By Jacob Stockinger
A friend and reviewer for this blog – his specialty is opera but he also is very experienced with the symphonic repertoire — sent in the following opinion piece.
It is being posted in the wake of the announcement by the Madison Symphony Orchestra of its 2017-18 season.
For reference, here is a link to the lineup of the next season’s concerts that was posted yesterday:
By Larry Wells
I received my subscription renewal package for the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) a couple of weeks ago, and I was struck then by how conservative and prosaic most of the offerings are.
I’ve mentioned my feelings to acquaintances, and one of the prevailing arguments is that they have to fill the seats.
The assumption seems to be that the patrons will only tolerate music written before 1850.
I’m 70 and I grew up with Stravinsky. I can recall the world premieres of Shostakovich’s final three symphonies. I once eagerly awaited recordings of Britten’s latest works. And I heard the first performances of several works by John Adams (below) while living in San Francisco in the 1980s.
If the assumption is that most reliable patrons are in their 70s and 80s, this seems like a dead-end (pardon the pun). There will be no audience in 20 years.
I believe that audiences can tolerate music of the 20th century — look at the glowing reviews of and enthusiastic ovations for last week’s performances of Witold Lutoslawski’s “Concerto for Orchestra’’ — and attracting younger patrons with bolder musical choices seems an economic necessity.
How can the MSO not be commemorating the centenary of Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell)? The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is performing several of his pieces in its upcoming season.
On a positive note, I was heartened to see that Benjamin Britten’s “Sinfonia da Requiem” is scheduled next season since that has been on my wish list for years. Likewise, Leos Janacek’s “Glagolitic Mass” is a nice surprise.
However, when will we hear Britten’s “War Requiem,” Bernstein’s “Mass” or “‘Songfest,” a symphony by Walter Piston (below top) or William Schuman (below middle) or Alan Hovhannes (below bottom)?
I’m really tired of going to concerts where only one of the works is of interest to me and the others are historic artifacts. I’d like to see a reversal wherein Brahms, Mozart and Beethoven are brought out occasionally, but the bulk of the music performed comes from the rich source of the 20th century.
What do you think?
Leave word in the COMMENT section.
By Jacob Stockinger
Over the years, The Ear has heard quite a few child prodigies, many of them impressive.
But he has heard only one Julian Rhee (below).
Rhee, from Brookfield, is a young Milwaukee area violinist who has won numerous awards from and has performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
Rhee will perform again with the WCO (below), playing the complete Brahms Violin Concerto — not just separate movements or excerpts — this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.
What makes Rhee so outstanding is that the level of his musicality matches his high technical mastery.
When he performed some of the Brahms concerto in the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Final Forte competition, which he won two years ago, all eyes and ears popped open with the first notes. You just knew right away who was going to win.
(You can hear the Final Forte introduction to Julian Rhee, which aired on Wisconsin Public Televisi0n, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Rhee’s playing exuded a maturity that even seasoned listeners did not expect. And the Brahms is a perfect vehicle to display his interpretive maturity as well as his technical virtuosity. Surely Rhee still has room to grow musically. But his mastery is already something to behold.
If you enjoy being able to say “I heard him when …,” this concert has all the hallmarks of being a must-hear, do-not-miss event.
But there are other attractions on the program, to be played under music director Andrew Sewell, who has again combined works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
Igor Stravinsky’s “L’histoire du soldat” (The Soldier’s Tale) will be performed with guest narrator Jim DeVita (below) of American Players Theatre in Spring Green. The story involves a soldier who sells his soul to the devil.
And there will also be the Symphony No. 102 in B-Flat Major by Franz Joseph Haydn, a composer whose style brings out the best in WCO music director and conductor Sewell (below), an accomplished interpreter of music from the Classical era.
To read Julian Rhee’s complete and impressive biography, and to find out more information about the program, the performers and tickets, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
A lot of holiday gift lists suggest recordings, videos and books related to classical music.
The Ear recently posted a link to the holiday gift guide by critics of The New York Times:
The Ear also offered the 2017 Grammy nominations for gift suggestions:
But The Ear thinks the best gift by far is LIVE music – a ticket to one or more of the many concerts that take place in the Madison area. You can’t beat live music for excitement, insight and enjoyment.
There may be more, but at least two major arts presenters in Madison are offering holiday discounts to make your gift-giving easier and more affordable.
MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Through Dec. 24, the Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering a special deal — two levels of tickets for $20 and $49. That includes values up to $89. Concerts in the next semester include two outstanding pianist soloists (Stephen Hough, below top, playing the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Egyptian” by Camille Saint-Saens and Philippe Bianconi playing the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, or “The Rach 3”) as well as the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms, the “Beyond the Score” performance about Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” (with actors from American Players Theatre in Spring Green) and Norwegian trumpet virtuoso Tina Thing Helseth (below bottom).
Here are two relevant links:
WISCONSIN UNION THEATER
Through Jan. 8, at the Wisconsin Union Theater will forego the $4 per ticket handling fee for any event, including the classical pianist and improviser Gabriela Montero (below top), the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra with its famous outgoing music director Edo de Wart conducting (below bottom).
Here is a link to shows for the second semester:
And of course discounts are not the only reason to choose a certain program or performer.
Whatever you are looking for — early music or new music, chamber music or orchestral music, art song recitals or choral music — you can find it in Madison, and usually at a very affordable price.
Lots of specific concerts at the UW-Madison and elsewhere are either free or low in price, as is the Middleton Community Orchestra.
Here are two links:
And you can find numerous other sites by Googling the organization’s name.
Combine a ticket to a live performance with a recording of a work or an artist, and maybe even include an invitation to be a companion, and you have a fine gift package that promises to be truly memorable.
Are there any other holiday deals the Ear hasn’t heard about?
Any suggestions or ideas for giving live music?
Leave word and links in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
By Larry Wells
In the past few years I’ve seen Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” set in the Spanish Civil War, Wagner’s Ring cycle re-imagined as the history of cinema, and Puccini’s “Turandot” presented as a performance by a traveling circus.
Thus, Verdi’s ‘Falstaff’ set in 1930’s Hollywood seemed a reasonable reinterpretation, and so it proved at its final performance Tuesday evening by University Opera.
“Falstaff,” drawn from three plays by Shakespeare, is Verdi’s final opera and a rare comedy. More importantly, gone are his familiar forms of a recitative followed by an aria with lots of oom-pa-pa orchestral accompaniment, now replaced with a conversational style that to me shows Wagner’s influence. It just doesn’t sound like Verdi, but it certainly sounds good.
I felt that the whole evening was a triumph.
The sets were beautifully dressed, the costumes were excellent and the lighting was effective.
The UW Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Smith, played wonderfully, although from where I sat the sound was occasionally muffled.
Thank goodness a new music building is being built, and I trust that there will be a theater within it that will accommodate operatic performances. The current Music Hall has its limitations, one being that much of the orchestra was playing underneath the stage and another being that for some reason the theater’s temperature cannot be controlled. It was stiflingly hot during the performance.
As for the singing and acting, the cast I saw was uniformly strong. Falstaff, performed by UW-Madison faculty member Paul Rowe (below), was very robust and was particularly affecting during his act III soliloquy. The Ear mentioned to me his Oliver Hardy mannerisms, and once I noticed that I was constantly amused.
Yanzelmalee Rivera as Alice was hilarious in her seduction scene and really came alive in Act III. Courtney Kayser as Meg was a compelling comic actress. Rebecca Buechel’s Mistress Quickly was an equally adept comic actress and had an excellent voice. Emily Weaver as Nannetta was a beautiful singer who shone in her third act moments as Queen of the Fairies. These four women had some outstanding ensemble moments, and I was constantly diverted by their antics as they outwitted the men.
Among the hapless male characters, Brian Schneider was a standout as Ford and the deep voice of Benjamin Schultz (below left, with Paul Rowe and Jiabao Zhang) made the minor character Pistola noticeable whenever he was on stage.
But the voice of the evening belonged to tenor José Daniel Muñiz (below right) as Fenton. He excelled not only in his solo moments but blended extremely well with his paramour Nannetta (Claire Powling, below left).
The outstanding ensemble work exhibited throughout the opera culminated in the grand fugue at the end of the opera, and the nearly full-house audience was blown away by those final moments. (You can hear the fugal finale, conducted by Sir George Solti, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The 1930’s Hollywood concept worked well. It seemed completely fitting and was undoubtedly more amusing than it would have been had the opera been set in the time of Henry IV.
“Well done” to the University Opera’s new full-time director David Ronis (below center) for his imagination and direction. I look forward to his production of Benjamin Britten’s “Turn of the Screw” in early March.
And since this University Opera production and other events are being presented to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the exhibition of a First Folio at the Chazen Museum of Art, I want to put in a plug for Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sir John in Love” which has almost exactly the same plot as “Falstaff” and is woefully underperformed.
I also want to draw your attention the FREE Opera Scenes concert by University Opera that will be presented this Tuesday night, Nov. 22, at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall. Featured are singers, with piano accompaniment, in scenes from: Charles Gounod’s “Faust”; Claudio Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea“; Giacomo Puccini‘s “La Rondine”; Leonard Bernstein‘s “Trouble in Tahiti”; Gioacchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”; Dominick Argento’s “Postcard From Morocco”; and Marc Blitzstein’s”Regina.”
The program features works by Igor Stravinsky, the Symphony No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven and the Concerto for Two Pianos by Francis Poulenc, with the Madison-born twin sisters Christina and Michelle Naughton as soloists.
By Jacob Stockinger
With less than a month left in the first semester’s concert schedule, the performances are really starting to pile up.
Tomorrow, on Sunday, Nov. 20, five groups will perform two FREE concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:
For more information and the complete program, go to:
For more information and the full program, go to:
Due to technical difficulties beyond his control at the web site host, The Ear cannot publish a new post today that has many links in the text. He apologizes and will let you know if and when the problems are solved. In the meantime, he will offer what he can.
By Jacob Stockinger
The following announcement has been sent for posting by The Ear by the Rural Musicians Forum:
Widely praised for his shimmering virtuosity and technical precision, violinist Alexander Ayers performs a FREE recital at 7:30 p.m. on this Monday, June 27, in a concert sponsored by the Rural Musicians Forum in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside Theater at Taliesin, south of Spring Green, Wisconsin.
Ayers (below, in a photo by O’Brien Photos of Waukesha), a native of Waukesha, Wisconsin, joined the Milwaukee Symphony in 2013. He was previously a member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
After studying nine years at the String Academy of Wisconsin-Milwaukee he studied at Indiana University, and in 2006 he won the grand prize of the Milwaukee Symphony Stars of Tomorrow Competition. This resulted in performances of the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Sergei Prokofiev with the MSO. He has performed collaboratively with Joshua Bell, Alex Kerr, Jaime Laredo, Gilles Apap and Soovin Kim.
Ayers’ June 27 program is international in scope. It includes works by German-born Ludwig van Beethoven and Parisian Camille Saint-Saens as well as the Belgian violinist and composer Eugene Ysaye and virtuosic Polish violinist Henryk Wieniawski, who was regarded by many as an exciting and flamboyant re-incarnation of Niccolo Paganini.
About the concert RMF Artistic Director Kent Mayfield said, “We are honored to work in close collaboration with Taliesin Preservation Inc. to host much of this year’s series at Taliesin’s Hillside Theater (below). It provides an especially dramatic but intimate setting for Ayers’ performance which will be totally consistent with Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision: imaginative, bold and beautiful.”
Hillside Theater is located at 6604 Highway 23, Spring Green.
The concert is not ticketed and is open to the public. A free-will offering will be taken to support the concert series.
For additional information and driving directions, see www.ruralmusiciansforum.org
By Jacob Stockinger
The Wisconsin Union Theater has announced some news:
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra with conductor Edo de Waart and Principal Cello Susan Babini will perform in Shannon Hall on Sunday afternoon, May 21, 2017 at 2:30 p.m.
The program includes the Overture to the opera “Don Giovanni,” K. 527, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; “Schelomo, A Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra” by Ernest Bloch; and the Symphony No. 1 in A-flat major, Opus 55, by Sir Edward Elgar.
Ticket prices are as follows: General public tickets are $49, $45 and $25, Union Member and non-UW students tickets are $44, $40 and $25, UW Faculty and Staff tickets cost $46, $42 and $25, UW-Madison student tickets cost $15, and youth tickets (age 6-18) cost $20, limit 2 with the purchase of a full-priced ticket.
This performance will be conductor and former music director Edo de Wart’s the second-t0-last concert as MSO’s chief conductor. (His final ones are performances of the Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler on the following weekend in Milwaukee ) He has served as conductor also for the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.
De Waart was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal, and was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia. He is also a knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion. De Waart also has vast experience in opera conducting, from the Santa Fe Opera House and the Metropolitan Opera to the Royal Opera House.
