The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. The murdered civil rights leader has become a character in opera, oratorios and musicals as well as popular songs

January 15, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the holiday to celebrate the 89th birthday of Martin Luther King (below), the American civil rights pioneer who was born on this day in 1929, won the Nobel Peace Prize and was assassinated in 1968, when he was 39.

For more biographical information, here is the Wikipedia entry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King_Jr.

There will be many celebrations, including the 38th annual one at noon in the State Capitol of Wisconsin in Madison, which will be broadcast live and recorded by Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and Wisconsin Public Television (WPT).

Music is always an important art of honoring King. There will be spirituals and gospel choirs.

But King himself has become a musical, and dramatic, figure.

Maybe you knew that.

The Ear didn’t.

So here are some links to sample from YouTube, which has many of King’s speeches and much of the music done to honor King over the years.

MLK is a character is the opera by Philip Glass called “Appomattox,” which deals with civil rights from The Civil War onwards and was commissioned and performed by the Washington National Opera.

Here is part of it in rehearsal:

And in performance:

And here is the one-hour video called “I Have a Dream”:

Do you know of any other musical works in which Martin Luther King Jr. actually figures and plays a role?

What piece of classical music would you choose to honor King?- Perhaps the poignant aria “Give Me Freedom” from Handel’s opera “Rinaldo” (performed in the YouTube video at the bottom) or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with its “Ode to Joy” finale about universal brotherhood.

Let us know in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Next week, the Ancora String Quartet closes its 16th season with three concerts that contrast the German Romanticism of Beethoven and the French Impressionism of Saint-Saëns. This Saturday night, the Festival Choir of Madison sings about astrology and signs of the Zodiac

May 5, 2017
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ALERT: On this Saturday night, May 6, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison 900 University Bay Drive, the Festival Choir of Madison will perform a spring program of choral music linked to signs of the Zodiac and astrology, Sorry, no word on the specific program. Tickets are $15, $12 for seniors and $6 for students. For more information go to: http://festivalchoirmadison.org/concerts/a-musical-zodiac

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear received the following note to post from the Ancorans, who are  among his favorite musicians:

You are invited to join the Ancora String Quartet (ASQ), below in a photo by Barry Lewis) for the closing concert program of our 16th season.

The performance takes place next Saturday night,  May 13, at 7:30 p.m., at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below), 1833 regent Street. A champagne reception will follow.

French Impressionism and German Romanticism – Vive la difference! Whether you prefer Bordeaux or Riesling wine, you’ll enjoy our spring program.

On the program are the Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 153, by Camille Saint-Saëns (below top) and the Quartet No. 12 in E-flat Major, Op. 127, by Ludwig van Beethoven (below bottom).

Saint-Saëns’ second quartet reveals the lyricism and witty invention that earned him the nickname “the French Mendelssohn.” (You can hear the quartet’s beautiful slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

We follow this up with the first of Beethoven’s late quartets, written shortly after he finished his Ninth Symphony. From its wistfully dreamy first movement to the ethereally mysterious coda in the last, Beethoven charts a new course.

Tickets will be available at the door, and are for general seating. Ticket prices are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students, and $6 for children under 12.

Other performances of this program will take place earlier.:

The first is on Monday, May 8, at 3 p.m. at the Stoughton Opera House (below) in Stoughton. Admission is a free-will donation.

The other performance is on Friday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m. in the MacDowell Music Club in Janesville. The concert is FREE and open to the public.

Members of the quartet (below, from left, in a photo by Barry Lewis) are Wes Luke and Robin Ryan, violins; Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola; and Benjamin Whitcomb, cello. They represent professional experience playing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, Madison Bach Musicians and many other groups plus teaching privately and in the University of Wisconsin System.

