The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Violinist Sarah Chang explains the popularity of Scandinavian music as a blend of ice and fire. She performs the Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Plus, Overture Hall the MSO hosts a FREE public Hymn Sing with organ on Saturday morning at 11.

November 4, 2014
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ALERT: This Saturday at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall, the Madison Symphony Orchestra is holding a FREE 45-minute public Hymn Sing with organist Deborah Krauss Smith (below) of Monroe, Wisconsin.

Deborah Krauss Smith.jeg

By Jacob Stockinger

This season the Madison Symphony Orchestra seems to be emphasizing thematic programs. Last time, it was all Russian music with pianist Olga Kern; this coming weekend, it will be all-Scandinavian music with violinist Sarah Chang as the guest artist.

The formula seems to work well for the MSO. From what The Ear has seen and heard, the programs are drawing very good houses and the orchestra is playing very tightly and very expressively.

It all bodes well for this coning weekend. Not only does American-Korean violinist Sarah Chang (below) play Scandinavian music superbly, along with so much other of the violin repertoire, she speaks about it just as well.

Sarah Chang playing

Witness her remarks below.

Those remarks serve as an introduction to Chang, who will return to Madison to solo this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) under longtime music director and conductor John DeMain.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The all-Scandinavian or Nordic program includes the Lyric Suite by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg; the Violin Concerto in D Minor by Finnish composer by Jean Sibelius; and the Symphony No. 4 “Inextinguishable” by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $16-$84 with student rush tickets available. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

Here is link to the MSO’s webpage about the concert, which includes biographical information about Sarah Chang, program notes and some audiovisual clips and sound samples.

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/chang

And here is a link to the always comprehensive and informative but accessible program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen (below).

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1415/3.Nov14.html

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

The half-hour, pre-concert talk will be given by Randal Swiggum (below), the education coordinator of the Elgin (Illinois) Symphony Orchestra. The FREE talk starts in Overture Hall one hour before the start of the concert.

Randal Swiggum conducting BW

Here is the email interview that Sarah Chang (below) graciously granted to The Ear:

Sarah Chang

How would you place the dramatic and lyrical Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius (below, in a famously granitic photo portrait by Yousuf Karsh) among the great violin concertos in the repertoire? What would you like audiences to pay special attention to in the work?

The Sibelius is a spectacular concerto. It is one of my personal favorites and has been a good friend for a very long time! (You can hear Sarah Chang is the opening of the Sibelius concerto in a live performance in a YouTube video at the bottom. Be sure to read the reader comments.)

sibelius

The Sibelius Violin Concerto is part of an all-Nordic program of Finnish, Danish and Norwegian composers that also features the Symphony No. 4 “The Inextinguishable” by Carl Nielsen (below top) and Lyric Suite by Edvard Greig (below bottom). What characteristics do you identify with Scandinavian music?

There’s something very special about Scandinavian music. There’s an amazing blend of Nordic iciness and incredible passion.

Carl Nielsen at piano

edvard grieg

This is a return concert to Madison and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson)? Do you have comments about the city or the symphony you care to share?

The Madison Symphony Orchestra is absolutely wonderful! I remember the audience being amazingly warm and the people in Madison are so kind and welcoming. I’m so happy to be going back!

John DeMain conducting MSO CR Greg Anderson

What are your current plans and projects?

I spend about half the year in the USA performing and the rest of the year touring Europe and Asia. My schedule is planned at least 2 years in advance so the challenge is always trying to find some personal time in between all the concerts. I also recently got a new puppy who is, unapologetically, the center of my universe, and he makes it very difficult to leave home!

Was there an Aha! Moment when you knew you wanted to be a professional violinist? How old were you and what was it – a particular piece or performer, recording or live concert?

I started playing at the age of 4 (below) and started attending the Juilliard School when I was 6, so I was always surrounded by phenomenally talented musicians and engulfed in the music world. I could never imagine my life without music.

Sarah Chang as a child

How do you think we can attract more young people to classical music?

I think repertoire and artists are key. Musical exposure is also important. The U.S. Embassy gave me the honor of becoming an Artistic Ambassador and I focus on bringing music into schools, playing for students, giving master classes and Q-and-A’s, inviting them to dress rehearsals to get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on backstage before a concert, etc.

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

I’m looking forward to returning to Madison!
 Thank you!


Classical music: Vocal music, piano music and violin music of Norway – especially by Edvard Grieg — and other Scandinavian music will be explored and performed for FREE at Taliesin in Spring Green on Monday, July 14.

July 10, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s loyal friend and good source Kent Mayfield, who brings classical music to rural areas of southwest and south-central Wisconsin, writes:

“Music for a Summer Evening” — the annual series of concerts sponsored by the Rural Musicians Forum — moves to the Hillside Theater (below) at architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s historic Taliesin compound on this coming Monday, July 14.

There is no admission charge for the concert. However, a free-will offering assists in underwriting the concert series.

taliesin_hillside2

The concert will feature “Songs of Norway,” an evening with the works of Norwegian composers, who capture the musical landscape of Norway in a haunting, tender way.

Pianist Michael Keller (below) joins University of Wisconsin-Madison soprano Mimmi Fulmer and University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point violinist Steven Bjella in this notable chamber music concert.

Michael Keller

Fulmer will open the concert with a piece that she remembers her grandmother, a Finnish immigrant, singing to her.

“I’m sure she sang several pieces,” she says, “but one song that remains a vivid memory is “Tuoll’ on mun kultani.” I sing it without accompaniment, just the way I remember her singing it, and it casts a spell every time. I feel as if I am channeling her voice and her experience of coming through Ellis Island, missing her home country, and connecting to Finland by singing the song.”

Fulmer (below) will also sing a winsome array of pieces by prominent composers of Norway.

mimmi fulmer headshot (2)

For his part, Madison pianist Michael Keller will focus on the works of Edvard Grieg (below). Grieg is best known for his Piano Concerto in A minor and Peer Gynt (which includes “Morning Mood,” “Anitra’s Dance” and “In the Hall of the Mountain King”). His solo piano works include his “Lyric Pieces” as well as longer, less folk music-inspired pieces like the Ballade.

The Ear likes the program a lot and finds it very appealing and welcome, despite the day being Bastille Day, which should celebrate France, the French and the French Revolution. The lovely and accessible music of Edvard Grieg is simply too often overlooked and underplayed, even on the radio.

Adds Mayfield: “It was said that Grieg painted the people, the scenery, and the moods of Norway in music. His use and development of Norwegian folk music in his own compositions put the music of Norway in the international spectrum, as well as helping develop a national identity. In many ways, Edvard Grieg is to Norway what George Washington is to America and William Shakespeare to England: his country’s most celebrated human icon.”

edvard grieg

“To close the program, Keller will be joined by violinist Steven Bjella (below) with the Sonata No. 2 in G major Op. 13 for violin and piano, which allows Grieg’s unique and colorful character to shine through with great power and elegance.” (You can listen to the haunting violin sonata played by violinist Vadim Repin and pianist Nikolai Lugansky in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

steven bjella norway

In all, the concert promises to be a moving tribute to Edvard Grieg and his fellow Scandinavian composers in the unique architectural space at Taliesin’s Hillside Theater. The theater is located at 6604 State Highway 23, in Spring Green near the Wisconsin River. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Seating is limited.

For more information, visit www.ruralmusiciansforum.org OR contact Kent Mayfield, artistic director, at ruralmusiciansforum@yahoo.com.


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