By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a review by guest blogger Sigurd “Sig” Midelfort, a good friend of the blog and of classical music in the Madison area.
Sig is a retired CPA who has spent a number of years with non-profits. He adds: “Right now, that means I’m doing and have done volunteer work — with the Democratic Party of Dane County, Madison Music Makers Inc, a local environmental group and an orchestra in the western suburbs of Chicago. (I also was a history major as an undergrad, have a masters in economic development, was in the Peace Corps in Tanzania for three years, and so on.) All the time I have been interested in the local classical music scene, playing in amateur groups for decades.”
It proved too good to resist. Enjoy!
By Sigurd Midelfort
Two recent University of Wisconsin-Madison doctoral graduates participated in a lustrous viola recital on February 19 at Carnegie Hall (below) in New York City.
Violist Elias Goldstein, now a professor at Louisiana State University who received his DMA from the UW-Madison in 2011 performed and received assistance on the violin from Roxana Pavel Goldstein, his wife (she received her DMA from the UW-Madison in 2012) and from Ieva Jokubaviciute, a Lithuanian pianist. (They are below, in a photo by Daniel Balan.)
Elias began the evening, playing an unaccompanied sonata for viola, Op. 25, No. 1, by Paul Hindemith. Roxana (below) joined him in two duos for violin and viola: one, a three-movement duet in G Major, K. 423, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the other, a “Passacaglia” by George Frideric Handel as arranged by the 19th-century Norwegian composer and conductor Johan Halvorsen.
After intermission, Elias and Ieva performed three works for viola and piano: a divertimento in three movements by Franz Joseph Haydn, as arranged by the famous cellist Gregor Piatigorsky and the famous violist William Primrose (below); a sonata (No. 6 in A major) in two movements by Luigi Boccherini, as arranged by Primrose; and the famous Caprice No. 24 by the legendary Nicolo Paganini –- it has been used for theme and variations by Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Witold Lutoslawski — also as transcribed for viola by Primrose. (The caprice, taken at a quasi presto tempo, is hard enough for violin, its original instrument. For viola? Well, one can imagine the difficulties it presented.)
I was not an unbiased observer. Elias is a distant relative, and I have been a passionate amateur cellist my entire life. Nonetheless, Elias’ tone was stunning. His playing was mellow and warm, round and resonant, displaying an ease and mastery of technique that is unusual for even the most accomplished performers.
Elias holds recent top prizes in the following international viola competitions: the Primrose, the Yuri Bashmet, the Lionel Tertis, the Watson Forbes and the Andrews University String Competition. In 2011, he made his Russian debut with the Moscow Soloists and the New Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra under Alexander Sladkovsky.
While at the UW-Madison School of Music, Elias was a student of Sally Chisholm of the Pro Arte Quartet.
Although the viola (below) generally has a lower public profile, in the hands of such an artist as Elias it stands as an equal of, or is even superior to, the violin or cello in terms of its quality of sound.
Roxana, too, is a superb artist, playing with considerable warmth and sensitivity on the violin. Originally from Romania, she worked at the UW-Madison with David Perry, first violinist of the Pro Arte Quartet, doing research on Romanian tunes and folk music as expressed on the violin.
By Jacob Stockinger
Tomorrow, on Sunday night, March 2, the annual Oscars, the 86th annual Academy Awards, will be given out starting at 6 p.m. CST on ABC-TV, which will also stream the awards broadcast live.
The Ear hopes that this time Oscar gets it right.
I recall one memorable year when they got it wrong.
That was in 2006 at the 78th annual Academy Awards.
Even the late, great and popular film critic Roger Ebert (below, in a photo by Vince Bucci), whose choices I usually admired and concurred with, got it wrong.
In 2006, two of the top contenders for Best Film were “Crash” and the heavily favored ‘Brokeback Mountain.”
“Crash” dealt with race and racial tensions in Los Angeles, and focused in interrelated stories that were well told and well acted by some fine names, including Thandie Newton (below left), Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon (below right) and Don Cheadle.
“Brokeback Mountain,” based on the short story by Annie Proulx that was first published in The New Yorker magazine, dealt with two young modern-day cowboys in Montana struggling to deal with and acknowledge their gay identity and their love for each other.
Late in the game, Roger Ebert came out in favor of “Crash” as the most deserving film to receive the Best Picture award. His influence may well have set the upset in motion.
