ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison features Danielle Breisach and Taya König-Tarasevich playing music for baroque and modern flutes. They will play works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Jacques-Martin Hottetere and Yuko Uebayashi. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
“Con Vivo! … music with life,” (below) continues its 15th season with a chamber music concert entitled “Capital Europeans” on this Sunday afternoon, Feb. 12, at 2:30 p.m. at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave. across from Camp Randall Stadium.
Tickets can be purchased at the door. Admission is $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students.
The winter concert, called, “Capital Europeans,” features pieces from three distinct European composers, each with his own style.
Representing Paris, the program includes selections from the Organ Preludes by French composer Darius Milhaud.
Audience members are invited to join the musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss the concert.
Adds Con Vivo’s artistic director Robert Taylor: “With this concert, we are performing a Sunday matinee with three unique composers, each with his own musical language. Our Madison audience will be able to hear our musicians up close and personal playing music of extreme delight and depth.”
Con Vivo is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.
For more information about Con Vivo and its upcoming concerts, go to: http://www.convivomusicwithlife.org
By Jacob Stockinger
It will be sung in French with English subtitles and will last about three hours with one intermission.
Tickets are $18-$130.
With soaring arias, impassioned scenes and plenty of sword fights, Gounod’s gorgeous opera brings the famous tragic tale of young love to vivid life.
Set in 14th century Verona, Italy, the opera follows the story of Shakespeare’s legendary star-crossed lovers. The Montague and Capulet families are caught in a centuries-old feud.
One evening, Romeo Montague and his friends attend a Capulet ball in disguise. The moment Romeo spots Juliet Capulet, he falls in love, and she returns his feelings. Believing they are meant for one another, they proclaim their love, setting in motion a chain of events that will change both their families.
“Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous love stories in Western literature,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), the general director of Madison Opera. “Gounod’s operatic version of it is equally beloved, and it’s exciting to present an amazing cast that brings such vocal and dramatic depth to their story.
“I’m also delighted that we are performing the opera the same weekend that Shakespeare’s First Folio goes on display at the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Chazen Museum of Art, enabling our community to enjoy a very Shakespearean weekend.”
Gounod’s operatic adaption of the tragedy of “Romeo & Juliet” premiered in 1867 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. While Gounod is now better known for “Faust,” “Romeo and Juliet” was a bigger success at its premiere, and has stayed in the repertoire for 150 years due to its beautiful music, genuine passion mingled with wit, and exciting fight scenes.
“Having conducted Gounod’s Faust so often, I’m thrilled to finally have the opportunity to conduct his romantic masterpiece,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the artistic director of Madison Opera who will conduct the two performances.
“The vocal and orchestral writing is lyrical and downright gorgeous,” DeMain adds. “We have a glorious cast, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony. What more could a conductor ask for!” (You can hear Anna Netrebko sing Juliet’s famous aria “Je veux vivre” — “I want to live” – in the popular YouTube video at the bottom.)
Madison Opera’s cast features both returning artists and debuts.
John Irvin (below top) and Emily Birsan (below bottom) return to sing the title roles of Romeo and Juliet. Irvin sang Count Almaviva in the 2015 production of The Barber of Seville, while Birsan returns from singing at Opera in the Park 2016 and Musetta in last season’s La Bohème.
Sidney Outlaw, who sang at this past summer’s Opera in the Park, makes his mainstage debut as Romeo’s friend, Mercutio. Liam Moran, who sang Colline in last season’s La Bohème, sings Frère Laurent, who unites the two lovers in the hope of uniting their families. Madisonian Allisanne Apple (below) returns as Gertrude, Juliet’s nurse.
Making their debuts are Stephanie Lauricella as Romeo’s page, Stephano; Chris Carr as Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin; Philip Skinner as Lord Capulet; and Benjamin Sieverding as the Duke of Verona. Former Madison Opera Studio Artist Nathaniel Hill returns as Gregorio, while current Studio Artist James Held sings the role of Paris.
Directing this traditional staging is Doug Scholz-Carlson (below), who directed Gioaccchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” and Benjamin Britten‘s “The Turn of the Screw” for Madison Opera. Scholz-Carlson is the artistic director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival and has directed the original “Romeo and Juliet,” among many Shakespeare plays.
