The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev returns to Madison to give a master class and to perform a solo recital of Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Gershwin at Farley’s House of Pianos this Sunday afternoon

November 8, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you recall the name of Ilya Yakushev (below), it is no doubt from the two impressive concerto appearances by the Russian virtuoso with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and conductor Andrew Sewell.


Madison audiences will finally have a chance to hear Yakushev, who directs the International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Mannes College of Music in Manhattan, in a solo recital.

It will be held this coming Sunday afternoon, Nov. 12, at 4 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on the city’s far west side near the West Towne Mall. The concert is part of the Salon Concert Series, and a reception will follow the performance.

Tickets are $45, $10 for students. You can call (608) 271-2626 or go online (see below).

The program includes: Sonata in D Major by Franz Joseph Haydn; the Sentimental Waltz by Peter Tchaikovsky; “Pictures at an Exhibition,” in the original solo piano version, by Modest Mussorgsky; and a solo piano version of “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin.  (You can hear Yakushev play the opening part of the Mussorgsky in the YouTube video at the bottom)

On this Saturday, Nov. 11, at 4 p.m. Ilya Yakushev will also teach a master class at Farley’s House of Pianos. Yakushev will instruct three pianists, all of whom are on the piano faculty at Farley’s House of Pianos. This is a FREE event that the public is invited to observe.

The Master Class program includes: Stravinsky’s Piano Sonata (1924) – First movement, performed by Jason Kutz; Beethoven’s Sonata in E Major, Op. 109 “Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo,” performed by Kangwoo Jin; and Ravel’s “Miroirs” (Mirrors) – Third movement “Une barque sur l’ocean” (A Boat on the Ocean) performed by Jonathan Thornton.

For more information about the artist, the program, the master class. other concerts and tickets, go to:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

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Classical music: Sound the trumpets! Brass Fest 4 is this Saturday and Sunday at the UW-Madison

September 27, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

A fanfare is in order!

By the fourth year, an event has certainly become a tradition to look forward to and to follow.

So it is with Brass Fest IV, which will take place this Saturday and Sunday at the University of Wisconsin’s Mead Witter School of Music.

The activities will fill two days with workshops, master classes and concerts.

Music by Johann Sebastian Bach and Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” will be featured, along with many contemporary composers and arrangers.

Many of the events, including the big Saturday night concert at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

The big Sunday afternoon concert at 2:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, with both brass quintets plus students, costs $15 for adults and $5 for non-School of Music students. A post-concert reception to meet students and other performers is included. (Below are students rehearsing at Brass Fest 3.)

The special guest this weekend is the Beaumont Brass Quintet from Michigan State University (below). Members are Ava Ordman, trombone; Corbin Wagner, horn; Alessandro Bonotto, trumpet; Philip Sinder, tuba and euphonium; and brass area chair; and Justin Emerich, trumpet.

The Beaumont Brass Quintet has recorded a CD of Christmas music for Naxos Records. See the YouTube video at the  bottom.

Also appearing with the Beaumont is the UW-Madison’s own Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson). Members, from left, are: Alex Noppe and Matthew Onstad, trumpets; Tom Curry, tuba; Mark Hetzler, trombone; and Daniel Grabois, horn.

For more information about the many activities, including biographies of the performers, full concert programs, a listing of other events, and tickets, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/brass-fest-iv/2017-09-30/


Classical music: The Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Piano announces its new season of four concerts

August 8, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The reliably virtuosic and musically enjoyable Salon Piano Series has just announced its 2017-18 season.

A piano duo, piano soloists and the Pro Arte Quartet provide traditional salon concert experiences with informal seating and restored pianos.

The 2017-18 Salon Piano Series season again includes piano soloists and ensembles typical of 19th-century European salon concerts, with well-known concert artists from Italy, Russia, Israel and Ireland.

According to a press release, the season’s offerings are:

Roberto Plano and Paola Del Negro Duo (below) on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017 at 4 p.m.

