The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Classical musicians take up the cause of Black Lives Matter

July 13, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Classical music can easily appear isolated from current events and social issues these days, more of a shelter or sanctuary or retreat than an engagement.

Pop, rock, country and rap music often seem much more timely and symptomatic or even concerned and supportive.

But classical music has often shown a social conscience.

One thinks of the composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein and his support of those protesting the Vietnam War and of black power advocates – efforts that often drew criticism and sarcasm from those who disagreed.

Something similar seems to be happening today with the Black Lives Matter movement and classical musicians in the wake of the Minnesota, Louisiana and Dallas, Texas shootings, death and murders.

Black Lives Matter Dallas

Here is a story from The New York Times that explores the connections:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/12/arts/music/for-black-lives-matter-classical-music-steps-in.html?_r=0


Classical music: New York Polyphony opens the 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival with a perfectly rendered composite portrait of Elizabethan sacred music. Plus, the winners of the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition are announced

July 11, 2016
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ALERT: In case you haven’t yet heard, the winners (below) of the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition, held on Friday night in Mills Hall and accompanied by the Madison Bach Musicians, have been announced.

Eric Jurenas (center), countertenor, won First Prize; Christina Kay (right), soprano, won Second Prize; and Nola Richardson (left), soprano, won Third Prize and Audience Favorite.

Handel Aria winners 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear left the concert hall thinking: Well, this will be an easy review to write.

Just give it an A-plus.

An easy A-plus.

On Saturday night, the acclaimed a cappella quartet New York Polyphony (below) opened the 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) with a flawless performance.

new york polyphony

This year, the MEMF is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of poet and playwright William Shakespeare (below top) and the 45-year reign of Queen Elizabeth I (below bottom), who oversaw the English Renaissance.

shakespeare BW

Queen Elizabeth I

And the program – performed before a large house of perhaps 450 or 500 enthusiastic listeners — was perfectly in keeping with the festival’s theme. It used sacred music rather than stage music or secular music, which will be featured later in this week of concerts, workshops and pre-concert lectures.

In fact, the program of New York Polyphony was based on two of the group’s best-selling CDs for BIS Records and AVIE Records: “Tudor City” and “Times Goes by Turns.” It was roughly divided into two masses, one on each half. (You can hear a sample in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Adding to the variety was that each Anglican or Roman Catholic-based mass was a composite, with various sections made up like movements written by different composers. Thrown in for good measure were two separate short pieces, the “Ave Maria Mater Dei” by William Cornysh and the “Ave verum corpus” of William Byrd.

The Mass on the first half featured music by Byrd, John Dunstable, Walter Lambe and Thomas Tallis. The second half featured works music by Tallis, John Pyamour, John Plummer and excerpts from the Worcester Fragments. The section were typical: the Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei.

There was nothing fancy about this concert, which marked the Wisconsin debut of New York Polyphony and which spotlighted superbly quiet virtuosity. The four dark-suited men, who occasionally split up, just stood on stage and opened their mouths and sang flawlessly with unerring pitch and superb diction.

New York Polyphony MEMF 2016

A cappella or unaccompanied singing is hard work, but the four men made it seem easy. The countertenor, tenor, baritone and bass each showed confidence and talent plus the ability to project clarity while not overshadowing each other. This was first-class singing.

The beautiful polyphony of the lines was wondrous to behold even, if like The Ear, sacred music from this era – with its chant-like rather than melodic qualities – is not your favorite fare.

New York Polyphony provided a good harbinger of the treats that will come this week at the MEMF from groups like the Newberry Consort of Chicago with soprano Ellen Hargis (below top) and the Baltimore Consort (below bottom) as well as from the faculty and workshop participants. On Friday night is an appealing program that focuses on Shakespeare’s sonnets and music.

MEMF newberry consort

Baltimore Consort

And on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., with a pre-concert lecture at 6:30 p.m., will be the All-Festival concert. That is always a must-hear great sampler of what you perhaps couldn’t get to earlier in the week. This year, it will feature the music as used in a typical Elizabethan day.

Here is a link to the MEMF website:

https://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/

And here is a link the website of New York Polyphony if you want to hear more:

http://www.newyorkpolyphony.com


Classical music: A new opera takes listeners back to The Bad Old Days of anti-gay America – and reminds us of the bigotry today that camouflages itself as religious freedom

July 2, 2016
1 Comment

CORRECTION: Yesterday’s post about the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition had a mistake about when it will be held. The correct time is next FRIDAY, July 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. The Ear regrets the error. General admission is $10. Here is a link with more information:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/classical-music-handel-aria-competition-announces-2016-finalists-to-sing-next-thursday-night/

By Jacob Stockinger

Issues pertaining to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people are much in the news these days.

