By Jacob Stockinger
Stradivarius violins may be rare, but they have sure come in for their share of adventure in the past year and a half.
That story made national headlines.
Now comes word of a second Strad (below) that has been rescued 35 years after it was stolen.
This violin belonged to Roman Totenberg. He was the concertizing violinist and violin teacher at Boston University who was the father of the well-known and prize-winning legal affairs reporter for NPR, or National Public Radio, Nina Totenberg (below center with her two sisters). She is probably best known for her stories on the U.S. Supreme Court. When her father died in 2012 at 101, she also did a memorable obituary.
(At the bottom in a YouTube video, you can hear Roman Totenberg playing the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, with the Boston University Symphony Orchestra on the occasion of his 90th birthday.)
Roman Totenberg bought the so-called Ames Stradivarius for $15,000 in 1943. It is now said to be worth tens of millions of dollars after restoration. But his daughters promise it will be sold to a great violinist who will play it and perform with it as their father did — and not go into some museum or investment collection.
The story was all over the media -– maybe because it was good news amid so much bad news, a happy ending amid so many unhappy endings.
And what do you say when Nina Totenberg explains that her heart-broken father, who suspected who the thief was, moved on after the theft and bought another violin – a Guarneri del Jesu -– because he had personally suffered much bigger losses such as the deaths of his family in Nazi death camps during World War II.
That is perspective at a time when we sorely need perspective, especially about the worth of material objects versus humanist values.
Here is a story from NPR in which Nina Totenberg takes part and in which you can hear excerpts of her father playing a violin and piano sonata by Johannes Brahms and solo violin music by Johann Sebastian Bach:
And here is the big story it got in the New York Times:
By Jacob Stockinger
Four of Wisconsin’s most talented young musicians will perform in concert with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) as Wisconsin Public Television (WPT) and Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) offer a live broadcast of “Wisconsin Young Artists Compete: The Final Forte” at 7 p.m. this Wednesday night, March 25.
WPT will air an encore presentation 11 a.m. Sunday, March 29.
The Final Forte features (below) harpist Maya Pierick, a student at Madison West High School, violinist Julian Rhee, a student at Brookfield East High School, pianist Vivian Wilhelms, a student at Waunakee High School and pianist Isabella Wu, a student at Madison Memorial High School. (Below are, from left to right, pianists Isabella Wu and Vivian Wilhelms, violinist Julian Rhee and harpist Maya Pierick.)
The four young artists will perform in the Capitol Theater (below) of the Overture Center for the Arts with MSO music director John DeMain conducting the MSO as the four teenagers vie for honors and scholarship money in the 2015 Bolz Young Artist Competition.
Each finalist will perform a movement from a concerto while judges determine who will win scholarships. The winners will be announced at the end of the concert.
Be sure to include your name and the number in your party. We are expecting a full house, so if you make a reservation and are unable to attend, please let us know.
Audience members MUST be seated by 6:45 p.m.
Wisconsin Young Artists Compete: The Final Forte is a partnership of Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
Wisconsin Young Artists Compete: The Final Forte is part of WPT’s multi-year Young Performers Initiative, a statewide effort to raise the visibility of the arts, celebrate the creative achievements of Wisconsin’s young people and support the arts in education.
Major funding is provided by Diane Ballweg, Fred and Mary Mohs, Stephen D. Morton, and The Boldt Company, with additional funds from Sentry Insurance Foundation, AHMC Properties, A. Paul Jones Charitable Trust, Margaret C. Winston, W. Jerome Frautschi, James Dahlberg and Elsebet Lund, Larry and Julie Midtbo, Kato L. Perlman, Anne W. Bolz, and Friends of Wisconsin Public Television.
The Final Forte is the final round of the MSO’s Bolz Young Artist Competition. Young artists from across the state of Wisconsin competed in the Bolz Young Artist Competition’s two preliminary rounds for a chance to perform a movement from a concerto with the Madison Symphony Orchestra during the final round.
The 90-minute WPT program features profiles of each of the finalists.
