The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear listens with eyes open and finds interesting photos at concerts

August 14, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

It was the famous 20th-century composer and pioneering modernist Igor Stravinsky (below) who advised us to listen to music with our eyes open.

For one, it fosters our appreciation of the sheer physicality of making music. Musicians are, as the pianist Vladimir Horowitz once observed, athletes of the small muscles.

If you listen with your eyes open you can see a lot of things.

You can see how musicians give each other cues.

You can see the expression on their faces, the joy and pleasure that making music gives them.

You can observe how different members of the audience react differently to different music.

You can appreciate the many kinds of instruments with the eye-catching shapes, sizes and colors.

And you can see patterns that make for good photographs – if taking photos is allowed.

Of course even if it is, there are rules to follow so that the musicians and other audience members are not disturbed: no flash and no shutter sound are the main ones besides the rule of intellectual property and the forbidding of taking photographs – kind of a difficult one to enforce these days, what with all the smart phones out there.

But some musicians and groups are very friendly and open to photographing, especially if the photos are strictly personal and not for commercial use to earn a profit.

At the last regular concert this summer by the Willy Street Chamber players a little over two weeks ago, The Ear found two that showed patterns for good composition.

It’s just fun. But productive fun that can capture the fascination with music and musicians, especially if you sit close to the performers.

Here they are.

First is “Three Clarinets,” a portrait of guest artist Michael Maccaferri, from the Grammy-winning chamber music group eighth blackbird, with the three clarinets he used in the Argentinian-Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov’s “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” The black verticality of the clarinets is heightened by the same quality of the music stands.

The second is “Two Cellos and One Violin,” taken during the bows after the string sextet version of Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante.” The shapes and shades of brown wood draw the eye.

Tell The Ear of you like this kind of photo essay and want to see more of them on the blog.

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: We should hear more encores, especially at outstanding chamber music concerts. Plus, a FREE Farmer’s Market organ recital is this Saturday at 11 a.m.

August 11, 2017
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ALERT: This Saturday at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will offer another FREE Farmers Market Organ Concert. The program, which runs 45 minutes, features music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Felix Mendelssohn, Charles-Marie Widor and Louis Vierne. The organist is the prize-winning Madison native Adrian Binkley.

By Jacob Stockinger

Two weeks ago, the Willy Street Chamber Players gave The Ear yet another reason to like them and be a fan.

After the season-ending program of Schubert, Osvaldo Golijov and Mozart was over, while the audience was cheering, standing and applauding loudly, two members of the young chamber music group played an encore.

The encore was “Julie-O” by Mark Summer. It was written for one cellist, as you can hear in a performance by the composer in the YouTube video at the bottom.

But this time it was performed by the two cellists of The Willys — Lindsey Crabb and Mark Bridges (below).

They agreed to play an encore only reluctantly – after some prodding by other members of The Willys, by guest clarinetist Michael Maccaferri (of the Grammy-winning group eighth blackbird) and, of course, by the audience.

But there shouldn’t have been any reluctance.

The Ear thinks we hear too few encores after so much memorable music-making.

Certain student recitals at the UW-Madison come immediately to mind. It sometimes seems that the protocol of student recitals prohibits encores, but The Ear has been told by faculty members that such is not the case.

What also comes to mind is the lack of encores at chamber music concerts by larger ensembles – piano trios, string quartets and piano or string quintets and sextets.

And rarely do you hear encores at the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or Madison Opera except when they are played by concerto soloists.

But why not?

The Ear recalls that several years ago the Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez, performing the aria with notoriously difficult nine high C’s in the aria “Ah! Mes amis” from Donizetti’s opera “La Fille du Regiment,” then quickly repeated the same passage to frenzied approval.

What are encores but a way of saying: “You liked me, so now I like you.”

Encores are not immodest bragging. They are a reward, a gift, a way for the performer to say thank you to the audience for its attention and appreciation.

Maybe every individual or group should have some kind of encore in the back pocket and ready to go. It could be a short movement or even a section of a movement, perhaps a coda or finale.

It seems to The Ear that many instrumentalists, especially pianists who have such a rich repertory, would do well to have four encores ready: one fast and one slow, one loud and one soft.

That way, the encore can underscore —  by either complementarity or contrast — the piece or pieces that preceded it and called for it.

Have you ever wanted to hear an encore and been frustrated?

What do musicians themselves say about playing encores?

Are there unwritten guidelines or an unstated protocol about when to play encores?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players wrap up their third season this Friday night at 6 with music by Mozart, Schubert and Osvaldo Golijov

July 27, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, the acclaimed Willy Street Chamber Players (below) wrap up their third summer series.

The 90-minute performance is at 6 p.m. in the Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight St., on Madison’s near east side.

A post-concert reception will be held with snacks from the Underground Food Collective and the Willy Street Coop.

Tickets are $15 at the door.

The program is typical for the relatively new group – a small ensemble making big waves — in that it features regular members with a guest performer, and also mixes old music and new music, sometimes with an unusual twist.

The program offers three works.

