The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: Brother and sister alumni return to play cello and conduct in the fall concerts by Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras. Plus, hear a free concert of three solo cello suites by Bach on Friday at noon

November 9, 2016
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison 900 University Bay Drive, features cellist Leonardo Altino playing Suites Nos. 1, 5 and 6 for unaccompanied cello by Johann Sebastian Bach. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

WYSO will kick-off its 51st season with the Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts on this Saturday, Nov. 12, and next Saturday, Nov. 19. Nearly 500 young musicians will display their talents to the community during the concerts, which are dedicated to music teachers.

WYSO Youth Orchestra

The Youth Orchestra concert on Nov. 19 will be performed at the River Arts Center in Prairie du Sac, where WYSO will welcome back two alumni guest artists: Kenneth Woods and Cynthia Woods.

Kenneth will be playing cello and Cynthia will be conducting in the Cello Concerto by British composer Philip Sawyers. (You can hear Kenneth Woods conduct the opening movement of the cello concerto in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Youth Orchestra, under the direction of James Smith, will also be playing Symphony No. 2 by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Overture to the opera “Der Freischuetz” by Carl Maria von Weber.

Cynthia Woods (below) is currently the Music Director of the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and the conductor for the Youth Preparatory Orchestra at the New England Conservatory, where she serves on the violin, chamber and conducting faculty.

Along with her conducting activities, Ms. Woods is also a frequent speaker and writer. She has been a guest lecturer at institutions such as MIT and the Longy School of Music of Bard College, a panelist for radio shows such as WGBH’s Callie Crossley, and a frequent contributor to The Boston Herald’s State of the Arts blog. Cynthia was a member of WYSO from 1984–1989 in Concert, Philharmonia and Youth Orchestra.

For more background about Cynthia Woods, go to:

http://www.wysomusic.org/guest-artists/cynthia-woods/

https://www.wysomusic.org/events/concerts-recitals/evelyn-steenbock-fall-concerts/interview-with-cynthia-woods/

cynthia-woods

Kenneth Woods (below) is currently the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra. As a cello soloist and chamber musician, Wood’s collaborators have included members of the Toronto, Chicago and Cincinnati symphonies, the Minnesota, Gewandhaus and Concertgebouw orchestras and the La Salle, Pro Arte, Tokyo and Aubudon String Quartets.

He also  is currently cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo, with whom he performs regularly in the UK, Europe, and the USA. He writes a popular blog, “A View From the Podium.” Kenneth was a member of WYSO from 1980–1986 in Concert, Philharmonia and Youth Orchestra. He also studied cello at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music with Parry Karp, of the Pro Arte Quartet.

For more background and an interview with Kenneth Woods, go to:

http://www.wysomusic.org/guest-artists/kenneth-woods-cellistconductor/

https://www.wysomusic.org/events/concerts-recitals/evelyn-steenbock-fall-concerts/interview-with-ken-woods/

Avie, London 15 Feb 2011

Schedule and Programs

November 12, 2016 – 1:30 P.M., Mills Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra

  • Rimsky- Korsakov: Procession of the Nobles from Mlada 
  • Shostakovich: Finale from Symphony No. 5, Op. 47 
  • Prokofiev: Montagues and Capulets from Romeo and Juliette, 2nd suite
  • Shostakovich: Six Pieces from the First Ballet Suite Op. 84

wyso concert orchestra brass

November 12, 2016 – 4 P.M., Mills Hall

CONCERT ORCHESTRA (below)

  • Jack Bullock: Okeanos
  • James Curnow: Phoenix Overture
  • Jaromír Weinberger: Polka from the Opera Schwanda, the Bagpiper
  • Albert O. Davis: Moonlight Masquerade
  • Richard Strauss: Allerseelen (All Souls’ Day) Op. 10 No. 8

SINFONIETTA

  • Domenico Gallo: Sinfonia in G
  • Grieg: A Nordic Lullaby Op. 68, No.5 
  • Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings 
  • Robert S. Frost and Mary Elledge: Tales from Sherwood Forest
  • Brian Balmages: Wood Splitter Fanfare
  • Norman Leyden: Serenade for String Orchestra
  • Michael Korb and Ulrich Roever: Highland Cathedral 
  • William Owens: Carpathia
  • Sebastian Yradier: La Paloma 

wyso-youth-orchestra-2016-2

November 19, 2016 – 7 P.M., River Arts Center

YOUTH ORCHESTRA (below)

  • Symphony No.2– Ralph Vaughan Williams
  • Overture to the opera “Der Freishuetz”– Carl Maria von Weber
  • Cello Concerto– Philip Sawyers 
with Kenneth Woods – Cello, Cynthia Woods – Conductor

youth-orchestra-1

The Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the UW Humanities Building, 455 N. Park Street, Madison, and at the River Arts Center, 105 Ninth St. Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin.

