The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Broadcasts of operas from the Met and string quartets by the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet are featured on old media and new media this Saturday and Sunday. Plus, the 89th Edgewood college Christmas Concert is tonight and tomorrow afternoon.

December 2, 2016
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ALERT: Edgewood College will present its 89th Annual Christmas Concerts tonight at 7 p.m. and Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Now expanded to two performances, the holiday concert features the Edgewood College choirs and Concert Band, along with audience sing-alongs, prelude music by the Guitar Ensemble, and a post-concert reception featuring the Jazz Ensemble.

Tickets are $10, and seating is limited for this very popular annual event. Tickets should be purchased online in advance.

By Jacob Stockinger

Classical music meets old media and new media this weekend through opera and chamber music.

SATURDAY

This Saturday marks the beginning of the LIVE RADIO broadcasts of operas from the Metropolitan Opera (below) in New York City. This will be the 86th season for the radio broadcasts, which educated and entertained generations of opera lovers before there were DVDs, streaming and the “Live in HD From the Met” broadcasts to movie theaters.

Metropolitan Opera outdoors use Victor J. Blue NYT

Met from stage over pit

The performances will be carried locally on Wisconsin Public Radio, WERN-FM 88.7. This Saturday, the starting time for Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” with Russian superstar soprano Anna Netrebko (below, in a photo by Richard Termine for The New York Times), is 11:30 CST. Other operas will have different starting times, depending their length.

This season runs from Dec. 3-May 15.

Radio has certain strengths, The Ear thinks. For one, it allows the listeners to focus on the music, to be less distracted or less enriched – depending on your point of view – by sets, costumes, lighting, the physicality of the acting and other stagecraft that is left to the imagination.

This season, there will be lots of standard fare including: Verdi’s “La Traviata” and “Aida”; Puccini’s “La Boheme”; Bizet’s “Carmen”; Beethoven’s “Fidelio”; Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and “The Flying Dutchman”; Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” and “Salome”; and Mozart’s “Idomeneo.”

But you can also hear the new music and less frequently staged operas. They include the 2000 opera “L’amour de loin” (Love From Afar) by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, which will receive its Metropolitan Opera premiere next week, on Dec. 10.

Here is a link to the complete season along with links to information about the various productions. Starting times are Eastern Standard Time, so deduct an hour for Central Standard Time or a different amount for your time zone:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/Radio/Saturday-Matinee-Broadcasts/

met-manon-lescaut-anna-netrebko-cr-richard-termine-nyt

SUNDAY

On this Sunday afternoon, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), longtime artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will wrap up the first semester of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” which used to air weekly on Wisconsin Public Radio but now is presented once a month, on the first Sunday of the month, directly by the museum.

The program this Sunday features the “Italian Serenade” by Hugo Wolf; the String Quartet No. 3 in F Major by Dmitri Shostakovich; and the String Quartet in A-Flat Major, Op. 105, by Antonin Dvorak.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The FREE concert takes place from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery No. 3 of the Chazen Museum of Art and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Donors to the museum can reserve seats. Concerts by the Pro Arte Quartet, kind of the house quartet of the museum, are usually “sold out.”

But the concert can also be streamed live via computer or smart phone by clicking on the arrow in the photo and using the portal on the following website:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/index.php?/events-calendar-demo/event/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-12-4-16/

sal-pro-arte-12-4-16

You might also want to arrive early or stay late to see the historic and rare First Folio edition (below) of the plays by William Shakespeare that is on display at the Chazen Museum through Dec. 11 to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard.

First Folio


Classical music: Madison Opera’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” excelled in singing, orchestral playing, drama and other aspects that redeemed a largely unmemorable work. Plus, what is good music for Veterans Day?

November 11, 2016
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ALERT: Today is Veterans Day. What piece of classical music should be played to mark the event? The Ear suggests the War Requiem by Benjamin Britten. Leave your choice in the COMMENT section.

