ALERT: This Sunday afternoon the UW Chamber Orchestra, playing under conductor James Smith, will give a FREE concert at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program includes the Serenade for Strings by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky and the “Death and the Maiden” string quartet by Franz Schubert as arranged by Gustav Mahler.
By Jacob Stockinger
The critics and audiences all agreed: The season-opening concerts last weekend by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) proved a stunning success.
As The Ear heard it, here’s why.
Of course there are the usual reasons: One was the balanced program that MSO music director John DeMain chose to highlight his ensemble players without a guest soloist. It featured beautiful and dramatic music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Aaron Copland.
Beethoven’s “Leonore” Overture No. 3 was crisp and dark, dramatic but not melodramatic, befitting the opera “Fidelio” that it was originally intended for.
If you missed the opening movement of Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto — written for jazz great Benny Goodman — The Ear is sorry to report that you have already missed a high point of the new season.
It was that gorgeous and that elegiac, that moving and that unforgettable. It was nothing short of sublime. (You can hear the first movement in a YouTube video at the bottom)
Then there was the soloist — MSO principal clarinet Joe Morris (below), who showed in the Copland what an incredible talent he possesses, a talent that allowed him at 22 to beat out 45 other clarinetists in blind auditions for his post. His pitch and tone, his technique and expressiveness all make his playing the clarinet – not an easy instrument to master – seem as effortless as breathing.
But The Ear found another reason for the concert’s success, one that he credits to longtime music director and conductor John DeMain, who is starting his 22nd season in Madison.
It has to do with the clarity and precision of the playing, the careful dynamic balances, tempi and the delineation of the structure of each work.
DeMain (below) made sure that each section of the orchestra and each part of every work could be heard distinctly, and that helped you to hear how one part or section, of the score or of the orchestra, related to others.
No music event in Madison leaves The Ear with more food for thought than each summer’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival.
And at the most recent one, co-founder and co-artistic director John Harbison who teaches at MIT and who, as a composer, has won both a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur genius grant, commented on the unsurpassed ability of Beethoven to allow listeners to understand the structure of the sound they were hearing in his compositions.
That, said Harbison (below), is a major reason why the music by Beethoven has survived and that of many of his contemporaries has not.
Harbison’s analysis came to mind during the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s opening concert.
Since he took over, DeMain has brought each section up to an impressive level of performance The strings have been excellent for a long time; the winds and the percussion have also caught up.
But the brass really showed it stuff this time, especially in the Tchaikovsky Symphony No 4, which is a very brassy piece.
And DeMain (below) did something important. He illuminated structure by imparting order. He gave each section the kind of shading and space it needed by offering it time to breathe.
He allowed the audience to hear how parts related to the whole. He allowed you to get inside the score and the notes, to step inside the sound and hear the sense it made and the logic it possessed.
In short, John DeMain offered us music that was both deeply emotional and convincingly intelligent.
You felt that he was conducting you as well as the players.
The effect was to create clarity and color, distance and immediacy, all at the same time.
It’s not only the players who have grown during John DeMain’s 22-year tenure.
So has Maestro DeMain.
And, thanks to him and his players, so have we.
By Jacob Stockinger
Yesterday The Ear asked readers for suggestions about classical music that would be appropriate to post and play today, which is Independence Day or the Fourth of July.
I got some good answers.
Some of the suggestions were great music but seemed inappropriate like “On the Transmigration of Souls” by the contemporary American composer John Adams. It won the Pulitzer Prize. But it deals with the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and strikes The Ear as a bit grim for this holiday.
