The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here are the classical music nominees for the 2020 Grammy Awards. They make a useful holiday gift guide and highlight the trend toward more diversity

November 29, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Black Friday followed by Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday — all with special deals and sales.

With that in mind, here is a list of the recently announced nominees in classical music for the 2020 Grammy Awards.

Although it is a self-serving list for a competition sponsored by The Industry, it can also be good way to find holiday gifts to give to others or to receive for yourself.

The list can be useful for spotting trends and finding new releases you may not have heard of.

For example, this year seems especially good for new music or recent works and contemporary composers. You won’t find any Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky or Mahler although you will find Berlioz, Schumann, Wagner, Bruckner, Berg, Rachmaninoff and Copland.

Another favorite seems to be the rediscovery of older composers such as Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996, below) whose centennial has become an occasion for bringing his neglected works to the forefront.

You can also see that like the Oscars, the Grammys seem to be paying more attention to women composers and conductors, artists of color and crossovers or mixed and hybrid genres.

For complete lists of all 84 categories, go to this site and click on the categories that interest you: https://www.grammy.com/grammys/news/2020-grammy-awards-complete-nominees-list

The 62nd annual Grammy Awards will be presented on Sunday, Jan. 26, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and will be broadcast live on CBS television.

  1. Best Engineered Album, Classical
    An Engineer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)
  • AEQUA – ANNA THORVALDSDÓTTIR
    Daniel Shores, engineer; Daniel Shores, mastering engineer (International Contemporary Ensemble)
  • BRUCKNER: SYMPHONY NO. 9
    Mark Donahue, engineer; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Manfred Honeck and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
  • RACHMANINOFF – HERMITAGE PIANO TRIO
    Keith O. Johnson & Sean Royce Martin, engineers; Keith O. Johnson, mastering engineer (Hermitage Piano Trio)
  • RILEY: SUN RINGS
    Leslie Ann Jones, engineer; Robert C. Ludwig, mastering engineer (Kronos Quartet)
  • WOLFE: FIRE IN MY MOUTH
    Bob Hanlon & Lawrence Rock, engineers; Ian Good & Lawrence Rock, mastering engineers (Jaap Van Zweden, Francisco J. Núñez, Donald Nally, The Crossing, Young People’s Chorus Of NY City & New York Philharmonic)

  1. Producer Of The Year, Classical
    A Producer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)
  • BLANTON ALSPAUGH
  • Artifacts – The Music Of Michael McGlynn (Charles Bruffy & Kansas City Chorale)
    • Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique; Fantaisie Sur La Tempête De Shakespeare (Andrew Davis & Toronto Symphony Orchestra)
    • Copland: Billy The Kid; Grohg (Leonard Slatkin & Detroit Symphony Orchestra)
    • Duruflé: Complete Choral Works (Robert Simpson & Houston Chamber Choir)
    • Glass: Symphony No. 5 (Julian Wachner, The Choir Of Trinity Wall Street, Trinity Youth Chorus, Downtown Voices & Novus NY)
    • Sander: The Divine Liturgy Of St. John Chrysostom (Peter Jermihov & PaTRAM Institute Singers)
    • Smith, K.: Canticle (Craig Hella Johnson & Cincinnati Vocal Arts Ensemble)
    • Visions Take Flight (Mei-Ann Chen & ROCO)
  • JAMES GINSBURG (below)
  • Project W – Works By Diverse Women Composers (Mei-Ann Chen and Chicago Sinfonietta)
    • Silenced Voices (Black Oak Ensemble)
    • 20th Century Harpsichord Concertos (Jory Vinikour, Scott Speck and Chicago Philharmonic)
    • Twentieth Century Oboe Sonatas (Alex Klein and Phillip Bush)
    • Winged Creatures & Other Works For Flute, Clarinet, And Orchestra (Anthony McGill, Demarre McGill, Allen Tinkham and Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra)
  • MARINA A. LEDIN, VICTOR LEDIN
  • Bates: Children Of Adam; Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem (Steven Smith, Erin R. Freeman, Richmond Symphony & Chorus)
    • The Orchestral Organ (Jan Kraybill)
    • The Poetry Of Places (Nadia Shpachenko)
    • Rachmaninoff – Hermitage Piano Trio (Hermitage Piano Trio)
  • MORTEN LINDBERG
  • Himmelborgen (Elisabeth Holte, Kare Nordstoga & Uranienborg Vokalensemble)
    • Kleiberg: Do You Believe In Heather? (Various Artists)
    • Ljos (Fauna Vokalkvintett)
    • LUX (Anita Brevik, Trondheimsolistene & Nidarosdomens Jentekor)
    • Trachea (Tone Bianca Sparre Dahl & Schola Cantorum)
    • Veneliti (Hakon Daniel Nystedt & Oslo Kammerkor)
  • DIRK SOBOTKA
  • Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 (Manfred Honeck & Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)

