The Well-Tempered Ear

TONIGHT at 7:30 the UW-Madison offers free but conflicting online concerts of opera and percussion music

November 24, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight – Tuesday, Nov. 24 – at 7:30 p.m. the University of Wisconsin’s Mead Witter School of Music will offer two FREE but competing events online.

You would think with so many empty spots in the events calendar due to the coronavirus pandemic that such conflicts could be avoided.

In any case, whichever concert you choose to watch – or perhaps to toggle back and forth between the two – here are the details:

OPERA SCENES

The first concert, done by University Opera, is Opera Scenes.

According to the website description: “What was to be Opera Workshop’s Fall Opera Scenes program has morphed in a delightful way.

“This term, each singer undertook an in-depth study of one particular operatic role. We’ll be presenting the fruits of that study – excerpted recitatives and arias from The Coronation of Poppea, Don Giovanni and Orfeo ed Euridice – staged in each student’s adapted habitat, and filmed by the students themselves.”

Here is the program with specifics about the singers and the selections as well as other aspects such as direction and accompaniment:

UW-Madison Opera Workshop: Professors Mimmi Fulmer, Thomas Kasdorf and University Opera head David Ronis (below) are the directors; William Preston and Molly Schumacher are the TAs.

“Batti, batti” and “Vedrai carino” from “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Zerlina: Maria Steigerwald
Directors: Molly Schumacher and David Ronis
Pianist: William Preston

“Chiamo il mio ben così” and “Che farò senza Euridice” from “Orfeo ed Euridice” by Christoph Willibald Gluck

Orfeo: Emily Quartemont
Director: David Ronis
Pianist: Thomas Kasdorf

“Or sai chi l’onore” and “Non mi dir” from “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Donna Anna: Sachie Ueshima
Director: Mimmi Fulmer
Pianist: Thomas Kasdorf

Excerpts from Act I, Scenes 3, 4, and 10 from “L’incoronazione di Poppea”by Claudio Monteverdi. (Below is a photo by Michael R. Anderson of a previous fully staged production in 2018 by University Opera of the Monteverdi opera.)

Poppea: Molly Schumacher
Director: Mimmi Fulmer
Pianist: William Preston

Here is a direct link to the one-hour production: www.youtube.com/meadwitterschoolofmusic

UW CHAMBER PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE

Also tonight is a concert by the UW-Madison Chamber Percussion Ensemble (below), directed by Anthony Di Sanza and Thomas Ross.

It takes place in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall of the Hamel Music Center, and will run from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. No in-person attendance is allowed.

The UW-Madison Chamber Percussion Ensemble is dedicated to the performance of significant and engaging works for the Western percussion ensemble tradition. Repertoire from diverse trends in 20th and 21st century chamber composition is explored with an emphasis on new compositions for percussion.

Here is a direct link to the live-streamed concert, with more information  about the program and the names of the players if you click on “Show More”: https://youtu.be/iZKO8pZmomA

And here is the program of the mostly new music:

Living Room Music (in the times of Covid) (1940) by John Cage and heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.
I. To Begin
II. Story
III. Melody
IV. End

Spanesque Oscillations (2003) by Steve Riley

For High Hats (2017) by Matt McBane

INTERMISSION

Marimbaireachd (1997) by Matthew Welch

The Lonelyness of Santa Clause (1994) by Fredrik Andersson

Metric Lips (1988) by Bela Fleck (arr. Steinquest)


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The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra cancels its first Masterworks concert and launches an online virtual Winter Chamber Series in January

November 22, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

With the surge in the coronavirus pandemic, the dominos are starting to fall again — this time for the spring series of live, in-person concerts that had been planned.

Friday night brought important news from the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below, in photo by Mike Gorski).

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO) has canceled its first Masterworks concert, with guest cellist Amit Peled, in late January. In its place the WCO is launching its first-ever digital Winter Chamber Series.

The virtual, online series of digital concerts will feature the ensemble’s 34 players in smaller groups of four to eight, That will be safer for both players and audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four home-viewable virtual online concerts are planned: Jan. 22, Feb. 26, March 26, and April 16. Programs are not available except for the first concert.

Also included are a pre-concert talk with WCO music director and maestro Andrew Sewell (below top, in a photo by Alex Cruz) and Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland (below bottom), and post-concert reflections with musicians of the WCO.