But Ebert was wrong.
“Brokeback” deserved the honor. It was a moving film with great music and great cinematography. Most of all, its story and character study were very poignant and bittersweet, even heartbreaking. And it was masterfully acted by Jake Gyllenhaal (below left) and by the late Heath Ledger (below right).
Not that Crash wasn’t a fine film. It was. But race had been dealt with very well in a many other films over the years.
On the other hand, “Brokeback Mountain,” directed by the incomparable and eclectic Ang Lee, was a break-though work of art, a pioneering achievement that proved nothing less than revolutionary in the way it introduced gay subject matter and characters into mainstream Hollywood cinema in a sympathetic way.
And the current move of public opinion towards approving of marriage equality – or gay marriage or same-sex marriage – just goes to prove the point.
“Brokeback” did win three Oscars – but NOT the one for Best Picture, which went instead to “Crash,” a good movie but not a better movie than “Brokeback.”
But American composer Charles Wuorinen also found something inspiring in the story of two lonesome gay cowboys up on an isolated Montana mountain. So he asked the author to rework the story into an opera libretto while he went to work composing the music. (Below, in the title roles, are Tom Randle, left, and Daniel Okulitch, right):
The results are an opera based on the revised short story.
How good are the results?
Here is a balanced and insightful review of the opera’s world premiere at the Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain, from senior music critic Anthony Tommasini for The New York Times, who rightly thinks a love story calls for a little more singing and melody. He seems to be saying: Right story, wrong composer.
But more to the point, you can judge for yourself. You can now hear the opera FREE via streaming for another 60 days or so thanks to Medici TV. (You can get a taste in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Here is link to the story on NPR’s “Morning Edition” that features an interview with Proulx (below) and also give some background as well as a link to the opera broadcast on Medici.
Here is a link to the NPR story:
So let’s hope The Academy gets the right movies for the right awards Sunday night.
Here is a link to much more information about the Oscars.
And you can return here tomorrow where you will find more Oscar-related stories about music top serve as background before you tune into the always endless live broadcast with this years; host, Ellen DeGeneres –- an out lesbian whose appearance attests to the prescience of “Brokeback Mountain.”
ALERT and REMINDER: Just a reminder that the Pro Arte Quartet will perform a FREE concert this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program features the WORLD PREMIERE of the quartet’s fifth of six commissions to mark its centennial. (Also on the work is Franz Jospeh Haydn’s Quartet, Op. 20, Np. 4, and Anton Bruckner’s Viola Quintet with guest Samuel Rhodes of the Juilliard School and formerly of the Juilliard String Quartet.) The new work is the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoit Mernier, who is in Madison to coach the quartet and attend the premiere, where he will be interviewed by John W. Barker preceding the concert at 7:15 p.m. And here is a link to a review of the new CD recording (below) of the first four commissions by Greg Hettmansberger, who writes Madison Magazine’s classical music blog “Classically Speaking.”
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 FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
The third program in the current season of the Middleton Community Orchestra (below), on Wednesday night at the comfortable Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School, was a rich and ambitious one.
For this concert, the regular MCO conductor Steve Kurr retired modestly to the viola and percussion sections, and yielded the podium to a visiting maestro, Kevin McMahon (below), a University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music alumnus who directs the Sheboygan Symphony.
Of three works on the program, the first was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s sublime Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat for Violin, Viola and Orchestra. Well-known, especially from many recordings, the work is in fact rarely performed in concerts, perhaps because of the demand for two soloists of high and equal merit.
In this case, it got them.
Local violin star Eleanor Bartsch and Juilliard-trained violist Daniel Kim of New York City — but both distinguished and prize-winning former students in the UW School of Music — have known each other since childhood. They were clearly on a shared wavelength in this performance, paired beautifully in music that makes one glad to be alive. (At bottom, you can hear a popular YouTube recording of the work with violinist Itzhak Perlman and violist Pinchas Zukerman under the baton of Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.)
The orchestra, a sturdy accompanist in the Mozart, came into its own in the next piece, the flashy “Capriccio espagnol” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (below). It is really a short five-movement concerto for orchestra, showing off a kaleidoscope of colors, and demanding a performance of virtuosic capacity.
Clearly, guest maestro McMahon had drilled the orchestra thoroughly, so that the performance was a stellar achievement for the MCO. And it also gave the concertmaster, Alice Bartsch, sister of the violin soloist in the Mozart, her own opportunities for some brilliant solo moments.
