The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Choral Arts Society Chorale sings about immigration and longing for a home this Friday night. On Saturday night, the Mosaic Chamber Players offer piano trios by Beethoven and Brahms

April 26, 2018
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ALERT: The acclaimed Mosaic Chamber Players close out their current season on this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The program offers two of the most famous piano trios ever composed: the “Archduke” Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97, by Ludwig van Beethoven; and the Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8, by Johannes Brahms. Tickets are at the door, cash or check only, and cost $15, $10 for seniors and $5 for students.

For more information, go to: http://www.mosaicchamberplayers.com

By Jacob Stockinger

The theme of immigration only seems to grow as a timely and politically charged topic not only here in the U.S. but also around the world, especially in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

In another indication that the performing arts are returning to a socially activist role in the current political climate, immigration is the unifying theme of a concert by The Choral Arts Society Chorale of Madison (below), a local community chorus.

The group performs this Friday night, April 27, at 7 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1904 Winnebago Street, on Madison’s near east side, under the direction of the group’s artistic director Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below), who also founded and directs the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO).

The program, titled “Would You Harbor Me?,” features music about and by immigrants, and about longing for a home.

The centerpiece is the 1998 cantata “The Golden Door” for chorus and chamber ensemble by Ronald Perera (below). You can hear the “Names” section of the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The work is based on texts from the archives of Ellis Island (below).

Also on the program – drawn from different time periods and different cultures — are pieces by various composers. They include Leonard Bernstein; Palestrina; Heinrich Isaac; Sydney Guillaume; Sweet Honey in the Rock‘s Ysaye Barnwell on themes of leaving home and welcoming the stranger; and Irving Berlin‘s setting of the poem from the Statue of Liberty (below).

Tickets are $15; $10 for students $10, and re available at the door, or online at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/choral-arts-society-chorale-spring-concert-tickets-44453227801.

The complete program is: Ysaye Barnwell: “Would You Harbor Me”; Palestrina: “Super flumina Babylonis” (By the Waters of Babylon); Traditional Irish, arr. Peter Knight: “O Danny Boy”; Carlos Guastavino: “Pueblito, mi pueblo” (Little village, my village); Heinrich Isaac: “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen” (Innsbruck, I must leave you); Sydney Guillaume: Onè – Respè; Leonard Bernstein: “Somewhere” from “West Side Story”; Intermission; Ronald Perera: “The Golden Door”; Irving Berlin: “Give me your tired, your poor”

For more information about the group, go to: http://choralartsmadison.org


Classical music: Starting this Friday, the Madison Early Music Festival will devote a week to exploring familiar and unfamiliar Iberian music during the age of Cervantes. Part 1 of 2

July 2, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Friday, when the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) starts its week-long exploration of Iberian music during the Renaissance Age of novelist Miguel de Cervantes (below) and his pioneering novel “Don Quixote,” much will be familiar but much will also be new.

To provide a look at what to expect, the longtime co-artistic directors of the festival – wife-and-husband singers soprano Cheryl Bensman Rowe and baritone Paul Rowe (below) – provided the following overview through an email Q&A with The Ear.

All-festival passes are $90 and tickets to individual concerts cost $20, $10 for students.

Click here to buy online, call 608-265-ARTS (2787), or visit the Campus Arts Ticket Box Offices in Memorial Union or Vilas Hall (click here for hours).

(Note: All MEMF Concert Series concerts and lectures are free for participants in the MEMF Workshop. There is a $4 transaction fee per ticket when purchasing online or by phone.)

How successful is this year’s festival compared to others in terms of enrollment, budgets, performers, etc.? How does this program of MEMF’s reach nationally or even internationally compare to previous years?

We will have about 100 students at our workshop this summer, which has been a steady number for the past five years. Our budget increased to cover the big Don Quixote project by Piffaro, which you can read about below.

We continue to attract workshop participants and performers from all over the United States and Canada, and this year our concert series will present Xavier Diaz-Latorre from Spain. For more information, go to: www.xavierdiazlatorre.com

What is new and what is the same in terms of format, students, faculty members and performers?

The following events are new to MEMF this summer:

The Historical Harp Society will be giving a conference before MEMF begins, from Thursday, July 6 through Saturday, July 8, with classes and lectures that will culminate in a concert of Harp Music from the Spanish Golden Age on Friday, July 7, at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, which is FREE and open to the public. Go to www.historicalharpsociety.org

Master teacher and performer Xavier Diaz-Latorre  will be giving a master class in Morphy Recital Hall on Saturday, July 8, from 10 a.m. to noon. It is free and open to the public.

We have a new partnership with the Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies (LACIS) Program at UW-Madison. LACIS has helped us translate materials and supported MEMF with two grants. www.lacis.wisc.edu

A new display in the Memorial Library foyer will celebrate the 2017 Madison Early Music Festival with a special exhibit of Don Quixote Through the Ages, featuring a selection of books, musical scores, and other materials from the UW-Madison Libraries. While viewing the exhibition, patrons can scan a QR code and listen to a Spotify playlist featuring music that will be heard at the MEMF 2017 Concert Series! This is a MEMF first, created by co-artistic director Paul Rowe.