The ticket price for each concert, which will run 60-75 minutes, is $30 per household. A ticket entitles you to one viewing of the concert between Friday, Jan. 22, and Monday, Jan. 25. The concert will start streaming at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

Patrons who have already purchased season subscription tickets can apply that to the full series of four concerts.

Tickets are available online at the Overture Center box office. See below.

The program for the first Winter Chamber Concert on Jan. 22 is:

Four Canzonas by the Baroque Italian composer Giovanni Gabrieli (below):

“Tzigane” (a term for music by Hungarian gypsies or Romani) for Wind Quintet by the contemporary American composer Valerie Coleman (below):

The first movement of the famed String Quintet in C major, D. 956, by the Austrian Romantic composer Franz Schubert (below):

Four Octets by the 20th-century American composer and jazz musician Alec Wilder (below), which you can sample in the YouTube video at the bottom.

To see more background about the composers, more details about the concert and purchase tickets, go to: https://www.overture.org/events/wco-chamber-series

You can also check out the series as it progressively gets announced on the WCO home website: https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/winter-chamber-series

The concert series sounds like a terrific substitution for the regular concerts that cannot yet take place.

But The Ear wonders if the price per concert is a bit steep, given that comparable concerts by UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music , the Wllly Street Chamber Players and Just Bach are free – although they do ask for donations — and that the Madison Opera charged $50 for its entire fall digital series while the Wisconsin Union Theater charges between $10 and $20 per virtual concert.

The Ear likes the eclectic programming, but also thinks it is kind of teasing and unsatisfying to offer just the first movement of such an organic masterpiece and profoundly beautiful work as the Schubert Cello Quintet. Doing one movement of a chamber music work somehow seems very different from doing one movement of a symphony.

It would also be nice to see the programs for all the concerts plus a series discount as an incentive.

What do you think about the WCO’s Winter Chamber Series?

What do you think about the price and the programming?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet performs the fifth installment of its complete Beethoven cycle this Friday night at 7:30 in a FREE live-streamed concert

November 19, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

As we draw close to Dec. 16 and the 250th birthday celebrations for Ludwig van Beethoven (below, in 1803), one of the joys and highlights of the Beethoven Year continues to impress.

The UW-Madison’s acclaimed Pro Arte Quartet will give the fifth installment of their complete cycle of the 16 string quartets by Beethoven this Friday night, Nov. 20, at 7:30 p.m.

Here is a direct link: https://youtu.be/nZN7tRu8N_k

Members of the quartet (below, from left) are: violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia; violist Sally Chisholm; and cellist Parry Karp.

The FREE online virtual concert is a livestream from the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall, where the quartet will once again play with masks and social distancing (below).

No in-person attendance is allowed.

“It’s different playing without a live audience,” says cellist Parry Karp. “But we’re getting used to it. Not having to play other live concerts or to go on tour around the state also allows us to focus more. And the upside of playing online is that we saw quite a number of viewers from Brazil and Argentina listening to our last concert.”

Before each of the two quartets, Professor Charles Dill (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who teaches musicology at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, will give a short introductory lecture.

The program features one early quartet and one middle “Razumovsky” quartet: String Quartet No. 3 in D Major, Op. 18 No. 3 (1798-1800); and String Quartet No. 8 in E Minor, “Razumovsky,” Op. 59, No. 2 (1806). 

You can hear the Ebène Quartet play the hymn-like slow movement of the Razumovsky quartet, with its use of a Russian theme, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is more background from Wikipedia about both quartets:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_Quartet_No._3_(Beethoven)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/String_Quartet_No._8_(Beethoven)

For more information about the program, the names of the orchestra’s players and impressive historical background about the Pro Arte Quartet, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-beethoven-string-quartet-cycle-program-v/


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UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra gives a FREE hybrid online concert this Thursday night by mixing both recorded and live performances

November 18, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the most interesting and innovative responses to the limitations imposed on live concerts by the coronavirus can be heard this Thursday night, Nov. 19, at 8 p.m.

That is when the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra – playing under the baton of director Oriol Sans in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall of the Hamel Music Center — will perform a short concert that features both live performances and pre-recorded performances in the same piece.