The dramatic “Quartettsatz” (1820), or “quartet movement,” by Franz Schubert (below) was intended be a part of another string quartet. It never found that home, and now exists as a popular work on its own. (You can hear it played by the Amadeus Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” (1994), by the eclectic contemporary Argentinean-American composer Osvaldo Golijov (below, in a photo by Kayana Szymczak for the New York Times), has proven to be among contemporary music’s more popular works. (It has been performed in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.)

As you can gather from the title, it has Hebraic or Yiddish elements typical of Golijov, who is Jewish and has lived in Israel, and it possesses an appealing klezmer sound. The featured soloist is guest clarinetist Michael Maccaferri (below)

Ending the concert is the popular and supremely beautiful “Sinfonia Concertante” for Violin and Viola in E-flat Major, K. 364, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It was composed originally for a string orchestra and is usually performed that way.

But The Willys, always inventive, will use an anonymous “house music” reduction for string sextet that was done in 1808, almost 30 years after the composer’s death.

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society has done many similar reductions of piano concertos by Mozart and symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn with great success.

So The Ear is very anxious to hear this transcription or arrangement, which could make yet another great masterpiece even more accessible with smaller forces at less expense.

To The Ear, it has all the makings of yet another MUST-HEAR concert by a MUST-HEAR group.

See you there.


Classical music: The Willy Street Chamber Players open a new season with an impressive program impressively played

July 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Willys never disappoint.

Last Friday night, the six Willy Street Chamber Players (below) opened their third summer season at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street.

And once again, even though The Willys are relative newcomers, it is hard for The Ear to imagine a more perfect or more enjoyable concert.

The large and enthusiastic audience (below), which has grown considerably over the past two years, seemed to agree, judging by the standing ovations, loud applause and overheard comments.

So what made The Willys’ concert so great and so enjoyable?

Start with the basics

It was summery and informal. Shorts, T-shirts and sandals felt entirely appropriate.

It wasn’t expensive. A $15 ticket seems very affordable compared to what so many other local groups charge.

It wasn’t too long. They played just three pieces – two short and one long — that lasted under 80 minutes. That way you can enter the zone; concentrate hard and focus while you stay in the zone; and then leave the zone for good with time to do other things, including attend the post-performance reception with cookies, ice cream and coffee.

Spoken informal introductions to the pieces – each given by a different player – served as program notes, and they were kept short and to the point. (Below is cellist Mark Bridges humorously explaining the complicated love life of Brahms and how it affected his composing the string sextet.)

The playing itself was exemplary. (It featured the six core members plus guest violinist Suzanne Beia, below front left, of the Pro Arte Quartet, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.)

The Ear detected no sour notes, no false starts or stops, no uncertain passages or interpretation. The well-rehearsed Willys played with precision as well as heart.

The program was typical Willy fare. It mixed short and long, old and new.

The old classics were two: Hugo Wolf’s charming “Italian Serenade” for string quartet (below) and with the String Sextet No. 2 in G major, Op. 36, by Johannes Brahms, a long piece that received an energetic and thoroughly compelling reading.

But the star of the evening for The Ear came first: Jennifer Higdon‘s string quartet setting and contemporary take on the classic hymn “Amazing Grace.”

The riffs on the familiar tune by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer (below) was new to The Ear and proved completely engaging, unmistakably modern-sounding yet accessible. (You can hear the Higdon work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Higdon string quartet (below) recalled an American tradition of using religious music for non-religious purposes. Think of how Charles Ives and Aaron Copland used old hymns and camp meeting songs, the most famous being Copland’s use of the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” in “Appalachian Spring.”

To be honest, a lot of new music just doesn’t speak to The Ear or reach him emotionally. It often makes him feel superfluous.

But The Willys have a knack for picking the right kind of new music that captures and holds The Ear’s attention, including the String Quartet No. 2 by Philip Glass, the String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks” by Daniel Bernard Roumain and “Entr’acte” for string quartet by Caroline Shaw.

It is a gift The Ear hopes they keep as they choose other contemporary composers and new music to perform with tried-and-true classics.

And if you want to hear more, you can go to The Willys’ website for details about the two remaining concerts this summer plus a FREE family-friendly Community Connect appearance at the east side Goodman Center from noon to 1 p.m. this Saturday. There they will play the works by Caroline Shaw and Daniel Bernard Roumain as well as “Tango for Four” by Astor Piazzolla and the Viola Quintet No. 1 in G major, Op. 111, by Brahms. (NOTE: An earlier mistake here and on the Willys’ website listed the String Sextet by Brahms rather than the Viola Quintet.)

The Willys complete the regular subscription season with performances at Immanuel Lutheran on two Fridays, July 21 (with music by Elvis Costello, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Dmitri Shostakovich) and July 28 (with music by Franz Schubert, Osvaldo Golijov and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). Both performances are at at 6 p.m.

For more details about the performers and the programs, here is a link:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/calendar.html

You shouldn’t miss The Willys in concert.

But if you do, you should know that Madison’s classical music documentarian and chronicler, Rich Samuels (below), is recording all the concerts to play this fall on his Thursday morning radio program “Anything Goes” on WORT-FM 89.9. Stay tuned for more information about air times.


