The Well-Tempered Ear

Just Bach free concert series seeks Interim Co-Artistic Director. Apply by July 5

June 23, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about an interim job at Just Bach:

Do you love the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below)? 

Would you love to perform it every month in one of the most beautiful churches (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) in Madison?

Are you a professional instrumentalist with training and experience in period performance practice?

Do you have strong organizational skills?

If the answer to all these questions is yes, then Just Bach needs you!

Because Co-Artistic Director Marika Fischer Hoyt (below) will leave on a sabbatical starting in November, Just Bach is looking for an instrumentalist to join the Artistic Team. (You can check out the typical format by using the search engine on this blog or going to Just Bach’s Facebook page or YouTube Channel.)

 

The popular monthly concert series, which made it to the final round of the 2021 “Best of Madison” awards, seeks an Interim Artistic Co-Director for its upcoming fourth season.

POSITION SUMMARY

The Interim Artistic Co-Director works with the Just Bach team and the staff at Luther Memorial Church to program, produce, promote and perform monthly Bach concerts (below) from September through May.

The Interim Co-Artistic Director helps finalize the programming, contract any remaining needed players, schedule rehearsals and performances, perform in the concerts as needed, and upload the concert video to the Just Bach YouTube channel.

The Co-Artistic Director devotes about 4 hours per month to administrative tasks, on a volunteer basis.

The Co-Artistic Director rehearses and performs as needed in the monthly concerts — and is paid $100 per concert. (You can hear and see the closing concert of this past season in the YouTube video at the bottom. Click on Show More to see other instruments, players, singers and the program.)

The current Artistic Team will provide training for this position, and will be available for assistance once the season begins.

A detailed job description is available at:: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1CDis-RSY5FUnfUGCBvYunWZ1fR4EtyfzSo3xYiMyjUs/edit#

For more information, please contact and apply to Just Bach at: justbachseries@gmail.com

APPLICATION ARE DUE BY JULY 5.


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Just Bach concludes its season this Wednesday morning with highlights of the past season

May 18, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about this season’s final Just Bach online concert this Wednesday:

Greetings from Just Bach!

We hope this finds you all well, enjoying the spring, and ready to experience more of the timeless beauty of Bach’s music.

Our May concert features musical highlights from this extraordinary past season.

The complete program listing is below. It is organized in two parts, corresponding to the two semesters.

Indoor singing was risky during the pandemic, so the bulk of our programming was instrumental, with strings and keyboard for the most part (below in a photo by Barry Lewis).

The Sinfonia from the Christmas Oratorio was recorded at St. Matthias Episcopal Church in Waukesha, because of the Dane County Emergency Order prohibiting indoor gatherings in November and December during the pandemic.

We were back at Luther Memorial Church for the January concert, and by April we were able to include woodwinds (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis)

You can view the May concert here, starting at 8 a.m. this Wednesday, May 19, and then staying available indefinitely:  https://justbach.org/concerts/

Please join us for a half-hour live Zoom post-concert reception on Wednesday night, May 19, at 7 p.m. Chat with the performers by following the link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85144014343?pwd=RmVURXBBU1hMcloyalJhbUdCQ1NmQT09

Viewing the concerts is FREE, but we ask those who are able, to help us pay our musicians by making a tax-deductible donation at: https://justbach.org/donate

Just Bach will take a break for the summer, and concerts will resume in September.

Here is the May program:

• Welcome

Part I – Fall Semester

• Cantata 146: Sinfonia

• Violin Sonata, BWV 1001: movement 4 Presto

• Double Violin Concerto: movement 3 Allegro (in the YouTube video, with an animated graphic, at the bottom)

• Christmas Oratorio, Part II: Sinfonia

• Christmas Oratorio: Chorale “Ich steh’ an deiner Krippen hier” (I stand here by your crib)

Part II – Spring Semester

• Cantata 35: Sinfonia

• Trio Sonata, BWV 526: movement 2 Largo

• Violin Sonata, BWV 1019: movement 5 Allegro 

• Flute Sonata BWV 1034: movement 1 Adagio ma non tanto

• Cantata 42: Sinfonia

• Cantata 149: Chorale “Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein” (O Lord, let your dear little angel)

Performers are: Kangwon Kim, Christine Hauptly Annin, Leanne League, Xavier Pleindoux, Nathan Giglierano and Aaron Yarmel, violin; Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola; Charlie Rasmussen and Lindsey Crabb, cello; Linda Pereksta and Monica Steger, traverse flute; Marc Vallon, bassoon; Grammy-winner Sarah Brailey, soprano; John Chappell Stowe and Jason Moy, harpsichord; Mark Brampton Smith, organ; and Bruce Bengston, organ.