We worked with several librarians to select the materials: Paloma Celis-Carbajal, Ibero-American Studies and Romance Languages Librarian; Jeanette Casey, head of Mills Music Library; and Lisa Wettleson from Special Collections at Memorial Library (below, in a photo by Brent Nicastro).

Dates: June 26 – August 10, 2017

Location: Memorial Library foyer | 728 State Street | Madison

Library Hours: 8 a.m.-9:45 p.m.

We have several new performers this year.

Xavier Diaz-Latorre, a vihuela player from Spain, and the ensemble Sonnambula from New York. Xavier is a world-renowned musician, and plays the vihuela, a Spanish Renaissance type of guitar, and the lute.

Xavier will perform a solo recital featuring music of the vihuela by composers Luis Narváez, Alonso Mudarra, Gaspar Sanz and Santiago de Murcia. The link below will give you more information about the predecessors to the guitar:

http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/~lsa/aboutLute/Vihuela.html

Daphna Mor and Kane Mathis will present a program featuring music from the geographic regions of Andalusia, North Africa, the Ottoman Empire and the Sephardic Diaspora. Based on the monophonic music of modes referred to as the Makam, the audience will be drawn to distinct beauty and great similarities of music from the courts, liturgical forms, dance airs and folk music.

Daphna Mor (below top) sings and plays several historical wind instruments, and Kane Mathis (below bottom) plays the oud, a lute type of stringed instrument with 11 or 13 strings grouped in 5 or 6 courses, commonly used in Middle Eastern music.

Percussionist Shane Shanahan (below) will join them. Shane is an original member of the Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma and a Grammy award winner. https://www.stepsnyc.com/faculty/bio/Shane-Shanahan/

And watch Shane play frame drum in the Cave Temples of Dunhuang at the Getty Museum:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQjC3y6CXQ8

Hear and read about Daphna Mor: http://www.daphnamor.com/

You can watch Kane Mathis play the oud at this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tHrxEohai8

Sonnambula (below), an ensemble of violins and viol da gambas, has performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and have a regular series at the Hispanic Society of America in New York. It played a sold-out program of Spanish Golden Age works drawn from the over 450 pieces in the Cancionero Musical de Palacio, a manuscript at the Royal Palace of Madrid. This same program will be presented at MEMF on Friday, July 14. (You can hear them perform Spanish music in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

www.sonnambula.org

Why was the theme of the Spain’s Golden Age and The Age of Cervantes and Don Quixote chosen for the festival? What composers and works will be highlighted?

We liked the connection with last year’s theme, Shakespeare 400, because, although they never knew one another, Cervantes and Shakespeare (below) were contemporaries and share a “deathaversary,” as they both died on April 23, 1616. They led quite different lives, as Shakespeare was very successful throughout his lifetime and Cervantes wasn’t well known until the end of his life, when Don Quixote was published in 1605.

http://www.dw.com/en/shakespeare-and-cervantes-two-geniuses-and-one-death-date/a-19203237

Also, the Renaissance band Piffaro (below, in a photo by Church Street Studios) — an ensemble from Philadelphia that is well loved by MEMF audiences — suggested we explore this connection to Don Quixote and present their program The Musical World of Don Quixote, a huge project that they have been researching for several years.

They created a musical soundtrack to the novel in chronological order, and their program will open our 2017 concert series. This link from the Early Music America article “Piffaro Tilts At Musical Windmills” will tell you about their project in depth:

https://www.earlymusicamerica.org/web-articles/emag-piffaro-tilts-at-musical-windmills/

www.piffaro.org

The other concerts in the series draw from the music that is mentioned in Don Quixote and from the Spanish Renaissance, known as Siglo de Oro, or the Century of Gold. Many composers from this time period will be represented: Tomás Luis de VictoriaCristóbal de MoralesFrancisco GuerreroLuis de Milán and Alonso Lobo

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

https://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/concerts.htm

Check out our website for the most up-to-date information and how to get tickets:

www.madisonearlymusic.org

Tomorrow: What makes Renaissance music in Spain different? What composers and music will be featured in concerts?


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Classical music: Bach, Beethoven and Brahms join beer and brats at the Wisconsin Union Theater’s new FREE Summer Serenades starting this Sunday afternoon at the Union Terrace

June 13, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Spread the word but get your seat early!

This coming Sunday afternoon, beer and brats are about to mix with Bach, Beethoven and Brahms at Madison’s premier summer watering hole when the new FREE Summer Serenades begin at the landmark Union Terrace (below).

The Ear likes that combination a lot along with classical concerts that last only about an hour. No details on the programs yet, but hey — for an hour you can be a sport and chance it.