Classical music: The St. Lawrence String Quartet will perform works by Haydn and the Midwest premiere of the String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams this Friday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Plus, this Tuesday night UW-Madison alumnus and violist Elias Goldstein will perform a FREE concert of the famous Caprices by Paganini

February 1, 2016
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ALERT: University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music 2011 alumnus and violist Elias Goldstein is on his way to Carnegie Hall in New York City to perform all the virtuosic 24 Caprices originally for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini. But first he will perform them here in a FREE concert that also includes other works with pianist Thomas Kasdorf, another UW-Madison alumnus, on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. (Sorry, no word on the rest of the program.) Goldstein will also give a FREE and PUBLIC master class on Wednesday at 2:25 p.m. in Morphy Hall.

For more information, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/goldstein_paganini/

By Jacob Stockinger

How does a contemporary American composer channel classic composers from more than 200 years ago?

You can find out by going to hear the St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ, below). The critically acclaimed string quartet will perform this Friday night at 8 pm, in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

St.Lawrence String Quartet 2016 2 BIG USE

Tickets are $27.50 to $42.50.

For more information, including reviews and video samplings, visit:

http://uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season15-16/st-lawrence-string-quartet.html

The program features two quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, including the popular and famed “Emperor” Quartet and the earlier “Joke” Quartet as well as the Midwest premiere of John Adams; String Quartet No. 2.

NPR, or National Public Radio, recently featured an interview with Adams discussing Beethoven:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/11/10/450560466/john-adams-mines-beethovens-mind

But Christopher Costanza, the cellist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, recently gave an enlightening Q&A from the quartet’s point of view to The Ear:

christopher costanza playing cello

Can you briefly bring the public up to date since your last appearance in Madison, when you performed “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” by Osvaldo Golijov? Major residencies and tours? Major commissions? Major performing and recording projects?

The St. Lawrence String Quartet has been busy with a wide range of projects in the years since our last appearance in Madison.

We’ve had a personnel change – our newest quartet member is Owen Dalby, our second violinist, who joined us in the spring of last year.

We happily continue as Artists-in Residence at Stanford University, where we are involved in a great number of activities, including teaching, performing, and collaborations with a wide range of schools and departments on campus.

And our international touring schedule remains very active, with concerts throughout North America and Europe; our most recent European tour, in late summer of 2015, included concerts in Scotland, Germany, Romania, Hungary and Switzerland, and we will tour Europe twice in 2016.

We’ve performed several pieces commissioned for us, including works by such composers as Osvaldo Golijov, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Samuel Adams, Jonathan Berger, James Matheson and George Tsontakis.

Of particular significance, John Adams has composed three works for us, two string quartets and a quartet concerto, “Absolute Jest,” which was written for the SLSQ, the San Francisco Symphony and the SF Symphony’s music director Michael Tilson Thomas.

We’ve performed “Absolute Jest” on several national and international tours with the San Francisco Symphony, as well as with the London Symphony, the Toronto Symphony, and the New World Symphony. Our recording of the work with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas was released this past summer.

We’ve recently embarked on a recording project of the Opus 20 quartets of Haydn, and other recording projects are in development.

john adams absolute jest

Why did you choose to perform two Haydn string quartets to open and close the program, instead of a work by Beethoven, given the Beethoven influences in the String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams?

We often perform programs that begin and end with a Haydn quartet, with a contemporary work (or works) in between. This showcases the great variety and brilliance of Haydn’s gigantic contribution to the quartet repertoire.

It also provides an interesting contrast between the earliest works for quartet and current compositional offerings, stressing the fact that Haydn (below) essentially invented the string quartet and paving the way for other composers to explore creativity in their compositions for quartet.

In truth, we do often program Beethoven (below) with the Second String Quartet by Adams. For this program, I think the Adams/Haydn juxtaposition will be a meaningful comment on the evolution of quartet writing, from the early years to works of the present.

Beethoven big

As an exercise in compare and contrast programming, what would you like the public to know about the “Joke” and “Emperor” Quartets by Haydn? About Haydn’s music in general?

Haydn’s “Joke” Quartet, from his Op. 33 set, is, as you might guess, filled with humor and wit. The quartet is actually quite straightforward structurally, filled with robust and positive energy and simple, appealing melodies. It’s a compact work, inviting and charming.

The “Emperor” Quartet, from the Op. 76 set, comes from a later period of Haydn’s compositions, and it is a work of considerable length and weight. This quartet shows a natural link to Beethoven in its duration, dynamic contrast, emotional range, and overall musical substance. (You can hear Haydn’s “Emperor” Quartet performed, analyzed and discussed by the St. Lawrence Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Of significant note, the “Emperor” is named thusly for the second movement, a theme and variations based on the tune Haydn (below) originally wrote for the Emperor Francis of Austria as a sort of national anthem.

Haydn

What should readers know about the String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams (below)? How is it similar to or different from his other works that the public knows such as “Nixon in China,” “The Death of Klinghoffer,” “Doctor Atomic” “Harmonielehre” and “On the Transmigration of Souls”? Will this performance be the Midwest premiere? Will you record the quartet?

John Adams’s Second String Quartet is very strongly based on two motivic ideas from Beethoven’s Op. 110 piano sonata, as well as a variation from Beethoven’s “Diabelli” Variations.

