The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: New Orleans seeks to once again become an American opera capital with an emphasis on diversity

May 31, 2017
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

When you think of opera in America, chances are good that you think of New York City with the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera; the Lyric Opera of Chicago; the Houston Grand Opera; the Santa Fe Opera; and countless other opera companies in many major cities.

And when you think of New Orleans, you understandably think of jazz.

But the truth is that for a long time, New Orleans was an American capital for opera, more important than many of the other cities mentioned above.

Consider the fact that the first opera performed in the United States was performed in New Orleans in 1796. And that at one point, New Orleans was home to five opera companies.

Plus, the opera that was performed there in the past brought racial, cultural and gender diversity to an art form that often lacked it and was largely Euro-centric. (You can hear the company sing “We’re Goin’ Around” from ragtime great Scott Joplin‘s opera “Treemonisha” in the YouTube video at the bottom,)

Now some singers and others (below) have formed an organization – OperaCreole — with the aim of correcting racism and restoring New Orleans’ reputation for opera,  especially that of the many African-American and Creole opera composers who were native to New Orleans.

A fine story, with an illuminating interview, recently appeared on NPR (National Public Radio).

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/05/28/530085480/a-new-orleans-company-shines-a-light-on-operas-diverse-history

Another excellent story, with more focus on repertoire and history, appeared in The New Yorker magazine:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/a-small-step-toward-correcting-the-overwhelming-whiteness-of-opera

And here is a link to OperaCreole’s own website with more information about the company and its productions:

http://www.operacreole.com


Classical music: Madison Choral Project gives a concert of new music focusing on the social and political theme of “Privilege” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon

April 20, 2017
1 Comment

ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features David Miller, trumpet; Amy Harr, cello; and Jane Peckham, piano. They will play music by Bach, Schmidt, Piazzolla, Honegger and Cooman. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

Call it activist beauty or beautiful activism.

It sure seems that political and social relevance is making a comeback in the arts during an era in which inequality in race, gender, ethnicity, wealth, education, health, employment, immigration status and other issues loom larger and larger.

For the Madison Choral Project (below), for example, singing is about more than making music. It can also be about social justice.

Writes the Project:

“The Madison Choral Project believes that too often the classical music concert is simply a museum of the beautiful. Yet the worlds of theater, art and literature can so brilliantly combine beauty with material that provokes contemplation and understanding.

“Our world is increasingly complicated, and we seek to provide voices exploring important emotional and social concerns of today.”

That means that, in its two concerts this weekend, the Madison Choral Project will explore the concept of privilege in two performances this weekend.

The repertoire is all new music or contemporary music by living composers.

The Madison Choral Project, under the direction of Albert Pinsonneault (below), who formerly taught at Edgewood College and is now at Northwestern University, presents their 10th Project – Privilege – on this Friday night, April 21, at  8:30 p.m. (NOT 7:30, as originally announced, because of noise from a nearby football game); and on Sunday afternoon, April 23, at 3 p.m.

Both performances are at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, near Camp Randall Stadium.

General admission is $24 in advance and online; $28 at the door; and $10 for students either in advance or at the door. A limited number of preferred seats are offered for $40.

The Privilege concerts feature the work Privilege by Ted Hearne (b. 1982), which Hearne (below) writes “are settings of little texts questioning a contemporary privileged life (mine).”

With texts that range from the inequality of educational experiences, to the unfair playing field brought through race, the work sets thought-provoking texts in a beautiful and musically accessible way. (NOTE: You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The program also includes the world premiere of a new piece of music from Wisconsin composer and UW-Madison graduate D. Jasper Sussman (b. 1989, below), whose piece Work: “What choice?” is a contemplation of society’s confusing and hypocritical demands on women, their bodies and their appearance.

Sussman writes “I have never identified as a feminist. It’d be impossible, however, for me to remain ignorant of the clumsily uneven climate of our world, and certainly of this country. Work: “What Choice?” is an attempt at telling a common story shared by many.”