For more information, including individual biographies and concert schedules, go to:

http://ancoraquartet.com


Classical music: The UW Choral Union delivers an eclectic non-seasonal program of music by Beethoven, Brahms and Bernstein with power and lyricism

December 12, 2016
3 Comments

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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Eschewing any seasonal or holiday connections, the UW-Madison Choral Union (below) gave its December concert last Friday night with a program of three “B’s”.

uw-choral-union-with-chamber-orchestra-and-soloists-dec-2016-jwb

Well, two of the B’s are familiar ones. But in place of Bach, we got Leonard Bernstein, taking first place in reverse chronological order — his Chichester Psalms, dating from 1965.

This three-movement work probably represents Bernstein’s most important choral score. It sets texts in the original Hebrew, the middle movement calling for a boy treble to represent the young David in the rendering of Psalm 131 — a function here filled bravely by young Simon Johnson (below, front left) of the Madison Youth Choirs.

uw-choral-union-dec-2016-jwb-simon-johnson-of-myc

The platoon of percussionists in the first two movements confirms the composer’s flashy “modernism.” To be sure, there are some characteristic melodic twists that proclaim the composer familiar to us, and the swaying melodic tune of the third movement is really lovely.

But Bernstein (below) did not know what to do with it besides repeating it obsessively. Bernstein simply was not a savvy master of choral writing, and I firmly believe that this work—a trivial cross between Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Bernstein’s own Broadway musical West Side Story—would not merit much attention were it not for Bernstein’s name on it.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: You can decide on the work’s merits for yourself by listening to the live performance, conducted by the composer himself, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Leonard Bernstein composing in 1955

Just how inadequate Bernstein’s choral sense was emerged clearly with the next work, the short ode for chorus and orchestra by Johannes Brahms, Nänie, Op. 82.

The title adapts a Greek word for a lament, and Friedrich Schiller’s German text evokes the death of beauty in the death of Achilles. Brahms was among the supreme choral masters, and this particular example is one of several of his “minor” choral works that we hear too rarely.

brahmsBW

The second half of the program was devoted to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Mass in C major, Op. 86. No, not the monumental Missa solemnis of the composer’s last years when (as with the Ninth Symphony’s finale) he had transcended the realities of choral writing. This earlier Mass setting, dating from 1807, was in the direct line of Mass settings for the Esterházy family composed by the aged Haydn.

But to Haydn’s incorporation of symphonic structure into Mass composition, Beethoven (below) brought his own strongly progressive personality, and a remarkable quality of melodic and thematic invention. This is a lovely work, and choirs who fling themselves doggedly against the Missa solemnis ought sometimes to revel in this beautiful work instead.

Beethoven big

The forces arrayed included a solo quartet (below, in the front from left) are bass John Loud, tenor Jiabao Zhang and sopranos Jessica Kasinski and Anna Polum.

uw-choral-union-dec-2016-soloists

The UW Chamber Orchestra proved able. But the star was, of course, the Choral Union chorus itself. Its diction worked from indistinguishable Hebrew through respectable German to really lucid Latin. Above all, it made mighty, full-blooded sound that bolstered Beethoven’s lyricism with powerful projection.

Once again, conductor Beverly Taylor (below) has gone beyond stale conventions to bring us valued exposure to music outside the conventional boundaries.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE


Classical music: The music of Beethoven played a major role in modern China. Here’s how

September 3, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

If you think classical music has lost much of its relevance in modern times, you might want to read or listen to this terrific interview about the importance of Ludwig van Beethoven in modern China.

Below is a photo of the first performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the “Choral” Symphony with the famous “Ode to Joy,” done in 1959 by an all-Chinese orchestra with Chinese singers and sung in Mandarin.

Plus, a radio broadcast of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony also played a major role in modern China following the Cultural Revolution.

Beethoven in China 1959

The interview, with two native Chinese musicians who now teach at Stanford University. was done by NPR or National Public Radio, for its Deceptive Cadence blog. The Ear found it both eye-opening and inspiring.

Perhaps it even helps to explain why these days classical music often seems more vital to the East than it does to the West.

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/25/491353170/tracing-the-peoples-republic-of-beethoven

 


Classical music education: The annual FREE Concert in the Park by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) marks its 15th anniversary this coming Wednesday night.