The Beethoven elements are clearly presented in clever and skilled ways, and I think many of them will be evident to the astute listener. Most importantly, John is brilliant in his transformation of the Beethoven quotes, and the piece is very clearly an Adams piece, characterized by driving rhythms, great energy, and a true sense of musical intent and balance.

To get a sense of the piece prior to hearing it, I suggest listening to “Absolute Jest” (our recent recording) – another of John’s pieces inspired by Beethoven and filled with late Beethoven quotes – and the Op. 110 Piano Sonata by Beethoven.

We’ve performed the Second Quartet on several occasions since we premiered it at Stanford University about a year ago, but I do think our Madison performance will be a Midwest premiere. We are currently considering the possibility of recording the work, but specific plans have not yet been made.

john adams with pencil

What else would you like to say?

We’re thrilled to be returning to Madison after a gap of several years. It’s very exciting to be bringing a program of music by two of our favorite composers, Joseph Haydn and John Adams, and we think contrasting the two will be interesting and enlightening to all.


Classical music: Superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma turns 60. NPR offers a capsule biography and generous sound samples from throughout his varied career.

October 11, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Have cello. Will play.

Any style. Any place.

Last Wednesday, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, turned 60.

The unquestionable quality, astounding diversity and enviable longevity of his career will come as no surprise to Madison audiences.

After all, Ma (below, in a photo by Jason Bell for Sony Classical) has performed here many times, mostly at the Wisconsin Union Theater – he reopened the renovated Shannon Hall — but also at the Overture Center.

yo-yo ma CR Jason Bell:Sony Classical

Ma has performed solo here. But he also has played with his longtime chamber music partner pianist Emanuel Ax and with the acclaimed Silk Road Ensemble and the bluegrass or roots music by violinist-composer Mark O’Conner.

And Ma has commissioned many works – including some by composers Osvaldo Golijov and John Adams – that have entered the mainstream repertoire. His influence on contemporary music will be felt for a very long time.

The Ear has met Ma in person a couple of times and found him to be as congenial and humorous as he is talented and original.

An iconic figure on TV and radio, Ma is a master of using the mass media although he never seems a crass self-promoter.

He is a veritable American cultural institution who also enjoys going on PBS for “Sesame Street” and “Live From Lincoln Center” as well as doing a cameo appearance playing unaccompanied Bach in the drama “The West Wing.” (You can hear him play the same piece in a YouTube video at the bottom that has more than 12 million hits.)

Perhaps you have also heard him live, maybe even more than once.

One thing is important but is overlooked by the NPR piece: The ever-reliable Ma is outstandingly successful at the box office. He is probably the most bankable and commercially successful American classical musician on the scene today. Ma’s career bodes well for the future of classical music that otherwise worries so many observers and participants.

You surely will appreciate the eminently readable and listenable post that Tim Huizenga wrote for the “Deceptive Cadence” blog on NPR or National Public Radio.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/10/07/446364616/the-diverse-world-of-yo-yo-ma

Do you have a birthday greeting for or memory of cellist Yo-Yo Ma?

Leave it in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music Q&A: How do you make chamber music both fun and fine? Co-directors Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes discuss this summer’s 23rd annual three-weekend, three-venue season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society that starts this Friday night. Part 1 of 2.

June 9, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Some people might refer to it as a highlight of the summer music season in Madison.

The Ear prefers to think of it as a highlight of the entire concert season in Madison. He waits all fall, winter and spring to find out the next theme, the next repertoire, the next performers. But the waiting ends soon.

This Friday night the Madison-based chamber music group the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below top) will open its six-concert, three-weekend and three-venue season at 7:30 p.m. in The Playhouse (below bottom) at the Overture Center. Then it will move on to the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green and the beautifully restored Opera House in Stoughton, Wisconsin.

BDDS 3 Faure piano quartet 2

BDDS 4 ovation

And this summer shows no sign of disappointing.

Much of the BDDS concert format or formula will remain the same: familiar classics of the repertoire mixed in with rarely heard artists and works, including commissions and a world or local premiere; familiar local performers mixed in with top-flight imported musicians; and the signature atmosphere that combines chatty levity with serious first-rate music-making.

Am I excited? You bet! And you should be too.

Some of my favorites are the piano trios, piano quartets and piano quintets performed by the San Francisco Trio. They will be playing here again, including one trio by Dmitri Shostakovich and another by Antonin Dvorak.

Other favorites of The Ear are the symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn and the piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the long-neglected chamber music reductions intended to be performed as “house music” in private homes. This summer includes one of the most popular Mozart piano concertos –- again.

I love the string works that BDDS plays – and this summer I will get to hear Claude Debussy’s phenomenal Violin Sonata, the last work he composed (you can hear it played by violinist James Ehnes, who has performed in Madison with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom), and Maurice Ravel’s unusual Sonata for Violin and Cello.

I especially love piano music: the more, the better. This summer I will get to hear two of the best: Jeffrey Sykes, who possesses the chameleon-like gift of Richard Goode in that he can sound absolutely natural and at home in just about any musical style, from Baroque, Classical and Romantic to Modern and New Music. But this summer is a twofer. Sykes will also perform two-piano pieces by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Witold Lutoslawski and Maurice Ravel with the celebrated University of Wisconsin-Madison virtuoso Christopher Taylor.

