By Jacob Stockinger
Today is Thanksgiving Day, 2015.
Music is such a part of Thanksgiving Day, from hymns and songs, solo music and chamber music, symphonies and oratorios.
And from 10 until noon, will also feature band, choral and instrumental music from the Honors Concerts of the Wisconsin School Music Association. That involves middle school and high schools students from around the state.
Then from noon to 3 p.m. there is a special National Public Radio (NPR) program for Thanksgiving that includes the British pianist Stephen Hough, who has performed several times in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and who also held master classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. (The NPR show features music and stories, and will also include Chris Kimball of the popular TV show and magazine America’s Test Kitchen, which he is leaving because of a contract dispute. By the way, you can stream Wisconsin Public Radio,)
But you might also be interested to stream some other music. WQXR, the famed classical music radio station in New York City, has put together the Top 5 musical expressions of giving thanks. The website has audio and visual performances of the works that you can stream.
Here is a link:
And if you have other ideas about music that is appropriate for Thanksgiving this year, please leave them in the COMMENT section, preferably with a YouTube link if possible.
The Ear wants to hear.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
By Jacob Stockinger
The opening piece, Maurice Ravel’s sensuous Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, showcases the classical simplicity and ultimate decadence of the waltz, and the colors of all the instruments in the orchestra.
Finally, the MSO will perform the groundbreaking Symphonie Fantastique by Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (below). It is an unorthodox five-movement work that vividly captures an artist’s tortured infatuation and the haunted hallucinations of an opium trip.
The concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the Overture Center, 201 State Street.
Sara Sant’Ambrogio is an internationally-renowned soloist and founding member of the Eroica Trio (below). She launched her international career when she was a winner at the Eighth International Tchaikovsky Violoncello Competition in Moscow, Russia. She holds degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music and The Juilliard School, and won a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance for Leonard Bernstein‘s “Arias and Barcarolles.” She last appeared with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in 2001 as part of the Eroica Trio.
Written in 1872, Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 was instantly regarded as a masterpiece by the Paris public. Saint-Saëns rejected the standard concerto form in this work by interlinking the piece’s three movements into one continuous musical expanse, held together by the rich lyrical power of the cello.
The composer found the Cello Concerto No.1 difficult to write, so much so that he vowed never to compose for cello again; Saint-Saëns broke this vow 30 years later with his Cello Concerto No. 2.
One hour before each performance, John DeMain, music director and principal conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will lead a FREE 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.
More background on the music can also be found in the Program Notes at http://www.madisonsymphony.org/santambrogio
Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available at www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
Groups of 15 or more can save 25 percent by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups
Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20 percent savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.
Seniors age 62 and up receive 20 percent savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts cannot be combined.
Find more information at www.madisonsymphony.org.
Major funding for the November concerts is provided by Barbara Ryder, DeEtte Beilfuss-Eager and Leonard P. Eager, Jr., in memory of Karen “Lovey” Johnson, and Rosemarie Blancke. Additional funding is provided by Martha and Charles Casey, Sunseed Research, LLC, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Sara Sant’Ambrogio (below) recently agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:
Could you briefly bring readers up to date on your career since 2001 when you last appeared with the Madison Symphony Orchestra as part of the Eroica Trio and performed the Triple Concerto for piano trio? What are current and future major plans and projects?
Wow, a lot has happened since 2001! I had a son, Sebastian, who just turned 11. I’ve recorded for solo CDs, the complete Bach solo suites, the Chopin collection and “Dreaming,” which has had a number of tracks used in movie soundtracks such as the HBO movie “A Matter of Taste.” I’ve recorded another Eroica Trio CD, “An American Journey,” which was nominated for a Grammy award.
I’ve toured China and all over Asia, and also the Arabian peninsula, which was amazing and mind-blowing. Petra in Jordan was like being in an Indiana Jones movie. It has been a truly amazing 14 years!
There seems to be a revival or rediscovery going on of the works of the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Why do you think that is?
