The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Sound Out Loud will perform Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” for FREE this Wednesday night at UW-Madison

May 8, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has heard the following news to post:

On this Wednesday night, May 10, from 6:30 to 7:45 p.m. in Music Hall on Bascom Hill, the Sound Out Loud ensemble will give a FREE performance of “Pierrot Lunaire” by Arnold Schoenberg (below).

Schoenberg’s expressionistic masterpiece features poetry that details the ravings of a lunatic clown. The group will feature UW-Madison vocal faculty member Mimmi Fulmer (below).

“Pierrot Lunaire” is in music what Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” is to painting or James Joyce’s “Ulysses” is to literature. These three revolutionary works, written in the first decades of the 20th century, completely redefined the accepted aesthetic standards of their time and opened wide new paths to artistic creation.

American soprano Mimmi Fulmer first performed “Pierrot Lunaire” in 1978 at the famed Tanglewood Music Festival. (You can hear the opening section of “Pierrot Lunaire,” with English translation subtitles, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Sound Out Loud is thrilled to be hosting this encore performance under the guidance of such an experienced and knowledgeable performer of the work. Brief remarks by Professor Leslie Blasius (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) about the work will begin the performance.

For more information, go to:

www.soundoutloudensemble.com

http://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/mimmi-fulmer/


Classical music: The UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra turn in convincing and moving performances of a neglected masterpiece by Felix Mendelssohn and a great anti-war cantata by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

November 25, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting, a review 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 every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union, conducted by Beverly Taylor, with the UW Symphony Orchestra, gave two performances on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon of a program that deserved even more of an audience than actually turned out.

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

Only two works were involved, and quite contrasting ones.  The first was Felix Mendelssohn’s “Die erste Walpurgisnacht “ (“The First Witches’ Sabbath”), using a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The second was the cantata by Ralph Vaughan Williams, “Dona nobis pacem,” using a deliberately ironic mix of texts.

UW student violist and conductor Mikko Utevsky, who sang in the tenor section, has already described these two works in his preview article recently posted on this blog, so there is no need for me to repeat what he has set out.

Here is a link to his preview:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/classical-music-the-uw-choral-union-and-uw-symphony-orchestra-will-perform-works-by-mendelssohn-and-vaughan-williams-this-saturday-night-and-sunday-afternoon/

The work by Felix Mendelssohn (below) is a sadly neglected masterpiece, one on which he worked intermittently down to his last years. It pictures Druid devotees, standing up to fierce persecution by intolerant Christians. The Druids’ weapon is traditional pagan rites, and the making of a ghostly hullabaloo in order to frighten off their enemies.  (A precedent not for Halloween but rather for the spooky folk celebrations of St. John’s Eve (celebrated by Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain and the Brocken scene in Gounod’s opera “Faust.”)

Mendelssohn

One may debate if the text was worth the effort that Mendelssohn put into it, and whether its brief requirement of a large performing force makes it not an economic concert favorite.

Still, its extended overture is, quite simply, one of the composer’s finest piece of orchestral writing, and the vibrant choral segments are the work, after all, of one of the handful of composers who could compose truly idiomatic choral music.

There were a few rocky orchestral moments at the very beginning of the piece, especially in the strings, and occasional touches of weak co-ordination.  But the orchestra pulled together some fine sound, worthy of the standards that James Smith’s training has set for it.

Of the three vocal soloists (below, with conductor Beverly Taylor of the far left) tenor Klaus Georg (middle) had a strong voice, but a not very smooth one.  Mezzo-soprano Caitlin Ruby Miller (far right) had such smoothness for her one solo, but not much projecting power.  Baritone Erik E. Larsen (second from left) brought a bit more character to his solos.

The real star, though, was the chorus: it can always be counted on for robust sound, and its singers really had a ball working up the Druids’ pagan, anti-Christian frenzies.

UW Choral Union 11-2013 Mendelssohn soloists

The cantata by Ralph Vaughan Williams (below) was composed in 1937, reflecting the composer’s disillusioning experience in World War I, and his just apprehensions about what would become World War II.

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

An admirer of the poetry of Walt Whitman (below) long before American composers began to pay attention to it, Vaughan Williams took three of Whitman’s poems of American Civil War vintage, adding a few other (mostly Scriptural) passages, which he juxtaposed against the Latin text from the Roman Catholic Mass Ordinary, the “Agnus Dei” — especially its repeated words “Dona nobis pacem” or “Give us peace.”

Walt Whitman 2

Such a juxtaposition of compassionate poetry against Latin liturgy was made famous by Benjamin Britten, of course, in his acclaimed “War Requiem.” But, in his more compact venture, Vaughan Williams set a bar of expressiveness so high that not even Britten, with all his cleverness and monumentality, could really match.

Indeed, I would place Vaughan Williams’s cantata as one of the supreme examples of anti-war art–matched not by Britten (if by Wilfred Owen’s poetry) but certainly by the crushing Ancient Greek play by Euripides, “The Trojan Women” and perhaps also Pablo Picasso’s painting of mass horror, “Guernica.”

Each of the movements of the cantata carries potent messages of poignancy and protest, while there is even some final (if uncertain) optimism. The score’s centerpiece is the long setting of Whitman’s “Dirge for Two Veterans,” a movement of absolutely shattering anguish amid discredited military posturing.  There are few other things like it in the choral literature.

There are two soloists required for this work.  Visiting faculty soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn (below right with Beverly Taylor in the center) was beautifully chilling in the reiterations of the “Dona nobis pacem” motto, while baritone Jordan Wilson (below right) captured the poignancy of Whitman’s “Reconciliation” (at bottom in a YouTube video) a more concise and heart-grabbing predecessor to the culminating Wilfred Owen poem that Britten used in his grander work.

