The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: UW-Madison pianist Jessica Johnson celebrates International Women’s Day this Friday night with a FREE recital of all-female composers and a special keyboard for smaller hands

March 6, 2019
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features Ukrainian pianist Yana Avedyan in solo works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Sergei Prokofiev and Franz Liszt. The program will include music from her upcoming appearance at Carnegie Hall. The musicale runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

March is Women’s History Month, and this Friday is International Women’s Day.

To mark the latter occasion, Jessica Johnson, who teaches piano and piano pedagogy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, where she has won an award for distinguished teaching, will perform a program of all-women composers.

The FREE recital is this Friday night, March 8, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. Johnson (below, in a photo by M.P. King for The Wisconsin State Journal) will perform works from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, pairing works with interesting connections.

Here is what Johnson has to say about the program:

Dreaming, Op. 15, No. 3, by Amy Beach (below top) and The Currents by Sarah Kirkland Snider (below bottom) both feature beautiful lyricism and long-line phrases inspired by poetry.

“2019 is the bicentennial celebration of Clara Schumann’s birth, so I wanted to honor her and her tremendous legacy. Her Romance, Op. 11, No. 1, was composed in 1839 in the midst of the difficult year when Clara (below) was separated from her beloved Robert. (You can hear the Romance in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“Bolts of Loving Thunder by Missy Mazola (below) was written in 2013 for pianist Emanuel Ax as a piece that would appear on a program of works by Brahms. Mazzoli alludes to the romantic, stormy side of “pre-beard” Brahms, with exuberant floating melodies, hand crossings and dense layers of chords.

“Troubled Water (1967) by Margaret Bonds (below) is based on the spiritual “Wade in the Water,” with hints of blues, jazz and gospel traditions throughout.

“Azuretta (2000) by Chicago-based composer, Regina Harris Baiocchi (below) describes Azuretta as a musical reaction to a debilitating stroke Dr. Hale Smith, her former composition teacher, suffered in 2000. The work honors his incredible legacy by mixing classical and jazz idioms.

“Germaine Tailleferre (below), the only female member of Les Six, the group of early 20th-century French composers, wrote her beautiful Reverie in 1964 as an homage to Debussy’s “Homage à Rameau” from Images, Book I.

“Preludes (2002) by Elena Ruehr (below) draw inspiration from Debussy’s Preludes, mimimalism and Romantic piano music.

“Also, as an advocate for the adoption of the Donison-Steinbuhler Standard — which offers alternatively sized piano keyboards for small-handed pianists  — I will perform on the Steinbuhler DS 5.5 ™ (“7/8”) piano keyboard.

“By performing on a keyboard that better fits my hands — studies suggest that the conventional keyboard is too large for 87% of women — and featuring works by female composers who are typically underrepresented in concert programming, I hope to bring awareness to gender biases that still exist in classical music.

“For more information about both me and the smaller keyboard, go to the following story by Gayle Worland in The Wisconsin State Journal:

https://madison.com/wsj/entertainment/music/a-smaller-piano-for-bigger-artistry/article_38b80090-be0f-5050-9862-32c3c36c6930.html


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Classical music: A play about Sergei Rachmaninoff’s composing block sounds so good, The Ear wants to see it staged in Madison.

July 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

It is a famous story about writer’s block –- or, in this case, composer’s block.

The young Russian Romantic composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (below, 1873-1943) was so devastated by bad reviews of his first symphony in 1897 that he fell into a deep depression and couldn’t compose music for three years.

rachmaninoffyoung

But then he sought the help of a hypnotherapist Nikolai Dahl who kept repeating, “You will write a great piano concerto.”

And eventually he did.

Out of those sessions came Rachmaninoff’s popular Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. (You can hear the concerto in a YouTube video that features pianist Yuja Wang at the bottom.)

Now that legendary incident has been depicted in a new play called “Preludes.”

Here is a review by critic Ben Brantley that appeared in The New York Times.

It makes The Ear hope that one of the local theater companies will produce it, much as they did with the play about music education called “Master Class,” written by famed playwright Terrence McNally about the temperamental opera diva Maria Callas and some students.

“Preludes” is a chamber drama in which actors play multiple parts, many of the other famous artistic figures of the day such as the singer Fyodor Chaliapin (below right, played by Joseph Keckler in a photo by Tina Fineberg for The New York Times) and the writer-playwright Anton Chekhov.

Rachmaninoff and Chaliapin Tina Fineberg NYT

It also involves two Rachmaninoffs (below in a photo by Tina Fineberg for The New York Times): one, called Rach, is the composer, portrayed by Gabriel Ebert, left; the other, called Rachmaninoff, is the pianist played by Or Matias.

Rac and Rachmaninoff Tina Fineberg NYT

Those of us who are not creative artists find it endlessly fascinating to try to get inside the head of important artistic figures.

Moreover, the drama gets a rave review that whets one’s appetite to see this play about a composer who was once dismissed as hopelessly sentimental but whose gorgeously melodic and stirringly harmonic music has had remarkable staying power and appeal – and continues to do so.

See what you think and whether the play stimulates your own curiosity.

Here is a link to the review:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/16/theater/review-preludes-shows-rachmaninoff-failed-by-his-muse-and-killing-time.html?_r=0


Classical music: Edgewood College will offer a mixed faculty concert on this Sunday afternoon. Plus, the First Unitarian Society’s music director Dan Broner performs piano music by Rachmaninoff and Kabalevsky in a FREE recital at noon on Friday.