“Casual high-brow” increasingly seems the way to go, especially in Madison. And fittingly, a lot of the performers chosen by the Wisconsin Union Theater have ties to the UW-Madison as professors, graduates and students.

All hour-long concerts are FREE and take place on Sundays at 5 p.m., except on July 2, which will begin at 5:30 p.m.

The Willy Street Chamber Players (below)
Sunday, June 18, 2017

Named 2016 Musicians of the Year by The Well-Tempered Ear Blog, their programming is adventurous, combining beloved classics and new music from contemporary composers.

Stephanie Jutt, flute (below top) and Thomas Kasdorf, piano (below bottom)

Sunday, July 2, 2017 at 5:30

Two of Madison’s most esteemed musicians will delight with melodies from their upcoming CD and will celebrate the Fourth of July weekend with patriotic tunes.

 Isthmus Brass

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Comprised of the finest professional brass players in the Midwest, Isthmus Brass (below) is Wisconsin’s premiere large brass ensemble. It has performed on concert series and music festivals throughout the Midwest.

An Evening of Arias and Art Songs

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Hear a fun night of comic and classic melodies from your favorite operas. It features extraordinary lead singers from the School of Music and UW Opera Theater. Among them: Katie Anderson, soprano (below top); Courtney Kayser, mezzo-soprano (below middle); José Muñiz, tenor (below bottom); and accompanist Thomas Kasdof, piano.

Sound Out Loud and Lucia String Quartet

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sound Out Loud (below) specializes in contemporary music from the early 20th century to the present. They expand the realm of possibilities within contemporary chamber music repertoire through the implementation of experimental techniques, the incorporation of a variety of instruments and musical styles from the Middle East and Asia, innovative performance practice, and the use of live electronics.

The Lucia String Quartet (below) has been performing at events throughout the Midwest for over 15 years. The string quartet’s repertoire puts a fresh spin on many favorite rock/pop songs as well as eloquently performing classical pieces.

Summer Serenades are presented by the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Performing Arts Committee with support from the Bill and Char Johnson Classical summer Concert Series Fund.

This is the inaugural season But Ralph Russo, director of the Wisconsin Union Theater, adds: “The 2017 Summer Serenades is a pilot program. The coordinator has put together an excellent program in a very short time and I’m confident we’ll see a good audience response.

“Assuming all goes well I’m hopeful it will continue for many summers to come. But we won’t know for certain until we do a thorough evaluation at the end of summer and determine if the donor is interested and willing to continue funding the program.”


Classical music education: Here are some highlights of Semester 2 during the upcoming season at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

August 14, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

The final schedules for the upcoming season by most major classical music groups in the area are now available.

Last but not least is the biggest of them all: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which offers some 300 events in a season, most of them FREE to the public.

UW logos

Some things are new. For example, you will note that the UW Choral Union has gone to just ONE performance instead of two, as in the past for many years.

Concert manager and director of public relations Kathy Esposito (below) writes:

Katherine Esposito

The UW-Madison School of Music is jazzed about its upcoming season and we’d like the world to know. Please make plans to attend!

Here is a link to the online calendar, which is now complete except for specific pieces on programs and last-minute changes: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Our events of 2015-2016 range from performances by a vocal dynamo (soprano Brenda Rae, Sept. 27) to an in-demand LA jazz woodwind musician (Bob Sheppard in April) plus an enterprising young brass quintet (Axiom Brass in October) and a dollop of world music in March (duoJalal). In addition, we offer ever-popular opera productions, faculty concerts and student ensembles ranging from classical to jazz to percussion.

Full concert calendar link: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Other social media connections include:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/

https://www.facebook.com/UWMadisonSchoolOfMusic

https://twitter.com/UWSOM

Our Newsletter, A Tempo!

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/

Hear our sound: https://soundcloud.com/uw-madisonsom

Here’s a partial list with highlights.

Semester 1 was posted yesterday, and here is a link to that:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/08/13/uw-highlights-semester-1/

Here are highlights of Semester 2:

SEMESTER 2

January 19-24: Student Recital Festival. The public is invited to our first free weeklong feast of music performed on all instruments by many of our students, both undergraduate and graduate. Morphy and Music Halls. Times and programs to be announced in late fall.  All events free. (Below is the scholarship-winning Perlman Piano Trio from several years ago.)

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/student-recital-festival/

Perlman-Trio Thomas Kasdorf piano, Eleanor Bartsch violin and Maureen Kelly cello

January 30: Our third “Schubertiade” (below) with pianists Martha Fischer, Bill Lutes, students, faculty and guests. Songs, chamber music and four-hand piano works, all composed by Franz Schubert.

Mills Hall, 8 PM.

Tickets $12.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/schubertiade-2016-the-music-of-franz-schubert/

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

February 12: Jazz singer Sharon Clark (below) with the UW Jazz Orchestra. Washington, D.C. standout Sharon Clark has brought festival and concert audiences to their feet across the U.S. and Europe. Her New York run drew raves from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and she won New York’s Bistro Award for Best Vocalist.

