The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The fourth annual Madison New Music Festival takes place this Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It features Wisconsin composers and several world premieres

August 7, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The fourth season of the Madison New Music Festival (below, in a photo from 2017 by Max Schmidt) will take place this coming Friday, Aug. 9, through Sunday, Aug. 11.

The Madison New Music Festival is an annual, weekend-long celebration for the Madison community of classical works written by contemporary composers.

In four concerts – three with admission and one free — the festival will showcase Wisconsin-based composers and performers of new music, as well as world premiere performances by guest artists.

Tickets for each concert are $15 for adults and $5 for students. Subscriptions to all three concerts are available for $35. For more information, go to http://madisonnewmusic.org or to Facebook (@Madison New Music Festival) or Instagram (@madisonnewmusic).

Here is the line-up:

Concert 1: Music from Wisconsin – Friday, Aug. 9, at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (227 State St.)

What: In anticipation of this fall’s Wisconsin Triennial and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, this concert spotlights all Wisconsin-born, -based, or -educated composers, curated by pianist Robert Fleitz (below, with a toy piano he often performs on), whom The New York Times called “mesmerizing.” Joined by young local musicians, Fleitz explores music created right here in their own backyard.

Concert 2: World Premieres – Saturday, Aug. 10, at 7:30 p.m.

Where: First Unitarian Society of Madison’s Atrium Auditorium (900 University Bay Drive)

What: Internationally acclaimed violist Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti and Wisconsin-born pianist Karl Larson (below top) will give the world premieres of new viola sonatas from three of the world’s leading composers: Andrew Norman, Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Scott Wollschleger. In addition, local cellist James Waldo will kick off the evening with a premiere of a work for solo cello by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Les Thimmig (below bottom).

Concert 3: SistaStrings – Sunday, Aug. 11, at 2:30 p.m.

Where: Robinia Courtyard (829 East Washington Avenue)

What: The concert features the Milwaukee-based sister duo SistaStrings (below, in a photo by Adam Ryan Morris). Violinist Chauntee Ross and cellist Monique LaDora Ross blend their training as accomplished classical instrumentalists with “R&B and a touch of gospel influence that culminates in a vibey, lush sound.” The sisters will play tracks from their new and acclaimed Extended Play recording in the cozy courtyard. (You can hear them in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Partner concert: Madison New Music Ensemble (FREE concert) – Sunday, Aug. 11, at 5 p.m.

Where: Memorial Union Terrace (800 Langdon Street, below)

What: Join the newly formed Madison New Music Ensemble (below top), led by UW-Madison composer Joseph Koykkar (below bottom), at the Memorial Union Terrace as part of their Summer Serenade series. The group will perform works by Koykkar, Ian Clarke, Gabriela Lena Frank, Gareth Farr and Kirsten Volness.


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Classical music: Jazz and classical music are closely related and work well together, says composer Daniel Schnyder. He discusses “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” which the Madison Opera stages in its Midwest premiere this FRIDAY night — NOT Saturday — and Sunday afternoon

February 6, 2017
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Jazz and classical music are not so different, says Swiss-born composer Daniel Schnyder.

For Schnyder, it is more than an academic matter. He puts his point of view into action in his acclaimed chamber opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” which deals with the life of the bebop saxophone player and jazz giant. (You can see the YouTube trailer for the productions by Opera Philadelphia and the Apollo Theater in Harlem at the bottom.)

charlie-parkers-yardbird-logo-for-maidson-opera

The Madison Opera will offer the work’s Midwest premiere when it stages the chamber opera this Friday night (NOT Saturday night, as first mistakenly posted here) at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Both performances are in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. (Performances photos below are from the world premiere at Opera Philadelphia.)

Here is a link to more general information about the opera, tickets, the cast and the production:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/classical-music-madison-opera-will-present-the-midwest-premiere-of-charlie-parkers-yardbird-here-are-the-many-preparatory-events-for-the-public/

Daniel Schnyder (below) — who will perform a FREE concert of the music of Charlie Parker and do a question-and-answer session on this Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOT 7 p.m. as mistakenly first stated here) in Morphy Hall on the UW-Madison campus — also agreed to an email interview with The Ear:

daniel-schnyder-2017

What was the work’s genesis and what gave you the idea for “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird”? Are you a big jazz fan and did you see the work as a way to meld the jazz and classical styles of music?

