The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Mendota Consort gives a FREE performance of motets by Johann Schein in Madison this Saturday night. Performances in Eau Claire and Milwaukee are tonight and Friday night

July 19, 2018
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ALERT: The superb Willy Street Chamber Players are back from a week of free and Community Connect concerts. They resume their regular summer series this Friday at 6 p.m. in Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street. The guest artist is UW-Madison saxophonist Les Thimmig who will play six arias from the opera “Porgy and Bess” by George Gershwin. A rarely heard String Quintet by Alexander Glazunov ends the program. Tickets are $15.

The last concert is next Friday, July 27, and features flute, clarinet and piano soloists in music by Luigi Boccherini, Sergei Prokofiev, Andrew Norman and Johann Strauss/Arnold Schoenberg. For more information, go to:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/07/05/classical-music-you-know-brahms-but-who-are-caroline-shaw-colin-jacobsen-and-michael-kelley-the-willy-street-chamber-players-will-show-you-this-friday-night/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has been asked to post the following announcement:

The early music vocal ensemble The Mendota Consort (below) invites you to an evening of madrigals from Israelsbrünnlein, a collection by the 17th-century composer Johann Schein. (Editor’s note: You can hear an excerpt in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Vocalists who are dedicated to Renaissance polyphony, The Mendota Consort will present a story of ancient Israel though dramatic 1623 treatments by Schein (below) of sacred texts.

Admission is free with donations kindly accepted.

The Madison performance is this Saturday night, July 21, at 7:30 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church (below), 1021 University Ave.

Other performances are:

Tonight, Thursday, July 19, at 7:30 p.m. in Saint Edward’s Montessori School, 1129 Bellevue Ave., in Eau Claire.

Friday night, July 20, at 6:30 p.m. in the Cathedral Church of All Saints, 818 East Juneau Ave., in Milwaukee.

You can learn more and follow the group on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/TheMendotaConsort/

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Classical music: Today is the start of Fall. Here is autumnal music by Richard Strauss. Plus, UW-Madison soprano Jeanette Thompson makes her FREE debut tonight at 7 p.m. in Mills Hall.

September 22, 2017
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ALERT: UW-Madison faculty soprano Jeanette Thompson gives her FREE debut recital tonight at 7 p.m.  in Mills Hall. Guest performers are pianist Thomas Kasdorf and faculty colleague baritone Paul Rowe.

Thompson has put together a concert of some of her favorite love songs, though not always typical of love songs:  some of them are about a love that is lost, some of them are about a love desired, and some of them are about a love for God.

These songs include excerpts from Gustav Mahler’s Rückert Lieder and Johannes Brahms’ Volksbuchlieder. In addition to Rückert, they include some of her favorite poets like Charles Baudelaire and Eduard Möricke. She will perform songs by Cole Porter and George Gershwin, and will be joined by baritone Paul Rowe to sing two of the most beautiful “Porgy and Bess” love duets ever written.

Thompson (below) will conclude the concert with some of her favorite spirituals, including her mother’s favorite song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.“

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the autumnal equinox, which arrives at 3:02 p.m. CDT. It marks when the day has an equal amount of daylight and night.

It also means that today is the first official day of Fall.

And despite the hot weather right now, Fall is often a great time to start returning to indoor activities.

That makes it a good time for listening to classical music.

There are the usual candidates such as Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and its modern counterpart “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” by tango master Astor Piazzolla.

If you want to hear other season-appropriate music, YouTube, Spotify, Classical-music.com and other websites have generous compilations. Just Google “classical music for autumn.”

But today The Ear want to feature just one selection to celebrate the season. It is soprano Jessye Norman singing “September” from “Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss.

What is you favorite music to greet autumn with?

Use the COMMENT section to let us know, along with a link to a video performance if possible.


Classical music: Read a rave review of John DeMain’s current production of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” at the Glimmerglass Festival in upstate New York

July 29, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Some readers have asked The Ear:

How come John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Madison Opera, wasn’t conducting at last Saturday’s Opera in the Park?

The reason is not that DeMain was taking time off and enjoying a summer vacation.

Rather, he was busy guest-conducting an acclaimed production of George Gershwin’s African-American opera “Porgy and Bess” (below top) at the prestigious Glimmerglass Festival (below bottom) in upstate New York at Cooperstown.

DeMain has enjoyed a long association with both George Gershwin’s opera and the Glimmerglass Festival (below top and bottom).

And Madison music critic Greg Hettmansberger (below), who is writing a biography of DeMain, traveled there to hear and see the production.

He filed the following review on his website “What Greg Says”:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/porgy-casts-a-special-glow-over-glimmerglass/

Now you know.

And can share in the pride.


Classical music: Madison Opera announces its 2016-17 season. It’s both reassuringly classical and adventurously jazzy

June 2, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Even as it prepares for the annual Opera in the Park gala on July 23, the Madison Opera has announced its 2016-17 season, which is a combination of both the classic and the adventurous, even the intriguingly experimental.

