The Well-Tempered Ear

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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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 ink: 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.

 


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Classical music: FREE Handel aria concert by area high school singers is this Saturday afternoon at Capitol Lakes

January 23, 2019
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature flutist Marilyn Chohaney, of The Oakwood Chamber Players, with pianist Joseph Ross and clarinetist James Smith. The program is salon music by Arnold Bax, Florent Schmitt, Claude Debussy and Dmitri Shostakovich. Sorry, no titles have been given. The concerts run from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

On this coming Saturday afternoon, Jan. 26 at 2 p.m. at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street – two blocks off the Capitol Square — there will be an hour-long program featuring five young singers performing Handel arias.

There will also be a guest performance of a Handel duet by the Handel Aria Competition’s new artistic director Sarah Brailey (below top) and founding artistic director Cheryl Bensman-Rowe (below bottom).

You can hear Brailey, who won the Handel Aria Competition in 2015  and is now doing graduate work at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music while pursuing her growing career, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Karlos Moser, professor emeritus of the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music’s opera program, will accompany on the piano.

The performance is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

“Our goal is to encourage high school singers in the Madison, Wisconsin area to explore works from Handel’s vocal repertoire,” says Brailey.

All participating high school singers will receive a $100 Handel Aria Competition scholarship towards voice lessons or membership in the Madison Youth Choirs.

The high school singers who will perform are: Allana Beilke from Madison West High School; Daphne Buan from Verona Area High School; Ava DeCroix from Middleton High School; Cecilia League from McFarland High School; and Virginia Morgan from Madison West High School.

The students are all very active in the local arts scene and have participated in Wisconsin Badger All-State Choir, the Madison Opera Youth Apprentice Program, the Madison Symphony Chorus, the 50th anniversary Wisconsin School Music Association State Honors Treble Choir, and have won numerous awards in the National Association for Teachers of Singing Student Auditions and the State Solo and Ensemble Festival.

The program will include selections from operas and oratorios “Agrippina,” “Joshua,” “L’Allegro,” “Semele” and “Solomon.”


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Classical music: Rehearsals for the Madison Summer Choir’s 10th anniversary concert, featuring the Mass in D minor by Bruckner on July 18, start this Monday and Tuesday nights

June 10, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Each year since 2008, founder Ben Luedcke (below top) directs and rehearses the annual Madison Summer Choir (below bottom), which took the place of a summer choral concert dropped and defunded by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The choir sings a cappella as well as accompanied by piano and orchestra.

Membership and rehearsals start TOMORROW, June 11.

The choir rehearses on Monday and Tuesday nights from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Mills Hall at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music. The rehearsals last for six weeks.

Then on Wednesday, July 18, at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, across from Camp Randall Stadium, the Madison Summer Choir plus a pick-up orchestra will perform the Mass in D Minor by Anton Bruckner. (You can hear the opening Kyrie movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Sorry, no word has been received about ticket prices and availability, or about other possible works on the program.

For information about auditions, rehearsals and membership fees, go to:

http://www.madisonsummerchoir.org/join-us.html

Here is a link with more information about concerts this summer and in past summers:

http://www.madisonsummerchoir.org/concerts.html

Here is a link to the home website, where under “People” you can find background and a biography of Ben Luedcke and the names of the members in last summer’s choir:

http://www.madisonsummerchoir.org


Classical music: The second annual Mineral Point Chamber Festival – with both free and ticketed performances — takes place this coming weekend

June 5, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The summer music season in the Madison area — which kicks off big-time this weekend – just seems to get busier and busier.

The second annual Mineral Point Chamber Music Festival will take place this coming Friday through Sunday, June 8-10.

All the information — including ensembles, complete repertoire and concerts times and venues — is available at artsmp.org under “Chamber Music Festival.” You will also find there some extensive audio samples of the performers.

There are three ticketed concerts that will take place at the refurbished Mineral Point Opera House (below top, by Michael J. Smith, and bottom):

Tickets are $20, and a package pass for all three concerts is $49.

The schedule for ticketed events is:

On Friday night at 7:30 p.m., the cello-and-piano Artu Duo (below) from the University of Minnesota will perform music by Robert Schumann, Bohuslav Martinu and Ludwig van Beethoven.

On Saturday at 7:30 p.m. the Volante Winds (below) from Indiana University will perform music by Samuel Barber, Karl Pilss, Gyorgy Orban and Giulio Briccialdi.

On Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., the Altino Duo (below), from Madison, will perform music by Zoltan Kodaly, Maurice Ravel and Johan Halvorsen.

There are also two FREE concerts. They feature many other works by many other composers including George Frideric Handel, Johann Pachelbel, Felix Mendelssohn, Johannes Brahms, Richard Strauss, Jacques Ibert and Samuel Barber.

The first FREE concert is on Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. at the Congregational United Church of Christ, 300 Maiden St., and features Q&A sessions after each ensemble’s performance.

The second FREE concert — weather permitting — is on Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. in Library Park (below) and features the Festival Brass.

The festival’s director Peter Schmalz explains the philosophy of the festival, which strikes The Ear as a savvy way to host a festival of fine performers and great music for very reasonable ticket prices:

“We are a festival devoted to providing opportunity to emerging talent,” says Schmalz. “At least 50 percent of the membership of each ensemble must be currently enrolled students.

“This year we ran into an insoluble problem, when one member of the Zima Piano Trio from Indiana University could not be approved for employment because of her current status as an international student.

“Hence we have the last-minute substitution of the Altino Duo from Madison – cellist Leonardo Altino and violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino – who are both college professors and obviously not a student ensemble. (She teaches at the UW-Madison, and he teaches privately in Madison and at the Wheaton College Conservatory near Chicago.)

(Editor’s note: You can read more background about the Altinos, and about playing together as spouses, here: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/01/22/classical-music-what-is-it-like-to-play-music-with-a-spouse-local-wife-and-husband-violinist-and-cellist-open-the-winter-masterworks-season-of-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-with-the-brahms-double/

“The Altinos were very gracious about helping us in this situation, and will present a concert Sunday, June 10, of music that is included on their recently released CD “En voyage.”” (You can hear them perform the Duo for Violin and Cello by Zoltan Kodaly, which is on the recording, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

If you want to see the sponsors of the festival or become a sponsor, go to the bottom of the page at: http://www.artsmp.org/chamber-music-fest/


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