Italian husband and wife piano duo Roberto Plano and Paola Del Negro kick off the season with Schumann’s “Pictures from the East” (Bilder aus Osten, Op. 66), Brahms’ Hungarian Dances 1-5, “The Moldau” by Smetana, and Brahms’ Sonata for Two Pianos, Op. 34b, the earlier version of his great Piano Quintet. The duo will perform on one piano for the first half of the program and on two for the second half. (You can hear them perform Hungarian Dances by Brahms in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Ilya Yakushev (below) on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017 at 4 p.m.

Returning by popular demand, Ilya Yakushev will perform an exhilarating program of Haydn’s Piano Sonata in D Major, Tchaikovsky’s “Sentimental Waltz,” Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” in his November concert.

Alon Goldstein (below top) and the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet (below bottom in a photo by Rick Langer) on Saturday night, March 10, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, March 11, 2018 at 4 p.m.

To accommodate the crowds, Salon Piano Series booked two performances for Alon Goldstein and the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet in March. Goldstein will perform selected Scarlatti sonatas solo, then the Pro Arte Quartet and bassist David Scholl will join him for Mozart Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488, in a reduced arrangement, and the Brahms Piano Quintet, Op. 34.

John O’Conor (below) on Saturday, May 12, 2018, 7:30 p.m.

To cap off the season in May, the great Irish pianist John O’Conor will perform Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert in his first Salon Piano Series appearance.

Visit salonpianoseries.org for complete concert programs, and artist information.

All concerts are at Farley’s House of Pianos, at 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west wide near West Towne Mall. All concert includes a post-concert artist reception.

Tickets are $50 at the door or $45 in advance; season tickets are $150.

You can purchase tickets online at brownpapertickets.com or in-person at Farley’s House of Pianos. Service fees may apply.

About the Salon Piano Series

Now in its fifth season, Salon Piano Series was founded by Tim and Renée Farley to continue the tradition of intimate salon concerts at Farley’s House of Pianos.

The setting replicates that experienced by audiences throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and offers audiences the chance to hear artists whose inspiring performances are enhanced by the setting and the fine pianos.


Classical music education: Let us now praise WYSO — the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) as they celebrate their 50th anniversary this Saturday night. The concert is SOLD OUT, which is both good news and bad news

February 17, 2016
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ALERT and CORRECTION : The Ear just learned that the WYSO concert will be streamed LIVE on Wisconsin Public Television. View the broadcast live at 7 p.m. on this Saturday, February 20, by clicking on the following link: http://wpt.org/watch/liveevent

By Jacob Stockinger

It seems like one of those situations that put you between a rock and a hard place.

This year, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras founded by the late Marvin Rabin, is celebrating the organization’s milestone 50th anniversary. (Below top is a photo of WYSO rehearsing in 1966; below bottom is a photo of WYSO today.)

WYSO Youth Orchestra Marvin Rabin conducting 1966-7

WYSO Youth Orchestra

Plans for the celebration have been ambitious. Events have included: mounting a special art display at Dane County Regional Airport; publishing a special book; undertaking a foreign concert tour; and holding other events, including special receptions and breakfasts as well as playing opportunities for WYSO alumni who are flying in from all over the country.

Perhaps the single biggest event is the special concert that will take place this Saturday night from 7 to 9 p.m. at Overture Hall in the Overture Center.

The concert features five world premieres of pieces commissioned by WYSO for five different groups or ensembles.

Here are the details from WYSO:

“This concert will be the first time all WYSO orchestras are on stage to perform at the same concert. This concert is generously sponsored by Jerome Frautschi and Pleasant Rowland.

“The collage concert will feature the following performing ensembles: Youth Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Concert Orchestra, Sinfonietta, Brass Choir, Percussion Ensemble and a chamber ensemble.

“Each orchestra along with the Percussion Ensemble will perform a world premiere work that was commissioned especially for them.

“Composers of these commissions include Ben Whalund, Olivia Zeuske, Reynard Burns, Donald Fraser and WYSO alumni Andrew Kinney.

“The Percussion Ensemble (below), under the direction of Vicki Jenks will perform Credo by Ben Whalund. Mark Leiser, conductor of Sinfonietta, will lead his young string orchestra in Sonata for Sinfonietta by Olivia Zeuske, Haydn’s La Chasse, and Duke Ellington’s Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. The Brass Choir, under the direction of Brett Keating will then take the stage.