 75. Best Orchestral Performance Award to the Conductor and to the Orchestra.

  • BRUCKNER: SYMPHONY NO. 9
    Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
  • COPLAND: BILLY THE KID; GROHG
    Leonard Slatkin, conductor (Detroit Symphony Orchestra)
  • NORMAN: SUSTAIN
    Gustavo Dudamel, conductor (Los Angeles Philharmonic)
  • TRANSATLANTIC
    Louis Langrée, conductor (Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra)
  • WEINBERG: SYMPHONIES NOS. 2 and 21
    Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, conductor (City Of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & Kremerata Baltica)

  1. Best Opera Recording
    Award to the Conductor, Album Producer(s) and Principal Soloists.
  • BENJAMIN: LESSONS IN LOVE & VIOLENCE
    George Benjamin, conductor; Stéphane Degout, Barbara Hannigan, Peter Hoare & Gyula Orendt; James Whitbourn, producer (Orchestra Of The Royal Opera House)
  • BERG: WOZZECK
    Marc Albrecht, conductor; Christopher Maltman & Eva-Maria Westbroek; François Roussillon, producer (Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra; Chorus Of Dutch National Opera)
  • CHARPENTIER: LES ARTS FLORISSANTS; LES PLAISIRS DE VERSAILLES
    Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs, conductors; Jesse Blumberg, Teresa Wakim & Virginia Warnken; Renate Wolter-Seevers, producer (Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble; Boston Early Music Festival Vocal Ensemble)
  • PICKER: FANTASTIC MR. FOX
    Gil Rose, conductor; John Brancy, Andrew Craig Brown, Gabriel Preisser, Krista River & Edwin Vega; Gil Rose, producer (Boston Modern Orchestra Project; Boston Children’s Chorus)
  • WAGNER: LOHENGRIN
    Christian Thielemann, conductor; Piotr Beczała, Anja Harteros, Tomasz Konieczny, Waltraud Meier & Georg Zeppenfeld; Eckhard Glauche, producer (Festspielorchester Bayreuth; Festspielchor Bayreuth)

  1. Best Choral Performance
    Award to the Conductor, and to the Choral Director and/or Chorus Master where applicable and to the Choral Organization/Ensemble.
  • BOYLE: VOYAGES
    Donald Nally, conductor (The Crossing)
  • DURUFLÉ: COMPLETE CHORAL WORKS
    Robert Simpson, conductor (Ken Cowan; Houston Chamber Choir)
  • THE HOPE OF LOVING
    Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (Conspirare)
  • SANDER: THE DIVINE LITURGY OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM
    Peter Jermihov, conductor (Evan Bravos, Vadim Gan, Kevin Keys, Glenn Miller & Daniel Shirley; PaTRAM Institute Singers)
  • SMITH, K.: THE ARC IN THE SKY
    Donald Nally, conductor (The Crossing)

  1. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance
    For new recordings of works with chamber or small ensemble (twenty-four or fewer members, not including the conductor). One Award to the ensemble and one Award to the conductor, if applicable.
  • CERRONE: THE PIECES THAT FALL TO EARTH
    Christopher Rountree and Wild Up
  • FREEDOM & FAITH
    PUBLIQuartet
  • PERPETULUM
    Third Coast Percussion
  • RACHMANINOFF – HERMITAGE PIANO TRIO
    Hermitage Piano Trio
  • SHAW: ORANGE
    Attacca Quartet

79. Best Classical Instrumental Solo Award to the Instrumental Soloist(s) and to the Conductor when applicable.

  • THE BERLIN RECITAL
    Yuja Wang
  • HIGDON: HARP CONCERTO
    Yolanda Kondonassis; Ward Stare, conductor (The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra)
  • MARSALIS: VIOLIN CONCERTO; FIDDLE DANCE SUITE
    Nicola Benedetti; Cristian Măcelaru, conductor (Philadelphia Orchestra)
  • THE ORCHESTRAL ORGAN
    Jan Kraybill
  • TORKE: SKY, CONCERTO FOR VIOLIN
    Tessa Lark; David Alan Miller, conductor (Albany Symphony)

 80. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album  Award to: Vocalist(s), Collaborative Artist(s) (Ex: pianists, conductors, chamber groups) Producer(s), Recording Engineers/Mixers with 51% or more playing time of new material.