Dave Parminter is the videographer and Barry Lewis is the photographer.

For more information, go to:

https://justbach.org

facebook.org/JustBachSeries

youtube.com/channel/UCcyVFEVsJwklHAx9riqSkXQ


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NPR names relevant classical albums in a musical Diary of the Plague Year of the pandemic, racial protests, wildfires and hurricanes

December 29, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

For an unusual and difficult year, NPR (National Public Radio) and critic Tom Huizenga have found a new and unusual way to recommend this past year’s top classical music recordings.

On the  “Deceptive Cadence” blog for NPR, Huizenga kept a personal month-by-month diary of “music and mayhem.”

For last February, for example, this ancient image of The Dance of Death inspired contemporary composer Thomas Adès to compose his own “Totentanz” or Dance of Death. (You can hear an excerpt from the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Some of the thematically-related music is modern or contemporary, some of it is from the Baroque or Classical era.

In June, as protests against the death of George Floyd (below top) flared up and spread worldwide, NPR names a recording of the “Negro Folk Symphony” by African-American composers William Dawson and Ulysses Kay (below bottom), thereby helping to rediscover Black composers whose works have been overlooked and neglected in the concert hall and the recording studio.

Devastating wildfires on the West Coast, Presidential impeachment and hurricanes on the Gulf Coast also found their way into the choices of music to listen to.

It is an unusual approach, but The Ear thinks it works.

See and hear for yourself by going to the sonic diary and listening to the samples provided.

Here is a link to the NPR album diary: https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/12/21/947149286/music-and-mayhem-a-diary-of-classical-albums-for-a-troubled-2020

But many roads, if not all, lead to Rome, as they say.

What is also interesting is that a number of the NPR choices overlap with ones listed by music critics of The New York Times as the 25 best classical albums of 2020.

Some choices also are found on the list of the nominations for the Grammy Awards that will be given out at the end of January.

In other words, the NPR diary can also serve as yet another holiday gift guide if you have gift cards or money to buy some new and notable CDs, and are looking for recommendations.

Here is a link to the Times’ choices, which you can also find with commentary and a local angle, in yesterday’s blog post: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/17/arts/music/best-classical-music.html

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/12/27/the-new-york-times-names-the-top-25-classical-recordings-of-2020-and-includes-sample-tracks/

And here is a list to the Grammy nominations: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/11/28/for-holiday-shopping-and-gift-giving-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-63rd-grammy-awards-in-2021/

What do you think of the NPR musical diary of the plague year?

Do you find it informative? Accurate? Interesting? Useful?

Would you have different choices of music to express the traumatic events of the past year?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus plus guest artists premiere a virtual online Christmas concert this Wednesday night. It runs through Dec. 31. Plus, PBS Wisconsin will rebroadcast the 2018 holiday concert on Sunday, Dec. 20.

December 15, 2020
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ALERT: Tomorrow — Wednesday, Dec. 16 — Wisconsin Public Radio will mark the 250th birth of Ludwig van Beethoven. The day’s programming is sure to feature many of the composer’s most popular works as well as some neglected ones. Which Beethoven work most moves you? Leave word in the Comment section.

By Jacob Stockinger

This Wednesday night, Dec. 16, at 7:30 p.m., the Madison Symphony Orchestra will premiere its FREE virtual and online holiday concert of “A Madison Symphony Christmas.”

This special new one-hour concert production will feature vocalists Kyle Ketelsen and Emily Secor; the Madison Symphony Chorus; the Madison Youth Choirs; and the Mt. Zion Gospel Ensemble (below), with performances and accompaniment by John DeMain and Greg Zelek on piano and the Overture Concert Organ, respectively.

This concert is offered for FREE upon registration and will be available for viewing through Dec. 31, 2020.



Featured music includes Joy to the World, Peace Carol, O Holy Night, Sleigh Ride, The Christmas Song, Winter Wonderland, Christmas Hope and more — plus the traditional sing-along where you can join the MSO singing to a medley of favorites from your home.

To register and find out more information about the individual and group performers (below), go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/a-virtual-madison-symphony-christmas-2020/

In addition, you can relive the 2018 Madison Symphony Christmas concert on Sunday, Dec. 20, at 4 p.m. on your local PBS Wisconsin station.