I am a jazz fan. I am also a jazz musician and I love to compose, play and improvise in the jazz idiom. I have recorded more than 30 jazz CDs.

I love to combine jazz and classical music. I just finished a symphony for orchestra and big band, a commission by the Temple University in Philadelphia.

I do not see classical music and jazz as two completely different things. Jazz is by nature a synthesis of European music influences and African music.

The idea from the very beginning was to write an opera for Lawrence Brownlee, the great African-American tenor. Opera Philadelphia asked me to write a work for him and we tried several libretto options. After hearing a recital by Larry singing gospel songs, I came up with the idea to write an opera about Charlie Parker’s life.

lawrence-brownlee-as-charlie-parker-opera-philadelphia

How would you describe the musical style of the opera in terms of tonality and melody, and its accessibility to the general public? What were the audience reactions in Philadelphia and New York City?

In both places, the audiences were very moved by the story and the music. The topic hit a nerve, something our society has to reflect upon, a general issue that concerns us all as a nation.

The music itself is not hard to listen to and moves swiftly. For the orchestra and singers, the opera is rather challenging, since Charlie Parker (below) was a virtuoso. The music moves fast and often in off-beat rhythms that are unusual for classical musicians. There are also a lot of odd meters and tricky patterns that sometimes connect to Parker’s music and sometimes relate to the music that came after him.

The audience will have a ball. There are 12-tone music passages reflecting on new music and opera — mostly in Nica’s parts —  but there are a lot of R&B influences and jazz and Latin music grooves.

It would be false to see the opera as a patchwork of different musical sequences and styles. It is my music that is based on all these influences. The opera can be described as a modern music carpet with lots of colors of today’s music, rather than a quilt.

charlie-parker-1

In what ways do you see the characters and the story as offering lessons and being relevant to today?

I guess this is obvious: Our society has to understand that different cultures and different ethnic backgrounds enrich America and are fundamental to its culture and success.

If we go down the path of segregation, divisiveness and disrespect, we all will lose. Jazz is the great coming together of different heritages, the roots of America, and it conquered the world.

We still erect barriers in society and music that are detrimental to growth and innovation. Other contemporary issues are also important in the opera, such as being a single parent, drug addiction and faith.

The opera also highlights that jazz musicians at the time could not earn money from recorded music, something that is true again today. The stealing of royalties from Parker and Dizzie Gillespie were different from today’s issues of streaming, but the problem of jazz musicians not receiving money for their creative works stays the same.

In the opera, Parker discusses the very nature of music, its volatility and the fact that you cannot physically possess it. This is one of the reasons why he wants to write the music down on paper. He wants to make it abstract, but realizes that he loses some of the essence of what he wants to say. That is the dilemma of the composer.

He also reflects on the notation system, which was not designed for jazz. He sings: “How can I put down these black dots on white paper, how can I capture these sheets of sound?”

The opera reflects on American history, but it simultaneously relates to today’s world. This is not just some nice story about the past; it is about us.

charlie-parkers-yardbird-women-opera-philadelphia

Quite a few other productions have been planned. What do you think explains the work’s popularity? Do you think it attracts new audiences to opera?

There might be many different reasons for that:

1) There are very few operas using the modern jazz idiom.

2) There are very few operas in which the leading roles are African-American.

3) The opera is flexible; it can be produced with a moderate budget in a lot of different venues. It is mobile, which is similar to L’Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) by Igor Stravinsky. It also has a length of just over 100 minutes.

4) As mentioned above, the opera hits a nerve; it is about our time and about us.

5) Charlie Parker is a legend, but very few people really know about him and his music. People are intrigued.

6) The music is very accessible; it can be played on the radio without getting boring or incomprehensible. Some modern operas rely a lot on light, staging and special visual effects. This opera works more like Carmen or a Verdi opera, told through the music.

7) It is an opera, not a musical. It only uses a song format in a few instances. The opera is composed in an open and evolving format, connected by leitmotifs similar to Wagner’s operas.

The music definitely has a lot of jazz influences, but the format is mostly one not used in jazz music. That creates a new experience. It does not fit into one of the known “drawers” of music, so it can be tempting to try to compare it to their pieces but it sticks out as musically different.