By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s post features a guest review of Madison Opera’s “Romeo and Juliet” by Larry Wells. Wells has been enjoying opera since he was a youngster. He subscribed to the San Francisco Opera for nearly 20 years, where he last saw “Romeo and Juliet,” sung by Alfredo Kraus and Ruth Ann Swenson

More recently he lived in Tokyo and attended many memorable performances there over nearly 20 years. These included Richard Strauss rarities such as “Die Ägyptische Helena” and “Die Liebe der Danae” as well as the world’s strangest Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner and a space-age production of Puccini’s “Turandot,” featuring Alessandra Marc singing “In questa reggia” while encased in an inverted cone.

By Larry Wells

Last Sunday’s matinee performance of Charles Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” by Madison Opera at the Overture Center was a feast for the eyes. The costumes, sets, lighting and staging were consistently arresting. (Performance photos are by James Gill.)

But we go to the opera for music and drama.

The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is well known. Gounod’s opera substitutes the tragedy with melodrama, and therein lies one of the work’s flaws. Despite sword fights, posturings and threats as well as one of opera’s lengthiest death scenes, one leaves the theater thinking that a vast amount of theatrical resources have been squandered on something insubstantial.

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-sword-fight

However, despite its dramatic flaws, the opera’s music has somehow endured. And Sunday’s performance milked the most out of the music that could have been expected.

The star of the show was the Madison Symphony Orchestra under the expert direction of Maestro John DeMain (below). He knows how to pace a performance, how to build an exciting climax and how to highlight a solo instrument.

He is an incredibly intelligent conductor, and we are fortunate to have him in Madison. I want to make special mention of the beautiful harp playing, which, according to the program, was accomplished by Jenny DeRoche.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The second star on the stage was the Madison Opera Chorus (below). The chorus plays a significant part in many of the opera’s scenes, and the singing was stirring when it needed to be and tender when it was called for.

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-chrous-and-set

As for the soloists, highest praise must go to UW-Madison alumna soprano Emily Birsan (below right) for her portrayal of Juliet. Her solo arias, particularly her big number in the first act as well as her subsequent lament, were stunning.

Her Romeo, tenor John Irvin (below left), sounded a little forced during his forte moments, but he sang magnificently in his quiet farewell to Juliet after their balcony scene. (You can hear the famous balcony scene, sung by Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-john-irvin-and-emily-birsan

Their voices blended beautifully in the opera’s multiple duets. And the wedding quartet, where they were joined by Allisanne Apple’s nurse (below, rear right) and Liam Moran’s Friar Lawrence (below, middle center), was a highlight of the performance.

madison-opera-romoeo-and-juliet-friar-and-nurse

The opera abounds with minor characters, all of which were ably portrayed. Special mention should be made of Stephanie Lauricella (below, far right) for her fantastic moments as Romeo’s page; Madison’s Allisanne Apple for her amusing portrayal of Juliet’s nurse Gertrude; Sidney Outlaw (below, second from left) as a robust Mercutio; and Philip Skinner as a powerful Lord Capulet.

madison-opera-romeo-and-juliet-sidnay-outlaw-left-and-page-right

I have wondered why this opera is still performed. Its music is lovely but unmemorable, and its dramatic impact is tenuous.

I left the performance thinking that it had been a good afternoon at the theater – certainly more interesting than the Packers’ game – but wishing that one of a couple dozen more meaty operas had been performed in its place.

Since we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, how much more interesting would have been Benjamin Britten’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”? 


Classical music: What piece of classical music best embodies Donald Trump?

August 27, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today The Ear has a simple question:

What piece of classical music best embodies Donald Trump (below), the Republican nominee for president of the United States?

Donald Trump thumbs up

Maybe an aria — by either a villain or a hero — from an opera by Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini or Richard Wagner?

Maybe an instrumental piece?

Maybe a song?

Think about it.

Listen to some choices.

And let us know what you think with a COMMENT and a link to a YouTube performance.

The Ear wants to hear.

Tomorrow it is Hillary Clinton‘s turn.