He will discuss the differences between staging “Romeo and Juliet” as a play and as an opera in another posting tomorrow.
For more information about the production, the cast and tickets, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is Bastille Day in France – July 14th or “Le quatorze juillet” — celebrating the beginning of the French Revolution when the public stormed and liberated the infamous Bastille prison in Paris.
To mark it, here is a YouTube video of a stirring version of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise.” It features the superstar opera tenor Roberto Alagna singing the arrangement done by the French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz.
And it is also a good time to recall how the French helped finance and wage the American Revolution, also known as the American War for Independence.
Due to technical difficulties beyond his control at the web site host, The Ear cannot publish a new post today that has many links in the text. He apologizes and will let you know if and when the problems are solved. In the meantime, he will offer what he can.
By Jacob Stockinger
The following announcement has been sent for posting by The Ear by the Rural Musicians Forum:
Widely praised for his shimmering virtuosity and technical precision, violinist Alexander Ayers performs a FREE recital at 7:30 p.m. on this Monday, June 27, in a concert sponsored by the Rural Musicians Forum in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside Theater at Taliesin, south of Spring Green, Wisconsin.
Ayers (below, in a photo by O’Brien Photos of Waukesha), a native of Waukesha, Wisconsin, joined the Milwaukee Symphony in 2013. He was previously a member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
After studying nine years at the String Academy of Wisconsin-Milwaukee he studied at Indiana University, and in 2006 he won the grand prize of the Milwaukee Symphony Stars of Tomorrow Competition. This resulted in performances of the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Sergei Prokofiev with the MSO. He has performed collaboratively with Joshua Bell, Alex Kerr, Jaime Laredo, Gilles Apap and Soovin Kim.
Ayers’ June 27 program is international in scope. It includes works by German-born Ludwig van Beethoven and Parisian Camille Saint-Saens as well as the Belgian violinist and composer Eugene Ysaye and virtuosic Polish violinist Henryk Wieniawski, who was regarded by many as an exciting and flamboyant re-incarnation of Niccolo Paganini.
About the concert RMF Artistic Director Kent Mayfield said, “We are honored to work in close collaboration with Taliesin Preservation Inc. to host much of this year’s series at Taliesin’s Hillside Theater (below). It provides an especially dramatic but intimate setting for Ayers’ performance which will be totally consistent with Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision: imaginative, bold and beautiful.”
Hillside Theater is located at 6604 Highway 23, Spring Green.
The concert is not ticketed and is open to the public. A free-will offering will be taken to support the concert series.
For additional information and driving directions, see www.ruralmusiciansforum.org
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear is passing along the following announcement in time for you to mark your datebook and make plans:
For the 2016 summer season, the Rural Musicians Forum welcomes audiences to Taliesin, the historic estate of Frank Lloyd Wright, near Spring Green, and to the Wright-designed Wyoming Valley Cultural Arts Center.
In commenting on the venues for the series, RMF’s artistic director Kent Mayfield (below) said: “RMF is honored to work in close collaboration with Taliesin Preservation Inc. to host much of this year’s series at the Taliesin’s Hillside School Theater.
The Hillside Theater (below) provides a dramatic but intimate setting for performances totally consistent with Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision: imaginative, bold and beautiful. And, for its part, the Wyoming Valley Cultural Arts Center underscores the sustained vitality of that vision.”
Madison’s acclaimed harpsichordist, fortepianist, pianist and founder of the Madison Bach Musicians, Trevor Stephenson (below top) opens the 2016 season on June 13 with mezzo-soprano Margaret Fox (below bottom).
Violinist Alexander Ayers (below) follows on June 27. Ayers, earlier a player in the Madison Symphony and now a member of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, has been widely praised for his shimmering virtuosity and technical precision. (You can hear him perform the virtuosic Caprice No. 11 for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
July 11 brings on the memorable trio of Dan Barker (piano), Rob Shepherd (saxophone) and Cleo Ware (vocals) for an evening of glorious, nostalgic music by George Gershwin (below).
Clocks in Motion (below) brings its adventurous and absolutely contemporary percussion repertoire to Taliesin on July 25.
That will be followed on Aug. 8, by a showcase of captivating new music by the Madison-based wind quintet, Black Marigold (below).
