The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What music best expresses the “bomb-cyclone” and Arctic blasts?

January 6, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Weather-wise, the past couple of weeks have been unforgettable and, in many ways, unbearable.

First, around Christmas, we had one bitterly cold Arctic blast.

Then after New Year’s Day came the massive “bomb-cyclone” that brought snow and ice, high winds and flooding, to the East Coast all the way from Florida to Maine.

Next came another Arctic blast – that put most of the country into the deep freeze with sub-zero temperatures that broke records over a century old.

(How, The Ear wonders, does the Arctic blast differ from the Polar Vortex of a few years ago? And who invents such colorful names that certainly seem new.)

Such extreme wintry weather has brought misery, hardship and even death to wherever it struck.

With luck, the coming week will see a return to more normal temperatures and more normal winter weather.

Still, the past few weeks got The Ear to wondering: What music best expresses such extreme kind of winter weather?

The highly virtuosic and aptly named “Winter Wind” Etude in A minor, Op. 25, No. 11, by Frederic Chopin came to mind. Its swirling notes suggest the howling wind and bitter cold while the minor-key melody has a certain dirge-like or funereal quality to it.

You can hear it played by Evgeny Kissin in the YouTube video at the bottom.

But The Ear is sure that many readers could suggest other musical depictions of extreme winter weather.

So please leave the name of the composer, the title of the work and, if possible, a link to a YouTube video performance at the bottom.

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra offers a head start on celebrating the New Year this coming Wednesday night

December 15, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information to post:

“Dear friends,

“The mostly amateur and critically acclaimed Middleton Community Orchestra (below) has a fun and entertaining evening planned for this coming Wednesday night, Dec. 20.

“Think of it as an early New Year’s Eve concert.

“The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School, 2100 Bristol Street.

“The program features:

Johann Strauss            Overture to Die Fledermaus (The Bat)

Johannes Brahms            Hungarian Dances 5, 6, 7 

Antonin Dvorak         Slavonic Dances Op. 46, Nos. 6, 7

Peter Tchaikovsky (below)   Selections from the Swan Lake               Suite; Opening Scene, Little Swans, Czardas, Dance Russe with Naha Greenholtz, violin

Johann Strauss            Persian March

Maurice Ravel             Tzigane, Naha Greenholtz, violin

Johann Strauss        Emperor Waltz (see the YouTube video below)

“The MCO is having a great time preparing this concert with our regular guest conductor Kyle Knox (below top) and our violin soloist, Naha Greenholtz (below bottom), who many of you know as the concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The two musicians are also married.

“Tickets are $15 and are available at the door or in advance at the Willy Street Coop West. Students are FREE.

“The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. Doors open at 7p.m.

“A meet-and-greet reception (below) follows the concert.

“For information, call (608) 212-8690.

Hope to see you there.”

Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic, co-founders of the Middleton Community Orchestra


Classical music: Here is a follow-up story from the Middleton Times-Tribune newspaper about The Ear’s “Musician of the Year” for 2014 –- the Middleton Community Orchestra.

January 21, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, the University of Wisconsin-Madison is back in session.

That means that many people who were gone – students, staff and faculty – are back in town.

While gone, they may have missed The Ear’s annual choice of “Musician of the Year.”

It appeared on New Year’s Eve.

This year’s honor went to the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) and to amateur music-makers.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/classical-music-the-ear-names-the-middleton-community-orchestra-and-adult-amateur-music-makers-as-musicians-of-the-year-for-2014/

But then the award-winning reporter, editor and columnist Matt Geiger from the Middleton newspaper the Middleton Times-Tribune picked up on the blog’s story and did his own terrific story about the honor that included an interview with The Ear. (Check it out if you want to learn more about The Ear and his blog.)

fMatt Geiger oif Middleton

It first appeared only in print, but is now available online:

http://middletontimes.com/articles/2015/01/14/middleton-community-orchestra-named-musicians-year

This is not the first time this blog has sparked some coverage of the arts scene by the local media. But it is one of the best times.

