp Major by Schumann which Clara asked her grandson Ferdinand to play while she lay expiring on her deathbed. (It is below top, in a YouTube video) Or play the late Romance in F Major, Op. 18, No. 5, by Brahms (below bottom, in a YouTube video by Evgeny Kissin). How The Ear would have loved to hear Sykes, with his rich tone and natural lyricism, perform these miniature gems.

But you can’t have everything and what we got was plenty generous. It cohered. It moved you. And it provided an intelligent context for understanding the romance behind the great Romantic music of these Romantic composers.

All paintings need a frame, and so does a lot of music. This frame could not have been better designed and executed or more beautiful.

But that Schumann-Brahms drama-concert was not the only reason to take in the second of the three weekends of music by the BDDS.

Just the night before at the refurbished Stoughton Opera House, the group used the same singers to perform another great concert. The program was timely and relevant, given both the Afghanistan War and the anniversary of the America Civil War.

The musical offerings featured Timothy Jones in Ned Rorem’s movingly spiky and grim “War Scenes” songs drawn from Walt Whitman’s Civil War notebooks (“The real war will never get in the books’) and Emily Birsan in “Sonnets to Cassandra” by the French Renaissance poet Pierre de Ronsard by the underplayed and underrated Swiss composer Frank Martin.

BDDS 3 Timothy Jones Ned Rorem

BDDS 3 Emily Birsan Frank Martin

The concert began with a flute quartet by Ferdinand Ries, a student of Beethoven who nicely fit the theme of a “Stacked Deck” since history has largely overlooked and forgotten him. (But, you know, Beethoven really wasn’t much of a flute guy anyway.)

BDDS 3 Ferdinand Ries flute quartet

The real gem came when several local string players – violinist Suzanne Beia and cellist Parry Karp of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet and principal violist Christopher Dozoryst of the Madison Symphony Orchestra – joined pianist Sykes  in playing a superb rendition, by turns turbulent and lyrical, of Gabriel Faure’s Piano Quartet No. in G Minor (below).

BDDS 3 Faure piano quartet 2

It was yet another reminder of how, like BDDS, Faure is a first-rate composer, with a sound and style unmistakably his own, who deserves a much higher profile and a much wider hearing.

Next weekend brings two final BDDS concerts — in Madison, Stoughton and Spring Green — with violinist Naha Greenholtz (concertmaster of the Madison Symphony) and San Francisco Trio members violinist Axel Strauss (now teaching at McGill University in Montreal) as well as cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau in music by Copland, Mozart, Brahms, Korngold, Beethoven and Dick Kattenburg.

For more information about the times and venues, the programs, the performers and tickets, here is a link:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

If you love classical music, to miss these BDDS performance is to deprive yourself of great pleasure and great insight, of new exposure to works both well-known and neglected. Why would you want to do that?


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