Of course there were the shootings and mass murder at the Pulse gay bar in Orlando, Florida.

And there were the so-called “bathroom laws” enacted against transgender people and designed to protect “normal” people who ere never really threatened.

In contrast, the military announced that transgender people could serve under the usual conditions and regulations.

Then President Obama declared the Stonewall Inn (below) in Greenwich Village in New York City, a national historical landmark. In 1969 a police raid against the gay bar led to riots that, in turn, sparked the gay liberation movement to secure human rights and civil rights for homosexuals.

stonewall inn

This week saw a U.S. District Judge in Mississippi ruling against so-called “religious freedom” laws that many states have enacted in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage a year ago.

Such laws were ruled to discriminate against LGBT people and to unconstitutionally favor certain religions or forms of religion.

A lot of the proponents of such laws seem to have a false nostalgia for the good old days.

Well, maybe they were good for some people. But they were terrible times for many others, including LGBTQ people.

Gregory Spears’ new opera, called “Fellow Travelers” (below is a crucial scene in a photo by Philip Goushong for the Cincinnati Opera) has an interesting take on that historical era with its “Lavender Scare” that parallels the Red Scare of McCathyism.

Fellow Travelers and Lavender Scare CR Philip Groshong for the Cincinnati Opera

Here is a story that aired on NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/06/18/482307467/a-new-opera-illuminates-the-lavender-scare-a-little-explored-era-in-queer-histor


Classical music: Fourth annual Handel Aria Competition announces the 2016 finalists who will sing for prizes next FRIDAY (NOT Thursday) night

July 1, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement:

The Handel Aria Competition is pleased to announce the finalists for this year’s fourth annual event.

The final round of the region, national and international competition is presented as a public concert in conjunction with the Madison Early Music Festival in Madison, Wisconsin.

Handel etching

It will take place on next FRIDAY night July 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall at the UW-Madison School of Music, 455 North Park Street. (An earlier version mistakenly said Thursday night. The correct date is FRIDAY night, July 8. The Ear apologizes for the error.)

Tickets are $10, general admission, and are available in advance, through Orange Tree Imports, in person at 1721 Monroe St., Madison, WI, and by phone: (608) 255-8211; or at the door They are now available online through UW Arts on Campus (use the link below) and at the Memorial Union Box Office.

https://itkt.choicecrm.net/templates/UWIM/index.php?&event_ids=3974

Seven finalists and two alternates were chosen from a field of almost 100 singers from around the world.

The finalists are:

Each singer will present two arias from an opera or cantata by George Frideric Handel, accompanied by the Madison Bach Musicians (below, at the 2015 competition) under the direction of Trevor Stephenson.

Handel Aria 2015 Madison Bach Musicians

Three professional judges will select a first, second and third prize winner, and all those in attendance will be invited to vote for the recipient of the “audience favorite” prize.

For more information about the competition, visit:

https://handelariacompetition.com

Below are the 2016 Handel Aria Competition Finalists – from upper left, clockwise: Fiona Gillespie Jackson; Christina Kay; Nola Richardson; Elena Snow; Pascale Brigitte Boilard; Adele Grabowski; and Eric Jurenas.

Processed with MOLDIV


Classical music: Don’t miss tango weekend at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society

June 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

If there was ever a genre of music created specifically for the talented, eclectic and fun-loving musicians of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, it is surely the tango.

It is hard to imagine a more perfect kind of music because it seems so suited to the temperament of the BDDS and its participants. The tango and BDDS simply seem made for each other.

BDDS 25th poster

The sexy and sensual tango has become both a popular and populist form of South American dance music. It started in brothels and then went mainstream. Then it crossed over into the classical repertoire, thanks to composers Astor Piazzolla, Carlos Guastavino and others.

If you have heard the BDDS perform tangos before, you know how captivating the performances are.

This weekend, the BDDS Silver Jubilee season will feature two programs with tangos, arranged by Pablo Zinger (below), a Uruguayan native who now calls New York City home.