Then there is the fabulous new clarinetist, Alan Kay, performing the sublime Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms.

You can hear all that plus a lot more, including a generous serving of South American music — tangos by Astor Piazzolla and songs by Carlos Guastavino — music that flutist Stephanie Jutt brought back from her sabbatical year in Argentina.

But you can check out the programs for yourself. I challenge you to find one that just doesn’t interest and impress you.

Here is a link to the complete new season:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/classical-music-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-announces-its-23rd-season-23-skiddoo-this-june-with-an-emphasis-on-latin-american-chamber-music-a-midwest-premiere-by-american-co/

You might recall that The Ear has been so impressed with the consistent high quality of the BDDS programs and performances that he named the group Musician of the Year for 2012. Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/classical-music-madisons-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-is-musician-of-the-year-for-2012/

And here is a link to the BDDS website with full details about the dates, time, venues, programs and performers’ bios.

http://bachdancinganddynamite.org

The co-founders and co-artistic directors flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes, agreed to an email Q&A that will run two parts. The first part runs today. The second part will run tomorrow.

Stephanie jutt and Jeffrey Sykes  CR C&N photographers

Why is this summer’s season called “23 Skiddoo,” and what exactly does the term mean or refer to?

SJ: Jeff and I love old-fashioned American vernacular -– like “Deuces are Wild” for 2013, and now “23 Skiddoo” for 2014.

It’s a lot of fun trying to find out where words come from, what expressions mean, and how it defines a country’s style and idiom. As musicians, we are constantly doing this kind of detective work -– what does the composer intend? What else was going on when he wrote it? What are the references and the “inside jokes?”

JS: The following passage comes from the “preface” in our 2014 program booklet: “Popular legend has it that “23 skiddoo” was first heard in the area around the Flatiron Building at the intersection of 23rd Street, Fifth Avenue and Broadway in New York City. Because of the building’s triangular shape, winds swirl around it. During the early 1900s, groups of men would allegedly gather to watch women’s skirts get caught by the wind, revealing their legs, which were seldom seen publicly at that time. Local constables, telling such groups of men to take a hike, were said to be giving them the “23 skiddoo.” ”

Our 23rd season is appropriately entitled “23 Skiddoo” (see the poster below) and this year’s programs are inspired by energetic departures and exit strategies of all kinds.

Why would we choose a title that tells you to cut and run when we want you to flock to our concerts? We want to give the “23 skiddoo” to your expectations of what a chamber music concert ought to be. We aim to deliver an experience that makes your skirt fly up, reveals a little leg, and makes you hightail it to our next concert with a smile on your face. So getta move on and join in on the fun. Hasta la vista, baby!

23Skiddoo logo

Is there some overarching theme or continuity to the entire season, or to the various weekend programs?

JS: Absolutely. It’s an oblique theme and a surprising continuity, but it’s definitely there. Stephanie and I love word games of all kinds, and this comes into play when we pick season titles and concert titles.

The expression “23 skiddoo” relates to the idea of “getting out while the getting’s good.” As it turns out, English is full of colloquialisms that express the idea of a rapid departure—expressions like “take a hike” or “cut and run” or “hightail it.” We thought of a bunch of expressions that relate to this idea—and from them, we chose expressions that could ALSO be read in a different way.

“Take a hike” can also mean “scram!” or it can mean to go wander out in the countryside. It fits in with our season theme because of its colloquial meaning. We used it as a program title with its literal meaning in mind — music that was inspired by the countryside, like Johannes Brahms’ Clarinet Trio and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488.

“Getta move on” can mean “scram!” or it can mean “to dance”—as in “get your moves on.” It fits with our season theme because of the first meaning, and its second meaning gave us a program of dance-inspired music.

One of our cutest titles (in my humble opinion) is “hightail it,” again, an expression that means to leave quickly. As I’m sure you know, many pieces of chamber music have very exciting codas, the coda being the last section of a movement or a piece. And “coda” is the Italian word for—you guessed it—”tail.” We picked pieces that have super-exciting codas for this program.

Of course, there are a lot of other considerations in picking music. Expense is certainly a big one.

We can only hire a certain number of artists each week, so we have to find programming that works with those artists and instruments.

We like variety, so you’ll never find us doing an all-Baroque program or an all-modern program.

(I actually find that such programming in the end marginalizes the music it’s designed to celebrate. Maybe it’s just me, but I find the Bach’s music actually benefits from being heard alongside Aaron Jay Kernis and Rachmaninoff and vice versa.)

Another big consideration is, of course, what we want to play. I really wanted to do another two-piano extravaganza with University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Christopher “Kit” Taylor; Stephanie really wanted to do this brand new piece by Aaron Jay Kernis, “L’arte della danssar” (The Art of Dancing), one of the few pieces he’s written that has a flute part. We figured out a way to do BOTH things in a single week of programming.