WYSO percussion Ensemble 2013

“Following the Brass Choir, Concert Orchestra, under the baton of Christine Mata-Eckel, will perform Biciclette by Reynard Burns, and Del Borgo’s Romany Dances. One of WYSO’s chamber ensembles will perform next. Michelle Kaebisch, conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra, will lead her ensemble as they perform In Time by Donald Fraser and Throne Room Scene from Star Wars by John Williams.

WYSO 50th Photo 1

The Youth Orchestra, led by music director James Smith, will give the penultimate performance of the evening by performing A Radiant Spirit by Andrew Kinney a and Symphony No. 2, Finale: Moderato assai-Allegro vivo by Tchaikovsky.

WYSO 50th Photo 2

“Following these performances the evening will feature a grand finale, arranged by Donald Fraser, with a performance by all nearly 400 members of WYSO, including the WYSO Music Makers Honors Ensembles as they perform Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

Following the concert, all audience members are invited to attend a post-concert reception in the lobby of Overture Center. This reception will be sponsored by the current WYSO Parent Leader Committee

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

So what is the problem or conundrum The Ear is talking about?

Just this: The main concert by the five orchestras and ensembles with five world premiere commissions is SOLD OUT.

That is good news because the hall and events are expensive to put on, especially at the Overture Center. So congratulations to the hard work that went into such success.

But that is also bad news because The Ear bets that most of the seats understandably went to family, friends and alumni. That, in turn, means that a new public, especially families with young children as potential members, for the ever impressive WYSO – which has trained thousands of middle school and high school students since its inception — will not be reached. And as a provider of music education, the pioneering WYSO simply has no peers in the area. 

So The Ear hopes that CDs and DVDs of the concerts will be available after the event. Maybe it will even be aired on Wisconsin Public Television or Wisconsin Public Radio or some other broadcast outlets. (See the correction at the top: The concert will; be streamed live on Wisconsin Public Television )That would certainly reach a wide public with the inspiring mission and outstanding results of music education through WYSO.

WYSO Logo blue

And if you want to know more information about WYSO and its 50th anniversary celebration, go to:

http://www.wysomusic.org/50th/

In the meantime, The Ear sends hearty and heart-felt congratulations to all the students, teachers, alumni and supporters of WYSO students, who in the YouTube video at the bottom perform the celebratory and triumphant “Great Gate at Kiev” from Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

Cheers to the next 50 years!


Classical music education: Spring concerts by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) start this Saturday and continue on Saturday and Sunday, May 16 and 17.

May 8, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) sent this timely reminder:

WYSO philharmonia orchestra

Starting this Saturday, May 9, and continuing on Saturday and Sunday, May 16-17, the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family Spring Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the UW George Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, Madison.

Tickets are available at the door: $10 for adults and $5 for children under 18 years of age.

On Saturday, May 9 at 1:30 p.m., WYSO will kick off the concerts with performances by its Percussion Ensemble (below top), Brass Choir, and Harp Ensemble (below bottom).

WYSO percussion Ensemble 2013

WYSO Harp Ensemble 2011

The following week, on Saturday, May 16, the Philharmonia Orchestra will start the day at 11 a.m. They will play four different works that morning beginning with Symphony No. 9, op. 95, E minor “From the New World,” movement 4, by Antonin Dvorak.

They will transition to Zoltan Kodaly’s Háry János: Intermezzo followed by two pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: The Overture to “The Magic Flute” and the first movement of the Piano Concerto No. 19 in F Major, K. 459. The piano concerto will feature concerto competition winner, Moqiu Cheng. Moqiu (below) is a seventh-grader at Hamilton Middle School and is also a violinist with WYSO.

Moquie Cheng

At the 1:30 p.m. concert, the Concert Orchestra will take the stage with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Simpson Dance of the Tumblers from ‘The Snow Maiden’. Hatikvah, a traditional tune arranged by Del Borgo is next followed by Richard Meyer’s, Tales of Vandosar. They will end their set with Robert Sheldon’s Triumph of the Argonauts.

