The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Gift guide or gift or both? Critics for The New York Times name their top classical recordings of 2018, and so does National Public Radio (NPR)

December 22, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is “Panic Saturday” — another, newer theme day on the commerce-driven Holiday Consumer Calendar that goes along with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber-Monday and Giving Tuesday. 

In past years, by this time many media outlets would publish the list of the top classical recordings of the past year. And The Ear has offered them as holiday shopping guides with links to the lists.

They seem to be running late this year, probably too late for many shoppers.

But recently the team of critics for The New York Times named their Top 25 classical recordings of 2018 that run from the 15th century to today (sample album covers are below).

This time, the website didn’t just reproduce something that first appeared in the printed edition. And something more than small snippets or excerpts are offered.

This time, the newspaper took full advantage of the electronic possibility of the web and used streaming to add hours of sound samples — some as long as 40 minutes – so you can see what you think of the recordings before you buy them. (Be sure to look at reader reactions and comments.)

It is a new and innovative way to do a Top 25 list – very appealing or entertaining as well as informative. Even if you don’t use it to buy anything for others or yourself, it can provide many minutes of listening pleasure. You can think of it as a gift guide or a gift or both.

Of course, there are also the usual short and very readable, to-the-point narratives or explanations about why the recording stands out and what makes it great music, a great performance or a great interpretation.

So there is a lot to listen to and help you make up your mind. The Ear has enjoyed it and found it helpful, and hopes you do too, whether you agree or disagree with the choice:

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/arts/music/best-classical-music-tracks-2018.html

Since this is the last weekend for holiday shopping before Christmas, here is the previous list – notice the duplications in the two lists — posted here, which was of the nominations for the upcoming 2019 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/classical-music-here-are-the-just-announced-grammy-nominations-for-2019-they-can-serve-as-a-great-holiday-gift-guide/

And here is the Top 10 list, which was chosen by the always discerning Tom Huizenga (below) — who explains the reasons for his choices — and which also offers generous sound samples, from National Public Radio (NPR) and its Deceptive Cadence blog. Also look for duplications:

https://www.npr.org/2018/12/18/677776208/npr-musics-best-classical-albums-of-2018

What recordings would you suggest? 

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor says Bach wouldn’t mind being played on the piano and the public should get to know the less virtuosic side of Liszt. He plays concertos by both composers this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

April 6, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s guest Q&A is the acclaimed UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below), who won a bronze medal in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and who has been praised by critics around the world.

Christopher Taylor new profile

Taylor will play a big role this weekend in what, for The Ear, is the most interesting program of the season from the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below).

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The program, to be performed under the baton of longtime MSO music director John DeMain, includes the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Franz Liszt. The soloist for both is the dynamic and versatile Taylor (below), the resident virtuoso at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Christopher Taylor playing USE

The second half of the program is the Symphony No. 7 by the Late Romantic Austrian composer Anton Bruckner – the first time the MSO has tackled one of Bruckner’s mammoth symphonies.

Anton Bruckner 2

Performances are in Overture Hall in the Overture Center. Times are Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12-$84.

For details, go to https://www.madisonsymphony.org or call the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Taylor recently agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

What do you say to early music and period instrument advocates about performing Bach on a modern keyboard versus a harpsichord? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

In matters musical I hope to foster a generally tolerant attitude. I think our art form is a broad and diverse enough domain to allow for the peaceful coexistence of interpretations that pursue varied goals.

Some may seek to recreate, in as precise a way as possible, the experiences of listeners living back in Bach’s day, a perspective that can undoubtedly prove illuminating and satisfying for contemporary audiences.

Others may pursue interpretations that employ more recent, or even completely novel, musical resources, with results that Bach himself might well find startling were he suddenly to return.

Still, given Bach’s documented flexibility regarding instrumentation — the Keyboard Concerto No. 4 was probably originally composed for oboe — I like to think he would be open-minded both towards the piano’s sonority and the interpretive possibilities it suggests.

The piano’s rich and varied sound undoubtedly fits naturally into the modern concert hall setting, and for me personally its character is what I understand and appreciate best.  But again, I am always eager to learn about alternative approaches, and hope that others will listen to me with a similar mindset. (Below, Taylor is seen with the unusual two-keyboard Steinway piano he uses to play Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.)

