ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in “Carmina Burana” in the MSO’s spectacular season-closing program. Read three rave reviews by local critics:
Here is what John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:
Here is what Greg Hettmansberger wrote for Madison Magazine and his blog WhatGregSays:
And here is what Jessica Courtier wrote for The Capital Times:
By Jacob Stockinger
Who says you can’t mix art and current events?
Especially if the current events also count as history, which has often been an inspiration for fiction and art.
But not all of the news has to do with politics, suicide bombings, increased troop commitments and fierce fighting in a civil war.
It also has to do with art.
Specifically, opera — that potent combination of theater and music.
The Long Beach Opera commissioned and recently premiered a new chamber opera based on the Iraq War and PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), and us based on the life and work of U.S. Marine Christian Ellis . It is called “Fallujah” and it is the first such opera to be written. (A photo below is by Keith Ian Polakoff for the Long Beach Opera.)
It makes The Ear wonder if it might find its way into an upcoming season of the Madison Opera, which tends to use its smaller winter productions to stage works that are newer, smaller, more adventurous and more exploratory.
Or maybe the University Opera at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music might find it a good choice for a student production?
ALERT 1: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, is your last chance to hear pianist Garrick Ohlsson and the Madison Symphony Orchestra under conductor John DeMain in a program of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Johannes Brahms; the tone poem “Don Juan” by Richard Strauss; and the Symphony No. 1 by Steven Stucky. Critics have loved the performances.
Here is a link to a review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:
Here is a link to a review by Lindsay Christians for The Capital Times:
ALERT 2: UW-Madison clarinetist Wesley Warnhoff will perform a FREE recital, with renowned UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor, on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. They perform a sonata by Johannes Brahms and a rhapsody by Claude Debussy among others. Here is a link to more information and the compete program:
By Jacob Stockinger
In recent years, since 1942, there have been only three. There was Luciano Pavarotti and Juan Diego Florez, who astonished the audience by repeating the nine high C’s in Gaetano Donizetti’s “La Fille du regiment” (The Daughter of the Regiment).
But just recently there was a third.
His name is Mexican tenor Javier Camarena (below in a photo by Marty Sohl for The Met). He was singing in Don Pasquale,” also by Donizetti, one of the masters of the show-offy and impressively embellished “bel canto” or “beautiful singing” style.
Camarena wowed the crowd with a high D-flat, a half-step higher than the high C that his predecessors sang.
Here is a story, with an interview, on NPR or National Public Radio, that gets you excited about the man and the event just by reading about them:
And here in a YouTube video is the aria he sang — and then sang again:
By Jacob Stockinger
A musician in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, whom The Ear holds in very high regard, says that the four-section, continuous movement Symphony No. 1 by contemporary American composer Steven Stuckey (below) is “beautiful.”
This is a discerning man and musician, and The Ear – who has never heard works by Stucky — trusts his judgment.
Even so, the work will be The Big Unknown on the MSO program this weekend. It also features pianist Garrick Ohlsson in the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Johannes Brahms and the tone poem “Don Juan” by Richard Strauss. Both works are major standards of the Romantic and Late Romantic repertoire.
Here is a link with more information about the performances, which will be held tonight, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
John DeMain, the longtime music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, recently told The Ear about how he had wanted to program a work by a living composer. After all, DeMain has championed other new music, including the world premiere of John Adams’ famous opera “Nixon in China.”
But a very aggressive form of brain cancer took away that chance when Stucky, who composed chamber music and choral music as well as symphonic music, taught at Cornell University and the Juilliard School, died just two months ago at 66.
So The Ear thought that it might be good to have more background about Stucky.
Here is Stucky himself talking about his 2012 Symphony that will be performed by the MSO and its emotional journey. It includes a performance by superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which commissioned the work:
And here is a lengthy and detailed obituary about Stucky that appeared in The New York Times. It also includes excerpts of reviews of his works and gives readers a context by which to judge Stucky’s achievement.
The Ear is looking forward to hearing the work. (Another sample, in a YouTube video at the bottom, is his 2011 work “Silent Spring,” composed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s landmark book about DDT and pollution in the environment and nature.
He is also looking forward to hearing from others about the work.
So if you go to the MSO concert and hear Steven Stucky’s Symphony No. 1, why not leave your opinion or assessment in the COMMENTS section?
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: The UW Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of music director UW-Madison Professor James Smith, will perform a FREE concert on this Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program features “Mathis der Mahler” by Paul Hindemith and the Symphony No. 1 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
By Jacob Stockinger
The pioneering conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt (below) died this past week.
He was 86. He had been ill, and died only three months after his last public appearance on the concert stage.
