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
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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 Area Concert Handbells (MACH) turns 20 and will give three performances of “Bells of Christmas” this coming weekend. Plus, there is a FREE concert of women composers on Friday at noon and a FREE community string quartet concert on Thursday night

December 7, 2016
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ALERT 1: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the meeting house of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features Sarah Gillespie, French horn, and Susan Gaeddert, piano, in music by women composers: Fanny Hansel, Clara Schumann, Kay Gardner and Andrea Clearfield. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

ALERT 2: The Hunt Quartet, made up of UW-Madison graduate students, will perform a FREE concert at the Beth Israel Center, 1406 Mound Street, on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m.

The program includes the String Quartet No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev,  the String Quartet in G Major Op. 77, No. 1, by Franz Joseph Haydn, the “Langsamer Satz” (Slow Movement) by Anton Webern.

The string quartet is a joint community outreach project of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and is funded by Kato Perlman. It plays at many local schools. For more information, visit: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/hunt-quartet/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has been asked to post the following information:

It’s the 20th anniversary of Madison Area Concert Handbells (MACH) and we’re celebrating!

Our Bells of Christmas concerts will feature some best-loved pieces from the past along with exciting new ones that will showcase our ringers’ and soloists’ talents. MACH’s founder and Director Emerita, Susan Udell (below, front center with baton), will be conducting the December concerts to bring an air of fun-filled nostalgia and continuing excellence to our programs.

madison-area-concert-handbells-susan-udell-in-front-center

Performances are on Friday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 10, at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center (bel0w), 2100 Bristol Street, Middleton. The center adjoins Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC1

There is another performance on Sunday, Dec. 11, at 3 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, 5700 Pheasant Hill Road, in Monona.

Tickets in advance are $12 for adults and $9 for students 16 and under; and $9 for seniors; at the door, tickets are $15 and $12 respectively.

Advance tickets are available at Cool Beans Coffee Café, Ward-Brodt Music, Metcalfe’s Market at Hilldale, and Orange Tree Imports.

Advance tickets can also be ordered. Go to http://www.madisonhandbells.org

To pay with check or money order, you can order by mail — please print an order form and mail with payment to MACH. Advance ticket prices apply.

Group tickets (10 or more) can be ordered in advance for $10 per person, whether adult, student or senior. These are not available at the door; to order, please print an order form and mail with payment (check or money order)

PROGRAM NOTES

Here are program notes written by Susan Udell:

“The Bells of Christmas” opens with the timely reminder that Christmas is Coming before an array of pieces that unfold the events of Christ’s birth. “Wake, Awake,” a stirring arrangement of Philipp Nicolai’s “Wachet Auf,” is replete with giant chords, flowing passages, and the resonance of bass chimes as the city of Jerusalem is made aware of the Savior’s importance.

Next, an arrangement of the 17th century French tune “Picardy,” “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” features mysterious random ringing of bells and hand chimes while the melody is intoned. This evolves into a burst of fiery 16th-note passages and a maestoso statement of the tune before subsiding into the sound of silence punctuated by random chimes once more.

A lively Caribbean tune, “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy,” arranged by one of the handbell world’s top composers and arrangers, Hart Morris, gives a change of pace with its syncopation and moments of percussive instruments.

madison-area-concert-handbells-big-bells

The noted English composer John Rutter’s “Angels’ Carol” follows, sung by our favorite guest vocalist from the past, Carrie Ingebritsen, and our own Rachel Bain; their voices blend beautifully with a liquid handbell accompaniment to give the angels’ message from that long-ago night.

Another favorite soloist, Barbara Roberts, takes the leading part in an excerpt from Benedetto Marcello’s sonata for flute that has been combined in a Gigue with “Forest Green”, an alternate tune for “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” A bell tree duet of “Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” follows, played by MACH members Caitlin Ristow and Karen Paschke.

Then it’s time for an audience sing-along in Christmas Carol Fest III. “How Great Our Joy” closes the first half of the concert with variations on the carol “While By My Sheep” and then another opportunity for the audience to sing as “Joy to the World” affirms the events that occurred in Bethlehem so long ago.

After a brief intermission, renowned handbell composer Cynthia Dobrinski‘s arrangement of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” brings sobering and dramatic music that climaxes in a joyful affirmation that, despite all, God will prevail. Carrie Ingebritsen will help illuminate what the music portrays as she sings the verses accompanied by the bells. (You can hear a sample of Cynthia Dobrinski’s music for handbells in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

madison-area-concert-handbells-playing

An energetic “Comfort, Comfort Ye My People” follows, based on tunes by Louis Bourgeois and George Frideric Handel, also arranged by Cynthia Dobrinski. Next, her arrangement of “On Christmas Night All Children Sing” (Sussex Carol) brings us to a light-hearted celebration of the holiday as seen through the eyes of children.

Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky’s famed “Nutcracker Suite” is then represented as our MACH ringers present a challenging, full-bodied arrangement of its March as transcribed by noted handbell composer William Griffin.

Former MACH member, Janet Rutkowski, returns as handbell soloist for “The Tin Soldier,” an amusing rendition of that well-known tune. Then the ever-popular “Up on the Housetop” details the gifts children anticipate at Christmas and depicts Santa’s arrival, descent of the chimney, and filling of stockings before he departs in a flash of sound.

Our concert concludes with a joyful, foot-stomping “Caroler’s Hoedown,” created and arranged by Valerie Stephenson, who received her graduate degree in composition from the University of Wisconsin-Madison many years ago.

We hope you will join our 20th year’s celebration by attending one of our concerts. We will recognize past ringers and Board of Directors members in our programs as a special tribute of thanks for their support over the years.


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
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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


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