The season closes with RMF’s annual “Music in the Fields,” on Sunday, Aug. 21. The Stellanovas’ evening of café jazz promises equal parts Hawaiian luau, Parisian wedding and mellow summer pleasure on the lawn at the Wyoming Valley Cultural Arts Center. The center is located at 6306 State Highway 23. (This event is ticketed.)
Now in its 35th season, RMF continues to provide all members of the community an opportunity to enjoy live music featuring a wide range of styles and combinations of music with performers of extraordinary ability.
Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. There is no ticket charge for concerts at Hillside Theater, but a freewill offering to support the series is taken. Given the unique appeal of the Taliesin location, early arrival for the concerts is recommended.
NOTE: Sorry, but The Ear has received no word about specific programs an works to be performed. He also doesn’t see them listed on the website for the Rural Musicians Forum.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following notice:
Concerts are on Saturday, May 14, at 7:30 p.m. in Asbury Church, 6101 University Avenue; and on Sunday, May 15, at 3 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, near Camp Randall Stadium.
Tickets can be purchased in advance ($12 adult, $9 senior/student) at any of the advance ticket outlets (Cool Beans Coffee Café, Ward-Brodt Music, Metcalfe’s Market at Hilldale, and Orange Tree Imports) or at the door ($15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students).
After three very successful years of directing the choir, music director Brad Schultz (below) has resigned due to added responsibilities on the Luther College faculty starting next fall. Throughout his tenure, Brad has helped MACH’s ringers retain the spirit and skills which have led this auditioned choir to be recognized as one of the leading handbell groups in America. He introduces the concert as follows:
“Maybe it was the first time you tasted a delicious French roll, or saw the Eiffel Tower. Maybe it was an exposure to music, culture, or fashion. Maybe it was in your early ventures as a reader (“In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines”), or depictions of la belle vie (the French “good life”) in the movies. We have always had a fascination with all things French; from culture to custom, from cuisine to cinema.
“There’s no denying French advancements in music, either. From the cathedral to the salon, Leonin and Pérotin to composers of chanson and popular music, France has always left a musical mark on the world.
“We invite you to join us this weekend for a celebration of all things French. Revered composers Bizet, Ravel, Debussy, Chopin and Faure will be represented, alongside pieces that remind us of French culture, landscape and architecture. We’re excited to be joined again this season by flutist Barbara Paziouros Roberts.”
Here is the complete program:
Grand Valse Brillante, Op. 18, by Frédéric Chopin, Arranged by Ruth Artman
Jubilation by Fred Gramann
The Sunken Cathedral (La cathédrale engloutie) by Claude Debussy, Transcribed by Kevin McChesney
Pavane by Gabriel Fauré, Arranged by Albert Zabel
The Ball (from “Children’s Games”) by Georges Bizet, Arranged by Betty B. Garee
Suite for Flute & Piano, Op. 116, by Benjamin Godard: II. Idylle
Danse Macabre by Camille Saint–Saéns, Arranged by Michael R. Keller
Down the River by Jason W. Krug
Fountains by Kevin McChesney
Gymnopédie No. 1 by Erik Satie, Arranged by Karen Roth
Cathedrals by Margaret R. Tucker
Autumn Leaves (Les feuilles mortes) by Joseph Kosma, Arranged by Bank Wu
MACH rings over 6 octaves of handbells and 7 octaves of handchimes, the largest assemblage of these instruments in Wisconsin. This fall, while the choir searches for a new director, MACH will be led by founder and former director Susan Udell, who retired from the group in 2010.
For more information about MACH, visit the website at http://www.madisonhandbells.org.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), under its longtime music director Andrew Sewell, will close out its current Masterworks season this Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.
The program – which features guest pianist John O’Conor (below) – includes the Piano Concerto No. 1 by John Field; the Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467 (“Elvira Madigan”), by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the Suite No. 1 for Small Orchestra by Igor Stravinsky; and the Symphony No. 1 by Carl Maria von Weber.
Tickets are $15-$80.
For more information, including a full biography of John O’Conor and the purchasing of tickets, visit:
John O’Conor, who has an extremely busy career performing, teaching, recording and judging piano competitions recently agreed to a Q&A with The Ear:
John Field is best known as the precursor of Chopin when it comes to composing nocturnes. How right or wrong is that perception and how would you change it? What else should we know about Field, his stylistic roots and his influence, especially through his other piano music, in particular his concertos?