8) The opera is composed very close to the sound and rhythms of the words. Hence you can understand a lot. The language is very direct and clear, close to spoken language. That helps. You can actually understand a lot of the lyrics without reading the supertitles.

I tried to avoid the Strauss or Wagner effect of creating something where the mix of complex language and complex music creates something beautiful but often incomprehensible. French and Italian operas are better in this regard. “Yardbird” has a message that needs to be understood.

9) There are many riddles in the opera – musical riddles, but also hidden messages and references in the text – that can be explored. The opera plays in a twilight zone between death and life. This is also intriguing.

charlie-parkers-yardbird-female-singer-opera-philadelphia

Is there something else you would like to say about yourself and the opera?

I enjoyed writing the opera very much. It was a great pleasure and an honor to reflect on one of the great music geniuses in American history.


Classical music Q&A: Soprano Alyson Cambridge talks about mastering crossover genres and how to attract ethnically diverse audiences to classical music and opera. She sings with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in its annual Christmas concerts this weekend.

December 1, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend the Madison Symphony Orchestra, with guest groups and soloists all under the baton of music director John DeMain, will kick off the holiday season with traditional Christmas concerts in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday night at 7:30 p.m., Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

The concerts will celebrate the holidays with a wide range of music from Johann Sebastian Bach, Irving Berlin, George Frideric Handel, John Rutter and Franz Schubert to holiday favorites and rocking Gospel selections -– topped off with the audience adding its voice to carols at the end.

Concert highlights include:

Soloists soprano Alyson Cambridge (below top) and tenor Harold Meers (below bottom), who are accomplished national operatic singers.

Alyson Cambridge 1

Harold Meers

The Madison Symphony Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson), directed by Beverly Taylor, with 125 members, who come from all walks of life to combine their artistic talent.

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

The Madison Youth Choirs (below in a photo by Dan Sinclair), directed by Michael Ross, which combines young voices for a memorable experience.

Madison Youth Choirs Ragazzi HS CR Dan Sinclair

Mt. Zion Gospel Choir (below), directed by Leotha Stanley, which uses jazz, blues and gospel harmonies to “raise the roof” in creating captivating music.

Mt. Zion Gospel Choir

And, last but not least, the audience members who join in the singing.

Concertgoers are encouraged to arrive at the Overture Hall lobby 45 minutes before the concert so they can be moved by the Madison Symphony Chorus leading carols in the festively lit lobby.

MSO officials stress that these concerts typically sell out, so early ticket purchases are encouraged.

Single Tickets are $16 to $84 each, available at ww.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

New subscribers can receive up to a 50% discount. For more information and to subscribe, visit www.madisonsymphony.org/newsub or call (608) 257-3734.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush

Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.                                                           

Here is an especially insightful Q&A that soprano Alyson Cambridge kindly gave to The Ear:

Alyson Cambridge 2

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers, including how you first got involved in music including; when you started music lessons; the Aha! Moment when you knew you wanted to pursue music as a professional career; and your current projects and future plans?

I began voice lessons when I was 12 years old, but had always been musical and theatrical. I studied piano from age 4 to 14 and dabbled in violin and flute along the way.

In truth, I came to classical singing and opera because a neighbor overheard me playing around and impersonating an opera singer as a joke. (There were all types of music playing around my house — everything from classical, to reggae, to Calypso “soca” to jazz to pop — and I imitated all the singers I heard.)

However, my “opera singer voice” wasn’t half  bad and I was encouraged to start voice lessons, which I did. It was my first teacher who encouraged me to begin training classically.

In terms of pursuing it as a career, I think I was honestly split for a long time. I knew I loved singing and performing, but I also really enjoyed sports, my academic studies, being social, sort of “normal” teenage stuff.  As a result, I was a double-degree undergraduate at Oberlin College, earning degrees in both sociology/pre-law and Voice Performance.

My final year at Oberlin, I decided to apply only to the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute for my master’s studies, and said if I didn’t get it I would go to law school.  If I DID get into either school, I decided I’d consider it a sign to give a music career a real shot and five years to “make it.”

I ended up at Curtis, where I only spent one year, and the next year I was in New York, having won the Metropolitan Opera National Council  Auditions, and joining the MET’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.  The next year I made my MET debut … and that’s how it all happened! (Below is a photo of Alyson Cambridge playing Julia  in Jerome Kern’s “Show Boat.”