Following the Concert Orchestra, WYSO’s string orchestra, Sinfonietta will end the day’s performances with several pieces including The Abduction from the Seraglio: Overture by Mozart, Richard Meyer’s, Carpe Diem!, and the Allegro from Sinfonia No. 6 in G minor by Johann Christian Bach.

WYSO Concert Orchestra violins

On Sunday, May 17, at 4 p.m., the Youth Orchestra (below top) will take stage at OVERTURE HALL — NOT Mills — along with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below bottom) in a side-by-side concert. The program will feature five different works showcasing the abilities of both orchestras.

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

WCO lobby

They will start with the Festive Overture by Dmitri Shostakovich’s. Following that Soloist Adam Yeazel (below top), a senior at Middleton High School, will perform the Concertino da Camera for Alto Saxophone by Jacques Ibert.

adam yeazel

That will be followed by the cadenza and fourth movement of Violin Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich featuring sophomore Maynie Bradley (below bottom) as the soloist.

Maynie Bradley

After a brief intermission the program will continue with Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations – including Theme I, VII, VIII, IX, XI, Finale and end with Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky in an orchestration by Maurice Ravel.

This is the third “Side by Side” collaboration between the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and WYSO.

According to WCO Maestro Andrew Sewell, “Side by Side” concerts give students “tremendous inspiration and the confidence to play difficult repertoire next to seasoned musicians. We are thrilled to bring this notable musical performance to Overture Hall.”

The public is invited to this free concert. Reservations must be made by calling the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra office at (608) 257-0638. Please note that places are being reserved for this concert, but there will be no tickets. Seating is General Admission. For more information please visit www.wcoconcerts.org.

These concerts are generously supported by the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family, along with funds from Dane County, the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, The Evjue Foundation, Inc., charitable arm of the The Capital Times, W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation, and Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. This project is also supported in part by additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the State of Wisconsin, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

 

 


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra, under conductor Kyle Knox, turns in its most impressive performance so far. The brass proves especially noteworthy.

February 28, 2015
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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 for 12 years hosted 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 concert by the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) on last Wednesday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, at Middleton High School, drew an audience little deterred by snow and slow traffic, and greatly rewarded by the results.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

The orchestra appeared this time under a guest conductor, Kyle Knox, who has prior and future connections with it and who is currently both pursuing graduate studies and conducting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Knox (below) is a musician of very distinct talents: a knowing perspective on the works he conducts, a propensity for well-thought phrasing, and an ability to achieve definite rapport with his players.

Regular MCO conductor Steve Kerr was wise to give Knox an opportunity to hone the podium talents of this very promising conductor, and as a stimulus to this steadily maturing ensemble. (Kerr himself eventually turned up working the bass drum.)

Kyle Knox 2

The MCO delights in taking on compositions that are both challenging and quite familiar. In testing themselves thus, the orchestra invites its listeners to measure its progress against the orchestras that have set extremely high performing standards in concerts and recordings. So it is proper that we do just that, especially in the beloved music from the score for the Incidental Music to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Felix Mendelssohn.

The conventional five movements were played. In the fabled Overture, the strings had some struggles with their extremely demanding parts, but generally Knox achieved a well-integrated balancing of the elfin and the eerie.

Perhaps to avoid straining the players too much, Knox set a slightly slow tempo in the fairyland Scherzo, which sagged just a bit, but the Intermezzo was beautifully shaped.

Best was the evocative Nocturne, in which the French horn section demonstrated greatly improved tone and ensemble over recent showings, in a truly beautiful rendition. (You can hear the Nocturne in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Wedding March was also marked by a bit of ragged playing, but Knox paced it nicely and integrated it successfully. Overall, they get good marks for showing distinct progress in some very satisfying Mendelssohn.

Kyle Knox conducts MCO

The novelty of the program was the rarely played Canzonetta for Oboe and Strings by the 20th-century American composer Samuel Barber (below). This was a late work, the only completed movement of what was to be a full-length oboe concerto, and was published posthumously.

barber 1

It displays the familiar qualities of Barber as the pre-eminent American neo-Romantic, in music that is gentle, gracious and lyrically flowing. But it also highlights another feature of Barber: the composer’s identification with the human voice. A fine singer himself (he was a baritone), Barber was a master of song and vocal music, and the solo oboe part is, to a considerable degree, a kind of song — as the title says, a “canzonetta” or small song.