Tune in to these ENCORE broadcasts:
HISTORIC COLLABORATION WINS AWARDS
The unique collaboration among the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below), Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television is producing award-winning programming. In addition to an Emmy Award nomination, the Final Forte earned First Place in the “Special Interest” category from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association in 2007 and was rated the fifth most-watched program in the February 2007 Nielsen ratings (the television audience was 63 percent greater than WPT’s average audience in the Madison market). The 2008 broadcasts on WPR and WPT reached more than 60,000 viewers in the Madison market alone and there were an estimated 200,000 statewide viewers and listeners for the 2009 broadcasts.
CONDUCTOR JOHN DEMAIN’S TAKE: “This has been a very auspicious partnership,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad). “The quality of the broadcasts and the performances of the finalists are simply spectacular. I think this sends a magnificent message to our community and to the entire state of Wisconsin about the importance and effectiveness of our music education programs. It is an extraordinary opportunity for everyone to feel the commitment and energy of these young performers and to reflect on the central role the arts play in our lives. I look forward to these events with great joy.”
DeMain will lead the MSO in the final movement of the Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120, by Robert Schumann while the four judges are evaluating the performers.
TO SUPPORT THIS PROGRAM
Please contact Director of Development Casey Oelkers at (608) 257-3734 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
HERE ARE BIOGRAPHIES OF THE FOUR PERFORMERS. YOU CAN ALSO FIND VIDEOS, DONE BY WISCONSIN PUBLIC TELEVISION, ABOUT THEM ON YOUTUBE. JUST PUT THEIR NAME OR “FINAL FORTE” INTO THE SEARCH ENGINE.
MAYA PIERICK, HARP
Maya Pierick, age 17, is a senior at Madison West High School. Having started early in Suzuki violin, she began playing harp at age eight with Karen Atz. She currently studies with Danis Kelly of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Maya has played harp in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) from 4th through 11th grade. After playing for 6 years at the Youth level under conductor James Smith, she toured Argentina with WYSO in 2014.
Maya’s realized her love of singing with choir director Heather Thorpe at First Unitarian Society. In high school she has furthered her achievements in voice by successfully auditioning into the Cantabile choir of the Madison Youth Choirs under the direction of Michael Ross, as well as West High School’s Concert Choir under the direction of Anthony Cao – with whom she recently completed a semester as teaching assistant to the Freshman Choir.
In her spare time Maya also enjoys dance, ceramics, circus arts and photography. In college, Maya plans to study Harp Performance and Physics.
She will play Marcel Tournier’s “Feerie” for Harp and Strings.
JULIAN RHEE, VIOLIN
Julian Rhee, age 14, is a freshman at Brookfield East High School. Julian recently won the 2015 Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Young Artist Competition; the 2015 Milwaukee Youth Symphony Concerto Competition; and the 2015 Concord Orchestra Dorothy J. Oestreich Concerto Competition. Also, Julian is one of the 11 violinists advancing to the semi-finals of the prestigious Johansen International Competition for Young String Players, where he will be traveling to Washington, D.C. representing Wisconsin.
Julian won the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Fall Youth Concerto competition in 2011 and 2013. Julian has performed with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, the Menomonee Symphony Orchestra, as well as being the youngest semi-finalist of the 2013 Stradivarius International Violin Competition at age 12.
In addition to violin, Julian has studied piano since age 7, and loves to read, play basketball and video games, and is an avid local sports team fan. Julian is Concertmaster of the Milwaukee Youth Senior Symphony Orchestra and is currently studying privately with Ms. Hye-Sun Lee at the Music Institute of Chicago.
He will perform the first movement of the Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77, by Johannes Brahms.
VIVIAN WILHELMS, PIANO
Vivian Wilhelms, 16, is a sophomore at Waunakee High School. Vivian began playing piano at age four and currently studies with Bill Lutes. In 2010, she was the winner of the MSO Fall Youth Concerto Competition, and in 2013, she was a winner of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) Youth Orchestra Concerto Competition. In 2014, she received first place in the UW Madison School of Music High School Piano Extravaganza Competition and was the runner-up in the WMTA Badger State Competition. This year, she also received an honorable mention in the Lacrosse Rising Star Concerto Competition. Vivian has studied violin with Janet Chisholm since she was eight years old and has been an active member of WYSO since 2011.