Included on the concert are two works of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang (b. 1957, below), whose new minimalism includes sonorities influenced by rock and popular music, but with layered repetition that gives the pieces a meditative and contemplative quality.

Also featured is When David Heard by Eric Whitacre (b. 1970, below), a gorgeous and devastating monologue contemplating the death of one’s child.

For more information and tickets, go to www.themcp.org

You can also go to a fine story in The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/with-privilege-madison-choral-project-sings-on-social-justice/article_1d4ecf46-3347-5950-a655-eb270449fb96.html

The Madison Choral Project is Wisconsin’s only fully professional choir. All the singers on stage are paid, professional musicians.


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

June 2, 2016
1 Comment

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: Great choral singing by the Madison Chamber Choir and the Madison Choral Project should serve great choral music – and fewer second-rate novelties

May 25, 2016
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also provided the performance photos for this review.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Two of the city’s important choral groups joined forces for a program presented at the First Congregational United Church of Christ last Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

Albert Pinsonneault (below), who used to teach at Edgewood College and now teaches at Northwestern University, and who is the director of both groups, conducted.

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Each group had its own showcase in the program’s first half.

The Madison Chamber Choir (below) led off with the “Serenade to Music,” a setting of lines from William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, which Ralph Vaughan Williams  composed in 1938 for 16 of his favorite singers, with orchestra. He adapted this for full chorus, but that transition did not quite produce a work truly choral in character.

The choir sang the beautiful work very handsomely, but the substitution for the orchestra of a piano accompaniment was uncomfortable and, indeed, a disruption of diction. (You can hear the original version for chorus and orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Madison Chamber Choir JWB

The Madison Choral Project (below top) came next with a performance of “Images, Shadows, Dreams: Five Vignettes” by the late David Baker (1931-2016, below middle).

Baker was a noted scholar and promoter of jazz, and his goal was a “fusion” of jazz with classical forms. To the five composed poems, Pinsonneault added readings of poems written by five young participants (below bottom) in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Odyssey Project activities in cultural and educational support.

Madison Choral Project JWB

David Baker

Madison Choral Project jazz Odyssey student JWB

All this represents noble and praiseworthy efforts on behalf of disadvantaged African-Americans. But high ideals do not necessarily guarantee artistic achievement. Baker uses a combo of five instrumentalists, which bangs away behind the choir, hardly “fusing” anything in styles—neither honest jazz nor multicultural synthesis.

Madison Choral Project jazz drum and bass JWB

The choir, in its turn, sings mightily at music of generally simplistic technique — mostly unisons and chordal declamations. There is little to remember or admire, once the “messages” have worn off.

Fortunately, the intermission yielded to the one work of substance on the program, the Mass for Double Choir, by the Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974, below), a combination of neo-classical and modernist styles that is better appreciated in Europe than here.

Frank Martin

For this, the two choirs (below) merged, then divided into the requisite two components.

Martin’s writing is subtle, and his juxtaposition of the two choirs is not just antiphonal but artfully varied in their interaction—to which is added a great deal of harmonic experimentation. This is one of the choral masterpieces of the 20th century.

Pinsonneault and his 57 choristers gave it a glorious performance, showing what this conductor can do to make great choral sound out of great choral music.

Madison Chamber Choir and Madison Choral Project combined JWB

The final programmed piece was a somewhat pretentious setting by contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan (below) of a ballad by poet Robert Burns. As an encore, the singers perpetrated a glitzy, but uncredited, arrangement of “Loch Lomond”—the only piece that brought the audience to its feet.

James MacMillan headshot

This concert was an undeniable testimony to the splendid choral groups we have here, and to what Pinsonneault is accomplishing with these groups. But I kept returning to the dichotomy at which I hinted earlier.

Choral singing is a wonderful activity both to listen to and to participate in, and I share some of the enthusiasm for that. But I wonder how many in the audience were there seeking great CHORAL singing. I was there seeking great choral MUSIC.