So, here are four others for The Fourth:
Ann Boyer suggested the Variations on “America” by Charles Ives, who was certainly an American and a Yankee original. The original scoring for organ was transcribed for orchestra by the well-known American composer William Schuman and it is performed below in a YouTube video by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of the famous composer-arranger Morton Gould, who seems to specialize in Americana:
Tim Adrianson suggested Aaron Copland’s great Third Symphony. It is long but the most famous part of the symphony is “Fanfare for the Common Man,” played here by Metropolitan Opera artistic director James Levine and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. And that seems a perfectly fitting piece of music to celebrate the birth of American democracy:
Reader fflambeau suggested anything by Howard Hanson, but especially Syphony No. 2 “Romantic.” Here is the famous slow movement — performed by Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra — that is also the appealing theme of the Interlochen Arts Academy and National Summer Music Camp:
Finally, The Ear recently heard something that seems especially welcome at a time when there is so much attention being paid to matters military.
It is also by Aaron Copland and is called “A Letter From Home.” It was dedicated to troops fighting World War II but it strikes me for its devotion to the home front and to peaceful domestic life, which is exactly what the Fourth of July should be about. Be sure to look at the black-and-white photographs that accompany the music:
And The Ear reminds you that you can hear a lot of American composers and American music today on Wisconsin Public Radio.
Have a Happy Fourth of July and Independence Day, everyone!
By Jacob Stockinger
Our friends at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society – which The Ear named Musician of the Year two seasons ago – will begin their new summer season this weekend.
The season features six concert programs performed over three weekends in three different venues and cities.
Here is the second part of two postings based on the BDDS press release. Part 1 ran yesterday. Here is a link:
The second week of “Guilty as Charged” features “Honor Among Thieves” and “Breaking and Entering.”
In “Honor Among Thieves,” we feature composers who stole from others or themselves, but always in an effort to elevate what they stole and bring it to wider circulation.
John Harbison (below) “stole” familiar American songs in “Songs America Loves to Sing,” arranging them to show what incredible beauty lies in these everyday tunes and honoring the folk traditions of America.
Ludwig van Beethoven stole from himself to create his Piano Trio, Op. 38. Beethoven’s Septet was a wildly popular work, and many dishonorable publishers created bad arrangements of the work to capitalize on that popularity. Beethoven stopped them short by creating his own masterful arrangement of the Septet; giving the work the honor it was due.
Both programs feature the incredible clarinetist Alan Kay (below top), familiar to our audiences from his stunning performances last year, and the San Francisco Piano Trio (below bottom), with violinist Axel Strauss, cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau and pianist Jeffrey Sykes.
Composers often have to break the rules in order to achieve their expressive ends. “Breaking and Entering” features composers who did precisely that: breaking with tradition and entering a new world of expression.
“Country Fiddle Pieces” by Paul Schoenfield were among the very first classical “crossover” works. Combining traditional fiddling, jazz, Latin, and pop influences together with a strong classical sense of phrasing and structure, Schoenfield (below) almost single-handedly created a whole new musical style.
The great Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8, was the first masterpiece by Johannes Brahms (below), a work that boldly broke with the past and ushered in an era of chamber music of symphonic scope.
“Honor Among Thieves” concerts will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 20, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 21, at 6:30 p.m.
Our biggest and final week includes “Crooked Business” and “Highway Robbery.”
The world of classical music is not as pure and pristine as it sometimes seems. From unscrupulous managers falsifying box office receipts to dishonest publishers pirating successful compositions, classical music can be a “Crooked Business.“
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart exhausted himself arranging performances of his piano concertos—and he watched most of his profits get swallowed up by greedy impresarios.
Johannes Brahms was strongly encouraged to destroy the original chamber version of his Serenade in D Major and rewrite it as an orchestral composition simply because it would bring greater profit to him and his managers. We’re featuring the work in a reconstruction of its original form as a nonet.
“Crooked Business” concerts will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 26, at 7:30 p.m., and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 28, at 2:30 p.m.
A career in classical music—even a successful one—is not a quick road to power, influence, and wealth. And virtually every musician walking that road has been subject to “Highway Robbery” at one point or another.
Throughout his short life, Franz Schubert (below) was taken advantage of by “friends,” publishers, and promoters. He wrote his great Octet for performance in the home of the Archduke Rudolph (Beethoven’s patron) and received not one cent for his efforts.
