The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The 18th annual Madison Early Music Festival concludes its look at the Spanish Renaissance with another outstanding “concept concert” featuring all participants

July 19, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Nobody here does “concept concerts” better than the Madison Early Music Festival.

Proof came again last Saturday night in Mills Hall when the large forces of professional faculty members and workshop student participants (both below) joined to present a comprehensive overview of Renaissance music in Spain.

The program featured various combinations, including a quartet (below) as well as choral music and instrumental music. It offered sacred and secular fare, courtly music and folk music, Latin and vernacular Spanish.

Once again, the impressive program was assembled and conducted by Grant Herreid (below top) of the internationally acclaimed Renaissance band Piffaro (below bottom), a popular and regular guest at MEMF. (You can hear Piffaro perform music from the Spanish Renaissance in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

As in past years, history, biography, literature, religion and music get layered on top of each other and interwoven among each other. As a formula, from year to year the concept keeps getting refined and keeps succeeding.

In this case, the narration and story line centered on the surprisingly adventurous life of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes (below), who wrote the first important novel, “Don Quixote.”

Last year, the festival celebrated the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare; this year, it was the 400th anniversary of the death of Cervantes.

The Ear really likes the format. The All-Festival concert ran 75 minutes and was done without intermission. Even if you are not a big fan of such early music, the concert was varied enough and short enough to hold your attention.

Unity was provided by excerpts from various texts of Cervantes, including “Don Quixote” as well as less well-known works. Some of his words were even substituted for other texts in songs and choruses.

The chorus and soloists sounded very well rehearsed, and the large instrumental section – with all those unusual-looking early instruments like sackbuts and shawms – was exceptional.

Herreid kept an outstanding sonic balance between the vocal and instrumental forces throughout the event.

There were quite a few narrators (below) who presented the short texts by Cervantes. And they proved the only weak point. Some people just don’t seem as up to the task as others do.

Perhaps in future years, the festival could pick, say, one man and one woman to alternate in the readings. The audience would have a better sense of their identities, and the effect would be better if the narrators were chosen for their ability to project dramatically and enunciate clearly but with expression – something that proved uneven with so many different narrators taking turns.

The Ear didn’t go to a lot of the festival events. He confesses that he is more a Baroque than a Renaissance person who looks forward to next year’s theme of “A Journey to Lübeck,” with German Renaissance and even Baroque music, especially music by Dietrich Buxtehude. (The 19th annual festival will be held July 7-14, 2018.)

But this final wrap-up concert is proof that even if very early music is not your thing, you shouldn’t miss the final event.

The All-Festival concert really is a MUST-HEAR.

You learn a lot.

And you enjoy even more.

Certainly the audience seemed to agree.

Were you there?

What did you think?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Madison Opera’s festive and fun 16th annual Opera in the Park is this Saturday night

July 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

It serves as a preview of the indoor winter opera season.

But one of the summer’s major events in Madison is primarily a fun time unto itself — with outdoors picnicking and socializing, and lots of outdoor music making, some of it with the audience helping to “conduct” with glow-in-the-dark light sticks.

The Madison Opera’s annual FREE Opera in the Park concert will take place this coming Saturday night starting at 8 p.m. in Garner Park, on Madison’s west side near the junction of Mineral Point Road and Rosa Road. (You can get a taste of the event in the YouTube video from 2010 at the bottom.)

The park opens at 7 a.m. Blankets, chairs, food and beverages are allowed. The rain date is the next day — Sunday, July 23.

Here is what Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), the general director of Madison Opera, has to say about the event:

“Opera in the Park has become a Madison summer tradition since the first concert in 2002. When the weather is good, we have over 15,000 people in the audience, which is the highest per-capita attendance of any such opera event in the U.S.

“I think there are many reasons for its success, from the beautiful music to the beautiful park, and the fact that our community enjoys spending time together outside in the summer.

“We don’t make massive changes each year, but it is of course a new set of singers and a new program, so it’s a fresh musical experience.

“This year, for example, we have two arias from zarzuelas or traditional Spanish musical comedies,, including the zarzuela version of “The Barber of Seville” – which will be complemented by an aria from Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” naturally.

“Audience members might also choose to vary the contents of their picnic basket each year – perhaps with Bizet’s “Carmen” and “The Barber of Seville” on the concert, they might want to include Spanish foods.

“I try to invite principal artists from our upcoming season when possible, so that audiences can get to know singers they can then hear in full roles later in the year.