Music Hall, 8 PM. Free concert.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-artist-jazz-singer-sharon-clark-with-the-uw-jazz-orchestra/

Sharon Clark

February 14: Symphony Showcase Concerto Winners Solo Recitals. The best performers of 2015-2016, graduate and undergraduate, from the UW-Madison School of Music. Bring your Valentine! Click the link below to watch videos. (Below top is the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra; below bottom are the concerto winners in 2015.)

Mills Hall, 7:30 PM.

Tickets $10.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/symphony-showcase-concerto-winners-solo-recital/

uw concerto winner 2014 big audience Michael R. Anderson

2014 Concerto Winners

February 26: Pianist Christopher Taylor in solo recital.  “We in Wisconsin are privileged to call Christopher Taylor (below) one of our own,” wrote reviewer Jessica Courtier in the Capital Times following his performances last spring with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Taylor is also known for his work inventing a digital double keyboard piano, now being built.

Mills Hall, 8 PM.

Tickets $15.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/christopher-taylor-piano-faculty-concert/

Christopher Taylor new profile

March 11-13-15: University Opera presents “Transformations” (Conrad Susa (below top)/Anne Sexton below bottom). Directed by David Ronis, music conducted by Kyle Knox. Susa’s chamber opera for eight singers and eight players, is an adult re-telling of 10 classic fairy tales (among them, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel) as seen through the eyes of poet Anne Sexton. Sexton’s struggle with mental illness frames the darkly humorous, and audaciously recounted tales, filled with mid-20-century references, both literary and musical. (You can hear excerpts and a summary in a YouTube video at the bottom;)

Music Hall.

$25/$20/$10

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-transformations/

Conrad Susa

anne sexton

March 14: duoJalal (below) with Kathryn Lockwood and Yousif Sheronick, the wife-and-husband viola and percussion global chamber music duo. From their chamber music foundation, duoJalal moves from Classical to Klezmer, Middle Eastern to Jazz, with a skillful confluence that is natural, exploratory and passionate.

Morphy Hall, 7:30 PM.

Tickets $15.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/duojalal-viola-percussion-guest-artists/

Kathryn Lockwood and Yousif Sheronick

April 26-28-29: Jazz Immersion Week. A weeklong residency with LA-based Bob Sheppard (below), worldwide multi-woodwind performer, recording artist, and jazz musician. Also featuring UW Jazz Ensembles, the UW Jazz Orchestra, the UW High School Honors Jazz Band, and the Johannes Wallmann Quintet.

April 26: Bob Sheppard with the UW-Madison Composers Septet & Contemporary Jazz Ensemble. Free concert.

April 28: Bob Sheppard with the Johannes Wallmann Quintet. Tickets $15.

April 29: Bob Sheppard with the UW Jazz Orchestra & High School Honors Jazz Band. Tickets $15.

Buy tickets for both concerts for $25.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/jazz-bob-sheppard-guest-artist/

Tickets sold through the Campus Arts Ticketing Box Office online or in person. You may also buy day of show.

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/location.html

bob sheppard

 


Classical music: Maestro John DeMain talks about the challenges and rewards of Beethoven’s “Ninth” – the “Choral” or “Ode to Joy” symphony that he will conduct this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Symphony Chorus plus soloists.

May 4, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

It could well be a case of saving the best for last.

This weekend brings what, for The Ear, is the one of the most interesting programs – maybe THE most interesting program — of the season from the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The sonic combination of a Romantic classic and post-World War II modern music includes the performance of a major symphony that is a beloved icon around the world: the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven (below), also known as the “Choral” and “Ode to Joy” symphony.

Beethoven big

The Ninth was the symphony that Leonard Bernstein famously conducted in Germany to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall.

So what better offering to accompany it than something composed by Bernstein – his 1954 “Serenade” for solo violin and orchestra, with MSO concertmaster Naha Greenholtz, that is based on the Socratic dialogue “Symposium” by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. (Greenholtz will talk about the Bernstein work in a Q&A here later this week.)

Love and joy: Can there be a better way to finish out a season?

The program will be performed under the baton of longtime MSO music director John DeMain, who studied and worked with Leonard Bernstein. It will feature the Madison Symphony Chorus, as prepared by MSO assistant conductor Beverly Taylor (below), who also heads the UW-Madison choral department.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

Guest vocal soloists are: soprano Melody Moore (below top); contralto Gwendolyn Brown (below second); tenor Eric Barry (below third); and bass Morris Robinson (below bottom).

Melody Moore

Gwendolyn Brown

Eric Barry

Morris Robinson

Performances are in Overture Hall in the Overture Center. Times are Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12-$84.

For details, go to https://www.madisonsymphony.org or call the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information, including audio samples and a link to program notes by MSO bass trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen, visit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/beethoven

Maestro DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) recently agreed to do an email Q&A about Beethoven’s Ninth with The Ear:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Why does Beethoven’s Ninth always appeal and what makes it an icon in the public mind? What makes it at the same time so revolutionary and so typically Beethoven?