Christopher Taylor with double keyboard Steinway

How would you compare the Keyboard Concerto No. 4 to Bach’s other ones?

Like all the Bach concertos this work possesses irresistible energy and momentum, paired with lyricism and ingenious construction.  It strikes me as a particularly cheerful specimen — not so imposing or stern as the D minor or F minor concertos, for instance, but more modest in scale and upbeat in mood.

Right from the opening the first movement features an interesting back-and-forth relationship between the soloist and orchestra, with the keyboard seeming suitably soloistic on some occasions, more accompanimental at other moments, and completely united with the strings yet elsewhere.

The slow middle movement has particularly long phrases and sinuous lines, while the finale displays remarkable rhythmic variety, with relatively staid eighth notes taking turns with bustling sixteenth-notes and downright scrambling thirty-second-notes. (You can hear the Bach concerto for yourself in the YouTube video below that features the British pianist Nick Van Bloss who, curiously, suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome except when he is playing.)

A lot of listeners know you especially for your interpretations of modern and contemporary composers such as William Bolcom, Gyorgy Ligeti, Derek Bermel and especially Olivier Messiaen. But you are also known for your performances of the “Goldberg” Variations. What are the attractions of Bach’s music for you?

I find in Bach (below) the supreme balance of heart and brain. It is music whose intricacy provides endless material for intellectual stimulation and study, but which nonetheless, in its restrained and elegant way, evokes every imaginable shade of human feeling.

It is hardly surprising that composers as diverse as Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin and Arnold Schoenberg found inspiration in his immortal creations.

Playing his music is a foundational skill for me, providing essential training and background when I approach, for instance, the more recent composers whose challenging works you mention.

Bach1

Liszt is known as probably the greatest piano virtuoso in history who reinvented keyboard technique. How do you see the first concerto in terms of both deeper musicality and sheer spectacle and technical virtuosity?

While Bach may sometimes be stereotyped as hyper-academic and dry, the stereotype associated with Liszt is quite the opposite:  flashy and intellectually shallow.

Neither caricature captures the reality, and I hope that this week’s pair of concertos helps to illustrate the unexpected facets and depths of both composers.

While I have been familiar with the Liszt from a very early age, I only performed it for the first time fairly recently. While learning it I found myself continually surprised by its formal sophistication and intriguing quirkiness.

Certainly it has its moments of raw virtuoso display, but these only constitute one ingredient in a varied dramatic structure. Just as important are the lyrical characters (sometimes cut off short), the playful elements, the eccentric, the grand, the angelic. I have thus come to appreciate how experimental, individualistic, and sophisticated this work really is.

andsnes

How do you view Liszt as a composer compared to his reputation as a performer and teacher? What should the public pay attention to in the Liszt Concerto and is there anything special or usual you try to do with the score?

As I suggested above, I think there’s often a tendency to underestimate Liszt’s compositional import — although admittedly he did produce certain works that feed into the stereotypes distressingly well.

Liszt photo by Pierre Petit

I will hope to bring out this concerto’s interplay of characters and its individualism as vividly as possible. The virtuoso elements will play their part, but I do not wish for them to be the sole focus. (You can hear the concerto played by Martha Argerich in the YouTube video that is below.)

 


Classical music: Find out what eight famous composers were doing on Christmas Day. Plus, UW-Madison piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor performs Messiaen on WORT FM early on Christmas morning.

December 23, 2014
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ALERT: Blog fan and WORT 89.9 FM radio host Rich Samuels, who also documents the local music scene, writes:

Jake:

My Christmas Day 5-8 a.m. show on WORT will include a complete performance of Olivier Messiaen‘s “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jésus” by University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor, as well as an interview that I recorded with Taylor about the piece and its composer.

The performance was recorded December 11, 2012 at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Taylor performs this two-hour work from memory.)

Here’s a link to the New York Times review of the performance:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/arts/music/messiaens-vingt-regards-sur-lenfant-jesus-at-met-museum.html

All the best in 2015.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is an unexpected Christmas gift I stumbled across.