August 4, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to pass along:

“The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) is proud to be a part of Concert in the Park, hosted by The Gialamas Co., for another season.

“This year’s event will take place this coming Wednesday, Aug. 10, from 5 to 10 p.m. at Old Sauk Trails Park, 1200 John Q. Hammons Drive on the far west side of Madison.

WYSO Concert the Park Tent 4

“For eight consecutive years, WYSO has been invited by The Gialamas Company to be a part of this spectacular event. This special FREE concert is a highlight of the summer for concertgoers young and old.

“This particular year features the Youth Orchestra (below) and will celebrate several special anniversaries: the 50th anniversary of WYSO, the 40th anniversary of The Gialamas Company, and the 15th anniversary of Concert in the Park.

WYSO Concert in the Park, playing under Jim Smith 3

“WYSO’s Youth Orchestra will begin their performance at 7 p.m. The Youth Orchestra, under the direction of WYSO Music Director James Smith, will perform: the fourth movement of Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 17, by Peter Tchaikovsky; Highlights from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt, featuring conductor Michelle Kaebisch; the first movement of the Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35, by Tchaikovsky featuring Aurora Greane (below top) on violin; “Our Town” by Aaron Copland; the fifth movement of Symphony No. 9 in E flat major, Op. 70, by Dmitri Shostakovich; and an annual rendition of Over the Rainbow by Harold Arlen.

You can hear the Youth Orchestra under Maestro Smith perform Georges Bizet‘s suite from his opera “Carmen” in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Aurora Greane

WYSO Concert in Park 2016 cellos 2

“The evening will also see performances of “A Radiant Spirit,” which was composed in honor of WYSO’s 50th anniversary by Andrew Kinney, and of a stunning arrangement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, from his Symphony No. 9 “Choral,” arranged by Donald Fraser.

WYSO Concert in Park 2016 from backstage

“The evening will be capped off with a fireworks display.

“Before the event there will be an instrument petting zoo, face painting and an ice cream social. Tables, food and drinks are available for purchase.

WYSO Concert in the Park kids eating ice cream 2

“For more information, visit www.gialamas.com.

“Be sure to stay after the event for a spectacular fireworks show. Set up lawn chairs, layout blankets and put out your picnic baskets as you enjoy all of the music and activities this FREE event has to offer.

fireworks

“For additional information, please contact WYSO at (608) 263-3320 or e-mail wyso@wysomusic.org.”


Classical music: Maestro Gustav Meier has died at 86. UW-Madison choral conductor Beverly Taylor pays tribute to him.

July 23, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has some catching up to do on several fronts.

Well, that is what happens in a city with such a busy musical life and in a year with so many news items.

And it also happens when you give priority to previews, then reviews and then trend stories, as The Ear likes to do.

Plus, there are only seven days in the week, which usually means just seven posts.

Anyway, one neglected or belated item is a generous piece — a recollection homage — that was kindly sent to The Ear by Beverly Taylor, the longtime director of choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and the assistant music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

Her remarks concern the death at 86 in late May of Swiss-born conductor Gustav Meier (below, in a photo by Doug Elbinger), who trained several other Madison-area musicians as well as her. Born in Switzerland, Meier was a quiet celebrity who trained many students at Yale University, the Eastman School of Music and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and who led the Lansing Symphony Orchestra for 27 years.

(You can see and hear Gustav Meier conducting the Greater Bridgeport Symphony in the slow movement of Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Symphony No. 2 in  the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Gustav Meier CR Doug Elbinger

Taylor (below) writes:

“Did you know Gustav Meier died in this year of losing so many?

“Maybe the others were more famous, but he was my teacher, mentor and friend from 1990 on, and we visited regularly.  I even coached the Beethoven Ninth with him a year ago, before our performance here.

“I wanted you to know how many people he influenced.  I wouldn’t have had the life I’d had without his help.  He was a GENEROUS musician and he was beloved.”

