The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Amy Beach turns 150. Read about the woman and her music

September 7, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Amy Beach (1867-1944, below) was a pioneering American composer who fought against sexism in her lifetime and who benefitted greatly from the rediscovery of women artists during the feminist revival of the 1970s and 1980s.

But here is a link to the most comprehensive story The Ear has yet read about Beach and her music, which is still neglected and not getting the attention it deserves, especially the larger and more ambitious works. (You can find many on YouTube and other streaming services.)

The story marked the 150th anniversary of her birth and appeared last Sunday in The New York Times.

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/01/arts/music/amy-beach-women-american-composer.html

And here, introduced and played by Rachel Barton Pine in a YouTube video, is one of her last and more minor works: a lovely Romance for violin and piano. It remains one of The Ear’s favorites.


Classical music education: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras performs “Sounds of the Season” with area high school choirs on TV once again on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Plus, WYSO names Randal Swiggum as its new interim music director

December 23, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras has two pieces of news to report:

As in past years, WYSO will perform its popular one-hour, commercial-free “Sounds of the Season” concerts on TV on NBC 15 this weekend. 

Three WYSO groups will be featured: the Youth Orchestra (below top), the Youth Brass Choir (below middle) and the Percussion Ensemble (below bottom).

WYSO Youth Orchestra James Smith conducting 2015

WYSO Brass Choir

WYSO Percussion Ensemble 2012

There will be one performance on Christmas Eve at 10 p.m., and then two performances on Christmas Day at 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

The orchestra and ensembles will also be joined by choirs from area high schools. Sorry, but The Ear can’t find word of which ones.

You can hear part of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” as performed by WYSO on “Sounds of the Season” in the YouTube video at the bottom.

For more information, photos and audiovisual clips from a last year’s “Sounds of the Season,” go to:

http://www.nbc15.com/content/misc/NBC15-Sounds-Of-The-Season-2016-406076915.html

wyso-sounds-of-the-season-logo

In addition WYSO has named an interim replacement for outgoing music director James Smith (below), who is retiring from WYSO as well as from the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the end of this season.

james smith Jack Burns

Here are details from WYSO’s executive director Bridget Fraser:

“WYSO is very pleased to announce that Randal Swiggum (below) has been appointed WYSO Interim Artistic Director and Youth Orchestra Conductor for the 2017-2018 season.

“Randy is well-known to many WYSO students already, whether through Summer Music Clinic, the recent Wisconsin Middle Level Honors orchestra, or Suzuki Strings of Madison. He prepared the WYSO Youth Orchestra for its 2012 Overture Center performance of “To Be Certain of the Dawn,” and has subbed in with Philharmonia Orchestra and chamber music rehearsals.

Randall Swiggum

“Randy is in his 19th season as Artistic Director of the award-winning Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, a large program similar to WYSO, which draws students from 70 different communities in suburban Chicago.

“Under his direction, the EYSO has collaborated with renowned artists like Midori, Yo-Yo Ma and Rachel Barton Pine, as well as Grammy-winning chamber ensemble eighth blackbird. The EYSO has appeared on NPR’s “From the Top” and at the Ravinia Festival, where they will return to perform again in 2018.

“The Illinois Council of Orchestras has twice named him Conductor of the Year and awarded its prestigious Programming of the Year Award to the EYSO.

“A frequent guest conductor of orchestral and choral festivals, Randy recently conducted the Scottish National Youth Symphony in Glasgow, All-State Orchestras in Georgia and Illinois, the American Mennonite Schools Orchestra Festival, Northern Arizona Honors Orchestra, the APAC Orchestra Festival in Seoul, and both the Wisconsin Middle Level Honors Choir and Orchestra, among many others.

“Randy also works with a number of professional orchestras, designing and conducting concerts for young people. Last year, he led the Madison Symphony in his original “Symphony Safari: What Nature Teaches Us About the Orchestra,” attended by several thousand middle school students in Overture Hall.

“Next February, he returns for a fourth season with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in its acclaimed “Teen Partner” series, conducting the Gloria by Francis Poulenc.

“He also appears next spring with the Chippewa Valley Symphony, conducting his “Beethoven Superhero” concert, which has been popular with teachers, students and parents alike, with the Elgin Symphony and The Florida Orchestra (Tampa).

“As an author and lecturer, Randy works with teachers around the country and internationally, most recently with international school teachers in Hong Kong and at Carnegie Hall, where last summer he returned for a fourth season teaching its Music Educator Workshops, and leading members of the National Youth Orchestra of the USA.

“Randy is a proud UW-Madison graduate and lives in Madison, where you can find him on Monday nights working with the Madison Boychoir (in the Madison Youth Choirs) alongside colleague Margaret Jenks.

“WYSO is truly fortunate to have such a dedicated and tireless educator guiding its artistic vision next season.”


Classical music: These women composers should be household names

March 26, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

It may be known more for basketball, for March Madness and the Big Dance.

But March is also Women’s History Month.

Before it ends, The Ear wanted to share a terrific story about women composers that appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine.

It discusses women composers who should be household names like Johann Sebastian Bach or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

barbara strozzi

Who are they?

schumannclara

Can you guess their names and match them to the photos?

elizabeth maconchy

Have you heard their works?

Amy Beach BW 1

Read the story and see for yourself.