  • THE EDGE OF SILENCE – WORKS FOR VOICE BY GYÖRGY KURTÁG
    Susan Narucki (Donald Berman, Curtis Macomber, Kathryn Schulmeister & Nicholas Tolle)
  • HIMMELSMUSIK
    Philippe Jaroussky & Céline Scheen; Christina Pluhar, conductor; L’Arpeggiata, ensemble (Jesús Rodil & Dingle Yandell)
  • SCHUMANN: LIEDERKREIS OP. 24, KERNER-LIEDER OP. 35
    Matthias Goerne; Leif Ove Andsnes, accompanist
  • SONGPLAY
    Joyce DiDonato; Chuck Israels, Jimmy Madison, Charlie Porter and Craig Terry, accompanists (Steve Barnett and Lautaro Greco)
  • A TE, O CARA
    Stephen Costello; Constantine Orbelian, conductor (Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra)

  

  1. Best Classical Compendium
    Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s) and Engineer(s) of over 51% playing time of the album, if other than the artist.
  • AMERICAN ORIGINALS 1918
    John Morris Russell, conductor; Elaine Martone, producer
  • LESHNOFF: SYMPHONY NO. 4 ‘HEICHALOS’; GUITAR CONCERTO; STARBURST
    Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Tim Handley, producer
  • MELTZER: SONGS AND STRUCTURES
    Paul Appleby & Natalia Katyukova; Silas Brown & Harold Meltzer, producers
  • THE POETRY OF PLACES
    Nadia Shpachenko; Marina A. Ledin & Victor Ledin, producers
  • SAARIAHO: TRUE FIRE; TRANS; CIEL D’HIVER
    Hannu Lintu, conductor; Laura Heikinheimo, producer

  

  1. Best Contemporary Classical Composition
    A Composer’s Award. (For a contemporary classical composition composed within the last 25 years, and released for the first time during the Eligibility Year.) Award to the librettist, if applicable.
  • BERMEL: MIGRATION SERIES FOR JAZZ ENSEMBLE & ORCHESTRA
    Derek Bermel, composer (Derek Bermel, Ted Nash, David Alan Miller, Juilliard Jazz Orchestra & Albany Symphony Orchestra)
  • HIGDON: HARP CONCERTO
    Jennifer Higdon, composer (Yolanda Kondonassis, Ward Stare & The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra)
  • MARSALIS: VIOLIN CONCERTO IN D MAJOR
    Wynton Marsalis, composer (Nicola Benedetti, Cristian Măcelaru & Philadelphia Orchestra)
  • NORMAN: SUSTAIN
    Andrew Norman, composer (Gustavo Dudamel & Los Angeles Philharmonic)
  • SHAW: ORANGE
    Caroline Shaw, composer (Attacca Quartet)
  • WOLFE: FIRE IN MY MOUTH
    Julia Wolfe, composer (Jaap Van Zweden, Francisco J. Núñez, Donald Nally, The Crossing, Young People’s Chorus Of NY City & New York Philharmonic)

 


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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra opens its new season with a strong and memorable concert that had something for everyone — with no outside help from a guest artist

October 4, 2019
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ALERT: On this Saturday, Oct. 5, from 4 to 5 p.m., cellist Amit Peled will teach a master class at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, near West Towne Mall, where he will instruct local students. This is a FREE event that the public is invited to observe, and is part of the two concerts by Peled and pianist Daniel del Pino. For more information, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/09/29/classical-music-cellist-amit-peled-and-pianist-daniel-del-pino-open-the-salon-piano-series-this-friday-and-saturday-nights-with-music-by-beethoven-strauss-and-others/

By Jacob Stockinger

Many orchestras, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers), often use the opening concert of a new season as a chance to lure audiences by wowing them with some big-name guest soloist.

But last weekend maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) once again preferred to show off his own ensemble. And it worked, making for a memorable concert.

The MSO opener had something for everyone, and what you saw as the highlight probably depended more on your personal taste or preference than on the overall impressively tight playing and singing of the MSO, its principals and its chorus.

It seemed clear that, for most listeners the MSO’s young organist Greg Zelek (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) filled the role of the impressive imported star or guest artist.

The virtuosic Zelek is simply so good that he managed to turn a second-rate piece by Samuel Barber into a first-rate crowd-pleaser that brought huge applause and a long standing ovation, then an encore and another standing ovation.

As music, the concerto-like “Toccata Festiva” (1960) is simply not on par with Barber’s Violin Concerto or his Adagio for Strings or his Overture to “The School for Scandal.” It is 15 minutes of mostly loud and bombastic music meant to show off the new organ that it was commissioned for.

The King of Instruments seems to invite such bragging. And the boyish, vest-clad Zelek milked the score by Barber (below) for all it was worth, including an astounding three-minute cadenza played only with the feet. It’s hard to argue with such dramatic success.

If you preferred more serious fare, there was the Symphony No. 7 in D minor by Antonin Dvorak (below). Last spring, DeMain announced his fondness for Dvorak – in the spring the MSO will perform his Requiem.