He leaves behind a huge recorded legacy, some 560 entries — including many multiple-disc boxes — according to a search at Amazon.com.
Harnoncourt started as a concert-level cellist who was especially well-known for who conducting early music. But he also worked with more modern orchestra groups and soloists in a lot of big mainstream music. (Below, in photo from Getty Images, he is seen conducting in 2012.)
True, it for his Johann Sebastian Bach, his Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his Ludwig van Beethoven — done with the group he and his wife Alice founded, the Concentus Musicus Wien — that The Ear will most remember him for. They were strong and forceful. No music box Mozart for Harnoncourt!
But Harnoncourt refused to be pigeonholed into smaller Baroque ensembles.
The Ear also likes him with much larger modern groups in mainstream Romantic fare such as the symphonies and concertos by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner and Antonin Dvorak with the Royal Concertgebouw of Amsterdam, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic. He even conducted Johann Strauss waltzes for the New Year’s Concerto from Vienna.
Harnoncourt often found beauty in unexpected places, in music that we thought had nothing new to say after so many performances and such a long history. But he loved vibrancy and modernity. He did what Ezra Pound advised poets to do: Make it new.
And boy, did Harnoncourt — a thoughtful and passionate advocate — ever make music new, whether it was Baroque, Classical or Romantic! Although he was not a pioneer of new music per se, he always seemed to turn early music or whatever else he touched into new music.
The Ear recalls with relish some of the ways he put percussion and brass forward in early music, giving incredible rhythm and impulse or momentum to it. The same goes for using boy sopranos instead of women in the cantatas, oratorios and passions by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Harnoncourt always seemed less interested in authenticity as a justification than in the results he got from such changes or such different interpretations.
Often Harnoncourt had certain differences he wanted to emphasize. They were not always convincing, but they were usually convincing. And they were always interesting and illuminating, even if you disagreed with them.
In the special memorial YouTube video at the bottom is the Sinfonia from J.S. Bach’s Cantata BWV 156 in a performance by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Concentus Musicus of Vienna:
Here are some illuminating obituaries:
From The New York Times:
From the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR (National Public Radio) by Anastasia Tsioulcas:
From The Guardian in the United Kingdom:
From The Washington Post:
And finally, here is a story from MTV, which called Harnoncourt the “punk genius of classical music,” a description The Ear likes and which he suspects Harnoncourt himself would have liked:
Do you have an observation about Nikolaus Harnoncourt to share?
Is there a specific composer, work or recording of his that you hold special?
Leave word in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music 2011 alumnus and violist Elias Goldstein is on his way to Carnegie Hall in New York City to perform all the virtuosic 24 Caprices originally for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini. But first he will perform them here in a FREE concert that also includes other works with pianist Thomas Kasdorf, another UW-Madison alumnus, on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. (Sorry, no word on the rest of the program.) Goldstein will also give a FREE and PUBLIC master class on Wednesday at 2:25 p.m. in Morphy Hall.
For more information, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
How does a contemporary American composer channel classic composers from more than 200 years ago?
You can find out by going to hear the St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ, below). The critically acclaimed string quartet will perform this Friday night at 8 pm, in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
Tickets are $27.50 to $42.50.
For more information, including reviews and video samplings, visit:
The program features two quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, including the popular and famed “Emperor” Quartet and the earlier “Joke” Quartet as well as the Midwest premiere of John Adams; String Quartet No. 2.
NPR, or National Public Radio, recently featured an interview with Adams discussing Beethoven:
But Christopher Costanza, the cellist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, recently gave an enlightening Q&A from the quartet’s point of view to The Ear:
Can you briefly bring the public up to date since your last appearance in Madison, when you performed “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” by Osvaldo Golijov? Major residencies and tours? Major commissions? Major performing and recording projects?
The St. Lawrence String Quartet has been busy with a wide range of projects in the years since our last appearance in Madison.
We’ve had a personnel change – our newest quartet member is Owen Dalby, our second violinist, who joined us in the spring of last year.
We happily continue as Artists-in Residence at Stanford University, where we are involved in a great number of activities, including teaching, performing, and collaborations with a wide range of schools and departments on campus.
And our international touring schedule remains very active, with concerts throughout North America and Europe; our most recent European tour, in late summer of 2015, included concerts in Scotland, Germany, Romania, Hungary and Switzerland, and we will tour Europe twice in 2016.
We’ve performed several pieces commissioned for us, including works by such composers as Osvaldo Golijov, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Samuel Adams, Jonathan Berger, James Matheson and George Tsontakis.
Of particular significance, John Adams has composed three works for us, two string quartets and a quartet concerto, “Absolute Jest,” which was written for the SLSQ, the San Francisco Symphony and the SF Symphony’s music director Michael Tilson Thomas.