Alyson Cambdirge as Julia in Show-Boat

You will be singing in “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adam (below top and at the bottom in a YouTube video) and the “Gloria” by Francis Poulenc (below bottom). Talk about “crossover” singing. How does singing classical music help or hinder you in singing jazz, pop and holiday music, and vice-versa?

In truth, I have only seen advantages to singing both classically and “crossover.”  Although I trained classically, I grew up singing and being exposed to pop, musical theater, jazz — you name it.  So, I have a natural affinity for the non-classical, and I also study with musical theater, jazz and crossover coaches as well as my classical/opera teachers and coaches.

I think it’s important to approach all styles with respect and not try to make a style sound only one way or use only one part of your vocal color or stylistic palette.  I love and enjoy both, so I sing both. And, in speaking with audiences following a performance in which I sing both, I find audiences love the variety too.

Adolphe Adam

Francis Poulenc

What is it that attracts you most in each genre? What is the most challenging part of each genre? Do they appeal to different parts of your personality? What do you think of holiday music and holiday concerts?

Both genres offer their own unique set of musical colors, and I like highlighting those when I am singing them.  You may, for example, get a glorious high-soaring melody over a full orchestra in a classical piece. In a traditionally more “crossover” or contemporary piece, you might highlight the intimacy and the nuance in the text and storytelling in the song (like “White Christmas,” for example) in a way you may not be able to do or that is applicable in a piece like Poulenc’s “Gloria.”

I love all kinds of holiday music, and think that’s what’s so great about the concert that Maestro DeMain (below, conducting in a Santa hat in a photo by Bob Rashid) has put together — there really is something for everyone, and it’s ALL wonderful!

DeMain Santa Bob Rashid

You have worked with John DeMain before in George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” and Jerome Kern’s “Showboat.” Do you have anything to say about your experiences with maestro DeMain? Have you performed before in Madison and do you have anything you want to say about performing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and John DeMain in Madison?

I adore John DeMain! When I was asked to do these concerts with him, I was thrilled for yet another opportunity to work with him.  We have visited some of the greatest pieces of American opera and musical theater together over the years, and to come together now on a program that celebrates the most wonderful classical and popular holiday music is something to which I am really looking forward.

This will be my first time performing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Having heard nothing but raves about them from friends, colleagues and Maestro DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad), I can’t wait!

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Do you have any suggestions about how to attract audiences that are more ethnically diverse to classical music?

This is a great question, and an answer that I think comes down to one simple idea: EXPOSURE!  I have yet to meet a child or adult, of any race, gender or socio-economic background who, upon seeing and hearing a live opera or classical concert or performance, no matter how grand or small, who hasn’t been moved, touched or curious to hear or learn more.

I have an upcoming television appearance on Nov. 30 in which I will be the first opera singer ever to be a featured performer on Black Entertainment Television (BET) and Centric TV’s Soul Train Awards. The first broadcast on Sunday is estimated to reach over 4.5 million viewers, and I know that the viewership will not be the “typical” opera audience…and I think it is GREAT, and I can’t WAIT for it to happen!  We taped the show on Nov. 7 in Las Vegas, and the reaction from the 3,000 people in attendance at the show taping was awesome.

An audience filled of primarily R&B, rap, hip hop and soul artists and fans, got to hear and see opera in a whole new light, one that was much different from the stereotypes perpetuated in ads and rooted in outdated ideas of what opera and classical music are. It was a wonderful thing to be a part of, and I think more opportunities and advantages should be taken and can come from exposure like that. (Below is a photo by Richard Termine of Alyson Cambridge singing in George Gershwin’s short jazz opera “Blue Monday.”)

alyson cambridge as Vi in Gershwn's jazz opera Blue CR richard termine

Is there anything else you would like to add or say?

I am appreciative of the curiosity that comes with crossing genres and reaching new audiences, and the conversations that come with it.  It’s having these conversations that I think helps pique interest in new potential listeners and concert-goers.

I am also immensely thankful for my family, without whose constant support and encouragement to follow my slightly less-than-traditional opera singer path has meant more than words can express!  I’ve never been one to “color inside the lines,” and having wonderful colleagues and mentors like John DeMain and so many others, and friends and family who support and respect that is an invaluable thing!

 

 


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