DeMain’s feeling for Dvorak showed in a convincing and engaging performance of this darker, non-programmatic Brahmsian work that goes beyond the Czech folk dances, folk song-like melodies and nature mimicry of Dvorak’s other major symphonies and chamber music.

If you wanted exciting Romanticism, it would be hard to beat Wagner’s rhythmic strings soaring in the Overture to the opera “Tannhauser” by Richard Wagner (below). And that flowed into Wagner’s sensual “Venusberg” music that featured the MSO chorus singing offstage.

But The Ear thinks that the best measure of musicianship – orchestral, instrumental or vocal — is not how loudly they can play or sing, but how softly.

For that reason, he found the standout work at the concert to be “Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun” by Claude Debussy (below). The balance among various sections proved ideal at expressing subtlety. You could hear everything combining to make a distinctive and atmospheric tonal color.

For example, it is hard to imagine more sensual playing of the opening theme than how principal flutist Stephanie Jutt (below) did it. The performance and interpretation projected the exact kind of impressionistic seductiveness that the composer meant for it to have. For sheer beauty of sound, it took the top spot. (You can see a graphic depiction of Debussy’s score in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Still, there seemed to be more than the usual number of empty seats. Was it the rainy weather? The football weekend? Or do people still miss the thrill of hearing a well-known guest artist opening the season?

What do you think?

What was your favorite piece on the opening MSO program? And why?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra opens its 94th season this weekend with the sonic sensuality of music by Wagner, Dvorak, Debussy and Barber

September 24, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

It has been warmer than the usual fall weather, so why not go sultry?

That’s what the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) will do when it opens its 94th season this coming weekend.

The program “Love, Lust and Redemption” will combine the power of the Klais organ (below top) with MSO principal organist and curator of the Overture Concert Organ Greg Zelek who opens the season with Samuel Barber’s Toccata Festiva.

The all-orchestral program also features the Madison Symphony Orchestra exploring the sonic sensuality of Wagner’s “Tannhäuser”Overture, Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7.

Performances will are in Overture Hall, 201 State Street, on Friday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 28, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 29, at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $19 to $95. For more information, see below.

MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below) says of the program:

“Our opening concert is both festive and gorgeously romantic as we present our star organist Greg Zelek (below) in his MSO concerto debut.

“We open with one of the most beautiful overtures ever written, Wagner’s Overture to the opera Tannhäuser and then, after intermission, the great Symphony No. 7 in D Minor by Dvorak.

In between is the little jewel by Debussy, his quintessential impressionistic masterpiece, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. All are favorites of mine, and I look forward to making them favorites of yours, if they aren’t already.”

Tannhäuser: Overture and Venusberg Music” by Richard Wagner (below) is frequently performed as a separate work in orchestral concerts, the first such performance having been given by Felix Mendelssohn conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in February 1846.

Wagner began revisions to the opera immediately, which resulted in two more versions: the Paris version in 1861 and the Vienna version in 1875. Members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra Chorus also perform in this piece.

TheToccata Festiva was written by the American composer Samuel Barber (below) as an occasional work for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy. It pairs organ and orchestra, and celebrated the inauguration of a new organ for the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, a gift from longtime patron Mary Curtis Zimbalist who had also commissioned the new piece.

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faunby French composer Claude Debussy (below) is a musical evocation of Stephane Mallarmé’s poem “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” in which a faun — a half-man, half-goat creature of ancient Greek legend — awakes to revel in sensuous memories of forest nymphs. Debussy begins the piece with a sinuous and well-known flute melody evocative of a graceful female form.

Symphony No. 7 by Czech composer Antonin Dvorak was greatly influenced by Johannes Brahms. Dvorak decided to compose this symphony after hearing Brahms’s new Symphony No. 3.

The piece is distinguished for its somber and dramatic atmosphere and its lack of Slavic-inspired melodies, a characteristic with which the composer’s style is usually associated. (You can hear the vivacious Scherzo in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

TICKETS AND EVENT DETAILS

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert. One hour before each performance, Randal Swiggum (below) will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience. It is free to ticket holders.

The MSO recommends that concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the Prelude Discussion.

Program notes for the concerts are available online: http://bit.ly/msosept19programnotes.

 

  • Single Tickets are $19-$95 each and are on sale now at: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/love-lust-redemptionthrough the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141. Fees apply to online/phone sales.
  • Groups of 10 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit, https://www.madisonsymphony.org/groups.
  • Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $15 or $20 tickets. More information is at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush
  • Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
  • Flex-ticket booklets of 8-10 vouchers for 19-20 symphony subscription concerts are available. Learn more at: https://madisonsymphony.org/flex
  • Subscriptionsfor the 2019–2020 season are available now. Learn more at: https://madisonsymphony.org/19-20

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


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Classical music: This Sunday afternoon, the annual Opera Props Showcase features well-known alumna Ariana Douglas and current UW students singing arias from great operas and musicals

September 19, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The annual University Opera’s Student Showcase will take place this coming Sunday afternoon, Sept. 22, at 3 p.m. at the Madison Christian Community, 7118 Old Sauk Road, on the far west side.

