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
This week, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will open the second half of its indoor season with a program that plays to its strong suits.
The concert takes place this Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, 211 State St,
The program feature works from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
There will be the Overture to the opera “Cosi Fan Tutte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Symphony No. 6 in C Major by Franz Schubert.
In between will come two rarely heard piano concertos that feature the return of soloist Adam Nieman (pronounced KNEE-man), who several years ago made a fine recording of early Mozart piano concertos with the WCO and its music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, who possesses a mastery of the Classical-era style and has a special fondness for French music.
Neiman will perform the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Major by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the Piano Concerto in C-sharp Minor by French composer Francis Poulenc.
Tickets are $15-$80 with $10 student rush tickets on the day of the concert. For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.
For more information about the concert, including a lengthy biography of Adam Neiman, visit:
Adam Neiman recently did an email Q&A with The Ear:
Can you briefly bring the public up to date with highlights about you and your career since you last performed here in 2008 with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and recorded the early Mozart concertos?
I have been very actively performing over the last several years, since my last appearance with the WCO in 2008. My touring schedule has encompassed roughly 100 concerts a year, and I have had the pleasure of presenting some epic solo recital tours throughout the United States.
Specifically I have been engaged in three monumental projects: the Complete Liszt Transcendental Études in 2011-2012; Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata and Diabelli Variations in 2013-2014; and the complete Rachmaninoff Preludes and Études-tableaux in 2014-2015.
I have issued eight recordings since the Mozart piano concertos recording with the WCO, and three more solo records are on the way in 2017. In addition, I have founded a record label, Aeolian Classics, formed in 2014.
I have simultaneously kept an active teaching profile, and in 2015 I was awarded the position of Assistant Professor of Piano at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. As a full-time member of the faculty, I have since relocated to Chicago, so now I am a fellow Midwesterner!
Composition has always played a major part in my musical life, and since 2008 I have written a number of works for premieres, including my Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra, which can be viewed on my YouTube channel at:
You have chosen an unusual program. What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich? What would you like the public to know about the Piano Concerto by Francis Poulenc? Why do you think both concertos are not programmed more often? Why do you perform them and what do you like about each one?
The Piano Concerto No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich (below) is one of my favorite works of all time, and when Andrew approached me about the possibility of performing it in conjunction with another concerto, I immediately suggested the Piano Concerto by Francis Poulenc.
Both works share certain core qualities, namely irony, humor, radiant beauty and spirited fun. These are works that do not disparage the concept of beauty, though they were both written during a post-war generation.
As such, rare moments of absolute Romanticism are intertwined with musical jokes, sardonic twists of phrase, and ridicule, rendering the messages of each piece complex and ironic. (You can hear Neiman perform the opening of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
At one point, during the last movement of the Poulenc, he spontaneously quotes George Gershwin’s “Swanee” in a moment of jazz ease, in between sparkly, jaunty sections of impish humor. In a sense, you could describe both pieces as tonal expressions of longing for a bygone era from the perspective of a bleak machine age.
From a compositional perspective, both works are solidly grounded in classical form, and both are ingeniously orchestrated, making use of each instrument’s range and dynamic qualities to draw out a maximum of character possibilities.
The piano writing is virtuosic, powerful, and expressive, and the combination will take the audience by storm – I think the WCO audiences will walk away from this performance humming passages of the works, and they will be delighted by the wit and charm that wins out in the end.
As to why the Poulenc is rarely performed, I can offer no other possible explanation than the innate closed-mindedness of many people in the music world.
Poulenc (below) is a composer who deserves a place at the very center of the main repertory. Yet due to the prejudices of the ignorant critics of his day who preferred to elevate the splendors of Germanic music to an Olympian height above the “avant-garde” of Russia and France, he, among others, garnered an undeservedly poor following.
What would you like to say about performing in Madison with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Andrew Sewell, with whom you seem to share a deep musical affinity? Do you have plans to record something else with them?
Each performance I have played with the WCO stands out as a musical highlight for me. The orchestra is as fine as they come, and I am inspired by the love of music that seems to be the keystone of the ensemble.
Andrew Sewell (below) is not only a very fine conductor and exemplary musician, but I am lucky to count him as a close friend. We have a musical rapport that is powerful, with a long history, and it would be a privilege to keep performing and recording with him and the orchestra in the future.
There are no current plans in place to record together, but the experience of making the Mozart concertos CD in 2008 was so sweet, that I would be happy to do it again! Maybe a Shostakovich/Poulenc disc, hmmm?
What else would you like to say?
I feel truly honored to be a part of the 2016 performance season of WCO, and I cannot wait to say hello to all my Madison friends!
For more information about me, please visit my website at www.adamneiman.com
By Jacob Stockinger
Is the problem that Madison has too many concerts by too many musicians?
Or is the problem maybe instead that Madison, a mid-size city, has too few listeners for so many musicians?
Here is what got The Ear wondering about that question.
This coming Sunday afternoon is another “train wreck,” as The Wise Critic likes to describe worthwhile events that conflict.
What’s a listener to do?
At 1:30 p.m., the Oakwood Chamber Players (below) perform an intriguing program of unusual music at Oakwood Village West, on Madison’s far west side.
At 3:30 p.m., Opera Props stages a benefit for the University Opera at the First Unitarian Society of Madison that features talented singers (including soprano Tyana O’Connor, below top) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music joined by UW-Madison alumnus, “Barihunk” baritone and rising Broadway star Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek (below bottom). Lots of famous arias and duets will be sung to piano accompaniment, with a reception following.
Here is a link to details:
At 4 p.m., there is a terrific duo-piano recital at Farley’s House of Pianos, on Madison’s far west side, by the husband-and-wife team of Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung (below) featuring the music of Franz Schubert and Francis Poulenc.
Here is more about that concert:
The Ear has mentioned such conflicts before and knows that there is little point to complaining. Others will chime in and point out how lucky we are to live in a city with so many choices.
Nonetheless, it got The Ear to wondering.
Maybe the problem is not that Madison has so many musicians and music-makers.
Maybe the problem is that Madison doesn’t have enough listeners to go around and reward them all.
The Ear finds it hard to believe that each of the three events being held on Sunday afternoon won’t affect attendance for the other two.
And it will happen again and again later this winter and spring. Even in the summer too, if last summer is any guide.
Take Friday night, Feb. 5 when the St. Lawrence String Quartet plays two quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn and the new String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams at the Wisconsin Union Theater and the Madison Opera also opens its production of Mark Adamo’s opera “Little Women” at the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.
Take Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, when the Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform music by Maurice Ravel, Peter Tchaikovsky and the famous Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven, with Russian-born soloist Alina Ibragimova, that afternoon at 2:30 p.m. and then that same night the winners of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music concerto competition will perform works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev, Richard Strauss and more, including a student work, at 7:30 p.m.
And if you look over the semester, you will find other conflicts.
Are there enough listeners to go around?
So many Madison classical musicians, both individuals and groups, are top quality and deserve big, enthusiastic audiences — and the kind of financial support that comes with good attendance.
But scheduling conflicts, along with a limited number of listeners, might be preventing that. And that doesn’t even include competition from the wealth of non-classical music events in the area!
So: Does Madison just have too many music-makers for the number of listeners?
Please say what you think about the problem of competition and scheduling conflicts in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
It’s officially winter.
Christmas and other holidays except New Year’s are over or close to over.
Winter break is taking place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other schools.
All that makes it a good time to see movies.
So there The Ear was, sitting in one of the cinemas at Sundance 608 on the near west wide in Hilldale Mall.
Before the movie and the previews began, lovely piano music was playing.
What is that? someone asked quietly.
The Ear wishes that maybe Sundance could find a way to show the composer, work and performer on some section of the screen that also shows advertisements.
Anyway, this time it was a beautiful but rarely heard piece that The Ear recognized right away.
It is a gorgeously poignant Romantic piece by an accomplished Russian musician and pianist.
It is so hauntingly beautiful.
And it is useful as well.
It is really the same piece of music repeated twice. That makes it serve as a small and slow etude, a study in voicing of first the right hand and then the left hand.
The piece also makes the player coordinate and strengthen the fourth and fifth fingers on the right hand, and execute wide arpeggios in the left hand with an emphasis on the thumb as the carrier of a melody.
And like so much of Bach’s music, it is also an etude in the evenness of all those endless sixteenth notes — the stream that the word “Bach” means in German. What a fitting name for the composer whose flow of music was endless!
All in all, it is a great little miniature that deserves to be learned and performed more frequently. It has even been used by some major piano competition winners as a calming change-of-pace piece, a way to get into or out of the zone.
Just listen to it in the hands of a master, as the late Emil Gilels plays it in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, where Siloti himself was a teacher of the famous pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff (who is seen below on the right with Siloti on the left).
First, here is the Bach original played by Glenn Gould:
And here is the live performance of Siloti’s reworking and transcription by Gilels:
What do you think of the work and the performance (read the listener comments on YouTube)?
Do you have favorite Bach transcriptions for the piano?
Other classical music you hear in movie theaters?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting that is perfect for Christmas Eve. It is 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
On last Saturday night, at the fully filled Grace Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, director Robert Gehrenbeck led the Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) through a program that managed blessedly to combine the seasonal with the musically substantial.
The program was constructed with very great insight and imagination, around the Magnificat, the hymn in the Gospel of St. Luke that the Virgin Mary and St. Elizabeth are supposed to have improvised during their Visitation.
The Latin version is probably, with the exception of passages from the Mass Ordinary,, the most frequently set of all liturgical texts, given its varied utilities — not only for Advent celebrations but as the culminating part of the Office of Vespers.
Of the absolutely innumerable settings made of this text and its counterparts through the ages, Gehrenbeck (below) – who directs the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater — selected six versions, mingling them among related musical works. The program was organized in six segments, three given before intermission, three after.
An initial German segment was dominated by the Deutsches Magnificat, which uses Martin Luther’s translation, a late and very great Baroque masterpiece for double choir by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672).
That was supplemented with a five-voice motet by Johannes Eccard (1553-1611) that absorbs some of the Magnificat imagery, and a textually unrelated double-choir German motet by the post-Baroque Gottfried Homilius (1714-1785) — a piece that reminded me strikingly of the neo-polyphonic style that Johannes Brahms would develop a century later for his own motets.
Johann Sebastian Bach found his place with three of the four Advent texts that the composer inserted in the original E-flat version of his Latin Magnificat setting. One of those adapts the chorale Vom Himmel hoch (From Heaven High), so the three were prefaced by a chorale-prelude for organ by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) that elaborates on that hymn. (NOTE: Bach’s lovely full choral version of the Magnificat can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom. It features conductor John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and period instruments played in historically informed performances.)
Then we had settings of the Latin text.
First, one that alternates plainchant on the odd-numbered verses with organ elaborations by Johann Erasmus Kindermann (1616-1655) on the even ones.
Second, we had a full setting by the late-Baroque Czech composer, Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745), with a skeletal “orchestra” reduced to oboe, violin and cello played beautifully by, respectively, Andy Olson, a graduate of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, who works at Epic and who has performed with the Middleton Community Orchestra; Laura Burns of the Madison Symphony Orchestra; and Eric Miller of the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble.
A clever venture was made into Orthodox Christian treatments of the text in Church Slavonic. The full text in that form was given not in one of the more standard Russian Orthodox settings, but in a highly romanticized treatment by César Cui (1835-1918), a member of the “Mighty Five” group.
This was supplemented with beautiful settings of the Bogoróditse devo and the Dostóyno yest hymns of the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, both of which paraphrase parts of Luke’s text: the former composed by the Estonian modernist Arvo Pärt (below, b.1935), the latter by the Russian Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998).
English-language treatments finally came with one of the settings by Herbert Howells (1892-1983) of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis pairing that is standard in the Anglican church. This was prefaced by a simple organ elaboration by John Ireland (1879-1962) of an unrelated English Christmas song.
The final group drew back from the Magnificat motif by presenting two works each of two contemporary American composers who, for their time, are able to write with lovely and idiomatic results for chorus: Peter Bloesch (below top, b. 1963) and Stephen Paulus (below bottom, 1949-2014).
Each was represented by an arrangement and an original piece. Paulus’ treatment of the traditional “We Three Kings” carol went with his setting of a charming poem by Christina Rosetti (slightly suggestive of what Gian-Carlo Menotti portrayed in his opera Amahl and the Night Visitors).
Bloetsch’s elaboration of an old French Christmas song was balanced with his lovely setting of a 15th-century poem that does vaguely hint at some verbiage of the Magnificat after all. Both works by Bloetsch, who was in the audience, received their world premieres.
The 53-voice choir sounded superb: beautifully balanced, precise, sonorous and often simply thrilling. Along the way, four women from the ranks delivered solo parts handsomely. Mark Brampton Smith (below) was organist and pianist as needed.
It proved a superlative seasonal offering, in all, organized with a rationale that was both ingenious and illuminating.
For more information about the Wisconsin Chamber Choir and its future concerts, go to:
ALERT: Today is the 245th birthday of composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). You’re sure to hear a lot of Beethoven on the radio. And maybe you will play some Beethoven. Why not let The Ear and other readers know what is your favorite symphony, piano sonata, concerto and string quartet or other chamber music work? Leave your choice in the COMMENT section with a link to a YouTube video, if that is possible.
By Jacob Stockinger
This weekend of this holiday season is no different.
On this Saturday night, the critically acclaimed Wisconsin Chamber Choir will perform an ambitious and unusual holiday concert called “Magnificat.”
The performance is Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in Grace Episcopal Church (below), at 116 West Washington Avenue, where it joins Carroll Street on the Capitol Square, in downtown Madison.
Tickets are $15 (students $10) in advance; $20 ($12) at the door. Advance tickets are available from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Willy Street Coop (East and West locations) and Orange Tree Imports.
Featured performers include Andy Olson, oboe; Laura Burns, violin; Eric Miller, cello; and Mark Brampton Smith, organ
BACKGROUND AND PROGRAM NOTES
Here is more information from the Wisconsin Chamber Choir:
“My soul magnifies the Lord…”
It is how Mary’s song of praise, from the Gospel of Luke, begins. And it is one of the oldest Christian hymns, known as the Magnificat. (The hymn’s title comes from first word of the Latin version, Magnificat anima mea Dominum.
The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will offer Mary’s song in English, Latin, German and Church Slavonic, with music by Heinrich Schütz, Johann Sebastian Bach, Jan Dismas Zelenka, Arvo Pärt, Herbert Howells and two world premieres by the Iowa-based composer, Peter Bloesch.
Widely regarded as the greatest German composer before Bach, Heinrich Schütz’s double-choir “German Magnificat” was his very last composition. In this piece, Schütz (below) brings the vivid imagery of the Magnificat text to life in some of his most inventive and compelling music.
Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka, known as “the Catholic Bach,” was the official church composer to the Catholic court in Dresden. A master of counterpoint like Bach, Zelenka frequently utilized energetic, syncopated rhythms and daring harmonic progressions in his music, qualities on display in his Magnificat in D-major for soloists, choir, and instruments.
From Bach himself, the WCC presents three charming, rarely heard movements that Bach inserted into his own “Magnificat” setting for performances during the Christmas season. (NOTE: You can hear Bach’s complete “Magnificat” with conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Complimenting these choral works by Bach, Zelenka and Schütz, organist Mark Brampton Smith performs solo organ works by Baroque composers Johann Pachelbel and Johann Kindermann.
The spritely Bogoroditse Devo (the Russian equivalent of the Latin Ave Maria) by Arvo Part (below top) opens the second half of the program, followed by a glorious, Romantic version of the “Magnificat” sung in Church Slavonic. The musical setting is composed by César Cui (below bottom), a close associate of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Modest Mussorgsky and Alexander Borodin.
Representing the Magnificat text in English is the setting for Gloucester Cathedral, composed in 1946 by Herbert Howells (below).
The WCC’s program concludes with a set of seasonal carols by the late Grammy-nominated Stephen Paulus (below top) and Peter Bloesch, a multifaceted composer from Iowa City with extensive experience in choral music, holiday pops arrangements, and film and television scores, including collaborations with Mike Post on TV hits “LA Law” and “Law and Order.”
The WCC will present two world premieres by Peter Bloesch (below): an original version of the medieval carol, Out of Your Sleep Arise and Wake, and a virtuoso, eight-part setting of the beloved French melody, Ding Dong, Merrily on High.
Founded in 1998, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Bach, Mozart, and Haydn; a cappella masterworks from various centuries; and world-premieres. Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who directs the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, is the artistic director and conductor of the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.
By Jacob Stockinger
The holidays have started and the shopping days left are winding down.
Here is a link to that listing:
Of course, this is not the first such list or holiday gift guide that The Ear has posted.
And yesterday The Ear published the 2015 Grammy nominations, which also offered some outstanding suggestions:
You will notice that there are some duplications, such as the CD of Daniil Trifonov and Yannick Nézet-Séguin performing various themes and variations by Sergei Rachmaninoff – plus some by Trifonov himself — on a Deutsche Grammophon CD (below).
Such agreement is a good indication that the recording in question is truly outstanding and will appeal to many tastes. The Ear sure likes that particular recording.
Same goes for tenor Jonas Kaufmann’s CD of arias by Puccini, which you can sample through the famous “Nessun dorma” from “Turandot” in a YouTube video at the bottom. What a big, beautiful voice! And he seems as home in Puccini as in Wagner!
You will also notice that each year seems to see an increasing role for new music. Whether that means the new music is getting better or the critics have just altered their priority remains to be seen.
Whatever is the case: Happy Buying! Happy Receiving! Happy Listening!
And be sure to leave your own suggestions from your own listening experience in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Each year at holiday time, The Ear offers a series of roundups of the best recordings and classical music gifts of the past year. The idea is to use them as holiday gift guides.
Today is Grammy Day.
So far, The Ear has listed choices made by the BBC Music Magazine and the Telegraph newspaper:
And another roundup of book and videos as well as CDs by critics for The New York Times:
Now he adds the 58th annual Grammy nominations of 2016 that were announced this past Monday. The winners will be announced on Sunday, Feb. 15, on CBS television network. The telecast will be live and feature live performances.
The Ear likes to see if he can predict the winners. Outguessing the industry can be a fun, if frustrating, game to play.
He also notices two items of local interest.
The late Twin Cities composer Stephen Paulus, whose works were often commissioned and premiered in Madison by the Festival Choir of Madison and groups at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, has been nominated for several work.
In addition, producer Judith Sherman, who has several Grammys to her credit, is nominated again. She is also the producer of the two recordings of the centennial commissions by the Pro Arte Quartet.
Here are the 58th annual Grammy nominees for Classical Music:
Ask Your Mama: Leslie Ann Jones, John Kilgore, Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum & Justin Merrill, engineers; Patricia Sullivan, mastering engineer (George Manahan & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra) Label: Avie Records
Dutilleux: Métaboles; L’Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No. 2, ‘Le Double’: Dmitriy Lipay, engineer; Alexander Lipay, mastering engineer (Ludovic Morlot, Augustin Hadelich & Seattle Symphony) Label: Seattle Symphony Media
Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil: Beyong Joon Hwang & John Newton, engineers; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Charles Bruffy, Phoenix Chorale and Kansas City Chorale) Label: Chandos
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3, ‘Organ’: Keith O. Johnson and Sean Royce Martin, engineers; Keith O. Johnson, mastering engineer (Michael Stern and Kansas City Symphony) Label: Reference Recording
PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, CLASSICAL
Blanton Alspaugh: • Hill: Symphony No. 4; Concertino Nos. 1 & 2; Divertimento (Peter Bay, Anton Nel & Austin Symphony Orchestra) • Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil (Charles Bruffy, Phoenix Chorale & Kansas City Chorale) • Sacred Songs Of Life & Love (Brian A. Schmidt & South Dakota Chorale) • Spirit Of The American Range (Carlos Kalmar & The Oregon Symphony) • Tower: Violin Concerto; Stroke; Chamber Dance (Giancarlo Guerrero, Cho-Liang Lin & Nashville Symphony)
Manfred Eicher: • Franz Schubert (András Schiff) • Galina Ustvolskaya (Patricia Kopatchinskaja, Markus Hinterhäuser & Reto Bieri) • Moore: Dances & Canons (Saskia Lankhoorn) • Rihm: Et Lux (Paul Van Nevel, Minguet Quartet & Huelgas Ensemble) • Visions Fugitives (Anna Gourari)
Marina A. Ledin, Victor Ledin: • Dances For Piano & Orchestra (Joel Fan, Christophe Chagnard & Northwest Sinfonietta) • Tempo Do Brasil (Marc Regnier) • Woman At The New Piano (Nadia Shpachenko)
Dan Merceruio: • Chapí: String Quartets 1 & 2 (Cuarteto Latinoamericano) • From Whence We Came (Ensemble Galilei) • Gregson: Touch (Peter Gregson) • In The Light Of Air – ICE Performs Anna Thorvaldsdottir (International Contemporary Ensemble) • Schumann (Ying Quartet) • Scrapyard Exotica (Del Sol String Quartet) • Stravinsky: Petrushka (Richard Scerbo & Inscape Chamber Orchestra) • What Artemisia Heard (El Mundo) • ZOFO Plays Terry Riley (ZOFO)
Judith Sherman: • Ask Your Mama (George Manahan & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra) • Fields: Double Cluster; Space Sciences (Jan Kučera, Gloria Chuang & Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra) • Liaisons – Re-Imagining Sondheim From The Piano (Anthony de Mare) • Montage – Great Film Composers & The Piano (Gloria Cheng) • Multitude, Solitude (Momenta Quartet) • Of Color Braided All Desire – Music Of Eric Moe (Christine Brandes, Brentano String Quartet, Dominic Donato, Jessica Meyer, Karen Ouzounian, Manhattan String Quartet & Talujon) • Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (Ursula Oppens) • Sirota: Parting The Veil – Works For Violin & Piano (David Friend, Hyeyung Julie Yoon, Laurie Carney & Soyeon Kate Lee) • Turina: Chamber Music For Strings & Piano (Lincoln Trio
BEST ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE
Bruckner: Symphony No. 4: Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) Label: Reference Recordings
Dutilleux: Métaboles; L’Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No. 2, ‘Le Double’: Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony) Label: Seattle Symphony Media
Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow – Symphony No. 10: Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra) Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Spirit Of The American Range: Carlos Kalmar, conductor (The Oregon Symphony) Label: Pentatone
Zhou Long and Chen Yi: Symphony ‘Humen 1839’: Darrell Ang, conductor (New Zealand Symphony Orchestra) Label: Naxos
BEST OPERA RECORDING
Janáček: Jenůfa: Donald Runnicles, conductor; Will Hartmann, Michaela Kaune & Jennifer Larmore; Magdalena Herbst, producer (Orchestra Of The Deutsche Oper Berlin; Chorus Of The Deutsche Oper Berlin) Label: Arthaus
Monteverdi: Il Ritorno D’Ulisse In Patria: Martin Pearlman, conductor; Fernando Guimarães & Jennifer Rivera; Thomas C. Moore, producer (Boston Baroque) Label: Linn Records
Mozart: Die Entführung Aus Dem Serail: Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Diana Damrau, Paul Schweinester & Rolando Villazón; Sid McLauchlan, producer (Chamber Orchestra Of Europe) Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Ravel: L’Enfant Et Les Sortilèges; Shéhérazade: Seiji Ozawa, conductor; Isabel Leonard; Dominic Fyfe, producer (Saito Kinen Orchestra; SKF Matsumoto Chorus & SKF Matsumoto Children’s Chorus) Label: Decca
Steffani: Niobe, Regina Di Tebe: Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs, conductors; Karina Gauvin & Philippe Jaroussky; Renate Wolter-Seevers, producer (Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra) Label: Erato
BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE
Beethoven: Missa Solemnis: Bernard Haitink, conductor; Peter Dijkstra, chorus master (Anton Barachovsky, Genia Kühmeier, Elisabeth Kulman, Hanno Müller-Brachmann & Mark Padmore; Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Chor Des Bayerischen Rundfunks) Label: BR Klassik
Monteverdi: Vespers Of 1610: Harry Christophers, conductor (Jeremy Budd, Grace Davidson, Ben Davies, Mark Dobell, Eamonn Dougan & Charlotte Mobbs; The Sixteen) Label: Coro
Pablo Neruda – The Poet Sings: Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (James K. Bass, Laura Mercado-Wright, Eric Neuville & Lauren Snouffer; Faith DeBow & Stephen Redfield; Conspirare) Label: Harmonia Mundi
Paulus: Far In The Heavens: Eric Holtan, conductor (Sara Fraker, Matthew Goinz, Thea Lobo, Owen McIntosh, Kathryn Mueller & Christine Vivona; True Concord Orchestra; True Concord Voices) Label: Reference Recordings
Rachmaninoff: All-Night Vigil: Charles Bruffy, conductor (Paul Davidson, Frank Fleschner, Toby Vaughn Kidd, Bryan Pinkall, Julia Scozzafava, Bryan Taylor & Joseph Warner; Kansas City Chorale & Phoenix Chorale) Label: Chandos
BEST CHAMBER MUSIC/SMALL ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE
Brahms: The Piano Trios: Tanja Tetzlaff, Christian Tetzlaff & Lars Vogt. Label: Ondine
Filament: Eighth Blackbird. Label: Cedille Records
Flaherty: Airdancing For Toy Piano, Piano & Electronics: Nadia Shpachenko & Genevieve Feiwen Lee. Track from: Woman At The New Piano. Label: Reference Recordings
Render: Brad Wells & Roomful Of Teeth. Label: New Amsterdam Records
Shostakovich: Piano Quintet & String Quartet No. 2: Takács Quartet & Marc-André Hamelin. Label: Hyperion
BEST CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO
Dutilleux: Violin Concerto, L’Arbre Des Songes: Augustin Hadelich; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony) Track from: Dutilleux: Métaboles; L’Arbre Des Songes; Symphony No. 2, ‘Le Double’. Label: Seattle Symphony Media
Grieg & Moszkowski: Piano Concertos: Joseph Moog; Nicholas Milton, conductor (Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern). Label: Onyx Classics
Mozart: Keyboard Music, Vol. 7: Kristian Bezuidenhout. Label: Harmonia Mundi
Rachmaninov Variations: Daniil Trifonov (The Philadelphia Orchestra) Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated! Ursula Oppens (Jerome Lowenthal). Label: Cedille Records
BEST CLASSICAL SOLO VOCAL ALBUM
Beethoven: An Die Ferne Geliebte; Haydn: English Songs; Mozart: Masonic Cantata: Mark Padmore; Kristian Bezuidenhout, accompanist. Label: Harmonia Mundi
Joyce & Tony – Live From Wigmore Hall: Joyce DiDonato; Antonio Pappano, accompanist. Label: Erato
Nessun Dorma – The Puccini Album. Jonas Kaufmann; Antonio Pappano, conductor (Kristīne Opolais, Antonio Pirozzi & Massimo Simeoli; Coro Dell’Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia; Orchestra Dell’Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia) Label: Sony Classical
Rouse: Seeing; Kabir Padavali: Talise Trevigne; David Alan Miller, conductor (Orion Weiss; Albany Symphony) Label: Naxos
St. Petersburg: Cecilia Bartoli; Diego Fasolis, conductor (I Barocchisti). Label: Decca
BEST CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM
As Dreams Fall Apart – The Golden Age Of Jewish Stage And Film Music (1925-1955): New Budapest Orpheum Society; Jim Ginsburg, producer. Label: Cedille Records
Ask Your Mama: George Manahan, conductor; Judith Sherman, producer. Label: Avie Records
Handel: L’Allegro, Il Penseroso Ed Il Moderato, 1740: Paul McCreesh, conductor; Nicholas Parker, producer. Label: Signum Classics
Paulus: Three Places Of Enlightenment; Veil Of Tears & Grand Concerto: Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Tim Handley, producer. Label: Naxos
Woman At The New Piano: Nadia Shpachenko; Marina A. Ledin & Victor Ledin, producers. Label: Reference Recordings
BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION
Barry: The Importance Of Being Earnest: Gerald Barry, composer (Thomas Adès, Barbara Hannigan, Katalin Károlyi, Hilary Summers, Peter Tantsits & Birmingham Contemporary Music Group) Label: NMC Recordings
Norman: Play: Andrew Norman, composer (Gil Rose & Boston Modern Orchestra Project) Track from: Norman: Play. Label: BMOP/Sound
Paulus: Prayers & Remembrances: Stephen Paulus, composer (Eric Holtan, True Concord Voices & Orchestra). Track from: Paulus: Far In The Heavens. Label: Reference Recordings
Tower: Stroke: Joan Tower, composer (Giancarlo Guerrero, Cho-Liang Lin & Nashville Symphony). Track from: Tower: Violin Concerto; Stroke; Chamber Dance. Label: Naxos
Wolfe: Anthracite Fields: Julia Wolfe, composer (Julian Wachner, The Choir Of Trinity Wall Street & Bang On A Can All-Stars) Label: Cantaloupe Music. (Note: You can hear a haunting part of the work that won a Pulitzer Prize in the YouTube video below.)
By Jacob Stockinger
This coming Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Choral Union, a campus and community chorus, and the UW Symphony Orchestra will perform an all 20th-century program. (Both are below.)
Featured are the “Symphony of Psalms” by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky; the “Gloria” by French composer Francis Poulenc; and the Overture to “The Wasps” by the British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Tickets are $15, $8 for seniors and students.
Here is a link to more information, including how to buy tickets:
Taylor agreed to a recent email interview with The Ear:
This year, you are giving only one performance, both now and in the spring for “The Creation” by Franz Joseph Haydn. For many years, you have generally given two performances. Why the change? Is it an experiment or trial, or is it permanent?
Three things combined: Really, the main reason was that the hall and players were only available one night. As more groups emerge and the hall is booked, and string players may be playing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra or several new chamber groups, it’s hard to get everyone together on the same night.
Also, we thought we’d pack them in for one night, although with all that goes on in town, we may leave some people out.
Third, because we did not have a full chamber ensemble yet available at the time we planned “The Creation,” and knowing I’d have to hire some additional players, we planned on one night for budget reasons.
Next year? Who knows? Check back in February …
It is a great program of very different 20th-century works. What was your idea or reason for linking them by putting them on the same program?
Great question, and yes I’ve given it a fair amount of thought.
Before I answer that, I should say that I’ve added a bonus piece to the program in the form of the orchestra-only Overture to “The Wasps” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Because the program is a bit on the short side, I had an overture in mind, but hadn’t confirmed it till I saw how quickly the orchestra took on the challenges of the Poulenc and Stravinsky.
One of the great things about programming 20th century music — and I expect will be the same as we add more 21st century music — is the astounding variety of styles available to us. And many of the 20th-century composers lived long enough to provide differing styles within their own work.
What can you tell us about the work by Stravinsky (below)?
Stravinsky’s earliest works were late Romantic, then, with pulsing rhythms, sometimes called primitive; later there was neo-Classicism, and 12-tone, etc. If forced to choose a title, I would call “Symphony of Psalms” a mixture of the primitive and the Romantic.
What makes it Romantic is the writing for the choir, which entails long lines, some stunning dynamic changes from loud to soft, and a pure, almost disembodied gentle melody at the end.
What makes it Primitive is the pulsing rhythms in the orchestra in movement III and the unexpected chord interpolations in the first.
What makes it clever intellectually is the difficult, jagged but fascinating double fugue in the second movement; and what makes it a wonderful sonic treat is the elimination of Violin I, II and Viola in favor of FIVE flutes, FIVE oboes, FOUR bassoons, FOUR horns, FIVE trumpets, THREE trombones TWO pianos, ONE harp and ONE tuba, some cellos, double basses and a partridge in a pear tree.
When you get four flutes and a piccolo, playing sometimes a half-step apart, you set up weird shimmering overtones. It’s fascinating to hear, although I may be deaf after the concert from being so close to them.
What about the work by Poulenc (below top)?
I wanted to contrast the modern instrumentation of the pulsing rhythms of Stravinsky with an equally interesting 20th-century work with a different flavor.
What makes Poulenc’s “Gloria” (heard in a YouTube video at the bottom) hard to sing is what we hear all the time in popular music — the major seventh chord — think C, E, G and B natural. For performers, singing C’s against B’s can be hard to tune, but the chords are closely allied with jazz and the piano bar! And the piano was Poulenc’s composing instrument.
With long lines in the strings, we are treated to the lushest of lines in the third, fifth and sixth movements. The first movement is regally strong; the second and fourth are playful.
Our wonderful soprano soloist, Tyana O’Connor, sings gorgeously in three of the movements, both powerfully direct, and then in soft floating sounds.
And the work by Vaughan Williams?
I chose the Vaughan Williams for its length, its instrumentation (lots for the upper strings, which weren’t playing in the Stravinsky, and nice parts for the harps that we have already playing in the Poulenc and Stravinsky) and its buoyant, positive nature as an opening to our concert.
Vaughan Williams (below) wrote it while he was fairly young, as occasional music to a production of Aristophanes’ play “The Wasps.” He makes a nod to “The Wasps” in the form of a string buzz in the opening and toward the end. But for the most part the overture is formed of two tunes — a perky, angular march and a warm, lush tune aligned with English folksong. These tunes are presented separately and then combined.
By choosing three different flavors of 20th-century music, I hope to present a balanced evening with appeal to everyone.
Have steep budget cuts to the UW-Madison hurt the Choral Union? Do such cuts affect your ability to hire guest soloists? Do they account for the reduction in performances? Do they alter the repertoire that you can do?
Yes, they have hurt the Choral Union in certain ways, although I don’t think our excellence will be any the less.
Without the availability of some discretionary concert funds, we have had to increase some fees for members, and we have had to postpone some special works that might include high rentals of materials or special instruments or another venue to perform in.
We sometimes program using the great soloists available to us from our faculty and graduate students, and save funds for when we need to hire a professional voice that we don’t have. With more money we might do that more often, but we are lucky to have gifted people within our reach.
Good classical music has costs that the public often doesn’t know about — high costs for copyrighted parts and scores (below) for recent works, and specialty instruments such as viols or oboes d’amore and portative organs for early music.
What else would you like to say?
I’m so glad you asked me to write. Although this concert by the Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra is a ticketed event, the great majority of our concerts are FREE.
We encourage listeners of all types and generations to TRY to listen to something new and LIVE, and perhaps in a different genre than they’ve ever tried before.
By Jacob Stockinger
Perhaps it is because it is so popular, especially at holiday time when it has become an annual tradition almost everywhere.
Perhaps it is because it is basically a story about children and the holidays, especially Christmas.
But the truth is that, if you dig into it, “The Nutcracker” is far more complex than most people usually think.
Of course it was meant to be more about dance — classical ballet — than about the music.
Yet it is the beautiful music by one of history’s greatest melody writers that draws so many people to the work.
And according to one writer for The New York Times, of the many mysteries layered in “The Nutcracker,” the music remains one of the biggest mysteries. (In a YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear a 2012 performance by conductor Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky Theatre in St, Petersburg, Russia.)
It is always especially relevant at this time of the year.
It features the choreography of Madison Ballet’s artistic director W. Earle Smith (below top) and the live music by the WCO under the baton of its longtime music director Andrew Sewell (below bottom).
Here are performance dates:
December 12 | 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday
December 13 | 2 p.m. Sunday
December 19 | 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday
December 20 | 2 p.m. Sunday
December 24 | 1 p.m. Thursday
December 26 | 2 p.m. Saturday
December 27 | 2 p.m. Sunday
Here are links with detail of the performances and the production, including tickets, which start at $14:
And here is a link to a story in The New York Times with some excellent background about various productions and their interpretations:
If you go see and hear “The Nutcracker,” enjoy — and solve or at least appreciate — some of the mysteries in this evergreen holiday work!