Pablo Zinger at piano

Last time they performed, Zinger and his BDDS colleagues were absolutely terrific. The Ear will never forget the BDDS version of Piazzolla’s “Oblivion,” a fantastic, soulful and heart-breaking piece of music. (You can hear another version of “Oblivion” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here are links to the program with tango this weekend to be performed at the Playhouse in the Overture Center and in the Hillside Theatre (below) at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org/schedule.php

taliesin_hillside2

Besides tangos, there will also be music by Maurice Ravel (Piano Trio); Arnold Schoenberg (Chamber Symphony); Franz Schubert (Piano Trio No. 1); Joseph Haydn (Piano Trio No. 25, “Gypsy Rondo”); and movie music by Nino Rota, Henry Mancini and Luis Bacalov.

But featured prominently are tangos by Uruguayan composer Miguel del Aguila (below top) and by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla (below bottom), who turned to the tango of his native land at the advice of Nadia Boulanger, the famous French teacher of Aaron Copland, Philip Glass and others.

Miguel del Aguila

astor piazzolla

If you are looking for a preview sample, you can of course go on YouTube. But you could also listen to the new CD of South American tangos by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Stephanie Jutt, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who is also principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Not long ago, Jutt (below) spent a sabbatical year in Argentina, if The Ear recalls correctly. She clearly fell in love with tango music and is anxious to share her enthusiasm with others. That enthusiasm and her flair for the dance form show in the terrific performances on the CD.

Stephanie Jutt with flute

The new CD (below), on the Albany label, features pianists Elena Abend and the versatile arranger-pianist Pablo Zinger, whom you can hear live this weekend. It features 20 modern Latin American and Spanish works by Piazzolla and Guastavino as well as by Angel Lasada, the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and the Basque composer Jesus Guridi. (It is on sale at BDDS concerts for $15.)

Stephanie Jutt tango CD

Dance has always inspired classical music. Historically, the tango seems a natural modern progression from the Baroque minuets and allemandes of Johann Sebastian Bach, the Classical landler of Haydn, the Romantic waltzes of Franz Schubert and Frederic Chopin, the Hungarian Dances of Johannes Brahms and the Slavonic Dances of Antonin Dvorak.

But don’t take The Ear’s word for it.

Go listen for yourself. And be captivated, be transported. You won’t be disappointed.


Classical music: Yannick Nézet-Séguin answers his critics who question why the wait and what is his vision

June 11, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

One week ago, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (below) was named the new music director of the Metropolitan Opera.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin close up

He will start full-time in 2020.

Here is a link to the post with the announcement in Opera News:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/classical-music-the-metropolitan-opera-names-yannick-nezet-seguin-as-its-next-music-director-to-succeed-james-levine/

But some critics were quick to question the choice and to wonder why he is waiting so long to officially start his new post. (He will also remain as head of the Philadelphia Orchestra until 2026.)

Chief among them were two critics for The New York Times: Zachary Woolfe and Anthony Tommasini.

Here are posts with their opinion pieces, first the one by Woolfe and then the one by Tommasini:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/05/22/classical-music-should-yannick-nezet-seguin-be-the-metropolitan-operas-next-music-director-here-are-the-pros-and-cons/

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/03/arts/music/is-yannick-nzet-sguin-worth-the-wait-at-the-met.html?_r=0

But the young conductor (below in a photo by Getty Images) proved he can ably respond, which he did in an interview with the Deceptive Cadence blog by NPR or National Public Radio.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin CR Getty Images

Here he is, answering his critics and explaining the time lag as well has his plans and his vision of the future at the Met:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/06/03/480638340/the-metropolitan-opera-baton-passes-to-yannick-n-zet-s-guin

The Ear finds him convincing and thinks he wins when it comes to arguing with his critics.

What do you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: It’s now official – David Ronis is the new director of University Opera at the UW-Madison. And here are the two operas he will stage for next season.

June 8, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

With the long-awaited publication of a press release, it is finally official: Guest interim director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) has been named the permanent director of the University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

Initially, frustrated with the slow pace of the final paperwork announcing a decision that was made in March, Ronis announced his own appointment in an informal posting on Facebook in mid-May.

Here was The Ear’s post about that:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/classical-music-con-vivo-concludes-its-14th-season-this-saturday-night-with-septets-and-quintets-by-beethoven-dvorak-max-reger-and-carl-nielsen/

But now comes the full UW-Madison press release with lots of background about Ronis, who hails from New York City and was chosen after a nationwide search:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2016/05/26/david-ronis-appointed-as-university-operas-permanent-director/

The Ear has also learned the first two productions that Ronis will stage during the 2016-17 season:

In honor of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, the University Opera will stage “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi on Nov. 11, 13 and 15. (That is also the focus of this year’s Madison Early Music Festival in July; and the Chazen Museum of Art will host a touring copy of the First Folio in the fall.) 