“This summer our singers include soprano Cecilia Violetta López (below), who will be in “Carmen” in November;

tenor David Walton (below), who will be in Mozart’s “The Abduction from the Seraglio” in February;

and mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala (below), who will be in Daniel Catan‘s “Florencia en el Amazonas” in April.

“Baritone Will Liverman (below) is not in the upcoming season, but he has had major success here as “The Barber of Seville” and in last season’s “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” so I’m delighted he is able to join us this summer in the park.

“Putting on Opera in the Park is a complex production, from renting the generators and the stage to coordinating with the City Parks Department and the Madison Police.

Full Compass Systems and Bag End donate the sound system and their services to run it every year, and there are hundreds of people involved, from our production team to our volunteers, from the IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) stage crew to the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra.

“I often say that Opera in the Park is the most important thing Madison Opera does, and I think everyone involved believes that as well.

Now if only the weather will cooperate …”

For more information about Opera in the Park, including the times; the complete concert program that includes selections from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” on the occasion of the composer’s centennial; detailed biographies of the soloists and the guest conductor Joseph Mechavich (below); reservations for the supporters’ Prelude Dinner at 6:30 p.m.; rules about reserving seating in the park; and how to become a volunteer, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/park/


Classical music: See and hear what happens at the Metropolitan Opera just before show time. You will be amazed and entertained

July 15, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the most illuminating and entertaining stories The Ear has seen recently came in The New York Times.

It does exactly what great journalism does: Take you to a place where you cannot go yourself.

The Times went behind the scenes at the famed Metropolitan Opera House in New York City (below) – the Met, for short – to see what was going on before show time.

And it was a lot more than opera.

There is so much to see and listen to, as suggested below in the 1966 drawing of the Metropolitan Opera House by David A. Mackay.

From the sets, props, wig and costume shops to rehearsals by the Met and the American Ballet Theatre and the Metropolitan Orchestra and even to the kitchen and dining room, to say nothing of the classes, hallways and stage.

What emerged was an enthralling story – full of impromptu serendipity — that made good reading in the newspaper and humanized the arts. Here is the text index version (click on the picture and then on the triangle you will see):

But then The Times took advantage of the Internet to create an interactive look at the same material that features only audiovisual clips and runs 7 minutes and 21 seconds.

https://www.nytimes.com/video/arts/100000005201650/what-happens-just-before-show-time-at-the-met-opera-in-12-rooms-youll-never-see.html

The final result is impressive, both for the great videography of the shoulder-held cameras and for the succinct labeling and explaining that doesn’t interrupt the flow.

What resulted should win some kind of prize or award. It should also serve as a model for what many other media – especially television – can do with various media tools at hand.

One last observation: Is The Ear the only person who thinks the driving drum soundtrack sounds suspiciously similar to the soundtrack of the 2014 Oscar-winning film “Birdman”?

What do you think about the video?

Did you like it?

Did you learn anything?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Listening etiquette should be the same outdoors as in concert halls

July 12, 2017
14 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This posting is a favor to a loyal friend of The Ear.

And just maybe to many others too.

This friend, who sponsors local classical music and attends many indoor concerts, likes to go to the FREE Concerts on the Square (below) given by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

The third one of this summer is tonight at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square.

The guest artist is classically trained Robert Bonfiglio (below), the “Paganini of the harmonica,” who will perform several serious works including two by George Gershwin and one by Russian composer Alexander Tcherepnin. (You can hear Bonfiglio perform the second movement of Tcherepnin’s Concerto for Harmonica and Orchestra in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more information about the concert and what happens at it, including food and other activities as well as a biography of the soloist, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square-3-2/

However, what disturbs The Ear’s friend, who will be there tonight, is the rudeness or thoughtlessness that often interferes with appreciating the music.

“Maybe,” the Friend said, “you can post something about it and that might help.”

True, the summer event is designed for socializing and eating and drinking and having fun. And there is plenty of time for all those things.

But when the music starts, it is only fair to pay respect to the musicians who work so hard to perform it and to other listeners who want to hear it.

That means silence.

People should stop chatting, talking or laughing during the music.

They should avoid making unnecessary noise and movements and help allow other audience members to concentrate and focus on the music.

In short, the rules or etiquette for listening to music should be the same outdoors as they are indoors in the concert hall.

And that goes not only for Concerts on the Square, but also for the Concert on the Green by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the upcoming Opera in the Park (below) by the Madison Opera on July 22 and the outdoor Concert in the Park performance on Aug. 9 by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

Anyway that is what The Ear and his Friend think.