Tickets are $30 if purchased in advance or $35 if purchased at the door; and $10 for students. Additional ticket information is provided at the website UWOperaProps.org

The event is sponsored by UW Opera Props, the friends group that helps support the opera program at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The benefit opera program, the concert will feature guest artist and soprano alumna Ariana Douglas (below). In addition, eight current voice students will join Douglas in a program assembled by David Ronis, the Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera at UW’s Mead Witter School of Music.

UW-Madison piano graduate student Thomas Kasdorf, who coaches the singers, will provide the piano accompaniment.

The concert will include arias and duets by Puccini, Offenbach, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Wagner, Mozart, Gounod, Verdi and others.

Ariana Douglas is well known for her “clarion sound and striking stage presence” in performances at Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera (Zerlina in “Don Giovanni,” Mrs. Vance in Aldridge’s “Sister Carrie,” and, upcoming in October, Susanna in “The Marriage of Figaro”).

Next April, she will sing Diana in Jacques Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld” for the Madison Opera.

And after two summers in the Glimmerglass Festival’s Young Artists program, she was invited last year to return to help workshop J. Tesori’s highly anticipated opera “Blue,” which premiered there this July.

In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Ariana Douglas perform while still a UW student. She sings the famous Puccini aria “O mio bambino caro” with the UW Varsity Band under now-retired director Mike Leckrone, who admired Douglas’ big, expressive voice and invited her to perform at the band’s huge annual concerts in 2013.

In short, says one OperaProps organizer, “Douglas seems to getting fine reviews everywhere. And student recruiting seems to be successful, with the students getting more impressive every year lately.” (Below is the group of Showcase students in 2018 with director David Ronis on the far right.)

Here is the program, with performers and pieces, that is subject to change:

Lindsey Meekhof – “C’est l’amour vainqueur” from (Offenbach: Les contes d’Hoffmann)

Benjamin Galvin – “Amorosi miei giorni” (Donaudy)

Ariana Douglas – “Quando m’en vò” (Puccini: La bohème)

Benjamin Hopkins – “A mes amis” (Donizetti: La fille du régiment)

Shelby Zang – “If I Loved You” (Rodgers and Hammerstein: Carousel)

DaSean Stokes – “Winterstürme” (Wagner: Die Walküre)

Julia Urbank – “Parto, parto” (Mozart: La clemenza di Tito)

Ariana Douglas – “Till There Was You” (Meredith Wilson: The Music Man)

Cayla Rosché – “Nun eilt herbei” (Nicolai: Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor)

Benjamin Galvin – “If Ever I Would Leave You” (Lerner and Lowe: Camelot)

Carly Ochoa – “Je veux vivre” (Gounod: Roméo et Juliette)

DaSean Stokes – “Deep River” (Spiritual)

Ariana Douglas and Benjamin Hopkins – “Libiamo” (Verdi: La traviata)


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Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra honors retired music critic John W. Barker with a special performance of Brahms and a season dedication

September 11, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

How does an individual  musician or musical group pay tribute and say thank you to a critic?

By performing, of course.

And that is exactly what 30 members of the Middleton Community Orchestra did, playing under guest conductor Kyle Knox (below top), last Friday night for the veteran music critic John W. Barker (below bottom).

The orchestra performed for him at the downtown Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, near the Capitol Square, where the ailing Barker lives with his wife Margaret.

Because of space limitations, word of the special performance never went public. But the large basement room was packed with affectionate and respectful fans and friends.

The MCO members played the lyrical and sunny Serenade No. 1, Op. 11, of Johannes Brahms. (You can hear the opening movement of the Serenade by Brahms in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The orchestra also announced that it would dedicate its upcoming 10th anniversary season to Barker as a gesture of thanks for all he has done over the past nine years to promote the mostly amateur orchestra — which opens its new season on Wednesday, Oct. 9. 

“I’ve known this piece most of my life,” said Barker, who soon turns 86 and who started reviewing in his teens. “It’s lots of fun.”

And so was the unusual honor.

“An orchestra paying tribute to a critic? It’s unprecedented,” Barker quipped, as both he and the audience laughed. Barker also quoted the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius who once said, “A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic.”

After the 40-minute performance, Barker spoke briefly to the players and audience.

“The job of the critic,” he said, “is to stimulate performers to play up to their best standards and to give readers some background and context. Being critical doesn’t mean being negative, although at times I have made some negative comments. But you never have to be nasty. I guess I’ve succeeded,” he said looking around at the players and the public, both of whom generously applauded his remarks.