John Field (below) is indeed the originator of the Nocturne form for piano music. He realized that the usual forms of music of the 18th century (sonatas, variations etc.) were not really suitable for after-dinner performances at the residences of the nobility in the 19th century, so he published various short pieces entitled “Pastorale” and other such names until he happened on the idea of the “Nocturne” in 1814 (when Chopin was only 4 !!) when he published his first three.
They were an immediate sensation and he quickly published many more. It is said that one of his Polish students in St. Petersburg went back to Poland in the 1820s, played some of his Nocturnes, Chopin heard them and wrote his own and the rest is history.
Field was a prodigy in his native Dublin where he was born in 1782. His father recognized his talent and spent the enormous sum of 100 pounds to apprentice him to Muzio Clementi in London when he was only barely in his teens. Clementi was not only a famous pianist and composer but also a piano manufacturer.
He soon realized that when Field demonstrated his pianos, he sold more pianos! So he brought him on a promotional your around Europe in 1802. They visited Paris and Vienna and then St. Petersburg, when winter set in and they had to stay there until they could travel again in spring.
But during the winter the very handsome Field became the darling of the salons and all the daughters of the nobility wanted to study piano with him. So when Clementi (below) left in spring, Field stayed on. He spent most of the rest of his life in Russia and died in Moscow in 1837.
What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major by Field that you will perform in Madison?
Apart from Nocturnes, Field also wrote four sonatas and seven piano concertos. The concertos were tremendously popular in the 19th century and his second concerto was often the debut concerto of young virtuosi — in the same way that Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s Piano Concerto No. 2 became so in the 20th century.
The problem with the concertos is that they often lack an advanced sense of form and meander quite a bit — but quite beautifully!
I love the first concerto because it is the most concise and best organized of the concertos. It is full of youthful exuberance and he obviously wanted to show off his considerable technique in the flying fingers of the outer movements.
The middle movement is a set of variations on a Scottish folk song and though he composed this piece while still living in London with Clementi you can already hear the gentle filigree figurations that became such a characteristic of his later Nocturnes.
The Piano Concerto No. 21 by Mozart (below) is best known for its slow movement that was used as the soundtrack to the popular film “Elvira Madigan.” What else would you like to point out about this particular concerto to the public? In your view, where does it rank among Mozart’s 27 piano concertos?
There is no connection between Field and Mozart that I know of. But the Mozart Concerto is another example of a composer showing off his virtuosity. Both the outer movements sparkle with vivacity and charm, and the beauty of the slow movement needs no introduction from me. It is one of the most beautiful movements that Mozart ever wrote. (You can hear the slow movement in the YouTube video — with 39 million hits!~ at the bottom.)
You are very well known internationally as a both a teacher and an award-winning performer. For you, how does each activity inform the other?
I love teaching. I have always loved teaching piano. To some people, it might seem like drudgery, but I hope none of my students have ever felt that.
Nowadays I have incredibly gifted students who regularly win prizes at international piano competitions. But even when I started teaching, I hope I made the music fun for all my less talented students. It is a privilege to give them a love of the art that will keep for the rest of their lives.
ALERT: The concert by the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble that was scheduled for this Saturday has been CANCELED due to illness.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear’s friends at the Madison Opera write:
The production will be performed in Overture Hall of the Overture Center on Friday at 8 p.m. and on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. It will be sung in French with projected English translations.
Tickets are $18-$129. Student and group discounts are available. Tickets can be purchased at the Overture Box Office, 201 State St., Madison, and by calling (608) 258-4141 or visiting www.madisonopera.org
This will be the company’s first production in 20 years of Offenbach’s masterpiece, which moves in a fantasy world. It offers showpiece arias for the bravura cast, the gorgeous “Barcarolle,” and a moving tribute to what it means to be an artist. (You can hear the famous and familiar Barcarolle in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
As he sits in a tavern, the poet Hoffmann drinks, smokes and encounters Lindorf, his rival for his current lover, the opera singer Stella.