Finally came the longest work of the night, the Symphony No. 2 in D Major of Johannes Brahms (below).
This is perhaps the most genial of the composer’s four symphonies, but its lyricism conceals some challenging demands made on the orchestra. Brahms requires absolute perfection of technique and fully polished sonorities. And so, precisely because it is a very well-known score, it really puts an orchestra like the MCO to the test.
The group met the test quite creditably. Perhaps out of mercy, McMahon dropped the first-movement repeat. He had some very good ideas about phrasing and nuances throughout, and the players worked hard to put them to good effect.
Indeed, the performance gave one a chance to assess the community orchestra’s progress in no more than its fourth season of existence.
Well, there are still concerns to be faced. There are rough elements in the brass playing, but the woodwinds provide a secure and reliable anchor for the orchestra. The strings still lack that full sheen we might crave, but they are growing in security and discipline, especially the violins.
And so, after not that much time in the growing yet, music director and usual conductor Steve Kurr (below) has succeeded in building the MCO into a treasure for the city of Middleton and a genuine asset to the musical life of the Madison area. It deserves all possible support and encouragement — and attendance.
By Jacob Stockinger
For quite some time now, NPR has featured “Tiny Desk Concerts” — classical, jazz, folk, roots music — during which major performers play live in the crowded NPR studio. They are easy to link to and stream over your computer or maybe even your TV set these days. (NPR books great guests, including, below bottom, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma.)
You can also find NPR links to and archives of other live performances -– often through radios stations such as WQXR-FM in New York City and WGBH in Boston –- and include a recital of live music in major halls and venues, including one of Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Claude Debussy and Frederic Chopin by the acclaimed Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes at Carnegie Hall (below). And there are many, many others.
And now Deceptive Cadence seems to be acting like musical anthropologist. The time they went out “into the field” – that is, not in the usual venues and concert halls.
That’s not unheard of, of course. That is how the great composer Bela Bartok (below) started out as a musical anthropologist or ethnologist of Hungarian and Romanian folk music, and then used his research to morph into one of the pioneers of musical modernism. Chopin used Polish music like the mazurka to create a new Romanticism. And in American folk music, the musical anthropology of Alan Lomax is legendary.
Specifically, NPR went to the piano factory of Steinway and Sons in New York City and recorded the red-hot glam pianist Yuja Wang playing the fiercely difficult Toccata in D Minor, Op. 11, with all its hypnotic repetition of a single note, by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev on a brand new Steinway concert grand. (You can see and hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom. Don’t forget to click on the icon that is second from the right to enlarge the video image to fill your computer screen.)
The music and the physical virtuosity or dexterity is amazing to behold.
It is also kind of cute and informal to watch the diminutive figure of the glamorous Wang playing difficult cert music in a cold, wood-strewn and equipment-strewn warehouse in fingerless wool hobo gloves that go up her forearm –- but only after she uses the reflective fallboard above the keys to put on glossy lipstick and so complete her outfit of black fur-like boa, black stiletto heels and geometrically high fashion black-and-white dress.
Ah! Those tribal ceremonies and native attire!
Anyway, here is a link to the performance by Yuja Wang at the Steinway and Sons factory in the borough of Queens, not the usual Steinway showroom in Manhattan where most pianists test and choose pianos for their performances.
The Tiny Desk Concerts archive has lots of kinds of live performances.
For example, here is the famed Kronos Quartet (below) doing a recent Tiny Desk Concert featuring its latest recordings. Many other such concerts by other artists have been archived and are readily accessible:
And here is a link to the archive, with links to other older archives, of music Live in Performance housed at NPR. It includes chamber music, orchestral music (below is the Mideast peace-promoting Palestinian-Israeli West-Eastern Divan Orchestra under co-founder and director Daniel Barenboim in Carnegie Hall), operas and recitals:
ALERT: The University of Wisconsin School of Music’s Guest Artist series will present flutist Sarah Frisof (below) of the University of Kansas and pianist-composer Daniel Pesca in a FREE recital on this Sunday night at 7 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. The program includes Ballade by Frank Martin; Sonata in E minor by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach; “A Memory of Melisande” and “Brief Pause” by Daniel Pesca; and Sonata No. 1 in A Major for Violin by Gabriel Faure (transcribed by Stallman).