What do you think?

And how do you generally find listening to music at Concerts on the Square and other outdoor performances?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: What are the best recordings by Arturo Toscanini and why did critics turn against him?

July 10, 2017
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This past weekend, The Ear posted a story about the massive new biography of the legendary Italian maestro Arturo Toscanini (below).

In case you missed it, here is a link that will also take you to the terrific book review by Robert Gottlieb of the fascinating new biography by Harvey Sachs that appeared in The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/classical-music-new-biography-explains-the-professional-importance-and-personal-quirks-of-famed-maestro-arturo-toscanini/

Turns out that The New Yorker magazine also featured two stories that relate to the new biography, which appears on the 150th anniversary of Toscanini’s birth.

The first story by David Denby focuses on the best recordings by Toscanini. They include the new and impressively re-mastered ones, and most can be found for FREE listening on YouTube.

Here is a link to that critique of the great Toscanini recordings that proved so influential in the history of classical music in the modern era.

It includes what famed Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine considers the most perfect orchestral recording ever made — which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom (be sure to read the comments):

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/toscaninis-greatest-recorded-performances

And here is a follow-up story by Denby about why critics turned against the famous and revered Italian conductor:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/07/10/the-toscanini-wars


Classical music: New biography explains the professional importance and personal quirks of famed maestro Arturo Toscanini

July 8, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

You  know  how sometimes a movie preview or trailer gives so much away of the story that it leaves you feeling you don’t really need to see the movie.

That’s how The Ear felt when he read a recent review in The New York Times of a new and exhaustive biography by Harvey Sachs of the famous conductor Arturo Toscanini (below).

Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867 – 1957) conducts the NBC Symphony Orchestra in a televised recording of Verdi‘s ‘Hymn of the Nations‘, 1944. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This is the second time that Sachs has written about the maestro. This time, however, he had access to recently released private papers.

And boy, are there some surprises.

In his lengthy review, Robert Gottlieb gives The Ear just about all he wants to know or needs to know about the Italian master from his youth (below, ca. 1890) to old age — and then some. (In the YouTube video at the bottom you can hear and see Toscanini conducting “The Ride of the Valkyries” by Richard Wagner in  1948.)

The Ear knew Toscanini was important. But he was never really quite sure why.

Now he knows.

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/27/books/review/toscanini-biography-harvey-sachs.html

Read the review and see if you agree.

And tell us what you make of Toscanini the musician and Toscanini the man.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Performances by this year’s seven Handel Aria Competition finalists are now on YouTube

July 6, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Even if they change your opinion about who should have won what prize in this year’s fifth annual Handel Aria Competition, it’s too late.

That’s the thing about a competition: No second-guessing and no second chances — at least not this year.

But it’s not too late to enjoy the competition all over again

This past week, 14 performances by all seven finalists, who did two each, were posted on YouTube.

Here is the official announcement:

“The Handel Aria Competition is pleased to announce that first prize in the 5th annual competition, held on June 9 in Madison, Wisconsin, went to mezzo-soprano Nian Wang. Wang performed two fiery Handel arias, “Where Shall I Fly?” from Hercules and “Crude furie degl’ orridi abissi” from Serse (Xerxes).

Wang (below in a photo by Mary Gordon) is a New York-based mezzo-soprano originally from Nanjing, China. She graduated from the opera program at the Curtis Institute of Music, and in 2014 was selected as a San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow.

“Along with Wang, tenor Gene Stenger (below left, in a photo by David Peterson) won second prize and the audience favorite award, while mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski (below right) took third prize in the competition.

“Seven finalists (below), selected from a field of more than 100 singers, each sang two arias accompanied by the Madison Bach Musicians under the direction of Trevor Stephenson.

Finalists in the 2017 Handel Aria Competition are pictured below (top to bottom, left to right): Gene Stenger, Clara Osowski, Nicole Heinen, Brian Giebler, Nian Wang, Andrew Rader and Johanna Bronk.

UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe, Craig Trompeter and Alessandra Visconti served as the professional judges for this year’s competition.

Every finalist received some votes for the hotly contested audience favorite prize.

The Handel Aria Competition was established in 2013 to encourage emerging singers to explore the operas and oratorios of George Frideric Handel. It is held annually in Mills Hall of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music.

The competition, founded by Carol “Orange” and Dean Schroeder (below), was inspired by Mr. Schroeder’s passion for Handel’s operatic works.