It consists of Christmas Day excerpts from letters and diaries by and about eight Romantic and modern composers. They include Felix Mendelssohn, Gustav Mahler, Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner (see the YouTube video at the bottom), Claude Debussy, Edward Elgar, Benjamin Britten and Sergei Prokofiev.

I like that the various writings demystify the lives of composers, and artists in general, and shows their ordinary human side through what they thought, felt and did on a special day, even on a holiday.

Happy reading and Merry Christmas!

http://www.classical-music.com/article/8-composers-at-christmas-through-letters


Classical music: Pop pianist Bruce Hornsby takes a surprising turn to classical music. He performs in Madison on Oct. 30.

September 19, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Pop pianist Bruce Hornsby (below) has made quite the reputation for himself over the past 25 years or so as a keyboard wizard — and singer — who explores all kinds of music, including rock and folk, with impressive improvisations and interpretations.

bruce hornsby with piano

But imagine The Ear’s surprise when Hornsby announced that he was looking and playing and even programming classical music as well as jazz.

And on top of that, some of the classical music he is favoring comes from the Second Viennese School – the difficult 12-tone and atonal composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern. He also plays music by Gyorgy Ligeti and Olivier Messiaen.

Clearly, Hornsby’s classical tastes runs to early modernism. One can’t be sure that kind of music will be included in the upcoming concert, but it sure sounds as if it will.

Hornsby’s concert in Madison is in Overture Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 30. Tickets run $39.50 to $59.50.

Here is a link to more information about the concert and tickets, which have been on sale for about two weeks now and which can also be reserved by calling the Overture Center box office at (608) 251-4848.

http://www.overturecenter.org/events/bruce-hornsby

Hornsby also talked to All Things Considered, on NPR or National Public Radio, about his turn toward the classics, especially in the wake of being a relatively late bloomer as a student instrumentalist. (And the classical stuff he plays is hard and very challenging both for performers and listeners.) But you can tell he has impressive technique in the YouTube video at the bottom.

You may also notice that buying a concert ticket gets you a copy of his latest 25-track, 2-CD set with The Noisemakers called “Solo Concerts,” which includes some of the classical music.

Anyway, here is a link to the NPR story about Bruce Hornsby’s Classical Moment:

http://www.npr.org/2014/08/23/341957012/bruce-hornsbys-modern-classical-moment?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=music

 

 


Classical music: The Ear falls in love with the clarinet as, once again, Madison’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society surprises fans and inspires audiences to standing ovations with great music, great performers and great fun. Don’t miss the rest of the BDDS season.

June 17, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Every summer it happens.

Just when I think I can’t be pleasantly surprised anymore, the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society once again manages to surprise me – and with the greatest of pleasure.

This summer’s series — three weekends of six programs in June — opened with two programs this past weekend. And this time, the BDDS made me fall in love with the clarinet.

Now, I have always liked the clarinet. But after hearing clarinetist Burt Hara in his first BDDS appearances, I am absolutely in love with the instrument.

Burt Hara

Hara performed beautifully in Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio, but the pieces that really enraptured me were Brahms’ sublimely beautiful and intimate Clarinet Quintet (below) and Olivier Messiaen’s dramatic “Quartet for the End of Time,” which to me is more remarkable for the playing than for the music. (Retired Wisconsin Public Radio host and now narrator Linda Clauder expressively read poems by Shelley, Yeats and other works chosen by pianist Sykes in between movements.)

BDDS 2-13 Brahms Clarinet Quintet

In all cases, Hara showed a complete mastery. (See and listen to his YouTube video at the bottom.) He is the model of a quiet virtuoso who avoids flash. He blends rather than stands out. He can play softly, almost inaudibly, without losing the incredible richness and depth of tone. His pitch is wonderful, and his ability in the Messiaen quartet (below) to hold a tone from almost silence to a very loud sound with gradual but absolute steadiness was nothing short of miraculous.

BDDS 2013 2 Messiaen

Not for nothing has Hara been the principal clarinetist of the Minnesota Orchestra for 25 years, although due to that orchestra’s unfortunate lockout and labor strife, he has apparently decided to take a position as assistant principal clarinet with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its white-hot young, superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

Wherever Hara makes his home, I hope he returns to Madison in future summers to perform some of the great clarinet repertoire – Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, Brahms’ two clarinet sonatas, Debussy’s Rhapsody and Poulenc’s sonata among others.