Frisof trained at the University of Michigan, the Juilliard School theEastman School of Music. She was a semi-finalist in the 2009 Kobe International Flute Competition, and 2nd Prize winner of both the National Flute Associations’ Young Artist Competition in 2008 and the Heida Hermann?s International Woodwind Competition in 2007. Dr. Frisof is the principal flute of the Dallas Wind Symphony and a frequent performer with the Dallas Symphony. She has performed with the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Detroit Symphony and Boston Symphony. Daniel Pesca (b. 1985) is currently pursuing a DMA in Composition at the Eastman School of Music. He is the recipient of many commissions; his work for wind ensemble. Pieces by Pesca have been performed by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the Huntsville (Alabama) Symphony Orchestra, and Eastman’s Musica Nova.
By Jacob Stockinger
The 40-year-old German heart-throb tenor from Munich, Jonas Kaufmann is on a roll.
Well, truth be told, he has been for years.
But this week seems a kind of trifecta for Jonas (pronounced Yonas) Kaufmann.
On Friday, Feb. 17, Maestro Hunka-Hunka opens the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of French composer Jules Massenet’s “Werther,” the opera based on the famous and influential early 19th century Storm-and-Stress novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Then two days later, Kaufmann makes his Carnegie Hall debut – presumably and unfortunately, if you have seen his Met production of Wagner’s “Parsifal” (below, in a photo by Sara Krulwich of The New York Times), with his shirt on — with a recital of Romantic songs by Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt and Richard Wagner. It seems rather late for his first appearance at Carnegie Hall, but I bet it is a sell-out.
The Ear hopes they have some smelling salts handy, just in case.
All that plus Sony Classical is releasing an album of Franz Schubert’s famous and season-appropriate song cycle “Winterreise” (Winter Journey, below top) on the heels of Kaufmann’s bestselling and critically acclaimed CDs for Decca Records of arias by Richard Wagner (below bottom) and Giuseppe Verdi (below bottom and in a YouTube video of “La donna e mobile” from “Rigoletto” at the bottom of the post).
Well, what can you say such success?
But you can read about how Kaufmann’s career has developed and what kind of rather modest and thoughtful person lies behind the glamorous and charismatic tenor, who may be the first really BIG vocal and operatic talent to emerge in this century.
I mean, Kaufmann has it all: strength and endurance, great tone, variety and handsome looks.
Did I mention handsome looks?
Yep. Kaufmann is thoroughly beautiful in his singing and thoroughly believable in his acting. Now that is a combination devoutly to be wished, don’t you think?
Here is a link to the comprehensive profile of Jonas Kaufmann by Zachary Woolfe that shows just how much consideration goes into Kaufmann’s personal life and professional career. All that talent, plus he seems like a nice guy:
By Jacob Stockinger
When I first met Kathryn Ananda-Owens (below), I was a journalist reporting on education and she was a promising student at Memorial High School where she had just won a prestigious national science award and competition.
But she was also a very gifted young pianist, and music proved to be the profession she ended up pursuing. Indeed, she became the winner of the first annual Neale-Silva Young Artists Competition held in 1993 by Wisconsin Public Radio.
Kathy studied at Oberlin College and then the Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. For many years now, she has been a professor of piano at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, which is renowned for its music department and especially its choral music.
She has toured in Asia and Europe, has perform solo recitals chamber music and concertos with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the St. Olaf Orchestra. She has performed at Lincoln Center in New York City and has made several Compact Disc recordings.
Here is a link to a biographical sketch:
Kathy returns to Madison periodically, but not always to play in public. But she will perform this Friday at the FREE Noon Musicale held weekly in the Landmark Auditorium (below top and bottom) of the historic First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and built at 900 University Bay Drive, from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
Her program is a terrific combination of the old classics and new music.
Kathy will play Mozart’s dramatic Sonata in C Minor K. 457 and two of Debussy’s “Estampes” (Prints): “Pagodes” (Pagodas, played by David Cabassi during the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in a popular YouTube video at that bottom) and “Jardins Sous la Pluie” (Gardens in the Rain.)
In addition she will perform a contemporary work that was written for her: “Album Leaves” by Justin Merritt (below), who has been in residence at St. Olaf College.
By Jacob Stockinger
On Sunday, we saw the “New World” Symphony in a new light.
I think I can speak for both seasoned concertgoers and novices.