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/

Here is a list of productions with links to more details about the productions, cast, tickets and related events:

Nov. 4 and 6 in Overture Hall: “Romeo and Juliet” by Charles Gounod (below) with conductor John DeMain and members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/romeo-and-juliet/

Charles Gounod

Feb. 10 and 12 in the Capitol Theater: “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” by Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder (below) with John DeMain and members of the MSO:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/charlie-parkers-yardbird/

Daniel Schnyder

April 21 and 23 in Overture Hall: “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below) with guest conductor Gary Thor Wedow:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/

Mozart old 1782

The operas by Gounod and Mozart are well-known staples of the repertoire.

But “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” is new and will be a local, perhaps even regional, premiere and one of the earliest repeat performances of the new work.

The Ear thinks early Bravos are in order for such contemporary crossover programming that also focuses on race, diversity and African American culture. It also seems like a natural choice for John DeMain, who won a Grammy for the first all-black production of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”

The new opera opened recently to fine reviews at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in New York City. (Below, in a photo by Dominic Mercier for Opera Philadelphia, is tenor Lawrence Brownlee in the title role of alto saxophonist and jazz great Charlie Parker.)

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee in Charlie Parker's Yardbird CR Dominic Mercier for Opera Philadelphia

Here is a link to a background story about the work that appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog of National Public Radio, or NPR, which first broadcast it on All Things Considered:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/03/31/472431884/opera-and-jazz-mingle-in-charlie-parkers-yardbird

Here are members of the world premiere production talking about the work:

And here is a trailer with samples of the music and singing:


Classical music: It’s easy but wrong to underestimate Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann.” It is literally fantastic but NOT light. It will be performed by Madison Opera on Friday night and Sunday afternoon. Part 2 of 2.

April 13, 2016
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the historic Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature music for baroque and modern flute and strings  with Iva Ugrcic, Thalia Combs, Biffa Kwok, Joshua Dierigner, Mikko Rankin Utevsky, Andrew Briggs and Satoko Hayami. They will play music by Georg Philipp Telemann, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach, Salvatore Sciarrino and Andre Jolivet.

By Jacob Stockinger

As The Ear posted yesterday, the Madison Opera will present Jacques Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann” this weekend.

The production will be performed twice 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

For more information, here is a link to yesterday’s post with a plot synopsis and information about the cast:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/classical-music-jacques-offenbachs-fantastical-masterpiece-the-tales-of-hoffmann-will-be-performed-by-madison-opera-performs-friday-night-and-sunday-afternoon-here-is-part/

Today, The Ear asked the same questions to the two main figures in the production: Artistic and music director John DeMain and guest stage director Kristine McIntyre.

Here are their answers:

JOHN DeMAIN (below)

DeMainOpera

“Tales of Hoffmann” has the reputation of being a “lighter” opera. How justified and accurate is that opinion in your view, and what do you think explains it?

Hoffmann is Offenbach’s grand opus. I’ve never thought of this work as a light opera. To me, light opera has spoken dialogue and the music is distinctly lighter in nature, like operetta.

Where the confusion lies here is, for me, no different than with George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Both composers use popular resources, at times, to tell the story.

Hoffmann is a serious themed piece. Two people are literally murdered, and the mechanical doll is also destroyed. Hoffmann’s soul is condemned to hell, as his pursuit of love is rebuffed at every term. The devil is present throughout as well.

What Hoffmann is, however, is highly theatrical. Magic is present, as well as the supernatural. It is at times ghoulish and macabre, but always entertaining. The Olympia scene with party guests and a mechanical doll — at bottom in a YouTube video — is the lightest scene in nature, as Hoffmann is being duped at a social gathering.

Move into Antonia, and from the beginning the music is serious and profound with two thrilling trios. Giulietta, which has always been the sketchiest act, because of missing music and an incomplete libretto, nevertheless is thrillingly operatic in scope.

Hoffmann is very much like Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata in design, particularly in the progression of Hoffmann’s loves, as embodied in the sopranos who sings all four roles. Olympia is coloratura, just like Violetta in the first act singing “Sempre libera.” Antonia is lyric, corresponding to Violetta in the second act, and Giulietta is the most dramatic, just as in the third act of the Verdi.

The beautiful final ensemble at the end of the Epilogue is also not the stuff of light opera. Offenbach, as a composer, is true to his musical style, but achieves the greatest depth of his writing in this wonderful grand opera.

Madison Opera Hoffmann set 1

What would you like the public to know about the opera and about the musical aspects of the Madison Opera production including the singers, the orchestra and the score?

The orchestra highlights the drama at every given turn, literally changing tempos on a dime. Leitmotifs are used throughout the piece.