I’m very keen on the music of Osvaldo Golijov, especially this gorgeous piece he wrote for klezmer clarinet and string quartet called “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” When playing in a music festival in New York, I worked with this incredible clarinetist Alan Kay, co-principal of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. I wanted to have him come to BDDS. Turns out he’s played this piece—which is VERY hard—a lot.

Another thing I’ve been loving lately is playing arrangements of the Mozart piano concertos. Well, here we have a string quartet and a clarinet. Just add in Stephanie’s flute, and suddenly you’ve got a mini-orchestra for the Mozart concerto.

I often say that putting together the season is like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle—except the pieces change size and shape as you work with them, and you don’t know the picture you’re aiming for. The pieces of this season’s jigsaw puzzle have come together beautifully.

BDDS 5 2013 Mozart concerto 22

What have you changed for this season, and what have you kept and continued? Program elements? Repertoire? Artists ?

SJ: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society tradition is a blend of the hottest, cutting-edge compositions, combined with our love of the Baroque, Romantic and Impressionistic eras of music. When you take the huge breadth of musical expression and mix it with musicians of the loftiest caliber, you’ll always find “something for everyone” at our concerts.

Just like the weather in Wisconsin, if you don’t like one piece, that’s fine, because in ten minutes we’ll play something that will break your heart and make you fall in love all over again.

Sometimes we are asked, “Would you like to grow Bach Dancing and Dynamite into a larger festival, with more cities, more venues?” Our answer is an enthusiastic, “No!”   The festival is just about perfect the way it is – small venues, intimate and profound music, a living room atmosphere, informality, surprises – these are the hallmarks of BDDS, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

JS: What we have changed: We have new artists and new repertoire for the season, combined in surprising, interesting and unusual ways.

What we’ve continued: We have new artists and new repertoire for the season, combined in surprising, interesting and unusual ways.

Maybe it’s funny answering two questions with the same answer, but it’s really true. I wouldn’t say we have a “formula.” That implies that we get the same result every season. We don’t. Our results vary widely. The result is always great (in my humble opinion), but it’s really different each time.

I guess you could say we are like chefs working with the crème-de-la-crème of ingredients (musicians and musical compositions). Using our skills, we can combine these ingredients into staggeringly different yet exciting meals: same high-quality ingredients, same well-honed chef skills, completely different meals.

A couple of people to watch out for:

The aforementioned clarinetist Alan Kay (below top)  in Week Two. He’s amazing.

Soprano Disella Larusdottir (below middle)  in Week One. She’s a gorgeous singer, and she sings Aaron Jay Kernis’ music beautifully.

The return of the San Francisco Piano Trio (me, Axel Strauss and Jean-Michel Fonteneau) playing Dvorak and Shostakovich.

Tango pianist Pablo Zinger (below bottom) from New York in Week Two. Authentic Argentine flair!

Repertoire to look out for:

Aaron’s new piece (Week One)

Golijov’s piece (Week Two)

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” and Maurice Ravel’s “La valse” with me and Kit Taylor. (Fun!)

Darius Milhaud’s piano, four-hand version of “Le boeuf sur le toit,” which was originally conceived as a score for a Charlie Chaplin silent movie. We’re reuniting it with Chaplin’s classic “The Count”—a movie that culminates in an exceedingly well-timed cut-and-run.

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Disella Larusdottir

Pablo Zinger at piano

Tomorrow: What should newcomers and old-timers know about this year’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society concerts? What has changed and what has stayed the same? How do Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes measure the success of a BDDS season?

 

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Classical music: Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society announces its 23rd season “23 SKIDDOO” this June, with an emphasis on Latin American chamber music, a Midwest premiere by American composer Alan Jay Kernis and a silent Charlie Chaplin film with a musical score. It will take place June 13-29 and includes 3 weekends, 3 venues and 12 concerts with six different programs.

April 7, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Madison-based fun-filled and pun-filled Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society –- which The Ear named as Musician of the Year –- has announced its 23rd annual summer concert series, called “23 Skiddoo.”

The eclectic and unorthodox chamber music series, which will emphasize Latin American music, will take place this summer, from June 13 to June 29, 2014. It will be held over three weekends in three different venues and with 12 concerts offering six different programs. (Below is the official poster logo for 23 SKIDOO.)

23Skiddoo logo

Here is the official press release:

Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society (BDDS) presents its 23rd annual summer chamber music festival, “23 SKIDDOO,” from June 13 to June 29, 2014.

This festival features 12 concerts over three weekends, each weekend offers two different programs.

Concerts will be performed in The Playhouse at the Overture Center in Madison (below top); the renovated historic Stoughton Opera House (below middle); and the Hillside Theater at architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green (below bottom). 

BDDS Playhouse audience

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

taliesin_hillside2

Combining the best local musicians and top-notch artists from around the country, a varied repertoire and delightful surprises, BDDS presents chamber music as “serious fun” infused with high energy and lots of audience appeal, and makes this art form accessible to diverse audiences.

Led by artistic directors and performers Stephanie Jutt, flute, and Jeffrey Sykes, piano, (below in a photo by C Photography) 15 guest artists will perform in the festival.

Stephanie jutt and Jeffrey Sykes  CR C&N photographers

“23 Skiddoo” is early 20th century American slang that refers to leaving quickly or taking advantage of an opportunity to leave. Jutt and Sykes have taken some great colloquial expressions and found musical connections for them: sometimes obvious, sometimes oblique — but always leading to thrilling music.