And what I say is no overstatement in describing the triumphant Sunday afternoon multi-media performance of the popular work by Antonin Dvorak (below).
It was turned in by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top, with the Jumbotron screen behind it) under the baton of its longtime music director and conductor John DeMain (below bottom, in a photo by Prasad), along with guests actors and the inaugural use of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s almost decade-old “Beyond the Score” format.
In a one-time only performance, the house in the Overture Hall of the Overture Center was sold-out, something that has happened in recent years only with the Christmas concerts. And it was an enthusiastic audience that offered two long standing ovations: the first, after the 60-minute background presentation; and the second, after the post-intermission 40-minute complete performance, which was an exemplary reading that was convincingly dramatic in the fast movements and movingly lyrical in the songful slow movement.
The Ear listened not only to what the actors and players said and did, but also to what other audience members had to say. And the judgment seemed unanimously positive.
Everyone agreed that the multi-media part of the program was very well constructed and very well presented. It was remarkably tight. There were no awkward silences or lapses or pauses. This was not like when the A-V Club used to come to your middle school science or history class and you stared at your shoes while they figured out how to make the technology work.
Instead this was a thoroughly professional presentation that proceeded smoothly from start to finish. It was well researched and well written. It incorporated historical still photos and historical film footage. It used primary sources such as the music’s score and Dvorak’s own letters; and it used secondary sources such as newspaper stories and the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha” and its influence on the impressionable and culturally curious Dvorak and his interest in American Indian music and Negro spirituals.
The orchestral excerpts that underlined the points were precisely played, and such starting-and-stopping is not an easy thing to do unless you are well rehearsed.
The Ear does have one minor concern with this Musicology for the Masses: The “Beyond the Score” format tends to turn all music into program music. Still, there is no questioning that it enhances one’s appreciation of a masterpiece by putting a frame around the painting, by providing a historical context. A specialist could probably pick out small flaws or gaps, but lengthy scholarship was not the point.
All in all, this new format seems exactly what a lot of American symphony orchestras need right now, especially at a time when so many of them are financially troubled and have to figure out a way to attract new and younger audiences.
And this presentation-performance combination sure did that. Remarkably few audience members left at intermission and it was inspiring to see so many, right up to the balcony, filled. Except for an all-Gershwin concert two seasons ago, it has been a few years since such a packed house showed up for a non-holiday MSO concert.
So, who gets credit and whom do we thank? The list is long and, happily, no one got into the kind of postured declaiming that can make it feel false, too staged and overly dramatic. Distraction was kept to a quiet minimum, the characters sitting on stools on the prone of the stage. Theatricality was minimal.
Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom (below, in a photo by Jim Gill) delivered the goods as a resonant and articulate but calmly expressive narrator.
American Players Theater actor David Daniel (below) did an outstanding job of playing the composer without overdoing the Czech accent and using only a bit of a costume suit.
Another APT actor, James Ridge (below), played Dvorak’s son who also commented on his father’s American adventures, but never overshadowed him.
And local mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Colbert (below), who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who directs the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, sang Negro spirituals beautifully in a way that proved less showy and concert hall-like than you often hear today. She sang in a subdued, simple and traditional manner that seemed more authentic, more true to the music’s roots.
Even conductor John DeMain got into the act playing the German conductor Anton Seidl, who headed the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and in 1893 conducted the world premiere of the symphony in New York City, with a German accent.
But perhaps the person we have to thank the most is the one whose checkbook made it possible: the Anonymous Donor, who suggested trying the format and who underwrote it financially.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly enlightening event. The Ear hopes it will get perhaps a second performance from the MSO (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) next season if the audience interest warrants it, and that it might even be incorporated into the regular subscription season. (The MSO, by the way, is using an email link to an on-line survey to sample the opinion of those who attended the concert, something i do not trembler them doing before.)
So the question now becomes: What symphony do you want to see done next in the new format?
In an interview I posted last week, John DeMain told The Ear that 22 symphonies have been performed this way in Chicago since the “Beyond the Score” format started in 2005. (At bottom is a YouTube video in which no less a musician than composer-conductor Pierre Boulez introduces, explains and defends the format. And you can find many other videos of Beyond the Score performance on YouTube.)
So I vote for Beethoven’s Third and Ninth Symphonies and the “Emperor” Piano Concerto; Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and Sixth “Pathetique” symphonies; Shostakovich’s Fifth; Brahms’ First and Fourth; Mozart’s “Jupiter”; and Schubert’s “Unfinished” and Ninth or “The Great.”