For more information about the one-hour program and performers, go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/a-madison-symphony-christmas-2018-re-broadcast/


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Pianist Jeremy Denk combines first-rate playing with innovative programs. He performs a virtual online recital this Friday night for the Wisconsin Union Theater

December 9, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Jeremy Denk (below) is not only one of the top pianists on the concert stage today. He is also one of the most interesting and thoughtful pianists when it comes to original, innovative and eclectic programming.

Denk will display his talents again when he performs his third solo recital in Madison this Friday night, Dec. 11, for the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The concert of music by Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms and Missy Mazzoli is at 7:30 p.m. and will be preceded by a public Q&A at 7 p.m. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, both the discussion and the concert will be virtual and online.

Access to the online posting is $20 for the general public, $17 for Wisconsin Union members, and $10 for students.

Denk’s performance, which is part of the Theater’s 101st Annual Concert Series, will include “Papillons” (Butterflies), Op. 2, by Robert Schumann; Three Romances, Op. 21, by Clara Schumann; “Bolts of Loving Thunder” by the contemporary American composer Missy Mazzoli (below); and Four Pieces for Piano, Op. 119, by Johannes Brahms. (You can hear Denk play the lyrically introspective first intermezzo of Brahms’ late Op. 119 in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

To purchase tickets to Denk’s performance, visit https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/jeremy-denk/

Ticket buyers will receive an email from the box office approximately 2 hours before the event begins that will contain their link to view the performance. Anyone who purchases a ticket within 2 hours of the event’s start time will receive their email within 15 minutes of purchase. 

To The Ear, Denk’s well-planned and fascinating program seems like a probing contrast-and-compare, narrative exploration of the musical styles and close personal relationships – a kind of love triangle — between Robert and Clara Schumann (below top); between Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms, whom Robert Schumann championed; and between Brahms and Clara Schumann, who also championed Brahms (below bottom) but rejected him as a lover and suitor after the premature death of her husband Robert.

One of America’s foremost pianists, Denk is a winner of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, and the Avery Fisher Prize, and was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In the United States, Denk has performed with the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra and frequently performs at Carnegie Hall. Internationally, he has toured with the world-famous Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and performed at Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms. 

Denk’s talents include writing about music. Some of his stories about music have been featured on the front page of The New York Times Book Review as well as in The New Yorker, The New Republic and The Guardian. Many of those writings form the basis for a forthcoming book.

His passion for composing both music and writing compositions is evident in his music-based blog “Think Denk” — “to think” in German is “denizen” — which dates back to 2005.

“Jeremy Denk is one of the greatest pianists of our generation,” says WUT director Elizabeth Snodgrass. “While many pianists specialize in a particular period or composer, Jeremy is a musical omnivore whose wide-ranging interests span centuries and styles, and he is exceptional at playing all of them. As The New York Times said, he is  ‘a pianist you want to hear no matter what he performs.’” 

Proof of that can be found in the program “c. 1300-c. 2000” he toured with and recorded last year for Nonesuch, which features a sampling tour of 700 years of keyboard compositions.

Said a critic for the Boston Globe: “Denk has “an unerring sense of the music’s dramatic structure and a great actor’s intuition for timing.” 


This performance was made possible by the David and Kato Perlman Chamber Music Endowment Fund.

Learn more about Jeremy Denk at: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Website

For more information and a video clip of Denk playing different Brahms, go to: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/jeremy-denk/

 


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The Madison Symphony Orchestra cancels the remaining orchestra and organ concerts of the 2020-21 season and postpones its Beethoven celebration until next season

December 2, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) has canceled the remaining orchestral and organ concerts of the 2020-21 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A free online performance of “A Virtual Madison Symphony Christmas” will take place on Dec. 16 and stay posted through Dec. 31. For more information about the program and performers, plus a link to register and to hear that performance, go to: https://madisonsymphony.org

Plans for others online events – free or paid – have not been announced, although the MSO seems to be considering such steps. It also suggests that the 2021-22 season will be a postponed version of the same concerts planned this season to celebrate the Beethoven Year.

Here is the email from executive director Richard H. Mackie that the MSO sent out Monday:

Dear Friends of the Madison Symphony Orchestra,

As you know, the continuing COVID-19 crisis has curtailed planned performances of orchestras all over the world.