And we at BDDS have been guilty of highway robbery of a sort ourselves. In 2010 we commissioned American composer Kevin Puts—an extraordinarily talented, successful, but nonetheless struggling composer—for a work for our 25th season next summer. We agreed to a fee we thought was fair to him and comfortable for us.
In 2012 Kevin Puts (below) won the Pulitzer Prize for music. Thank goodness we signed the contract in 2010, because now it’s likely his talents would be out of our financial reach! It feels like we’re the perps in a highway robbery!
This seasons we’re featuring Kevin Puts’ “Seven Seascapes,” a beautiful piece based on poems about the sea. (You can hear the first one of Kevin Puts’ “Seven Seascapes” in YouTube video at the bottom.)
Both programs feature extraordinary musicians: powerhouse violinists Carmit Lori (below) and Hye-Jin Kim, violist Ara Gregorian, and newcomers Katja Linfield, cello, and Zachary Cohen, double bass. They are joined by the great young clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois and veteran French horn player Richard Todd.
Enjoy a BDDS concert and stay for the fireworks downtown! Free reserved parking will be available for the first 100 cars, with reservations.
“Highway Robbery” concerts will be performed in The Playhouse in the Overture Center, Madison, on Saturday, June 27, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 28, at 6:30 p.m.
For the fourth year, BDDS will also perform one free family concert, “What’s So Great About Bach?” an interactive event that will be great for all ages. Together with the audience, BDDS will explore interwoven layers of melody. Everyone will be up on their feet helping to compose for the musicians on stage.
This event takes place 11–11:45 a.m. on this Saturday, June 13, in The Playhouse at the overture Center. This is a performance for families with children of all ages and seating will be first come first served.
CUNA Mutual Group, Pat Powers and Thomas Wolfe, and Overture Center generously underwrite this performance.
Dianne Soffa and Tom Kovacich, artists-in-residence at Safi Studios in Milwaukee, will create a stage setting for each concert in The Playhouse. All concerts at The Playhouse will be followed by a meet-the-artists opportunity.
BDDS Locations are: the Stoughton Opera House (381 East Main Street); the Overture Center in Madison (201 State Street); and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Hillside Theater (County Highway 23 in Spring Green).
Single general admission tickets are $40. Student tickets are always $5.
Various ticket packages are also available starting at a series of three for $114. First-time subscriptions are half-off.
For tickets and information visit www.bachdancinganddynamite.org or call (608) 255-9866.
Single tickets for Overture Center concerts can also be purchased at the Overture Center for the Arts box office, (608) 258-4141, or at overturecenter.com. Additional fees apply.
Hillside Theater tickets can be purchased from the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor’s Center on County Highway C, (608) 588-7900. Tickets are available at the door at all locations.
By Jacob Stockinger
On Monday, the winners of the 2015 Pulitzer Prizes were announced.
You will hear a lot about the journalism recipients.
You will hear much, much less about the arts recipients.
Wolfe, who is associated with the group Bang on a Can!, won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in music for “Anthracite Fields,” her oratorio for chorus and sextet about families living in coal mining country.
Here is a link to that interview:
And here is a link to her own website:
Finally, here is a haunting documentary video with excerpts from “Anthracite Fields” in a YouTube video. A recording of the complete work is scheduled to be released in September.
By Jacob Stockinger
It is a timely topic because the once-a-month live chamber music concerts run from February through December on the first Sunday of the month. That means there is one this Sunday at 12:30 p.m. It offers a song recital of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert and Brahms with soprano Chelsea Morris (below top) and fortepianist Trevor Stephenson (below bottom) of the Madison Bach Musicians.
At bottom you can hear a YouTube video of Chelsea Morris singing an aria from the opera “Giulio Cesare” by George Frideric Handel that helped her win first prize in the 2014 Handel Aria Competition at the Madison Early Music Festival.