The music is wonderfully melodic, with the entire cast having beautiful arias, duets and trios. It has long been a favorite opera of mine because it so accurately portrays the story in vivid and unmistakable musical terms.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

KRISTINE MCINTYRE (below)

Kristine McIntyre 2016

Jacques Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann” has the reputation of being a “lighter” opera? How justified and accurate is that opinion in your view, and what do you think explains it?

Well, “lighter” compared to what? Than Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking or Leos Janacek’s Jenufa, certainly. But it’s not a comedy either, and certainly any of the classic operatic comedies, such as Gioacchino Rossini‘s The Barber of Seville, feels perfectly frothy in comparison.

I think this is an easy opera to underestimate because the piece is so theatrical in its storytelling. But Offenbach (below) is actually exploring some very dark themes, as was E.T.A. Hoffmann before him.

E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original tales are fantastical and highly imaginative, but they are also vivid and insightful examinations of human psychology. He exposes our darkest fears and how that darkness intrudes into our everyday lives and our attempts to find love and happiness. I think E.T.A. Hoffmann is particularly insightful at revealing the fragility of his male protagonists and their insecurities where women and love are concerned.

The Olympia act, for instance, is really about a young man’s fear that he has been deceived, that he’s been made a fool of — that he can’t trust the girl he loves and doesn’t know what’s real or what’s not.

The story on which it is based, “The Sandman,” is even more horrifying than Offenbach’s setting: the young man simply can’t get over having fallen in love with the automaton, believes his very human fiancée is actually a machine, tries to kill her and eventually commits suicide by throwing himself from a balcony.

Jacques Offenbach seated

So one should not confuse creativity in storytelling with a lack of seriousness. There is a great tradition, stretching back to the early 19th century, of writers of fantastical literature and science fiction asking some of the hardest questions about human nature and providing some of the most compelling insights.

That tradition now extends to film and we’ve spent some time in rehearsal talking about how movies like Blade Runner and Ex Machina explore some of the same issues.

Offenbach is a man of the theater and gives us music that is just as compelling and theatrical as the tales themselves. This music is fun to stage and listen to, but while Offenbach is entertaining us with his delightful French melodies, his main character, Hoffmann, has his heart broken three times, causes the death of his fiancée, becomes an alcoholic, murders a rival and loses his soul. So the opera definitely has its tragic side.

And we shouldn’t forget that Offenbach balances the fantasy of the tales with the framework of the Prologue and Epilogue and the completely recognizable, human story of Hoffmann’s doomed relationship with his girlfriend Stella. They’ve had a fight and he’s terrified of losing her. In the tales, he is actually telling us Stella’s story over and over again as he tries to make sense of what has happened.

The opera could easily end in tragedy and despair, but instead Offenbach offers us a glass of champagne and a balm for the human condition. (Below is the Roaring 20s set.)

Madison Opera Hoffmann set 3

What would you like the public to know about the opera and about the theatrical aspects of the Madison Opera production including acting, costumes, sets, etc.?

Almost everyone in our cast is doing their roles for the first time, so we’re having a great time in rehearsal exploring every moment of the piece.

This will be a very high-energy, inventive and creative telling of the opera. The production is updated to the 1920s, which is great fun – beautiful costumes and lots of wonderful inspiration from art and cinema of the period.

For instance, we’ve been looking at the paintings of Otto Dix, which capture the élan and decadence of the 1920s, and classic horror films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu to find the darker side of things for the Antonia act. It’s a very rich period visually and offers us a great deal of style as well as the chance to make something that feels very alive and fresh.

I think it will be very entertaining and also very moving.

Madison Opera Hoffmann set 2


Classical music Q&A: Soprano Alyson Cambridge talks about mastering crossover genres and how to attract ethnically diverse audiences to classical music and opera. She sings with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in its annual Christmas concerts this weekend.

December 1, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend the Madison Symphony Orchestra, with guest groups and soloists all under the baton of music director John DeMain, will kick off the holiday season with traditional Christmas concerts in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday night at 7:30 p.m., Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

The concerts will celebrate the holidays with a wide range of music from Johann Sebastian Bach, Irving Berlin, George Frideric Handel, John Rutter and Franz Schubert to holiday favorites and rocking Gospel selections -– topped off with the audience adding its voice to carols at the end.

Concert highlights include:

Soloists soprano Alyson Cambridge (below top) and tenor Harold Meers (below bottom), who are accomplished national operatic singers.

Alyson Cambridge 1

Harold Meers

The Madison Symphony Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson), directed by Beverly Taylor, with 125 members, who come from all walks of life to combine their artistic talent.

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

The Madison Youth Choirs (below in a photo by Dan Sinclair), directed by Michael Ross, which combines young voices for a memorable experience.

Madison Youth Choirs Ragazzi HS CR Dan Sinclair

Mt. Zion Gospel Choir (below), directed by Leotha Stanley, which uses jazz, blues and gospel harmonies to “raise the roof” in creating captivating music.

Mt. Zion Gospel Choir

And, last but not least, the audience members who join in the singing.