Then on April 3, 5 and 7 the University Opera will stage “The Turn of the Screw,” by Benjamin Britten, based on the ghost story-like  novella by Henry James.


Classical music: Will the “death” of classical music be good for the future of classical music? Plus, today’s Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen features a fortepiano recital

June 5, 2016
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ALERT: Trevor Stephenson, keyboardist and founder of the Madison Bach Musicians, will perform a solo recital on the fortepiano TODAY starting at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III of the Chazen Museum of Art at the UW-Madison.

The program includes works — sonatas and mazurkas, a fantasy and an impromptu — by Domenico Scarlatti, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, Joseph Haydn and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

Admission is FREE and the recital will be streamed live at the following website:

http://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/press-releases/a-concert-by-trevor-stephenson-june-5

By Jacob Stockinger

This past week, two readers posted comments about the so-called Death of Classical Music.

One reader clearly lamented it and didn’t believe in it.

The other reader didn’t desire it, but seemed to accept it as a fact and remarked that the demise was classical music’s own fault due to conservative programming and other shortcomings in falling behind the times.

Along comes pianist Charlie Albright (below), a former prodigy from Seattle who was trained at the famed Juilliard School. (You can learn more about him in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

charlie albright

Albright’s point of view is that the “death” of classical music might even be beneficial to classical music in the long run – at least if you are talking the “death” of classical music such as it is right now and has been in recent times.

Charlie Albright playing piano

Albright’s essay appeared on the CNN website and makes for interesting reading and food for thought.

At least The Ear thinks so.

Read it and see what you think.

Then share your thoughts and ideas about the death of classical music and Charlie Albright’s essay with The Ear and other readers.

Here is a link:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/29/opinions/classical-music-dying-and-being-reborn-opinion-albright/


Classical music: The Metropolitan Opera names Yannick Nézet-Séguin as its next music director to succeed James Levine.

June 3, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s official.

The relatively young, 41-year-old Montreal native and French-Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin (below) has been named by the Metropolitan Opera in New York City to be its next music director.

Yannick Nezet-Seguin close up

The appointment comes just weeks after the retirement of the legendary James Levine, who served for 40 years.

Nézet-Séguin is currently the music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he will remain until 2026. He officially starts his new post at The Met in the 2020-21 season and will serve as interim music director until then.

Here is the story from Opera News:

http://www.operanews.com/Opera_News_Magazine/2016/6/News/Yannick_Nezet-Seguin_Met_Music_Director.html

And here is a long piece about the conductor that appeared in the New York Times. The Ear linked to it in a previous post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/05/22/classical-music-should-yannick-nezet-seguin-be-the-metropolitan-operas-next-music-director-here-are-the-pros-and-cons/

 


Classical music: Madison Opera announces its 2016-17 season. It’s both reassuringly classical and adventurously jazzy

June 2, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Even as it prepares for the annual Opera in the Park gala on July 23, the Madison Opera has announced its 2016-17 season, which is a combination of both the classic and the adventurous, even the intriguingly experimental.

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/

Here is a list of productions with links to more details about the productions, cast, tickets and related events:

Nov. 4 and 6 in Overture Hall: “Romeo and Juliet” by Charles Gounod (below) with conductor John DeMain and members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/romeo-and-juliet/

Charles Gounod

Feb. 10 and 12 in the Capitol Theater: “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” by Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder (below) with John DeMain and members of the MSO:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/charlie-parkers-yardbird/

Daniel Schnyder

April 21 and 23 in Overture Hall: “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below) with guest conductor Gary Thor Wedow:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/

Mozart old 1782

The operas by Gounod and Mozart are well-known staples of the repertoire.

But “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” is new and will be a local, perhaps even regional, premiere and one of the earliest repeat performances of the new work.

The Ear thinks early Bravos are in order for such contemporary crossover programming that also focuses on race, diversity and African American culture. It also seems like a natural choice for John DeMain, who won a Grammy for the first all-black production of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”

The new opera opened recently to fine reviews at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in New York City. (Below, in a photo by Dominic Mercier for Opera Philadelphia, is tenor Lawrence Brownlee in the title role of alto saxophonist and jazz great Charlie Parker.)

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee in Charlie Parker's Yardbird CR Dominic Mercier for Opera Philadelphia

Here is a link to a background story about the work that appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog of National Public Radio, or NPR, which first broadcast it on All Things Considered:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/03/31/472431884/opera-and-jazz-mingle-in-charlie-parkers-yardbird

Here are members of the world premiere production talking about the work:

And here is a trailer with samples of the music and singing:


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