But Hara is not alone in attracting my attention and admiration.

Also impressive in the first two concerts was guest violist Yura Lee (below), whose lyricism and expressive face matched her impeccable intonation and tone.

Yura Lee 2

Among the more regular BDDS members were co-founders and co-directors pianist Jeffrey Sykes and flutist Stephanie Jutt (below top) as well as Anthony Ross (below top), principal cellist with the Minnesota Orchestra, and violinist Carmit Zori (below bottom), from the Brooklyn Chamber Music Festival.

bddsjuttandsykesjpg

Anthony Ross cello

Carmit Zori

I don’t think a wrong note, an off-rhythm or a false interpretative move happened among all of them. In short, chamber music and ensemble playing just don’t get any better.

Then there is the repertoire.

I may be never again hear such rarely performed works as Felix Mendelssohn’s early Sonata for Viola or Maurice Emmanuel’s Trio Sonata from 1907, but I am very happy I got to hear them once and I doubt I will ever hear them performed better.

Then there was the American contemporary composer Kenji Bunch (below) and his “New Moon and Morning” (2008) for flute and string quartet. It was a lovely and accessible work that goes down easily. It struck me as very post-Ravel, a sort of meticulously Minimalist French-like work that was terrifically evocative and convincingly atmospheric. As far as I know it is a Madison or even a Midwest premiere, and the work’s colorful transparency worked perfectly as a counterpart complement to Mozart’s trio.

kenji bunch composing

As always there are the creative and very ingenious sets, this year designed by artists Brenda Baker and Burt Ross. This summer’s theme is “Deuces Are Wild” to mark BDDS’ 22nd season, so art of thre “set” uses playing cards around the stage and projected onto the backdrop (below top and bottom) as well as a card trick by a local magician.

BDDS 2013 playing cards on stage

BDDS 2013 playing cards screen 2

The Ear was told that ticket sales are ahead of last summer, and that even subscription tickets are moving faster. That pleases me since I named the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society as Musicians of the Year for 2012.

But there are still seats to be filled at the Overture Center’s Playhouse, the Stoughton Opera House and the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.

Over the next two weekends, the performers include Madison  Symphony Orchestra conductor John DeMain as pianist and MSO concertmaster Naha Greenholtz as well as the always reliable singers of University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate soprano Emily Birsan and bass-baritone Timothy Jones plus Pro Arte Quartet violinist Suzanne Beia and cellist Parry Karp and the always reliable violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau of the San Francisco Trio.

The repertoire includes major instrumental works and songs by Brahms, Robert Schumann, Clara Wieck Schumann, Beethoven, Prokofiev, Mozart and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

BDDS deuces are wild logo

But curiously, despite the group’s name, there was and is NO Bach.

Maybe pianist Jeffrey Sykes, a masterful chameleon of a pianist who can blend into any period or style and who played solo Haydn last summer, could open each concert with a brief overture of sorts — some solo Bach, perhaps a short Prelude and Fugue from “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” or a Two-Part or Three-Part Invention, or a movement from a suite or partita. Or maybe a guest violinist or cellist could play a movement from a Bach s0lo suite or, with Sykes, a movement from a Bach sonata. It would set the tone, so to speak, and become a unifying motif.

BDDS Jeffrey Sykes Haydn sonata

Anyway, if you love music and are not attending the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, you are cheating yourself out of a wondrous experience.

For a complete listing of dates, place, times, tickets, performers and pieces, go to:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org


Classical music: Madison’s summer classical music season kicks off this Friday night with the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opening its 22nd season this Friday night at the Overture Center’s Playhouse.

June 13, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Increasingly, it seems, classical music in Madison never takes a break or at least an extended vacation.

The regular seasons are barely over for the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the many University of Wisconsin School of Music groups including orchestras and opera, the Edgewood College music program, and many other small and large ensembles.

Nonetheless, the rich summer classical music season is about to begin.

Here is a round-up, hardly all-inclusive since I am sure I have overlooked something, of various local Madison-area events. (If some event has been left out, please forgive me and leave information in the COMMENTS section.)