Concertgoers are encouraged to arrive at the Overture Hall lobby 45 minutes before the concert so they can be moved by the Madison Symphony Chorus leading carols in the festively lit lobby.

MSO officials stress that these concerts typically sell out, so early ticket purchases are encouraged.

Single Tickets are $16 to $84 each, available at ww.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

New subscribers can receive up to a 50% discount. For more information and to subscribe, visit www.madisonsymphony.org/newsub or call (608) 257-3734.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush

Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.                                                           

Here is an especially insightful Q&A that soprano Alyson Cambridge kindly gave to The Ear:

Alyson Cambridge 2

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers, including how you first got involved in music including; when you started music lessons; the Aha! Moment when you knew you wanted to pursue music as a professional career; and your current projects and future plans?

I began voice lessons when I was 12 years old, but had always been musical and theatrical. I studied piano from age 4 to 14 and dabbled in violin and flute along the way.

In truth, I came to classical singing and opera because a neighbor overheard me playing around and impersonating an opera singer as a joke. (There were all types of music playing around my house — everything from classical, to reggae, to Calypso “soca” to jazz to pop — and I imitated all the singers I heard.)

However, my “opera singer voice” wasn’t half  bad and I was encouraged to start voice lessons, which I did. It was my first teacher who encouraged me to begin training classically.

In terms of pursuing it as a career, I think I was honestly split for a long time. I knew I loved singing and performing, but I also really enjoyed sports, my academic studies, being social, sort of “normal” teenage stuff.  As a result, I was a double-degree undergraduate at Oberlin College, earning degrees in both sociology/pre-law and Voice Performance.

My final year at Oberlin, I decided to apply only to the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute for my master’s studies, and said if I didn’t get it I would go to law school.  If I DID get into either school, I decided I’d consider it a sign to give a music career a real shot and five years to “make it.”

I ended up at Curtis, where I only spent one year, and the next year I was in New York, having won the Metropolitan Opera National Council  Auditions, and joining the MET’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.  The next year I made my MET debut … and that’s how it all happened! (Below is a photo of Alyson Cambridge playing Julia  in Jerome Kern’s “Show Boat.”

Alyson Cambdirge as Julia in Show-Boat

You will be singing in “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adam (below top and at the bottom in a YouTube video) and the “Gloria” by Francis Poulenc (below bottom). Talk about “crossover” singing. How does singing classical music help or hinder you in singing jazz, pop and holiday music, and vice-versa?

In truth, I have only seen advantages to singing both classically and “crossover.”  Although I trained classically, I grew up singing and being exposed to pop, musical theater, jazz — you name it.  So, I have a natural affinity for the non-classical, and I also study with musical theater, jazz and crossover coaches as well as my classical/opera teachers and coaches.

I think it’s important to approach all styles with respect and not try to make a style sound only one way or use only one part of your vocal color or stylistic palette.  I love and enjoy both, so I sing both. And, in speaking with audiences following a performance in which I sing both, I find audiences love the variety too.

Adolphe Adam

Francis Poulenc

What is it that attracts you most in each genre? What is the most challenging part of each genre? Do they appeal to different parts of your personality? What do you think of holiday music and holiday concerts?

Both genres offer their own unique set of musical colors, and I like highlighting those when I am singing them.  You may, for example, get a glorious high-soaring melody over a full orchestra in a classical piece. In a traditionally more “crossover” or contemporary piece, you might highlight the intimacy and the nuance in the text and storytelling in the song (like “White Christmas,” for example) in a way you may not be able to do or that is applicable in a piece like Poulenc’s “Gloria.”

I love all kinds of holiday music, and think that’s what’s so great about the concert that Maestro DeMain (below, conducting in a Santa hat in a photo by Bob Rashid) has put together — there really is something for everyone, and it’s ALL wonderful!

DeMain Santa Bob Rashid

You have worked with John DeMain before in George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” and Jerome Kern’s “Showboat.” Do you have anything to say about your experiences with maestro DeMain? Have you performed before in Madison and do you have anything you want to say about performing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and John DeMain in Madison?

I adore John DeMain! When I was asked to do these concerts with him, I was thrilled for yet another opportunity to work with him.  We have visited some of the greatest pieces of American opera and musical theater together over the years, and to come together now on a program that celebrates the most wonderful classical and popular holiday music is something to which I am really looking forward.

This will be my first time performing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Having heard nothing but raves about them from friends, colleagues and Maestro DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad), I can’t wait!

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Do you have any suggestions about how to attract audiences that are more ethnically diverse to classical music?

This is a great question, and an answer that I think comes down to one simple idea: EXPOSURE!  I have yet to meet a child or adult, of any race, gender or socio-economic background who, upon seeing and hearing a live opera or classical concert or performance, no matter how grand or small, who hasn’t been moved, touched or curious to hear or learn more.