In school, Vivian is a member of the varsity forensics and Science Olympiad teams. She also loves volunteering as a mentor for beginning violinists through Madison’s Music Makers program and frequently visits the Waunakee Manor, a local retirement center. In her free time, Vivian enjoys swimming, writing, listening to music, and hanging out with her friends.
She will plays the second movement of the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor by Camille Sant-Saens.
ISABELLA WU, PIANO
Isabella Wu, 16, is a sophomore at Madison Memorial High School. She began piano at age 5 with Shu-Ching Chuang. Isabella won the 2010 and 2012 Madison Symphony Orchestra Fall Youth Concerto Competitions, the 2014 Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Youth Artist Competition, the 2014 Chippewa Valley Symphony Kristo Orthodontics Young Artist Competition, and received honorable mention at the 2013 Midwest Young Artists National Walgreens Concerto Competition. She also won the 2009 Wisconsin State Badger Competition and placed runner-up in the 2012 Music Teachers National Association Wisconsin State Competition.
Isabella additionally plays violin and studies with Liz Norton. A member of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) since 5th grade, she has won the Philharmonia Concerto Competition on violin, the Youth Concerto Competition on piano, and served as concertmaster and principal second.
This year, Isabella is a percussionist in her school’s highest band. Outside of music, she is a Mathcounts coach, Lincoln-Douglas debater, member of Future Business Leaders of America, and writes for the school newspaper. Isabella enjoys art, literature, and philosophy, and can be found wandering through the woods on bike or foot.
She will play the first movement of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 1, by Sergei Rachmaninoff.
By Jacob Stockinger
It has been a few years since the acclaimed and impressive Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below) –- still in the news (a link to a story on NPR, or National Public Radio, is below) because of the attempted theft of concertmaster Frank Almond’s $3-million Stradivarius violin — played an annual concert at the Wisconsin Union Theater. The Ear always looked forward to the top-flight playing and fine programs that the Milwaukee group brought to Madison.
But this week, the MSO, playing under an assistant conductor, will perform in nearby Edgerton at the Edgerton Performing Arts Center.
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra – without its music director Edo de Waart — will perform at the Edgerton Performing Arts Center on this coming Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door.
Here is some information from a press release: “The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, under the dynamic leadership of Music Director Edo de Waart, has embarked upon a new era of artistic excellence and critical acclaim. Now in his fifth season with the MSO, Maestro de Waart has led sold-out concerts, elicited rave reviews, and conducted an acclaimed performance at Carnegie Hall. The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra has four purposes: to comfort, educate, entertain and exhilarate the human soul.” For more information, visit www.mso.org
The concert will feature conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong and violin soloist Jeanyi Kim.
The program will include the Overture to the opera “Semiramide” by the Italian composer Gioachino Rossini (below top); the Concerto for Violin No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 22, by the well-traveled Polish violin virtuoso and composer Henryk Wieniawski (below middle); and the popular Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Opus 64, by the Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (below bottom). You can hear the tuneful and melancholy Tchaikovsky symphony, played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Bernstein, in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.
Jeanyi Kim (below) is the associate concertmaster (third chair) of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra. In 2007, she served as a guest assistant concertmaster of the London Symphony Orchestra under Sir Colin Davis and Valery Gergiev.
As an orchestral musician, the Toronto native has performed in illustrious venues around the world, including Carnegie Hall, the Barbican Centre, Salle Pleyel, and the Concertgebouw. In addition to maintaining a private studio, she has served on the faculties at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, University of New Haven, and Neighborhood Music School, to name a few.
She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Yale University, from which she also earned her BA, MM, and MMA degrees.