Barker’s list of personal accomplishments is impressive. He has written local music reviews for The Capital Times, Isthmus and this blog.

But he is a participant as well as a critic. He has sung in many choirs, including 47 years in the one at the local Greek Orthodox Church, and has performed with the Madison Opera. He directed Gilbert and Sullivan productions for the Madison Savoyards.

Barker is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which may help to explain his general taste for the traditional. He also is a well-known classical music critic, with a national reputation, who has written for 63 years for the American Record Guide. For many years, he hosted an early music radio show on Sunday mornings for WORT-FM 89.9.

He also worked with Opera Props, the support group for University Opera, and was a member of the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival. And he frequently gave pre-concert lectures in Madison. He has published two books on Wagner and written a definitive history of the Pro Arte Quartet.

But this time even the voluble Barker had to admit, “I am grateful and thankful. I am very moved, even floored. But I’m afraid I’m finally at a loss for words.”

You can leave your own words of tribute in the Comment section.

To see the full “Barker season” schedule for the Middleton Community Orchestra and to read many of Barker’s past reviews of the MCO, go to: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Thank you, John, for all you have done to enrich the cultural and musical life of Madison!


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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering an unlimited, season-starting single ticket sale with 20 percent off, through this Saturday

August 28, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

For the first time ever, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) is offering a sale on tickets to the first three concerts this season.

You will get 20 percent off if you buy tickets through the Overture Center box office in person, by phone (608 258-4141) or online at https://www.overture.org/events

The discount code to say or use is FIRST3SYMPHONY.

Be forewarned: You will NOT find the ticket sale on the MSO website.

There is no limit of how many tickets you can buy, says MSO marketing director Peter Rodgers who also said the traditional holiday ticket sale, with two-tiered discount pricing, will take place as usual from Dec. 16 through Dec. 31.

The season-starting sale runs through this coming Saturday, Aug. 31. You can get discounted single tickets to the concerts on Sept. 27-29, Oct. 18-20 and Nov. 8-10 with performances on Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m.

Ticket prices range from $19-$95, up about 2 percent from last year to keep up with inflation, Rodgers added.

Why isn’t the sale on the MSO website?

“We did it digitally and in a printed brochure that we mailed out just to try and reach out to either season subscribers or people who have already bought single tickets before and have already been to the symphony,” says Rodgers. “We just wanted to give some people a little nudge. But anyone can take advantage of the sale.”

Rodgers also said that the inaugural sale is not being held because ticket sales are slow. “Ticket sales for this season are competitive with last season’s,” he said, adding that some buyers might use the sale to get tickets as birthday gifts or for other special occasions.

Although there is no limit to the number of single tickets an individual can buy, Rodgers said that once you get to 10, you are better off going with the usual 25 percent off group rate.

MSO music director John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) will conduct all performances of the first three concerts.

The September concerts open the season with MSO organ soloist Greg Zelek (below) and features the Overture to the opera “Tannhauser” by Richard Wagner; the “Toccata Festiva” by Samuel Barber; the tone poem “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” by Claude Debussy; and the Symphony No. 7 by Antonin Dvorak.

The October concerts feature guest violinist Rachel Barton Pine. The all-Russian and all-20th century program includes the Violin Concerto by Aram Khachaturian; the Symphony No. 9 by Dmitri Shostakovich; and the Suite from “Lieutenant Kije,” for trumpet and orchestra, by Sergei Prokofiev.

The November concerts feature guest pianist Joyce Yang. The program is the Symphony No. 2 by Robert Schumann; the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Sergei Prokofiev; and “Newly Drawn Sky” by the Pulitzer Prize-winning and Grammy Award-winning contemporary American composer Aaron Jay Kernis, who teaches at the Yale University School of Music. (You can hear “Newly Drawn Sky” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more details about the three opening concerts and the entire 2019-20 season, including complete programs, go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/2019-2020-symphony-season-concerts/


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Classical music: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) will give two FREE afternoon performances this Saturday and Sunday with the world premiere of a socially relevant piece by local composer Lawren Brianna Ware

August 1, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below) will present its ninth season this weekend, performing two free afternoon concerts.

Co-directed by the husband-and-wife team of conductor Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below left) and concertmaster Thalia Coombs (below back), the orchestra will perform music of Haydn, Wagner and Grieg, plus a commissioned work from local composer Lawren Brianna Ware.

Performances are Saturday, Aug. 3, at noon on the “Grace Presents” concert series at Grace Episcopal Church, located downtown at 116 West Washington Avenue on the Capitol Square; and on Sunday, Aug. 4, at 12:30 p.m. in the Mead Witter Lobby of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Chazen Museum of Art, as part of “Sunday Afternoon Live at the Chazen.”

