The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Meet UW-Madison bassoonist Marc Vallon who performs with the Willy Street Chamber Players on Friday night

July 17, 2019
2 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Who is Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill)?

This week, he is the bassoonist who will perform Franz Danzi’s Quartet for Bassoon and Strings in D minor, Op. 40, No. 2 (ca. 1820), this coming Friday night, July 19, with the acclaimed Willy Street Chamber Players (below), who will also be joined by pianist Jason Kutz and violist Sharon Tenhundfeld..

(The concert is at 6 p.m. in Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street. The program includes: the Allegretto for Piano Trio by Ludwig van Beethoven (1812); “Dark Wood” by American composer Jennifer Higdon (2001); and the rarely heard String Quartet No. 1  (1948) by Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera. Admission is $15.)

A native of France, Vallon is one of the busiest musicians in Madison. He teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, where he also performs individually, with faculty and student colleagues, and as a member of the Wingra Wind Quintet. He also frequently performs and conducts Baroque music with the Madison Bach Musicians.

Vallon attended the Paris Conservatory, where he won first prizes in bassoon and chamber music, and also earned a philosopher degree at the Sorbonne or University of Paris.

A versatile musician, Vallon played with famed avant-garde French composer Pierre Boulez and for more than 20 years was the principal bassoon of the well-known Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. He has also performed with major modern orchestras and conductors as well as with many period-instrument groups.

He gives master classes worldwide and also composes.

For a more extended and detailed biography, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/faculty/marc-vallon/

Vallon recently did an email Q&A interview with The Ear:

What drew you to the bassoon (below) over, say, the piano or singing, over strings, brass or other woodwinds?

I played the piano as young kid but was not very interested in the mechanics of it, even if I had a strong passion for music. It was the day that my piano teacher brought to my lesson a friend of his to do a bassoon demo that I found the right medium for my passion.

I started practicing like a maniac and knew by the age of 14 that I was going to be a professional bassoonist.

What would you like the public to know about the bassoon, perhaps about the challenges of playing it and about the repertoire for it?

The bassoon does not offer more challenges than other wind instruments, but it is safe to say that an absolute perfectionist person should probably not play it.

It is an instrument capable of true beauties, yet it has its own character. You don’t conquer it, you work with it like you would work with a wonderful but temperamental colleague.

Bassoonists sometimes complain that our solo repertoire is not as rich in masterpieces as the clarinet’s or the flute’s. True, but in its 350 years of existence, the bassoon has amassed enough wonderful music to keep us busy for several lifetimes.

What would you like to tell the public about the specific Bassoon Quartet by Franz Danzi that you will perform, and about Danzi and his music in general?

The bassoon and strings quartet became popular in the last decades of the 18th century, a trend that lasted well into the Romantic era.

Sadly, many of these quartets are basically show-off pieces for the bassoonist while the strings players have to suffer through some often very dull accompaniment parts.

I like this one by Danzi (below) because it features the strings on the same musical level as the bassoon, creating an enjoyable musical conversation rather than a cocky bassoon monologue. (You can hear that musical conversation in the opening movement of the Bassoon Quartet by Danzi in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

As a performer and conductor, you are well–known for championing baroque music as well as modern and contemporary music. Do you have a preference? Do they feed each other in your experience?

What I always have enjoyed about playing contemporary music is the possibility to work with living composers because I often realized how flexible they are with their own music and how much they like the performer’s input. They’re often ready to compromise and veer away from the strict notation.

The approach when playing composers from the past is actually very similar in the sense that we have to remember how approximate music notation is. Baroque composers are not here anymore obviously, but the 17th and 18th centuries sources tell us clearly how much flexibility we, modern performers, have in our approach to their music.

When it comes to music pre-1800, we basically have a sketch on our music stands. I always want to remember this. (Below is a manuscript page of a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach.)

Do you have big projects coming up next season?

Always! I am putting together a contemporary program on March 27 in our new concert hall on campus. It is called ”Opening Statements” and will feature early works from major 20th-century composers.

On period instruments, I have Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio,” Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” and more Bach on my calendar.

Is there something else you would like to say?

A big Thank You to you, Jake, for being such a relentless and informed advocate of the Madison musical scene!


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Classical music: On this Veterans Day, what music best marks today’s centennial of the armistice that ended World War I?