Please note:  The arias by all seven finalists can now be seen on our YouTube channel. (As an example, winner Nina Wang‘s two arias are at the bottom.)

Bios of the winners and the other four finalists are on our web site.”


Classical music: The Madison Early Music Festival will perform familiar and unfamiliar Spanish Renaissance music. What composers and works will be performed? And what makes them different? Part 2 of 2

July 3, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Friday, when the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) starts to explore Iberian music during the Renaissance Age of novelist Miguel de Cervantes (below) and his pioneering novel “Don Quixote,” much will be familiar but much will also be new.

To provide a look at what to expect, the longtime co-artistic directors of the festival – wife-and-husband singers Cheryl Bensman Rowe and Paul Rowe (below) – provided the following overview through an email Q&A with The Ear.

All-festival passes are $90 and tickets to individual concerts cost $20, $10 for students.

Click here to buy online, call 608-265-ARTS (2787), or visit the Campus Arts Ticket Box Offices in Memorial Union or Vilas Hall (click here for hours).

(Note: All MEMF Concert Series concerts and lectures are free for participants in the MEMF Workshop. There is a $4 transaction fee per ticket when purchasing online or by phone.)

How does early Spanish music differ from its counterparts in, say, Italy, France, Germany and England. What is the historical origin and importance of the music from that era in that part of the world?

The music from the Iberian Peninsula reflects the influences and changes that were happening all over Europe throughout the period that MEMF is examining this summer.

From the “romances” and “villancicos” of Juan del Encina during the time of Columbus to the Baroque era masses, secular songs and instrumental music of Antonio Soler (organ), Luis de Briceño and Gaspar Sanz (vihuela/guitar, below top) and Domenico Scarlatti (below bottom), Spanish music maintained its own unique traditions born of its complicated mixture of cultures and expanding global empire while still reflecting the overall developments that were occurring in Italy, France and Germany.

Some crucial differences include the presence of the Muslim and Jewish poetic and musical influence in the predominantly Catholic region reflected in preferred instrumentation where the vihuela was used more often than the lute, the exotic stories from Middle Eastern sources and the harmonies and melodies that are unique to the Spanish repertoire.

The fact that the political makeup of the area was constantly changing and being buffeted by global changes can make it difficult to understand what really constitutes “Spanish” just as Italy and Germany were not unified in the way we think of them today but were made of individual and distinct regions.

There was much blurring of borders between countries. For example, Naples, which we would think of as Italian, was a Spanish city for most of this time period, with a flourishing court, which supported the flourishing of the musical culture. Artistic changes and developments reflect this rather flexible organization of regions which did not take its current shape until well into the 19th century. (below is an old map of the Iberian Peninsula)

What music and composers of that era have been most neglected and least neglected by historians and performers?

The music from the Iberian Peninsula has been receiving increasing attention in the last 50 years or so. MEMF has focused on this area several times as new editions and discoveries are coming to light.

There are many reasons for this, including the German bias created by musicologists from that area starting in the 19th century. The lack of understanding of a complicated history and a condescension directed towards all things from the “hotter” regions of Europe except for Greece also prevented research, recording and appreciation of this varied repertoire.

The composers that will be most familiar to audiences will be Cristobal de Morales (below top), Francisco Guerrero (below middle) and Tomas Luis de Victoria (below bottom), who are known for their choral music including motets and settings of the Catholic Mass and Mateo Flecha (father and son), who composed secular choral pieces featuring popular tunes of the day put together in a kind of musical pastiche called an “ensalada.”

There are many less known composers from the various regions of Spain.

Juan del Encina is probably responsible for the collection titled ” Cancionero de Palacio” and is credited with 60 pieces from this volume of nearly 500 first published in the 1490s. Juan Hidalgo (below top and in the YouTube video at the bottom) is credited with the creation of the zarzuela, a theatrical form similar to the Neapolitan opera of the time. There is Diego Ortiz, who flourished in Naples, and Antonio de Cabezón (below bottom), who composed primarily keyboard music and Gaspar Sanz, who is familiar to modern guitarists and composed many pieces for the vihuela.

Can you tell us about the program and performers for the All-Festival concert on July 15?

The All-Festival Concert is unique to MEMF. All week long, workshop participants and faculty will work side by side to create Iberian Tapestry: Music and Conquest from the Spanish Golden Age, which includes sacred and secular compositions by Victoria, Guerrero, Flecha, Vasquez, music from the Moors of the Reconquista, Sephardic music for the heritage of the Jews, and from the New World.

