The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Concerts on the Square begin this Wednesday night – and half of the six concerts feature classical music

June 25, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The 36th annual FREE summer series of six Concerts on the Square, performed by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) and guest soloists, will begin this Wednesday night, June 26, at 7 p.m. on the King Street Corner of the Capitol Square in downtown Madison.

Each concert draws an average of 30,000 people.

But if you think it is largely a pops concert event, think again.

One of the many outstanding achievements that WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) has brought to the event – billed as “the Biggest Picnic of Summer” — over the past 20 years is an increased emphasis on classical music, perhaps to help build new audiences for the WCO’s winter Masterworks concerts.

The opening concert, for example, has become a tradition, a chance to introduce to the public the latest winner of the WCO’s young people’s concerto competition – and this year is no different.

Three of the six concerts will be also all-classical – and that’s not counting Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” that will be featured on the Fourth of July program on July 3.

There will also be pops music of course, including a tribute to the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ iconic album “Abbey Road”; patriotic fare for Independence Day; and an evening of movie scores, most composed by John Williams, with concertmaster Suzanne Beia as violin soloist in the theme from “Schindler’s List.”

All concerts are on six consecutive Wednesday nights from June 28 through July 31. Performances begin at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square. They usually last about two hours.

To find out more, including the programs and biographies of performers for each program, go to: https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performance-listing/category/concerts-on-the-square

Once there, if you click on a specific date, on the right hand side you will also find information about concert etiquette, seating on the Capitol lawn, weather cancellations, catering menus, food vendor sales and other information, including details about volunteering and donating. Here is a link to general guidelines:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square/attending-the-concert/ 

Here are the three classical concerts:

JUNE 26

“East Meets West” features the WCO’s concerto competition winner pianist Sakurako Eriksen (below) – a Madison native now living in Milwaukee — in the popular and virtuosic Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Prokofiev.

Also on the program are “Francesca da Rimini” by Russian composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky; “Noble and Sentimental Waltzes” by French composer by Maurice Ravel; and an unnamed work by Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz.

JULY 10

“Finlandia” features the Russian-born and Moscow Conservatory-trained accordion virtuoso Sergei Belkin (below).

On the program are unnamed works by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak and Alexander Glazunov; “Oblivion” by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla; the “Sabre Dance” by Russian composer Aram Khachaturian; and “Finlandia” by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

JULY 31

“Rockin’ Rachmaninov” features Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev (below), a frequent WCO guest artist who teaches at the Mannes College of Music in New York City.

The program includes the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, by Sergei Rachmaninov; the Overture to the opera “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the 1944 “Cornish Rhapsody” piano concerto score, composed by English composer Hubert Bath for the World War II film “Love Story”; and a Suite from “The Firebird” by Igor Stravinsky.


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Classical music: American pianist Kenneth Broberg survives into the final concerto round of the 16th International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Performances start being live-streamed on Tuesday morning

June 23, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

It started with 25.

Then there were 14.

And now there are seven.

And American pianist Kenneth Broberg (below), 26, is among the seven pianists who have survived into the concerto finals of the 16th International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. (Competitions, some in Saint Petersburg, are also taking place in violin, cello, voice, woodwinds and brass. You can see the official preview in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Broberg, the silver medalist at the 2017 Van Cliburn Competition performed a recital in Madison last season as part of the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos.

The other American, 32-year-old Sara Daneshpour (below), was eliminated during the semi-finals that finished yesterday.

Each finalist must perform a Tchaikovsky piano concerto, either the famous No. 1 or the much less familiar Piano Concerto No. 2, plus another concerto of their choice. Usually there is also a lot of Rachmaninoff and often Prokofiev.

So far, The Ear hasn’t seen what concertos Broberg will play or on what day he will perform. When he finds out, he will let you know. If you find out, please leave the information in the comment space.

The concerto concerts will be live-streamed for FREE on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. because of the eight-hour time difference with Moscow. (Below the logo is the historic Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, where the concerto performances, like the solo recitals, are held.)