UW Choral Union 11-2013 Vaughan Williams soloists

But, again, with stout backing from the orchestra, the chorus was a tower of choral strength, equally forceful in parodistic militarism, in piercing anguish, or in hopeful joy.

Say what you will about the acoustics of Mills Hall in the UW’s Humanities Building, but it is the proper home for a powerful chorus confronting an enthusiastic audience with clarity and presence.

UW Choral Union 11-2013 applause

Praise, by the way, for the program booklet, which included all the vocal texts, as well as some excellent program notes.  It proved an ideal topping for a rich, but nourishing cake of a concert!


Classical music: A century later, is “The Rite of Spring” still new and edgy? Was Igor Stravinsky the Pablo Picasso of modern music? It’s a good question to consider as “The Rite” turns 100 this Wednesday, May 29, and NPR devotes several worthy stories to Stravinsky and his music.

May 26, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Wednesday, May 29, marks the 100th anniversary of the premiere of “The Rite of Spring” by the 20th century master Igor Stravinsky (below at about the time of “The Rite.”).

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

You may remember that its sensational premiere in Paris in 1913, which also ushered in modern dance as well as modern music, was conducted by Pierre Monteux, caused  a literal riot in the concert hall at the Theatre of the Champs Elysees. (Below are the dancers of the Ballets Russes who performed the original 1913 choreography by the famed Nijinsky and a video of the opening from the Joffrey Ballet‘s recreation of the original production.)

Nijinsky's dancers original Rite of Spring Ballets Russes 1913

A century later, the ballet score remains a shockingly visceral, raw, convulsive and heart-pounding work that has lost none of its impact. It is, like late Beethoven string quartets — I believe it was Stravinsky himself who made the observation about Beethoven’s “Grosse Fuge”  — forever modern.

Miles Hoffman recently discussed “The Rite” on NPR within the very varied and very long career of Stravinsky, and how Stravinsky (below, in a photo by Richard Avedon) was musical chameleon who constantly pushed his art and evolved his sense of style in different directions.

Igor Stravinsky old 2

Hoffman, himself a performing musician (a violist) and a fine writer, compared Stravinsky to Pablo Picasso for the range and diversity of his experimentation and the masterful results.

Certain, the range of Stravinsky (1882-1971) is worth considering even as record labels are issuing special centennial editions and performances of “The Rite of Spring.”

What, one wants to ask, about the neo-Classical Stravinsky? Or the 12-tone Stravinsky? The contrasting styles are all so central to understanding his career. (I love the earlier Stravinsky of “Rite” and “The Firebird” but I adore the Neo-Classical Stravinsky and admire the courage that it took for the ever-morphing composer to buck his modernist colleagues.)

And the often repeated comparison to Picasso is especially appropriate given that the two prolific and protean  ever-changing artists knew each other and even had a bet on who would live the longest. (Picasso, who lived from 1881 to 1973, won the bet.)

hoffman_rite

Here is a link to the NPR piece, which features audio samples and which I highly recommend you listen to and not just read:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/05/24/186296467/igor-stravinskys-rite-of-spring-counterrevolution

Here is a piece to another NPR piece, “A Cocktail Party Guide to Stravinsky,” complete with audio and video samples, from Tom Huizenga.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/05/24/186443524/the-cocktail-party-guide-to-igor-stravinsky

And here is a third NPR piece that features sound clips and the 48-year-old Leonard Bernstein (below) in an electrifying and thrilling performance of the difficult but thrilling score to “Le Sacre du Printemps” with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1966:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/05/25/186489566/leonard-bernsteins-rite-of-spring-thrill-ride

Leonard Bernstein conducting

Finally, here is anther comprehensive NPR piece done by Tom Vitale that aired Saturday on Weekend Edition host Scott Simon:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/05/25/186497792/then-the-curtain-opened-the-bracing-impact-of-stravinskys-rite

Meanwhile here in a YouTube video is the part of “The Rite of Spring” that always seems my ears like the soundtrack to an Aztec heart sacrifice — well, it is about pagan Russia — with its incredible use of slashing strings, pounding percussion, spooky winds and brass, and propulsive off-beats.

What careful mastery, craft and precision went into something so physical, so visceral, so emotive! There is a lesson there for advocates of passionate art who mistake sincere confession for careful craft!


Classical music new: When do artistic license and borrowing cross over into being plagiarism and theft? Consider the controversial case of composer Osvaldo Golijov.

March 12, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Perhaps you are have been following the controversy surrounding the contemporary composer Osvaldo Golijov (below), one of the most frequently performed stars of new music.

Golijov – pronounced GOHL-ee-ov — has been accused stealing music and passing it off as original.

Of course many composers have borrowed many tunes and more from their colleagues, often without crediting them.

But it raises some interesting questions.

Originality is art is a more thorny and complicated issue than it might seem at first. The history of art visual and music and literary, is filled with examples of “borrowings” that some intellectual property lawyers might have a field day with today, After all, it was Pablo Picasso who said, if I recall correctly, I “I don’t borrow, I steal.”

Anyway, here is a story by renowned critic Alex Ross (below) in The New Yorker Magazine’s blog about it:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/02/osvaldo-golijov-sidereus.html#ixzz1nEpOkiFe

And here is a story in which Golijov defends himself in an interview to the New York Times critic and writer Daniel J. Wakin:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/08/arts/music/osvaldo-golijov-fracas-over-sidereus-overture.html?_r=2&adxnnl=1&ref=music&pagewanted=1&adxnnlx=1331488937-InbPt36sbeM0dn0WnL/NFw

What do you think about l’affaire Golijov? Or is it Golijov-gate?

If you have an opinion, please share it.

The Ear wants to hear.


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