The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Symphony Orchestra’s music director John DeMain discusses the 2017-18 season with critic John W. Barker

May 11, 2017
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, an interview with the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s music director John DeMain about the next season, conducted and 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.

By John W. Barker

Last month, I had a welcome opportunity to sit down with John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, together with his marketing director, Peter Rodgers, to discuss the orchestra’s recently announced 2017-18 concert season. (NOTE: Today is the deadline for current subscribers to renew and keep their seats. You can call 608 257-3734 or go to https://www.madisonsymphony.org/reneworder)

This meeting allowed me new insights into the various factors that go into selecting a season’s repertoire. It also gave me further appreciation of Maestro DeMain’s personality and talents.

It further revealed the unfairness of some criticism made that the coming season is “conservative” and repetitive of familiar works. In fact, his programming involves very thoughtful awareness of the differing expectations of the varied audience.

It has become customary to make the season’s opening concert a showcase for talented members of the orchestra, rather than for guest soloists.

The September program thus offers a masterpiece I particularly relish, Hector Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, a symphony with viola obbligato — featuring the orchestra’s principal violist, Chris Dozoryst (below).

But the inclusion of the neglected Fifth or “Reformation” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn was decided as a link to this year’s 500th-anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther’s launching of the Lutheran Reformation in 1517. Also on the program is Leopold Stokowski’s orchestral arrangement of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The October program contains a notable example of a familiar and popular “warhorse,” Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” This was indeed performed by the MSO two seasons back as part of the “Beyond the Score” presentations. DeMain indicates that the close repetition is made deliberately to connect with that past event, to expand further the audiences’ understanding of the work.

He is also juxtaposing the symphony with the appearance of the acclaimed Olga Kern (below), playing the Piano Concerto by Samuel Barber and with the “Mother Goose” Suite by Maurice Ravel.

The November soloist is guitarist Sharon Isbin, in two concertos, one new (“Affinity” by Chris Brubeck) and one old (Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo)  She plays with her instrument electronically amplified, something very off-putting in my experience. But DeMain notes that all guitarists do that now in concert work, and he wanted to include the guitar to bring in new and different audience members.

Inclusion of suites by Aaron Copland and Manuel de Falla – “Billy the Kid” and “The Three-Cornered Hat,” respectively — also represent popular appeal.

January will bring a triumph for DeMain: the appearance of violinist Gil Shaham (below), after 15 years of efforts to secure him. Shaham will perform the Violin Concerto by Peter Tchaikovsky.

The all-Russian program also allows DeMain to venture for the first time into “The Love for Three Oranges” suite by Sergei Prokofiev and the Third Symphony of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The issue of “warhorse” repetition is raised by the First Symphony by Johannes Brahms in the February program. But DeMain points out that it has been 10 years since the MSO played the work, a significant one that richly deserves performance by now.

He is also proud to include with it the outstanding Rossini opera overture (Semiramide) and the rarely heard Cello Concerto, with German cellist Alban Gerhardt (below), by the 20th-century British composer William Walton.

DeMain admits to mixed feelings about the “Beyond the Score” presentations of music and background context, but he is confident that the one offered (one night, outside subscriptions) on March 18, about the monumental Enigma Variations, by Sir Edward Elgar, (below) will work well.

The combination in April of Benjamin Britten’s powerful Sinfonia da Requiem and Robert Schumann’s First Symphony (“Spring”) with Antonin Dvorak’s sadly neglected Violin Concerto has special meanings for the maestro. It allows the return of the greatly admired Augustin Hadelich (below) as soloist.

But it also allows DeMain’s return, for his first time since 1974, to the Schumann score, with which he had a crucial encounter in a youthful appearance with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Finally, the May program is an unusually exciting combination of Mozart’s too-little-appreciated Piano Concerto No. 22 with soloist Christopher O’Riley (below) of NPR’s “From the Top” with the roof-raising Glagolitic Mass, featuring the Madison Symphony Chorus, of Leos Janacek.

DeMain has made important commitments to the orchestral music of Janacek (below) before this, and his advance to the composer’s great blockbuster choral work is a landmark.

Amid savoring DeMain’s thoughts on the season – which also includes the MSO’s traditional Christmas concert in early December — and his wonderful recollections of past experiences, I came to recognize more than ever the remarkable combination of talents he brings to his Madison podium.

Beyond so many conductors, DeMain has had deeply engaging phases of his career in orchestral literature (large and small), in opera and musical theater, and in chamber music, while being himself an accomplished pianist.

With the breadth of his range, he brings a particular sensitivity to the contexts and diversities of what he conducts. He has become to his musicians not only a skilled guide, but also a subtle teacher, deepening their understanding without any hint of pedantry.

It cannot be said enough how truly blessed we are to have him with us in Madison.