To follow the concertos, go to: https://tch16.medici.tv/en/

If you hover the cursor over PIANO and then CONTESTANTS you can also find out a lot, and also hear the preliminary and semi-final recitals that Broberg performed. Here is a link to his biography and  background plus his two performances in Moscow:

https://tch16.medici.tv/en/competitors/kenneth-broberg-/

There are suggestions that there was some disagreement among the international panel of judges. The original 25 contestants were supposed to be reduced to 12, but ended up being 14. Then there were supposed to be six finalists, but they named seven.

The other finalists are: Konstantin Emelyanov, 25, of Russia; Mao Fujita, 20, of Japan; Alexandre Kantorow, 22, of France; Alexey Melnikov, 29, of Russia; Dmitry Shishkin, 27, of Russia; and An Tianxu, 20, of China.

All were impressive during the first two solo rounds and received enthusiastic applause, but Mao Fujita received the only standing ovations over 39 solo recitals. The archived performances of all of them are also worth checking out.


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Classical music: Looking for serious fun? The thoroughly successful opening concerts by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society bode well for the upcoming second weekend

June 19, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

After 28 summers, going to a concert by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society still feels like attending a family reunion – the best kind of family reunion where everyone is familiar and friendly, where everything is fun, and where you always leave glad that you went.

That’s not by chance.

The first thing that co-founders and co-artistic directors Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes did last Friday and Saturday nights was to thank the loyal audience. And the audience, full of longtime fans, returned the favor by being attentive to and appreciative of the first-rate music-making as well as responsive to the horseplay and antics – such as the surreal scene of virtuoso Axel Strauss playing “The Skater’s Waltz” on his violin while rollerblading around the stage (below).

BDDS players really mean it when they say that their audiences are in for something different, something they won’t find elsewhere and won’t forget.

Last weekend that meant the return of two longtime guest performers: San Francisco cellist Jean-Michael Fonteneau and Montreal violinist Axel Strauss (below, with pianist Jeffrey Sykes). Neither disappointed as they performed very varied music by Franz Joseph Haydn, C.P.E. Bach, Johannes Brahms, Gabriel Faure, Lili Boulanger, Maurice Ravel and Ned Rorem. And as always, the amazing  pianist Jeffrey Sykes proved a chameleon who blended masterfully into the style of each period and each composer.

But for The Ear, the unexpected standout last weekend was guest accordion player Stas Venglevski from Milwaukee. Born in Russia and trained at the Moscow Conservatory, he is a virtuoso player, a sensitive arranger and a convincing composer – all done with good humor and a charismatic stage presence.

The Ear never thought of the accordion – the Russian bayan, to be specific – as an instrument for chamber music. But he does now, after hearing Venglevski play serious Russian, French and Latin American music that ran the gamut from a graceful waltz and a sprightly polka to torchy tangos. And then there were his flying fingers punching out “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” a real crowd-pleaser.

The large audience responded on both nights with wild applause and a standing ovation every time that Venglevski (below) played, and Jutt promised the audience that he will be back.

“As you can see, we have fun here,” Jutt deadpanned.

She is not exaggerating.

Which bodes well for the second weekend of three that will happen this coming weekend.

The second weekend — two programs in three venues — celebrates Jutt and Sykes, plus two of BDDS’ favorite guest artists: violinist Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio and Madison pianist Thomas Kasdorf.

Kasdorf (below) and Sykes are both featured in a program called “Rock the Sykes-o-delic Kas-bah.” Kasdorf is featured in Brahms’ Horn Trio with guest horn player Karl Kramer Johansen, and in the appealing and accessible Café Concertino by the contemporary Australian composer Carl Vine.

Sykes will perform another chamber transcription of a Classical-era symphonic work, which over the years has become a welcome specialty of BDDS. In this case it is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s snappy and appealing Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, K. 271, the “Jeunehomme” concerto. (You can hear the irresistible last movement of the piano concerto, used in the film “Amadeus,” in the YouTube video at the bottom.) Sykes will also perform in Robert Schumann’s “Fairy Tales” for clarinet and viola.