The reason for the hybrid is public health precautions, the same reason why no in-person audience will be allowed.

String players can play with masks and social distancing, as the same orchestra showed in a previous virtual concert (below) this semester.

But brass and woodwinds prohibit wearing masks and involve the spraying or draining of saliva – an obvious risk for the spread of COVID-19.

So, presenting the full symphonic experience of the Beethoven piece will be accomplished by a combination of pre-recorded and live music, all performed by UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra musicians. 

The concert will last about 90 minutes with no intermission.

Here is a direct link to the YouTube channel of the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music: https://youtu.be/af6hjmW1cQw

The program is:

“Fuga con Pajarillo” (Fugue with Pajarillo Dance) by the Venezuelan composer Aldemaro Romero (below, 1928-2007), who was known for blending folk songs and dances with classical music. You can hear the string version of the orchestral piece in the YouTube video at the bottom.

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

The famous Allegretto second movement from Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92, by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

“Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite III” by the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi (below, 1879-1936)    

    I. Anon.: Italiana

    II. Jean-Baptiste Besard: Arie di corte

    III. Anon.: Siciliana

    IV. Lodovico Roncalli: Passacaglia

For more information about the program and the names of the student performers, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-madison-symphony-orchestra-3/

 


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November’s “Just Bach” FREE online concert is this Wednesday morning at 8 instead of noon. It features two favorites: “Air on the G String” and the Concerto for Two Violins

November 17, 2020
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This Wednesday, Just Bach again shares the timeless beauty of the music by Johann Sebastian Bach (below) from their home in the nave of Luther Memorial Church (LCM), 1021 University Avenue.

The group participates in LMC’s weekly ‘Music at Midday’ concert series at https://www.luthermem.org/music-at-midday. (Please note: Now that the concerts are online instead of in person, the videos will be posted early Wednesday mornings at 8 a.m., instead of at noon. They will remain online indefinitely so viewers can see them at their convenience.).

As part of this series, Just Bach concerts take place on the third Wednesday of each month. Remaining concerts are: Nov. 18, Dec. 16, Jan. 20, Feb. 17, March 17, April 21 and May 19. The programs last approximately 30 minutes. 

It is still too risky to have in-person audiences. So in addition to the Luther Memorial website, they will be posted on:

The Just Bach home website at: https://justbach.org/concerts/

The Just Bach Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/JustBachSeries

And the Just Bach YouTube Channel, where previous concerts are still posted, at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcyVFEVsJwklHAx9riqSkXQ

Viewing the concerts is FREE, but the group asks those who are able, to help pay the musicians with tax-deductible donations at: https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=7A4R7CA8VDRMG&source=url

PLEASE NOTE: New this month will be a half-hour live ZOOM post-concert reception on this Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. CST. Those who would like to join us and chat with the performers can follow this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87144868956?pwd=aHUrR3BNZFF5Y1hlVG1EWkNvMklkQT09

The November concert opens with Just Bach co-founder, UW graduate student and nationally concertizing soprano Sarah Brailey (below), who will provide welcoming remarks and an overview of the program.

Our guest artists this month (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) are a quartet of string players from the Madison Symphony Orchestra: violinists Leanne League and Xavier Pleindoux; violist Marika Fischer Hoyt; and cellist Lindsey Crabb. Also performing is harpsichordist John Chappell Stowe, a professor in the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music. Dave Parminter is the videographer.

League and Pleindoux (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) will play the solo parts in the familiar and beautiful Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins (the ‘Bach Double’), BWV 1043.

Madison Symphony Orchestra audiences will remember their gorgeous performance of this piece at a Christmas Spectacular concert a couple of years back. (You can hear the beautiful and poignant slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The ensemble will continue with a movement from the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068, the serenely transcendent “Air on a G String.”

Sarah Brailey returns to lead the final chorale from Cantata 139, composed for the 23rd Sunday after Trinity, which happens to be this coming Sunday. The stirring title, Dahero Trotz der Höllen Heer! translates as “Therefore Defiance to the Host of Hell.”

We encourage viewers to sing along by following the chorale sheet music, which will be displayed on the screen, as Stowe accompanies on the organ. 