As more and more orchestras face the almost certain prospect that well-attended, full-orchestra concerts indoors will not be possible for the foreseeable future, at least until a successful vaccination program has brought COVID-19 under control, the remainder of many symphony concert seasons across America are now being cancelled
.

We have previously cancelled our live, main stage concerts and education performances through January 2021 due to public health restrictions and the closure of Overture Hall.

Public Health Madison and Dane County restrictions continue to prohibit publicly attended indoor concerts. As a consequence, we have faced a painful decision in recent months regarding the fate of the rest of our 2020–2021 season.

I am grieved to announce that, under the present conditions — which offer no reasonable prospect of abatement until the summer, at least — we deem it an unfortunate necessity to cancel all previously scheduled Madison Symphony Orchestra concerts, Education and Community Engagement Programs, and Overture Concert Organ performances through May 2021.

Our June 2021 Concert on the Green remains on our schedule at this time.

We are prepared to issue refunds to our subscribers as we did in the fall. We will be communicating directly with our subscribers to provide options, including the option to donate the value of their tickets.

As we consider alternative programming opportunities for the spring, we will continue to welcome donations to our Musicians’ Relief Fund.

When we planned a joyous celebration of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday, we could scarcely have imagined the devastation of the coronavirus in almost every aspect of our lives. But we are finding solace in successfully rescheduling this epic season just one year hence.

The emerging promise of vaccine development has rekindled our enthusiasm for making great music on a grand scale for our community with our Beethoven celebration. We all look forward to a new beginning with John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) and the orchestra in September 2021. (You can hear the original promotional preview in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Please stay tuned for some exciting news about next season. In the meantime, should there be a breakthrough opportunity to restore any of the cancelled orchestra or organ concerts, or educational and community services to the schedule, we will be prepared to do so.

We are committed to helping our orchestra and keeping great music alive in Madison. Thank you for your interest and continuing support.

Sincerely,

Richard H. Mackie, Executive Director

 


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It’s Thanksgiving Day. Conductor Marin Alsop, NPR, WQXR, WFMT and Wisconsin Public Radio offer music suggestions. What piece would you choose to mark the holiday?

November 26, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020 — is Thanksgiving Day.

Right now, the U.S. has had more than 12 million cases of COVID-19 with more than 260,000 deaths plus all the alarming signs and conditions that many more cases and deaths are coming in the next several months.

We might be sad that we can’t be with the family and friends we usually celebrate with. But we nonetheless have many things to give thanks for during this strange and tragic time.

We can thank the vaccine researchers; the doctors and nurses; and the other health care workers who take care of Covid patients, even those who don’t observe precautions and bring on their own illness.

We can thank all kinds of people on the front lines — food and transportation workers, for example — who help protect us and care for us.

We can thank the friends, family and others who stay in touch and help get us through these trying times.

And we can thank technology that makes isolating a lot less unbearable because we have telephones, radios, TVs, CD players, computers, cell phones and virtual online ZOOM meetings and gatherings and various other events including live-streamed concerts.

For The Ear, music has never meant more or brought more comfort than during this difficult year. He is giving thanks for that as well as for the other people and things just mentioned.

So what music should we celebrate this year’s emotionally complicated and mixed Thanksgiving holiday with?

Well, you can Google sources and go to YouTube to find compilations of music appropriate to the holiday. (See one playlist lasting 90 minutes in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Famed classical radio station WQXR in New York City has five suggestions for being musically grateful: https://www.wqxr.org/story/top-five-expressions-thanks-classical-music/

And WFMT in Chicago is offering 20 suggestions based on holiday food: https://www.wfmt.com/2019/11/25/a-complete-thanksgiving-feast-in-20-food-inspired-pieces/

But here are a couple of other suggestions, some local.

Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) is always a reliable source. And tomorrow is no exception.

If WPR programming stays true to past patterns, music by American composers will be emphasized.

Plus, starting at 10 a.m. WPR will broadcast performances from the Honors Concerts (below) by middle and high school students around the state and who participate in the Wisconsin School Music Association. This year, for the first time, the performances will be virtual. But as in past years, they are sure to be moving and even inspiring.

Other fine suggestions from the world-famous conductor Marin Alsop  (below), a Leonard Bernstein protégée, who recently spoke for 7 minutes to NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon. 

Here is a link, but you should listen rather than just read the transcript if you want to hear the musical samples: https://www.npr.org/2020/11/21/937448472/this-thanksgiving-put-on-some-music-to-soothe

Do you like any of those suggestions? Were any new to you?