A Madison native, cellist Alison Rowe (below) — an artist from the Dynamite Factory, which is BDDS’ program for emerging talent — will be featured in the Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Major by Johann Sebastian Bach.

“Rock the Sykes-o-delic Kas-bah” will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 21, at 7:30 p.m. Braisin’ Hussies Food Cart will be parked outside the Opera House prior to the performance. The program will also be performed in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, Sunday, June 23, at 2:30 p.m.

Jutt (below top) and Sant’Ambrogio (below bottom, in a photo by Stephanie Ann Boyd) worm their musical way into the most unexpected places in the other program, “Steph Infection.” The Nocturne for flute, violin, horn and piano of Franz Doppler opens the program, which continues with Jutt’s own arrangement of Antonin Dvorak’s popular “American” String Quartet, with a flute substituting for one of the two violins.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Five Pieces for flute, clarinet and piano add spice to the program, and the evening concludes with Ernst von Dohnanyi’s epic Sextet for clarinet, horn, violin, viola, cello and piano. A work that ranges from stormy and turbulent to tender and funny, it features an all-star cast including audience favorite clarinetist Alan Kay, horn player Karl Kramer Johansen, violist Carol Cook (principal at the Lyric Opera of Chicago), and Madison’s own cellist of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet, Parry Karp (below).

“Steph Infection” will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts, Saturday, June 22, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, Sunday, June 23, at 6:30 p.m.

And of course there could also be some unannounced surprises – more door prizes, perhaps a mystery guest, or more shenanigans and antics that correspond to the “Name Dropping” pun theme of the programs.

For tickets ($43-$49) and more information, go to: https://bachdancing.org


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Classical music: American music is in the spotlight this weekend as pianist Olga Kern returns in a concerto by Samuel Barber and the Madison Symphony Orchestra performs Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony

October 18, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below in a photo by Peter Rodgers), with music director John DeMain conducting, will present its second concert of the season, featuring music “From the New World.”

“From the New World” features the return of soloist Olga Kern in her take on an American classic — Samuel Barber’s only Piano Concerto — for her fourth appearance with the MSO. This piece is accompanied by Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and is followed after intermission by Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, know as the “New World Symphony,” inspired by the prairies of America.

The concerts take place in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday, Oct. 20, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 21, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 22, at 2:30 p.m.

Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite was originally written as a suite of “Five Children’s Pieces for Piano Four Hands” and was later orchestrated by the composer and expanded into a ballet in 1911. The piece by Ravel (below) is comprised of 11 sections, many of which are based on five fairy tales of Charles Perrault, most specifically those of his Contes de ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose Tales).

The Piano Concerto was written in Samuel Barber’s mature years, and is characterized by a gain in depth of expression and technical mastery from his earlier lyrical style. The piece was met with great critical acclaim and led to Barber (below) winning his second Pulitzer Prize in 1963 and a Music Critics Circle Award in 1964. (You can hear the second and third movements in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

                                                

Russian-American Pianist Olga Kern (below) is recognized as one of her generation’s great pianists. She jumpstarted her U.S. career with her historic Gold Medal win at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas as the first woman to do so in more than 30 years.

Winner of the first prize at the Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition she was 17, Kern is a laureate of many international competitions. In 2016, she served as jury chairman of both the Seventh Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition and first Olga Kern International Piano Competition, where she also holds the title of artistic director.

Kern has performed in famed concert halls throughout the world including Carnegie Hall, the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, and the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. She has appeared with the Madison Symphony Orchestra three times — in 2009, 2010 and 2014.

Composed in 1895 while Dvorak (below) was living in New York City, his Symphony No. 9 (often referred to as the “New World Symphony”) is said to have been inspired by the American “wide open spaces” of the prairies that he visited during a trip to Iowa in the summer of 1893.