I have an upcoming television appearance on Nov. 30 in which I will be the first opera singer ever to be a featured performer on Black Entertainment Television (BET) and Centric TV’s Soul Train Awards. The first broadcast on Sunday is estimated to reach over 4.5 million viewers, and I know that the viewership will not be the “typical” opera audience…and I think it is GREAT, and I can’t WAIT for it to happen!  We taped the show on Nov. 7 in Las Vegas, and the reaction from the 3,000 people in attendance at the show taping was awesome.

An audience filled of primarily R&B, rap, hip hop and soul artists and fans, got to hear and see opera in a whole new light, one that was much different from the stereotypes perpetuated in ads and rooted in outdated ideas of what opera and classical music are. It was a wonderful thing to be a part of, and I think more opportunities and advantages should be taken and can come from exposure like that. (Below is a photo by Richard Termine of Alyson Cambridge singing in George Gershwin’s short jazz opera “Blue Monday.”)

alyson cambridge as Vi in Gershwn's jazz opera Blue CR richard termine

Is there anything else you would like to add or say?

I am appreciative of the curiosity that comes with crossing genres and reaching new audiences, and the conversations that come with it.  It’s having these conversations that I think helps pique interest in new potential listeners and concert-goers.

I am also immensely thankful for my family, without whose constant support and encouragement to follow my slightly less-than-traditional opera singer path has meant more than words can express!  I’ve never been one to “color inside the lines,” and having wonderful colleagues and mentors like John DeMain and so many others, and friends and family who support and respect that is an invaluable thing!

 

 


Classical Music: Wisconsin Public Television will broadcast George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess” – with Madison maestro John DeMain conducting — this Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

October 16, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

A good friend and blog fan writes:

“The three-hour nationwide broadcast of the 2009 San Francisco Opera production will be aired this Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. as part of PBS’ Fall Arts Festival.”

wpt Porgy and Bess 1 SF 2014

The highly praised production features maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) , the longtime music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, which performs an all-Russian program this weekend. DeMain is also the artistic director of the Madison Opera. He frequently guest conducts around the nation and the world.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

DeMain has conducted, to large audiences and critical acclaim, excerpts of “Porgy and Bess” here in Madison. It has long been a specialty of his. In fact, DeMain won a Grammy for his all-black cast in New York City in 1976. He also conducted a production that was broadcast on PBS several years ago by the now–defunct City Opera of New York.

The San Francisco Opera production stars two highly acclaimed singers: bass-baritone Eric Owens as Porgy and soprano Laquita Mitchell as Bess.

wpt porgy ad bess SF 2 2014

But don’t look for a local production of the entire opera.

“When you see the big cast,” this fan explains, “it becomes very clear why we in Madison and the Madison Opera cannot do “Porgy and Bess” in Madison. It is just too big.”

Here are the specifics: “Porgy and Bess” will be broadcast on Friday night at 8-11 p.m. on The Wisconsin Channel (Cable Channel 972). It will be broadcast again on Sunday at 4-7 p.m. on the flagship WPT channel (Channel 21, Cable Channel 600 in HD).

The Ear thinks that it is too bad that the PBS broadcasts won’t be shown on a big screen in some cinema, like the “Met Live in HD” series. It would be fun to see the production in a group.

Here is a link to a preview from Wisconsin Public Television:

http://wptschedule.org/episodes/45345123/The-Gershwins–Porgy-and-Bess-from-San-Francisco-Opera/

Here is a link to a review from a SFGATE website for San Francisco:

http://www.sfgate.com/music/article/TV-review-S-F-Opera-s-Porgy-and-Bess-5819710.php

And here are links to the San Francisco Opera website that also includes a blog that talks about “Porgy and Bess” and also has complete cast information:

http://sfopera.com/Home.aspx

http://sfopera.com/porgy.aspx#media-videos

Finally, to whet your appetite, here is a YouTube video with excerpts of favorite moments from the San Francisco Opera production of “Porgy and Bess”:

 

 

 

 


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra turns this weekend to George Gershwin and his legacy with Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Harold Arlen to close out its 88th season and conductor John DeMain’s 20th anniversary.

April 28, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The big musical event this week is that The Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) will close out its 88th season and music director-conductor John DeMain’s 20th anniversary season.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The MSO will do so by turning to George Gershwin and his legacy with composers Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Harold Arlen in three performances this weekend.

The program includes: the “Catfish Row Suite” from Porgy and Bess”; the “I Got Rhythm” Variations for Piano and Orchestra (at the bottom in a historic YouTube video played by the composer who also introduces the work); a series of Gershwin’s most memorable songs for the stage including “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Our Love is Here to Stay,” “By Strauss,” “Embraceable You,” “S’Wonderful” and “Somebody Loves Me”;  Leonard Bernstein’s Overture and “Glitter and Be Gay” from his opera “Candide” and the Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story” as well as a love duet from the classic musical. Songs include Harold Arlen’s “That Old Black Magic” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind.”