What piece of music would you choose to express gratitude on this particular Thanksgiving?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra cancels its first Masterworks concert and launches an online virtual Winter Chamber Series in January

November 22, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

With the surge in the coronavirus pandemic, the dominos are starting to fall again — this time for the spring series of live, in-person concerts that had been planned.

Friday night brought important news from the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below, in photo by Mike Gorski).

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO) has canceled its first Masterworks concert, with guest cellist Amit Peled, in late January. In its place the WCO is launching its first-ever digital Winter Chamber Series.

The virtual, online series of digital concerts will feature the ensemble’s 34 players in smaller groups of four to eight, That will be safer for both players and audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four home-viewable virtual online concerts are planned: Jan. 22, Feb. 26, March 26, and April 16. Programs are not available except for the first concert.

Also included are a pre-concert talk with WCO music director and maestro Andrew Sewell (below top, in a photo by Alex Cruz) and Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland (below bottom), and post-concert reflections with musicians of the WCO.

The ticket price for each concert, which will run 60-75 minutes, is $30 per household. A ticket entitles you to one viewing of the concert between Friday, Jan. 22, and Monday, Jan. 25. The concert will start streaming at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

Patrons who have already purchased season subscription tickets can apply that to the full series of four concerts.

Tickets are available online at the Overture Center box office. See below.

The program for the first Winter Chamber Concert on Jan. 22 is:

Four Canzonas by the Baroque Italian composer Giovanni Gabrieli (below):

“Tzigane” (a term for music by Hungarian gypsies or Romani) for Wind Quintet by the contemporary American composer Valerie Coleman (below):

The first movement of the famed String Quintet in C major, D. 956, by the Austrian Romantic composer Franz Schubert (below):

Four Octets by the 20th-century American composer and jazz musician Alec Wilder (below), which you can sample in the YouTube video at the bottom.

To see more background about the composers, more details about the concert and purchase tickets, go to: https://www.overture.org/events/wco-chamber-series

You can also check out the series as it progressively gets announced on the WCO home website: https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/winter-chamber-series

The concert series sounds like a terrific substitution for the regular concerts that cannot yet take place.

But The Ear wonders if the price per concert is a bit steep, given that comparable concerts by UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music , the Wllly Street Chamber Players and Just Bach are free – although they do ask for donations — and that the Madison Opera charged $50 for its entire fall digital series while the Wisconsin Union Theater charges between $10 and $20 per virtual concert.

The Ear likes the eclectic programming, but also thinks it is kind of teasing and unsatisfying to offer just the first movement of such an organic masterpiece and profoundly beautiful work as the Schubert Cello Quintet. Doing one movement of a chamber music work somehow seems very different from doing one movement of a symphony.

It would also be nice to see the programs for all the concerts plus a series discount as an incentive.

What do you think about the WCO’s Winter Chamber Series?

What do you think about the price and the programming?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The Willy Street Chamber Players give a free virtual concert this Sunday at noon. It will be posted until Dec. 31

November 14, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from The Willy Street Chamber Players (below), a relatively new group that is critically acclaimed for both its adventurous and eclectic, exploratory programming and for its outstanding performances of both the traditional repertoire and new music.

The Willy Street Chamber Players (WSCP) will play a virtual online concert this Sunday, Nov. 15, at noon CST.

Access to the “Beyond the Screen” concert is FREE and no registration is required. It will be available for free online until Dec. 31 on the group’s website. Here is a link to YouTube: https://youtu.be/j5Ved4FqYSQ

Listeners can visit the WSCP website or Facebook page Sunday at concert time for links to the 70-minute performance. Here is a link to the home website: http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

The dynamic WSCP program was recorded live, with masks and social distance, at the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue (below, exterior and interior during the taping) in James Madison Park in downtown Madison.

The concert will premiere on Facebook live and YouTube, providing two ways to watch from the comfort and safety of your own home.

Members of WSCP will be on hand to interact with viewers in real time through the Facebook and YouTube virtual chat during the performance. They will provide spoken program notes.

Then, immediately following the concert, you can join WSCP members for a Q&A “reception” on ZOOM at 1:15 pm.