JUNE 14-JUNE 30: This Friday night the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society will kick off its 22nd season, entitled in numerically fitting way, “Deuces Are Wild.” It will perform in three venues: the Playhouse in the Overture Center, the Hillside Theater at the Frank Lloyd Wright landmark compound Taliesin in Spring Green; and the Opera House in Stoughton.

BDDS deuces are wild logo

There is so much to recommend this thoroughly professional and thoroughly enjoyable group, which The Ear named Musician of the Year for 2012.

For starters, there will be the usual door prizes, original art as stage backdrops and mystery guests.

There is some unusual repertoire such as works by Kenji Bunch, Ferdinand Ries, Frank Martin, Ned Rorem, Dick Kattenburg and Erich Wolfgang Korngold mixed in with such famous masterpieces as Beethoven’s “Archduke” Piano Trio, Gabriel Faure’s Piano Quartet in G Minor, Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet and G Major String Sextet, Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio for piano, viola and clarinet and Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” with former Wisconsin Public Radio host Linda Clauder as narrator, and others. One especially intriguing program explores the romantic three-way among Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck Schumann.

Curiously, however, there will be NO BACH – no Johann Sebastian or Carl Philipp Emanuel or Wilhelm Friedemann or Johann Christoph –- despite the group’s name.

BDDS Brahms Quintet

The usual mix of local and imported performers will be featured, including the always reliable co-founders and co-directors flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes. But one noteworthy difference is the appearance of Madison Symphony Orchestra music director and conductor John DeMain (below), who will play the piano (his first instrument before he went into conducting and then specialized in opera) in two-piano works with Jeffrey Sykes.

Here is a link to the BDDS home webpage with lots of links to the programs, the venues, tickets and background:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Here is a roundup of other dates and events you might want to put into your datebook.

JUNE 21: The first MAKE MUSIC MADISON outdoor festival will be held citywide to celebrate the summer solstice. Four acoustic pianos, with no advance sign-up, will be located at fire stations around the city. Here is a link: http://www.makemusicmadison.org

Make Music Madison logo square

JUNE 21:  The Madison Youth Area Chamber Music Orchestra (below in Mills Hall) will perform Aaron Copland’s “Our Town,” Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” with Wisconsin Public Radio narrator Lori Skelton and Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante with violinist Eugene Purdue and violist Deidre Buckley.

MAYCO playing

JUNE 21: In a “Real Men Sing” Concert, Kantorei (below), The Singing Boys of Rockford, Illinois, will perform a collaborative choral concert with choirs from the Madison Youth Choirs at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, June 21 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, 7337 Hubbard Ave., in Middleton, Wisconsin.

Kantorei Tour 2013

JUNE 22: First of three free Farmers Market Concerts sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall with the Overture Concert Organ and organ soloist Jared Stellmacher (below) and The Gargoyle Brass. Here is a link with another link to the program: http://madisonsymphony.org/farmer

Jared Stellmacher 2

JUNE 26-JULY 31: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will hold the 30th annual summer of the hugely popular Concerts on the Square. While most of the repertoire will be folk, rock, jazz and pop music, the opening concert, featuring concerto competition winner violinist David Cao (below) will be all-classical, and other concerts will have some classical works. Here is a link: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square/

David Cao older

JUNE 29: The Madison Summer Choir (below) will perform Charles Gounod’s St. Cecilia Mass and other works at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. Here is a link: http://madisonsummerchoir.org

Madison Summer Choir orchestra

JULY 6-JULY 12: The 14th annual Madison Early Music Festival will celebrate “A Festive Celebration of the German Renaissance.” (The logo is below.) It will feature the Calmus Ensemble of Leipzig, the Dark Horse Consort, the viol consort Parthenia and the Renaissance band Piffaro. The usual pre-concert lectures, workshops and outstanding performances as well as the All-Festival Concert (“Stuttgart 1616) will be featured. New this year is a Handel Aria competition, sponsored by early music fans Orange and Dean Schroeder of Orange Tree Imports, on Monday July 8, at 7 p.m.  Here is a link: http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/lsa/memf/

memf 14 logo

JULY 13: Madison Opera’s “Opera in the Park”: This FREE outdoors event usually tracts more than 10,000 people to Garner Park on the west side and offers a preview of the next season and other repertoire. Here is a link: http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2012-2013/park/