Classical music: New York Times critic David Allen is a role model of how to prepare for listening to a new and unknown conductor

August 7, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Many people were taken off guard when in January the New York Philharmonic named Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden (below) as its new music director — the highest paid conductor in the U.S.

Jaap van Sweden CR Todd Heisler NYT

The Ear certainly was.

And so was the New York Times critic David Allen.

But rather than wait to go hear van Zweden live, Allen plunged into van Zweden’s discography. The many recordings gave him a very good idea of what the conductor’s strengths and weaknesses are.

It took Allen some 52 hours of listening to do his due diligence and get a comprehensive background and preparation.

But the conclusions he reaches about van Zweden (below, in a photo by Washington of The New York Times) in contemporary repertoire as well as in classic works by Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Peter Tchaikovsky, Igor Stravinsky, Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner, among others, are illuminating.

You can hear Jaap van Sweden conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in what seems to The Ear an energetic and forceful interpretation of the Symphony No. 1 by Brahms in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Jaap van Zweden CR Ruby Washington NYTImes

Here is a link. You can judge for yourself what the public can look forward to:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/24/arts/music/jaap-van-zweden-new-york-philharmonic-recordings-discography.html?_r=0

What do you think of Allen’s assessment?

Does it seem fair? Biased?

Does it make you look forward to hearing van Zweden?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Earth Day will be celebrated with Handel’s “Ode for St. Cecelia’s Day” this Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Plus, the UW Symphony and soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn perform music by Weber, Wagner and Tchaikovsky in a FREE concert Friday night.

April 21, 2016
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ALERT: This Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, guest conductor Andreas Stoehr of Vienna will lead the UW Symphony Orchestra and his Wisconsin-born wife, soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn, who has taught at the UW-Madison for the past three years, in a FREE concert.

The program includes the Overture to the opera “Der Freischuetz” by Carl Maria von Weber; the “Wesendonck Lieder,” or songs, by Richard Wagner; and the Symphony No. 6 “Pathetique” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The Ear hears from a knowledgeable source that the concert will be outstanding.

For more about the impressive background of the conductor, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-symphony-orchestra-2/

And here is a link to a story on the A Temp blog with some quotes from the conductor about the program:

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following notice:

The Madison Area community is invited to celebrate the 46th anniversary of Earth Day – which was founded by former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson — with an afternoon concert and reception on this Saturday, April 23, and Sunday, April 24.

Earth Day

The event is sponsored and organized by the group Maestro Productions.

The Madison Area Community Earth Day Celebration Concert and Reception features the Madison Area Community Chorus and Orchestra (below, from 2015) with guest soloists and the Ringing Badgers Handbell Ensemble.

Earth Day Concert Group Photo 2015

It will be held at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, on Saturday, April 23, at 2 p.m. and on Sunday, April 24, at 2 p.m.

immanuel lutheran church ext

Immanuel Lutheran interior

The program opens with Maestro’s Ringing Badgers Handbell Ensemble.

Following intermission, the Madison Area Community Chorus and Orchestra, under the direction of Mark Bloedow (below), presents George Frideric Handel‘s choral work”Ode for St. Cecelia’s Day” and other selections. (You can hear an excerpt from the Handel work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Mark Bloedow

Guest soloists include soprano Rachel Edie Warrick (below top) and lyric tenor J. Adam Shelton (below bottom).

Rachel Edie Warrick

J. Adam Shelton 2

A reception will follow the concert in Immanuel’s Lakeview Room.

Tickets for the event are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and $8 for children and students. They are available from Willy Street Co-op Stores (East and West Locations), online at http://maestroproductions.brownpapertickets.com, and at the door.

More information is available at Maestro’s website: www.maestroproductions.org.


Classical music: The amateur Middleton Community Orchestra excels in difficult music by Wagner and Sibelius.

April 16, 2016
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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 for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

It was a short program — lasting under an hour — but an outstanding one, that the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) gave on Wednesday evening.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

There were only two works, but profoundly challenging ones, and associate conductor Kyle Knox (below) really put his amateur players’ feet to the fire.