Which symphony would you like to hear in the Beyond the Score format?
Tell The Ear.
Tell the MSO.
In the meantime, you can read what some other critics said about the performance:
Here is a link to a review by John W. Barker (bel0w) for Isthmus:
And here is a link to the review by Greg Hettmansberger (bel0w) for his blog “Classically Speaking” blog for Madison Magazine:
By Jacob Stockinger
Beethoven (below) would have approved.
And no doubt he would have been very, very happy.
And sure enough, all around the world, in many different cultures, Beethoven’s Ninth has found a place as an emblem of those aspirations. During the Pinochet Years, it was sung by Chilean women outside the walls of prisons where political activists were being tortured — the men could hear them and took heart from their singing,
Of course Hitler also appropriated the Ninth too. But then Leonard Bernstein used it to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of East Germany. And protesting Chinese students (below) in the Tiananmen Square uprising where they rebelled to strains of the Ninth coming out of loudspeakers.
The Ear wonders if it was played anywhere in the Mideast or Northern Africa during the Arab Spring?
I particularly like the way the Japanese sing it out loud en masse – in German no less — as a rite of ushering in the coming New Year. (Below is a photo of 10,000 Japanese singing the “Ode to Joy” as a huge stadium choir that spent months studying and rehearsing the music and the German language.)
As a ritual, it is kind of like dancing waltzes in Vienna or watching the ball drop in Times Square in New York City, only a lot more soulful, beautiful and personal in the public’s involvement and its own cultural meaning. (You can hear for yourself the Japanese stadium concert of singing “Ode to Joy” finale of the last movement in a YouTube video at the bottom. It has had about 1.5 million hits and is pretty impressive and moving to experience even in a audio-video recording.)
Here is the story that I first heard about the movie documenting Beethoven’s Ninth — “Following the Ninth: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Final Symphony” — around the world on NPR. It moved The Ear and I hope it moves you. I also hope someone out there knows if or when it is scheduled to play in Madison and will let the rest of us know the dates.
The film also redeems all the baloney we hear about classical music being outdated and old-fashioned and elitist and so on ad nauseam. Other music would be damn lucky to get even close to this kind of universality, significance and appreciation.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is the birthday celebration of the murdered Nobel Peace Prize-winning civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (below) with celebrations around the nation, including a live broadcast from the state Capitol on Wisconsin Public Radio at noon CST. (The MLK tribute will also air tonight from 8 to 9 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.)
And that is exactly what the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) will do this coming Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall in a first-time and one-time only concert that looks, according to marketing director Teri Venker, headed for a sellout.
Here is the MSO press release:
“Bohemian Antonín Dvořák’s uniquely American composition, Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” will be the focus of Beyond the Score®, a multimedia concert experience Sun., Jan. 26, 2014, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall in Madison, Wisconsin. This is a Madison first and a one-time only performance.
“Beyond the Score® will feature videos and photos, actors and narrator, and musical examples, as well as a full performance of the symphony by Conductor John DeMain and the musicians of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The experience will fully immerse the audience in the “New World Symphony’s” context in history, how it relates to Dvořák’s other works, and the events in the composer’s life that influenced its creation.
“MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) said: “This is an entertaining way to learn more about one of the world’s masterpieces through video, music, and actors. Hopefully, you’ll hear the symphony in a whole new way. This is an opportunity you won’t want to miss!” (At the bottom is a popular YouTube video , that has over 1.3 millions hits, and that features superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic leading the exciting final movement of the :”New World” symphony in a special concert for Pope Benedict XVI.)
“Other professional talent will also play key roles.
“Anders Yocom, of Wisconsin Public Radio, will narrate.
Actor James Ridge (below), also a core member of American Players Theatre, will enact multiple roles.
“Mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Colbert (below), who is director of the women’s chorus at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Madison and is president of the Madison Symphony Chorus, will sing excerpts of spirituals that influenced Dvorak.
“Dan Lyons (below), principal pianist of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will be the accompanist.
“Dvorak, already an internationally renowned composer, came to America in 1892 at the invitation of wealthy East Coast philanthropist Jeannette Thurber. He headed the American Conservatory of music in New York City and his main goal was to discover “American Music” and employ it in his own compositions. He also vacationed in the Czech community Spillville, Iowa, which holds an annual Dvorak festival each summer.