WYSO concerts generally run about an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.

Tickets are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and under.

This project is supported by Dane Arts with additional funds from the Evjue Foundation, Inc., the charitable arm of The Capital Times. This project is also supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Classical music: The Wisconsin Union Theater opens its new season with a winning blockbuster, meaty program of Brahms and Shostakovich performed by native son conductor Kenneth Woods, Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine and the UW Symphony Orchestra.

November 4, 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

While the Wisconsin Union Theater is still under renovation, it is sharing its season’s programs with the University of Wisconsin School of Music, and the first one this year was a terrific winner!

Two guests graced the stage at Mills Hall, with the resources of the UW Symphony orchestra placed at the disposal of one of them, conductor Kenneth Woods, himself a product of the UW School of Music  who is now making a very individual career for himself from his home in Wales in the United Kingdom.

Kenneth_Woods

Woods chose to begin with a short orchestral piece, “In the Gale of Life,” composed in 2006 by Philip Sawyers (below). The British composer took his inspiration, and his title, from lines in a poem by A.E. Housman.

That fact matters little in the listening, for the piece is basically intended to be a zippy concert overture, designed to show off Sawyers’ mastery of a large orchestra. It might better be called an orchestral “Essay,” on the model of Samuel Barber’s works of that title, save that Sawyers lacks Barber’s clearly focused concision. Thematic materials appear but are denied explorations of their potentials. Just more of your in-one-ear-and-out-the-other repertoire, then.

Philip Sawyers

The first of the servings of real meat came with the appearance of the second guest, Chicago violinist  Rachel Barton Pine (below). She is surely the best violinist the US has produced, certainly presently active. I have long admired her versatile and imaginative work through her many prize-winning and best-selling recordings as well as at least one previous concert appearance (with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra).

Rachel Barton Pine

Her vehicle this time was Johannes Brahms’ monumental Violin Concerto.  She clearly regards it as a work of serious ideas, to which she is committed, rather than to simplistic showiness. In some ways, she understated the virtuosity, but when impassioned outbursts were called for she threw herself into them body and soul.

She also understands that any Brahms concerto is a partnership between soloist and orchestra. She was collegial, and even deferential when appropriate. The second movement opens with a gorgeous passage for wind ensemble, and when it briefly recurs at the end she joined in as if sharing their conversation.

Woods led the orchestra, meanwhile, in a solid and worthy realization of its role.

Pine also, by the way, eschewed the usual first-movement cadenza written by the concerto’s dedicatee, Joseph Joachim (below), and instead used her own–which she has published in a volume of such cadenzas and arrangements that was available in the lobby.

Joseph Joachim

A musician not only of rich talent but genuine personal grace, Barton Pine used the traditional encore slot to talk to the audience about the remarkable history of the instrument she plays, one selected by Brahms himself for a gifted lady violinist in his circle. She then played the composer’s familiar Lullaby in a solo arrangement by Albert Spalding. (You can hear it a YouTube video at the bottom and on her recent acclaimed CD of lullabies.)

As if one great masterpiece was not enough for a great concert, the second half offered another, the second serving of meat.

For a long time, the Fifth Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich (below) was regarded as a vulgar capitulation to the brutal Stalinist regime, which had put the composer in serious jeopardy.  Shostakovich himself described it as “a Soviet artist’s response to just criticism,” and the work was immediately acclaimed as a model of accessible socialist art.

dmitri shostakovich

It has only been in recent years that all of Shostakovich’s music, and especially this work, have been perceived as carrying dark subtexts of personal and political import.

Woods himself clearly follows this line, and in an introductory talk pointed up the evidence for the Fifth as a work not of subservience but of defiance.  He then led a performance that was, in effect, a testimonial to that viewpoint.