The oboe soloist, Andy Olson (below), with his own long affiliations with the MCO, clearly recognized this characteristic, and realized it in his beautiful playing.

Andy Olson plays at MCO

Andy Olson oboe

For the finale, the other super-familiar score, was the dazzling — and very tricky — orchestration by Maurice Ravel of the solo piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (below).

Modeste Mussorgsky color

At the very outset, in the opening “Promenade,” the brass section displayed a new level of power and ensemble. The saxophone solo in “The Old Castle” was truly compelling. The heavy cartwheels of “Byddlo” were inexorable, and “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs” or “Baba-Yaga” (a sorceress) was truly ferocious.

The triumphant final movement, “The Great Gate of Kiev” was stunning. One feature of old Russian city portals was the inclusion of working chapels. I have never heard the hymn-like quality of the whole piece, with its interludes of liturgical chanting and tolling bells, so successfully evoked.

Overall, this performance was magnificent, and I have never heard this orchestra play so well.

It was a performance full of head and heart, with open-throttle devotion from the players. Knox obviously deserves much credit for this, but the players themselves made it clear that they owed no apologies for the results they could produce. (Below, conductor Kyle Knox singles out the brass for recognition by the audience.)

Kyle Knox applauds MCO brass

The MCO has proven itself to be, more than ever, a really extraordinary factor in the Madison area’s musical life. It is a non-, or semi-, or extra-professional ensemble whose music-making is truly inspirational. Its concerts should be supported and enjoyed by all our cultural community.


Classical music: It’s time to go back to the future. The classical music scene needs more professional groups to act like the Middleton Community Orchestra and break down barriers between performers and listeners.

June 7, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

There was a time when no professional symphony orchestras existed, at least outside of royal courts. Even Ludwig van Beethoven had to hire freelance pick-up orchestras to premiere his monumental and iconic symphonies and concertos.

That meant that classical music was much more of a home activity and much more of a community affair that it usually is today.

But there are exceptions.

I was reminded of that on Wednesday night when – in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School — I attended the concert that closed the fourth season of the Middleton Community Orchestra (below).

MCO June 2014 orchestra

As I sat there, I realized I was simultaneously getting a glimpse of both the past and the future of classical music, which is under siege and needs some new strategies to thrive and prevail if it is to attract new and younger audiences.

I have written before about why I like the Middleton Community Orchestra so much.

Here is a link to a 2012 review with the nine reasons why I like them and think you should too:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/classical-music-review-let-us-now-praise-amateur-music-makers-and-restoring-sociability-to-art-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-liked-and-you-should-attend-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

But this most recent concert only deepened and expanded those convictions.

So here are some of my more recent thoughts, not necessarily deep but perhaps helpful and even insightful:

First and foremost, I liked the way the barriers between the performers and the audience members were broken down. I took some photos of what I saw: brass and string players talking with friends, family members, admirers and strangers both before the concert, during the intermission and then during the social dessert reception after the concert.

It all made the act of music-making seem more humane, more do-able, more central to daily life. Music seemed a cohesive bond for the entire community.

MCO trombonist and public 6-2014

MCO violinist and public 6-2014

I also liked that the community orchestra –- which used some professional members but also many amateur musicians — once again turned in convincing readings of great music.

And they did so by once again spotlighting local talent.

One was pianist and Middleton native, Thomas Kasdorf, who did his undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who returns there in the fall for a graduate degree.

Kasdorf  (below) gave an absolutely thrilling and gorgeous reading of Edvard Grieg’s popular Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16. Here is a link to an interview The Ear did with him:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/classical-music-qa-native-son-pianist-thomas-kasdorf-talks-about-playing-solo-recitals-chamber-music-and-the-grieg-piano-concerto-with-the-middleton-community-orchestra-which-also-closes-out-i/

MCO june 2014 Thomas Kasdorf plays Grieg

Kasdorf played with dynamism and lyricism, drawing a big sound out of the smaller-than-concert grand Steinway. He captured the many moods and beautiful tunes, the infectious rhythms, the long and songful phrases, and the stirring harmonies of Grieg’s evergreen concerto.