Francesco Lecce-Chong (below), currently associate conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, has worked with the Atlanta, Indianapolis, and St. Louis Symphony Orchestras, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Hong Kong, Pitesti (Romania), and Ruse (Bulgaria) philharmonic orchestras. Equally at ease in the opera house, Maestro Lecce-Chong has served as principal conductor for the Brooklyn Repertory Opera and as staff conductor for the Santa Fe Opera.
He has earned national distinction, including the Solti Foundation Career Assistance Award and The Presser Foundation Music Award. In summer 2014, he served as the associate conductor at the Grand Tetons Music Festival and had guest appearances with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Las Vegas Philharmonic and the Breckenridge Music Festival.
He is a graduate of the Mannes College of Music, where he received his Bachelor of Music degree with honors in piano and orchestral conducting. Lecce-Chong also holds a diploma from the Curtis Institute of Music.
Tickets are $30 in advance, $35 at the door. They are available at the Edgerton Pharmacy and Edgerton Piggly Wiggly; and in Janesville at Knapton Musik Knotes and Voigt Music Center, and by calling (608) 561-6093. Online, go to at iTickets.com
All performances funded by the William and Joyce Wartmann Endowment for the Performing Arts. An additional sponsor is the Edgerton Piggly Wiggly.
ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is the final performance of this season’s second concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John DeMain. Pianist Olga Kern (below) is the soloist in Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor. Other music includes the Suite from the ballet “Swan Lake” by Peter Tchaikovsky and the Symphony No. 6 by Dmitri Shostakovich. For information about tickets, the artists and the program, visit:
Here are reviews of Friday night’s opening night performance:
By John W. Barker of Isthmus:
By Jess Courtier for The Capital Times:
And by Greg Hettmansberger, who writes the Classically Speaking blog for Madison Magazine:
By Jacob Stockinger
The much admired but elusive, eccentric and enigmatic Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov (below) has signed up with Deutsche Grammophon and will release a live recital –- he refuses to make studio recordings – in January.
For the news plus an interesting interview and profile of Sokolov, here is a link to a story in the British magazine Gramophone. It includes some of his quirks such as not playing pianos older than five years and his specific repertoire favorites:
Italian conductor Daniele Gatti is named the new maestro of the famed Dutch Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam. He starts in 2016 and sounds like he might be quite a bit of a contrast to past Concertgebouw conductors such as Bernard Haitink. Here is a story:
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra continues its lockout over labor disputes, thereby postponing or canceling the opening of the new season. But last weekend ASO music director Robert Spano conducted the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in the German Requiem of Johannes Brahms.
Here is a link to a story on NPR (National Public Radio) to yet another turmoil in the world of American symphony orchestras:
EDITOR’S NOTE: Please note that some reviews of productions last weekend are being delayed to make room for previews of the many upcoming concerts and musical events this week.
By Jacob Stockinger
The prize-winning and critically acclaimed young Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan will make his Madison debut this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall for the Wisconsin Union Theater, which has been closed for two seasons while being renovated.
Barnatan’s MUST-HEAR program is ambitious and appealing; Franz Schubert’ late Sonata in G Major, the one that the young critic Robert Schumann praised so effusively; Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata, which was premiered by Vladimir Horowitz; the “Prelude, Chorale and Fugue” by the late French Romantic composer Cesar Franck that was a favorite of Arthur Rubinstein; and Maurice Ravel’s dazzling “La Valse” for solo piano.
Tickets are $25 for the general public; $10 for University of Wisconsin-Madison students. For more information about Inon Barnatan and his recital, including reviews, program notes, audio clips and ticket information, visit:
You might recall that Inon Barnatan won raves this past winter for his last-minute appearance with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under Edo de Waart when he stepped in to substitute for an ailing Radu Lupu and played the titanic Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor by Johannes Brahms.
In 2009, he won a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, and he has been recognized by the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.
The Ear has been listening to his recordings: from violin works (the last Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven and a Fantasy by Schubert) and his impressive readings of the famous last three sonatas and final impromptus and sonatas by Schubert to his performances of “Darkness Visible” by the contemporary British composer Thomas Ades. They all demonstrate his virtuoso technique but also his abundant musicality, subtle interpretations and full tone. Most impressive is his ability to play softly and lyrically. It leaves no doubt: Inon Barnatan is a major poet of the piano.