Aside from the Ninth Symphony being a great musical composition, one cannot get away from the inclusion of the poem by Friedrich Schiller (below, in a painting by Ludovick Simanowiz). The “Ode to Joy” literally shouting that all men in our universe are brothers is what makes this symphony an icon in the public mind. (At bottom is a more informal street scene flash mob performance in a YouTube video that has more than 8 million hits.)

The first three movements are typically Beethoven in style, though consummate in his compositional development. It is the inclusion of voices in the last movement, and the length and structure of the last movement that makes this symphony truly revolutionary. This was the first symphony to have included a chorus and soloists for its final movement.

Friedrich Schiller by Ludovike Simanowiz

It isn’t hard to guess what meaning it holds for the public and why audiences find it popular. But what does this music do to you? How do you feel when you perform it and have finished it?

Music for me is a powerful aural emotional experience. While there is great beauty, majesty and excitement to be found in the first three movements, it is that last movement that fires up my own emotions, not dissimilar to what the listening audience is feeling as well.

Literally shouting for a united brotherhood on Earth under our Maker in heaven, Beethoven develops this movement from a lovely and simple melody in the beginning, to a massive and wild declaration at the end.

It is always a uniquely significant event, often conjuring up whatever injustices are occurring in our contemporary world. Certainly our challenges in the Middle East, and our domestic situations, most recently in St. Louis and Baltimore, will resonate in people’s minds as they listen to this music. It’s a call for harmony in the universe.

When you finish conducting the Beethoven Ninth, you are emotionally and physically drained having conducted not one, but two symphonies, as the last movement is a symphony unto itself.

John DeMain conducting 2

What are the challenges, technically and interpretatively, for you, as a conductor and for the orchestra players, the soloists and the chorus?

There is rather elaborate contrapuntal writing for the orchestra, which always poses a problem for ensemble and clarity. Length poses a challenge for endurance, particularly for the strings. The recitative sections for the orchestral basses as well as the soloist are particularly challenging for the conductor, as are the on the spot pull backs in tempo during the last movement.

We all know that the vocal writing is a challenge to both the soloists and the chorus, but particularly for the chorus. The high tessitura (average pitch range) of the writing makes it extremely difficult for the sopranos and tenors to sustain a thrilling fortissimo, for example. (Below is a photo of the Madison Symphony Chorus by Greg Anderson.)

Beethoven was completely deaf at this point in his life, and was writing what was in his mind, not paying particular attention to what was doable. But then, isn’t that how musical innovation and the stretching of form sometimes happen?

MSO Chorus from left CR Greg Anderson

Why did you choose to pair The Ninth with the Bernstein’s Serenade? Do you see certain parallels or contrasts?

Well, Lenny was a real devotee of Beethoven, and in this composition, he does marvelous things with the use of leitmotif. I love juxtaposing 20th century harmonies with the musical language of the early 19th century. Both composers use dissonance as a part of their language, but in very different ways.

The Serenade, while not specifically programmatic, deals with the various aspects of love, and relates to the Beethoven in that love has to be the basis that binds all men and women together.

I  also love featuring our wonderful concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz (below), and when she suggested the idea, I thought it would make a wonderful contrast to the Ninth, and fill out the concert in a truly wonderful way to close our season.

Naha Greenholtz [playing


Classical music: Get to know The Ear. For Christmas this year, The Ear gives readers an interview with him done by critic, radio host and blogger Paul Baker.

December 24, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Christmas Eve.

Lots of people exchange gifts today, rather than on Christmas Day.

So, does this post qualify as a Christmas gift?

I say: Why not?

But I’ll let readers decide and have the final word.

Recently, Paul Baker (below) visited The Ear and did an interview with him.

The topics ranged from personal background to taste about the music I like and dislike, and my adamant support for music education.

It may satisfy some people who want to know more about The Ear.

Paul Baker

Baker, as you may know, works in communications at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, which just marked its 50th anniversary at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Baker specializes in jazz and was a freelance reviewer for The Ear when The Ear worked as the arts editor at The Capital Times.

For years, Baker hosted “Caravan,” a show of Middle Eastern and Arabic music.

He has hosted for WORT FM 89.9 in past years.

“I have volunteered as a radio music host sporadically since undergraduate days at the University of Kentucky-Lexington,” says Baker.

Paul Baker at WSUM

Now he has a weekly show –- “Strings Only” -– that airs on Wednesdays from 1 to 2 p.m. on the UW-Madison student radio station WSUM 91.7 FM, which is quite distinguished by the awards it has won and quite varied in its offerings and scheduled programs, as you can see from the website below:

http://wsum.org

Here is a link to the 2005 background story by the UW-Madison News Service about Paul Baker:

http://www.news.wisc.edu/11801

Here is a link to Paul Baker’s music blog, which, among other things, features record reviews as well as feature stories and profiles – especially notable is the one about the prominent Madison luthier, or violin maker, Ralph Rabin (below, in a photo by Paul Baker), who also is the son of the late Marvin Rabin, the internationally famed music educator and founder-conductor of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO):

https://onlystringswsum.wordpress.com

Ralph Rabin in shop 1 Paul Baker

Finally, here is a link to his blog and the interview with me, The Ear. It is entitled “The Well-Tempered Writer”:

https://onlystringswsum.wordpress.com/2014/11/26/the-well-tempered-writer/

Merry Christmas!!