 


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UW-Madison alumna Kathryn Lounsbery gives a FREE virtual online talk this Tuesday night about how musicians can develop and market new skills during COVID

November 9, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

It is no secret that the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic have been especially hard on gig workers and artists worldwide –  hurting musicians financially and professionally as well as psychologically and artistically.

But this Tuesday night, Nov. 10, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. UW-Madison alumna Kathryn Lounsbery (below) will give a FREE virtual and interactive talk about developing marketable skills that can help carry musicians through the pandemic and beyond.

There is no in-person attendance. But here is a link to the live-streaming session of YouTube video: https://youtu.be/me1tC0LfEVU

Here is more information from the Mead Witter School of Music:

“Pure talent does not always equal a paycheck. Now, more than ever, musicians need to be savvy and employ out-of-the-box thinking with regards to their careers.

“Kathryn Lounsbery — a graduate of the UW-Madison School of Music — has taken her two classical piano degrees and crafted a life in music that includes teaching, performing, comedy, workshops, music-directing, cabaret and more.

“In this interactive session, she will pass on ways in which musicians can craft creative and rewarding careers for themselves, all while making a living.

“Lounsbery is a Los Angeles-based pianist, vocal coach, educator, comedian, music director, composer, arranger and educator. She holds a Master’s degree from the University of Southern California (2004) and a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2000).

“She has served on the faculty of The American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) for a decade. Many of her former students are currently on Broadway and have been in feature films and television shows. Prior to her tenure at AMDA, she was on the faculty at Sonoma State University.

“Lounsbery is endorsed by Roland Pianos and frequently gives concerts and clinics on their behalf across the U.S. and abroad.

“For seven years, she served as a Keyboard Editor at Alfred Music Publishing, the world’s largest educational music publisher.

“Lounsbery has worked alongside entertainment industry greats including David Foster, Jim Brickman, Evan Rachel Wood, Travis Barker, Kathy Najimy, Charlotte Rae, Laura Benanti and Aubrey Plaza to name a few. She has been a music coach for HBO, Showtime and ABC series.

“As a comedian, Kathryn was featured on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and has appeared at The Laugh Factory and The Improv, and has headlined at The World Famous Comedy Store. Her musical improv skills lead her to hold the position of music director at the famed Second City in Chicago for several years.

“Lounsbery is the creator and director of “Authenticity and Bad-Assery,” a popular performance-based workshop in Los Angeles. There is currently a waitlist to participate.

“She has toured the country with her solo show “Kathryn Lounsbery Presents Kathryn Lounsbery.” Her comedy videos have garnered millions of views and have been shown at film festivals around the world. (You can see a comedy beefcake video based on Beethoven’s “Pathetique” piano sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“She is also the music arranger on “The Potters” an animated feature to be released through Lionsgate in 2021.”

 


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UW-Madison’s new Marvin Rabin String Quartet makes its premiere when it performs a FREE online concert this Friday night

November 4, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Nov. 6, will see the premiere concert by the new Marvin Rabin String Quartet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music.

The concert takes place virtually and online on the music school’s YouTube channel. It is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. and run to 8 p.m.

Here is the direct link: https://youtu.be/ObJMMA220Jw

The new string quartet — which replaces The Hunt Quartet — is named in honor of the late Dr. Marvin J. Rabin, who was an internationally acclaimed music educator and Professor Emeritus at UW-Madison.

Rabin (below) is best known as the founder of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

The members of the Marvin Rabin String Quartet are graduate students at the UW-Madison.

Members are (below from top left) are: Fabio Saggin, viola; Ben Therrell, cello; Ava Shadmani, violin; and Rachel Reese-Kollmeyer, violin.

They will perform the virtual concert in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall of the Hamel Music Center.

There is NO in-person attendance

The program is:

String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 18, No. 6 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Two Armenian Miniatures for String Quartet –“The Red Shawl” (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom) and “Echmiadzin Dance” – by the Armenian priest Komitas (1869-1935, see 1902 photo below) as arranged by S. Aslamazyan

Here is Komitas’ Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Komitas

15-MINUTE INTERMISSION

String Quartet in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2 by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

 


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The UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra will provide a welcome break on Election Night

November 1, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you find yourself needing some relief or a short break from vote counting and the barrage of election news this coming Tuesday night, Nov. 3, the masked and socially distanced UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) fits the bill.