Not everyone agreed. Here is critic John W. Barker’s dissent for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/music/article.php?article=42912

No less than pianist-composer Sergei Rachmaninoff  (below) told Arthur Rubinstein that the Grieg Piano Concerto was the best and most effective piano concerto ever composed. And Rachmaninoff, who himself used the Grieg as a model, knew a thing or two about composing and performing piano concertos.

Rachmaninoff

Kasdorf wasn’t alone in excelling.

UW-Madison graduate violist Alice Bartsch (below) also turned in a sublime and moving reading of Antonin Dvorak’s soaringly lyrical Romance in F Minor, Op. 11, for Violin and Orchestra. It was all the more moving because it was her last concert as concertmaster of the MCO before she moves on to a professional job. (You can hear Dvorak’s lovely Romance at the bottom in a popular YouTube video. Tell me it doesn’t make you want to hear more of the tuneful Dvorak’s music.)

MCO June 2014 Alice Bartsch plays Dvorak

In fact, conductor Steve Kurr, who teaches at Middleton High School, also recognized other members of the orchestra who were moving on after this valedictory concert and asked them to stand up for applause — which they received:

MCO June 2014 players who will leave

I also loved the audience. I don’t know them by name, but enough people were there that the house seemed plenty full. Moreover, many of the listeners were very young or looked like people you don’t usually see at events like the Madison Symphony Orchestra or the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Well, one reason is that the price is right. WCO admission has two prices: $10 for adults and free for students. At that level, who can’t afford to take a chance? It might be nice if bigger groups tried cutting costs instead of increasing them. Affordability begets accessibility, The Ear suspects.

The orchestra, of course, also played on its own. It gave a respectable and at times moving reading to Sir Edward Elgar’s ambitious musical portraits in the “Enigma” Variations. As happened in also in the Grieg, I found especially the brass and percussion outstanding, though all sections, and especially the strings and winds, also held their own and had much to be proud of.

That’s not to say there weren’t mistakes or lapses or shortcomings. But, hey, this isn’t the Berlin Philharmonic. Besides, imperfection is an inherent part of most performing arts. But the orchestra clearly communicated the music’s emotion to the audience, and that is what matters most.

MCO June 2014 Orchestra stands up

The concert finished with the suite of three dances from Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s ballet score for “The Three-Cornered Hat.”

And there was my one criticism.

I am afraid the MCO has unfortunately expanded to imitate more professional organizations. I prefer the 90-minute, no intermission format. I think that could have been done if they had programmed this way: open with the Dvorak Romance; then do the Grieg Piano Concerto; and then finish with the Elgar Variations. (By my reckoning that would add up to about 85 minutes of music, with time left over for some stage changes.)

This concert was just a bit too long. People were tired, especially on a weekday night. And beside, it is nice to get in The Zone and then leave The Zone –- and not try to renter the Zone after intermission. It is also nice to get back home early when work is facing you the next day.

Then came the FREE desserts and the chat between hungry musicians and hungry audience members.

MCO June 2014 reception

But it seemed everyone left with their appetite for music satisfied.

So congratulations then to the MCO co-founders Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic plus conductor Steve Kurr. Over four seasons, they have grown an experimental project into a new tradition that seems to be attracting more people who appreciate them -– as you could tell from the cheers and hearty applause and prolonged standing ovations.

MCO June 2014 standing ovation

Next season promises very good things: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8; Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”; the famous “William Tell” Overture (the “Lone Ranger” theme) by Giacchino Rossini and the Academic Festival Overture and Tragic Overture by Johannes Brahms; plus Thomas Kasdorf again in the great Piano Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky (with, three cheers, Thomas Kasdorf as soloist in what The Ear jokingly calls the Van Cliburn Piano Concerto No. 1) and more.

It is something to look forward to.

All that music and all that fun for all that affordability.

See you then, see you there!

 

 

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Classical music education: Trust The Ear — you will be pleased and perhaps even astonished by the annual Winterfest concerts of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras on this Saturday and Sunday on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

March 11, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend brings the annual Winterfest concerts given by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

WYSO Winterfest logo 2014

Once again, The Ear predicts, audiences will see and hear some of the city’s biggest, most enthusiastic and youngest audiences (below) greet equally young, enthusiastic and talented young players who turn in performances of astounding and often unexpected high quality.