Clearly, Inon Baranatan is someone to watch, as his career continues to be extremely promising. You can listen to his interview for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in a YouTube video at the bottom. And here is a link to his own website:
And here is the email Q&A that Inon Barnatan did for The Ear:
You were just named the first-ever Artist in Association at the New York Philharmonic for the 2014-15 season. What plans do you have for that position? How could it affect your career?
What is so special for me about this position with the New York Philharmonic is that it is stretched over several seasons, so I will be performing with the orchestra both in New York and on the road for three consecutive seasons — which enables me to build a real relationship with this great orchestra as well as the audience. It removes a little of the pressure of the debut– since I know I will be coming back the following season and the one after that.
Of course there is pressure to live up to the expectations and the faith that the orchestra and Alan Gilbert (both below) have shown in me, but it feels wonderful to know that the organization is behind me from the get-go. This appointment has only recently been announced but has already had significant effect on my career. New York is the center of so many things and when the New York Philharmonic does something, people take notice! I really couldn’t be more thrilled with it.
How would you describe your approach to playing and interpreting music? Are there other musicians, and especially pianists, either historical or current, whom you admire and why?
I feel that we classical performers are like actors — we have a text that we try to internalize and bring to life, but ultimately it is not ourself that is being presented, but the character, or, in our case, the music, that is being communicated. A great actor like Meryl Streep becomes whichever role she is playing, embodying it in such a way that she herself disappears and becomes the role.
That is what I think my job as a performer is. I don’t want an audience to listen to me playing a piece — I would love for them to feel like the piece is being created at that very moment, the same way I would want to believe an actor IS the person that they are playing, not merely reading the text convincingly.
There are great performers, as well as actors, that are compelling not because they disappear in a role, but because of the very force of their personality. There are phenomenal actors and musicians that don’t change much with different roles or pieces, but bring their particular magnetism and virtuosity to every role.
When the performer is great both types can be very compelling, but I tend to gravitate towards the former. (Below is Inon Barnatan performing at Carnegie Hall in a photo by The New York Times.)
Your terrific and critically acclaimed new recording for the Avie label is an all-Schubert recital. But here you will perform a different big work, the G Major Sonata. What do you want to say about that particular work and its place in Schubert’s overall body of works? Why does Schubert hold particular appeal for you, and will you do more recording of his works, perhaps even a Schubert cycle?
Thank you! Back in 2004 I participated in a Schubert workshop with the great Leon Fleisher (below) at Carnegie Hall, and in some ways that was the start of my love affair with Schubert. I was familiar with his pieces, of course, but delving into the late sonatas as we did, I became intoxicated with the beauty and depth of the music.
The music of Schubert (below), and especially the music he wrote later in his short life, became a staple of my repertoire. I even curated a project of solo, chamber and vocal music from the miraculous last year — and both the Schubert CDs I’ve recorded so far feature pieces from that year.
That said, the G Major sonata, even though it was not written in the last year but a couple of years before, stands proudly amongst the greatest. It is one of his most lyrical and poetic pieces. It is not played nearly as often as the last three, and I am excited at the prospect of some audience members discovering it for the first time.
As for a possible Schubert cycle, it has been a dream of mine for a long while — perhaps I will keep playing his works one by one until I discover that I have recorded the whole cycle!
What would you like the public to know about your Madison program, which includes Franck, Barber (below) and Ravel?
This is a very special program to me. The pieces are magical: They manage to be at once very emotional and very intellectual, without compromising one for the other. The pieces all have a sense of nostalgia about them, in different ways.
The composers of the pieces in the first half take Baroque and Classical forms, such as fugues, chorales, sonatas, etc. and imbue them with their own innovation and emotion. The second half has more of a sense of fantasy, a sense of light that by the end of the recital turns to dark. I guess the second half goes from the sublime to the grotesque.
How do you think classical music can reach new and young audiences? And what advice would you give to aspiring young musicians and especially pianists?