You can follow the link and learn about both this blog and the MCO.

And in the year-end post you will find links to other stories and posts from the past about the Middleton Community Orchestra. You can use the search engine on the blog’s home page.

Middleton Community Orchestra Steve Kurr conducting

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

Here is one special review I did:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/classical-music-review-let-us-now-praise-amateur-music-makers-and-restoring-sociability-to-art-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-liked-and-you-should-attend-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

Finally, here is a link to the Middleton Community Orchestra’s home page. You can learn how to play in it, how to support it and what concerts are coming up this spring:

www.middlecommunityorchestra.org

 

 

 


Classical music: The Ear names the Middleton Community Orchestra and adult amateur music-makers as Musicians of the Year for 2014.

December 31, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is New Year‘s Eve, 2014.

Each year, I close out the old year and greet the new year by naming a Musician of the Year.

I heard a lot of great music this past year.

Much of it you can relive in the year-end roundup by John W. Barker, the regular classical music critic for Isthmus who also contributes so much to this blog.

Here is a link that that roundup:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/classical-music-here-is-a-wrap-up-of-the-best-of-2014-in-madison-thanks-to-isthmus-critic-john-w-barker/

One of the ways in which John and I agree –- and in fact, we usually do agree — is regarding the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) for its admirable achievements in only four seasons.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

As loyal readers know, I am a big supporter of music education. In fact, for the sake of full disclosure, I should say that I sit on the board of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). And music education for young people and young students is about a lot more than music, as so much social science and psychological research continues to prove.

But this year I want to recognize ADULT amateur musicians.

These days, adult amateurs may seem unusual or an exception. But the historical fact is that for centuries, classical music was primarily the domain of amateur rather than professional performers.

So I am singling out the Middleton Community Orchestra, which uses some professional talent, but relies mostly on amateurs.

I have already written about how they point the way to the future for larger ensembles with the shorter programs; with the kind of music that is programmed; with the low price of admission ($10 for adults and FREE for students); and with the post-concert socializing with musicians and other audience members (below) — all of which adds up to a laudable community service that integrates a performing art into everyday life and society. That is a mission worth supporting.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

Here is a older review that I did. In it I talk about some of what I admire by giving nine reasons to attend the MCO:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/classical-music-review-let-us-now-praise-amateur-music-makers-and-restoring-sociability-to-art-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-liked-and-you-should-attend-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

But the MCO, founded by members Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic, is as much about hearing great and accessible music as it is about community service.

I will long remember piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Edvard Grieg played by UW-Madison pianist Thomas Kasdorf, who will perform the famously popular Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor — the signature concerto of Van Cliburn — by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky with the MCO this spring.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

I will also remember Madison-born, UW-trained and Juilliard-trained violist Vicki Powell (below) in shorter and unknown works by Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Max Bruch.

Vicki Powell at MCO

I will long remember former MCO concertmaster Alice Bartsch, who studied at the UW-Madison School of Music, in a wonderful interpretation of a Romance by Antonin Dvorak before she left for graduate studies at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

The same held true for Alice’s gifted violinist sister, Eleanor Bartsch,when she was joined (below) by fellow UW-Madison grad Daniel Kim in Mozart’s sublime Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola.

Eleanor Bartsch and Daniel Kim MCO Mozart

And I will remember the most recent performance with Madison Symphony Orchestra’s amazing principal clarinetist Joe Morris performing a rarely heard concerto by the under-appreciated 20th-century English composer Gerald Finzi.

joe morris playing CR Cheryl Savan

I will also remember fondly performances of symphonies by Antonin Dvorak and Johannes Brahms done by the MCO under the baton of conductor Steve Kurr (below), who teaches music at Middleton High School. (The MCO performs in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to the high school.)

Steve Kurr conducting

As with so many groups, including professional ones, booking great soloists seems to push the performers in the group to an even high level of playing. But the MCO takes care to book soloists with local ties, including soprano Emily Birsan who recently was at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, which adds an element of local pride to the event.