The group’s refreshingly short, one-hour and intermission-free online video premiere begins at 7 p.m. CST on YouTube. There is no fee for watching the event in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall in the Hamel Music Center, although donations are welcome.

No in-person attendance is allowed.

The program features “Strum” (1981) by Jessie Montgomery (below, in a photo by Jiyang Chen); the famous and familiar Adagietto from the Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler (which you can hear with conductor Claudio Abbado in the YouTube video at the bottom); and the youthful Sinfonia No. 7 in D minor by Felix Mendelssohn, who wrote 13 of the string symphonies between the ages of 12 and 14.

 

Here is a direct link to the UW-Madison music school’s YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/TMNCy9qooCM

Just a personal note of appreciation and encouragement from The Ear: If you are a fan of orchestral music and pay attention to the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Middleton Community Orchestra, for example, then you owe to it yourself to become acquainted with the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra if you don’t already know it.

It is that good, as you can hear for yourself in this virtual concert during the pandemic. You will probably find yourself wanting to hear more.

The programs are outstanding and often feature neglected, modern and contemporary music as well as classic repertoire, and the playing is usually first-rate.

The orchestra sounds exceptionally good, often even professional, under its new conductor Oriol Sans (below), a native of Spain who arrived here last season from a post at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Sans has provided remarkable leadership both in the orchestra’s programs and in accompanying the University Opera productions and the UW Choral Union.

For more information, including the names of the orchestra’s members, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-madison-symphony-orchestra-video-premiere/

If you listen to it, please let us know: What did you think?

Did the performances please or impress you?

Did you like or dislike the scheduling on Election Night?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The Pro Arte Quartet plays the fourth installment of its FREE Beethoven string quartet cycle online TONIGHT at 7:30 CDT

October 23, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The historic Pro Arte Quartet, in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, will perform the fourth installment of its FREE Beethoven string quartet cycle TONIGHT — Friday, Oct. 23 — at 7:30 p.m. CDT. (It should be posted for about a day, but will not be archived due to copyright considerations.)

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the live concert will take place online and will be live-streamed without an audience from the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall in the new Hamel Music Center.

You can stream it live from https://youtu.be/IhmNRNiI3RM

The whole series of concerts are part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s yearlong retrospective to celebrate the Beethoven Year. This December marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of the composer (below).

Members of the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) are: David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violins; Sally Chisholm, viola; and Parry Karp, cello.

A pre-concert lecture by UW-Madison musicology Professor Charles Dill (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) starts at 7:30 p.m. CDT.

The program consists of one early and one late quartet: the string Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18 No. 4 (1798-1800), and you can hear the first movement played by the Dover Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom; and the String Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 127 (1825).

The Pro Arte Quartet is one of the world’s most distinguished string quartets. Founded by conservatory students in Brussels in 1912, it became one of the most celebrated ensembles in Europe in the first half of the 20th century and was named Court Quartet to the Queen of Belgium.

Its world reputation blossomed in 1919 when the quartet (below, in 1928) began the first of many tours that enticed notable composers such as Bartok, Barber, Milhaud, Honegger, Martin and Casella to write new works for the ensemble.

The Pro Arte Quartet performs throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia and continues to champion both standard repertoire and new music.

Since being stranded in the U.S. when Belgium was invaded by Hitler and the Nazis in World War II, the group is an ensemble-in-residence at the Mead Witter School of Music and resident quartet of the Chazen Museum of Art.

The quartet, the longest active string quartet in the history of music, has performed at the White House and, during the centennial celebration, played for the King’s Counselor in Belgium.

Recent projects include the complete quartets of Bartok and Shostakovich and, in collaboration with the Orion and Emerson String Quartets, the complete quartets of Beethoven.

Regular chamber music collaborators that perform with Pro Arte include Samuel Rhodes and Nobuko Imai, viola; Bonnie Hampton, cello; and the late Leon Fleischer and Christopher Taylor, piano. 

Together since 1995, the quartet has recorded works of Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Rhodes, Shapey, Sessions, Fennelly, Diesendruck, Lehrdahl and the centennial commissions.