(Please note that Sunday’s concert is NOT in the Brittingham Gallery III due to space constraints.) Sunday’s performance will be live-streamed on the Chazen website. Here is a link to the portal for streaming: https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/index.php?/events-calendar-demo/event/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen7/

ABOUT THE PROGRAM

Utevsky and Coombs offer the following comments about the program:

We’re excited to be working with Lawren Brianna Ware (below) on a new work she composed for us, Un sueño aplazado (A Dream Deferred – a quote from the African-American poet Langston Hughes), which chronicles the emotional trajectory of a migrant’s journey from Central America to the United States.

Our two high school Conducting Apprentices, Luke Whittingham (below top) and Quinn Wilson (below bottom) will each conduct one performance of a movement from Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite. Whittingham conducts on Saturday and Wilson does so on Sunday.

Richard Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll is a luxurious tone poem for small orchestra that he composed as a love letter to his wife Cosima, first performed on the staircase of their villa in Switzerland on her birthday. Often chamber orchestras don’t get the chance to dig into the great German Romantic repertoire, but this gem is a notable — and unforgettably beautiful — exception. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

We conclude our program with Franz Joseph Haydn’s final symphony, No. 104. Nicknamed the “London,” it is one of 12 symphonies he wrote for performances there late in his career, and it remains one of his finest essays in symphonic form.

MAYCO is made possible by a grant from the Madison Arts Commission, with additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board.

For more information about the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, go to www.mayco.org or call (608) 514-5537.


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Classical music: Organist and composer Chelsea Chen debuts at Overture Hall on Tuesday night

February 18, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Organist Chelsea Chen (below) makes her Madison debut on this Tuesday night, Feb. 19, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall as part of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Concert Organ series.

Ticket information is below.

Chen brings to her Overture Hall premiere an array of widely known classical pieces plus her own original composition.

Chen’s performance begins with Ola Gjeilo’s Sinfonietta and Edvard Grieg’s First Peer Gynt Suite, Op. 46— continuing with Chen’s original work, the Taiwanese Suite, Camille Saint-Saens’ Finale from “Organ” Symphony No. 3, Ad Wammes’ Miroir, and finally, selections from Gustav Holst’s The Planets.

Composer Gjeilo (below) has praised Chen’s interpretation of Sinfonietta, which the organist has performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.

The First Peer Gynt Suite, Op. 46, by Grieg is one of the most easily recognizable compositions within the musical art form. Subtitled “Morning,” it is the first of two suites that Grieg (below) transcribed from Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 Norwegian play Peer Gynt.

The opus, albeit a short first movement from the suite, intends to instill imagery of the sunrise over the North African desert. Despite this, it is more commonly associated with the sweeping mountains, fjords and lakes that mark Norway’s landscape.

Chen’s own Taiwanese Suite combines the dynamic range of the organ with inflections of traditional Asian folksongs. It is composed of three movements: “Hills in the Springtime,” “Moonlight Blue” and “Mountain of Youth.”

Inspired by the works of Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt and others, Saint-Saens (below) composed a variety of arrangements and selections for numerous occasions. By age 10, the French composer and child prodigy had given his first concert. His Finale from “Organ” Symphony No. 3 is, as some consider, the pinnacle of his body of compositions. (You can hear Chen’s playing of the Finale from the “Organ” Symphony by Saint-Saens in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Miroir was composed by Dutch composer Ad Wammes (below) for Stephen Taylor to celebrate the organist’s appointment to the Nicolaïkerk, a church in the Netherlands. In an unconventional mirroring — hence the title — the right hand repeats the higher voices in the same pattern throughout the song, whereas the left hand varies texture, voice and tone in the lower registers. The result is a calming, low hum that is lifted by the glistening echoes of the upper registers.

To Holst, The Planets suite could be framed as “a series of mood pictures,” with its seven movements. Ironically, Holst (below) seemed to heavily dislike his explosive popularity resulting from the suite’s compositional structure. Despite his supposed negativity towards the piece, its inherent superb qualities of each movement — no two are alike — became a staple of evocative composition.

Following an academic career at the Juilliard School and Yale University, Chelsea Chen has practiced under the tutelage of known names in the musical world, such as Paul Jacobs and John Weaver. For more information about her, go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/chelsea-chen/

Single Tickets are available for $20 each and can be purchased online at http://madisonsymphony.org/chen, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 10 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit, https://madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two tickets for $10 each. More information is at: https://madisonsymphony.org/studentrush

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

This performance is sponsored by Friends of the Overture Concert Organ (below) that was custom-built by Klais Orgelbau of Germany. Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund. With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra commissioned the Overture Concert Organ.