Emily Birsan MSO 2014

The MCO has some appealing concerts coming up in 2015. It deserves to have even larger audiences at its mid-week concerts.

Here is a link to their website, where you can see photos and learn about how to support the group and how to join the group as well as what concerts and program the MCO will perform during the rest of this season.

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

But I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention other ways that are outlets for adult amateur musicians.

They include the University of Wisconsin Choral Union (below) and many other local choirs, including the Isthmus Vocal Ensemble, the Madison Symphony Chorus and Madison Opera Chorus, the Wisconsin Chamber Symphony Chorus, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, the Festival Choir -– to say nothing of the many church choirs, secular choirs and adult amateur performing groups in Madison and the surrounding area.

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

So leaving 2014 and heading into 2015, The Ear -– who is himself an avid amateur pianist — proclaims the new year to be The Year of the Adult Amateur.

If you want to sing, join a choir.

If you want to play an instrument, start practicing or sign up for lessons. It is never too late, even after retirement.

And if you want to perform and share the joy and love of music with others, find an outlet, including the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Nothing beats the thrill of experiencing music from the inside.

So don’t just listen to music.

Make it!

 


Classical music: Maestro John DeMain of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera is The Ear’s “Musician of the Year” for 2013. Plus, “New Year’s Day From Vienna” will be broadcast Wednesday once on Wisconsin Public Radio and twice on Wisconsin Public Television.

December 31, 2013
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REMINDER: “New Year’s Day From Vienna,” with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performing waltzes, polkas and marches under Daniel Barenboim, will be broadcast live on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio, and then air at 1:30-3 p.m. and again at 7-8:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.

Vienna Philharmonic

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the day last of the old year, New Year’s Eve — which means it is that time of the year again when The Ear looks back over the past year and decides who deserves to be named “Musician of the Year.”

That is never an easy decision, especially in a city with as much fine classical music and as many fine classical musicians as Madison has. There are so many talented individuals and so many outstanding groups or ensembles in the area that any number of them could qualify for the honor.

It was particularly difficult this year because, due to personal circumstances, The Ear didn’t get to attend a lot of live events he wanted to.  Even so, this year the choice seemed somewhat obvious.

For example, here is a link to an insightful overview of the 2013 season offered in Isthmus by critic John W. Barker, who often is a guest writer on this blog. You just have to scroll down through the long story until you find Barker’s spot-on assessments of the year in classical music. It should make any classical music fans envious and proud to be in Madison:

http://www.thedailypage.com/scroll/2013/arts2013/index.html

So on to the man who happens to be the most common denominator among Barker’s Best Picks: John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) is the Musician of the Year for 2013.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Let’s start at the beginning.

It has been 20 years since maestro John DeMain came to Madison as the Music Director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Artistic Director of the Madison Opera. And he is a supremely articulate — he often does interviews on TV and radio — and cordial advocate of his own causes, as you can hear for yourself in a video at the bottom and in more than a dozen video on YouTube.)

Even before he arrived here, DeMain had a high profile as the artistic director of the Houston Grand Opera, where he commissioned and premiered John Adams’ “Nixon in China” and has a long history with the City Opera, where he conducted while still a student at the Juilliard School. He had also won a prestigious Grammy Award for his landmark recording of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”

But coming to Madison, DeMain had a chance to show his strength as an organizational  builder and planner -– with results that the Madison public could easily see, hear and be impressed by.

John DeMain inherited a fine organization for an amateur or semi-professional orchestra, one that had been built up especially by Roland Johnson during his long tenure.

But once he took over, DeMain vastly improved the playing and then programmed more ambitious pieces for the players, and developed his approach to them. His Brahms now is tighter and leaner and more exciting than when he arrived. John DeMain (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) is devoted to lifelong learning and improvement, and doesn’t take even the music he already knows and performs for granted.