That’s the million-dollar question. I think there are many things we need to do. It starts with education — putting an instrument in a child’s hand teaches them a lot about communications, listening and a huge variety of other important skills. It also encourages future curiosity about music and culture.
We also need to be more inclusive in some ways, make the concert experience something that would appeal to a young person as well as an older one. Nowadays, when there are so many ways to consume culture without leaving your home, the concert experience needs to have an energy and excitement to it that is unique to the live experience.
A great museum knows that in order to attract a variety of ages and stay relevant, they need to have not only great art, but great curating.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York, for example, is always teeming with people of all ages, newcomers, repeat visitors, young and old, experts and lay people. They have a collection of some of the great, established artists as well as new exciting art and they are always providing new and interesting ways to look at things. People who go there expect to be challenged as well as be entertained. You may come to see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (below) but it’s the new or unexpected stuff around it that keeps you coming back. It’s that combination of edge and quality that makes it cool.
We can learn a lot from that. As performers we need to strive for the highest possible quality of performance, and at the same time try to present it in a context that is interesting, and sometimes challenging or unexpected.
TWO ALERTS: On this Thursday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, UW-Madison dramatic soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn (below) — filling in for soprano Julia Faulkner, who is on a leave-of-absence this academic year — will make her local debut. The FREE concert features her singing Gustav Mahler‘s moving “Rueckert Songs” with UW pianist Martha Fischer. It is part of the Wisconsin Science Festival that combines science lectures and live classical music in the SoundWaves program that is organized and directed by UW horn professor Daniel Grabois. For more information, visit the outstanding “Fanfare” blog at the UW School of Music: Here is a link:
And here are links to more stories about Elizabeth Hagedorn:
ALSO: Blog friend and radio host Rich Samuels (below) writes: “On this Thursday morning, Sept. 26, beginning at 7:08 a.m. on my weekly show “Anything Goes” that is broadcast from 5-8 a.m. on WORT 89.9 FM. I’ll be airing an interview I recently recorded with the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s music director John DeMain (the MSO’s 2013-2914 concert season begins, of course, on this Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon.
“Maestro DeMain talks about his transition from the Houston Grand Opera to the Madison Symphony Orchestra and about the artistic state of the orchestra as he begins his 20th season on the podium.
“Music for the segment will include selections from DeMain’s 1996 Grammy award-winning recording the Houston Grand Opera made when its production of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” was playing Broadway.
“Half the segment deals with the upcoming season and some of the younger soloists who will be heard between now and next May. We’ll hear performances by Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth, violinist Augustin Hadelich, soprano Emily Birsan and the young Madison pianist Garrick Olsen (not to be confused with pianist Garrick Ohlsson).”
By Jacob Stockinger
This is the week of orchestral season debuts. Yesterday, The Ear spotlighted the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s concerts this weekend.
But at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on this Sunday evening — on what The Ear calls “Symphony Sunday” with performances by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the UW Symphony Orchestra and the Edgewood College Chamber Orchestra — the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform a FREE concert under its longtime director James Smith, who also directs the UW Chamber Orchestra and is the music director of University Opera.
Smith recently granted The Ear an email Q&A about the concert:
You programmed “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky (below) because this is the centennial year of its world premiere. How important is that work in the symphonic repertoire and to music history in general?
It is often cited as a landmark work in all respects. Several faculty members mentioned that we ought to perform it so that the students can appreciate its impact. At the time, 1913, the harmonies, the savage rhythms and the choreography were all quite jolting to the Paris audiences.
Right from the start, the bassoon explores a new range for the instrument as it sets the stage for the pagan ritual ahead.
How challenging technically is the “Rite of Spring” in general to perform but especially for UW undergraduate students? What makes it such a difficult work?
It is difficult on all levels: rhythmic, technical and tessitura (the comfort range of notes for a specific kind of voice or instrument).. We have performed works by Bohuslav Martinu, Alban Berg, Anton Webern and Gustav Mahler who also posed special difficulties. The students are working very hard outside of the rehearsals so that we can all experience this exciting work. (Below is a photo of the UW Symphony Orchestra performing with the UW Choral Union plus a link to a video by Kathy Esposito, concert manager and public relations director at the UW School of Music, of the UW Symphony Orchestra and conductor James Smith rehearsing “The Rite of Spring” that Esposito posted on Facebook.)