Here is a link:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/these-women-composers-should-be-household-names-bach-or-mozart-180958464/?no-ist

And at bottom is a YouTube video with a beautiful and tuneful example of one woman composer as well as background about a great but unknown female American violinist, who is championed by the Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below), who herself has performed several times with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Rachel Barton Pine

And leave what you think about a specific composer or women in music in general in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra again proves that it’s not just for summer pops listening anymore as it opens its winter season to the full house its deserves.

October 14, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Can it really be that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra –- The Little Orchestra That Could -– is finally getting the long overdue recognition and larger audiences that it deserves? One hopes so, and it certainly seems so.

Last Friday night on the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opened its new winter season to a full and enthusiastic house.

WCO lobby

So perhaps the tide is indeed turning and the WCO will not continue to be hamstrung by its own success, by which I mean its historic role and pops repertoire in the always popular summertime Concerts on the Square. The WCO should be taken more seriously by the area’s classical fans.

Friday saw a full house – but not necessarily a sold-out house since the WCO generously offers tickets to students and others in need -– which was what they deserve, and have deserved, for a longtime.

The ensemble’s playing proved nothing short of terrific, and the soloists – violinist Rachel Barton Pine and violist Matthew Lipman – proved nothing short of spectacular.

Here are the points that The Ear took away.

1. The music of the famous 18th-century composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below top) and Franz Joseph Haydn (below bottom) can by now seem so safe and so predictable. The Classical-era style is that well established. So it is high praise to the WCO ‘s longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, who his starting his 15th season, that these most established of Classical composers again seemed vital and even, at times, daring and radical. No music box Mozart from the WCO!

Mozart old 1782
Haydn

Sewell’s readings of both composers is not timid in any way, but robust and energetic. Not that Sewell (below) sacrifices the elegance and balanced proportion that we expect to hear in Classical compositions. But he also brings an approach that features up-beat tempi, sharply accented beats, long phrases and an emphasis on dissonant harmonies that helped listeners see how such staple Classical composers were innovative revolutionaries in their day and helped pave the way to modernity.

andrewsewell

Really, at one point during Haydn’s late Symphony No. 96 “The Miracle” The Ear could look down the road of music history and see not only Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert coming, but even Gustav Mahler (below), with his use of peasant dances, harmonic suspensions and dissonances, and a kind of tightly knit theme-and-variations method of composing and adding to the music’s momentum.

Gustav Mahler big

2. The WCO knows how to book outstanding and exciting soloists. Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below), playing a violin once chosen by Johannes Brahms himself, showed superb tone and musicianship with just the right splash of head-turning virtuosity. But she can sing too, and she held the audience in her hand when she played the famous quiet Lullaby by Brahms as an encore.

One very discerning listener whom The Ear knows thought that Barton Pine’s stellar rendition of Camille Saint-Saens’ showpiece “Introduction and Rondo capriccioso” was the best version of the several he had heard in three performances over the past several months. It helped, I think, that you could watch the playing as well as hear the piece. As the composer Igor Stravinsky used to advise: Listen with your eyes.

Rachel Barton Pine

Similarly the violist Matthew Lipman (below), who was making his WCO debut, did a terrific job. He may look about 16, but he plays like a seasoned veteran with confidence and fine tone.

matthew lipman violajpg

The two string players excelled in the Double Concerto for Violin and Viola by Benjamin Britten -– but more about that performance and work later. Yet what really brought the string duo a prolonged standing ovation was their encore: the famous solo Passacaglia for Violin and Viola by George Frideric Handel, as arranged by Johan Halvorsen. (You can hear a version of this great violin and viola piece, with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, in a YouTube video at the bottom.) What fun it was to hear it live!

3. The hybrid programming proved typical of Andrew Sewell, who likes to combine the familiar with the unknown. So  Mozart’s popular Overture to the opera “The Marriage of Figaro” and the well-known late Haydn symphony were balanced out by the rarely programmed Violin Concerto No. 5 by the mid-19th century Romantic Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps (below), a competent but, to The Ear’s ears, not a particularly inspired composition. I think I can wait another decade or two before hearing a repeat performance.

henri vieuxtemps

The Double Concerto for Violin and Viola by the young Benjamin Britten is another matter. I need to hear it again, and that will not be easy since it is not often programmed or recorded.

But the hallmarks of mature Britten (below) all seemed there, if not yet seamlessly assembled. The music sounded modern but accessible, clearly not academic. This was real music, not what The Ear calls R&D Music — Research and Development Music — that is designed more to make a point or win tenure than to please the ear or touch the heart.

Benjamin Britten

In all, it was a delightful night of music-making, and if you are not going to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, you are only cheating yourself of great pleasure and great performances.

Reviews, of course, are by nature subjective. So here is another one you can compare this review to:

It is a review by the highly respected John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=43770&sid=c9ccfe0ad418291bab1d31cde0181d49

John-Barker

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opens its new winter season Friday night with masterpieces and rarities with guest violinist Rachel Barton Pine. Get there early, and check out the photographs of Paul Vanderbilt.

October 7, 2014
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ALERT: If you have a chance before attending a concert at the Overture Center, be sure to check out the impressive show of black-and-white landscape photos by Paul Vanderbilt (below), the former curator of photography at the Wisconsin Historical Society. It is a stunning exhibit that features single shots and also couplings with poetic commentaries by Vanderbilt.

The images are on show in the James Watrous Gallery of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, on the top floor of the Overture Center. The show runs through Sunday, Nov. 2. A FREE panel discussion will be held on Saturday, Oct. 18, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the auditorium at the State Historical Society, 816 State Street (NOT the museum on the Capitol Square).