It was a searing, powerful, riveting approach, its revisionism best displayed in the final movement.  Woods launched into its opening march ferociously, faster than most conductors. After its less hectic middle section, he approached its coda-apotheosis not as a paean of Soviet triumphalism, but as a slower, more unsettling challenge to the audience.

The UW Symphony Orchestra (below top, in a photo by John W. Barker) followed him magnificently.  How wonderful it is to see these students perform at a virtually professional level, utterly at one with their conductor.  Once more, a tribute to what UW Professor of Conducting James Smith (below) has done to build up a playing tradition of confidence and polish.

UW Symphony Orchestra 2013 CR John W. Barker

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

And, once more, this concert was a reminder of the kind of glorious musical experiences that are to be had on the UW-Madison campus, ones too often ignored or overlooked by the public and the media.


Classical music Q&A: Native son and UW-Madison alumnus conductor Kenneth Woods talks about returning to Madison to open the Wisconsin Union Theater season this coming Saturday night.

October 28, 2013
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison-born and Madison-bred, Kenneth Woods is almost a one-man band of classical music. This coming year he will have out new six CDs, including performances both as an orchestra conductor, chamber music cellist, and also as a composer and a rock guitarist . And he still finds time to write a fascinating, critically acclaimed and popular blog with an insider’s view of making music called “A View From the Podium.”

Here are links to his main website and to his blog:

http://kennethwoods.net

http://kennethwoods.net/blog1/a-view-from-the-podium/

And check out his impressive biography:

http://kennethwoods.net/blog1/bio/

You should also read the excellent interview he gave UW School of Music concert manager and public relations director Kathy Esposito on the music school’s terrific new blog “Fanfare,” Here is a link; 

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/woods-pine/

Woods attended West High School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was also a member of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). He did undergraduate work at the University of Illinois Champaign–Urbana, and graduate work at the UW-Madison and the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

That makes him a perfect candidate to conduct the UW Symphony Orchestra this coming Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The concert, which features acclaimed Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine in the famous Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, also includes the famously powerful Fifth Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich, will open the Wisconsin Union Theater season.

For more details about the concert, including ticket prices ($10 for UW students up to $25 for the general public) and links to other sites and samples, visit:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season13-14/Rachel-Barton-Pine.html

Based in Wales, Woods — who can heard at the bottom in a YouTube video conducting Ralph Vaughan Williams’ haunting “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” performed by the Orchestra of the  Swan with a beautifully divided string section —  recently gave The Ear an email interview:

Kenneth Woods

You are a very busy man these days. Can you bring us up to date and fill us in briefly on your accomplishments over the past year or two?

Well, it’s been a very busy time, I must say. The most important step this year has been the beginning of my new partnership as artistic director and principal conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra.

When I last conducted here in Madison, I had just finished a long association with the Oregon East Symphony. Since then, I’ve basically been a freelance conductor without an orchestra to call my home. “It’s been an incredibly exciting time, but I’ve been wanting a chance to build something together with a group of colleagues I really respect.”

Otherwise, it’s been one of those years where you often feel like you are just holding on for dear life. At the Scotia Festival this summer, they told me I set some kind of record for most performances by a guest artist in the history of the festival. It has been that kind of year.

It’s all been very exciting but often quite draining. I’m hoping the next chapter, focusing more narrowly on building an orchestra, will be just as exciting but slightly less manic.

kenneth woods conducting english symphony orchestra

What does it mean to you to be returning to your alma mater to conduct the UW Symphony?

My father has been a professor in the Chemistry Department since just before I was born, so I pretty much grew up on and around the UW campus.

When I was growing up, the Madison Symphony Orchestra was not as well-established as it is now, and UW Symphony concerts were the big classical events in town, and I have so many memories of sitting in Mills Hall, where I first heard Bruckner, Mahler, Stravinsky, Brahms and any number of other composers.

The design of the Humanities Building — I’ve heard it described as a model for a dystopian prison — doesn’t tend to inspire much affection among people who work in it, but I’m very sentimental about the place.