For more information and background, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-beethoven-string-quartet-cycle-program-iv/

For more about the challenges and modifications – including wearing masks and social distancing — of doing the Beethoven cycle for the virtual online performances and about the other dates and programs in the cycle, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/09/29/classical-music-uw-madisons-pro-arte-quartet-to-resume-its-free-beethoven-cycle-virtual-and-online-this-friday-night-with-two-other-programs-this-semester/

 


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University Opera’s original online video project celebrates the life and music of American composer Marc Blitzstein. It will be posted for FREE on YouTube this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m.

October 21, 2020
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

This fall, University Opera presents its first project of 2020-21 in video format as it turns to the music of the American composer Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964).

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” will be released free of charge on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music’s YouTube channel this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m. CDT at the general site www.youtube.com/meadwitterschoolofmusic or the official specific link: https://youtu.be/77FXFZucrWc.

Director of University Opera David Ronis (below top) is the director of the original production and will give introductory remarks. UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom) is the musical director. The production lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes, and features four singer-actors, a narrator and a piano.

Marc Blitzstein’s life story parallels some of the most important cultural currents in American history of the mid-20th-century.

Known for his musicals — most notably The Cradle Will Rock in 1937 (you can hear Dawn Upshaw sing the lovely song “I Wish It So” from “Juno” in the YouTube video at the bottom) — his opera Regina and his translation of Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, Blitzstein was an outspoken proponent of socially engaged art. Like many artists of his time, he joined the American Communist Party. But he also enthusiastically served in the U.S. Army during World War II (below, in 1943).

Nevertheless, in 1958, long after he had given up his Communist Party membership, Blitzstein (below) was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where he “named no names.”

An extremely gifted yet underappreciated composer, he was a close friend of and mentor to Leonard Bernstein (below right, with Blitzstein on the left) and traveled in a close circle of American composers including David Diamond and Aaron Copland.

Although openly gay, he married Eva Goldbeck in 1933. Sadly, she died three years later from complications due to anorexia.

Blitzstein’s own death was likewise tragic. In 1964, while in Martinique working on an opera about the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, he was robbed and badly beaten by three Portuguese sailors whom he had picked up at a bar. He died the next day of internal injuries. 

Although throughout his life and afterwards, Blitzstein’s work was championed by Bernstein and others, many claim that neither the composer nor his stunning music and beautiful lyrics ever received the attention they deserved. So University Opera is proud to present this show celebrating his life and his works.

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” is a unique production put together by David Ronis. A biographical pastiche, it tells the story of Blitzstein’s life by recontextualizing 23 songs and ensembles from his shows, juxtaposing them with spoken excerpts from his working notes and letters, and tying it all together with a narration.

The result is a dramatic, evocative and enjoyable portrait of Blitzstein’s life and his art, according to Ronis.

“We’ve discovered a lot of “silver linings” while working on this production,” says Ronis. “We were disappointed at not being able to do a normal staged show. But working with video has had tremendous artistic and educational value.

“Our students are learning on-camera technique, not to mention how to work with a green screen (below, with soprano Sarah Brailey), which allows for post-production editing and digital manipulation of backgrounds. They’re also working with spoken text as well as sung pieces. Mostly, we’re just very grateful to have a creative project to sink our teeth into during the pandemic. 

“And the music of Blitzstein is so fantastic, we’re very happy to be able to share it with our audience. This project is like none other I’ve ever done and we’re thinking that it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Research on the project was completed at the Wisconsin Historical Society, where Blitzstein’s archives are housed. University Opera gratefully acknowledges the help of both Mary Huelsbeck of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Television Research, and the Kurt Weill Foundation for their assistance with this project.

The cast features five UW-Madison graduate students: Sarah Brailey, Kenneth Hoversten, Justin Kroll, Lindsey Meekhof (below) and Steffen Silvis.

The video design was done by Dave Alcorn with costumes by Hyewon Park.

Others on the production staff include Will Preston, rehearsal pianist; Elisheva Pront, research assistant and assistant director; Dylan Thoren, production stage manager; Alec Hansen, assistant stage manager; Teresa Sarkela, storyboard creator; and Greg Silver, technical director.

The video will be accessible for 23 hours starting at 8 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 23. Although there will be no admission price for access, donations will be gratefully accepted. A link for donations will be posted with the video. 

University Opera, a cultural service of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, email opera@music.wisc.edu or visit music.wisc.edu.

 


Posted in Classical music
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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