The “New World Symphony” is considered to be one of the most popular symphonies ever written, and was even taken to the moon with Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969.

One hour before each performance, Anders Yocom (below, in a  photo by James Gill), Wisconsin Public Radio host of “Sunday Brunch,” will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.

For more background on the music, please read the Program Notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor J. Michael Allsen (below), at:

http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1718/2.Oct17.html

The Madison Symphony Orchestra recommends that concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the pre-concert Prelude Discussion (free for all ticket-holders) one hour before the performance.

The October concerts also coincide with UW-Madison’s Homecoming Weekend celebration — another reason that MSO patrons are advised to arrive early for the concerts this weekend, especially on Friday.

Single Tickets are $18-$90 and are on sale now at https://www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, got to: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/groups.

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $18 tickets.

You can find more information at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

The first “Club 201 Concert and After-Party” of the season takes place on Friday, Oct. 20. The $35 ticket price includes one concert ticket ($68-$90 value), plus the after-party with hors d’oeuvres, cash bar, and one drink ticket. Club 201 Events are an opportunity for music enthusiasts 21 and over to connect with each other, and meet MSO musicians, Maestro John DeMain, and special guests.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

Here is a direct link to find more information and to purchase tickets online: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/kern


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Classical music: CAN YOU NAME THAT TUNE? The Ear did at the movies — and passes it along

December 29, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s officially winter.

Christmas and other holidays except New Year’s are over or close to over.

Winter break is taking place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other schools.

All that makes it a good time to see movies.

So there The Ear was, sitting in one of the cinemas at Sundance 608 on the near west wide in Hilldale Mall.

Before the movie and the previews began, lovely piano music was playing.

What is that? someone asked quietly.

The Ear wishes that maybe Sundance could find a way to show the composer, work and performer on some section of the screen that also shows advertisements.

That’s because The Ear has also heard other works there by Johann Sebastian Bach as well as a mazurka and a nocturne by Frederic Chopin. And he wants other movie-goers to know what they are hearing.

Anyway, this time it was  a beautiful but rarely heard piece that The Ear recognized right away.

It is the transcription or reworking in B minor by Alexander Siloti (below) of the prelude in E minor from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier by Johann Sebastian Bach. 

It is a gorgeously poignant Romantic piece by an accomplished Russian musician and pianist.

Alexander Siloti 

It is so hauntingly beautiful.

And it is useful as well.

It is really the same piece of music repeated twice. That makes it serve as a small and slow etude, a study in voicing of first the right hand and then the left hand.

The piece also makes the player coordinate and strengthen the fourth and fifth fingers on the right hand, and execute wide arpeggios in the left hand with an emphasis on the thumb as the carrier of a melody.

And like so much of Bach’s music, it is also an etude in the evenness of all those endless sixteenth notes — the stream that the word “Bach” means in German. What a fitting name for the composer whose flow of music was endless!

All in all, it is a great little miniature that deserves to be learned and performed more frequently. It has even been used by some major piano competition winners as a calming change-of-pace piece, a way to get into or out of the zone.

Just listen to it in the hands of a master, as the late Emil Gilels plays it in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, where Siloti himself was a teacher of the famous pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff  (who is seen below on the right with Siloti on the left).

Alexander Siloti and Sergei Rachmaninov

First, here is the Bach original played by Glenn Gould:

And here is the live performance of Siloti’s reworking and transcription by Gilels:

What do you think of the work and the performance (read the listener comments on YouTube)?

Do you have favorite Bach transcriptions for the piano?

Other classical music you hear in movie theaters?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter was born 100 years ago yesterday. Here is a short but comprehensive memoir and appreciation with a lot of biographical information and a good critical appraisal of his playing.

March 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday — Friday, March 20, 2015 – brought us the first day of spring.

It also marked the centennial of the birth of the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter (below).

Sviatoslav Richter

Richter was such a complex and towering figure that it would take a book to really do justice to him and to his career.