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Classical music: The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) perform their annual Winterfest concerts this Saturday afternoon — with guest clarinetist Amitai Vardi — and on Saturday, March 2

February 15, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO, below is the Youth Orchestra) will present the Diane Ballweg Winterfest Concerts this Saturday, Feb. 16, and Saturday, March 2, in Mills Concert Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street in Madison, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

WYSO orchestras will perform pieces by Carl Maria von Weber, Antonin Dvorak, Georges Bizet, Sergei Prokofiev, Richard Wagner, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Manuel DeFalla, Johann Strauss, Modest Mussorgsky  and others.  For a complete program listing, go to: https://www.wysomusic.org/diane-ballweg-winterfest-2019-repertoire/

“These are wonderful works and the orchestras are progressing beautifully in rehearsal,” said WYSO music director Kyle Knox (below). “It looks to be a memorable concert series.”

Guest clarinetist Amitai Vardi (below) will perform Weber’s Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra, Op. 26,  with the Youth Orchestra during their Feb. 16 concert. (You can hear Weber’s Concertino in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Amitai Vardi — his father Uri Vardi teaches cello at the UW-Madison — is a WYSO alumnus who grew up in Madison. He performs regularly with the Cleveland Orchestra and is currently a professor at Kent State University in Ohio.

“WYSO was the first orchestra I ever played in,” Vardi said. “The experience developed my listening skills, knowledge about ensemble playing, love for orchestral music, and taught me how to be a well-rounded musician.”

Concert tickets are available 45 minutes prior to each concert, and are $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and under.

Visit www.wysomusic.org to learn more about the various orchestras and about the WYSO program.

WYSO students travel from communities throughout southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois each weekend throughout the concert season to rehearse on the UW-Madison campus.

Each orchestra performs three concerts per season, with additional performance opportunities available to students, including ensembles and chamber groups.

Diane Ballweg Winterfest Concerts

Saturday, Feb. 16 in Mills Hall
4 p.m. Youth Orchestra
With guest artist Amitai Vardi, clarinet

Saturday, March 2, 2019, Mills Hall
11:30 a.m. Opus One and Sinfonietta
1:30 p.m. Concert Orchestra
4 p.m. Philharmonia Orchestra and Harp Ensemble


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Classical music: Do Stephen Sondheim musicals qualify as opera?

February 8, 2019
2 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Do Broadway musicals by Stephen Sondheim (below) qualify as opera?

Granted, putting strict boundaries or criteria on certain musical genres only artificially limit their appeal.

But the question matters since this month will see two local opera companies stage two different works by Sondheim, who got his big break back when he collaborated with Leonard Bernstein on “West Wide Story.”

This Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m., on Feb. 8 and 10 respectively, the Madison Opera will stage its production of the popular “A Little Night Music” – a great offering about many varieties of love so close to Valentine’s Day — in the Capitol Theater at the Overture Center.

For more information about the production (photos of it are by James Gill for Madison Opera) and performances, including ticket sales, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=sondheim

(Below are Charles Eaton and Katherine Pracht.)

Then later in the month, for five performances from Feb. 21 through Feb. 24 in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater, University Opera and University Theatre team up to stage Sondheim’s popular “Into the Woods,” based on classic fairy tales.

Find out more information here: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/into-the-woods/

So, do Stephen Sondheim musicals deserve to be included with operas by Mozart and Verdi, Wagner and Puccini?

The Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill) — a Harvard graduate and an opera veteran who worked at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Metropolitan Opera before coming to Madison — agreed to discuss that question as it relates to her company’s production of “A Little Night Music” this weekend.

Smith writes:

A Little Night Music has been performed by opera companies around the world since 1983, so it is a natural part of the repertoire.

Sondheim himself says, “For me, an opera is something that is performed in an opera house in front of an opera audience. The ambience, along with the audience’s expectation, is what flavors the evening.”

A Little Night Music is particularly intriguing because it is a modern operetta; that’s what the New York Times called it when it premiered in 1973.

The costumes and scenery make it look a bit like traditional operettas such as The Merry Widow, but its story and wit are distinctly modern, with a clear-eyed view of the complexities of adult relationships. (Below, from left, are Cassandra Vasta, Benjamin Barlow, Sarah Day, Emily Pulley and Maddie Uphoff.)

Sondheim’s musical sophistication is on brilliant display; the Act I finale (“A Weekend in the Country”) reminds me of the way Mozart or Rossini finales build scene upon scene. (You can hear a concert version of “A Weekend in the Country,” performed at the BBC Proms, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

I find A Little Night Music compelling for its beauty, style and humanity. The book and lyrics are laced with witty lines, but the underlying relationships are very real, as is the way people stumble on the way towards a happy ending.

It manages the trick of being simultaneously moving and entertaining, with glorious music underscoring it all.


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