The concert is FREE and OPEN to the public.
and also at:
Here is the essay by Buzz Kemper (below):
By Buzz Kemper
Traditions change and evolve, sometimes disappearing completely.
One long-running Wisconsin musical tradition has been saved from extinction, and indeed will not only continue, but will do so in a newer, more contemporary form.
Last spring, Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen (below) — the much-loved, statewide live broadcast chamber music series – was abruptly canceled by Wisconsin Public Radio after a 36-year run. The cancellation looked very much like the death knell of this very long-running and vital live music showcase.
Public reaction was swift and strong, and almost completely negative, as you can see from the announcement on this blog:
The leadership at the Chazen, however, had a larger vision: Could the series be continued in some form, even without a broadcast outlet?
Museum Director Russell Panczenko (below) met with me and Steve Gotcher — my business partner at Audio for the Arts– as well as representatives from the Chazen and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music to discuss possibilities. The obvious solution was to do a series utilizing a more contemporary means of public distribution: live streaming via the Internet.
While the cancellation of the broadcasts was unwelcome news to me, the opportunity to be involved once again in this series was quite welcome indeed.
I have a unique history with Sunday Afternoon Live. From 1983 until 1998, I served as Technical Director continuously, and had a long stint as host as well.
On one Christmas edition of the show, I even appeared as a performer, singing a real duet by a fake composer, “Please, Kind Sir” by PDQ Bach, with fellow engineer Richard Moses. We discovered after the fact that Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Harbison and his wife, violinist Rose Mary Harbison (below), were in attendance. (I’m glad we didn’t know this ahead of time.) The Harbisons had very kind words for our musical shenanigans.
With such a long and varied history with the show, I was delighted that Audio for the Arts, the audio company of which I am co-owner, would be involved in the new incarnation of the series. (Below is a photo of Buzz Kemper in his commercial recording studio.)
Along with the changes, there are several aspects that remain the same: Lori Skelton (below top), longtime producer and host of the series, has signed on once again. Also, the concerts will, as before, take place in Gallery III (below bottom), though on a monthly rather than weekly basis, and on the first Sunday of the month.
The dedication and commitment to this series by Lori Skelton, the Chazen Museum of Art and the musical community — in particular the UW School of Music — is commendable. Gratitude is also due to Kato Perlman, who provided a generous gift to get us started.
Here’s hoping for another 36 years.
By Jacob Stockinger
But it is hard to find a better researched or more detailed account of what is going on than the account that was written by the journalist James B. Stewart and appeared in the March 23 issue of The New Yorker magazine.
A graduate of the Harvard University Law School, Stewart (below), you may recall, is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and currently a columnist for the New York Times. He has also written best-selling books. Such qualifications give him added credibility when reporting on the fiscal state of the arts.
Plus, Stewart got access to documents and records as well as to members of the board of directors. His account is filled with specific details about costs and fundraising that are convincing.
The discrepancy, for example, between what the Met said was the official cost of its recent and controversial “Ring” cycle (below) by Robert Lepage of Cirque du Soleil and what others say it cost is both astonishing and appalling.
In an interview with Jim Zirin, Peter Gelb defends himself and his tenure in a YouTube video at the bottom.
To The Ear, the larger question is whether some of the same criticisms apply to other large performing arts groups, opera companies and symphony orchestras in other cities.
But that is another story for another day.
Here is a link to the story about the Met by James B. Stewart:
By Jacob Stockinger
This is the last weekend for holiday shipping before Christmas, and retailers expect today to be even bigger and busier than Black Friday.
Plus, whether you are looking for a gift for someone else or for what to buy with that gift card or cash you receive, perhaps you will find the following lists convenient and helpful.
The three lists are compilations of the Best Classical Music Recordings of 2014, even if they appear a bit late. (I seem to recall that these lists appeared closer to Thanksgiving or Black Friday in past years, but I could be wrong.)
The first list, a long one, comes from the various critics at The New York Times:
It covers solo instruments, vocal music, operas, orchestral music, chamber music – you name it.