Opera in Park Stage

JULY 20: The second of three free Farmer’s Market Concerts sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall with the Overture Concert Organ and organist Wyatt Smith (below). Here is a link with a link to the program: http://madisonsymphony.org/farmer

Wyatt Smith

AUGUST 9: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, under founder and conductor Mikko Utevsky (below) at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall will perform Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto, Beethoven’s Symphony No.1 and the premiere of a new work from Madison composer Jerry Hui:

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

AUGUST 14: The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras perform a FREE concert in Old Sauk Trails Business Park.

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/events/concerts-recitals/

http://gialamas.com/Events/tabid/164/vw/3/itemid/19/sm/615/d/20130814/Default.aspx

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

AUGUST 17: Last of three free FREE Farmers Market Concerts sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall with the Overture Concert Organ with guest organist Adrian Binkley (below) and MSO organist Samuel Hutchison. Here is a link with another to the program: http://madisonsymphony.org/farmer

Adrian Binkley

AUGUST 20-SEPTEMBER 1: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has the theme “Improvisations on a Theme.” Concerts in the refurbished barn (below) will feature unfinished Mozart by Harvard scholar Robert Levin, a new piece (Violin Sonata No. 2) by composer and co-director John Harbison for his violinist wife and co-director Rose Mary Harbison. Also included this year is an emphasis on Shakespeare with music (Haydn and Schubert among others) and readings. Here is a link: http://www.tokencreekfestival.org

TokenCreekbarn interior

After that, summer will be behind us, and fall ahead of us, and it will be time again for the Karp Family Labor Day concert at the University of Wisconsin Madison School of Music–- for more than 30 years the traditional opening of the regular concert season.


Classical music: UW pianist Christopher Taylor gets raves for his performances of Olivier Messiaen’s “Vingt Regards” in Milwaukee and New York City.

December 15, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Piano virtuoso Christopher Taylor (below) was educated at Harvard, where he graduated with top honors in theoretical math; studied with Russell Sherman at the New England Conservatory of Music; and won a bronze medal at the 1991 Van Cliburn Competition. He has taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music for the past decade, and normally gets rave reviews whenever performs in Madison.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Taylor’s local highlights includes performing the cycle of 32 Beethoven sonatas plus concertos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, chamber music with other UW faculty members and the Pro Arte String Quartet (below, with Taylor, performing the world premiere of William Bolcom’s Piano Quintet No. 2 last spring), and his annual solo recitals.

PAQ and Christopher Taylor Bolcom Piano Quintet 2

Still, Madisonians don’t always appreciate the degree to which local talent is also appreciated elsewhere in the country and the world.

Take this past week. Taylor, known for his interpretations of such modern and contemporary composers as Olivier Messiaen (below), Gyorgy Ligeti and Derek Bermel, received raves first in Milwaukee and then in New York City – at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts’ Medieval Sculpture Gallery — for his performances of Olivier Messiaen’s epic and technically demanding sequence of “Vingt Regards sur L’enfant Jesus” (“Twenty Meditations on the Infant Jesus,” an impressive specialty of Taylor.

Olivier Messiaen#1#

Here is an advance conversation with Taylor on WUWM, Milwaukee’s public radio station:

http://www.wuwm.com/programs/lake_effect/lake_effect_segment.php?segmentid=9932

Then here is a review of the performance in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

http://www.jsonline.com/entertainment/arts/messiaen-piano-piece-is-stunning-at-st-pauls-uv7u0go-182669941.html

And here is a review by former Milwaukee journalist, reviewer Tom Strini, who now has a terrific Milwaukee-based blog for Third Coast Digest:

http://thirdcoastdigest.com/2012/12/piano-arts-christopher-taylors-holy-brainy-messiaen/

Tom Strini

And here is the review of Taylor’s performance in the Metropolitan Museum’s Medieval Sculpture Hall (below in a photo for The New York Times by Hiroyuki Ito) by critic Vivien Schweitzer that appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/13/arts/music/messiaens-vingt-regards-sur-lenfant-jesus-at-met-museum.html?_r=0