“Dvorak was particularly taken with the music of both African-Americans and Native Americans, and in 1893 began work on Symphony No. 9. To this day there is a lively debate as to whether the piece more prominently reflects these “new world” cultures or rather Dvořák’s native Bohemia.
“According to notes from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, “For Americans, this is the first great symphony about America. For African-Americans, this is the first great orchestral work to use themes inspired by their songs and spirituals. For Native Americans, it is the first, and so far the only, great work inspired by Native American music.” Beyond the Score® is a complete exploration of these varied and intriguing influences.
“Tickets are $15-$60 each, and are available at www.madisonsymphony.org/beyond ; through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, Madison, Wisconsin or by calling the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
“Beyond the Score® is produced by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Gerard McBurney, creative director, and Martha Gilmer, executive producer. Major funding for this concert is provided by an anonymous friend of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.”
REMINDER: Madison keyboardist Trevor Stephenson writes: “On this Sunday afternoon, Jan. 12, at 3 p.m., I’ll play a fortepiano house concert at my home at 5729 Forsythia Place on the west side of music ranging from Haydn to Bartok. (I know that Bartok is not usual fare on the fortepiano—but the other day I was reading through his Romanian Folk Dances at the fortepiano and was simply stunned by how energetic they sounded—since the style of these comes largely from cimbalom playing (Romanian hammer dulcimer, and the fortepiano is really a hammer dulcimer in a tuxedo). So this really makes perfect sense. The concert will also feature Mozart’s charming variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata, Op. 13, two Mazurkas by Chopin, and Haydn’s waggish Sonata No. 23 in F major. Sweet and savory treats, drinks, and will be wine served. Admission is $35. Reservations are required: email firstname.lastname@example.org or (608) 238-6092.
By Jacob Stockinger
It happens once every four years.
The contestants for the unusual Gilmore competition,which is based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for classical pianists don’t even know that they are in the running. Unlike other major competitions like the Tchaikovsky, the Van Cliburn, the Arthur Rubinstein and the Chopin, in the Gilmore the anonymous judges follow an individual’s career over a period of time and then choose the “winner.”
This year’s winner in the polish pianist Rafal Blechacz (below), who has already won the Chopin competition at 20 – the first Polish pianist to do so in 20 years, he also took all the gold medals in individual categories and was so good that no second prize was awarded. He has recorded half a dozen acclaimed CDs of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Karol Szymanowski and Claude Debussy and of course Chopin for Deutsche Grammophon.
The year’s recipient has been all over the airwaves and the web, so here is everything you may want to know about Rafal Blechacz plus his inaugural concert as the winner that was streamed live Wednesday night by famed radio station WQXR-FM in New York City, which then archived it for those of who missed the live event.
Here is the official announcement:
Here is an candid and cordial interview done by Tom Huizenga and NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog that was broadcast on “All Things Considered”:
Here is the announcement in a story in The New York Times:
Archived video of his sold-out concert Wednesday at the Greene Space that can be found at WQXR. No one listed the program even though it was live-streamed – but instead announced the works AFTER they were played.
That is too teasing for my taste, whether it is done on WQXR or on Wisconsin Public Radio. Can we please have the pieces to be played up front before the performance and then again after the performance?
The program included a Chopin waltz (the soulful valse triste in A Minor, Op. 34, No 2) and the two Op. 40 Polonaises the “Military” Polonaise and one in C minor; the Largo slow movement Beethoven’s Sonata in D, Op. 10, No. 3, and the scherzo from the same composer’s Sonata in A Major, Op. 2, No. 2; the spirited first movement from Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, K. 311; and Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”
All works except the Debussy and the Chopin waltz are available on recordings. (But you can hear a YouTube video of Blechacz playing the three waltzes of Op. 64, including the famous “Minute” Waltz, at the bottom.)
In the broadcast, Dan Gustin, head of the Gilmore Foundation, speaks about the unusual award, as does the last 2010 winner Kirill Gerstein, who uses Skype. Here is the link:
Some of the Gilmore winners seem to disappoint and peter out. I keep expecting to hear big things from the very talented Argentinian Ingrid Fliter, for example, but no such luck. Rafal Blechacz, on the other hand, seems more likely to follow the path of Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, who is perhaps the Gilmore winner who has maintained the highest profile and had the biggest career.