Here is a link to more information and other related events:

http://www.wisconsinacademy.org/gallery/current-exhibition

Paul Vanderbilt

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear is all excited.

One of the major players on the Madison music scene will open its new season this coming Friday night.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, under the baton of its longtime music director and conductor, Andrew Sewell, will perform a concert of music by Henri Vieuxtemps, Camille Saint-Saens, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Benjamin Britten and Franz Joseph Haydn. It takes place at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO lobby

The new WCO season is heavy with three fine pianists (Shai Wosner, Ilya Yakushev and Bryan Wallick)  -– which The Ear likes since he is himself an avid amateur pianist -– but the opening concert is special and an exception.

The guest soloist is Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below), who received a rave review when she performed the famous Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra last season for the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Here is a link to that review by John W. Barker:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/classical-music-the-wisconsin-union-theater-opens-its-new-season-with-a-winning-blockbuster-program-of-brahms-and-shostakovich-performed-by-native-son-conductor-kenneth-woods-chicago-violist-rachel/

Here is a link to a preview interview that The Ear did with Rachel Barton Pine:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/classical-music-qa-violinist-rachel-barton-pine-talks-about-music-education-her-new-projects-reaching-new-audiences-playing-rock-music-and-the-brahms-violin-concerto-that-she-will-perform-sat/

Rachel Barton Pine

Rachel Barton Pine will perform the Violin Concerto No. 5 in A minor by the 19th-century Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps (below top) and also the showpiece “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” by French composer Camille Saint-Saens (below bottom, at the piano circa 1900 in a Corbis photo). You can hear the flashy Saint-Saens piece at the bottom performed by Itzhak Perlman in a popular YouTube video.  

henri vieuxtemps

Camille Saint-Saens at the piano

Then she will be joined by the young Juilliard School-trained violist Mathew Lipman in a performance of the early and rarely heard Concerto for Violin and Viola by the 20th-century British composer Benjamin Britten (below bottom).

matthew lipman violajpg

Benjamin Britten

Bookending the program are Mozart’s Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro” and Haydn’s late Symphony No. 96 in D Major, “The Miracle” -– so-called because a chandelier fell during the premiere performance in London but didn’t injure anyone in the audience.

The program is typical for Andrew Sewell (below), an avowed Francophile who likes to combine well-known works with rarely heard works. And it should be even more memorable because the Classical-era style of Mozart and Haydn plays to Sewell’s strong suit.

Andrew Sewell BW

Tickets are $15 to $75. Call the overture box office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information, including audio-video clips and artist biographies, for this opening concert, visit:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/76/event-info/

For more information about the entire WCO Masterworks winter season, including an all-Beethoven concert, visit:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/

 

 

 

 


Classical Music: At Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society concerts, The Ear always learns as he listens. Here are some lessons from last weekend that will no doubt reappear this coming weekend.

June 26, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This summer, The Ear has yet to see a missed opportunity or hear a false note from the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which seems headed for a perfect season.

I find that each of the two weekend programs that the BDDS offers in three venues for three weekends each summer usually rewards me with a generous share of pleasure plus important lessons and pleasant surprises. Little wonder, then, that the BDDS has had its best second weekend ever last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, according to BDDS executive director Samantha Crownover.

Last weekend certainly did offer much pleasure, plus many lessons and surprises, with the “Take a Hike” and “Hasta la Vista, Baby” programs. And there is no reason to think that this coming weekend’s two programs — “Cut and Run” and “Hightail It” — won’t do the same.

So here are some quick looks backward that are likely to serve as good looks forward.

Here is a link for more information about performers, date and times, programs and tickets:

www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

An avid amateur pianist myself, I get to hear terrific pianists whom I can emulate and who inspire me to practice and play better.

Almost every concert features BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Jeffrey Sykes, who teaches at University of California-Berkeley and California State University-East Bay. Sykes never disappoints. He is a master of different styles, color and dynamics — in short, an ideal collaborator.

And last weekend, this Pianist for All Seasons demonstrated yet another skill with his improvised embellishments and ornamentation on themes and passage work in a well-known Mozart piano concerto (Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488).

BDDSrehearsalJeffrySykes

This weekend Sykes will play by himself in piano trios by Dmitri Shostakovich and Antonin Dvorak with the San Francisco Piano Trio of which he is a member. He will also perform duets and trios with his BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director flutist Stephanie Jutt. Particularly noteworthy is that this weekend, Sykes will again be joined by fellow pianist Randall Hodgkinson (below) in works for one piano, four hands, one by Darius Milhaud with a Charlie Chaplin movie to accompany it.  Hodgkinson teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music and Wellesley College, and he is really good.

Randall Hodgekinson 1

Still, the real piano treat last weekend was tango pianist – and also music arranger -– Pablo Zinger (below), a native Uruguayan who now lives in New York City. Zinger once arranged music for and performed the works of Argentinean tango master Astor Piazzolla. And it was in two evenings of Piazzolla’s tangos that Zinger displayed his amazing skills.

I watched how carefully he pedaled, never overdoing it. I listened to how well he balanced volume with other instruments. I heard his unfailing ability to execute complex rhythms and to quickly but naturally change tempi. I listened to what seemed an undeniably classical keyboard technique that allowed him to play multiple voices independently, as in a Bach fugue. Articulate and laconic, Pablo Zinger (below top, he is talking; below bottom, he is playing) proved nothing short of a master instrumentalist, not just some generic dance-band pianist. I don’t think I will ever forget his rendition with BDDS of Astor Piazzolla’s heartbreakingly beautiful “Oblivion,” which you can hear in a comparable chamber music arrangement in a YouTube video at the bottom.