Christopher Taylor at the tht Med Sculture Hall Hiroyuki Ito NY TImes article

Finally, here is the posting that appeared on this blog last week about the out-of-town performances by Christopher “Kit” Taylor”:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/classical-music-acclaimed-van-cliburn-compeititon-laureate-uw-madison-pianist-christopher-taylor-performs-messiaens-epic-twenty-looks-at-the-infant-jesus-in-milwaukee-on-f/

One final word: We will get to hear Taylor in recital for FREE on Thursday, March 14, at 7:30 in Mills Hall. No word yet on the program. But it could well be the Olivier Messiaen, which he has performed excerpts from here, but never the complete and lengthy work in its entirety.

Taking somebody to that performance sure would make a nice holiday gift, along with one of his recordings – say, the “Transcendental” Etudes by Franz Liszt or the Etudes by William Bolcom – that are available from the on-line CD store at the UW School of Music: http://apps.music.wisc.edu/cdstore/cdGrid.asp?categoryID=14


Classical music: Acclaimed Van Cliburn Competition prize winner, UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor performs Messiaen’s COMPLETE “Twenty Looks at the Infant Jesus” in Milwaukee on Friday night, then in New York City on Tuesday night. Could a New Holiday Tradition be in the making?

December 6, 2012
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. in Milwaukee, the acclaimed University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below) will perform the COMPLETE sets of  Olivier Messiaen‘s work, “Vingt Regards sur L’Enfant Jésus,” at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, 914 East Knapp Street.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for students. They are available at the door and online at www.pianoarts.org or by calling 414-255-0801.

In addition, Timothy Benson, organist at Saint Paul’s Church will present a lecture and performance of Messiaen’s work on TONIGHT, December 6 at 7 p.m. at Saint Paul’s. Admission is free with a ticket to the December 7 concert.

Composed in 1944, “Vingt Regards” (Twenty Looks at the Infant Jesus”) by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1982, below) is a collection of 20 short contemplations on the infant Jesus by “God the Father,” “the Mother Virgin Mary,” the angels, wise men, birds from the heights, silence, time, the stars and the cross.

The music is a kaleidoscope of radiant colors, bird songs, mini-orchestral sounds, Christmas bells and Hindu drums. It is a difficult work technically and interpretatively, and is a specialty of Taylor, who won a bronze medal at the 1991 Van Cliburn Competition and can be heard playing an excerpt at the bottom of this posting.

For more information about the Milwaukee performance, visit: http://www.pianoarts.org/performances.html

Olivier Messiaen#1#

Based in Milwaukee, PianoArts’ mission is to foster appreciation and performance of classical music by identifying and mentoring a new generation of pianists with exceptional musical and verbal communication skills and by presenting them to diverse audiences. It also sponsors a major international competition every two years.

This concert is a timely performance of a work that has obvious ties to the holidays, Taylor will also perform the same daunting program in New York City next Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. as a holiday-related concert at the famed Metropolitan Museum of Art, to be performed in its Medieval Sculpture Hall.

For information about the New York performance, visit:

http://www.metmuseum.org/events/programs/concerts-and-performances/christopher-taylor?eid=3770

Could Christopher Taylor performing Messiaen become a New Holiday Tradition?

We could sure use one.

How about a performance here in Madison next year?


Classical music education: You can hear for yourself how University of Wisconsin music students have improved by going to the UW Chamber Orchestra’s FREE opening concert of Maxwell-Davies, Ravel and Schubert on Saturday night.

October 5, 2012
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

To those of us who have been in Madison a while, the difference is obvious to hear.

The University of Wisconsin student orchestras – the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra  – have always been good. But over the years they only seem to have gotten better. The same can be said, I think, for solo pianists, chamber musicians and singers.

It seems to The Ear that the UW is recruiting more accomplished musicians. Is that due to the reputation for the UW School of Music? To better teachers and teaching methods in the lower grades? To more appreciation for the performing arts at home, in school and in society? I honestly don’t know.

I suppose if I had access to academic transcripts and admission audition notes, I would know for sure.