Kyle Knox 2

The first work was the Prelude to Act I of the opera Lohengrin by Richard Wagner (below). This is music of spun silk, noteworthy for its use of divided violins most of the way through.

That creates a uniquely etherial sound, but one that takes great effort to bring off. The MSO has been developing a surprisingly fine string band. Its violinists met the demands of tone and balance beautifully, producing a performance of transcendent beauty.

Richard Wagner

The other, longer, work was a symphony heard far too rarely. This was the Symphony No. 3 of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (below).

I say quite frankly that it is my favorite among the symphonies of Sibelius. After the post-Tchaikovsky bombast of the First and Second, it was in this Third that the composer first found his own orchestral voice, establishing how to make his instruments and their ensembles work in ways that were totally his.

In its use of variations, and especially of thematic evolution, the Third also drafted the blueprint for the Fifth Symphony, which conductors and audiences adore, but to the cruel eclipse of the Third.

sibelius

This Third– which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom– is not an easy work to bring off. Its orchestral textures are full of tricky intricacies. No surprise that, here and there, one might hear quick moments in which the tension slackened. But Knox drew the players through a performance of beauty and power, finely honed and sonorously rendered.

The players clearly relish working under Knox. (The orchestra’s founding father, Steve Kurr, was sitting modestly in the viola section for this concert.) Knox’s own growth as a conductor is paired with his guiding of the orchestra to higher and higher achievements. Just for programming the Sibelius Third, I award him strong praise, but for bringing it off so well I must multiply my accolades.

I take this as a landmark event for the MCO—a genuine achievement. It is sad that the audience was not larger. Madison music-lovers, where are you when music and artistry like this is available to you?

I anticipate ranking this as my “concert of the year” when the final returns are in!


Classical music: The accomplished amateur Middleton Community Orchestra will perform Wagner and Sibelius this coming Wednesday night.

April 8, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Just a reminder today from Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic, co-founders and co-directors of the Middleton Community Orchestra, which has provided The Ear with many more memorable musical moments than he would have ever expected from a mostly amateur group.

They write:

On this coming Wednesday night, April 13, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below top) will present an early Spring Concert.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

It features our regular guest conductor, UW-Madison graduate student Kyle Knox (below bottom) in a performance of the Prelude to Act 1 of the opera “Lohengrin” by Richard Wagner and the too rarely heard Symphony No. 3 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, whose centennial was last year.

(You can hear the Wagner overture, performed by conductor Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic in a YouTube video at the bottom. The Ear generally loves Wagner’s orchestral writing — so shimmering and so sensual — much more than his vocal writing, which often seems likes protracted shouting. Is The Ear alone in that?) 

Kyle Knox 2

This music is gorgeous, and we promise you a short and very sweet evening–great music with a reception (below) to follow.

MCO June 2014 reception

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below) that is attached to Middleton High School at 2100 Bristol Street.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton PAC1

General admission is $10.  Advance tickets can be bought at the Willy St. Coop West.

All students are admitted free of charge.

The box office opens at 7 p.m.

For more information about the rest of its season and about how to support or join the Middleton Community Orchestra, visit:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org


Classical music: Con Vivo performs two masterpieces of German Romantic music to mark its recent cultural exchange tour of Germany.

October 28, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianist and organist Theodore Reinke in music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Edvard Grieg, Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt.

By Jacob Stockinger

“Con Vivo – Music With Life” (below) presents a chamber music concert entitled “German Romance” on this Friday, October 30, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, across from Camp Randall.

Tickets can be purchased at the door for $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students.

To celebrate the group’s recent cultural exchange tour to our sister county of Kassel, Germany, the concert program includes two masterpiece pillars of 19th-century German Romantic chamber music: the Trio for clarinet, cello and piano by Johannes Brahms and Franz Schubert’s String Quintet with two cellos, regarded as one of the greatest compositions in all chamber music. (You can hear the Schubert Quintet with the Juilliard String Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Audience members are invited to join the musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss this chamber music literature and to hear about their experiences on their concert tour in Germany.