Highlights for this season include Latin American music — especially from Argentina — two pianos on stage in one weekend, a Midwest premiere by Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Aaron Jay Kernis, and a silent film score including a screening of the film, below, by and with Charlie Chaplin.

Charlie Chaplin The Count

WEEK 1

We have two spectacular programs our first week, “Getta Move On” and “Exit Strategy.”

“Exit Strategy” features music written at the end of composers’ careers. It includes Claude Debussy‘s profound Sonata for Violin, the last work he wrote; Maurice Ravel’s popular “Bolero” in its original two-piano incarnation, almost his last work; Arnold Bax’s beautiful sonata for flute and harp; and the scintillating “Paganini” Variations of Witold Lutoslawski for two pianos.

“Getta Move On” features music inspired by dance, including Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s thrilling “Symphonic Dances” for two pianos, Ravel’s nostalgic “La valse” for two pianos, and the Midwest premiere of Aaron Jay Kernis’ evocative work “The Art of the Dance” for soprano, flute, harp, viola and percussion.

Madison’s piano star Christopher Taylor (below top) will pair up with BDDS artistic director Jeffrey Sykes on the two-piano works. The programs will also showcase the talents of Canadian harp virtuoso Heidi Krutzen and Pro Musicis award winner Yura Lee (below bottom) on violin and viola.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Yura Lee 2

Icelandic soprano Dìsella Làrusdóttir, hailed by Opera News as “a voice of bewitching beauty and presence,” will join in the premiere of the work by Aaron Jay Kernis (below)  and other works.

Concerts will be performed at The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts on Friday and Saturday, June 13 and 14, at 7:30 p.m. and Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 15, at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

aaron jay kernis at piano

WEEK 2

The second week features “Take a Hike” and “Hasta La Vista, Baby.”

“Take a Hike” includes music inspired by the countryside, from an Amy Beach “Romance,” to Johannes Brahms’ gorgeous Clarinet Trio and Mozart’s pastoral Piano Concerto No. 23, which celebrates the Austrian countryside, to works by Argentinian composer Carlos Guastavino (below).

Carlos Guastavino

“Hasta La Vista, Baby” is an extravaganza of Latin American chamber music from the sultry, sensuous, heart-on-the-sleeve tangos of Astor Piazzolla (below) to the mystic profundity of Osvaldo Golijov‘s “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.”

We are thrilled to have clarinetist Alan Kay, principal of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, joining BDDS for the first time.

He will be joined by audience favorites Carmit Zori and Suzanne Beia, violins; David Harding, viola; and Tony Ross and Beth Rapier, cellos.

astor piazzolla

Finally, we have invited master pianist and arranger Pablo Zinger (below), one of Piazzolla’s champions who played with Piazzolla own’s quintet and is an international authority on Latin music, to give our programs authentic Latin flair. (You can hear Pablo Zinger playing with the composer in a popular YouTube video with over 1 million hits at the bottom in the beautiful bittersweet song “Adios, Nonino” that Piazzolla wrote when his father died. Zinger opens with a long and impressive solo piano riff and at about 1:48 minutes finally breaks into the heartbreaking melody.)

Concerts will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 20, at 7:30 p.m.; at the The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 21, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, on Sunday, June 22, at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Pablo Zinger at piano

WEEK 3

The final week includes “Cut and Run” and “Hightail It.”

“Cut and Run” features music by composers who made well-timed exits or transitions in their lives. Bohuslav Martinu escaped Europe just before the outbreak of World War II; when he arrived in the US, he wrote his jazzy Trio for flute, cello and piano. In Russia, Dmitri Shostakovich (below) responded to the war by writing his very moving piano trio. In this work, he got himself back into the good graces of the Soviet authorities—and yet still managed to sneak into his work an ironic critique of Soviet life.

dmitri shostakovich

Darius Milhaud’s great work for piano four hands, “Le boeuf sur le toit,” was originally intended as the score for Charlie Chaplin’s silent movie “The Count,” a movie (below) that culminates in a hilariously well-timed exit. Our program will reunite the movie with its erstwhile score.

Charlie Chaplin The Count 2

“Hightail It” includes music with fast codas. “Coda” is the Italian word for “tail,” and it refers to the final section of a movement or a piece. This program includes William Hirtz’s fun, over-the-top “Fantasy on the Wizard of Oz” for piano four-hands, and the jazzy, rhythmic Sonata, for violin and cello, of Maurice Ravel. The thrilling, symphonic Piano Trio in F minor of Antonín Dvořák brings the season to a close.

The San Francisco Piano Trio (below) — violinist Axel Strauss, cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau and BDDS artistic director pianist Jeffrey Sykes — will be joined by Boston Symphony pianist Randall Hodgkinson and BDDS Artistic Director flutist Stephanie Jutt in these programs.