But the most recent proof I had was last Sunday, when I heard the UW Symphony Orchestra (below) perform an outstanding program of Messiaen, Berg and Berlioz.

In the late “Smile for Orchestra” by Olivier Messiaen (below), they showed off their ability to create color, follow complex rhythms and follow abrupt  and extreme shifts in dynamics.

In the late Romantic (not atonal) “Seven Early Songs’ by Alban Berg (below) – which featured the outstanding faculty soprano Julia Faulkner as a soloist, although unfortunately she went unannounced in pre-concert publicity – the orchestra proved a fine accompanist.

True, some of the songs seemed unbalanced and the singer was a bit drowned out. Was that the resonant hall? The fact that Faulkner (below center), who possesses a big and beautiful voice, sang sitting down? The large size of the orchestra? It’s impossible for me to say, but I did want to hear more of the singing.

Then came the landmark “Symphonie Fantastique” — a long and difficult but seminal and programmatic Romantic work by Hector Berlioz (below) that is much like Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra in that if puts the spotlight on all sections. In one, it was the percussion and brass; in another the winds and strings, and so forth. All passed with honors.

So congratulations to conductor James Smith (below) and his players.

If you missed that concert, you have another chance to hear Smith with student players tomorrow, on Saturday  night, when at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Chamber Orchestra (below) performs under James Smith its first concert of the 2012-13 season.

The concert is an appealing one; Smith always chooses an eclectic program. It features 19th and 20th century music: the “Ojai Festival Overture, J. 305” by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies; “Ma Mere L’Oye” (“Mother Goose” Suite) by Maurice Ravel; and Symphony No. 6 in C major, D. 589, by Franz Schubert (at bottom).

The concert is FREE.

Parking might be a problem, especially on a football day. But I have been told by the UW Parking Authority that there is some inevitable confusion because the UW system is moving to automated gates with pay machines rather than human cashiers.

The bottom line, they said, was that if the gate arm is open to let you in for nothing, you will be able to leave – and not be ticketed or towed. All day Sunday is FREE parking in nearby Grainger Hall, they said.

We will see.

Be sure to let The Ear know about your Adventures and Misadventures in UW Parking Land.


Classical music: University of Wisconsin-Madison and Edgewood College student orchestras go head-to-head this Sunday afternoon.

September 29, 2012
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

In yet another sign of the growing conflicts and competition that inevitably occur when with a city the size of Madison has a classical music scene that keeps growing, two of the major academic institutions in Madison — the University of Wisconsin and Edgewood College — go head-to-head this Sunday afternoon.

(And that doesn’t even include Wisconsin Public Radio’s live concert broadcast of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” which runs from 12:30 to 2 p.m. and this week features pianist Michael Mizrahi, below, in a program of an early Beethoven sonata, Chopin’s last Mazurka and rarely heard works by newer composers such a Burke, Greenstein, Dancigers and Burke.)

The Ear bets there are many individuals, groups and families especially who would like to support both schools, both music departments. But, alas, that seems impossible.

On Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra (below top, with the UW Choral Union) under conductor James Smith (below bottom in a photo by Jeff Miller) will perform a FREE concert. The unusual program includes “Un Sourire pour Orchestra” (A Smile for Orchestra) by Olivier Messiaen, “Sieben fruhe Lieder” (Seven Early Songs) by Alan Berg and Hector Berlioz‘s famous “Symphonie fantastique,” Op. 14.

At 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at Edgewood College, the: Edgewood Chamber Orchestra Concert will perform a concert under conductor Blake Walter (below, in a photo by John Maniaci)  in the Saint Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Admission is $5; free with Edgewood College ID.

Included on the program is the Overture to “Il Viaggio a Reims” by Rossini, Granville Bantock’s “Old English Suite” and Haydn’s Symphony 99 in E-flat major.

This concert is presented as part of the Year of the Arts at Edgewood College, a celebration of music, theatre and art for 2012-2013. Supporters of our Year of the Arts programming include the Kohler Foundation, BMO Harris Bank, the Madison Arts Commission, with additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board, Dane Arts with additional funds from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, Native Capital Investment, and the Ahrens-Washburn Community Fellows Program.


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