Saint-Saens (below) has been grossly underrated in my view. His music has a wonderful mix of gorgeous melodies that speak to the human condition, sparkling virtuous pyrotechnics and a joie de vivre, which is just infectious! What’s not to love!
You are performing on an all-French program with Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique” and Ravel’s “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales.” What elements or traits do identify as being typically French in classical music, and does Saint-Saëns fit the mold?
I think there is a lushness to French music that Saint-Saens shares. There is also a very human quality to the best of French music.
What would you like to say about the piece you will be performing in Madison, the Cello Concerto No. 1? What is typical or unusual about it? What in particular would you like the public to listen to and notice?
Just to have a blast! The Saint-Saens starts with a bang and never lets up till the joyous end! (Note: You can hear it played by the late Russian cellist, conductor and human rights activist Mstislav Rostropovich in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
What else would you like to say?
I can’t wait to come back and play in Madison again. I had such a fantastic time playing there last time with my trio that the town loomed so large in my imagination, I had no idea until this interview that it had been 14 years since I was last there.
By Jacob Stockinger
On this Friday night, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 15, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center for the Arts, the Madison Opera will perform its production of Giacomo Puccini’s evergreen “La Bohème.”
The opera will be sung in Italian with English surtitles.
Tickets are $18 to $129 and are available from the Overture Center Box Office (608) 258-4141 or from www.madisonopera.org. Student and group discounts are available.
Puccini’s classic opera tells of the lives, loves and losses of a group of young artists in a bohemian quarter of Paris.
La Bohème has been an audience favorite since its first performance on Feb. 1, 1896 ( below is the original poster from 1896 by Adolfo Hohenstein) at the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, and is performed by opera companies around the world.
Its popularity over the past century is undiminished and its ravishing score has inspired generations of artists, including the composer Jonathan Larson, who used it as the basis for his award-winning 1996 musical “Rent,” and Baz Lurhmann, director of the 2001 movie “Moulin Rouge.” It also played a pivotal role in the movie “Moonstruck” with Cher and Nicholas Cage.
For more information about the Madison Opera’s production and cast, read the Q&A that The Ear did with Kathryn Smith, the general director of the Madison Opera. Here is a link:
By The Ear’s reckoning, John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), has spent close to 50 years in opera. He is the artistic director of the Madison Opera and music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and will conduct the singers, orchestra and choruses for the two performances of “La Bohème.”
He graciously agreed to share his experience and knowledge in an email Q&A with The Ear:
What about the story makes “La Bohème” such an enduring classic for both first-timers and veterans?
First of all, it’s a love story involving young adults trying to make it through their young years living from hand to mouth. They are college or post-college age, and are living life on the edge, enjoying great camaraderie, as college roommates enjoy to this day.
We have all lived through the tragedy of disease or plagues affecting various parts of the world in our own time. Mimi has tuberculosis, and we have seen how HIV/AIDS, SARS and Ebola have taken young lives in our own time, robbing people of the chance to live out their lives and loves. So, there is always some part of a story like this for people, both old and young, to connect with.
And what about the same aspect in the music?
Once we enter into the world of Italian “verismo,”or realism, we basically have music that is timeless. The music vividly underscores the action of the drama in great detail from moment to moment.
The interplay of the various leitmotifs manipulates our emotions, leading us to enjoy a good laugh at the interplay of the guys, or Musetta’s outrageous carrying on to make her “ex” jealous and win Marcello back. Then the music engages us in the great sadness of losing Mimi to her disease and robbing Rodolfo of his loved one ( in the final scene below from a production by the Houston Grand Opera, which John DeMain used to head before coming to Madison).
Our great film composers and composers of musical theater all learned from Puccini how to connect the emotions of the drama to the music and vice-versa.
Is Puccini’s reputation as a serious and innovative opera composer, not just a popular one, being reexamined and revised upward in recent years?