We’ve performed “Absolute Jest” on several national and international tours with the San Francisco Symphony, as well as with the London Symphony, the Toronto Symphony, and the New World Symphony. Our recording of the work with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas was released this past summer.
We’ve recently embarked on a recording project of the Opus 20 quartets of Haydn, and other recording projects are in development.
Why did you choose to perform two Haydn string quartets to open and close the program, instead of a work by Beethoven, given the Beethoven influences in the String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams?
We often perform programs that begin and end with a Haydn quartet, with a contemporary work (or works) in between. This showcases the great variety and brilliance of Haydn’s gigantic contribution to the quartet repertoire.
It also provides an interesting contrast between the earliest works for quartet and current compositional offerings, stressing the fact that Haydn (below) essentially invented the string quartet and paving the way for other composers to explore creativity in their compositions for quartet.
In truth, we do often program Beethoven (below) with the Second String Quartet by Adams. For this program, I think the Adams/Haydn juxtaposition will be a meaningful comment on the evolution of quartet writing, from the early years to works of the present.
As an exercise in compare and contrast programming, what would you like the public to know about the “Joke” and “Emperor” Quartets by Haydn? About Haydn’s music in general?
Haydn’s “Joke” Quartet, from his Op. 33 set, is, as you might guess, filled with humor and wit. The quartet is actually quite straightforward structurally, filled with robust and positive energy and simple, appealing melodies. It’s a compact work, inviting and charming.
The “Emperor” Quartet, from the Op. 76 set, comes from a later period of Haydn’s compositions, and it is a work of considerable length and weight. This quartet shows a natural link to Beethoven in its duration, dynamic contrast, emotional range, and overall musical substance. (You can hear Haydn’s “Emperor” Quartet performed, analyzed and discussed by the St. Lawrence Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Of significant note, the “Emperor” is named thusly for the second movement, a theme and variations based on the tune Haydn (below) originally wrote for the Emperor Francis of Austria as a sort of national anthem.
What should readers know about the String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams (below)? How is it similar to or different from his other works that the public knows such as “Nixon in China,” “The Death of Klinghoffer,” “Doctor Atomic” “Harmonielehre” and “On the Transmigration of Souls”? Will this performance be the Midwest premiere? Will you record the quartet?
John Adams’s Second String Quartet is very strongly based on two motivic ideas from Beethoven’s Op. 110 piano sonata, as well as a variation from Beethoven’s “Diabelli” Variations.
The Beethoven elements are clearly presented in clever and skilled ways, and I think many of them will be evident to the astute listener. Most importantly, John is brilliant in his transformation of the Beethoven quotes, and the piece is very clearly an Adams piece, characterized by driving rhythms, great energy, and a true sense of musical intent and balance.
To get a sense of the piece prior to hearing it, I suggest listening to “Absolute Jest” (our recent recording) – another of John’s pieces inspired by Beethoven and filled with late Beethoven quotes – and the Op. 110 Piano Sonata by Beethoven.
We’ve performed the Second Quartet on several occasions since we premiered it at Stanford University about a year ago, but I do think our Madison performance will be a Midwest premiere. We are currently considering the possibility of recording the work, but specific plans have not yet been made.
What else would you like to say?
We’re thrilled to be returning to Madison after a gap of several years. It’s very exciting to be bringing a program of music by two of our favorite composers, Joseph Haydn and John Adams, and we think contrasting the two will be interesting and enlightening to all.
ALERT 1: The Sunday Afternoon Live performance by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet at the Chazen Museum of Art is NEXT SUNDAY, NOT TODAY. The Ear apologizes for the mistake.
ALERT 2: Tonight’s concert of new music for woodwinds and piano by UW-Madison professor Les Thimmig and pianist Jessica Johnson has been CANCELLED.
By Jacob Stockinger
He is Jaap van Sweden (below, in a photo by Todd Heiser for The New York Times , a 55-year-old Dutchman, acclaimed for his technical prowess, who now is the music director of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic.
There are a lot of stories The Ear could link to.
Here is a short summary from NPR (National Public Radio) with audio clips of his conducting:
But he found the coverage by the New York Times quite comprehensive and, on balance, fair.
It featured a main news story with some important feature elements, including the critical acclaim van Sweden received for conducting music by Gustav Mahler and Ludwig van Beethoven. (Below, you can see van Sweden conducting the New York Philharmonic in 2014 in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times).
And it also featured a column or commentary by senior classical music critic Anthony Tommasini, who spoke in Madison on the occasion of the centennial of the Pro Arte Quartet that was held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Overall, Tommasini’s notebook entry is a fine and insightful piece, even if it gets tiring to hear Tommasini climb up on his high horse and whine yet again about the neglect of new music and contemporary composers – which does not seem fully justified based on the record of this particular conductor.