The Ear knows that from personal experience. I will never ever forget a remarkable performance of the Symphony No. 8 by Antonin Dvorak that I heard at a spring WYSO performance several years ago. It was serious music-making, not just student music-making.

WYSO young audience

In retrospect, all that should be no surprise. Young people from all around southcentral Wisconsin become members of WYSO only through a rigorous audition process, and the training is hard and long. But WYSO’s young performers end up making great music greatly, so that when they are invited to go on tour to Europe (two summers ago) and South America (this coming summer) it seems a natural outcome.

wyso violas

The concerts on this Saturday and Sunday are the primary concert fundraisers for the group that holds the most promise of insuring the future of classical music and music education among young people, especially at a  time when arts funding is being taken away from many public schools.

The concerts also serve as the run-up to the all-important Art of Note gala fundraiser on Saturday, March 29, from 6 to 10 p.m. at CUNA Mutual. The concerts are guaranteed to whet your appetite for the Art of Note, which will feature fine food, wine, live music by student groups, auctions of items from sports matches and restaurants to vacations and entertainment, and old violins (below bottom) recycled as art.

Art of Note 2014 logo

Art of Note violins 2014

(In the interest of full disclosure, The Ear has to say that he is a member of the Board of Directors of WYSO — precisely because he considers it such a vital investment in the future of the performing arts and arts education. You should attend the concerts if you can, and also donate what you can to WYSO because I can’t think of a better or more deserving investment you can make.)

On this Saturday and Sunday, March 15 and March 16, more than 350 talented young musicians will perform both classical and contemporary works.

The Winterfest Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the University of Wisconsin-Madison George L. Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park Street, in Madison.

WYSO concerts generally last about 1-1/2 hours, and provide a great orchestral concert opportunity for families. Dress is casual and the atmosphere is respectful, but informal. These concerts are, in a word, fun. 

Tickets are available at the door: $10 for adults and $5 for children under 18 years of age.

WYSO was founded in 1966 and has served nearly 5,000 young musicians from more than 100 communities in southern Wisconsin.

The concert series kicks off on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. with Sinfonietta (below) performing works by Aaron Copland, Peter Illich Tchaikovsky, Bedrich Smetana, Gazda, and Leyden.

WYSO Sinfonietta

Then on Saturday at 4 p.m. the Concert Orchestra (below) will perform numerous works, including “Three Songs of Chopin” by Frederic Chopin, “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Gustav Holst, “Band of Brothers” by Michael Kamen, and “The Great Gate of Kiev” from “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modeste Mussorgsky.

wyso concert orchestra brass

On Sunday at 1:30, the Philharmonia Orchestra (below, rehearsing) will perform the irresistible final movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s famous Symphony No. 5 in C minor, the fourth movement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s searing Symphony No. 5, “Peer Gynt Suite No. 1” by Edvard Grieg, “March and Procession to Bacchus” by Leo Delibes, and finally “Procession to the Cathedral” by Richard Wagner.

WYSO rehesrsal Philharmonia Violins

Then also on Sunday at 4 p.m., the Youth Orchestra (below, in performance under WYSO’s music director and UW-Madison conducting professor James Smith) will close the concert series with Symphony No. 4 in E-Flat by the 19th-century Romantic Russian composer Peter Illich Tchaikovsky (it is The Ear’s favorite of Tchaikovsky’s six wonderful  symphonies); “Liturgical Scenes” by the 20th-century American composer Ellsworth Milburn; and “El sombrero de tres picos” (The Three-Cornered Hat) by the 20th-century Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the finale to Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 as performed at last year’s WYSO Winterfest.)

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

For more information about the Winterfest concerts and the Art of Note gala fundraiser on Saturday, March 29, as well as for information about auditioning to join WYSO and ways to support WYSO, visit:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu

WYSO extends special thanks to Diane Endres Ballweg for her generous multi-year support of the Winterfest Concerts. The concerts are also generously supported by Dane Arts, with additional funds from the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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