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

Here is a link to a fascinating obituary, one that is well worth reading, in the Lansing, Michigan newspaper that Taylor shared:

http://lansingcitypulse.com/article-13267-%E2%80%98tchaikovsky-turns-me-on%E2%80%99.html


Classical music: The “Eroica” Symphony gets a heroic reading from the amateur Middleton Community Orchestra in a popular all-Beethoven program that also featured an outstanding performance of the “Choral Fantasy.”

December 22, 2015
1 Comment

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 for 12 years hosted 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Happily avoiding all the holiday falderal this month, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) gave Ludwig Beethoven a slightly delayed birthday tribute in the form of an unusual concert program on last Friday night that drew a full house.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

Led by the bold and enterprising conductor Steve Kurr (below center), the orchestra plunged straightway into no less than Beethoven’s epochal Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica.”

NOTE: For more background, here is a link to The Ear’s interview with Steve Kurr about this program: 

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/classical-music-conductor-steve-kurr-talks-about-the-all-beethoven-program-that-the-middleton-community-orchestra-performs-this-friday-night-with-pianist-thomas-kasdorf-and-the-madison-symphony-choru/

MCO Beethoven Kurr and orchestra

The 50-minute long “Eroica” is a work that transformed the symphonic genre, and it continues to challenge performers. Provocative sounds, passages of complex counterpoint and assertions of tonal power—all these call for a disciplined and confident performance.

Kurr brought that off handsomely, to his and his players’ great credit. I had the feeling that he asked of these players more than they had first thought they could give, and he drew it out of them, to their obvious pride and satisfaction.

To be sure, there were some occasional smudges here and there, but the ensemble standards were otherwise consistently high. I am always interested to hear, in an orchestra that does not have overwhelming strings, the more balanced audibility of the winds, especially the woodwinds.

Here it was the brass (complete with four horns) that offered particular heroics. At times Kurr perhaps allowed them too much freedom when only filling out chords; but where they deserved prominence they sounded magnificent—notably in the scherzo’s trio section. In all, the overall mix really brought out the daring  use by Beethoven (below) of pungent dissonances and harmonic shocks.

Beethoven big

Kurr took the opening movement at a particularly brisk speed, while the second movement, the profound funeral march, was paced much more slowly than most conductors would take it — but to truly eloquent effect. (You can hear the astonishing Funeral March movement performed by the Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

I found the symphony’s finale sometimes was given a rather foursquare quality, but the enthusiasm maintained momentum.

It was a difficult act to follow. But the choice of the other item on the program was a brilliant one, bringing us a remarkable Beethoven work that is rarely ever heard in concerts.

How often can an orchestra afford to assemble a brilliant pianist, six vocal soloists and a chorus — all for one 25-minute work? But those are the demands of Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy,” a product of a time when concerts often brought together a whole circus of performers.

In a special way, this novelty made a perfect pairing with the “Eroica.” In the two works, we catch Beethoven in his two great instances of self-borrowing to the end of evolving perfection.

The finale of the “Eroica” was the fourth and final destination for a set of variations on a contradance tune. In its turn, the Fantasy, after opening with an improvisatory exercise for the pianist, turns into a concerto-like set of variations on a tune, which is finally taken up by solo vocalists and then the chorus.

That tune represents the second of three stages in what eventually became the triumphant “Ode to Joy” melody of the famous finale of the Ninth Symphony.

The brilliant and versatile Thomas Kasdorf (below), a familiar soloist around these parts who was raised in Middleton and studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — was the energetic pianist.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

Six young singers were the solo battery, and a corporal’s guard from the Madison Symphony Chorus (below top and bottom) provided the brief but telling final justification for calling this a “Choral Fantasy.”

MCO Beethoven MSO Chorus left

MCO Beethoven MSO Chorus right

(The singers, below but not in order, were sopranos Allison Vollinger and Kirsten Larson; alto Jessica Lee Kasinski; tenor Richard Statz; baritone Gavon Waid; and bass Robert Dindorff.)