November 11, 2018
4 Comments

IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR SHARE IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

In August of 2014 the world marked the centennial of the outbreak of World War I.

It was supposed to be over by that Christmas.

It wasn’t. It lasted for more than four years.

It was supposed to be “The war to end all wars.”

It didn’t. In fact, most historians agree that World War I directly set up the conflicts and conditions that led to World War II.

It was supposed to be the war that “made the world safe for democracy.”

It didn’t do that either, although it did lead to the overthrow of many kings and royal rulers in Russia, Germany and Austria.

The one thing World War I did do was kill people, especially the trench-bound soldiers, on a scale never before seen. It was nothing short of a bloody meat grinder of a war that saw the introduction of air warfare and chemical warfare.

Four years later – today, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 – we mark the centennial of the armistice that, 100 years ago, that ended the war on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

That is why the holiday was called Armistice Day before it became Veterans Day.

Anyway, what music is appropriate to the occasion?

Rather than reinvent the wheel, The Ear is giving you this link to the other centennial celebration post that mentioned , via links to other web sites, a lot of works and a lot of composers.

Many of those favorites remain relevant today — although Benjamin Britten’s epic War Requiem (you can hear the opening in the YouTube video at the bottom) and Samuel Barber’s moving Adagio for Strings (also at the bottom, conducted by Leonard Bernstein) still seem to tower over all the others.

Use this link to read about music and let us know what thoughts you have about the centennial of the armistice and the music you would listen to mark it.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/classical-music-as-we-mark-the-centennial-of-world-war-i-what-classical-music-should-we-think-of-and-listen-to-plus-check-up-on-the-last-day-of-wysos-10-day-tour-to-argentina/

And, finally, here is The Ear’s fervent hope that — given the rise of the far right and of populist, nationalistic politics here and around the globe — we are not working our way back to World War I rather than away from it.


Classical music: On Saturday night, the UW Wind Ensemble will mark a first by performing a FREE concert that will also be live-streamed

April 6, 2018
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Something important — even pioneering or groundbreaking — will take place this on Saturday night at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Wind Ensemble (below) will give a FREE concert that will also be a LIVE-STREAMED – a first for the UW-Madison.

Live-streaming of concerts by students, faculty members and guest artists is something that many music schools are now doing on a regular basis.

They include big schools like the Yale School of Music and smaller institutions like the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wis.

Streaming allows alumni and other listeners all over the world to hear the concert in real time. It can be prestigious form of outreach and a terrific tool for fundraising and recruiting students. Imagine the worldwide audience for, say, the Pro Arte Quartet, which has toured to South America, Europe and Asia.

The Ear has heard several reasons why live-streaming is not yet standard practice at the UW-Madison. Those reasons include the lack of specialized staff, too little equipment, too little money, and difficulty or expense in obtaining the rights from performers and composers or publishing companies.

This time, the live streaming is being done on a paid basis by a local School of Music alumnus who has the expertise and experience. Sources at the school say that more concerts are likely to be live-streamed next season.

The program on Saturday night features the “French Suite” of Francis Poulenc; “Circuits” by Cindy McTee (below top); and the Symphony in Three Movements by the retired UW tuba professor and composer John Stevens (below bottom). You can hear the opening of the work by John Stevens, which was recorded for Naxos Records, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The performance will be done under the batons of director Scott Teeple (below top) and two graduate student assistants: O’Shae Best (below middle) and Cole Hairston (below bottom).

For the link for streaming and more information, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wind-ensemble-3/


Classical music: Tucson celebrates the Leonard Bernstein centennial. Why not Madison?

February 17, 2018
5 Comments

Editor’s note: Larry Wells, better known as The Opera Guy who writes for this blog, recently spent time in Tucson, Arizona, where he attended many events celebrating the Leonard Bernstein centennial.

Tucson isn’t alone. This fall has seen many similar celebrations, including those in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Milwaukee. But curiously there has been little in Madison.

Perhaps that will change next season. At least this week will see a FREE concert by the UW-Madison Wind Ensemble this Wednesday night, Feb. 21, in Mills Hall. The mixed program with other composers features “Profanation” from Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1.