 


Classical music Q&A: Stage director Tara Faircloth talks about her staging of Beethoven’s only opera “Fidelio.” The Madison Opera performs it this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

November 17, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Political prisoners and prisoners of conscience are the hot topics of an old opera that is celebrating its bicentennial this year.

When you look around the world and see the struggle in fighting terrorism, religious intolerance and political tyranny as well as the difficult and thwarted stirrings of democracy in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, “Fidelio” — the only opera composed by Ludwig van Beethoven (below) — seems a timely and even inspired choice to stage.

Beethoven big

That is exactly what the Madison Opera will do in Overture Hall of the Overture Center this Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. The opera will be sung in German with English supertitles.

Single tickets are $18-$125. Call (608) 258-4141 or visit the Overture Center box office.

Here is a link to more information, including a cast list and information about the production, which is based on the one done by the Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/fidelio/

Fidelio Set John Grigaitis Michigan Opera Theatre

A Madison Opera staged premiere, “Fidelio” is “a passionate ode to freedom, and the triumph of love over tyranny,” according to a press release from the Madison Opera.

“To rescue her husband, a political prisoner, the noblewoman Leonore (below, played by Alexandra LoBianco) disguises herself as a man and works at the prison where she believes her husband is held. Beethoven contrasts the evil of Don Pizarro, who has ordered his enemy imprisoned and starved, with the inner strength and bravery that enables Leonore to rescue her husband.

“Ranging from breathtaking arias to stunning choral music, Beethoven’s score is truly sublime, with an ever-building dramatic intensity that leaves audiences exhilarated. The famous “Prisoners’ Chorus” is one of the most beautiful choral tributes to freedom ever written, and one of the reasons Fidelio has resonated across the centuries.

Fidelio Alexandra LoBianco Leonore

“Madison Opera performed Fidelio in concert in November 1986, but this is the first time the company has presented the opera fully-staged. Sung in German with German dialogue and projected English translations, Fidelio is the only opera Beethoven ever wrote, premiering in its final form in 1814.

“Fidelio is a truly great opera,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s General Director. “It has both light and dark moments, with real emotion underlying the intense drama. Above all, the score is a masterpiece from one of classical music’s greatest composers.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

“Fidelio” also marks the start of Madison Opera’s 10th season in Overture Hall, whose exceptional acoustics have been a primary factor in the company’s growth and success.

“It is absolutely thrilling for me to finally have a chance to conduct Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the Madison Opera’s Artistic Director and conductor who is also the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. “I have loved this music passionately for years, and can’t wait to perform this great work in the acoustic splendor of Overture Hall. We have a thrilling cast of singers, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, all up to the demands of the mighty Beethoven.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Pre-opera talks will be hosted by Kathryn Smith one hour prior to each performance.

Here is a background story, with more interviews, written by Mike Muckian that appeared in the Wisconsin Gazette.

http://www.wisconsingazette.com/music/fidelio-beethovens-struggle-madison-operas-reward.html

And here is an email Q&A that stage director that Tara Faircloth (below), who is making her Madison Opera debut, granted to The Ear:

Fidelio Tara Faircloth

Can you briefly introduce yourself, with some background and current activities as well as future projects and plans?

A Georgia native, I make my home in Houston, Texas, in a 1935 Art & Crafts bungalow that I am slowly renovating and restoring. I work primarily in opera, and take special pleasure in my work with young people: I am a semi-regular director at Wolf Trap Opera, and the dramatic coach for the fine singers in the Houston Grand Opera Studio.

Some of my most beloved projects have been a beautiful (if I do say so!) production of Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at Wolf Trap, a Dido & Aeneas with Houston’s Mercury Baroque in collaboration with the Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, and a very recent production of Claudio Monteverdi’s Il Ritorno di Ulisse at Rice University. I am very much looking forward to a new production of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at the Arizona Opera, and my first Le Nozze di Figaro, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, at the Atlanta Opera.

I like to create productions that are whimsical and humorous with intense moments of emotional connection.

How do you situate Beethoven’s “Fidelio” among other major opera and opera composers? What makes it special?

Fidelio is Beethoven’s only opera, a work that he re-wrote three times. It has been called a “secular oratorio,” and it is full of the passion that typifies so much of Beethoven’s work.

When listening to Beethoven’s music, I personally feel as if the score can barely contain all of the emotion he is trying to express, that it is stretched to its absolute limit, and somehow there is an underlying tension, a sense that if it were possible, he would want you to feel even more than he has been able to write down.