But the following essay by Steve Wigler for the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR (National Public Radio) does an excellent job for a short-form piece of criticism.

With one exception that gets no mention.

We now know beyond question that Richter (below) was a gay man who was forced by the Soviet government into a marriage of convenience and camouflage.

Somehow that information seems particularly pertinent to The Ear, given the growing acceptance of LGBT people and of marriage equality.

richterwithcross1

Still, Wigler’s essay is an excellent read and includes a YouTube video – there are many, many YouTube videos of Richter, who had an immense repertoire, playing. This video is of a live performance by Richter in which he plays the last movement of the first piano sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory.

You can hear the power and energy, the subtleties and excitement, to say nothing of the originality of interpretation, that Richter brought to music.

Richterconcerto

Enjoy it -– and tell us if you ever heard Richter live and what is your favorite performance by Sviatoslav Richter with a link to a YouTube video is possible.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/03/19/393778706/sviatoslav-richter-the-pianist-who-made-the-earth-move

 


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS: The slow movement from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major.

December 27, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, this isn’t really holiday music.

But I suppose you could consider it a “holiday” from the more tumultuous and dissonant, more acerbic or satirical writing, that Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (below) is identified with.

dmitri shostakovich

It is gentle and lyrical, and quite lovely — even wistful.

It is the slow movement -– marked Lento –- from the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major.

He wrote it for and dedicated it to his son Maxim -– who has since become a famous conductor -– for his 19th birthday.

And, if I recall correctly, Maxim performed it when he graduated from the Moscow Conservatory.

If you are used to the dissonant, brash, loud sarcastic Shostakovich, try this for a change. It is played by Kirill Gerstein in a YouTube video:

 


Classical music Q&A: Pianist Isabella Wu discusses Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which she will perform tonight at the opening of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s 31st annual Concerts on the Square. Plus, the Madison Summer Choir sings Brahms and Bizet on Friday night.

June 25, 2014
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ALERT: Just a reminder that the Madison Summer Choir (below) will present the “Song of Destiny” by Johannes Brahms and the “Te Deum” by Georges Bizet with orchestra this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave. The concert is entitled “Philosophically Speaking,” also features pieces exploring human reality, existence, and reason.  The first half includes works by Orlando Gibbons, Stephen Chatman, Cecil Effinger and Daniel Mulholland. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for students. Here is a link with information about the concert and about how to join the choir:

http://madisonsummerchoir.org

Madison Summer Choir

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight at 7 p.m. brings the opening of what has been billed in the past as “The Biggest Picnic of Summer”: The 31st annual FREE Concerts on the Square (below) by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under the baton of WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell. Each of the six concerts draws upwards of 10,000 people.

(NOTE: The weather reports call for possible storms tonight. To find out about  possible cancellation of the concert, final word will be posted every Wednesday afternoon by 3 p.m. on www.wcoconcerts.org.)

Over the next six consecutive Wednesday nights (Thursdays are the rain date), all kinds of music -– from classical to rock, pop and blues -– will be featured on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square in downtown Madison.

ConcertsonSquaregroupshot

Of special note is the appearance tonight by Madison pianist Isabella Wu (bel0w), who won the annual young artist concerto competition this year. She will perform the first movement of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor by the Romantic 20th-century Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov.

Isabella Wu

Also on the “Midsommer Stars” program are: the “Swedish Festival Music” by Swedish composer August Soderman (1832-1876); Swedish Dance Nos. 1-7 by Max Bruch; the “Cossack Scherzo” from the Symph0ny No. 2 by Mily Balakirev; the Festival Overture on the American National Air by British composer Percy C. Buck (1871-1947); and “Midsommervaka” by Swedish Hugo Alfven (1872-1960).

Here is a link to an overview of this summer’s six Concerts on the Square.