This concert will include narrations selected from Don Quixote.

This year, the program was created and will be directed by Grant Herreid (below), who also curated the Piffaro program that opens the MEMF 2017 Concert Series.

Are there other sessions, guest lectures and certain performers that you especially recommend for the general public?

The week is so full of wonderful adventures that I really encourage people to experience it all.

Besides the concert series and workshop classes there are pre-concert lectures and a dance event, ¡Bailemos!, on Thursday, July 13, 2017 at 7:30 p.m., in the Frederic March Play Circle on the second floor of the Memorial Union.

Several free events, besides the Harp concert and master class are the Participant Concert on Friday, July 14, at 1 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall; the Early Opera Workshop; and the Loud Band free concert on Saturday, July 15, at 2 p.m. at Music Hall featuring participants from the Advanced Loud Bound Intensive and the Early Opera & Continuo Workshop performing works by Tomás Luis de Victoria, Francisco Guerrero and several cancioneros plus scenes from La púrpura de la rosa by Tomás de Torrejón y Velasco.

MEMF provides a wonderful opportunity to go back in time and be immersed in the Spanish Renaissance through music, art, dance, concerts and lectures, plus workshop classes. People can play an active role participating as a student, or join us in the audience to listen to the glorious sounds of the historical instruments and voices as we recreate the music from the Golden Age of Spain.

Check out our website for the most up-to-date information and how to get tickets: www.madisonearlymusic.org


Classical music: What is your favorite saying about music? Choose from a website with thousands

July 1, 2017
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Do you have a favorite saying or quotation about music?

The Ear does.

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”

That observation comes from the 19th-century German philosophy Friedrich Nietzsche (below).

And there are many, many more with sources ranging from Socrates and Plato to Duke Ellington and J.K. Rowling.

If you don’t already have one in mind, here is a link to a website with hundreds or even thousands to choose from.

http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/music

Take a look.

Make a pick. Or two. Or three.

And leave your choice, along with why you like it, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Tonight is that start of six weekly Concerts on the Square with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and guest artists under conductor Andrew Sewell. Here’s what you need to know

June 28, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight marks the first of this summer’s Concerts on the Square, performed by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) and guest artists under the baton of music director Andrew Sewell.

The FREE community event was first proposed by famed “American Girl” dolls creator, businesswoman and philanthropist Pleasant Rowland decades ago when she worked downtown and lamented how abandoned the Capitol Square got after dark. This is the 34th season of the popular Concerts on the Square. Each concert now draws tens of thousands of listeners.

The concerts will take place on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square. They run from 7 to 9 p.m. on six consecutive Wednesdays (rain dates are Thursdays). But of course people gather hours earlier to socialize and picnic.

Although pop,rock, folk and film music is often featured, tonight’s program is mostly classical – composers are Leonard Bernstein, Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Otto Nicolai — and performing will  be this year’s winner of the WCO teenage concerto competition. She is violinist Emily Hauer (below) and she hails from Appleton, Wisconsin, where she has studied at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music.

Here is a link to all you need to know about tonight, from the programs and a performer’s detailed biography to vendor menus, the way to volunteer and the ground rules for concert etiquette:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square-1-2/

You can see and hear a sampler of Concerts on the Square in the YouTube video at the bottom.

For future planning, here is a link to all six concerts with similar information:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performance-listing/category/concerts-on-the-square

Should you want to know more about WCO maestro Andrew Sewell (below),  music director since 2000 — and who has also just been named the music director of the San Luis Obispo Symphony in California — here are some profiles and interviews that make for good reading while you wait for the music to start.

Here is an excellent profile done by Sandy Tabachnik in 2014 for Isthmus:

http://isthmus.com/music/andrew-sewell-the-malleable-maestro-of-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra/

And here is some background about the New Zealand-born Sewell, who became an American citizen 10 years ago, along with links to other news stories about his latest appointment:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/tag/sewell/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/06/16/classical-music-maestro-andrew-sewell-has-been-named-the-new-music-director-of-the-san-luis-obispo-symphony-in-california-while-retaining-his-longtime-post-as-music-director-of-the-wisconsin-chamber/

And from the “Only Strings” blog of Paul Baker, who hosts a show of the same name on WSUM 91.7 FM, the student-run radio station at the UW-Madison, here is an interview with ever-gracious Sewell:

https://onlystringswsum.wordpress.com/author/pbaker/page/3/


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