Puccini’s output as a composer was limited both in scope and in number. He focused primarily on opera and gave us 12 works in that form. To this day, La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, Turandot and Tosca remain in the top echelon of opera’s most popular works.
Puccini (below) labored over each of his operas for long periods of time, rewriting to get these pieces as close as possible to perfection, creating librettos and music that soars emotionally, melodically and harmonically. His Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West), Turandot and even parts of Butterfly are great examples of Italian Impressionism.
But while Bohème has a few touches of impressionistic harmony, most of the opera stays within a late Romantic harmonic vocabulary.
I think we appreciate more than ever Puccini’s capacity to write unforgettable melody that goes to the very core of our being. Indeed, we lament that most contemporary scores can’t achieve that, and therefore, they don’t have the same relationship with our audiences today. (You can hear that in the arias sung by Luciano Pavarotti and Fiamma Izzo in a YouTube video at the bottom. Listen for when the audience applauds Pavarotti singing a high C.)
Are there special things you would like the public to know about this particular production? Do you have comments about the concept and cast, sets and costumes?
I would like to encourage people who have never been to an opera to come and see La Bohème. There are still people out there who don’t know that we have English titles over the stage that simultaneously translate the opera into English.
The acts are not long, the drama flows at almost the same rate of time as it would if it were just spoken without music. And the young stunning cast we have assembled will thrill young and old alike.
This, like Carmen or Madama Butterfly, is the perfect opera for a first-timer. For the rest of us, it is a chance to thrill once again to one of the most beautiful scores ever composed for the operatic stage.
By Jacob Stockinger
Recently, a reader asked The Ear about the status of the nationwide search for a new artistic director of University Opera after two years of having David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) as a popular guest director from New York City after the retirement of William Farlow.
That’s when word came from Martha Fischer (below), professor of collaborative piano at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Fischer is the head of the search committee to find a new director of the opera program.
Writes Fischer as a prefatory comment: “We are incredibly fortunate, thanks to the Karen K. Bishop fund, to be able to search for a full-time tenure track Assistant Professor of Opera. At a time when the University as a whole is feeling extreme budget pressures, it is indeed something to celebrate.
“We are currently accepting applications from a broad and diverse pool of applicants with a deadline of Dec. 1, 2015.
“We are following the University of Wisconsin‘s strict guidelines about how searches are conducted to ensure a fair and equitable process.
“We are hopeful that we will be able to announce a new opera director sometime in the spring.”
The Ear notes that under Wisconsin’s open record laws, there will be no word about the dozens of individual applicants until the finalist stage of the search. That is designed to help protect the current jobs of applicants who do not make it into the pool of four or five finalists who are invited to visit the campus. (Below is a photo by Michael R. Anderson from the most recent production, “The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.)
Here is the official notice for the UW-Madison School of Music Position Vacancy Listing for the Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera:
“This is a full-time, tenure-track appointment at the Assistant Professor level beginning August 2016. Successful candidates will demonstrate evidence of an established or emerging national/international career, along with an ability to enhance the School’s educational mission and overall commitment to teaching.
“Candidates will be expected to pursue creative activities or research interests appropriate to a tenure-track position.
“Candidates will also be expected to help recruit and teach a diverse student body of undergraduate and graduate students, to advise and mentor students, to serve on graduate degree committees, and to carry out leadership and service within the School, College, and University.
– Prepare scenes and productions, including stage movement and character development;
(Below is a photo of the University Opera’s 2011 production of Giacomo Puccini‘s “La Bohème.”)
ALERT: On Tuesday night at 7:30 in Mills Hall, UW-Madison trombone professor Mark Hetzler with be joined by Anthony DiSanza, drums/percussion; Vincent Fuh, piano; Ben Ferris, bass; Tom Ross-percussion; Garrett Mendelow, percussion.