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square/

Here is a link to rules and guidelines that are useful for attending the concerts:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square/attendingtheconcerts/

And here is a link to vendor menus if you don’t bring your own food for dinner:

http://wcoconcerts.org/assets/files/153411_2014COSVendorMenus.pdf

Pianist Isabella Wu recently agreed to doing an email Q&A about her performance tonight:

Isabella Wu2

Can you briefly introduce yourself to readers.

I am Isabella Wu, age 15 and a freshman at Madison Memorial High. I began piano lessons at the age of 5. In third grade, I became interested in picking up a second instrument, the violin (below, Wu is seen soloing with WYSO’s Philharmonia Orchestra) and have been in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (below) for six years. (I will be on WYSO’s tour to Argentina in late July).

My other pursuits in music have been numerous. I am an avid singer, and recently finished a semester coaching choir at my middle school. Most recently, my interests have extended to playing percussion and composing.

Music has been the most essential part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I would consider it my first language and my first world. Where I would be without music or art, for that matter, would be most certainly a cataclysmic shift; hence, I expect to be in the music world in the future. Where, I don’t know. I have an interest in the back-stage business area of the artistic world, and being an impresario is a possibility.

Isabella Wu on violin with WYSO Philharmonia Soloist 3

Why did you choose the rarely played Piano Concerto No. 1 by Sergei Rachmaninov to study, play and perform?

When I heard the Rachmaninov 1, the work touched me as something soulful and heart-wrenching, yet fleeting at times, and touched with a bit of bravura. The soaring theme following the opening passage became an immediate favorite with my daily spontaneous outbursts of singing.

But the cadenza of the first movement is where I felt the heart of the first movement could be found. Around that time, I was deciding between this Rachmaninov 1, and his famous second concerto. I was a bit puzzled when I found I was reluctant to play the second, as I had always longed to play it. (The second concerto is much-loved and very popular).

Something didn’t quite seem so right. Months after I had chosen the first, I was still pondering why. I think I knew the Second Concerto by Rachmaninov (below) was too ingrained in the public’s mind, too well-known by onlookers and by me to search for my own voice. If I had chosen the second, I would have felt overwhelmed by the high stature placed on it, and been (as I already was) too influenced by the numerous recordings to call it my own.

But the first concerto — that was something different. The sparse recordings I found were none alike, and it was not well-known, but equally special. The concerto is not so spectacular at first glance, but has the capability of bringing tears to the most reticent of audience members.

rachmaninoffyoung

What do you most like about the concerto and what would you like the public to know about it?

Rachmaninov wrote this concerto, his Op. 1, at the age of 19, when he was still a student at the Moscow Conservatory. As was the custom for novitiates of the Conservatory, Rachmaninov based his work on that of another composer — in this case, the Piano Concerto in A Minor by Edvard Grieg (below).

“Based” is an understatement — Rachmaninov literally wrote his music into Grieg’s concerto, copying it form for form. If you compare the two concertos, you will see that they are very much alike in structure.

edvard grieg

Rachmaninov entered his concerto into the conservatory competition, and took first place. However, years later, after Rachmaniov had sought asylum in the United States, and even after he had edited his second and third concertos, Rachmaninov went back to redraft the first.

As the concerto was already published, there was not much structural change he could make to the piece. Instead, he filled in the lines, developing a much more mature work, and completely re-writing the cadenza.

Yet the public did not receive his work well, and Rachmaninov is said to have stated: “I have rewritten my First Concerto; it is really good now. All the youthful freshness is there, and yet it plays itself so much more easily. And nobody pays any attention. When I tell them in America that I will play the First Concerto, they do not protest, but I can see by their faces that they would prefer the Second or Third.”

Once when Rachmaninov was asked what inspired his music, he replied, “Love. Love -– this is a never fading source of inspiration. It inspires like nothing else. To love means to combine happiness and force of the mind. It becomes a stimulus for the flourishing of intellectual energy, and as such -– for creativity.”

One can only wonder what he meant. At the time of 19, he had already experienced a great number of tragedies, including the deaths of two of his sisters. He had also fallen in love with a neighbor, Verochka Skalon, but was forbidden to write letters to her. Later, after many years, his statement probably also included his love for his country, which he could never go back to.