Coming back to the UW for my Master’s was a great chapter for me. It was one of those miraculous moments in life when you have the good fortune to find exactly the mentors and teachers you need. Those years studying cello and chamber music with Parry Karp (below) were incredibly important to everything I’ve done since then, and I was also really lucky to work closely with David Becker, who gave me a good foundation as a conductor, and the late violinist Vartan Manoogian, who became a good friend and supported me a lot.

Parry Karp

David Becker full mug

What do you think about working with and conducting student orchestras?

Philosophically, I try to treat every orchestra the same. You go to the first rehearsal really well prepared, give an upbeat, and then see what happens.

What I admire most in any orchestra is preparation combined with flexibility, which, not coincidently, is what I always looked for in conductors when I was playing in orchestras.

Being truly flexible isn’t about, for instance, trying every possible version of a bowing- it’s something that happens more at the quantum level of playing. It’s listening to each other with such focus that you can all make the millions of tiny anticipations and adjustments needed to take the performance somewhere really special.

The playing level of student orchestras these days is always very high, so often my job is to help them develop the kind of ten-dimensional listening that lets them play as an ensemble. (Below is the UW Symphony Orchestra performing with the UW Choral Union under choral director Beverly Taylor.)

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

What would you like to say about the two staple works you will conduct, the Brahms Violin Concerto (have you ever worked with Rachel Barton Pine?) and the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony?

Well, the symphony by Shostakovich (below) is a very special piece, and one I have a very personal relationship with. It was, in fact, the first piece of orchestral music I ever heard played live. When I was three or four, my pre-school teacher, Barbara Goy, founder of the Preschool for the Arts, took us to a rehearsal of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) conducted by its founder Marvin Rabin – and they were working on it.

That morning in the Humanities Building changed my life. I’ve conducted it many times, given lectures on it, taught it and written at length about it, but doing it in the same building where I first heard it is going to be very, very special.

dmitri shostakovich

Brahms and Shostakovich make for an interesting pairing because they’re so completely different in some ways, and yet they have certain important qualities in common.

Shostakovich wrote so much, and could write in so many styles and so many genres- his versatility is almost unmatched in music history. Brahms (below) only left us a smaller body of work- so much of his music ended up in his fireplace- but it’s all so clearly the same voice, and so closely interconnected.

The large-scale orchestral music has this lovely symmetry- four symphonies, four concertos. That’s it! I just did the Violin Concerto back in June with Alexander Sitkovetsky, a favorite soloist with whom I’ve worked many times. I hadn’t done the piece in years and it was so humbling to come back to the score again after a break.

brahms3

Rachel Barton Pine (below) and I have never met, but I’ve certainly admired her work. Part of the joy of conducting concertos is in seeing how different each collaboration is going to be. My view of the Shostakovich symphony has developed over 30 years and doesn’t tend to change radically from one concert to another, but I might need to completely re-think the Brahms in order to suit Rachel’s take on it.

Rachel Barton Pine

And what do you want to say about the other composer Philip Sawyers (below) and the Overture to the “Gale of Life” piece by way of introducing them to readers?

Philip is one of the great composers of our time- someone whose music will, I’m sure, be discussed and performed and admired for generations to come. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to count him as a dear friend.

I first met Philip when I was conducting my first concert with Kent County Youth Orchestra in England, where he has coached the violins since the 1970s. Philip is a former member of the orchestra of Royal Opera Covent Garden.

Getting to know his music was a revelation.

I’ve just completed a recording of his Second Symphony, Cello Concerto and Concertante for Violin, Piano and Strings with the Orchestra of the Swan for Nimbus Records.

It’s a project I’m enormously proud of. I think the Concerto is probably the greatest British cello concerto since the one by William Walton, and the Second Symphony is a staggering masterpiece. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I believe it.

When I took up my new gig with the English Symphony Orchestra (below), one of my first decisions was to commission a Third Symphony from Philip, which we’ll premiere in 2015 and record for Nimbus.

“Gale of Life” is a proper concert opener – it’s not one of his more ambitious works, but it’s immensely satisfying to play and a great introduction to his language. All the great composers used to write overtures and other concert openers, but that has really died off in the last 40 years.

I always like to try to bring something with me when I guest conduct that I have a personal connection to, which will be new to either the musicians or the audience, or maybe both. Hopefully, a good number of folks will come away from the concert anxious to hear his other works.

Philip Sawyers


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