The second list from a critic for The Boston Globe:
The third list comes from ace music critic and prize-winner Alex Ross (below) of The New Yorker Magazine. He names 20 different recordings along with 10 memorable live events from the concert scene in New York City.
The Ear finds it interesting how many agreements there are about certain composers, works and performers – such as the haunting, 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning work “Become Ocean” by the contemporary American composer John Luther Adams (below top and at the bottom in a YouTube video) and the Schubert recording by British pianist Paul Lewis (below middle) in late music by Franz Schubert or Alan Gilbert conducting the New York Philharmonic in two symphonies by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.
And even happier listening!!
It will be interesting to see what 2015 brings.
By Jacob Stockinger
The perennially boyish Joshua Bell, now a veteran of the concert stage and recording studio for more than 25 years, is in his third season as the artistic director of the famed British chamber orchestra Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.
Sony Classical has just released his new recording – which has a program that is all by Johann Sebastian Bach (below). It features two violin concertos plus three arrangements, including the famous Chaconne from the Solo Partita No. 2, for violin and orchestra. (His previous release as conductor and concertmaster of the ASMF players was a fine reading of Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7 by Ludwig van Beethoven.)
And despite his Pretty Boy status, Bell — who has performed recitals here at the Wisconsin Union Theater and concertos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra — once again shows himself to be a gifted and serious musician. The Ear finds that he makes sense of notes that often get passed over by other violinists. Bells finds patterns in scales of climbing notes that help give the music momentum and melodic appeal. When he wants, Bell can be absolutely revelatory.
The Ear is not alone in his admiration for Bell at his best. Read the review by New York Times critic Steve Smith when Bell performed the glorious Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at this past summer’s “Mostly Mozart” Festival.
But perhaps the achievement these days it that Bell has become an adamant advocate of music education.
In that capacity he recently was featured in a 30-minute HBO special program about master classes with 9 students.
The Ear recently heard and saw him defend music education as a means not just to raise musicians but to give student more self-esteem and self-confidence. Playing music also brings other benefits, he adds, from better grades and a better sense of teamwork to a lower likelihood of drug and alcohol abuse.
But it is best to let Joshua Bell speak for himself.
Here is a link to an interview his did with NPR or National Public Radio:
And here is a link to a television interview Bell did with reporter Jeffrey Brown of PBS’ The NewsHour as well as to the second, and final, subway appearance. (You may recall how his first anonymous appearance, at the bottom in a popular YouTube video with more than 5 million hits, made such a splash and even won the reporter a Pulitzer Prize.)
Here is a 10-question video interview Bell did with Time magazine, in which he also discusses his love of gambling, his $5-million violin and possible alternative career choices:
And here is the original “anonymous” “Stop and Hear the Music” subway busking “concert” with more than 5 million hits:
Do you have any thoughts about Joshua Bell?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
A good friend in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, who also happens to be an avid brass fan, recently wrote to The Ear:
“A young violinist I know heard a brass quintet perform last spring at the UW-Madison School of Music, and afterwards she said to me: ‘I had no idea this music is so beautiful.’
“She’s not alone. Most people don’t know. They associate brass with marching bands, or with obnoxious loud horns. And occasionally they notice a high trumpet solo in an orchestra concert (and don’t actually see the trumpeter as she or he is seated so far in back).
“But there’s much, much more. Think of the beauty of strings, with its complex interweavings of melodies and lushness of sound, but applied to trumpets, trombones, “French” horns and the tuba.
That is what the UW is offering during its weeklong Brass Festival — “Celebrate Brass” — the first in 32 years at the School of Music and organized by John Aley (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), professor and principal trumpet with the Madison Symphony Orchestra as well as a member of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet.
This event will even bookend John’s tenure here at the School of Music, as he helped organize the first brass festival 32 years ago.
The main concert, called “Brass Alchemy,” on next Saturday, Oct. 11, will present a varied program of lyrical music that is just as much a part of the classical repertory as anything else.