The performances are in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; on Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and on Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $16.50 to $82.50. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141 or go to the box office in person to save service fees or visit:

http://ev12.evenue.net/cgi-bin/ncommerce3/SEGetGroupList?groupCode=MSO&linkID=overture&shopperContext=&caller=&appCode

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Full-time students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush

Of course some purists might carp this program is really a Pops Concert disguised as a serious symphony orchestra fare. But the symphony has seats to fill. And whenever John DeMain programs and conducts the music of Gershwin, the results are spectacular and popular. After all, DeMain (below) won a Grammy for his recording of Gershwin’s operas “Porgy and Bess” and then was featured in a live performance of the same work on PBS’ “Live From Lincoln Center.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

In addition, Gershwin worked closely with composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein (below) on Bernstein’s own operas.

Leonard Bernstein 1971

Says music director and conductor John DeMain: “I’m a big fan of George Gershwin (below) for obvious reasons. For me, he embodies what it means to be an American musician. Trained in the classics, but deeply connected to the music of his country, Gershwin fused American folk music and jazz into a concert format that continues to thrill and resonate with audiences all over the world to this present day. “Porgy and Bess” is such a monumental achievement in this regard as well. It focuses on our African-American culture, and uses the music of spirituals and jazz to form its leitmotifs. It is again universal, and distinctly American.

DeMain adds: “Actually, what composer wasn’t influenced by Gershwin? At our May concert there isn’t remotely enough time to do a survey of all who came under Gershwin’s direct or indirect influence, but Harold Arlen, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim (below bottom, inane NPR photo) were definitely among those who carried on the music theater tradition that Gershwin was such a master at.”

gershwin with pipe

stephen-sondheim-aa58e636211efdc134e6540533fff5cc52c73909-s6-c30

Several other reasons add to the appeal.

Garrick Olsen (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) is a young and very promising local pianist who won the Bolz Young Artist Competition, when, broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio, he performed Maurice Ravel’s  difficult Piano Concerto for the Left Hand with the MSO in the Final Forte competition. He will also compete in the upcoming Piano Arts Competition in Milwaukee.

Garrick Olsen in tux by Greg Anderson

Soprano Emily Birsan, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music before going into the training program at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. She has been appearing in a lot of local production from University Opera and Candid Concert Opera and the Madison Opera to the Middleton Community Orchestra

Emily Birsan less tarty 2 NoCredit

Mezzo-soprano Karen Olivo (below top) is a Tony Award-winning singer and actor who recently relocated to Madison.

Karen Olivo with Tony Award.jpg

And baritone Ron Raines (below bottom) has a lot buzz associated with him.

ron raines

Here is a link to the general MSO website with more information about the soloists and the program as well as audio samples of the repertoire:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/gershwin

And here is a link to comprehensive program notes by MSO trombonist and University of Whitewater professor J. Michael Allsen:

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1314/8.May14.html

Major funding for this concert is provided by an anonymous friend and BMO Private Bank. Additional Funds are provided by Carla and Fernando Alvarado, Capitol Lakes, Mildred and Marv Conney, Terry Haller, J.P. Cullen and Sons, Inc., Ann Lindsey and Charles Snowdon, Tom and Nancy Mohs, and the Wisconsin Arts Board.

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Classical music Q&A: University of Wisconsin conductor James Smith discusses the program of Beethoven, Stravinsky and Sibelius that the UW Symphony Orchestra will perform at a FREE concert this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Also, UW soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn will sing Mahler songs in a FREE concert Thursday afternoon at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, plus a WORT-FM show on Thursday morning highlights the Madison Symphony Orchestra and its music director John DeMain.

September 25, 2013
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TWO ALERTS: On this Thursday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, UW-Madison dramatic soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn (below) —  filling in for soprano Julia Faulkner, who is on a leave-of-absence this academic year — will make her local debut. The FREE concert features her singing Gustav Mahler‘s moving “Rueckert Songs” with UW pianist Martha Fischer. It is part of the Wisconsin Science Festival that combines science lectures and live classical music  in the SoundWaves program that is organized and directed by UW horn professor Daniel Grabois. For more information, visit the outstanding “Fanfare” blog at the UW School of Music: Here is a link:

 http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/soundwaves9-26-2013/

And here are links to more stories about Elizabeth Hagedorn:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/classical-music-wisconsin-born-and-vienna-based-dramatic-soprano-elizabeth-hagedorn-will-replace-julia-faulkner-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-for-the-next-school-year-but-faulkners/

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/hagedorn/

Elizabeth Hagedorn 1

ALSO: Blog friend and radio host Rich Samuels (below) writes: “On this Thursday morning, Sept. 26, beginning at 7:08 a.m. on my weekly show “Anything Goes” that is broadcast from 5-8 a.m. on WORT 89.9 FM. I’ll be airing an interview I recently recorded with the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s music director John DeMain (the MSO’s 2013-2914 concert season begins, of course, on this Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon.