Here is a link with more information and the program:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wind-ensemble-2/

And here are observations about the Tucson celebration:

By Larry Wells

I recently spent a few weeks in Tucson. Part of that time happily coincided with the annual Tucson Desert Song Festival which this year commemorated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell).

I was able to attend 13 of the performances and was struck by the consistently intelligent programming, large audiences, and high performance standards.

Many of the events were held at the Fred Fox School of Music at the University of Arizona. Some of these involved talented student and faculty singers performing Bernstein’s Broadway songs as well as his more serious vocal works. The venue also hosted outstanding recitals by Metropolitan Opera veterans Jennifer Johnson Cano (below top) and Lisette Oropesa (below bottom).

One of the highlights was a recital by dual pianists Steven Bleier (below top, on right) and Michael Barrett (below top, on left), founders of the New York Festival of Song. Their program included Bernstein’s final song cycle “Arias and Barcarolles” featuring the very talented Joshua Jeremiah (below middle) and Rebecca Jo Loeb (below bottom).

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra (below), under the direction of its new conductor José Luis Gomez,  filled the cavernous Tucson Music Hall for two performances of Bernstein’s underperformed Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish.” Joined by the symphony’s outstanding chorus, the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus, and soprano Kelley Nassief this monumental work was electrifying. The many percussionists were given a good aerobic workout, and the audience seemed hypnotized.

The only flaw was the narration rewritten and delivered by Bernstein’s daughter Jamie. The original narration by the composer is a monologue between a man and his god. Ms. Bernstein’s narration changed the tone to that of a daughter speaking about her father.

For someone familiar with the work, I felt somewhat cheated that I was not hearing the work as it had been composed. Still it was a total delight to hear a live performance of a work that should be heard far more often than it is.

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra offered a second program which featured a sparkling performance of Bernstein’s opera “Trouble in Tahiti” with the widely-praised, and rightly so, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke (below in a photo by Dario Acosta).

Ballet Tucson offered a somewhat strange program featuring Bernstein songs beautifully performed by Cadie Jordan (below top) and David Margulis (below bottom, in a photo by Kristin Hoebermann). Sometimes they were accompanied by dancers and sometimes not.

Then, after a number of these songs, a recording came on of portions of the suite from Bernstein’s score for the film “On the Waterfront” with dancers performing a sort of “Romeo and Juliet” narrative. It didn’t seem to make any cohesive sense, but it was fun to watch and the quality of the music never faltered.

Two other large events were the Arizona Opera’s “Candide” and Tucson’s resident chorus True Concord’s MASS.

I attended the premiere of “Candide” (below) which was also performed in the vast Tucson Music Hall. I had only seen it performed once before, and that was the charming, witty, and intimate Harold Prince version. The Tucson version was one of the overlong operatic versions that featured additional musical numbers, which was a good thing, but wordy spoken dialogue that was unfortunately under-amplified. Therefore, unless someone was very familiar with the work, the production was a long string of seemingly unrelated musical numbers linked by incomprehensible spoken dialogue.

The dialogues themselves are very witty, but since they were not accompanied by supertitles as was the singing, the performance was seriously flawed. Still the singing was excellent, with special praise for Katrina Galka’s Cunegonde, and the staging was colorful and often amusing. Hopefully the sound issues were rectified for the following four performances. (You can hear the famous Overture to “Candide”– conducted by the composer —  in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

MASS (poster with scenes is below) was performed in what is termed as the ‘Chamber Version.’ I was apprehensive that somehow the musical content would be diminished, but my worries turned out to be unfounded and the performance was uniformly dynamic and engaging. True Concord is an outstanding choral group, and its leader Eric Holtan led a thoroughly engaging and moving performance of this monumental work. I was so taken by the first performance that I attended the second as well. Both performances filled the huge Centennial Hall.

Besides the orchestra and chorus the work features a celebrant, in this case the appropriately named Jubilant Sykes, an ensemble of vocal soloists, a boys chorus and dancers. The choreographers decided to add an additional layer of complexity to an already complex work by having some of the dancers portray Rose, Jacqueline and Caroline Kennedy as well as what I think was supposed to be the spirit of JFK. This was not part of the original work, and I felt it was superfluous to an already multifaceted work. But the audience loved it all, and it turns out that Madison is not the only city that seems to give everything a standing ovation.