“And the visiting performers are tops in their fields.
One is Oystein Baadsvik (below) an iconoclastic virtuoso tubist from Norway. Two are UW-Madison women alumna horn players. Another is a top composer and trumpeter.
“The two brass quintets – including the Western Brass Quintet (below top) from Michigan and Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below bottom in a photo by Megan Aley) at the UW-Madison School of Music — are frequent commissioners of new works, essential if one is to continue the growth and development of classical music. (The Western Brass Quintet will feature a new work by American composer Pierre Jalbert whose “Howl” Clarinet Quintet scored such a success in its world premiere by the Pro Arte Quartet last Friday night. Below is a link to The Ear’s rave review of the Jalbert work.)
“The School of Music is ticketing this main concert only — a departure from the recent past but long overdue, one that will be followed during the year for selected other concerts. Money raised will be put toward the many needs of the UW-Madison School of Music, which is another topic in itself.
“All the rest of the week’s events — master classes, colloquia and several other concerts — are FREE and open to the public.
“Tickets for the general public are $25 for the one concert listed below, but all students get in FREE. For information, visit http://www.music.wisc.edu/about-us/tickets/
“One hopes that these performances and educational festivals this year can be continued into the future, as they offer so much more than a stand-alone guest artist.
“One can also hope that listeners will discover an angle that is particularly interesting to them –whether it’s a solo tuba work called “Fnugg” (seriously) or the grace of a choral work performed by soaring brass.
“Here are a few links that illustrate the program for that night’s concert:”
“Quidditch” by John Williams:
“Of Kingdoms and Glory” by Anthony Di Lorenzo:
“Elegy” by Pulitzer Prize-winner Kevin Puts
The Ear is also providing some other links that seem relevant and informative.
Here is one to the official UW-Madison School of Music press release with the full schedule and list of programs and performers:
And here is one to Wisconsin Public Radio’s recent session of “The Midday” with host Norman Gilliland and guest UW-Madison trumpeter John Aley. It has lots of good commentary and great samples of brass music:
And here is a link to a Tiny Desk Concert, given by the Canadian Brass, playing Johann Sebastian Bach in a studio for NPR or National Public Radio:
By Jacob Stockinger
Today marks the 13th anniversary of 9/11 and the tragic events during the terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda on the United States, in New York City on the Twin Towers; on Washington, D.C,, and the Pentagon; and on United Airlines Flight 93, which passengers made crash into a Pennsylvania field before it could destroy the U.S. Capitol or White House.
There is a lot of great classical music that one could play to commemorate the event and loss of life. There are, of course, requiems by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Giuseppe Verdi and Gabriel Faure.
There are masses and other choral works by them and also Ludwig van Beethoven and others. And there are a lot of opera arias and choruses as well as art songs.
There are large-scale symphonic and choral work as well as more intimate chamber music and solo works, especially the solo cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach, one of which, thanks to cellist Vedran Smailovic (below) in 1992, became am emblem of the awful and bloody siege of Sarajevo by the Serbian army. Chamber music by Franz Schubert — such as the slow movement of the Cello Quintet — would at the top of my list.
Then there is the contemporary work “In the Transmigration of Souls” by the American composer John Adams. It won the Pulitzer Prize and was written specifically, on commission from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, to remember 9/11 and which uses actual tape recordings of the events and responses of that awful day. And another work by Steve Reich.
Myself, I tend towards the tried-and-true, the pieces of music that never fail to take me to the appropriate place in memory and sorrow.
So today, at the bottom, I offer a YouTube video of the last movement of the profoundly beautiful and moving “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms. It is more secular than religious, and it asserts that “Blessed Are the Dead … for They Rest from Their Labors and Their Works Shall Live After Them.”
Hard to disagree, don’t you think?
So here it is.
But be sure to let us know what music you will be playing and what piece or pieces you favor to commemorate 9/11.