“Maestro DeMain talks about his transition from the Houston Grand Opera to the Madison Symphony Orchestra and about the artistic state of the orchestra as he begins his 20th season on the podium.

“Music for the segment will include selections from DeMain’s 1996 Grammy award-winning recording the Houston Grand Opera made when its production of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” was playing Broadway.

“Half the segment deals with the upcoming season and some of the younger soloists who will be heard between now and next May. We’ll hear performances by Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth, violinist Augustin Hadelich, soprano Emily Birsan and the young Madison pianist Garrick Olsen (not to be confused with pianist Garrick Ohlsson).”

Rich Samuels

By Jacob Stockinger

This is the week of orchestral season debuts. Yesterday, The Ear spotlighted the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s concerts this weekend.

But at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on this Sunday evening — on what The Ear calls “Symphony Sunday” with performances by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the UW Symphony Orchestra and the Edgewood College Chamber Orchestra — the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform a FREE concert under its longtime director James Smith, who also directs the UW Chamber Orchestra and is the music director of University Opera.

Smith recently granted The Ear an email Q&A about the concert:

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

You programmed “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky (below) because this is the centennial year of its world premiere. How important is that work in the symphonic repertoire and to music history in general?

It is often cited as a landmark work in all respects.  Several faculty members mentioned that we ought to perform it so that the students can appreciate its impact.  At the time, 1913, the harmonies, the savage rhythms and the choreography were all quite jolting to the Paris audiences.

Right from the start, the bassoon explores a new range for the instrument as it sets the stage for the pagan ritual ahead.

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

How challenging technically is the “Rite of Spring” in general to perform but especially for UW undergraduate students? What makes it such a difficult work?

It is difficult on all levels: rhythmic, technical and tessitura (the comfort range of notes for a specific kind of voice or instrument).. We have performed works by Bohuslav Martinu, Alban Berg, Anton Webern and Gustav Mahler who also posed special difficulties. The students are working very hard outside of the rehearsals so that we can all experience this exciting work. (Below is a photo of the UW Symphony Orchestra performing with the UW Choral Union plus a link to a video by Kathy Esposito, concert manager and public relations director at the UW School of Music, of the UW Symphony Orchestra and conductor James Smith rehearsing “The Rite of Spring” that Esposito posted on Facebook.)

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=632954003411618

UW Symphony w choral-union2

Why did you choose the “Egmont” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven to go with this program? Are there special thematic or pedagogical reasons?

Simple answer:  It is a great way to start a program, and an opportunity for my graduate assistant to be introduced to the audience.  His name is Kyle Knox (below).  He is also an accomplished clarinetist who is the assistant principal clarinetist of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Kyle Knox

The Third Symphony is not one of the most famous or popular symphonies by Jean Sibelius (below). Why did you choose to program it and what should audience members listen for or pay attention to?

Good question. After the rather romantic and somewhat conventional First and Second Symphonies, the Third Symphony loses much of the bombast and announces a more austere and restless path. As my teacher one commented, Sibelius became more and more “north” in style and mood: austere and quixotic. (The first movement can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom as performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.)

sibelius


Classical music news: Everyone loves a Gershwin tune. That’s why George Gershwin is the go-to composer when symphony orchestras want to drum up attendance and close seasons on a high note.

May 18, 2012
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

 “You know, it is going to be hard to get good seats. This concert is really popular and has very sold well,” said the Overture Center’s box office agent when I went to exchange tickets to last weekend’s all-Gershwin concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra from Sunday afternoon to Friday night.

And she was right.

So I ended up sitting pretty close to the stage, with a somewhat limited vision of the soloists and especially of the full orchestra and chorus.

But one look backwards over my shoulder, out into beautiful Overture Hall, and I saw how packed the 2,200-seat hall was – and it was really packed. That is surely an enviable way to end a season on a high note.

Not that it was unexpected.

By now we all should know that MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below) has a special talent for Gershwin. He is closely identified with the opera “Porgy and Bess.” His recording of it won a Grammy, and he has conducted it some 400 times all over the country, including at the City Opera in New York City from which it was broadcast on PBS’ “Great Performances.”

While I don’t have exact attendance figures, it sure seems like houses were very good, even if the Sunday performance was a little under-attended because of Mother’s Day. One MSO player even commented that it was such a pleasure to play before a big and appreciative audience. So much for the terrific commercial success of closing out the season.

So artistically, how did the MSO do?

Well as you will see below, the critics, including The Ear, are pretty much unanimous in their judgments: the all-Gershwin concert was great artistic success for the MSO and DeMain as well as for the soloists and Madison Symphony Chorus.

How could it be otherwise?