For more information about the 2017-18 season, including specific dates and times, and about purchasing tickets for new subscribers and renewing subscribers, go to:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/17-18


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Classical music: Madison Bach Musicians perform their sixth annual Baroque holiday concert this coming Saturday night. Plus, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s “Messiah” on Friday night is close to selling out

December 5, 2016
2 Comments

ALERT: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its acclaimed music director Andrew Sewell are pretty busy these days playing the accompanying music for the Madison Ballet‘s multiple performances of Peter Tchaikovsky‘s holiday ballet “The Nutcracker.”

Then on this coming Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Blackhawk Church in Middleton, the WCO, the WCO Chorus, the Festival Choir of Madison and guest soloists, all under the baton of Sewell, also give their annual and usually sold-out performance of George Frideric Handel‘s oratorio “Messiah.” The Ear has been told that this year’s performance is also close to selling out to. For more information and tickets, go to: 

http://www.wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/messiah-at-blackhawk-church-middleton/

By Jacob Stockinger

At 8 p.m. this Saturday night, Dec. 10, the Madison Bach Musicians (below top) will give their sixth annual Baroque Holiday Concert.

mbm-baroque-holiday-2015-all-singing

The event will once again be held in the beautiful and sonorous sanctuary (below) of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue.

mbm-baroque-holiday-2015-audence-and-players

MBM holiday 2014 Marc Vallon on bassoon JWB

There is a free pre-concert lecture by the always witty, informative and entertaining MBM founder, artistic director and harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson (below) at 7:15 p.m. NOTE: Trevor Stephenson will also discuss the upcoming holiday concert and play excerpts from past ones TODAY AT NOON on The Midday program aired by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Trevor Stephenson full face at keyboard USE

The program will feature: a cappella (solo vocal) masterworks by Orlando di Lassus and Josquin des Prez performed by a vocal quartet; a Christmas Cantata for soprano and strings by Alessandro Scarlatti—featuring soprano soloist Chelsea Morris (below top); a trio sonata by Johann Joseph Fux; an intriguing  Partita for two scordatura violins (scordatura means the open strings are re-tuned into a new interval configuration!) by Heinrich Biber; the Sonatina in A minor for baroque bassoon and continuo by Georg Philipp Telemann ― with soloist and UW-Madison professor Marc Vallon (below bottom, in a photo by James Gill); one of the Christmas Cantatas, BWV 122Das neugeborne Kindelein (The Newborn Baby) by Johann Sebastian Bach (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); and a bonus feature ― a preview of MBM’s upcoming April performance of Bach’s oratorio  St. John Passion, the tenor aria Ach, mein Sinn.

CHELSEA Shephard

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

Advance-sale discount tickets: $28 for general admission, $23 for students and seniors 65 and over. They are available at Orange Tree Imports, Farley’s House of Pianos, Room of One’s Own, and Willy Street Co-op (East and West) . You can also find online advance-sale tickets at madisonbachmusicians.org 

Tickets at the door are: $30 for general admission; $25  for students and seniors 65 and over.
 Student Rush tickets are $10 at the door and go on sale 30 minutes before lecture (student ID is required)

Musicians will include: Chelsea Morris, soprano; Joseph Schlesinger, counter-tenor; Scott Brunscheen, tenor; Matthew Tintes, bass; Kangwon Kim and Brandi Berry, baroque violins; Marika Fischer Hoyt, baroque viola; Martha Vallon, baroque cello; Marc Vallon, baroque bassoon; and Trevor Stephenson, harpsichord


Classical music: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has posted online an impressive list of concerts for the 2016-17 season. Plus, the Willy Street Chamber Players promise to make it easy for their listeners tonight to also get over to the Handel Aria Competition.

July 8, 2016
2 Comments

ALERT: The Ear likes to see cooperation and collegiality, especially as the classical music scene in Madison gets busier and more competitive. And cooperation is exactly what he heard this week on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s noon-time show “The Midday” with Norman Gilliland

Members of the Willy Street Chamber Players and the Handel Aria Competition, which both take place tonight, appeared back-to-back on the show and behaved as true colleagues.

The Willy Street Chamber Players said their program of Tchaikovsky s “Souvenir of Florence” and “Entr’acte” by Caroline Shaw should run about an hour — from 6 to 7 p.m. — and that they would do everything possible (less talking perhaps?) to make sure audience members could also attend the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition, which starts at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, and is held in conjunction with the Madison Early Music Festival, which takes place this week. 

Here is a link with more details about the Willy Street Chamber Players:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/07/03/classical-music-next-friday-night-starts-the-second-season-of-the-acclaimed-willy-street-chamber-players/

And here is a link to the Handel Aria Competition.

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

By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

Most of the major classical music organizations and presenters in town – the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Union Theater to name a few — have already announced their new seasons for 2016-27.