What is your overall concept of the opera? Do you see it as having to do with the Enlightenment and political movement toward democracy?

Fidelio has been subject to a multitude of interpretations since its inception. In many ways, the score is a blank slate: the characters are not described in great detail, there is no mention in the score of the exact political situation at hand, and even Florestan’s “crime” against Pizarro is not identified explicitly. Instead we have a story of brutal revenge versus great love: a universally appealing theme.

With its dream of a government free of tyranny, and the inherent worth of the individual man, Fidelio certainly has a very healthy dose of Enlightenment principles.

However, in many ways it may be seen as ushering in Romantic era ideals. It is full of sweeping emotional moments: perhaps the most famous is the Prisoners’ Chorus “O welche Lust” (at bottom in a YouTube video), which begins with an ecstatic appreciation of the beauty of a single breath of fresh air.

The fact that Beethoven gave the most beautiful music in the entire opera to a chorus of common prisoners shows us, I think, his belief that our connection to a higher power and our longing for freedom is inherent and universal to every man.

Does Beethoven’s opera hold lessons for today about current events?

As a director, I am not really one to look for lessons in our literature. Instead, I hope to engage our audience in a very human drama, to make them FEEL something and to connect with them. I think that experiencing music and drama in this way makes us more empathetic and open to other human beings, and that can only make the world a better place.

This is your debut in Madison. Do have impressions of the city, the opera and orchestra, either firsthand or through others?

I travel a lot for my work, and every time I have mentioned I will be in Madison, people simply gush about what a lovely place it is. In addition to the charming beauty of the city, I’ve noticed there seems to be a big focus on beer and cheese. So, basically it is heaven.

What you would you like to add or say?

Fidelio is an opera that is rarely performed. It takes massive forces: large orchestra, large chorus, and very large voices. I think we have quite a group assembled here, and hope your reading audience will take advantage of the opportunity to hear the work of one of the world’s most beloved composers.

 


Classical music: Today is Veterans Day in the U.S. and this week brings Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth nations including Great Britain, Canada and Australia. To honor veterans -– both military and civilian — The Ear plays the “Nimrod” section from Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.” What music would you play?

November 11, 2014
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ALERT: On this Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Guitar Ensemble, under the direction of UW-Madison professor Javier Calderon, will give a FREE concert of music by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Gilbert Bibarian and others.

Javier Calderon color

By Jacob Stockinger

He may be wrong, but The Ear does not think that Veterans Day — and Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth nations of the former British Empire — is just about war. And there is plenty of music one could play that aims to depict war and conflict.

But Veterans Day -– which was originally Armistice Day and was intended to mark the end of that vicious meat-grinder World War I that started 100 years ago this year and officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 –- is more about people and loss. So is Remembrance Day.

world war1 somme

Given the way “total war” has evolved and been waged since World War I — just look at the Middle East and ISIS these days — one has to wonder: Shouldn’t civilians, including women and children, also be honored? When war is waged, usually all suffer and all sacrifice.

Not that the armed forces don’t come at the head of the line and hold a special place in our thoughts.

But these days a Requiem for All seems fit and appropriate.

That is why The Ear can’t think of a more moving and quietly appropriate piece of music than the “Nimrod” section from the Edwardian era British composer Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations.

That is probably why the prize-winning and popular documentary filmmaker Ken Burns also used the same music, arranged for solo piano, in his 2007 epic film about World War II called, simply, ‘The War.”

Here it is, played by conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra  in a popular YouTube with more than 2.5 million hits — as a salute to all those who suffered and who served:

 

 


Classical music: A FREE “fusion” concert of Arab and Jewish art music will take place on this coming Saturday night on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Plus, the students of UW tenor James Doing will perform a FREE recital of songs and arias this Thursday night at 7.

April 2, 2014
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ALERT: Tomorrow, Thursday night at 7 p.m., University of Wisconsin-Madison tenor James Doing will present another of his FREE  studio recitals. It will feature 17 of his students (below, with Doing on the back row on the far right) — but this time NOT Doing himself — in various works, performed with piano accompaniment. The composers to be heard include George Frideric Handel, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gabriel Faure, Maurice Ravel, Henri Duparc, Leo Delibes, Manuel DeFalla, Giaocchino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi, Leonard Bernstein and William Bolcom. The Ear has found such recitals in the past extremely informative and extremely enjoyable, a model of teacher-student cooperation based on a kind of master-apprentice model. Here is my review of a previous such recital:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/02/16/classical-music-review-uw-tenor-james-doing-successfully-reinvents-the-art-song-recital/ 

2014 James Doing Studio USE

By Jacob Stockinger

It seems to The Ear that the Israel-Palestinian conflict has lately been on the back burner for the most part, though it is heating up again as the Palestinians threaten again to go to the United Nations for official statehood recognition .

israel palestine conflict

Still, that turmoil seems pretty much buried under the turmoil in Ukraine involving Russia’s annexation of Crimea; under the three week-long story of the missing Malaysian jet on its flight to Beijing; and under the tragedy of the massive and deadly mudslide near Seattle.

Add in the civil war in Syria, the student protests in Venezuela, concerns over Iran and nuclear proliferation and some African politics, and you can quickly understand why the Israelis and the Palestinians are less visible these days.

But although their disagreement may be less visible in the headlines, the Jewish-Arab problem is still there and is still urgent in its need to be solved.

After all, President Obama just returned from a trip to the Mideast where he met with to Saudi officials. And his administration continues to look for peace even as troubles from Palestinian rocket attacks to new Israeli construction on the West Bank, still plague the peace process.

So the Israel-Palestinian peace process, and the effort to secure a two-state solution, continues — or so one can hope.

With that background, it might seem that University of Wisconsin-Madison cellist Uri Vardi, who is an Israeli by birth and training, is following the current trend towards using art –- specifically music – to promote cross-cultural understanding and ultimately peace.

Uri Vardi with cello COLOR

If that goal seems far-fetched or distant, well you might recall that world-famous conductor Daniel Barenboim has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra that he founded with the late Palestinian literary scholar Edward Said to foster peace by bringing together Israeli and Palestinian young musicians for concerts and recordings.

West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, Carnegie Hall

And the universally acclaimed early music master Jordi Savall (below top) and his ensemble Hesperion XXI have just released to rave reviews their second CD volume of music (below bottom) that blends Arabic and European cultures.

savall

Jordi Savall Orient-Occident 2 CD cover

But Uri Vardi is anything but late to the game. For almost two decades he has been promoting such international understanding and peace efforts through art for a very long time through the Fusions Continuum Project.

This Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Vardi will play the cello and his friend and colleague Taiseer Elias will play the oud (below) -– a fretless, lute-like instrument that is the ancient ancestor of the guitar and of the entire string family including the violin, viola, cello and double bass.

oud

Taiseer Elias

They will be joined by pianist-composer Menachem Wiesenberg (below), who is seen performing one of his own compositions with our master Taseer Elias in a YouTube video at the bottom.

menachem wiesenberg with music

If you miss that performance, the concert will be repeated the next day, this Sunday, on “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” (below), which will be broadcast LIVE statewide on Wisconsin Public Radio from 12:30 to 2 p.m., and on Sunday night at a FREE concert in Milwaukee at 7 p.m. at the Rubinstein Pavilion, 1400 North Prospect Avenue. Then the trio will embark of a tour of the U.S.

SALsetupgallery

In 2008, Vardi and Elias – an acclaimed teacher and performer in Israeli — gave the world premiere in Madison in a specially composed Double Concerto for Oud and Cello by the American composer Joel Hoffman (below). It was premiered by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under conductor John DeMain, and it is the kind of cultural crossover project that has found similar success with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project.

Joel Hoffman

Here are three links to stories about Uri Vardi and the upcoming fusion concert of Arab and Israeli music:

The first is to the shorter story on the outstanding blog “Fanfare” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/acappella_taylorpiano_beatriceopera/

The second longer and more detailed story is a press release from the newsletter of the UW-Madison Department of Jewish Studies:

http://jewishstudies.wisc.edu/newsletter/winter2014/vardi/

And the third link will give you the full program:

http://jewishstudies.wisc.edu/arts/fusions/program/

What do you think of a project like this?

Can it be practical in the pursuit of peace and understanding?

Or does it remain pretty much irrelevant entertainment?

Leave your opinion in the COMMENT section of this blog.

The Ear wants to hear.

 

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Classical music is happening in Africa too.

March 11, 2012
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

What about Africa?

We hear a lot about classical music these days.

But the news and other stories usually comes from North America and South America, from Europe and Asia.

We even hear about classical music in the Middle East, especially about the joint Israeli-Palestinian East-West Divan Orchestra (below) founded by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said.

But we don’t ever hear much about classical music in Africa, which is more in the headlines these days for war and conflict, brutality and corruption.

And that strikes The Ear as too bad, as regrettable, even as reprehensible.

That silence about positive cultural life just ends up adding to the mythical and stereotypical “darkness” of the Dark Continent.

But it turns out that something important from a classical music point of view has indeed happened and is still happening in Africa.

Take a look at the story about the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra (below), now almost 20 years old, in the Democratic Republic of Congo in excerpts from a 2010 German-made documentary called “Kinshasa Symphony’ about the classical orchestra founded in Central Africa:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/03/06/148075689/kinshasa-symphony-an-ode-to-musical-joy-in-central-africa

And here is a link to a review of the documentary, with the inevitable tie-in to Beethoven and his Ninth Symphony:

http://www.nisimazine.eu/Kinshasa-Symphony.html

I sure hope the film comes to my area soon, perhaps in the upcoming Wisconsin Film Festival, or perhaps to the University of Wisconsin Madison campus.

I’ll let you know if I find out more news and features about classical music in Africa, and you please do the same for me.


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