The takeaway moment of the festival occurred during a discussion involving composer Dan Asia, the festival director and conductor George Hanson, and Jamie Bernstein. When asked how younger audiences can be lured into concert halls, all three of them immediately concurred that the answer is to program 20th-century music. They claim that any time 20th-century music is programmed, ticket sales increase. My experience at this festival was that large venues were consistently filled with audiences of all ages.

This is something for Madison to think about.


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Classical music: Get the new UW-Madison brochure for the School of Music concerts, faculty and students. It’s a MUST-HAVE and a MUST-READ, and it is FREE to anyone

September 6, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Although the UW-Madison officially opened yesterday, today is the first day of instruction. And this weekend will see the beginning of the new concert season at the Mead Witter School of Music.

On Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall, faculty soprano Mimmi Fulmer and alumnus pianist Thomas Kasdorf will kick off the season with a FREE concert of music and songs celebrating the 100th anniversary of the independence of Finland.

But that’s just the beginning to an event-filled school year that includes mostly free solo recitals, chamber music, orchestral music, opera, choral music and more.

And this year, there is a new guide to the concert season and the School of Music itself.

The short and usual glossy brochure of listings has given way to a booklet guide. It is 8-1/2 by 11 inches big and has 24 well-filled pages. It is printed on regular paper and has much more information about the events and the people who make them happen. It takes you behind the scenes as well as in the hall and on the stage.

It is less showy, to be sure, but so much more readable and informative. And it feels great in your hands.

On the right hand margin, you’ll find concerts with performers and programs. To the left and in the center, you will find news, biographies and other information about musicians, donors and an update about the new concert hall building.

The new guide, which you can get for FREE, is the brainchild of Kathy Esposito (below), the music school‘s publicist and concert manager.

Here is what Esposito has to say:

“Our School of Music website, which debuted in 2014, required resources that previously had been devoted to multiple print publications.

“So we dropped back to only one, a printed events calendar.

“I’m happy to say that for the 2017-18 academic year, we finally found time to enlarge the printed concert calendar into a true newsletter as well.

“We certainly have enough news to share. Much of what’s in there had not been, or still is not, placed on the website at http://www.music.wisc.edu.

“My personal favorites are the stories from students, both undergrad and grad. As a mom of two young musicians, I can, to some degree, understand both the challenges and the thrills of their careers. Learning about their lives is the best part of my job. Occasionally I can help them, too.

“A couple of other things to give credit where credit is due.

“My assistant, Brianna Ware, who is a graduate student in piano, caught and corrected many errors.

“The brochure was designed by Bob Marshall of Marshall Design in Middleton. He did a masterful job. Bravo!

“Printing was coordinated by the fabulous Sue Lind at DoIT (Division of Information Technology) Printing and Publishing, who helped me to choose a new paper stock, a lightweight matte.

“Lastly, upon request from our older readers, we increased the font size slightly.

“We mailed the brochure to all alumni, national and international. That also was new. And our feedback has been quite positive.

“I’m happy to send readers a FREE copy of this fall’s brochure – with the somewhat humdrum title “Concerts, News and Events” – to those who email their postal addresses to me. I’ll place you on the list for next year, too. Send your name and postal address to kesposito@wisc.edu

About twice a month, we also publish an e-newsletter in the form of a blog, which I also paste into an email for those on a Wisclist, who don’t get the blog. It is the same information, but I think the blog is prettier.

That’s available via this link: https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/


Classical music: Mozart masterfully melds the emotional and the intellectual, says maestro Gary Thor Wedow, who will conduct two performances of “The Magic Flute” this weekend for the Madison Opera. Here is Part 1 of his two-part interview with The Ear

April 18, 2017
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will stage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute this Friday night, April 21 at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, April 23, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. (Production photos are courtesy of the Arizona Opera, from which the Madison Opera got its sets and costumes.)

Here are an introduction and some details, courtesy of the Madison Opera:

Written in the last year of his life, Mozart’s opera is part fairy tale, part adventure story, and is filled with enchantment.

Set in a fairy-tale world of day and night, the opera follows Prince Tamino and the bird-catcher Papageno as they embark on a mission to rescue Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night. Pamina had been kidnapped by Sarastro, the leader of a religious order. But it turns out that exactly who is “good” and who is “evil” is not always what it appears.