Mark Hetzler and friends present a FREE concert titled “Mile of Ledges” with the premiere of four new works. Two new compositions (Falling and Mile of Ledges) by Mark Hetzler will feature lyrical and technical trombone passages, soulful and spirited piano writing, complex percussion playing and a heavy dose of electronics. In addition, the group will showcase new music by UW-Madison alum Ben Davis (his $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ for quartet and electronics) and Seattle composer David P. Jones (a chamber work for trombone, piano, bass and two percussionists).
By Jacob Stockinger
If The Ear recalls correctly, alumni who return to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music are generally performers or scholars.
All the more reason, then, to celebrate this week’s major UW event, which was organized by UW-Madison composer and teacher Stephen Dembski (below). It features five composers who trained at the UW-Madison and who are now out in the world practicing their art and teaching it to others.
This week, the UW-Madison School of Music will welcome back five graduates of the composition studio who have developed creative, multi-dimensional careers in a range of fields: acoustic and electronic composition, musicology, theory, audio production, conducting, education, concert management and administration, performance, and other fields as well.
The two-day event is intended to show the breadth of talent at UW-Madison as well as demonstrating that music students focus on much more than performance as a way to shape successful careers.
Paula Matthusen (below, BM, 2001), who is assistant professor of music at Wesleyan University.
William Rhoads (below, BM, 1996), who is vice-president of marketing and communications for Orchestra of St. Luke’s in New York City.
Andrew Rindfleisch (below, BM, 1987), who is a full-time composer living in Ohio. (You can hear his introspective and microtonal work “For Clarinet Alone” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Kevin Ernste (below, BM, 1997), who is professor of composition at Cornell University.
The UW-Madison School of Music will present two FREE concerts of their music, performed by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below top), the Wingra Woodwind Quintet (below bottom, in a photo by Michael Anderson), the UW Wind Ensemble, and other faculty members and students.
The FREE concerts are on this Thursday, Nov. 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall; and on this Friday, Nov. 6, 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. There will be workshops and colloquia yet to be announced.
For complete composer biographies, along with comments about their works, and more information about the two-day event, visit this site:
By Jacob Stockinger
Unfortunately, The Ear didn’t get to see and hear the opening night performance on Friday night at Old Music Hall of the season-opening production by University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
But The Ear is going to today’s matinee performance.
And two local reviews, by critics The Ear respects highly, agree that is a very successful production and puts another feather in the cap of guest director David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) from New York City.
But also praised highly are set designer Dana Fralick, the student singers-actors and the student orchestra players under UW-Madison professor and conductor James Smith (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson). You can hear the infectious Overture in a curious but eye-catching and mind-engaging “bar graph score” in a YouTube video at the bottom.
That makes The Ear, who loved last year’s production of “The Magic Flute,” all the more pleased and excited about going today.
Here is a review by John W. Barker (below), who often reviews concerts for this blog, for Isthmus:
And here is the review by Greg Hettmansberger (below) for his column “Classically Speaking” in Madison Magazine and for WISC-TV Channel3000.com:
If you want to go, tickets are $25 for the general public; $20 for seniors; and $10 for student.
Here is a link to details about the show and about getting tickets:
By Jacob Stockinger
The University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will stage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro” in Music Hall (below, at the foot of Bascom Hill) this coming Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m., Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. and next Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $25 for adults; $20 for seniors; and $10 for students with ID.
The stage director is David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio), a guest director from the Aaron Copland School of Music at CUNY in New York City who is here at the UW-Madison for a second year in a row.
The Ear recalls that last year’s eclectic and sold-out production by Ronis of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” was a highlight of the season. Ronis drew incredible performances from the students and the costumes and sets, which mixed India‘s Bollywood aesthetic with a traditional Western monastic aesthetic. The opera was well sung and eye-popping in the best sense. It was Big Fun.
So The Ear has big expectations of this opera, which he likes even more, and which will be performed by the same stage director and music director, James Smith (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson), conducting the UW Symphony Orchestra.
In fact, The Ear is willing to bet that once again Ronis, Smith and student performers will deliver the goods and sell out all four performances, not just the three that were typical of past productions.