An RSVP required for Q&A

The concert program is:

Sonata for Violin and Cello (1922) by French composer Maurice Ravel (below)

“Allegro,” the first of Four Pieces for Solo Cello (1983) by Cuban-born composer Tania León (below), which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tania_León

Canción de Cuna Del Niño Negro (Cradle Song of the Black Baby, 1937) by Cuban composer Amadeo Roldán y Gardes (below), as arranged by Rachel Barton Pine.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amadeo_Roldán

Heart O’ the Hills” from Appalachian Duets, Op. 38, No. 8 (2001) by American composer Maria Newman (below), who is the youngest daughter of famous Hollywood film composer Alfred Newman.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Newman

Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7 (1914), by Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly

 


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University Opera’s original online video project celebrates the life and music of American composer Marc Blitzstein. It will be posted for FREE on YouTube this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m.

October 21, 2020
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

This fall, University Opera presents its first project of 2020-21 in video format as it turns to the music of the American composer Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964).

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” will be released free of charge on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music’s YouTube channel this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m. CDT at the general site www.youtube.com/meadwitterschoolofmusic or the official specific link: https://youtu.be/77FXFZucrWc.

Director of University Opera David Ronis (below top) is the director of the original production and will give introductory remarks. UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom) is the musical director. The production lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes, and features four singer-actors, a narrator and a piano.

Marc Blitzstein’s life story parallels some of the most important cultural currents in American history of the mid-20th-century.

Known for his musicals — most notably The Cradle Will Rock in 1937 (you can hear Dawn Upshaw sing the lovely song “I Wish It So” from “Juno” in the YouTube video at the bottom) — his opera Regina and his translation of Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, Blitzstein was an outspoken proponent of socially engaged art. Like many artists of his time, he joined the American Communist Party. But he also enthusiastically served in the U.S. Army during World War II (below, in 1943).

Nevertheless, in 1958, long after he had given up his Communist Party membership, Blitzstein (below) was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where he “named no names.”

An extremely gifted yet underappreciated composer, he was a close friend of and mentor to Leonard Bernstein (below right, with Blitzstein on the left) and traveled in a close circle of American composers including David Diamond and Aaron Copland.

Although openly gay, he married Eva Goldbeck in 1933. Sadly, she died three years later from complications due to anorexia.

Blitzstein’s own death was likewise tragic. In 1964, while in Martinique working on an opera about the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, he was robbed and badly beaten by three Portuguese sailors whom he had picked up at a bar. He died the next day of internal injuries. 

Although throughout his life and afterwards, Blitzstein’s work was championed by Bernstein and others, many claim that neither the composer nor his stunning music and beautiful lyrics ever received the attention they deserved. So University Opera is proud to present this show celebrating his life and his works.

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” is a unique production put together by David Ronis. A biographical pastiche, it tells the story of Blitzstein’s life by recontextualizing 23 songs and ensembles from his shows, juxtaposing them with spoken excerpts from his working notes and letters, and tying it all together with a narration.

The result is a dramatic, evocative and enjoyable portrait of Blitzstein’s life and his art, according to Ronis.

“We’ve discovered a lot of “silver linings” while working on this production,” says Ronis. “We were disappointed at not being able to do a normal staged show. But working with video has had tremendous artistic and educational value.

“Our students are learning on-camera technique, not to mention how to work with a green screen (below, with soprano Sarah Brailey), which allows for post-production editing and digital manipulation of backgrounds. They’re also working with spoken text as well as sung pieces. Mostly, we’re just very grateful to have a creative project to sink our teeth into during the pandemic. 

“And the music of Blitzstein is so fantastic, we’re very happy to be able to share it with our audience. This project is like none other I’ve ever done and we’re thinking that it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Research on the project was completed at the Wisconsin Historical Society, where Blitzstein’s archives are housed. University Opera gratefully acknowledges the help of both Mary Huelsbeck of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Television Research, and the Kurt Weill Foundation for their assistance with this project.

The cast features five UW-Madison graduate students: Sarah Brailey, Kenneth Hoversten, Justin Kroll, Lindsey Meekhof (below) and Steffen Silvis.

The video design was done by Dave Alcorn with costumes by Hyewon Park.

Others on the production staff include Will Preston, rehearsal pianist; Elisheva Pront, research assistant and assistant director; Dylan Thoren, production stage manager; Alec Hansen, assistant stage manager; Teresa Sarkela, storyboard creator; and Greg Silver, technical director.

The video will be accessible for 23 hours starting at 8 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 23. Although there will be no admission price for access, donations will be gratefully accepted. A link for donations will be posted with the video. 

University Opera, a cultural service of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, email opera@music.wisc.edu or visit music.wisc.edu.

 


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