And now the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has posted its calendar of concerts for the new season, most of which take place in Mills Hall (below) on its website.

MIllsHall2

To be clear, there are few specific programs listed with composers and works. Sometimes that happens because the programs just aren’t decided yet. And sometimes they aren’t decided because the makeup of some groups – like the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra – aren’t known until school begins in September.

Nonetheless, it is an impressive list that runs into the hundreds when you include student recitals.

Some of the higher profile concerts are ticketed, but most remain FREE to the public.

And you can find out a lot from the calendar, even if it is incomplete and subject to change.

You can see the operas that will be staged by the University Opera – namely Giuseppe Verdi’s “Falstaff” and Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw.”

You can find out about the UW Choral Union (below), which will perform works by Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven and Leonard Bernstein as well as a rarely performed worked based on Walt Whitman by Paul Hindemith.

UW Choral Union 11-2013 Vaughan Williams soloists

You can see the groups that will participate in the third annual Brass Fest, including the Stockholm Chamber Brass on its first tour of the U.S.

You can see when virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor (below) will perform as well as when his fellow faculty members will play recitals.

Christopher Taylor new profile

Ditto for the renowned Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), the Wingra Woodwind Quintet and the Wisconsin Brass Quintet.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

And same goes for the 38th annual Karp Family Labor Day concert on Sept. 5, which officially opens the news season.

There is just so much to choose from!

Happy hunting!

Here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/


Classical music: The Edgewood College Chamber Singers will make history when it performs by invitation at a sacred music festival in Quito, Ecuador later this month.

March 5, 2016
2 Comments

A REQUEST: The Well-Tempered Ear blog is within 10 subscriptions of breaking 1,000. That would be so encouraging! The Ear wonders if either you or friends of yours who read the blog regularly might subscribe and help him meet the goal?

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has just a small — yet big — news item to pass along today:

The Edgewood College Chamber Singers (below) will perform by invitation later this month at the International Sacred Music Festival in Quito, Ecuador.

Edgewood Chamber Singers.jpeg

The choir will perform under the direction of Sergei Pavlov (below), who writes:

“The Festival Internacional de Música Sacra in Quito is a long-standing tradition and one of the most prestigious Easter music festivals in South America.

“It is organized by the National Theater (Teatro Nacional Sucre) and the Municipality of the City of Quito.

“In previous years, it has featured groups from about 15 countries, and all the performances — around 20 concerts — are completely free for the audience and are presented in numerous historic churches in Quito.

Sergei Pavlov

“The Edgewood Chamber Singers is the first American youth choir to be invited (last year the group from the U.S. was the professional American Spiritual Ensemble). We will be performing together with the youth choir of Teatro Sucre and the National Chamber Choir of Ecuador.

“The concert will feature music by the Baroque composer Domenico Zipoli – who was an 18th-century missionary in South America; traditional African Christian music; music by Karl Jenkins and Aaron Copland; and spirituals. (You can hear a beautiful non-choral work — an Air — by Domenico Zipoli, performed by the Jean-Francois Paillard Chamber Orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

“The festival runs for two weeks before Holy Week. We will be there March 17-24 and our concerts are March 21 and March 22.

“Unfortunately, in South America people still rely on TV and newspaper advertising and the on-line info appears only a few weeks before the festival.”

For more information, visit:

http://www.edgewood.edu/News/chamber-singers-prepare-for-performances-in-ecuador


Classical music: Here are the best classical music CDs of 2015, according to the BBC Music Magazine and the Telegraph newspaper.

November 27, 2015
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Black Friday –- the much-touted big shopping day after Thanksgiving.

(FYI: It’s Black Friday not because it is bad, but because it is so good that it puts many businesses from the red into the profit-making black for the year.)

And all indications are that this year a record-setting amount of the shopping will be conducted online.

Between now and the holidays, The Ear will direct you to various lists of the Best Classical Recordings of 2015.

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

Today, he offers two such guides and gift suggestions, and future guides will include picks by the forthcoming Grammy nominations and The New York Times critics.

The first of today’s two gift guides is the well-regarded BBC Music Magazine (below) and its list of awards for 2015:

http://www.classical-music.com/awards/winners-2015

It features Record of the Year plus eight other categories that you can click on. The categories include: Orchestral, Concerto, Opera, Choral, Vocal, Chamber, Instrumental and Jury Awards.

Of course, make allowances of course for cultural and geographic bias. So you may find more British or UK artists or labels than you might think.

BBC Music Magazine

The second is the Telegraph newspaper and website in England and the United Kingdom:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/classical-music/best-new-albums/

Don’t forget to leave your own suggestions in the COMMENTS section. Some pretty knowledgeable and sophisticated listeners follow The Ear.

So … The Ear wants to hear.


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