He recalls how his nemesis seems to appear constantly in his life, and urged on by his fellow bar patrons, tells the three tales of his loves: Olympia, who turns out to be a mechanical doll; Antonia, a singer who dies of a mysterious illness; and Giulietta, a courtesan who steals his reflection. His adventures take him from Munich to Venice, always accompanied by his most faithful love, his muse.
The opera ends back in the tavern, as Hoffmann’s muse consoles him and urges him on to the higher purpose of art.
PRAISE AND BACKGROUND
“The Tales of Hoffmann is one of my absolute favorite operas,” says Kathryn Smith (below in a photo by James Gill), the general director of Madison Opera. “I love the music, the story, the myriad facets to the characters, and the fact that no two productions of this opera are identical. It has comedy, tragedy, drinking songs, lyrical arias, and even some magic tricks.”
Offenbach’s final opera, “The Tales of Hoffmann” premiered in 1881 at the Opera-Comique in Paris. The title character was based on the writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, now most famous as the author of the original “Nutcracker” story; the different acts were adaptations of Hoffmann’s own short stories.
Offenbach was celebrated for over 100 comic operettas such as “Orpheus in the Underworld”; “Hoffmann” was intended to be his first grand opera. Unfortunately, he died before completing the opera, and other composers finished it. Over the past century, there have been many different versions of the opera, with different arias, different plot points, and even different orders of the acts.
“The Tales of Hoffmann, for me, is the perfect blend of great music and great theater,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the artistic director of Madison Opera and the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. “It’s particularly fun to conduct because the orchestra plays a central role in the moment to moment unfolding of the drama, and Offenbach achieves this at the same time as he is spinning out one gorgeous melody after another.”
Madison Opera’s cast features a quartet of debuts in the leading roles. Harold Meers (below), who sang at Opera in the Park in 2015, makes his mainstage debut as Hoffmann, the poet.
Sian Davies (bel0w) makes her debut singing three of Hoffmann’s loves – Antonia, Giulietta and Stella – a true vocal and dramatic feat. Jeni Houser returns to Madison Opera following her most recent role as Amy in Mark Adamo’s “Little Women” to sing the role of his fourth love, Olympia. She has also appeared here in George Frideric Handel’s “Acis and Galatea” and Stephan Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.”
Baritone Morgan Smith makes his debut as Hoffmann’s nemesis, who appears in forms both sinister and comic.
Making her debut as Hoffmann’s sidekick Nicklausse, who also turns out to be his Muse, is mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala.
Returning to Madison Opera as the four servants is Jared Rogers, who sang Beadle Bamford in Stephen Sondheim‘s “Sweeney Todd.” Thomas Forde, last here as Don Basilio in Giaocchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” sings the dual roles of Luther and Crespel. Robert Goderich, who sang Pirelli in “Sweeney Todd,” sings Spalanzani, the mad inventor. Tyler Alessi makes his debut as Schlemil.
Three Madison Opera Studio Artists round out the cast: Kelsey Park as the voice of Antonia’s dead mother and William Ottow and Nathaniel Hill as two students.
Madison Opera’s production is set in the Roaring 1920s, with stylish costumes that are perfect for Offenbach’s fantasy that travels time and location.
Kristine McIntyre (below), who directed Jake Heggie‘s “Dead Man Walking” and Giuseppe Verdi’s “A Masked Ball” for Madison Opera, stages this complex story that has a vast dramatic scope.
Tomorrow: Artistic and music director John DeMain and stage director Kristine McIntyre address the differences between the reputation and the reality of “The Tales of Hoffman.”
ALERT: Today — as of midnight plus one minute — the Madison Symphony Orchestra is announcing its new season for 2016-17. The eight-concert season features many returning soloists, 13 first-time performances for the MSO, two multi-media events and another Beyond the Score that was so popular when it premiered several years ago. Here is a link to check it out for yourself:
The Ear has received the following note:
THE OAKWOOD CHAMBER PLAYERS PRESENT: Children’s Games
Join the Oakwood Chamber Players (below) as they continue their concert season with the theme of playful whimsy in a concert entitled Children’s Games on Saturday, March 5, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 6, 1:30 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door – $20 general admission, $15 seniors and $5 students. Visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com or call (608) 230-4316 for more information.
Children over 6 years of age will receive free admission to either performance.
The concerts will both be held at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side..