BDDS 2014 Pablo Zinger talks

BDDS 2014 Pablo Zinger playing

I get to hear first-rate, terrific artists from out-of town.

Some of the performers who were familiar from past BDDS seasons included husband-and-wife cellists Anthony Ross and Beth Rapier, who both play with the Minnesota Orchestra. They are terrific separately and together, as when they played the only Concerto for Two Cellos composed by Antonio Vivaldi (below) whose appealing works we hear played live too infrequently.

Beth Rapier and Anthony Ross BDDS 2014

Violinist Carmit Zori, who is the founder and artistic director of the Brooklyn (NY) Chamber Music Society, never fails to impress me with her sound and her expressiveness. This was especially true is the Romance, Op. 23, for Violin and Piano by Amy Beach, which I had never heard before. (You can hear it below in a YouTube video of Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine, who also discusses the American violinist Maud Powell to whom the Romance was dedicated and who gave the world premiere of the work. Barton Pine will perform with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra next season.)

The Beach Romance also reminded me of what a great strategy it is to open a concert with a slow piece to help get the audience into The Zone. In a way, it seems like back to the future, back to Baroque-era sonatas that went Slow-Fast-Slow-Fast rather than the Classical-era style of Fast-Slow-Fast in their sequence of movements. More concert programs should do the same.

Carmit Zori BDDS 2014

Clarinetist Alan Kay, who performs in New York City and who teaches at both the Mannes School of Music and the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, proved simply sublime in the great “autumnal” Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms as well as other pieces. What tone, color and control the man has. He made klezmer-like passages both howl with laughter and lament with moans.

Alan Kay 1 BDDS 2014

I get to hear unknown or neglected repertoire, both old and new.

Last weekend, as I said earlier, one gem was the Romance for Violin and Piano by Amy Beach; another was the chamber music arrangement by Johann Nepomuk Hummel of a Mozart piano concerto. I also liked a pampas- or gaucho-inspired work by Alberto Ginastera for cello and piano. Contemporary composer Osvaldo Golijov’s string quartet and clarinet called “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” (1994) was breathtaking.

This weekend I will get to hear music by composers I have never even heard of: Philippe Gaubert (below top), who, I suspect, sounds a bit like Gabriel Faure, and will feature virtuoso flutist Stephanie Jutt, BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director ; plus another Argentinean composer Angel Lasala (below bottom)  and William Hirtz (below bottom right with pianist Jon-Kimura Parker on the left), who are also complete unknowns to me. That adds excitement.

Philippe Gaubert 2

Angel Lasala

John Kimura Parker (left) and composer William Hirtz

I learned that the importance of dance forms in music survives.

In Baroque suites like the French and English Suites of Johann Sebastian Bach, the Concerti Grossi of George Frideric Handel and of various Italian composers, you find the allemande, gigue, minuet and sarabande among other dance forms.

In the Romantic era, it was the waltz, the polonaise, the mazurka, the polka and the Slavonic Dances of Antonin Dvorak and Hungarian Dances of Brahms.

Right into that tradition fits the Tango or, more precisely, the “new tango” or “nuevo tango.”

I could go on, but, you get the idea.

I find the Bach Dancing and Dynamite programs extremely well planned and then extremely well executed. And I am not alone, as repeated standing ovations demonstrate (below left at the Stoughton Opera House, below right at The Playhouse in the Overture Center).

To miss music and performances as fine as these is to cheat yourself.

And that just doesn’t make sense, does it?

BDDS 2014 Standing ovation in Stoughton

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation

 

 


Classical music: Listen to American violinist Hilary Hahn revive the old tradition of salon music by playing the 27 short encores she commissioned from today’s important composers.

November 23, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

A frequent critic and gifted guest reviewer on this web site recently referred to Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine as the most exciting violin talent to emerge on the American scene.

Well, Barton Pine is indeed special and very gifted, as she proved earlier this month when she opened the Wisconsin Union Theater season with the magnificent Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, performed with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra conducted under the baton of UW alumnus and Madison native Kenneth Woods.

Here is a link to that review:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/classical-music-the-wisconsin-union-theater-opens-its-new-season-with-a-winning-blockbuster-program-of-brahms-and-shostakovich-performed-by-native-son-conductor-kenneth-woods-chicago-violist-rachel/

But The Ear has to respectfully disagree.

For my money, or my taste, or my values — whatever you want to call it —  the most exciting violin talent on the American scene is Hilary Hahn (below).

hilary_hahn

Hahn performs the classics and the great masterworks terrifically, with a great sense of architectural shape and beautiful tone, plus exciting but not exaggerated or distorted interpretations.

She also plays modern works and commissions works, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto by Jennifer Higdon (below) who teaches composition at the same Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where Hahn trained.

And her two recitals with the then relatively unknown pianist Valentina Lisitsa at the Wisconsin Union Theater were among the best performed and most originally programmed recitals that I have ever heard.

Jennifer Higdon and cat Beau

Oh, and Hilary Hahn also blogs, by the way.

And she also did her own interviews, posted on YouTube, with the 27 composers — including Max Richter, Lera Auerbach and Avner Dorfman — who composed the encores.

Check out her website: http://hilaryhahn.com

Now the heirloom record label Deutsche Grammophon has released the “The Hilary Hahn Encores in 27 Pieces,” which features 27 recently composed pieces, all commissioned by Hahn for her use as concert encores. It is a welcome throwback, in a way, to salon music and to composers like virtuoso violinist Fritz Kreisler.

Hilary Hahn Encores CD cover

I don’t know how they did it – I suspect it was some kind of swap for advertising space – but NPR has terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” and a feature called “First Listen” that also allows you to hear some music before it is released commercially. (But, as I understand it, you can’t download it or recorded it from the NPR site.)

NPR did the same for Jeremy Denk’s acclaimed new recording for the Nonesuch label of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.

Anyway, here is a link to the new Hilary Hahn CD of encores. Enjoy the music and listening to it.

http://www.npr.org/2013/11/03/242090716/first-listen-hilary-hahn-in-27-pieces-the-hilary-hahn-encores

And let us know your Top 5 picks of the 27, or even just your Top Pick.

It will be interesting to see if there is a consensus and what ones are liked the most.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra will perform works by Mendelssohn and Vaughan Williams this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

November 21, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know the name Mikko Utevsky. The young violist and conductor is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which will perform its fourth season next summer. He was recently named the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra. The ensemble has an out-of-date website here (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest preview of a concert this coming weekend by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra. I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour two summers ago with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the preview by Mikko Utevsky (below):

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Utevsky

This weekend, UW-Madison Choral Director Beverly Taylor (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) brings a wonderful and varied program to the stage of Mills Hall, consisting of a pair of choral and orchestral works performed by the UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra (both below bottom, the latter fresh off of a critically acclaimed performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony and the Brahms Violin Concerto with soloist Rachel Barton Pine).

Beverly Taylor Katrin Talbot

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

The choral concert, which can be heard Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. — and in which, for full disclosure, this writer will be singing — features an unusual pair of secular and half-sacred cantatas: “Die Erste Walpurgisnacht” (The First Walpurgis Night) by Felix Mendelssohn (bellow top) and “Dona Nobis Pacem” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Mendelssohn

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

Mendelssohn’s work, by far the stranger of the two, is on a text by the great German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (below), and is set for soloists (UW student Caitlin Miller, German tenor Klaus Georg, and UW student bass-baritone Erik Larson), chorus and symphony orchestra.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1828

It tells the story of a group of Druids who, by virtue of their guile and some clever trickery, scare away the Christian soldiers who occupy their land so they can celebrate May Day in peace. While the plot is set in May, some of the music today feels more appropriate for Halloween, particularly as the Druids masquerade as devil-worshippers and demons to frighten the Christians. Left to their own devices at last, the druids end the cantata in a blaze of light.

The poet had intended this text for musical treatment, but had expected his friend Carl Friedrich Zelter (below) to set it. Zelter tried twice, but only Mendelssohn eventually completed a setting in 1831 (which he revised extensively in 1843), probably attracted to the nocturnal mischief that at times recalls both atmosphere and Mendelssohn’s music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The work runs about 35 minutes.

carl friedrich zelter

The second half of the program consists of a better-known 20th-century masterwork — of similar length and vastly greater weight — that treads the line between the sacred and the secular: “Dona Nobis Pacem” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

This cantata, which will feature soprano and visiting UW professor of voice Elizabeth Hagedorn (below top) and student baritone Jordan Wilson as soloists along with the chorus and orchestra, is compiled from a variety of texts, primarily Biblical selections and poems of Walt Whitman (below bottom).

Elizabeth Hagedorn 1

Walt Whitman 2

Composed in 1936, it is both a spiritual and human prayer for peace, mourning the dead of the First World War (below) and praying that there will not be a Second.

The Latin “Dona Nobis Pacem” (“Grant us peace”) appears throughout the work as a refrain, interjected by the soprano soloist, who also features prominently in the first movement (“Agnus Dei”).

World War I trenches

The second movement, “Beat, beat drums!” portrays the chaos of war, and the third and fourth (“Reconciliation,” featuring the baritone, and a choral “Dirge for Two Veterans”) mourn the senseless loss of life that it brings. The fifth movement begins with a John Bright speech, “The Angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land,” and proceeds into a selection from the book of Jeremiah.

An optimistic English setting of the Gloria follows, and the work concludes quietly with the “Dona Nobis Pacem” sung by chorus a cappella and the soprano soloist. (See the YouTube video at the bottom.)

It is a profoundly moving work, with beautiful music and poetry, and can serve to remind us in times of strife that the truest service to the memory of the fallen is to strive for the end of conflict and the coming of peace.

I hope you will join us Saturday or Sunday for a program that is not to be missed.

Performances are in Mills Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, on Saturday night, Nov. 23, at 8 p.m.; and on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 24, at 2 p.m. 

Tickets are $15 for general admission, $8 for students and seniors. They are available by calling (608) 265-2787 and at the door.

Please note: There are sports games Friday night and parking will be difficult, so leave early and allow extra time for delays.


Classical music: The Wisconsin Union Theater opens its new season with a winning blockbuster, meaty program of Brahms and Shostakovich performed by native son conductor Kenneth Woods, Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine and the UW Symphony Orchestra.

November 4, 2013
5 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 hosts 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

While the Wisconsin Union Theater is still under renovation, it is sharing its season’s programs with the University of Wisconsin School of Music, and the first one this year was a terrific winner!

Two guests graced the stage at Mills Hall, with the resources of the UW Symphony orchestra placed at the disposal of one of them, conductor Kenneth Woods, himself a product of the UW School of Music  who is now making a very individual career for himself from his home in Wales in the United Kingdom.

Kenneth_Woods

Woods chose to begin with a short orchestral piece, “In the Gale of Life,” composed in 2006 by Philip Sawyers (below). The British composer took his inspiration, and his title, from lines in a poem by A.E. Housman.

That fact matters little in the listening, for the piece is basically intended to be a zippy concert overture, designed to show off Sawyers’ mastery of a large orchestra. It might better be called an orchestral “Essay,” on the model of Samuel Barber’s works of that title, save that Sawyers lacks Barber’s clearly focused concision. Thematic materials appear but are denied explorations of their potentials. Just more of your in-one-ear-and-out-the-other repertoire, then.

Philip Sawyers

The first of the servings of real meat came with the appearance of the second guest, Chicago violinist  Rachel Barton Pine (below). She is surely the best violinist the US has produced, certainly presently active. I have long admired her versatile and imaginative work through her many prize-winning and best-selling recordings as well as at least one previous concert appearance (with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra).

Rachel Barton Pine

Her vehicle this time was Johannes Brahms’ monumental Violin Concerto.  She clearly regards it as a work of serious ideas, to which she is committed, rather than to simplistic showiness. In some ways, she understated the virtuosity, but when impassioned outbursts were called for she threw herself into them body and soul.

She also understands that any Brahms concerto is a partnership between soloist and orchestra. She was collegial, and even deferential when appropriate. The second movement opens with a gorgeous passage for wind ensemble, and when it briefly recurs at the end she joined in as if sharing their conversation.

Woods led the orchestra, meanwhile, in a solid and worthy realization of its role.

Pine also, by the way, eschewed the usual first-movement cadenza written by the concerto’s dedicatee, Joseph Joachim (below), and instead used her own–which she has published in a volume of such cadenzas and arrangements that was available in the lobby.

Joseph Joachim

A musician not only of rich talent but genuine personal grace, Barton Pine used the traditional encore slot to talk to the audience about the remarkable history of the instrument she plays, one selected by Brahms himself for a gifted lady violinist in his circle. She then played the composer’s familiar Lullaby in a solo arrangement by Albert Spalding. (You can hear it a YouTube video at the bottom and on her recent acclaimed CD of lullabies.)

As if one great masterpiece was not enough for a great concert, the second half offered another, the second serving of meat.

For a long time, the Fifth Symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich (below) was regarded as a vulgar capitulation to the brutal Stalinist regime, which had put the composer in serious jeopardy.  Shostakovich himself described it as “a Soviet artist’s response to just criticism,” and the work was immediately acclaimed as a model of accessible socialist art.

dmitri shostakovich

It has only been in recent years that all of Shostakovich’s music, and especially this work, have been perceived as carrying dark subtexts of personal and political import.

Woods himself clearly follows this line, and in an introductory talk pointed up the evidence for the Fifth as a work not of subservience but of defiance.  He then led a performance that was, in effect, a testimonial to that viewpoint.

It was a searing, powerful, riveting approach, its revisionism best displayed in the final movement.  Woods launched into its opening march ferociously, faster than most conductors. After its less hectic middle section, he approached its coda-apotheosis not as a paean of Soviet triumphalism, but as a slower, more unsettling challenge to the audience.

The UW Symphony Orchestra (below top, in a photo by John W. Barker) followed him magnificently.  How wonderful it is to see these students perform at a virtually professional level, utterly at one with their conductor.  Once more, a tribute to what UW Professor of Conducting James Smith (below) has done to build up a playing tradition of confidence and polish.

UW Symphony Orchestra 2013 CR John W. Barker

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

And, once more, this concert was a reminder of the kind of glorious musical experiences that are to be had on the UW-Madison campus, ones too often ignored or overlooked by the public and the media.


Classical music Q&A: Violinist Rachel Barton Pine talks about music education, her new projects, reaching new audiences, playing rock music and the Brahms Violin Concerto that she will perform Saturday night with the the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra.

October 30, 2013
2 Comments

ALERT: Radio host Rich Samuels, whose show “Anything Goes” airs from 5-8 a.m. on Thursday mornings on WORT 89.9 FM (it can also be streamed live) sends the  following word: “I’ll be airing back-to-back recorded interviews on my Thursday (10/31) WORT show with violinist Rachel Barton Pine and conductor Kenneth Woods, in anticipation of their Mills Hall performance with the UW Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night. Tracks from their latest CDs with be included.”

By Jacob Stockinger

Both in recordings and in live concerts, the acclaimed Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below) has the gift of making the familiar seem new and unusual, unfamiliar and exciting.

Rachel Barton Pine

Pine will put that talent on display this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall when she performs Johannes Brahms’ justly famous and beautiful Violin Concerto with the University of Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra under the baton of returning native son conductor Kenneth Woods (below), who will also conduct Dmitri Shostakovich’s powerful Fifth Symphony and British composer Philip Sawyer’s “Gale of Life.” (For more about Woods, the The Ear’s Q&A with him that was posted Monday. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/classical-music-qa-native-son-and-uw-madison-alumnus-conductor-kenneth-woods-talks-about-returning-to-madison-to-open-the-wisconsin-union-theater-season-this-coming-saturday-night/

Kenneth_Woods

The concert is the season opener for the Wisconsin Union Theater, which is using Mills Hall while the regular historic and landmark hall is undergoing extensive renovations.

For more information here is a link to the Wisconsin Union Theater’s website:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season13-14/Rachel-Barton-Pine.html

For information and tickets, call the Box Office at 608-265-ARTS (2787) for more information. Tickets are: $25 General Public, $21 Union Members, UW-Madison Faculty & Staff, and non UW-Madison Students, $10 UW-Madison Students.  Buy online, call the Box Office at 608-265-ARTS (2787), or purchase in person at the Campus Arts Ticketing box office in Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave. 

Celebrated as a leading interpreter of great classical works, Rachel Barton Pine’s performances combine her gift for emotional communication and her scholarly fascination with historical research.  Audiences are thrilled by her dazzling technique, lustrous tone, and infectious joy in music-making.

Pine is a former violin prodigy who performed with the Chicago Symphony at the age of 10, and at numerous other important venues throughout her teens.  Her broad range includes classical and baroque music, but unexpectedly for a classical musician, Barton Pine also performs with a heavy metal band, Earthen Grave.

Along with her regular performance schedule, Barton Pine has also turned her attention to classical music advocacy. The Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation and Global HeartStrings are dedicated to promoting the study and appreciation of classical music. 

Barton Pine recently granted an email interview to The Ear:

Rachel Barton Pine portrait

Could you briefly introduce yourself, touching on some highlights include when you started violin lessons, honors and awards,

When I was three years old, I saw some older girls in beautiful dresses who were playing violin at church. I immediately stood up in the pew and announced, “I want to do that!”  That summer, my parents let me start lessons with a teacher in the neighborhood.

By age five, I knew this is what my life would be about.  I made my professional debut at age seven with the Chicago String Ensemble and my earliest appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra were at age 10 and 15.

Like many young violinist I took part in international competitions.  I was the youngest person (at age 17) and the first American to win a gold medal at the 1992 J.S. Bach International Competition in Leipzig, Germany, and I won top prizes in the Szigeti (Budapest), Paganini (Genoa), Queen Elisabeth (Brussels), Kreisler (Vienna), and Montreal international violin competitions.

Closer to home, I’ve been honored with the Great Performer of Illinois award and twice as a Chicagoan of the year. I had the pleasure of playing my own version of the Star-Spangled Banner for various events including Chicago Bulls playoff games. I’ve also received the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award for my work in music education.

Stradivarius violin

What are your current and future projects?

For the last two seasons, my tour dates included performances of two demanding cycles, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s five Violin Concertos and the Paganini’s 24 solo Caprices (see the YouTube video below), each cycle in a single evening. Exploring a composer’s entire output in a single genre gives extra insight to both the interpreter and the listeners. In August, I recorded the complete Mozart concertos with Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; the album will be released in the spring. This winter, I will record the Paganini caprices.

What things do you think make you special or unusual?

I like to think that every violin soloist is individual and unique; hearing my Brahms Concerto will be a little different from any other Brahms you’ve heard before because I’m a different person.

With that being said, I believe I’m the only international violin soloist who also plays in a doom/thrash metal band! When I’m not off playing concertos and recitals, I love rocking out (below) with my band Earthen Grave, playing my electric six-string flying V violin.

On the other end of the spectrum, I love indulging in early music when I get a chance. In fact, in 2009, I performed on the rebec (an ancestor of the violin from the 1200s) for a concert of medieval music at the Madison Early Music Festival.

Rachel Barton Pine  goth nails

You have recorded the Brahms Violin Concerto along with a concerto by Brahms’ friend and mentor Joseph Joachim. Can you explain what makes the Brahms a special work for you?

I have been fascinated with the Brahms Concerto since my earliest violin lessons. I began studying it when I was 14, and it rapidly became a mainstay of my repertoire. It was with the Brahms Concerto that I won several of my international prizes and made many of my debuts in Europe and America. It remains one of the most fulfilling works I perform.

My teacher in Berlin, Werner Scholz, was a student of a student of Joachim. I feel fortunate to have gained knowledge about the Brahms Concerto from one so close to the original source. In my lessons, Professor Scholz would say, “My teacher said that Joachim said that Brahms said to play it like this!”

In addition, I have been playing a very special violin since 2002, the 1742 “ex-Soldat” Guarneri del Gesu (below), on loan from my generous patron. In the 19th century, it was chosen by Brahms for his protégé, Marie Soldat. She was one of the first champions of the Brahms Violin Concerto, which became her signature piece. Marie Soldat and Brahms frequently played chamber music together, with Brahms at the piano, which means that my violin actually got to jam with Brahms! It’s amazing to play the music of Brahms on an instrument whose voice he personally selected.

Rachel Barton Pine with violin

I will be performing my own cadenza for the Brahms. Playing my own cadenza is the most organic way I can express my feelings about the music. I’m very honored that my cadenzas to great violin concertos such as Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini and Brahms have been published in “The Rachel Barton Pine Collection” along with others of my compositions and arrangements and editions. This sheet music book is part of Carl Fischer’s Masters Collection series; I am the only living artist (other volumes are the collections of works by Kreisler, Heifetz, etc.)

In 2004, I had the great pleasure of releasing my recording of the Brahms Concerto with my “hometown” orchestra, the mighty Chicago Symphony. That was really a dream come true, to do one of my favorite concertos with one of my favorite orchestras! For that album, I recorded both my own cadenza as well as that by Brahms’s friend and collaborator Joachim.

What was the relationship between Brahms and Joachim?

When Joseph Joachim and Johannes Brahms met in 1853, the 21-year-old Joachim was already an established violin virtuoso and composer. The extremely gifted Brahms, two years younger, was virtually unknown. They quickly became close friends and began a musical interchange that lasted throughout their lives.

Brahms and Joachim challenged each other constantly, trading counterpoint exercises along with their correspondence. In 1853, they roomed together in Göttingen, and Brahms began to study orchestration with Joachim. Joachim served as a mentor to Brahms, introducing him to Schumann and other leading musicians of the day.

Throughout their friendship, Joachim was unwavering in his support of Brahms’s compositions. He performed Brahms’s chamber works, premiering many of them, and conducted Brahms’s symphonies. Joachim was particularly fond of the Brahms Violin Concerto. He described the work, which Brahms dedicated to him, as one of “high artistic value” that roused in him “a peculiarly strong feeling of interest” (Joseph Joachim and Andreas Moser, Violinschule, 1902-05).

Brahms (below) began composing his Violin Concerto in the summer of 1878, during a vacation on Lake Wörther in Pörtschach, Carinthia (Austria). On August 22, Brahms sent the manuscript of the violin part to Joachim with this note: “Naturally I wish to ask you to correct it. I thought you ought to have no excuse – neither respect for the music being too good nor the pretext that orchestrating it would not merit the effort. Now I shall be satisfied if you say a word and perhaps write in several: difficult, awkward, impossible, etc.” Thus began one of the most intriguing musical exchanges in history.

brahms-1

By the time Joachim (below) premiered the concerto in Leipzig on January 1, 1879, the piece had undergone considerable changes. Two middle movements had been removed and replaced by a newly written Adagio, resulting in the three-movement concerto we know today. (Both of the original middle movements are now lost. Many scholars think that the Scherzo may have been converted into the Allegro appassionato of the Second Piano Concerto.) The score was passed back and forth at least a half-dozen times before the premiere, and the two friends’ debate over revisions, which is clearly evident in the surviving manuscript, has been left for posterity. In the end, Brahms incorporated most of Joachim’s suggested orchestral changes but considerably fewer of his revisions to the solo violin part.

Joseph Joachim

How do you feel about performing with a student orchestra such as the UW Symphony? Do you see advantages or drawbacks?

There is nothing more energizing than youthful talent and enthusiasm, and I always welcome the opportunity to perform with young people. These student musicians may not be as experienced with the Brahms Violin Concerto as older artists, but I’m sure they’ll learn it quickly and play it with great spirit. (Below are the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Choral Union under the direction of conductor Beverly Taylor.)

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

Do you have any experience with conductor Kenneth Woods or know his reputation?

I was not previously familiar with Maestro Woods. One of the great pleasures of being a touring soloist is performing in a different city or country every week, experiencing the wonderful variety of reuniting with musicians with whom I have previously worked and collaborating with new colleagues. Fresh perspectives are always inspiring, and I really look forward to exploring the Brahms with Maestro Woods in a few weeks.

Do you have an opinion of Madison and its audiences? Do you have any personal or professional history here? Or will this be your local debut?

I have performed in Madison a number of times over the last decade as soloist with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top). Maestro Andrew Sewell (below bottom), his wife and children have become close family friends. In fact, his son (six years old at the time, now a teenager) was the ring bearer at my wedding. I always enjoy visiting Madison. I’m looking forward to returning this month, and coming back to the WCO again next season.

My daughter Sylvia has been touring with me since she was three weeks old; she just turned two. This will be her first trip to Madison, and I’m sure she’ll enjoy it, too.

WCO lobby

andrewsewell

Was there an Aha! Moment that told you – a piece or performance or performer – that let you know that you wanted to be a professional concertizing violinist?

I began violin lessons at age three, and by the time I was five, I was signing my kindergarten papers “Rachel, Violinist.” I didn’t consider myself to be someone who played the violin; rather, being a violinist was my entire identity. It was through playing in church that I had come to the belief that creating music and sharing it was others to uplift their spirits is my calling, and that’s what I still believe.

What advice would you give to young violinists?

Commit to a daily minimum amount of practice and stick to it; inconsistency will slow your progress. Be focused, observant and goal-oriented when practicing; merely logging in the hours won’t magically cause improvement. Structure your practice sessions to include a balance between technical work and expressive work … and don’t forget to include a little creative time too, such as writing your own music, jamming along to the radio, or trying out a fun non-classical style of playing.

violin practice

And how do you think classical music can attract bigger and younger audiences?

Much has been written about this important topic. Traveling around the U.S., I’ve observed many efforts that have been successful in different communities. Being creative with programming and concert presentation is important, while always preserving what makes classical special in the first place.

It’s also important to find creative ways to connect with others so we can express our passion for classical music and get them excited about it, too. I do this in a variety of ways: visiting schools, participating in pre-concert talks, being accessible through social media such as Twitter and my Violin Adventures podcast, and playing classical pieces on rock radio stations or in alternative venues such as bars and cafes.

It’s the best feeling in the world when someone comes up to me after a concert to say that it was the first time they ever attended an orchestra performance and they loved it!

What else would you like to say or add?

I’m very excited to have just released my latest album, the Mendelssohn and Schumann Violin Concertos along with both Beethoven Romances. My last album, Violin Lullabies (see the YouTube video at the bottom to hear Rachel Barton Pine play Brahms’ Lullaby) debuted at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s classical chart, which was a thrill. With all of my recordings, I hope that they will be enjoyed by classical music connoisseurs as well as by those who might be newly discovering the joys of classical music.


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