The performance is presented by the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Performing Arts Committee.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear is passing along the following announcement in time for you to mark your datebook and make plans:
For the 2016 summer season, the Rural Musicians Forum welcomes audiences to Taliesin, the historic estate of Frank Lloyd Wright, near Spring Green, and to the Wright-designed Wyoming Valley Cultural Arts Center.
In commenting on the venues for the series, RMF’s artistic director Kent Mayfield (below) said: “RMF is honored to work in close collaboration with Taliesin Preservation Inc. to host much of this year’s series at the Taliesin’s Hillside School Theater.
The Hillside Theater (below) provides a dramatic but intimate setting for performances totally consistent with Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision: imaginative, bold and beautiful. And, for its part, the Wyoming Valley Cultural Arts Center underscores the sustained vitality of that vision.”
Madison’s acclaimed harpsichordist, fortepianist, pianist and founder of the Madison Bach Musicians, Trevor Stephenson (below top) opens the 2016 season on June 13 with mezzo-soprano Margaret Fox (below bottom).
Violinist Alexander Ayers (below) follows on June 27. Ayers, earlier a player in the Madison Symphony and now a member of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, has been widely praised for his shimmering virtuosity and technical precision. (You can hear him perform the virtuosic Caprice No. 11 for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
July 11 brings on the memorable trio of Dan Barker (piano), Rob Shepherd (saxophone) and Cleo Ware (vocals) for an evening of glorious, nostalgic music by George Gershwin (below).
Clocks in Motion (below) brings its adventurous and absolutely contemporary percussion repertoire to Taliesin on July 25.
That will be followed on Aug. 8, by a showcase of captivating new music by the Madison-based wind quintet, Black Marigold (below).
The season closes with RMF’s annual “Music in the Fields,” on Sunday, Aug. 21. The Stellanovas’ evening of café jazz promises equal parts Hawaiian luau, Parisian wedding and mellow summer pleasure on the lawn at the Wyoming Valley Cultural Arts Center. The center is located at 6306 State Highway 23. (This event is ticketed.)
Now in its 35th season, RMF continues to provide all members of the community an opportunity to enjoy live music featuring a wide range of styles and combinations of music with performers of extraordinary ability.
Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. There is no ticket charge for concerts at Hillside Theater, but a freewill offering to support the series is taken. Given the unique appeal of the Taliesin location, early arrival for the concerts is recommended.
NOTE: Sorry, but The Ear has received no word about specific programs an works to be performed. He also doesn’t see them listed on the website for the Rural Musicians Forum.
ALERT: This Sunday at 2 p.m., Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN-FM 88.7 in the Madison area) will start a new weekly two-hour broadcast series. It features 13 weeks of live recorded concerts given by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. This Sunday’s music, conducted by MSO music director Edo de Waart, includes three outstanding works: the Four Sea Interludes from the opera “Peter Grimes” by Benjamin Britten; the beautiful Cello Concerto by Sir Edward Elgar with soloist Alisa Weilerstein; and the lyrical Symphony No. 8 in G Major by Antonin Dvorak.
For more information about the series and performers, visit:
By Jacob Stockinger
Just last year saw celebrations of Boulez, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, around the world.
That included one here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music by bassoonist and Professor Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) who studied and worked with Boulez and the famous Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris.
Professor Vallon generously agreed to write a personal reminiscence and appreciation of Pierre Boulez for The Ear.
Here it is:
By Marc Vallon
I had the privilege to work with Pierre Boulez in the early 1980s, a couple of years after he founded the Ensemble Intercontemporain (below) in Paris, the first-ever fully salaried ensemble devoted to contemporary music.
Boulez was a very demanding conductor (below) and everyone would come to the rehearsals very prepared. If you were not, you would likely take the sting of his sarcastic humor.
I remember a situation when the flutist kept fumbling on a tricky passage in Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony for Wind Instruments. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, he made the mistake of saying, “I don’t understand, it worked perfectly at home,” to which Boulez replied, “Well then, perhaps we should play the concert in your living room.”
I was involved in the first performance of the work often considered as Boulez’s masterpiece, Répons for orchestra and live electronics (heard at bottom in a YouTube video). It was a fascinating window into Boulez’s compositional process.
During the two-week rehearsal period, the parts would be collected after each session and would come back on our music stands the next day with numerous additions of grace notes and changed rhythms and dynamics. The longer we worked, the more intricate and multi-layered the piece became.
This is not surprising if one remembers Boulez’s definition of good music: It is complex and can be looked at from so many different angles that it ultimately resists full analysis.