Con Vivo 2015

Artistic Director Robert Taylor, in remarking about the concert said, “Our tour to Germany was a wonderful honor and great success. We return very excited to begin our 14th season with two of the great masterpieces for chamber ensemble. Our Madison audience will be able to welcome us home as we present some of our favorite repertoire in this concert.”

Con Vivo! is a professional chamber music ensemble composed of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.


Classical music: The “Met Live in HD” starts its 10th season this coming Saturday with Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.” Plus, today is your last time to hear the acclaimed opening concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Read the reviews here.

September 27, 2015
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ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the season-opening program of music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Aaron Copland and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The performance won acclaim from local critics.

Here is a review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/arts/stage/madison-symphony-orchestra-opens-2015-season/

And here is a review by Jessica Courtier for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/individual-sections-shine-in-madison-symphony-orchestra-s-season-opener/article_3fd85244-6456-11e5-b949-ef2658626736.html

And here is Greg Hettmansberger’s review for Madison Magazine:

http://www.channel3000.com/madison-magazine/arts-culture/madison-symphony-celebrates-itself-rightly-so/35500642

By Jacob Stockinger

Next weekend sure is a train wreck for local music. Not that this past weekend wasn’t or that future weekends won’t be.

So much is happening that The Ear sometimes gets discouraged rather than excited. You begin to think not about what you will see or hear, but about what you will miss!

And then there are the major non-local events.

One such big one is the opening this coming Saturday, Oct. 3, of the 10th season of the series of “Live From the Met in HD,” the broadcast of live opera performances that are broadcast via satellite to thousands of cinemas around the globe.

Met Live IlTrovatore poster

The series has been one of the Metropolitan Opera’s outstanding success stories and money-makers over the past decade and of the controversial tenor of the Met’s general director Peter Gelb.

Here in Madison, you have a choice of two locations: Eastgate cinemas on the far east side and Point Cinemas on the far west side.

Here is a link to the Marcus Theatres web site where you can find out about other locations in the area, state and region:

https://www.marcustheatres.com/movies/met-ii-trovatore-live

The opening production is Giuseppe Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” (The Troubadour, 1853) with the famous Anvil Chorus (heard from a previous production at the bottom in a YouTube video). The staging and production of the opera with a Spanish theme is the dramatic and disturbing art of Francisco Goya.

Met Il Trovatore anvil

The cast features soprano Anna Netrebko and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

The show will start on Saturday at 11:55 a.m. Running time, with one half-hour intermission, is about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Admission is $24 for adults and $22 for seniors 60 and over; and $18 for children 3 to 11. Tickets to the encore productions are $18.

Here is a link with the title of the 10 other productions – including works by Richard Wagner, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gaetano Donizetti, Richard Strauss, Giacomo Puccini, Alban Berg and Georges Bizet for this season.

And you can follow links to plot synopses, cast notes and other information.

https://www.metopera.org/Season/In-Cinemas/


Classical music: Meet Dame Ethel Smyth –- a Victorian feminist and forceful composer as well as an advocate of women’s rights and same-sex relations.

August 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

You probably don’t know the name Ethel Smyth (pronounced smaith, below).

The Ear certainly didn’t.

ethel smyth

But then he came across this fascinating account of her life and work.

Smythe was friends with Peter Tchaikovsky and Johannes Brahms.

An early feminist leader for same-sex equality, she fell in love with the much younger writer Virginia Woolf.

And her muscular music and politically charged operas reminded people of Richard Wagner.

Now she has been resurrected thanks to Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College who also directs the American Symphony Orchestra and the Bard Music Festival. He staged her 1904 opera “The Wreckers.” (At bottom, you can hear a YouTube performance of the Overture to “The Wreckers.”)

Leon Botstein conducting USE

Tom Huizenga, of the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog, wrote this profile and appreciation for NPR, or National Public radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/07/23/410033088/one-feisty-victorian-womans-opera-revived


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