The concert title is drawn from the composition Jeux d’enfants or Children’s Games by French composer Georges Bizet (below). You can hear the original version played by sister Katia and Marielle Labeque in a YouTube video at the bottom.
Originally a 12-movement work written for two pianos, a representative suite has been arranged by the Oakwood Chamber Players for woodwind quintet. It includes the energetic march “Trompette et tambour”; the compelling melodic exchanges in “Petit mari, petite femme”; “La toupie” which depicts the frantic spinning of a top; the lulling berceuse of “La poupee”; and the exhilarating galop dance form in “Le bal.”
The title of this work is inspired by a poignant toast given by a character in the best-selling romantic novel The Bridges of Madison County by Robert Waller The work includes a prologue followed by eight brief variations based on historic compositional styles enlivened by 20th-century technique.
The woodwind quintet includes two guest artists: flutist Dawn Lawler (below top) and oboist Jennifer Morgan (below bottom).
The ensemble’s performance will also include the engaging, tongue-in-cheek composition “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe” by American composer Irving Fine (below) who sets up delightful dueling interplays between two woodwinds (oboe and clarinet) and two string instruments (violin and cello).
Overall, the program will provide a fascinating combination of compelling and entertaining compositions.
This is the fourth of five concerts in the Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-2016 “Play” season series titled Play. Summer Splash on May 14 and 15 will be final concerts of the season.
The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years.
The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.
ALERT: This Sunday at 2 p.m., Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN-FM 88.7 in the Madison area) will start a new weekly two-hour broadcast series. It features 13 weeks of live recorded concerts given by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. This Sunday’s music, conducted by MSO music director Edo de Waart, includes three outstanding works: the Four Sea Interludes from the opera “Peter Grimes” by Benjamin Britten; the beautiful Cello Concerto by Sir Edward Elgar with soloist Alisa Weilerstein; and the lyrical Symphony No. 8 in G Major by Antonin Dvorak.
For more information about the series and performers, visit:
By Jacob Stockinger
Just last year saw celebrations of Boulez, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, around the world.
That included one here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music by bassoonist and Professor Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) who studied and worked with Boulez and the famous Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris.
Professor Vallon generously agreed to write a personal reminiscence and appreciation of Pierre Boulez for The Ear.
Here it is:
By Marc Vallon
I had the privilege to work with Pierre Boulez in the early 1980s, a couple of years after he founded the Ensemble Intercontemporain (below) in Paris, the first-ever fully salaried ensemble devoted to contemporary music.
Boulez was a very demanding conductor (below) and everyone would come to the rehearsals very prepared. If you were not, you would likely take the sting of his sarcastic humor.
I remember a situation when the flutist kept fumbling on a tricky passage in Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony for Wind Instruments. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, he made the mistake of saying, “I don’t understand, it worked perfectly at home,” to which Boulez replied, “Well then, perhaps we should play the concert in your living room.”
I was involved in the first performance of the work often considered as Boulez’s masterpiece, Répons for orchestra and live electronics (heard at bottom in a YouTube video). It was a fascinating window into Boulez’s compositional process.
During the two-week rehearsal period, the parts would be collected after each session and would come back on our music stands the next day with numerous additions of grace notes and changed rhythms and dynamics. The longer we worked, the more intricate and multi-layered the piece became.
This is not surprising if one remembers Boulez’s definition of good music: It is complex and can be looked at from so many different angles that it ultimately resists full analysis.
Another important contribution that Boulez brought to the French musical scene, and the artistic world in general, was the often explosive radicalism of his ideas.
From “Schoenberg is dead” to “We have to blow up the opera houses,” who else would proclaim the end of serialism or attack the conservatism of established opera houses in such provocative terms?
Boulez’s public aversion to any artistic conservatism was, in the 1970s, a much-needed antidote to an international musical scene that was often too easily tempted to fill concert halls by programming symphonies by Tchaikovsky again and again.
It is still needed today. “Boulez est mort,” but his fight for the endless renewing of musical creation should go on.
For more obituaries and appreciations of Pierre Boulez, who served as music director of the New York Philharmonic and was a major guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, here are four sources:
National Public Radio or NPR:
And here is a terrific and insightful personal appreciation of Pierre Boulez, with a link to current issues and events in classical music, by Anthony Tommasini, the senior classical music critic for The New York Times: