The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: University Opera announces a new season that is politically and socially relevant to today. The two shows are a virtual revue of Marc Blitzstein and a live operatic version of “The Crucible.”

August 7, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

David Ronis (below), the director of the University Opera at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music, has posted the following notice about its upcoming season on social media.

The award-winning Ronis is known for being creative both in programming and staging. The new season is yet another example of that. It features one virtual original production about an American composer to see and hear online, and two live performances of a mid-20th century American opera.

Both works seem especially pertinent and cautionary, given the times we currently live in in the U.S.

Here are the details:

FINALLY!!!

Things have fallen into place for the University Opera 2020-21 season and we are happy to announce our productions:

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein — the Man in His Music”

“A biographical pastiche featuring songs and ensembles from Marc Blitzstein’s shows, spoken excerpts from his letters and working notes, and a narration. 

“Oct. 23, 2020

8 p.m. Video Release

____________________________________________________________________________________

“The Crucible” (1961)

Music by Robert Ward

Libretto by Bernard Stambler

Based on the 1953 play by Arthur Miller

March 19 and 21, 2021

Shannon Hall, Wisconsin Union Theater

_____________________________________________________________________________________

We will post more information as we get it. For now, we are very excited about both projects! Stay tuned.”

(Editor’s note: To stay tuned, go to: https://www.facebook.com/UniversityOpera/)

_____________________________________________________________________________________

And what does The Ear think?

The revue of Marc Blitzstein seems a perfect choice for Madison since his papers and manuscripts are located at the Wisconsin Historical Society. For details, go to: http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi/f/findaid/findaid-idx?c=wiarchives;view=reslist;subview=standard;didno=uw-whs-us0035an

Focusing on Blitzstein (1905-1964) also seems an especially politically relevant choice since he was a pro-labor union activist whose “The Cradle Will Rock, directed by Orson Welles,” was shut down by the Works Progress Administration of the federal government.

For more about Blitzstein (below in 1938) and his career, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Blitzstein

“The Crucible” also seems an especially timely choice. In its day the original play about the Salem witch trials was seen as a historical parable and parallel of McCarthyism and the Republican witch hunt for Communists.

Read about the Salem witch trials here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_witch_trials

Now that we are seeing a time when Democrats and others with progressive ideas are accused of being radical leftists, socialists and destructive revolutionaries, its relevance has come round again. Like McCarthy, President Donald Trump relies on winning elections by generating fear and denigrating opponents.

For more about the operatic version of “The Crucible” (below, in a production at the University of Northern Iowa) — which was commissioned by the New York City Opera and won both a Pulitzer Prize and the New York Music Critics Circle Award in 1962 — go to this Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Crucible_(opera)

You can hear the musically accessible opening and John’s aria, from Act II, in the YouTube video at the bottom. For more about composer Robert Ward (1917-2013, below), go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Ward_(composer)

What do you think of the new University Opera season?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The third annual Schubertiade at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music was so popular and so successful, it should serve as a model for other collaborative concerts featuring other composers. Plus, a FREE concert at noon on Friday offers music of Philip Glass, Zoltan Kodaly and others

February 4, 2016
3 Comments

ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features Danielle Breisach, flute; Jeff Breisach, horn; Peter Miliczky and Clare Bresnahan, violins; Josh Dieringer, viola; Andrew Briggs, cello; and Jana Avedyahn, piano in music by Philip Glass, Jonathan Russ, Robert Ward and Zoltan Kodaly.

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday night, The Ear attended the third annual Schubertiade in Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

In case you aren’t acquainted with what a Schubertiade is, you should know that it is patterned after the kind of informal soirees, held in private homes and salons, where the early Romantic composer Franz Schubert (below, 1797-1828) often premiered to friends his latest songs, piano works and chamber music. The UW-Madison Schubertiades celebrate the composer’s Jan. 31 birthday and usually kick off the second semester of concerts.

Franz Schubert big

Below is a link to a previous posting — with the complete program and list of performers — about this year’s Schubertiade.

It featured an informative interview with pianist and singer Bill Lutes (below right). Lutes, along his wife Martha Fischer (below left) – a professor of collaborative piano at the UW-Madison who also sings – co-founded and co-directs the event. Both of them also performed throughout the event:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/classical-music-why-schubert-just-ask-pianist-singer-bill-lutes-and-go-to-the-uw-madisons-third-annual-schubertiade-this-saturday-night-at-8-p-m/

martha fischer and bill lutes

And you can use the search engine on this blog to check out the Schubertiades in 2014 and 2015.

Kudos and bravos are in order. There were so many things to like about the Schubertiade.

Here are a few:

  1. It remained an informal and very listener-friendly event with great pacing. The idea of sitting people on the stage (below top) to recreate a salon gathering is inspired. What’s more, it works and puts the audience in exactly the right mood. Plus, there was exactly the right amount of commentary — not too little or too much.
  2. The program, organized this year around the theme of nature, cohered. It also proved convincing as a vehicle for so many different kinds of Schubert’s music, mostly shorter works – solo songs, larger choral works, piano duets and chamber music.
  3. The quality of the performances was amazingly even and amazingly engaging. The audience was so quiet, you could tell that it was wholly absorbed and not distracted.
  4. The musical works were extremely well matched to the performers, and played to their strengths and temperaments.
  5. The imported guest artist – soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below bottom, in a photo by Peter Konerko), a graduate of the UW-Madison who sings opera and is now a professor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst – proved a complete success in both her charming presentation and her first-class performances.

Schubertiade 2016 stage

Jamie-Rose Guarrine Peter Konerko

  1. Despite the overall evenness and consistency, there were some standout moments. Judging from the applause, the audience clearly loved the song ”The Trout” followed by the theme-and-variations movement, based on the song, from the famous “Trout” Piano Quintet (below):

Scubertiade 2016 Trout Quintet

Another show-stopper was the superb rendition, both highly dramatic and subtly lyrical, of “Lebensstürme” (Life’s Storms) for piano, four hands, played by Lutes and Fisher.

And the closing number, the famous “Shepherd on the Rock” for soprano, clarinet and piano, brought the house to a standing ovation. (The Ear hopes that this and other moments were recorded and get posted for streaming from the UW School of Music’s website or SoundCloud.) In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear this sublime late work in a performance by soprano Barbara Bonney, clarinetist David Shifrin and pianist Andre Watts for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Schubertiade 2016 Shepherd on the Rock

In short, the third annual Schubertiade proved a completely enjoyable and thoroughly persuasive evening of performances that attested to the quality, empathy and variety of the music that Franz Schubert created in his short life of 31 years.

But perhaps the best, most memorable part of the event was to see the collaboration and cooperation that was so evident.

The Schubertiade featured an impressive lineup of faculty members, students and alumni. The many performers came from various departments: piano, voice, strings, brass, winds and opera.

Scubertiade 2016 performers

We see and hear far too little of that cooperation, it seems to The Ear.

And when he talked to another loyal fan of UW music and of the Schubertiade, that fan agreed that such single-composer events are popular with the public and should take place more often. They serve as samplers with both familiar and unfamiliar works.

So maybe the Schubertiade could serve as a model for similar events with other composers whose body of work is, like Schubert’s, both first-rate and very varied.

Some composers who come immediately to mind are Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. And there are no doubt others who could be featured.

Such collaborative events would also prove popular with the public, The Ear surmises. After all, this third Schubertiade seemed to draw the biggest audience yet – a two-thirds house of about 500 – even on the night when a UW-Madison hockey game was competing for attention.

If you didn’t go, it was your loss. But there will be another Schubertiade next January, one presumes. Don’t miss it!

And if you did go to this year’s Schubertiade, leave whatever you care to say in the COMMENTS section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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