Whatever the love might be, I hope you too find it in this piece.

Rachmaninoff

You are a competition veteran and winner. How do you cope with performance, especially before such a big crowd? Do you get nervous? How do you prepare? Are there “tricks” you would like to share with others?

Performance anxiety is a nasty deal. Experience usually helps, but isn’t the ultimate solution. For me, yes, I do get nervous, but the key is to channel the nervousness into a positive asset. Nervousness, if directed correctly, gives you the extra boost.

Another occasional problem is “Paralysis by Analysis,” which occurs when the analytical left brain tries to dominate the more natural right brain. However, if you manage to find the zone where your mind clicks, you will do fine.

I usually do stretching exercises and slow down my breathing. I also have some pieces I’ve designated as “warm-up” pieces that tend to click. Try to develop a routine; it will all feel natural in good time.

stage fright

What do you think we have to do to interest more young people in classical music? How did you get interested in it?

For me, music just always happened to be around, with the stereo playing Johann Sebastian Bach while I went to sleep. The big difference, say, between pop music and classical is the accessibility of pop music. Pop songs are generally around 5 minutes long and “catchier,” and can be easily simulated by voice. Classical music, however, requires — most unfortunately — money, and usually a good deal of it. Not to mention classical music’s centuries-old rules, whereas pop songs are more spontaneous and thriving.

The problem is that our liberal-minded age seeks the more libertarian values. However, we’ve been doing a good job introducing classical music to the young public. The high school music program, and to a lesser degree, the middle school program, does a good job of introducing students to an individual instrument and developing a passion for ensemble works. Even some of the elementary school programs are noteworthy, with the common recorder and occasional musicals.

Around here in Madison, Michelle Kaebisch (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), of both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, does an excellent job of bringing classical music to the schools through numerous programs — Link-Up, the Hunt Quartet and the Fall Youth Concerts, in  which I soloed twice — that are eye-openers to students.

Michelle Kaebisch WYSO cr Katrin Talbot

What else would you like to say or add?

Hope to see you Wednesday!


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS – Live in a Moscow concert, the late Russian pianist Emil Gilels performs as an encore the haunting, poignant and beautiful Prelude in B minor, a transcription by Alexander Siloti of an original by Johann Sebastian Bach.

August 23, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of transcriptions of Johann Sebastian Bach (below) on the piano. You know how these things go in spurts.

Bach1

As I have said before, transcription is a time-honored practice, especially for Baroque composers.

Most often, the transcriptions are based on preludes and fugues, passacaglia, toccatas, chorale preludes and movements from the cantatas.

But I have found that far too many transcriptions get too grand for my taste – too orchestral and powerful with too much emphasis on deep bass octaves and too many thick chords. The piano is not a pipe organ, which is part of its virtue.

I prefer that the transcribers preserve at least some of the transparency of the original Bach.

Which is one reason why I like the transcription in B minor by Alexander Siloti (below) of a prelude in E minor from the first book of Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Siloti basically took a motif and developed in into a separate piece.

Alexander Siloti

It is so hauntingly beautiful.

Plus it is useful as well as beautiful.

Having played it myself – or at least played at it — I can tell you that it is harder to pull off than it sounds. Siloti’s transcription is really the same short piece of music repeated twice. So it serves as an etude, a study in voicing of first the right hand and then the left hand.

It is also a question of coordinating and strengthening the   fourth and fifth fingers on the right hand, and the wide, rolled arpeggios in the left hand with an emphasis on the thumb as the carrier of a melody.

And like so much of Bach’s music, it is also an etude in the evenness of all those sixteenth notes.

I’ll bet a lot of his students and subsequent piano students at the Moscow Conservatory benefitted from practicing and playing this gorgeous miniature that some artists use as effective encore, bringing a concert to a quiet and soulful close.

All in all, it is a great little miniature that deserves to be heard, learned and performed more frequently.

Just listen to it in the hands of a master, as the late and great Emil Gilels plays it in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, where Siloti himself was a teacher of the great pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninov (seen below on the right, with Siloti on the left).

Alexander Siloti and Sergei  Rachmaninov

First, here is the Bach original, with the fugue, played in a YouTube video by Friedrich Gulda, a teacher of Martha Argerich:

And here is the live performance by Gilels:

What do you think of the work and the performance (read the listener comments on YouTube)?

Do you have favorite Bach transcriptions for the piano?

What do you look for in a piano transcription of Bach?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Wisconsin Chamber Choir presents “Inspired by Greatness” this Saturday night, pairing famous teachers with famous students.

November 13, 2012
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ALERT:  This Wednesday night at 6 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, the UW School of Music’s Guest Artist Series presents violinist Ernest Salem (California State University-Fullerton) and pianist Alison Edwards in a FREE recital.  The program features “Konzertstuck” (for violin and orchestra) in D Major, D. 345 by Franz Schubert;, Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 119, by Francis Poulenc; and Sonata in E-Flat Major, Op.18 by Richard Strauss. Salem will also give a free and public violin master class on Thursday at 1 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. 

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below top) will present a concert entitled “Inspired by Greatness” on Saturday, November 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church (below bottom, exterior photo), 116 West Washington Avenue, on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison.By Jacob Stockinger

In celebration of great teachers everywhere, this concert features composers from six centuries who are linked as teachers and students of one another.

The wide-ranging program includes music by Josquin, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Nathaniel Dett and Adolphus Hailstork. In his debut performance with the WCC, organist Mark Brampton Smith will perform works by Bach and Buxtehude on Grace’s Casavant pipe organ in addition to accompanying the WCC at the piano.

Tickets are available in advance for $15 through Brown Paper Tickets or via www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org or at the door.  Advance student tickets are $10.

The concerts opens with early Renaissance music of Jean Ockeghem (below top) and his student, Josquin des Prez (below bottom), who soon emerged as the leading composer of the era. In addition to mass movements by both composers, the WCC will perform Josquin’s glorious “Ave Maria—Virgo serena” and “Nymphes des bois” (at bottom), Josquin’s lament on the death Ockeghem and one of the most moving musical memorials of all time.

Three generations of Russian composers exemplify the incredible flowering of Russian liturgical music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tchaikovsky’s “Cherubic Hymn” is a movement from his groundbreaking setting of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy. Tchaikovsky often referred to his student Sergei Taneyev (below) as “The Russian Bach” because of Taneyev’s obsession with counterpoint, as evidenced in Stars, a movement from Taneyev’s Twelve Choruses, Op. 27.

As professor of composition at the Moscow Conservatory, Taneyev numbered among his students Sergei Rachmaninoff (below), whose “All-Night Vigil” (commonly referred to as Rachmaninoff’s Vespers) is the greatest single achievement in all of Russian choral music. The WCC presents three movements from this beloved work.

The German Romantic composers Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Heinrich von Herzogenberg, while not formally teachers and students of one another, were nevertheless closely linked. Brahms was one of the Schumann family’s closest friends, and Herzogenberg (below) and his wife Elisabeth were two of Brahms’s closest confidantes.

The WCC’s selections illustrate a particularly intriguing connection between a piano quartet by Herzogenberg, “Die Nacht,” and Brahms’s work in the same genre, “O schöne Nacht.” Brahms’s debt to the younger composer, Herzogenberg, is unmistakable in this case, as the audience will hear when the WCC presents both works side by side.

The WCC’s program concludes with rousing spirituals arranged by pioneering African-American composers Nathaniel Dett (below top) and Adolphus Hailstork (below middle) who were both students of famed French composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger (below bottom).

Founded in 1999, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of Bach oratorios, a cappella masterworks from various centuries, and world premieres. Robert Gehrenbeck (below) is the Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s Artistic Director.


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