February 4, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature pianist and FUS music director Dan Broner (below) performing music by Sergei Rachmaninoff (Preludes, Op. 32, Nos. 10 and 12) and Dmitri Kabalevsky (Sonata No. 3).

Dan Broner BIG mug

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m., four Edgewood College music faculty members will present “A Little of This, A Little of That.” It is a collaborative recital of solo works and chamber works.

The concert will take place in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive on the Edgewood campus.

Edgewood College 1000

The event features mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson (below top), guitarist Nathan Wysock (below middle), saxophonist Daniel Wallach, and violinist Laura Burns (below bottom), along with staff pianist Susan Goeres.  Special guest performers include Michael Allen, cello, Aaron Johnson, piano, Jacob Richie, bass, Gregory Hinz, percussion, and Michelle Wallach, soprano.

Kathleen Otterson 2

NathanWysock

- Laura Burns CR Brynn Bruijn

Included on the program are “Mountain Songs” by Robert Beaser, which, features Burns and Wysock and excerpts of which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom; arias by George Frideric Handel performed by Otterson, Burns, Goeres and Allen; “Lunar Beauty” by Geoffrey Burgon, which features Otterson and Wysock; a jazz set performed by Wallach.  The program concludes with an ensemble performance of Renaissance Scottish Dances by Peter Maxwell Davies.

Admission is $7, and will benefit music scholarships; FREE with an Edgewood College ID.


Classical music: Con Vivo — Music With Life — will perform chamber music by Mozart, Gershwin, Prokofiev, Bruch and others at the Stoughton Opera House this Sunday afternoon – BEFORE kickoff time for Super Bowl XLIX.

January 29, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the outstanding local chamber music group “Con Vivo” (Music With Life), which made its Carnegie Hall debut last season, has sent the following word:

Hello Friends,

The Madison-based chamber music ensemble con vivo! … music with life (below) invites you to our debut performance at the Stoughton Opera House on this Sunday afternoon, Feb. 1, at 3 p.m.

Con Vivo core musicians

The concert will feature music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, George Gershwin, Sergei Prokofiev, Max Bruch and John Williams.

The musicians in Con Vivo are professionals who often play in other noted ensembles including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

The beautifully restored Stoughton Opera House (below, from the outside and inside) is located at 381 E. Main St. Stoughton. For more information, call (608) 877-4400.

Stoughton Opera House ext

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

Stoughton Opera House 2

You can get tickets at the door or by visiting www.stoughtonoperahouse.com The prices are $20 for regular admission and $10 for an obstructed view.

It’s sad that the Packers aren’t playing in Super Bowl XLIX — that’s 49 to normal people — but if you intend to watch the big game anyway, come spend your pre-game with us. You will be home in time for the kick-off!

We hope to see you this Sunday.

Here is the complete program:

Sergei Prokofiev: Overture on Hebrew Themes for piano, string quartet and clarinet, Op. 34

Max Bruch: Romance for Viola and Piano, Op. 85

Jay Ungar: “Ashokan Farewell for violin and piano. (It was famously used in the Ken Burns documentary ‘The Civil War.” You can hear it in a lovely and moving YouTube video that features the composer at the bottom.)

John Williams: Air and Simple Gifts for violin, cello, clarinet and piano

INTERMISSION

George Gershwin: Preludes for solo piano

Andante con moto e poco rubato

Allegro ben ritmato e deciso

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet, KV 581

Allegro, Andante, Menuetto, Rondo


Classical music: Trevor Stephenson will teach a class on the piano music of Claude Debussy in January and February. The deadline to register is Jan. 20.

January 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Our good friend Trevor Stephenson — who is usually an eloquent and humorous advocate of early music as a keyboardist who founded and directs the Madison Bach Musicians — will be offering a class at his home-studio about the piano music of the early 20th-century French Impressionist composer Claude Debussy (below).

Claude Debussy 1

The class will take on four Monday evenings: January 26, February 2, 16 and 23 from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Those who know Trevor Stephenson (below top) know that he is an articulate and witty explainer, a fine teacher who can reach listeners on all levels. And he will use a 19th-century piano that is close to the kind the Debussy himself used (below bottom).

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

Stephenson ca 1850 English parlor grand

TOPICS include:

. Debussy’s life and musical influences

. Construction and tonal qualities of the 19th-century piano

. Modes, whole-tone scales, harmonic language, tonality

. Touch, pedaling, sonority

. Fingering approaches

. Programmatic titling, extra-musical influences, poetry and art

REPERTOIRE includes:

. Suite Bergamasque (with Clair de Lune), Preludes Book II and Children’s Corner Suite

. Two Arabesques, Reverie and Estampes (or “Prints,” heard at the bottom in a YouTube video of a live performance by the magical and great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter in 1977 in Salzburg, Austria.)

The course is geared for those with a reading knowledge of music.

The classes will be given at Trevor Stephenson’s home studio (below). It is located at 5729 Forsythia Place, Madison WI 53705 on Madison’s west side.

Schubert house concert

Enrollment for the course is $150.

Please register by January 20, 2015 if you’d like to attend. Email is: trevor@trevorstephenson.com

 


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