Tommasini – who himself was trained as a composer — clearly would have preferred former Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below) as the new music director and conductor. Hmmm – could they be friends?
For his part, it may sound provincial but The Ear is more concerned that the very same symphony orchestra that made history in American culture for hiring the first American-born and American-trained maestro – Leonard Bernstein (below), who also just happened to put Jaap van Sweden on the path to a conducting career – is once again turning to Europe rather to the many fine conducting talents in this country.
Why was no American conductor chosen. One who comes to mind is Marin Alsop of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (below top) and the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra in Brazil who is also a Bernstein protege. And then there is David Robertson of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia(below bottom).
Seems odd that Marin Alsop is good enough for Brazil and David Robertson is good enough for Australia — but not for New York?
The Ear wants to ask the Philharmonic’s board of directors: Do you really find all American conductors to be that inferior to Jaap van Sweden?
Maybe there were practical considerations — salary, contracts, availability, refusals — that made hiring an American conductor impossible. But the stories suggest that the choice of van Sweden was made early on and the fix seemed in. Too bad. It still seems like a great opportunity that was lost.
You can decide for yourself.
Here is the news story by Michael Cooper:
And here is Tommasini’s column:
Do you know the work of Jaap van Sweden?
Have you heard him in live or recorded performances?
What do you think?
Here is a sample of Jaap van Sweden conducting Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in a YouTube video at the bottom.
Leave your opinion in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
It is described as “Wisconsin Young Artists Compete.”
“The Final Forte” event is the final round of the Bolz Young Artist Competition in which the four finalists perform in a FREE concert with the Madison Symphony Orchestra that is broadcast live by Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and rebroadcast by Wisconsin Public Television (WPT).
“The Final Forte” will take place this Friday night at 7 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center. Seating is FREE but you must register with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. John DeMain will conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
According to the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which organizes and conducts the competition:
“The Final Forte 2016 finalists (above) were selected from several young Wisconsin artists who competed in the Bolz Young Artist Competition’s two preliminary rounds. The event gave these four artists the chance to perform a movement from a concerto with the MSO.
The 2016 contestants are (below, left to right): Pianist Audrianna Wu of Madison, who will perform the third movement of the Piano Concerto in A minor by Edvard Grieg (you can hearing the famous concerto played by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes in a YouTube video at the bottom); pianist Liam Mayo of Green Bay, who will perform the first and third movement of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by German composer Felix Mendelssohn; violinist Tabby Rhee of Brookfield, who will perform the first movement of the Violin Concerto by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius; and marimbist Robert Rockman of Sun Prairie, who will perform the “Fantasy on Japanese Prints” by American composer Alan Hovhaness.
This year’s anniversary event features special guest co-host, concert pianist Christopher O’Riley, who hosts NPR’s “From the Top” that airs here on Sunday night 8-9 p.m.
The most comprehensive information about the FREE concert, the live broadcasts, the biographies the four young contestants, the complete list of sponsors and a link to register to reserve a seat (you can also call 608 257-3734) can be found at the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s website:
According to the MSO: “This competition has captured an enormous following and numerous honors, including an Emmy nomination, First Place in the “Special Interest” category from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association in 2007, and fifth most-watched program in the February 2007 Nielsen ratings.
The 2008 WPT and WPR broadcasts reached more than 60,000 viewers and listeners in the Madison market alone and the 2009 broadcasts reached an estimated 200,000 statewide.”
This event will be broadcast on: Wisconsin Public Television: Tuesday, Feb. 2, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 7, at 12 p.m.
Milwaukee Public Television: Friday, Feb. 5, at 8 p.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 4 a.m.
Wisconsin Public Radio: Sunday, Jan. 31, at 12:30 p.m.
Here is a link to Wisconsin Public Television, which features introductory videos about each performer:
And here is a link to Wisconsin Public Radio, where Thursday right after the noon news on The Midday, Christopher O’Riley, host of NPR’s popular classical music program From The Top, chats with radio host Stephanie Elkins (below) about his show and the young musicians from Wisconsin that have appeared on his show in the past. O’Riley is in town to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Bolz Young Artists Final Forte.
By Jacob Stockinger
Anniversaries and deaths (below is a link to the musicians we lost in 2015).
Debuts, farewells and unusual tours.
(In a YouTube video at the bottom and below in photo by Yamil Lang for Getty Images, is the Minnesota Orchestra playing in Havana under music director Osmo Vanska during its historic tour to Cuba in May 2015.)
Revivals and world premieres.
Appointments and retirements.
What were the notable events in classical music in 2015?
How many do you recall?