Along the way to happily-ever-after, Pamina, Tamino and Papageno face many challenges, but are assisted by a magic flute, magic bells, a trio of guiding spirits and their own clear-eyed sense of right and wrong.

“The Magic Flute has been beloved around the world since its 1791 premiere,” says Kathryn Smith (below in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director. “It has been called a fairy tale for both adults and children, with a story that works on many levels, all set to Mozart’s glorious music. I’m so delighted to be sharing it again with Madison, with an incredible cast, director and conductor.”

The opera runs about 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

Tickets are $18 to $130.

“The Magic Flute” will be sung in German with English supertitles.

For more about the production and cast, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/

And also go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/cast/

Dan Rigazzi, who has been on the directing staff at the Metropolitan Opera for 10 years, makes his Madison Opera debut with this beautiful production that incorporates some steampunk elements into its fairy-tale setting.

Gary Thor Wedow, a renowned Mozart conductor, makes his mainstage debut with this opera, after having conducted Opera in the Park in 2016 and 2012.

Conductor Wedow (below) recently agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers?

Hello! I’m an American conductor, born in LaPorte, Indiana. A faculty member at The Juilliard School, I spend a lot of time with music of the 18th century — Handel and Mozart and often earlier, like Monteverdi, Purcell and Cavalli. But I conduct everything and grew up in love with the Romantics. I’ve also always done a lot of contemporary music. I love it all.

Mozart’s music sounds so clear and easy or simple, but the reality is quite different, musicians say. What do you strive for and what qualities do you think make for great Mozart playing?

Mozart engages both the brain and the heart. He challenges your intellect with amazing feats of counterpoint, orchestration and structure while tugging at your heart, all the time pulling you along in a deep drama.

Mozart was an Italian melodist with a German contrapuntal, harmonic engine – like an incredible automobile with an Italian slick body and a German motor.

Do you share the view that opera is central to Mozart’s music, even to his solo, chamber and ensemble instrumental music? How so? What is special or unique to Mozart’s operas, and to this opera in particular?

From all accounts, Mozart (below, in his final year) was a huge personality who was full of life and a keen observer of the human condition; his letters are full of astute, often merciless and sometimes loving evaluations of family, colleagues and patrons.

Mozart’s music speaks of the human condition: its passions, loves and hopes— no matter what genre. His music is innately dramatic and primal, going immediately to the most basic and universal human emotions with breathtaking nuance, variety and depth. (You can hear the Overture to “The Magic Flute,” performed by the Metropolitan Opera orchestra under James Levine, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Tomorrow: Tricks to conducting Mozart and what to pay special attention to in this production of The Magic Flute.


Classical music: Guest pianist Leon Fleisher and the Pro Arte Quartet will give a FREE performance of the Piano Quintet by Brahms at noon on Oct. 6.

September 7, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

You heard it here first.

Here is a date to save  and then spread the word:

The Ear hears that famed pianist and teacher Leon Fleisher (below top in a photo by Chris Hartlove) will perform a FREE concert with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet (below bottom in a photo by Rick Langer) at noon on Thursday, Oct. 6, in Mills Hall.

Intl_Piano_LF1120.pdf

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The program features a dramatic and lyrical masterpiece, the Piano Quintet in F Minor by Johannes Brahms. (You can hear Leon Fleisher perform the third movement, the lively Scherzo with a lovely Trio, of the Brahms Piano Quintet with the Emerson String Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

More details are forthcoming.

The Ear has been told that Fleisher, 88 and retired from the Peabody Institute of Music at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and the Pro Arte are doing this as a gesture of thanks to all supporters of the quartet, which several years ago celebrated its centennial and is the longest-lived string quartet in history.

Fleisher was an acclaimed and prize-winning pianist whose career was thwarted by focal dystonia in his right hand, which made him play and perform only with his left hand.

For a decade now, he has recovered and been performing with two hands and often with his pianist wife. They performed several seasons ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The Pro Arte Quartet holds a special place in his affection.

About a decade ago, Fleisher performed the same Brahms work with the Pro Arte. Fleisher’s main teacher, the legendary Artur Schnabel, performed and recorded works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Robert Schumann, Antonin Dvorak and others with the Pro Arte Quartet back in the 1930s.


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