John DeMain conducting MSO CR Greg Anderson

Over his tenure, DeMain has discovered and booked exciting and affordable young guest soloists – pianist Philippe Bianconi, violinists Augustin Hadelich and Henning Kraggerud, cellist Alisa Weilerstein tenor Stephen Costello — although The Ear would also like to see some big and more expensive figures brought to town to allow us to hear these artists live. Plus, DeMain listens to dozens of auditions each year and unerringly picks great young up-and-coming singers for the Madison Opera’s season including the popular Opera in the Park each summer.

opera in park De Main_001

I also find it noteworthy and important. DeMain is in demand elsewhere and every season has many opportunities to guest conduct out of town — for the now defunct New York City Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Glimmerglass Opera in upstate New York and many others.

John DeMain conducting 2

No less important is his willing to expand out into the local scene. In addition to the opera, he has conducted the chamber groups Con Vivo the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. He continues to play the piano — he was trained as a pianist before turning to conducting.

As an administrator and organizer, he has demonstrated great skills at putting together a team. True, the orchestra has suffered somewhat during the Great Recession and its aftermath – as did all artistic groups. It had to cut back its season by one concert, which DeMain says he hopes to restore to the subscription season.

But the same labor strife that has led to great damage to the Minnesota Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and so many others has not touched the MSO. DeMain’s contained the damage.

Having inherited double performances, DeMain took the MSO to three performances of each concert, reaching about 5,000 people or so with each “triple” performance. He continues to experiment with programming, and in late January will try out the “Behind the Score” series of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak (below).

dvorak

And while some listeners might complain about the lack of more adventurous contemporary music, DeMain has seats to fill and still manages to program contemporary works every season, even with many experimental offerings nearby at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

DeMain attends concerts at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, and is a tireless promoter of music education from the televised “Final Forte” Bolz concerto competition to the matinée Young People’s concerts (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson).

MSO Fall Youth kid greg anderson

And let’s not forget that DeMain was instrumental in getting the impressive Overture Center built and then programming concerts for the orchestra’s and opera’s home in Overture Hall (below).

Overture Hall

I am sure there is more I am overlooking.

Do I have some disappointments? Sure.

I thought his 20th anniversary season would be a bit more ambitious and adventurous, and feature some big works by Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner. I would like to see few more big-name and hot young soloists, including pianists Joyce Yang, Daniil Trifonov and Jeremy Denk (below), who has done two recitals at the Wisconsin Union Theater but has yet to perform a concerto. And there are so many young talented soloists out there today, we should be hearing more of them live and while they are still affordable in our market.

Jeremy Denk playing 2

I also get impatient with what I call “playing the Gershwin card” too often -– including again for this year’s season finale -– because the important and identifiable George Gershwin (bel0w) had such an easy-listening and crossover pop-like musical style that it unfailingly draws so many listeners. I loved DeMain’s last concert version of “Porgy and Bess,” but there must be other solutions.

gershwin with pipe

But in the end I have to defer to his judgment. The excellence that John DeMain has brought to the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera has extended to the entire city and to other groups. The rising tide he brought has lifted all boats.

If any one individual can take credit for the ever-increasing quality of the classical music that wehear in Madison, that person is John DeMain (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

DeMainOpera

Little wonder, then, that on this 20th anniversary of his arrival in Madison, maestro John DeMain is the Musician of the Year for 2013.

Thank you, John DeMain. We all – listeners and performers alike — are in your debt.

Cheers and good luck in the coming years!


Classical music reviews: Critics call New Year’s Eve concerts successes. PBS’ all-American program of Gershwin and Bernstein by the New York Philharmonic gets a rave, and so does the Metropolitan Opera’s “new” Baroque work “The Enchanted Island.”

January 3, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, if you weren’t out dining and dancing, or making merry at some party somewhere, the chances are pretty good that you spent New Year’s Eve at home.

And if you did that the chances are pretty good, especially if you are a classical music fan, that earlier in the evening you watched the New Year’s Eve festive all-American concert of music by George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein given by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet under the baton of the orchestra’s music director Alan Gilbert (below).

The Ear saw and heard much of the concert that sold-out Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center and also reached millions of viewers via PBS’ award-winning “Live From Lincoln Center” series that is produced by UW-Madison alumnus John Goberman.