San Francisco Trio 1

Randall Hodgekinson 1

Concerts will be performed at The Playhouse of the Overture Center for the Arts on Friday, June 27, 7:30 p.m.; at the Stoughton Opera House on Saturday, June 28, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, Sunday, on June 29, at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

FREE FAMILY CONCERT

For the fourth year, BDDS will also perform one FREE family concert, “Getta Move On Kids,” an interactive event that will be great for all ages. Together with the audience, BDDS will explore why dance-like melodies and rhythms can get people on their feet; they’ll listen to and repeat rhythms and move to the music.

This will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 14, in The Playhouse at the Overture Center.  This is a performance for families with children ages 6 and up and seating will be first come first served. CUNA Mutual Group, and Overture Center generously underwrite this performance.

University of Wisconsin-Madison artist Carolyn Kallenborn (below top with a set from 2011 below bottom), who works in textiles artist, will create a stage setting for each concert in The Playhouse. All concerts at The Playhouse, the Opera House and Hillside Theater will be followed by a meet-the-artist opportunity.

BDDS Carolyn Kallenborn 2

BDDS 2011 Kallenborn installation

The addresses of location and venues are: Stoughton Opera House, 381 East Main Street in Stoughton; the Overture Center in Madison at 201 State Street; and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Hillside Theater on County Highway 23 in Spring Green.

Single general admission tickets are $39. Student tickets are only $5. Various ticket packages are also available starting at a series of three for $111.  First-time subscriptions are 50 percent off.

For tickets and information, call (608) 255-9866 or visit: www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

Single tickets for Overture Center concerts can also be purchased at the Overture Center for the Arts box office, (608) 258-4141, or at overturecenter.com (additional fees apply).  Hillside Theater tickets may be purchased from the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitors Center on County Highway C, (608) 588-7900.  Tickets are available at the door at all locations.

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Classical music: Easter is a great time to hear new versions of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as the old favorites. Listen to some Bach, Mahler and Osvaldo Golijov to mark the religious holiday. Plus, on Monday night, the Gustavus Adolphus College Orchestra performs Mozart and Rimsky-Korsakov at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Middleton.

March 31, 2013
4 Comments

ALERTS: Tomorrow, on Monday, April 1,at 8:30 p.m. and also on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. in short concerts in Morphy Hall, the works of student composers at the UW-Madison will be performed. The concert is free and open to the public.  Also, on Monday night at 7 p.m., the student orchestra (below) from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., will perform at St. Luke’s (NOT Mark’s as I mistakenly wrote at first) Lutheran Church in Middleton. The group, which has toured four continents and played on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” will perform the Overture to Mozart‘s opera “Cosi Fan Tutte,” the first movement of Mozart’s “Sinfonia Concertante” for violin and viola; and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” Admission is a free-will offering.

Gustavus Adolphus symphony

By Jacob Stockinger

Today, Sunday, March 31, is Easter, the day that marks the resurrection of Jesus from death after his Crucifixion on Good Friday. (Below is a 1635 depiction of the Crucifixion by Rembrandt)

passion

As always, it is a great time to acknowledge and listen to the great music that has been written with the highest Christian holiday as inspiration.

That can mean of course Johann Sebastian Bach and his Cantatas and Passions (below is the Passion Chorale from Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion”) as well as the B Minor Mass.

Appropriate music for Easter can also mean other composers from other periods from Mozart and Haydn in the Classical era to Liszt and Dvorak, Wagner and Mahler (below in a YouTube video is the final movement from Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”), in the Romantic era to an early modernist like Francis Poulenc. And of course there is much more in all eras, especially the pre-Baroque.

Or course most, if not all, the religiously themed works were done by composers who were Christian or who converted to Christianity.

But when it comes to more contemporary works, especially by non-Christian composers, one can get stuck or baffled.

So some recent postings on National Public Radio (NPR) about the Jewish Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov (below) and his “Passion According to St. Mark”  (at bottom) is all the more timely and informative.

Osvaldo Golijov

Here is an interview NPR did with the celebrated and popular contemporary composer:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/03/17/173179261/how-does-a-jewish-artist-tell-the-ultimate-christian-story

And here is a link to 5 excerpts from other memorable Passion music that NPR’s blog “Deceptive Cadence” featured on Good Friday:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/03/27/175496458/the-good-friday-5-musical-passion-stories-you-must-hear

And finally here is a link a short interview with Golijov about the work plus a complete performance of Golijov’s work that was performed in Carnegie Hall and can be heard by streaming through the famed radio station WQXR-FM in New York City:

http://www.npr.org/event/music/173635212/carnegie-hall-live-golijovs-st-mark-passion

Happening listening.

I wish a Happy and Joyous Easter to all of you who celebrate it.

What is your preferred classical music to listen to on this important religious holiday?


Classical music: On Friday the Thirteenth, can you name the 13 most bizarre and unlucky deaths of classical composers?

April 13, 2012
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here’s a timely little quiz for today, Friday the Thirteenth, and it legendary status as a Day of Bad Luck.

Can you name 13 composers of classical music who died bizarre or unlucky deaths?

Here is a link to the answers with pictures, detailed stories and video clips of performances of their music:

http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/Article/296833,the-13-strangest-composer-deaths-in-classical-music.aspx?utm_source=feed&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=Limelight+All+Articles+feed

Good luck and enjoy.

And let The Ear know if you know of any others who should be on the list.


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