Another important contribution that Boulez brought to the French musical scene, and the artistic world in general, was the often explosive radicalism of his ideas.
From “Schoenberg is dead” to “We have to blow up the opera houses,” who else would proclaim the end of serialism or attack the conservatism of established opera houses in such provocative terms?
Boulez’s public aversion to any artistic conservatism was, in the 1970s, a much-needed antidote to an international musical scene that was often too easily tempted to fill concert halls by programming symphonies by Tchaikovsky again and again.
It is still needed today. “Boulez est mort,” but his fight for the endless renewing of musical creation should go on.
For more obituaries and appreciations of Pierre Boulez, who served as music director of the New York Philharmonic and was a major guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, here are four sources:
National Public Radio or NPR:
And here is a terrific and insightful personal appreciation of Pierre Boulez, with a link to current issues and events in classical music, by Anthony Tommasini, the senior classical music critic for The New York Times:
ALERT: This Saturday, from noon to 1 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church, downtown on the Capitol Square, Madison Music Makers will give a FREE concert in the monthly Grace Presents series of music that includes works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Pachelbel, Antonio Vivaldi and Ludwig van Beethoven as well as popular music, country music and American, Bolivian, French, German, Jewish, English folksongs. Founded in 2007 by Bonnie Green and sponsored by many individuals and groups, including the Madison public schools, Madison Music Makers is dedicated to giving low-income students in the Madison area high-quality music lessons.
For more information about how to support or participate in the organization, visit: www.MadisonMusicMakers.org
By Jacob Stockinger
Nearly 400 young musicians will display their talents to the community during the three concerts, which are dedicated to private and school music teachers.
The Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s George Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, in Madison.
WYSO concerts are generally about an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.
Tickets are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and under.
WYSO’s Percussion Ensemble (below), led by director Vicki Jenks will kick off the concert series at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Immediately following the Percussion Ensemble, the Philharmonia Orchestra (below) and its conductor Michelle Kaebisch will take the stage and perform the Masquerade Suite by Aram Khachaturian; Reigger’s Rhythmic Dances; the Light Calvary Overture by Franz Von Suppe; and the Berceuse (Lullaby) and Finale from the “Firebird Suite” by Igor Stravinsky.
At 4 p.m. on Saturday, the Concert Orchestra (below) under the direction of conductor Christine Eckel will perform The Quest by Kerr, Romany Dances by DelBorgo and Slane by Douglas Wagner. The Concert Orchestra will also perform two works by John Williams in Star Wars: Episode 2 Attack of the Clones, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, which Williams co-composed with Alexandre Desplat.
Following the Concert Orchestra, WYSO’s string orchestra, Sinfonietta (below), will take the stage. Conductor Mark Leiser will lead the orchestra in seven works including the Adagio movement from the Symphony No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff; Silva’s The Evil Eye and the Hideous Heart; Edward MacDowell’s Alla Tarantella; Shenandoah arranged by Erik Morales, Forever Joyful and Lullaby to the Moon by Balmages; and the Entrance of the Queen of Sheba by George Frideric Handel.
On Sunday, Nov. 15, WYSO’s Harp Ensemble (below), under the direction of Karen Atz, will open the 1:30 p.m. concert.
Following the Harp Ensemble, the Youth Orchestra (below), under the baton of WYSO music director Maestro James Smith, will perform three pieces.
In honor of WYSO’s 50th Anniversary, WYSO welcomes back one of their illustrious alumni, violist Vicki Powell (below). Powell began her vibrant musical career studying with UW-Madison faculty members Eugene Purdue and Sally Chisholm, who plays with the Pro Arte Quartet.
From there, she graduated from the Julliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music. She has performed as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Milwaukee Symphony, and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. For her full bio, please visit our website at http://www.wysomusic.org/evelyn-steenbock-fall-concerts/vicki-powell.
Vicki Powell, along with the Youth Orchestra will perform the Concerto for Viola and Orchestra by Bela Bartok. (You can hear the rhapsodic slow first movement played by Yuri Bashmet and the Berlin Philharmonic in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Following that performance, the Youth Orchestra will continue the concert with Rainbow Body by Theofanidis and the Symphony No. 9 by Dmitri Shostakovich.
This project is supported by Dane Arts with additional funds from the Evjue Foundation, Inc. charitable arm of The Capital Times. This project is also supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.
For more information about WYSO, visit: