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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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”?
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison 900 University Bay Drive, features cellist Leonardo Altino playing Suites Nos. 1, 5 and 6 for unaccompanied cello by Johann Sebastian Bach. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
WYSO will kick-off its 51st season with the Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts on this Saturday, Nov. 12, and next Saturday, Nov. 19. Nearly 500 young musicians will display their talents to the community during the concerts, which are dedicated to music teachers.
Kenneth will be playing cello and Cynthia will be conducting in the Cello Concerto by British composer Philip Sawyers. (You can hear Kenneth Woods conduct the opening movement of the cello concerto in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Youth Orchestra, under the direction of James Smith, will also be playing Symphony No. 2 by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Overture to the opera “Der Freischuetz” by Carl Maria von Weber.
Cynthia Woods (below) is currently the Music Director of the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and the conductor for the Youth Preparatory Orchestra at the New England Conservatory, where she serves on the violin, chamber and conducting faculty.
Along with her conducting activities, Ms. Woods is also a frequent speaker and writer. She has been a guest lecturer at institutions such as MIT and the Longy School of Music of Bard College, a panelist for radio shows such as WGBH’s Callie Crossley, and a frequent contributor to The Boston Herald’s State of the Arts blog. Cynthia was a member of WYSO from 1984–1989 in Concert, Philharmonia and Youth Orchestra.
For more background about Cynthia Woods, go to:
Kenneth Woods (below) is currently the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra. As a cello soloist and chamber musician, Wood’s collaborators have included members of the Toronto, Chicago and Cincinnati symphonies, the Minnesota, Gewandhaus and Concertgebouw orchestras and the La Salle, Pro Arte, Tokyo and Aubudon String Quartets.
He also is currently cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo, with whom he performs regularly in the UK, Europe, and the USA. He writes a popular blog, “A View From the Podium.” Kenneth was a member of WYSO from 1980–1986 in Concert, Philharmonia and Youth Orchestra. He also studied cello at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music with Parry Karp, of the Pro Arte Quartet.
For more background and an interview with Kenneth Woods, go to:
Schedule and Programs
November 12, 2016 – 1:30 P.M., Mills Hall
November 12, 2016 – 4 P.M., Mills Hall
CONCERT ORCHESTRA (below)
November 19, 2016 – 7 P.M., River Arts Center
YOUTH ORCHESTRA (below)
The Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the UW Humanities Building, 455 N. Park Street, Madison, and at the River Arts Center, 105 Ninth St. Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin.
WYSO concerts generally run about an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.
Tickets are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and under.
This project is supported by Dane Arts with additional funds from the Evjue Foundation, Inc., the charitable arm of The Capital Times. This project is also supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features acoustic guitarists Helen Avakian and Dave Irwin in music by Ralph Towner, Giberto Gil and Helen Avakian. The concert takes place from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a link with many more details about the performances, the play, the cast and tickets:
Stage director Doug Scholz-Carlson (below), the artistic director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival who has directed “Romeo and Juliet” as both an opera and a play, agreed to an email interview with The Ear about the differences:
You have directed “Romeo and Juliet” as both a play and an opera. How do the two experiences differ, and what are your most favorite and least favorite parts of doing each?
The opera is based closely on the play, so much of what is essential remains true for both versions.
The biggest difference for me is that the opera focuses on the emotional heart of the love story. Thanks to the music by Gounod (below), the audience experiences what it feels like to be young, impulsive and in love.
The music can reach our emotions directly, so that the opera becomes a truly personal experience for the audience. I don’t think you can see the opera and not find yourself transported to that time in your life when you first fell in love. Romeo and Juliet sing a moving duet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Because of the important role of the chorus, the opera also gives the audience the sense of the entire community that surrounds the young people. We see the tragedy through the eyes of the adults in the families who are unable, or unwilling, to help their children grow up.
The play by Shakespeare offers more subtlety in the journey of Romeo and Juliet’s relationship and more context for the adults in their lives. While the opera offers a huge emotional experience through the two main characters, the play creates more nuances in the relationships between many individuals in the story.
In our production, I hope audiences will discover that we have added back many of these relationships through visual storytelling.
What should audiences know about how Gounod’s opera differs from Shakespeare’s play? Do you have a personal preference between the two and why?
I don’t have a preference. I truly love them both for different reasons.
I love the wordplay in the tragedy by Shakespeare (below). Each character is sketched clearly and specifically through the way they use language. We see in the language why Romeo and Juliet find the perfect match in each other. Even smaller characters like the servant Peter have a full life in the play.
The play has a relentless energy. There are so many times in the story that things could turn out well — and so many ways in which the two lovers might never have met. You come away from the play with a profound sense that the combination of events that make up our lives is, in a way, a miracle.
Through Gounod’s music, the opera delivers an emotional experience that can’t be duplicated in any other way in the theater.
I’d be tempted to draw the distinction that the play appeals to the head while the opera appeals to the heart — but that would be unfair to both. Both the play and the opera are a complete experience. They are both profound ways to experience a timeless story.
What else would you like to say about this production in specific or about “Romeo and Juliet” in general?
We keep telling and retelling the story of Romeo and Juliet because it plays out our worst fears. What happens when what we hate becomes more important than what we love? I imagine we’ve all been asking ourselves that question given the current political environment.
Neither the opera nor the play ever explains why the Capulets hate the Montagues.
It doesn’t matter. Both families allow their hatred of each other to become more important than their love for their children. The Capulets and Montagues pay a terrible price to learn that lesson, but it is a lesson we all need to learn over and over again.
By Jacob Stockinger
It will be sung in French with English subtitles and will last about three hours with one intermission.
Tickets are $18-$130.
With soaring arias, impassioned scenes and plenty of sword fights, Gounod’s gorgeous opera brings the famous tragic tale of young love to vivid life.
Set in 14th century Verona, Italy, the opera follows the story of Shakespeare’s legendary star-crossed lovers. The Montague and Capulet families are caught in a centuries-old feud.
One evening, Romeo Montague and his friends attend a Capulet ball in disguise. The moment Romeo spots Juliet Capulet, he falls in love, and she returns his feelings. Believing they are meant for one another, they proclaim their love, setting in motion a chain of events that will change both their families.
“Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous love stories in Western literature,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), the general director of Madison Opera. “Gounod’s operatic version of it is equally beloved, and it’s exciting to present an amazing cast that brings such vocal and dramatic depth to their story.
“I’m also delighted that we are performing the opera the same weekend that Shakespeare’s First Folio goes on display at the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Chazen Museum of Art, enabling our community to enjoy a very Shakespearean weekend.”
Gounod’s operatic adaption of the tragedy of “Romeo & Juliet” premiered in 1867 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. While Gounod is now better known for “Faust,” “Romeo and Juliet” was a bigger success at its premiere, and has stayed in the repertoire for 150 years due to its beautiful music, genuine passion mingled with wit, and exciting fight scenes.
“Having conducted Gounod’s Faust so often, I’m thrilled to finally have the opportunity to conduct his romantic masterpiece,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the artistic director of Madison Opera who will conduct the two performances.
“The vocal and orchestral writing is lyrical and downright gorgeous,” DeMain adds. “We have a glorious cast, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony. What more could a conductor ask for!” (You can hear Anna Netrebko sing Juliet’s famous aria “Je veux vivre” — “I want to live” – in the popular YouTube video at the bottom.)
Madison Opera’s cast features both returning artists and debuts.
John Irvin (below top) and Emily Birsan (below bottom) return to sing the title roles of Romeo and Juliet. Irvin sang Count Almaviva in the 2015 production of The Barber of Seville, while Birsan returns from singing at Opera in the Park 2016 and Musetta in last season’s La Bohème.
Sidney Outlaw, who sang at this past summer’s Opera in the Park, makes his mainstage debut as Romeo’s friend, Mercutio. Liam Moran, who sang Colline in last season’s La Bohème, sings Frère Laurent, who unites the two lovers in the hope of uniting their families. Madisonian Allisanne Apple (below) returns as Gertrude, Juliet’s nurse.
Making their debuts are Stephanie Lauricella as Romeo’s page, Stephano; Chris Carr as Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin; Philip Skinner as Lord Capulet; and Benjamin Sieverding as the Duke of Verona. Former Madison Opera Studio Artist Nathaniel Hill returns as Gregorio, while current Studio Artist James Held sings the role of Paris.
Directing this traditional staging is Doug Scholz-Carlson (below), who directed Gioaccchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” and Benjamin Britten‘s “The Turn of the Screw” for Madison Opera. Scholz-Carlson is the artistic director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival and has directed the original “Romeo and Juliet,” among many Shakespeare plays.
He will discuss the differences between staging “Romeo and Juliet” as a play and as an opera in another posting tomorrow.
For more information about the production, the cast and tickets, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following press release about one of the fun cultural highlights of the summer, which was started by the late Ann Stanke 15 years ago.
In The Ear’s experience, the whole event is a kind of light opera in itself, with food and amusements as well as community social interactions and of course great music that is beautifully performed.
Madison Opera’s FREE Opera in the Park will celebrate its 15th year on this Saturday, July 23, at 8 p.m. in Garner Park on Madison’s far west side.
The annual free concert of opera and Broadway favorites closes the company’s fantastic 2015-16 season and provides an enticing preview of the upcoming 2016-17 season.
A Madison summer tradition that attracts over 15,000 people every year, Opera in the Park brings the best of opera and Broadway to the community, creating an enchanting evening of music under the stars.
Opera in the Park 2016 stars soprano Emily Birsan (below top), soprano Angela Brown (below second), tenor Scott Quinn (below third) and baritone Sidney Outlaw (below fourth).
They are joined by the Madison Opera Chorus and Madison Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the returning Gary Thor Wedow (below) instead of John DeMain, who is spending the summer guest conducting at the acclaimed Glimmerglass Festival in upper New York State.
The evening is hosted by Madison Opera’s General Director Kathryn Smith and WKOW TV’s 27 News Wake-Up Wisconsin anchor Brandon Taylor.
“Opera in the Park is without question my favorite night of the year,” says Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill). “When you combine a live performance of beautiful music with thousands of people from across our community, all under a gorgeous night sky, you get the most important performance Madison Opera gives.
“I often brag to my colleagues around the country about our Opera in the Park, as it is so distinctly important in our community – not to mention having the highest per capita attendance of any such concert in the U.S.
“I am so proud that we are celebrating our 15th summer of this incredible event, and grateful to all who make it possible.”
Opera in the Park 2016 features arias and ensembles from Charles Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, which opens the 2016-17 season in November; Daniel Schnyder’s jazz-inspired Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, which will be performed in February; and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which will be performed in April.
In celebration of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, the concert will also offer selections from Shakespeare-based operas and musicals such as Hamlet, The Boys from Syracuse and Kiss Me, Kate.
Classic selections from Aida and Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi, The Pearl Fishers by Georges Bizet; Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin and more round out this spectacular evening, which always includes one number conducted by the audience with light sticks (below).
Garner Park is located at 333 South Rosa Road in Madison’s far west side. Parking is available in the CUNA Mutual Group and University Research Park lots.
Attendees are encouraged to bring picnics, blankets and chairs.
Alcohol is permitted but not sold in the park.
On the day of the concert, Garner Park will open at 7 a.m. Audience members may NOT leave items in the park prior to this time.
The rain date for Opera in the Park is Sunday, July 24, at 8 p.m.
Madison Opera is grateful to the major sustaining donors who support Opera in the Park not only this year, but have done so for many years, enabling the concert to reach this 15th anniversary: CUNA Mutual, the Berbeewalsh Foundation, the John and Carolyn Peterson Charitable Foundation, Full Compass Systems, University Research Park, Colony Brands, the MGE Foundation, and an Anonymous Friend.
Opera in the Park 2016 is also generously sponsored by the Richard B. Anderson Family Foundation, BMO Harris Bank, Starion Financial, Wisconsin Bank & Trust, National Endowment for the Arts Wisconsin Arts Board, Dane Arts, the Evjue Foundation, and the Madison Arts Commission. WKOW, Isthmus, Madison Magazine, Wisconsin Public Radio, Triple M, Mix 105.1, and WOLX are media sponsors for this community event.
RELATED EVENT: PRELUDE DINNER AND FUNDRAISER
The Prelude Dinner (below) at Opera in the Park 2016 is at 6 p.m.
This annual fundraiser to benefit Opera in the Park helps support Madison Opera’s free gift to the community.
The event includes dinner catered by Upstairs Downstairs, VIP seating at the concert, a complimentary light stick and a reception with the artists following the performance.
Tickets are $135 per person or $1,000 for a table of eight. More information is available at www.madisonopera.org
By Jacob Stockinger
Even as it prepares for the annual Opera in the Park gala on July 23, the Madison Opera has announced its 2016-17 season, which is a combination of both the classic and the adventurous, even the intriguingly experimental.
Here is a list of productions with links to more details about the productions, cast, tickets and related events:
The operas by Gounod and Mozart are well-known staples of the repertoire.
But “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird” is new and will be a local, perhaps even regional, premiere and one of the earliest repeat performances of the new work.
The Ear thinks early Bravos are in order for such contemporary crossover programming that also focuses on race, diversity and African American culture. It also seems like a natural choice for John DeMain, who won a Grammy for the first all-black production of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”
The new opera opened recently to fine reviews at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in New York City. (Below, in a photo by Dominic Mercier for Opera Philadelphia, is tenor Lawrence Brownlee in the title role of alto saxophonist and jazz great Charlie Parker.)
Here is a link to a background story about the work that appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog of National Public Radio, or NPR, which first broadcast it on All Things Considered:
Here are members of the world premiere production talking about the work:
And here is a trailer with samples of the music and singing:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will wind up their 50th anniversary season when they present the final concert series of the season — the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family Spring Concerts — on this Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22.
The concert series will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus in the George Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, in Madison.
WYSO concerts generally run about an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.
Tickets are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for young people 18 and under.
Almost 400 young musicians will display their talents to the community during four concerts.
The concert series will drop its downbeat at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, when Sinfonietta (below), under the baton of Mark Leiser, takes the stage. The group will perform the Poet and Peasant Overture by Franz von Suppe; the Suite for String Orchestra on Old English Songs by Ritter George; the Adagio from Symphony No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff; As Summer Was Just Beginning (Song for James Dean) by Daehn; and Final Quest composed by Chisam.
Following Sinfonietta, Christine Mata-Eckel will lead the Concert Orchestra (below) on stage to perform Kallalanta by William Harbinson, Peter Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet and finally Jacob’s Fantasia on the Alleluia Hymn.
The Harp Ensemble (below), under the direction of Karen Beth Atz, will also perform at this concert. It will be performing Courante CLXXXIII by Michael Praetorius and Toward the Sun by Izmaylov.
For the 4 p.m. concert on Saturday, May 21, Vicki Jenks will direct the Percussion Ensemble (below) as it gets the concert started. It will perform Dark Flight by Campbell and their annual performance of Londonderry Air (“Danny Boy”) in honor of graduating seniors.
Following Percussion Ensemble, the Philharmonia Orchestra (bel0w), under the direction of Michelle Kaebisch, will take the stage. It will perform the final movement of Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 and Espana by Emmanuel Chabrier.
The orchestra will also perform two concertos featuring the Philharmonia Orchestra Concerto Competition Winners. Pianist Antonio Wu (below top) will perform Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto and violinist Monona Suzuki (below bottom) will perform the Carmen Fantasy for Solo Violin by Pablo de Sarasate.
On Sunday, May 22, at 2 p.m. WYSO’s Brass Choirs (below) under the direction of Brett Keating will start the show performing works by George Frideric Handel, Olson, Heinrich Schutz and more.
Following Brass Choirs, Youth Orchestra (below) with WYSO music director James Smith will perform four concertos along with Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.
Violinist Thea Valmadrid (below top) will perform Tzigane for Solo Violin by Maurice Ravel; violinist Aurora Greane (below second) will play the first movement of the Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky; pianist Audrianna Wu (below third) will perform the final movement of the Piano Concerto by Edvard Greig; and cellist Tatiana Tandias (below bottom) will perform the first movement of the Cello Concerto by Sir Edward Elgar.
These concerts are generously supported by the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family, along with funds from Dane County, the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, The Evjue Foundation, Inc., charitable arm of The Capital Times, W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation and Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. This project is also supported in part by additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the State of Wisconsin, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
By Jacob Stockinger
He is generally acknowledged as the greatest writer of all time and of any culture.
The English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (below) died 400 years ago today – on April 23, 1616 — in his hometown of Stratford-on-Avon where he returned to after his stage career in London. He was 52 years old.
You may have heard that a touring copy of the rare 1623 First Folio edition of his plays, on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., will be on display this fall at the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dates of the exhibit are Nov. 3-Dec. 11, 2016.
Here is a link with more information:
And this summer’s Madison Early Music Festival will focus on Shakespeare and music of the Elizabethan Age when it is held from July 9 to July 16.
Here is more information about that event:
Today, what The Ear wants to know is what is your favorite piece of music inspired by Shakespeare?
The Overture to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Felix Mendelssohn? (The Ear loves that richly atmospheric work. You can hear it, complete with the braying of the “rude mechanical” human who is transformed into a donkey — in a YouTube video at the bottom)
The operas ”Otello” or “Falstaff” by Giuseppe Verdi?
The opera versions of “Romeo and Juliet” by Hector Berlioz and Charles Gounod?
The incidental music to “Henry V,” “Hamlet” and “Richard III” by William Walton?
Franz Schubert’s song “Where is Sylvia”?
The “Romeo and Juliet” Fantasy Overture by Tchaikovsky?
Various setting of songs and ditties in Shakespeare’s plays?
If you need something to jog your memory about possible choices, here is a link:
Leave your choice, with a YouTube link if possible, in the COMMENTS section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
ALERT: TUESDAY is the last day for the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s special sale — two tickets for the price of one — for its Valentine’s Day concerts coming up this weekend. Read more about the players and program below.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following press release from the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below). To be honest, he cares less about the Valentine’s Day tie-ins – some of which seem tenuous – than about hearing the Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova in the Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.
The Ear had heard all the of the Beethoven sonatas for violin and piano played by Ibragimova, with Belgian pianist Cedric Tiberghien, and thinks they rank right at the top of recorded versions. Plus, they are live!
She is clearly something very special, so The Ear says: Don’t miss her. (You can hear Alina Ibragimova and her forceful but subtle style — perfectly suited to Beethoven — in the first movement of Beethoven’s famous “Kreutzer” Sonata in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Now on to the overview, written under the headline:
“Music, the food of love” permeates Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Valentine’s Weekend Concerts on Feb. 12, 13 and 14
Love’s attractions and dilemmas infuse the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Valentine’s weekend concerts Feb. 12, 13 and 14. They feature the Madison debut of Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova in Overture Hall.
Guest conductor Daniel Hege will lead the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and substitute for music director John DeMain. (NOTE: John DeMain is in Washington, D.C., conducting a production of Kurt Weill‘s “Lost in the Stars” for the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It opens next week.)
Ludwig van Beethoven’s hugely influential Romantic-era Violin Concerto brings the concert to a thrilling close with technical fireworks.
The concerts are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on this Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
Born in Russia, the young violinist Alina Ibragimova (below) rapidly established herself as a first-rate soloist and chamber musician with the world’s foremost ensembles. Britain’s The Guardian newspaper called her “one of the most technically gifted and charismatic instrumentalists of the age.” A highly flexible and adaptable musician, Ibragimova is equally at home on modern and baroque period instruments, and frequently tours as both soloist and director. She was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Young Artist Award in 2010.
The concerts cover three different periods of music.
The program begins with the late Romantic period with the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (below). The work taps into the great Shakespearean play, contrasting the rivalry between the Capulet and Montague families, with the passionate music of the second theme clearly expressing the feelings of the two young lovers.
The Impressionistic period is represented the sensuous Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 by Maurice Ravel (below). It recounts the stirring fifth-century BCE Greek story of Daphnis and Chloe, who were abandoned as children and brought up by shepherds. The two fall in love, but Chloe is abducted by pirates. After Daphnis rescues Chloe, the couple pantomimes the tale of Pan wooing the nymph Syrinx as the sun rises. Ravel’s score originally accompanied a ballet premiered by the Ballets Russes in Paris in 1912.
Finally, the early Romantic period is featured with the technically challenging Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven (below top) which premiered in 1806. A work of beauty, the concerto did not become popular until several decades later, thanks to the advocacy of the legendary violinist Joseph Joachim (below bottom). Beethoven’s only violin concerto, this work paved the way for the great 19th-century German violin concertos by Felix Mendelssohn, Max Bruch and Johannes Brahms.
Known for his novel interpretations of standard repertoire, Colorado native Daniel Hege (below) is Music Director and Conductor of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and a frequent guest conductor of orchestras throughout the United States including the Houston, Detroit, Seattle and Indianapolis symphonies.
One hour before each performance, Randal Swiggum (below), artistic director of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, will lead a FREE 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.
More background on the music can also be found in the Program Notes by MSO trombonist Michael Allsen at: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/ibragimova
Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available at http://www.madisonsymphony.org/ibragimova and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734.
For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups
Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush. Students can receive 20% savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.
Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.
Major funding for the February concerts is provided by Irving and Dorothy Levy Family Foundation, Inc., Johnson Bank, and Cyrena and Lee Pondrom. Additional funding is provided by John A. Johnson Foundation, a component fund of the Madison Community Foundation, Gary and Lynn Mecklenburg, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
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.
By John W. Barker
This weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will bring us that giant among symphonies, Beethoven’s Ninth. We now take that work so for granted as a musical summit by itself that we lose sight of its enormous impact on composers of the rest of the 19th century.
The introduction of solo and choral voices into an orchestral symphony score was radical, and inspired many responses. One was the efforts of Hector Berlioz to infuse the elements of opera into a symphonically structured work, resulting in that masterpiece, his “dramatic symphony” Romeo et Juliette. Richard Wagner, by contrast, built an entire career of casting operas in symphonic terms. The culmination of the “choral symphony” came with three of the symphonies by Gustav Mahler (Nos. 2, 3 and 8).
But an earlier response was brought to us last Saturday night by the UW-Madison Choral Union and Symphony Orchestra (below). This was Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2, known as the Lobgesang or “Hymn of Praise.” It was composed in 1840, a mere 16 years after Beethoven’s Ninth was premiered.
Mendelssohn (below) did not simplistically imitate the prototype, but adapted its idea to his own purposes. In place of three elaborate and individual movements, the work’s No. 1, called “sinfonia,” is a set of three successive orchestral sections that flow with limited breaks one after the other, for a total of 15-20 minutes. Then follows a series of nine numbers constituting a cantata for soloists and chorus, running close to 60 minutes.
It sets either Scriptural or devotional texts pertaining to faith in and celebration of the Almighty, with thematic references made to material in the preliminary “sinfonia.” This “choral finale” alone is in the line of sacred choral works, many on Psalm texts, that the composer wrote recurrently.
This cantata may lack the etherial daring of Beethoven’s choral finale, but it is far more idiomatically vocal and choral than what late Beethoven had come to. With its inclusion of Lutheran chorale elements and fugal counterpoint, it is in a class with Mendelssohn’s glorious oratorio Elijah. (Below is a photo of the performance by Margaret Barker.)
Because of the extra-orchestral resources the work calls for, it is not often performed, so that it has not become as familiar, and therefore as well-loved, as the composer’s popular Symphonies 3, 4, and 5, the so-called “Scottish,” “Italian” and “Reformation” symphonies. Some might find No. 2 less than top-drawer Mendelssohn, but it is certainly high-quality Mendelssohn, and readily rewards the hearing. (You can hear an excerpt featuring Claudio Abbado conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
This was the sole work on this Choral Union program. With the absence of regular conductor Beverly Taylor, who is on sabbatical this semester, the podium was assumed by the splendid James Smith (below), who seemed altogether comfortable drawing magnificent sounds from the large chorus, while working his usual wonders with his student orchestra.
There are parts for three soloists. The main soprano was Elizabeth Hagedorn (below top, left), whose wide vibrato and squally high range represented for me the one disappointment of this performance. The reliable Mimmi Fulmer (below top, center) was drawn in only for a two-soprano duet: I wish she had been given the top assignment. Thomas Leighton (below bottom) is not the most lyrical of tenors, but he conveyed honestly the spiritual searching of his solos.
Here, then, was the Choral Union at its best. It offered stirring choral singing, while giving us an opportunity to experience an unfairly neglected but wonderful score.