Our choirs can give us the former, no question, and audiences can justly admire it. But has all this musical talent been applied responsibly to the latter? How much do our choral programs deal with trivia and little sweetmeats, rather than digging into the vast literature of magnificent choral art?


Classical music: Three upcoming UW events –- two focusing on racial diversity and one on Latin American classical guitar music -– merit your attention. Plus, classical guitarist Christopher Allen gives a FREE recital at noon on Friday.

October 14, 2015
Leave a Comment

ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features classical guitarist Christopher Allen performing music by Abel Carlevaro, Leo Brouwer, Manuel Ponce and Federico Moreno-Torroba.

By Jacob Stockinger

Three upcoming events at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music merit your attention and maybe your attendance.

Two concern racial diversity and the role of African-American composers and performers. It is an issue here and at many music schools around the country.

The third involves a concert by Javier Calderon of Latin American composers who wrote for the classical guitar.

All events are FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

THURSDAY

On Thursday night at 5-6 p.m. in Room 1351 of the Mosse Humanities Building, baritone Emery Stephens of Wayne State University in Detroit will present a lecture-recital titled “African American Voices in Classical Music,” with UW-Madison collaborative pianist Martha Fischer, along with an interactive component for audience members.

Stephens will share brief histories of the composers and their music. The program will include unaccompanied spirituals, spiritual arrangements and art songs by African-American composers.

Works will be by Harry Burleigh (1866-1949), Edward Boatner (1898-1981), Hall Johnson (1888-1970), Margaret Bonds (1913-1972), Charles Brown (b. 1940), and Betty Jackson King (1928-1994). Sorry, specific titles have not been mentioned.

For more about Stephens and his subject, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/beyond-race-with-emery-stephens/

FRIDAY

On Friday afternoon from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in Room 1351 of the Mosse Humanities Building Stephens will present a master class on his Beyond Race Project.

emery stephens

SATURDAY 

On Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison School of Music professor Javier Calderon will give a FREE faculty concert of guitar music by music of Eduardo Caba (Bolivia), Manuel Ponce (Mexico), and Heitor Villa-Lobos (Brazil).

Sorry, The Ear has received no word on individual works on the program. But at bottom is a YouTube video of Calderon playing a work by Isaac Albeniz at a UW Varsity Band Spring Concert in 2010.

 


Classical music: Wednesday marked 60 years since contralto Marian Anderson became the first African American soloist at the Metropolitan Opera.

January 9, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is a good day to think about the American singer Marian Anderson (below).

marian anderson

Maybe you think that opera is progressive, or at least more progressive than, say, orchestras or societies at large.

Do you think that the famed Metropolitan Opera (below, in its newer building at Lincoln Center) in ethnically diverse New York City has been especially progressive and pioneering?

metropolitan opera 1

Met from stage over pit

Well, think again.

Maybe in some things.

But not in race relations.

Here is a story from NPR (National Public Radio) about the 60th anniversary of the debut of contralto Marian Anderson’s at the Met. She was the first African American soloist to appear at the Met.

And that was on Jan 7, 1955.

That appearance came almost 20 years after she performed the historic 1939 outdoor recital (below) on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. That event, done to great critical acclaim and before a huge public crowd, came about because First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, with the help of President FDR, procured permission for Anderson to sing at the memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied Anderson the use of Constitution Hall because of her race. It was broadcast nationally on the radio.

anderson

At the Met, Anderson performed the role of the sorceress Ulrica (below, from the photo archives at the Met) in “Un ballo in maschera” (A Masked Ball) by Giuseppe Verdi.

marian anderson in 1955 at Met  Verdi un ballo en maschera

Anyway, the 60th anniversary celebration of that historic Met performance came this past week, on Wednesday.

Here is the NPR story that even has sound snippets of Anderson’s singing:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/01/07/375440168/marian-andersons-groundbreaking-met-opera-moment

And here is a YouTube video of Marian Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial that was broadcast as part of a series by public television or PBS on its Newshour:

 


    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,092 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 1,697,310 hits
%d bloggers like this: