The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Prize-winning composer John Harbison has turned 80. In February, Madison will see many celebrations of his birthday, starting this Friday night with the Imani Winds

January 30, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Feb. 1, a month-long celebration in Madison of the 80th birthday of critically acclaimed and prize-winning composer John Harbison (below) gets underway.

The festivities start with a concert by the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds (below), which will perform this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. – with a pre-concert lecture at 6 p.m. — in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater. The program includes Harbison’s popular Wind Quintet.

Here is a link with more information about the group, the program and tickets: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/imani-winds/

Among America’s most distinguished artistic figures, Harbison is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, among them a MacArthur ”genius grant’ and a Pulitzer Prize. His work encompasses all genres, from chamber music to opera, sacred to secular. (You can hear Harbison discuss his approach to composing in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

He has composed for most of America’s premiere musical institutions, including the Metropolitan Opera, the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle and New York; and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

Institute Professor at MIT, Harbison serves as composer, conductor, performer, teacher and scholar. He divides his time between Cambridge, Mass., and Token Creek, Wis., where he co-founded and co-directs a summer chamber music festival with his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison.

Other local birthday events include a performance by the Madison Symphony Orchestra; several chamber music and choral concerts at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, including one by the Mosaic Chamber Players; an exhibition of books and manuscripts at the Mills Music Library at UW-Madison’s Memorial Library.

There are also several concerts, including the world premiere of a new Sonata for Viola, and a composer residency at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music; and the world premiere of a new motet by the Madison Choral Project.

Harbison will also be featured in radio interviews and broadcast retrospectives by both Wisconsin Public Radio and WORT community radio.

National and international celebrations include other world premieres of commissions, many new recordings and the publication of Harbison’s autobiographical book about Johann Sebastian Bach, “What Do We Make of Bach?”

For more details about the many local celebrations, you can go to the following two links. Schedules, programs and updates – events are subject to change — will be posted at www.tokencreekfestival.org and www.johnharbison.com.

To receive “Harbison Occasions,” an intermittent e-newsletter, write to arsnova.artsmanagement@gmail.com

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Classical music: WQXR radio names 19 musicians to watch in ’19. What do you think of the choices? Who would you add?

January 28, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

What will 2019 bring in the way of classical music?

What and who should we be looking at and paying attention to?

WQXR — the famed classical radio station in New York City – recently published its list of 19 to watch in ‘19, with detailed reasons for and explanations of their picks.

It seems like a pretty good choice to The Ear, although there is always something of a parlor game aspect to such projects.

Nonetheless, the list covers a fine variety – instrumentalists and vocalists, young and old, American and international, the well-known and the up-and-coming such as the opera singer Devone Tines (below, in a photo by Nikolai Schukoff).

Some names will be familiar to Madison audiences – such as pianist Inon Barnatan, violinist Nicola Benedettti, the JACK Quartet and cellist Steven Isserlis — especially through their live appearances at the Wisconsin Union Theater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and the Madison Symphony Orchestra plus broadcasts on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here is a link to the list: https://www.wqxr.org/story/wqxr-presents-19-19-artists-collaborations-upcoming-year/

The Ear can think of some other musicians that he would add to the list.

An especially deserving one of them is the young American virtuoso pianist George Li (below, in a photo by Simon Fowler).

Born in China and brought as a child to the United States by his parents, Li attended Harvard and just finished his master’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. (At the bottom, you can hear Li play virtuosic music by Liszt and Horowitz in the YouTube video of a Tiny Desk Concert at National Public Radio or NPR.)

Li won the silver medal in the 2015 at the 15th Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow and had a lot of people talking about the energy and excitement of his playing. He was praised for both outstanding technical prowess and deep expressiveness.

He then took first prize at a piano competition in Paris.

Ever since, he has been steadily booked. At 23, the amiable Li has already toured China, Japan and Russia and seems to have a very busy schedule ahead of him, judging by his posts on Instagram.

He has also released his first recording on the Warner Classics label, a fine CD that received many positive reviews from critics, including this one.

The program includes Haydn’s Sonata in B minor, Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor “Funeral March,” Rachmaninoff’s “Variations on a Theme of Corelli,” and Consolation No. 3 and the popular Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt.

Given all the concertos he is now performing, it would not surprise one to see his next recording be a concerto, possibly the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto N. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23, which brought him instant acclaim.

Here is a link to his website: http://www.georgelipianist.com

And here is a link to his entry in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Li

Keep your ears and eyes on George Li.

What do you think of the choices made by WQXR?

Who would you add to the list of musicians to watch in 2019, and why?

If possible, maybe you can include a YouTube link to a performance, live or recorded, in your comment.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Bach Around the Clock 2019 is looking for performers of all kinds to play on March 2

January 20, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Do you like the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below, followed by photos of performances from past years)?

Then attention individuals and groups!

Amateurs and professionals!

Students and teachers!

Young people and old!

Instrumentalists and singers!

Bach Around the Clock – the annual one-day festival to mark the birthday of composer Johann Sebastian Bach – is looking for performers for the 12 hours of celebration.

This year, the event takes place on Saturday, March 2.

Here is an official announcement with complete details about participating in and supporting the event:

Would YOU like to perform at Bach Around the Clock (BATC)?

Plan to join in the celebration of the 334th birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).

Musicians — amateur and professional — are invited to perform their favorite piece by Bach.

To request a performance spot, go to the BATC website and click on “Contact Us” to find our online sign-up request form.

Tell us who you are, whether it’s you alone or in a group, what you would like to perform, what instrument(s) and the approximate amount of time you would like for your performance. We will get back in touch with you with complete details.

Here is a link: https://bachclock.com/

Performances will take place on Saturday, March 2, at St. Andrew’s Church, 1833 Regent St., Madison, from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. It will be live-streamed on local radio stations and websites.

P.S.  You can help keep this festival free and open to all! Bach Around the Clock welcomes donations to help meet the costs of offering this free community event. To make a secure online contribution, click below:

Donate

Bach Around the Clock is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization; contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

The Ear, who finds the event instructive and enjoyable, wants to add that although he loves and appreciates performances of Bach’s works as they were originally intended, he especially enjoys unusual arrangements that show the plasticity and genius of Bach’s music. He loves bluegrass Bach, roots Bach, jazz Bach, fell Bach and more.

From past years, he remembers hearing Two-Part Inventions written for keyboard played by a bassoon and flute duo. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.) Similarly, he found it entrancing when one of the suites for solo cello was played on a saxophone and another on an electric bass guitar.

The Ear loves such unexpected variety – and is sure that Johann Sebastian himself, who often borrowed from and transcribed his own works, would approve.


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Classical music: Trio Celeste proves superb in its Madison debut concert at Farley’s House of Pianos

January 8, 2019
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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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

In its Salon Piano Series, Farley’s House of Pianos has been offering splendid piano recitals. But it has augmented that by bringing other musicians to join in chamber music programs, showing them at work with the vintage pianos in the Farley collection, so lovingly restored.

On Sunday afternoon, the series brought the Trio Celeste (below) from California to play just such a program. Consisting of violinist Iryna Krechkovsky, cellist Ross Gasworth and pianist Kevin Kwan Loucks, the group played a demanding program of predominantly Russian origins.

They began by reversing the two parts of the program from the printed order. Thus, the first item was the single-movement Trio élégiaque No. 1 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, composed in 1892, inspired by the Tchaikovsky work that comprised the latter half. This was followed by piano trio arrangements from the flashy “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” by the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla.

The red meat of the program, however, was the magnificent Trio in A minor, Op. 50, composed in 1882 by Tchaikovsky. This is one of the towering works of the chamber music literature, cast in quite unconventional terms: a tightly constructed but beautifully flowing opening movement, then an extended set of variations on a folksy tune.

The group (below) did resort to a frequent trick of cutting, omitting notably the challenging fugal variation. (You can hear the whole Theme and Variations movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.) But the performance was powerful and impassioned — and the more compelling for being given in a modest venue rather than in a large concert hall.  These are truly superb musicians, and it is wonderful to have them come to Madison for us.

The program made use of Farley’s Steinway Model D instrument made in 1950. During the intermission, Tim Farley (below) spoke knowingly about the instrument and its restoration. And, at the outset of things, comments on the music were given by the pianist and the cellist.

A truly memorable event in the Farley series!


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Classical music: WQXR names the best classical recording of 2018. Plus, here are other guides to help you use gift cards

January 5, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is another gift list that The Ear just found. Even though it was compiled before the holiday, he looked for it but didn’t find it.

It’s another of the top classical recordings of 2018. But this time, the list – with plenty of sound samples — comes from WQXR, the famed classical music radio station in New York City.

It may be too late to use for holiday gift giving – unless it is for yourself. After all, there are a lot of gift cards waiting to be redeemed.

Also below are several other lists so that you can cross-check and compare. The CD of Chopin ballades and nocturnes by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (below), for example, makes almost all the lists, which is a good sign of quality. (You can hear Andsnes play the Ballade No. 4, The Ear’s favorite, in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

Here is the link to WQXR:

https://www.wqxr.org/story/best-classical-releases-2018/

Here is a link to the top picks by critics for The New York Times and the Top 10 for National Public Radio (NPR):

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/22/classical-music-gift-guide-or-gift-or-both-critics-for-the-new-york-times-name-their-top-25-classical-recordings-of-2018-so-does-national-public-radio-npr/

And here are the nominations for the 2019 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/classical-music-here-are-the-just-announced-grammy-nominations-for-2019-they-can-serve-as-a-great-holiday-gift-guide/


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Classical music: Wikipedia offers a comprehensive overview of classical music in 2018. Plus, the annual New Year’s Day concert by the Vienna Philharmonic airs this morning on radio and tonight on TV

January 1, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today – January 1, 2019 – brings just two items or stories to the blog.

NEW YEAR’S DAY FROM VIENNA

The first item is a kind of ALERT.

One of the most popular and beloved worldwide musical traditions is the annual Great Performances broadcast by National Public Radio (NPR) of “New Year’s Day From Vienna” with the Vienna Philharmonic.

This year’s conductor is Christian Thielemann  (below top) of the Munich Philharmonic and the host is Hugh Bonneville (below bottom in a photo by Nick Briggs) of PBS’ “Downton Abbey.”

The concert is a sold-out feast of waltzes, polkas and marches (including the famous clap-along “Radetzky March,” with Herbert von Karajan conducting in 1987, in the YouTube video at the bottom).

The radio version will be broadcast on Wisconsin Public Radio from 10 a.m. to noon THIS MORNING, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019.

Then at 8-9:30 p.m. TONIGHT, Wisconsin Public Television will broadcast the visual version of the event, complete with ballet and wonderful landscape, interior and architectural shots in and around Vienna. There will also be encore performances: https://wptschedule.org/episodes/48242142/Great-Performances/From-Vienna-The-New-Years-Celebration-2019/

For a playlist and more background, go to: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/from-vienna-the-new-years-celebration-2019-about/9076/

2018 IN REVIEW

The first day of the new year seems like the perfect time to look back and see what happened in classical music during the past year.

And this year, The Ear found something truly comprehensive and international.

Wikipedia has put together a year-end overview that is astonishing for its amount of detail. 

You will find a global day-by-day calendar that includes links, in blue, for more details.

You will find news items and major events – including the effect of the #MeToo movement as well as deaths and obituaries, jobs and retirements.

You will find a list of new music.

You will find a list of new operas.

You will find lists for several major awards for classical recordings.

It is a terrific resource — a good long read, both informative and entertaining. Perfect for New Year’s Day.

Here is a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_in_classical_music

Happy New Year!


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Classical music: We should hear more operas sung in English translation – like Wisconsin Public Radio’s live broadcast TODAY at noon of the Metropolitan Opera’s shortened version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”

December 29, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear thinks that we in English-speaking countries should hear more operas sung in our native language.

Yes, sung in English – not the original Italian, French or German.

You can see how you’d like it for yourself if you listen at noon TODAY– Saturday, Dec. 29 — to Wisconsin Public Radio. That’s when you can hear the Metropolitan Opera’s live broadcast of its family-friendly production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”

The Ear did so and – except for deleting the wonderful overture — loved it.

So, apparently, did a lot others. (You can hear Nathan Gunn in a sample in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

After many years, the production has now become a holiday tradition for the Met to offer children while school is out for the holidays.

And one suspects it is developing new audiences – especially with the colorful staging and costumes by Julie Taymor, who won such acclaim for her staging of “The Lion King” on both the stage and film.

Sure, a lot of purists will probably object to substituting English for the original Italian, French, German and Russian. But it is so freeing and feels so good to understand what you are hearing without the distraction of constantly going back and forth trying to look at both the supertitles and the stage.

It also seems worth a try, given the problems that many opera companies are having competing with the “Live from the Met in HD” productions that you can see in movie theaters for far less money, and the decline of both season subscribers and single tickets.

To be honest, of course even in English you will miss some of the words. That’s the nature of singing. But excellent diction helps. And if you are lucky enough to see the production in person, supertitles in Italian, French German and Spanish and, yes, English are still provided.

It is not a completely new idea. After all, Great Britain has the English National Opera, which performs standard operas by Verdi and Puccini, Monteverdi and Handel, Mozart and Wagner, in English. So, many of the very great operas have already been translated into English and could be staged in English elsewhere.

Here are links where you can learn more about the English National Opera:

https://www.eno.org

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

Do you question how the text is hurt in translation?

It’s worth remembering that Mozart himself used the vernacular German instead of his usual opera house Italian so that he would reach the general public. Why not do the same today? Translation could make opera much more accessible, less pretentious and more populist.

The same is true for cutting the show down to 100 minutes from almost 3 hours. Let’s just admit that the attention span of the general public is much shorter than it used to be.

Orchestra and chamber music concerts as well as solo recitals are trimming their running times often down to 90 minutes or less, and meet with great approval from the public. Why not try the same approach with opera? Indeed, both the Madison Opera and the University Opera have limited but successful experiences with editing operas and using English.

It is also worth recalling that in translation we read greater words than an opera libretto. If we can translate Homer and Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and Proust, why can’t we translate opera librettos? One just has to be sure to find a great translator with a sensitive musical ear– such as American poet Richard Wilbur is with his award-winning, rhyming translations of Moliere’s comedies and Racine’s tragedies. Similarly, American poet J.D. McClatchy has done a fine job with The Met’s “Magic Flute.”

Here is a link to more information about the production, including a synopsis:

https://www.metopera.org/season/2018-19-season/the-magic-flute/

And here is a review of the Met’s  “Magic Flute” by Tommasini:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/20/arts/music/review-mozart-magic-flute-met-opera.html

What do you think?

Should more operas be staged in English?

Should long operas be edited?

Why or why not?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: You be the critic. Was there a specific piece or an entire concert of holiday music that you especially liked – or disliked — this year?

December 26, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, Hanukkah, the winter solstice and Christmas are over and we’ve just about made it through another holiday time, with Kwanzaa and New Year’s still to come.

Holiday music, especially choral music, is undeniably popular during holiday season.

Year after year, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas program (below is a photo by Peter Rodgers)  – which uses local and ethnically diverse talent and well as imported guest vocal artists — usually comes close to selling out three performances in Overture Hall.

And year after year for a decade, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Festival Choir plus guest soloists (below) sell out their one performance of “Messiah” at the Blackhawk Church in Middleton.

Plus, there are lots of other holiday events – including the Madison Bach Musicians with Baroque chamber music favorites and the Madison Choral Project with spoken word narration and new music as well as programs of traditional carols and hymns– that drew good crowds or even full houses.

There are so many holiday music events, in fact, that it can often be hard to choose.

So here is what The Ear is asking: You be the critic.

Please tell us if there was a particular piece of music you especially enjoyed – say, Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” or George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” or violin concertos by Arcangelo Corelli – music you really liked or disliked?

For next year, what do you recommend that people should keep an eye and ear out for, including programs on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television as well as on other TV and radio stations?

Similarly, was there a specific program or event – an entire program or concert – that surprised you for better or worse?

Given the limited time that most people have during the holidays, what holiday concerts should people plan on attending or avoid next year?

Often the public trusts other audience members more than they trust professional critics.

So here is a chance for you to be a critic and to direct the public’s attention as well as to thank certain performers and groups for what you see as the Best Holiday Music of 2018.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Live radio broadcasts of opera from The Met start today at noon on Wisconsin Public Radio. And superstar Plácido Domingo marks his 50th year at the Met.

December 1, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today at noon, the Metropolitan Opera starts its 88th season of Live Broadcasts From the Met.

Locally, the performance today, like all of them, airs on Wisconsin Public Radio. The new season, which starts with Arrigo Boito’s “Mefistofole,” continues through May 11.

Here is a list to the title of the entire season: https://www.wpr.org/metropolitan-opera-begins-its-88th-season

It also seems like a perfect time to mark a milestone at the Met: The 50th anniversary of the Met debut of superstar tenor Plácido Domingo (below) who is still singing, now as a baritone, at the age of 77.

Here is a link to his impressive biography on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plácido_Domingo

Here is a link to an account, appreciation and review of the event last week, celebrated with Domingo’s appearance in Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” below center, in a photo by Sara Krulwich for the New York Times) in The New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/25/arts/music/review-placido-domingo-met-opera-trittico-puccini.html

Here is The Met’s general manager Peter Gelb (left) giving a piece of the Met’s stage to Domingo to mark his golden anniversary:

Finally, here is a YouTube video of the Met’s celebration of Domingo:


Classical music: This weekend also brings holiday brass music, string music and new chamber music with voice to the UW. Plus, live radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera start this Saturday on Wisconsin Public Radio

November 30, 2018
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ALERT: This Saturday, Dec. 1, sees the start of the “Live From the Met” opera broadcasts on Wisconsin Public Radio with Arrigo Boito’s opera “Mefistofole.” The weekly series, now in its 88th year, will continue through May 11. Starting time is usually noon. Here is a link to the radio broadcast season: https://www.wpr.org/metropolitan-opera-begins-its-88th-season

By Jacob Stockinger

As usually happens towards the end of the semester, concerts are backing up, especially on the weekends.

Yesterday, information about the two performances of the annual UW-Madison Winter Choral Concert on Sunday afternoon was posted. Here is a link: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/11/29/classical-music-two-performances-of-the-uw-madisons-popular-winter-choral-concert-takes-place-this-sunday-afternoon/

But much more is going on.

Take a look and listen:

SATURDAY

Non-music majors, take heart. If you attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison, you can still play and perform while pursuing other studies.

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the All-University Strings (AUS) will perform a FREE concert that is open to the public.

The group (below, in a photo by Jeff Miller for the UW-Madison) is comprised of two non-major string orchestras (named Orchestra One and Orchestra Too), and is open to all interested string players. No audition is required, seating order is voluntary, and there is no ranking within the sections.

The AUS program endeavors to be a true learning community, serving students from virtually every department and major with the goal of nurturing lifelong engagement in music and the arts.

Pedro Oviedo is the conductor, and the guest artists are The Hunt Quartet. (The string quartet is made up of graduate students at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music: Chang En Lu and Ava Shadmani, violins; Fabio Saggin, viola; and Alex Chambers-Ozasky, cello. They will be joined by Max Herteen, double bass.)

The appealing program includes:

Norman Leyden: Serenade for Strings

Karl Jenkins: Allegretto from “Palladio” (A neo-Baroque piece you might recognize from a De Beers “Diamonds Are Forever” ad. Listen to it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Eric WhitacreOctober

Modest Mussorgsky, orchestrated by Maurice Ravel: “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs (Baba Yaga)” and “The Great Gate of Kiev” from Pictures at an Exhibition

Astor PiazzollaLa muerte del angel (The Death of the Angel)

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Concerto Grosso

SUNDAY

At 12:30 p.m. the UW Horn Choir (below) will present its annual holiday concert at the Chazen Music of Art as part of the Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen series.

The FREE and public concert, directed and conducted by horn Professor Daniel Grabois, takes place in Brittingham Gallery No. 3.

The event will also be streamed live. Here is a link to the streaming portal as well as information about the program, which includes Bach and Mahler, the players and how to reserve seats:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/about/news/in-the-news/sunday-afternoon-live-with-the-uw-horn-choir/

At 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall, a FREE concert of chamber music by distinguished guest artists will be held.

The Brooklyn-based soprano-violin duo Cipher Duo (below top, Justine Aronson and Sarah Goldfeather) will team up with cellist Nicholas Photinos(below bottom), a member of the Grammy-winning chamber music ensemble eighth blackbird, for an evening-length performance of both new and reimagined music.

The program will include works by Sarah Goldfeather, Amy Beth Kirsten, David T Little, Dolly Parton and more.

On Monday, the performers will also give public master classes:

The Cello Master Class is Monday, Dec. 3, 12:15-2:15 p.m. in Morphy Hall.

The Violin-Voice Master Class: Monday, Dec. 3, 1:15-3:15 p.m. in Music Hall.

For more information about the program and performers, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-artists-nicholas-photinos-cello-and-cipher-duo-voice-and-violin/


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