The Ear asked Ronis, who is among the national pool of candidates who have applied to fill the post of University Opera director permanently, why he chose another Mozart opera. (Last year, he also did Benjamin Britten‘s “Albert Herring.” This coming April he will do Conrad Susa’s and Ann Sexton’s “Transformations.”)
Here is his answer:
“As far as why we’re doing “Figaro” in light of just having done “The Magic Flute.” Simple: it was the best choice for the group of students that we have this year in terms of educational value and the current talent pool. It happened to be Mozart (below) – with absolutely nothing planned or any connection between the two.”
If you would like to know more about the production and about the cast – and also about how to buy tickets — visit this site with the comprehensive press release from the UW-Madison:
But even more importantly, The Ear says it is worth a seeing if for no other reason than hearing the sublime forgiveness quartet at the end. (You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The music is otherworldly and heart-wrenching in its beauty.
And as Mr. Mozart knew so well: Who doesn’t need love and isn’t moved by forgiveness?
By Jacob Stockinger
Have cello. Will play.
Any style. Any place.
Last Wednesday, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, turned 60.
The unquestionable quality, astounding diversity and enviable longevity of his career will come as no surprise to Madison audiences.
After all, Ma (below, in a photo by Jason Bell for Sony Classical) has performed here many times, mostly at the Wisconsin Union Theater – he reopened the renovated Shannon Hall — but also at the Overture Center.
Ma has performed solo here. But he also has played with his longtime chamber music partner pianist Emanuel Ax and with the acclaimed Silk Road Ensemble and the bluegrass or roots music by violinist-composer Mark O’Conner.
And Ma has commissioned many works – including some by composers Osvaldo Golijov and John Adams – that have entered the mainstream repertoire. His influence on contemporary music will be felt for a very long time.
The Ear has met Ma in person a couple of times and found him to be as congenial and humorous as he is talented and original.
An iconic figure on TV and radio, Ma is a master of using the mass media although he never seems a crass self-promoter.
He is a veritable American cultural institution who also enjoys going on PBS for “Sesame Street” and “Live From Lincoln Center” as well as doing a cameo appearance playing unaccompanied Bach in the drama “The West Wing.” (You can hear him play the same piece in a YouTube video at the bottom that has more than 12 million hits.)
Perhaps you have also heard him live, maybe even more than once.
One thing is important but is overlooked by the NPR piece: The ever-reliable Ma is outstandingly successful at the box office. He is probably the most bankable and commercially successful American classical musician on the scene today. Ma’s career bodes well for the future of classical music that otherwise worries so many observers and participants.
Here is a link:
Do you have a birthday greeting for or memory of cellist Yo-Yo Ma?
Leave it in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
They are two of the most high-profile jobs in the world of classical music and they are both in New York City: the music director of the Metropolitan Opera and the music director of the New York Philharmonic.
And right now candidates are being examined as possible successors to their current heads, James Levine and Alan Gilbert respectively.
According to a story in The New Yorker magazine, one major player reportedly is the acclaimed firebrand and openly gay French-Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin (below, in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for Getty Images), who currently heads the Philadelphia Orchestra. Guess which post he is a candidate for?
Another major candidate seems to be the conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below). Can you guess for which post?
The Ear asks: Whatever happened to American candidates?
Are we going backwards from the Leonard Bernstein achievement of putting American maestros on a par with European or other foreign conductors?
To be fair, though, some report that Bernstein protégée Marin Alsop, currently music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, could be a contender for the New York Philharmonic post.
Anyway, the recent New Yorker magazine had a very good take on the game of musical chairs being played around the two major vacancies.
The story shows careful research and excellent deep sourcing. But it also reads a bit like an engagingly conversational gossip column.
Maybe that is because it is written not by music critic Alex Ross but by Russell Platt, who is the classical music editor for the Goings On About Town column that starts the magazine.
Here is a link to an excellent read and what seems to be a pretty good crystal ball about the future leaders of the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.
It’s great reading for a Sunday afternoon. Enjoy!