That’s why Venezuelan-born and –trained superstar maestro Gustavo Dudamel (below) and the Los Angeles Philharmonic did a Hi-Def international satellite broadcast of Gershwin. Why Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony did one. Why Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic did an all-Gershwin broadcast for New Year’s Eve on PBS’ “Live From Lincoln Center.” And it also why the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, under Andrew Sewell, opened this past season with Gershwin’s  “Rhapsody in Blue” with the young Russian virtuoso pianist Ilya Yakushev as the soloist.

So here is how the MSO’s all-Gershwin fete sounded to The Ear.

The orchestra and Madison Symphony Chorus performed superbly and tightly and with all the tonal color and dance-like, bluesy rhythms that Gershwin demands, right down to the French taxi horns and Cuban percussion. They sounded balanced with convincing dynamics and a big sound.

The soloists were, for the most part, terrific and absolutely first-rate. DeMain knows how to pick singers, and they brought off the authentic Gershwin sound with infectious conviction. This music left you pleased, happy and satisfied. George Gershwin’s music seems one of the few things that Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, can agree on these days.

I guess that’s good.

The first half of the concert was devoted to the popular shorter pieces: the “Cuban” Overture, “An American in Paris” and “Rhapsody in Blue.” The entire second half was devoted to an extremely well-constructed concert version, by orchestrator and arranger Richard Russell Bennett (below), of “Porgy and Bess” that reduced the four-hour opera to 40 minutes.

The singers, soprano Laquita Mitchell (below top) and baritone Michael Redding (below bottom), both did an outstanding job with the 40-minute concert version of the 4-hour opera “Porgy and Bess.” Redding especially brought out the characters of the roles he sang. He projected right off the stage and was rewarded with loud cheers from the audience.

My biggest disappointment – and it wasn’t all that big– came in the “Rhapsody in Blue.” Dressed fittingly in a bright blue gown, pianist Martina Filjak (below) played the Rhapsody well. She sure has chops, but great interpretations require more than great chops. I found her technique too prominent. She seemed to bang it out at times when it could have used a subtler, softer and more seductive approach. This Gershwin work is more French than Russian, more Ravel than Rachmaninoff. She should listen to Oscar Levant’s old recording.

But what I am really left with is how my overall impression of Gershwin, to whom I previously had paid only passing attention, took shape.

I loved the Gershwin concert while I was in it. But as soon as I left it, I found the music did not stick with me except for some tunes and some lyrics. And it did not make me ask questions or leave me wanting more.

And that, in turn, tells me why Gershwin is so popular.

Gershwin (below), who died prematurely of a brain tumor at 38, was clearly a Tin Pan Alley composer. He composed some dozen Broadway musicals before he even took up writing music for the concert hall. And that experience shows.

There is an ease and naturalness about listening to a Gershwin tune. When the famous Burton Lane song asks “I like a Gershwin tune, how about you?” who could possibly answer “Well, I don’t.” Gershwin’s songs are irresistible. They watch over you.

But if I compare the “Rhapsody in Blue” to, say, Beethoven’s Concerto No. 4 or Schumann’s Piano Concerto or Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no. 3, I have no problem knowing which one I would and wouldn’t want to hear repeatedly, which one lacks development and depth, and which one has them.

The “Rhapsody in Blue” is engaging and exciting while it lasts, but then it is over. On the other hand, the other more substantial works may not be as easily digestible, but their nourishment is more sustaining and they continue to yield up insights on repeated hearings.

It’s not that Gershwin is a crossover or superficial composer, even though he is used in a lot of ads. As DeMain explained in his illuminating comments before the performances, Gershwin does indeed define an identifiably American sound. But let’s be honest:  Gershwin’s American sound is closer to song masters George M. Cohan, Cole Porter and Jerome Kern than to composers Charles Ives and Aaron Copland.

You can take Gershwin (below) out of Broadway. But, like the music of Leonard Bernstein – a Gershwin champion and DeMain mentor whose greatest and most beloved is theater music from “West Wide Story” and “Candide” – you can’t take Broadway out of Gershwin. And Broadway is nothing, if not popular.

Little wonder that we remember “An American in Paris” from Gene Kelly’s Hollywood choreography. And little wonder that even “Porgy and Bess,” a genuinely sincere attempt at serious concert music, got treated this last year to a controversial ADD makeover for today’s Broadway.

This love of Gershwin is here to stay.

What did others think?

Here is John W. Barker’s review for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=36737

Here is a Lindsay Christians’ review for 77 Square, The Capital Times and the Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/arts_and_theatre/reviews/travel-from-cuba-to-porgy-s-wharf-with-mso-s/article_702d9b84-9c59-11e1-a1d2-0019bb2963f4.html

Here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger for Madison Magazine and his blog “Classically Speaking”:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/May-2012/Madison-Symphony-Season-Closes-with-Gobs-of-Gershwin/index.php

Here is a review by Bill Wineke for WISC-TV and Channel3000.com:

http://www.channel3000.com/entertainment/Review-Concert-shows-why-we-love-Gershwin-tunes/-/1628/13193028/-/2qgj2ez/-/index.html


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