MCO Beethoven 3 women singers

MCO Beethoven 3 male singers

The orchestra played its role with gusto, and it’s wonderful how, by the end, it almost sounds as if we are moving into the Ninth Symphony.

This was an exhilarating concert, and a wonderful achievement for all involved.

 


Classical music: You can hear Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” on 5,000 kazoos at this year’s Burning Man Festival.

August 31, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about counter-cultural!

This year’s famed Burning Man festival started yesterday and runs through Sept. 7.

The unusual event, held in the north Nevada desert, features many noteworthy things including nudity, drugs and lot of talk about peace and love — kind of like an updated Woodstock festival but on a much grander and more ambitious scale. (See the YouTube video at the bottom.)

One remarkable thing is the sheer size of the event (below, in an aerial photo by Kenny Reff), a temporary city estimated to be more than 60,000 strong this year:

Burning Man aerial CR Kenny Reff

Another is the impressive and dramatic sculpture that is set aflame (below is last year’s) at the festival’s end:

Burning Man 2014

But there is also classical music included at the iconic pop event.

In fact this year, the “Ode to Joy,” from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, will be played 5,000 kazoos.

In addition, there will be strings (below top in a photo by Jaki Levy) and a certain conductor named Dr. FireTuba (below bottom in a photo of Eric Yttri by Jaki Levy) as part of the 63-piece pickup symphony orchestra that also includes winds such as flute and clarinets. The group will perform music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Edvard Grieg and other composers on the playlist.

Burning Man music cellist 2014 Jaki Levy

Burning Man Dr FireTuba (Erio Ittry) CR Jaki Levy

Here is an illuminating and entertaining story about classical music at Burning Man that was reported in NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/08/29/435244975/beethoven-flaming-tubas-and-5-000-kazoos-classical-music-at-burning-man

 


Classical music: It’s Mother’s Day. What music would you play for her? What music would she like to hear? Tell The Ear. Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the final, critically acclaimed concert of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s season with Beethoven’s Ninth on the program. Read the reviews here.

May 10, 2015
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the season finale by the Madison Symphony Orchestra: a program of  the “Serenade” after Plato’s “Symposium” by Leonard Bernstein, with concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) as soloist, and the famous Ninth Symphony — the “Ode to Joy” or “Choral” symphony — by Ludwig van Beethoven.

The reviews are unanimous in their enthusiastic praise.

Here is a link to the one that John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/arts/stage/mso-closing-with-a-bang/

And here is one written by Lindsay Christians for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/review-big-voices-and-beethoven-bring-mso-season-to-a/article_ea23e056-f5bb-11e4-8b8f-5780d0daa395.html

And here is a review written by Bill Wineke for WISC-TV‘s Channel 3000.com:

http://www.channel3000.com/news/opinion/Symphony-review-MSO-ends-season-on-exuberant-note/32912810

Naha Greenholtz 2014 CR  Chris Hynes

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Mother’s Day 2015.

Mothers Day clip art

And nothing says love like music.

So what music would you like to play for your mother?

And what music would she like to hear?

They aren’t necessarily the same.

So here are The Ear’s choices.

For the first I am torn between a work by Antonin Dvorak and one by Johannes Brahms.

The Dvorak work is “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” which you can hear below in a YouTube video by superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman playing a transcription from the original for voice.

The second is the movement of the “German” Requiem by Brahms in which he evokes his recently deceased mother. Here it is performed in a classic rendition by soprano Elizabeth Schwarzkopf with Otto Klemperer conducting:

And the piece my mother would love to hear? She loved it when I practiced the piano – and to think I wondered how anyone could enjoy listening to someone practicing? And she especially loved it when I practiced Chopin.

And her favorite piece by Chopin that I played was the bittersweet and elegant Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2, heard below in a YouTube video played by Arthur Rubinstein, whom she took me to hear when he played an all-Chopin concert in Carnegie Hall in 1961 – and we sat on stage.

What are your choices in each category?

Leave word plus, if possible, a YouTube link in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.

And wishes you a Happy Mother’s Day.


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