Why did you choose the “Egmont” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven to go with this program? Are there special thematic or pedagogical reasons?
Simple answer: It is a great way to start a program, and an opportunity for my graduate assistant to be introduced to the audience. His name is Kyle Knox (below). He is also an accomplished clarinetist who is the assistant principal clarinetist of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.
The Third Symphony is not one of the most famous or popular symphonies by Jean Sibelius (below). Why did you choose to program it and what should audience members listen for or pay attention to?
Good question. After the rather romantic and somewhat conventional First and Second Symphonies, the Third Symphony loses much of the bombast and announces a more austere and restless path. As my teacher one commented, Sibelius became more and more “north” in style and mood: austere and quixotic. (The first movement can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom as performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.)
TWO REMINDERS: The 14th Madison Early Music Festival, with the theme “Renaissance Germany,” tonight features a performance by the viola consort Parthenia (below) at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus. It will be preceded at 6:30 p.m. by a FREE lecture by Madison Symphony Orchestra trombonist and program note writer as well as UW-Whitewater music professor J. Michael Allsen on “More Than a ‘Theater of Instruments’: The Syntagma Musicum of Michael Praetorius.” The FREE and public lecture is in basement Room L-160 of the Elvehjem Building of the nearby Chazen Museum of Art. For more information, visit: http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/lsa/memf/index.html
ALSO: Wisconsin Public Radio recently announced programming changes. One of them is that WPR will begin broadcasting concerts by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra today and every Sunday at 2 p.m. The MSO has always been terrific, but its current music director Edo de Waart (below) has taken the orchestra to new heights. In the Madison area, tune in to WERN 88.7 FM.
By Jacob Stockinger
It is high summer and that means traveling and festivals.
Should you be on the way from Madison, Wisconsin, to the Twin Cities, or vice-versa, you might want to take in something at the seventh Minnesota Beethoven Festival (below), which got started with a free concert by the Empire Brass on July 4 and runs through July 23.
Others artists in the impressive lineup include the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, pianists Garrick Ohlsson and Mischa Dichter; the American String Quartet, the Shanghai String Quartet and the Ariel String Quartet; guitarist Sharon Isbin; the Russian National Orchestra; and Dale Warland and the Festival Chorale.
Here is a link, with information about artist, tickets, concerts and background, to the seventh Minnesota Beethoven Festival under the direction of pianist Ned Kirk:
Also the Green Lake Festival in Green Lake, Wisconsin is fully under way and runs until Aug. 31. Here is a link to concert and events:
Then there are festivals in Door County including the 61st Peninsula Music Festival, under the direction of conductor Victor Yampolsky (below) and featuring a lot of great orchestral programs, which gets started on Aug. 6 with Beethoven’s famed Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” (the irresistibly dramatic opening is in a YouTube video at the bottom with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) and “Creatures of Prometheus” Overture (which shares a theme with the Eroica) and Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto No. 1.
A lot of Bach, Handel, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Shostakovich will also be featured on the programs. Take a look.
Here is a link:
By Jacob Stockinger
Two noteworthy concerts will take place this weekend.
The recital by acclaimed German organist Felix Hell (below) and trumpeter Andrew Balio, a Wisconsin native and principal trumpet of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, will feature a century-spanning program that concludes with multiple works by Johann Sebastian Bach. The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) is presenting The Hell/Balio Duo as part of its Overture Concert Organ (below) Series.
To see the full program and see other information, use this link:
And here is a sample video from YouTube of Felix Hell playing an organ transcription of Samuel Barber’s famous “Adagio for Strings”:
The concert career of Felix Hell (below) began at the age of nine and has included more than 700 recitals worldwide. He has received global recognition for his performances of the entire organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach in three full cycles as well as the complete organ works of Felix Mendelssohn. A frequent guest of American orchestras, Hell gave his debut performance in Boston’s famous Symphony Hall in 2004.