I could write up what I most liked about it. (Thibaudet’s sloppy dress and disheveled tuxedo, below, for the “Rhapsody in Blue” finale was really the only thing I didn’t like.) But New York Times critic Alan Kozinn did a pretty good job of that.

So I direct you to his review and his analysis of how the Alan Gilbert Era seems to be putting its own American stamp of New Year’s Eve festivities in the Big Apple. I like the idea of ringing in the New Year by celebrating American music.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/02/arts/music/new-york-philharmonic-at-avery-fisher-hall-review.html?ref=allankozinn

That same night, the Metropolitan Opera also celebrated the coming of the new year with the world premiere of its scissors-and-paste baroque opera “The Enchanted Island” with an impressive cast that included superstar tenor Placido Domingo as Neptune (below) as well Danielle de Niese (at bottom), Joyce Di Donato and countertenor David Daniels.

But you will have to wait until the “Met Live in HD” broadcast on Saturday, Jan. 21, at 11:55 CDT at the Eastgate ad Point cinemas in Madison, to enjoy that production.

As we draw closer to that HD broadcast, I will post something with more details about the specially commissioned pastiche Baroque opera that uses music by Handel, Vivaldi, Purcell and Rameau among others and combines characters and plots taken from two Shakespeare plays (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Tempest”).

But in the meantime here is Anthony Tommasini’s informative and entertaining rave review in the New York Times about the world premiere. It sounds like a MUST-HEAR to the Ear, though I doubt it will become a new year’s institution the way the other concerts or events less difficult to produce might.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/02/arts/music/the-enchanted-island-at-the-metropolitan-opera-review.html?ref=anthonytommasini

And here is another positive review:

http://www.theatermania.com/new-york-city/reviews/01-2012/the-enchanted-island_47300.html

And here is a third, one that uses the word “triumph”:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/howard-kissel/the-enchanted-island_b_1179007.html

We call all judge how just it is and whether we agree with it when we finally get to see and hear this engaging novelty production nearer the end of the month.


Classical music news: They were silenced too soon. Here are prominent deaths in the classical music world in 2011. Plus PBS offers a live broadcast tonight of a New Year’s Eve concert of music by Gershwin and Bernstein.

December 31, 2011
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AN ALERT: Just a reminder than the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, all under the baton of Alan Gilbert, will perform an all-American concert of music by George Gershwin (below) and Leonard Bernstein TONIGHT — New Year’s Eve —  from 7 to 9 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television. The live broadcast is part of PBS’ award-winning “Live From Lincoln Center” series that is produced by UW-Madison alumnus John Goberman. The program features the Piano Concerto in F and “Rhapsody in Blue” by Gershwin plus Bernstein’s Overture to “Candide” and the Symphonic Dances From “West Side Story.” For more information, visit: http://www.pbs.org/programs/live-from-lincoln-center/

By Jacob Stockinger

The end of the year is always a time of mixed emotions.

We toast Cheers to a Happy New Year. Yet all the whole we are looking over our shoulder and behind us at what losses the past year brought us.

This past year did not strike me as a sad one for the number of deaths of prominent figures in the world of classical music so much as for the unexpectedness of so many of the deaths, which came to people who, by today’s standards, were too young to leave us and their profession or art.

The much heralded tenor Salvatore Licitra (below), who was frequently hailed as the successor to superstar Luciano Pavarotti but who died in a motorbike accident, is a prime example.

One senses that so many of these figures had much more to say and to add to their legacies, whether as performers or composers.

Here is a West Coast site with a photo gallery:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-et-art-notable-deaths-classical-music-dance-jazz-2011-pictures,0,4127772.photogallery

And here is another slide show from the East Coast. Be sure to read the Comments:

http://www.wqxr.org/#/blogs/wqxr-blog/2011/dec/26/memoriam-musicians-lost-2011/

And here is a list of mixed genres from NPR:

http://www.npr.org/2011/12/22/143974208/in-memoriam-musicians-we-lost-in-2011


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