Wisconsin native Andrew Balio (below) was appointed as principal trumpet of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2001. He was previously the principal trumpet of the Israel Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta and the Orquesta Sinfonica del Estado de Mexico. His solo debut, at age fifteen, was with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, performing the Haydn trumpet concerto.
Here is a link to his official and impressive biography:
And here is a sample of Andrew Balio’s playing in a YouTube video:
Then on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel at Edgewood College, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra, under Edgewood professor and conductor Blake Walter (below, in a photo by John Maniaci),
The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will perform works include Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” Overture; Beethoven’s Symphony Number 2 in D (at bottom in a YouTube video with Christian Thielemann conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the first movement); and Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” narrated by guest performer John Fields, interim Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Edgewood College.
Admission is $5; free with Edgewood College I.D.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the MadisonEarly Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
The season’s opening concert for the Middleton Community Orchestra (below), held last Wednesday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, was something of a mixed bag.
The program title, “The British Are Coming” was a little strained. Of five composers represented, one was a German-born naturalized citizen and another a Belgian who never left home (except to concertize). At least the other three were undoubted Britons.
The printed program, too, omitted a lot of significant information. The opening number was not the complete “Royal Fireworks Music” by Georg Frederic Handel, but only its long overture. Played in the full-orchestra version (complete with repeat of the fast middle section), but with too big a group here, the music found the players sounding tentative and not fully comfortable with it, while the pacing by conductor Steve Kurr (below) was stiff and rigid.
Everyone was more at ease with the follow-up, Sir Edward Elgar‘s “Pomp and Circumstance” March No. 4, however at bottom).
Naha Greenholtz (below), concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, was soloist for the program. She began with the Second of six Sonatas for unaccompanied violin, by the Belgian violinist and composer Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931). Each in the set was dedicated to a great violinist of the day. This one honored Jacques Thibaud, and its four brief movements (not listed in the program) are “Obsession,” “Prelude” “Malinconia,” “Danse des ombres,” “Sarabande” and “Les furies.” This is extremely difficult and virtuosic music, and Greenholtz brought it off with aplomb.
Without a break, she then launched into Ralph Vaughan Williams’ lovely pastorale, “The Lark Ascending,” with accompaniment conducted by her husband, Kyle Knox (below), a clarinetist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. The elaborate solo part–again performed with skillful precision–is backed by a modest accompaniment from a chamber orchestra, rich in evocation of the English folksong style Vaughan Williams (below) loved, all reminding us how desperately we need to hear more of that great composer’s music.
The real meat of the concert, though, was a partial serving of the blockbuster “Astrological Suite” by Gustav Holst (below). Of its seven movements, the MCO gave us four–if, again, without full identification in the program list. Indicating their number in the complete cycle, and restoring their important subtitles, we heard: 1. “Mars, The Bringer of War”; 2. “Venus, The Bringer of Peace”; 6. “Uranus, The Magician”; and 4.” Jupiter, The Bringer of Jolity.” Omitted were “Mercury, The Winged Messenger”; “Saturn, The Bringer of Old Age”; and “Neptune, The Mystic.” The last of those requires an offstage women’s chorus, not mustered here. On the other hand, the performance managed to bring off No. 6 without its chilling organ glissando at the climax.
For the full suite, a massive affair often performed and recorded, high playing standards are well established. Against those, maestro Kurr and his brave players made a fully credible showing. They clearly had worked very hard on this music, and displayed a palpable confidence. They roared out the grim menace of Mars with full-blooded power. There was particularly fine string sheen in Venus. The “big tunes” of Uranus and especially of Jupiter blared out with thoroughly British heartiness.
My only regret was that Kurr and his players had not gone whole-hog and tackled the entire seven movements.
Once again, we must marvel at what Steve Kurr has achieved in building so able an orchestra (below) out of a mix of local talents and limited rehearsal time.
Three more concerts lie ahead this season. For information about performances, how to join and how to support the MCO, visit: