The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Trio Celeste proves superb in its Madison debut concert at Farley’s House of Pianos

January 8, 2019
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

In its Salon Piano Series, Farley’s House of Pianos has been offering splendid piano recitals. But it has augmented that by bringing other musicians to join in chamber music programs, showing them at work with the vintage pianos in the Farley collection, so lovingly restored.

On Sunday afternoon, the series brought the Trio Celeste (below) from California to play just such a program. Consisting of violinist Iryna Krechkovsky, cellist Ross Gasworth and pianist Kevin Kwan Loucks, the group played a demanding program of predominantly Russian origins.

They began by reversing the two parts of the program from the printed order. Thus, the first item was the single-movement Trio élégiaque No. 1 by Sergei Rachmaninoff, composed in 1892, inspired by the Tchaikovsky work that comprised the latter half. This was followed by piano trio arrangements from the flashy “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” by the Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla.

The red meat of the program, however, was the magnificent Trio in A minor, Op. 50, composed in 1882 by Tchaikovsky. This is one of the towering works of the chamber music literature, cast in quite unconventional terms: a tightly constructed but beautifully flowing opening movement, then an extended set of variations on a folksy tune.

The group (below) did resort to a frequent trick of cutting, omitting notably the challenging fugal variation. (You can hear the whole Theme and Variations movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.) But the performance was powerful and impassioned — and the more compelling for being given in a modest venue rather than in a large concert hall.  These are truly superb musicians, and it is wonderful to have them come to Madison for us.

The program made use of Farley’s Steinway Model D instrument made in 1950. During the intermission, Tim Farley (below) spoke knowingly about the instrument and its restoration. And, at the outset of things, comments on the music were given by the pianist and the cellist.

A truly memorable event in the Farley series!


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Classical music: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras perform the Evelyn Steenbock fall concerts TODAY and next Friday night. The Edgewood Chamber Orchestra performs this Sunday afternoon

November 10, 2018
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR SHARE IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

ALERT: This Sunday afternoon, Nov. 11, at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra will give its fall concert. Conducted by Blake Walter, the chamber orchestra will play Franz Joseph Haydn’s “The Word on the Moon” Overture, Arthur Honegger’s Pastorale D’été (Summer Pastoral) and Symphony No. 1 in C minor by Felix Mendelssohn. Tickets are $5 for general admission, free with Edgewood College ID.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO, below) will present their first concert series of the 2018-19 season, the Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts TODAY, Saturday, Nov. 10, and next Friday, Nov. 16.

WYSO orchestras will perform works by Igor Stravinsky, Aram Khachaturian, Soon Hee Newbold and more. The Youth Orchestra concert will include a performance of Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo” Variations with special guest cellist Joseph Johnson.

“Joseph Johnson is an extraordinary artist and person and it will be a treat for us all to hear and collaborate with someone of his stature,” says Youth Orchestra Conductor Kyle Knox (below).

Johnson has been heard throughout the world as a soloist, chamber musician and educator. Principal cellist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra since the 2009-10 season, he previously held the same position with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. (You can hear an interview with Joseph Johnson in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

He also serves as principal cellist of the Santa Fe Opera, and during the 2008-2009 season was acting principal cellist of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. Prior to his Milwaukee appointment, Johnson was a member of the Minnesota Orchestra cello section for 11 years.

“The Youth Orchestra couldn’t be more excited to present a program of all-Russian music for our first concert of the season,” Knox says. “We will begin with a rarely performed gem by 20th-century composer Igor Stravinsky, followed by one of the great solo works in the cello repertoire, the “Rococo” Variations by Tchaikovsky. Finally, we will finish the evening with the mighty Symphony No. 4 by Tchaikovsky, one of the most famous orchestral works in history, which features all sections of the orchestra.”

TODAY’S concerts begin at 11:30 a.m. in Mills Hall at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, 455 North Park Street, Madison.

The Nov. 16 Youth Orchestra concert with guest soloist Joseph Johnson begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, 2100 Bristol Street, next to Middleton High School, with a reception to follow.

WYSO students travel from communities throughout southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois each weekend throughout the concert season to rehearse on the UW-Madison campus.

Each orchestra performs three concerts per season, with additional performance opportunities available to students, including ensembles and chamber groups.

Concert admission is $10 for adults, and $5 for youth 18 and under, with tickets available at the door.

Full concert repertoire is available at https://www.wysomusic.org/evelyn-steenbock-fall-concerts-repertoire/

To learn more about Joseph Johnson, go to: www.joecello.com.

Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts

Saturday, Nov. 10, Mills Concert Hall
11:30 a.m. Opus One and Sinfonietta
1:30 p.m. Harp Ensemble & Concert Orchestra
4 p.m. Percussion Ensemble (below) and Philharmonia Orchestra

Friday, Nov. 16, Middleton Performing Arts Center
7:30 p.m. Youth Orchestra, reception to follow
With guest artist Joseph Johnson, cello


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Classical music: The Ancora String Quartet opens its new season this Saturday night with a new first violinist and works by Beethoven, Turina and Tchaikovsky

September 13, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The critically acclaimed, Madison-based Ancora String Quartet welcomes its new first violinist Wes Luke – who replaces Leanne Kelso League — for the  launch of the string quartet’s 16th season.

The concert is this coming Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

The program includes the String Quartet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 18, No. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven; “The Bullfighter’s Prayer” by the Spanish composer Joaquin Turina; and the String Quartet No. 1 in D Major, Op. 11, by Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky.

Tickets at the door are $15 for general admission; $12 for seniors and students; and $6 for children under 12.

ancora-2016-group-1

Members of the Ancora (above from left) are: first violinist Wes Luke — who filled in for the past two seasons — plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the LaCrosse Symphony Orchestra, the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra and the Mosaic Chamber Players; second violinist Robin Ryan, who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra; violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (she performs on both modern and early instruments) who plays with the Madison Bach Musicians, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble; and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra; and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and frequently performs chamber music.

According to program notes: “Beethoven’s charming and lyrical early quartet shows him bridging the divide between the Classical and Romantic eras; Turina’s dramatic tone poem fuses French Impressionism with musical elements from his native Seville; and Tchaikovsky’s first quartet includes the poignant Andante Cantabile, which moved writer Leo Tolstoy to tears. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

A champagne reception will close the evening.


Classical music: The Festival Choir of Madison performs under famed choral conductor Joseph Flummerfelt this Saturday night.

May 6, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following timely and important announcement:

The Festival Choir of Madison (below) and its new artistic director Sergei Pavlov – who teaches at Edgewood College — will close the current season with a special concert this Saturday night, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Christ Presbyterian Church, located at 944 East Gorham Street in downtown Madison.

Festival Choir of Madison at FUS

The performance features one of the legendary American choral conductors, Maestro Joseph Flummerfelt (below right, with Sergei Pavlov). You can hear a long Q&A interview with Joseph Flummerfelt in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Sergei Pavlov (l) with Joseph Flummerfelt

The program with the Festival Choir includes music by German composers Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms, British composer Herbert Howells, Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, Polish composer Henryk Gorecki and Scottish composer James MacMillan. Sorry, no word on individual works to be performed.

Tickets for the evening concert are available at the door and cost between $9 and $15.

Since 1971, Joseph Flummerfelt (below) has been responsible for most of the choral work of the New York Philharmonic, working closely with its music directors Leonard Bernstein, Zubin Mehta, Pierre Boulez, Kurt Masur, Lorin Maazel and Alan Gilbert. Until 2004 he was Director of Choral Activities in the Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey.

Joseph Flummerfelt conducting side

Joseph Flummerfelt (below) with the Westminster Symphonic Choir and New York Choral Artists has been featured in 45 recordings, including a Grammy Award-winning CD of the Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler with Leonard Bernstein. His collaboration with the great American composer Samuel Barber includes the Grammy Award-winning recording of Barber’s opera “Anthony and Cleopatra.”

Joseph Flummerfelt conducting frontal

In 2004 Flummerfelt was awarded a Grammy for the New York Choral Artists’ recording of “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning composition written by John Adams in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

A master teacher, Flummerfelt’s many former students occupy a number of major choral positions throughout the world. Yannick Nezet-Seguin (below) — the current music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra and guest conductor of the Metropolitan Opera, who, as a teenager, studied with Dr. Flummerfelt in two advanced conducting summer workshops — cites him as one of the two major influences in his life as a conductor. A 2009 New York Times article said, “Mr. Nezet-Seguin called those sessions with Flummerfelt the only significant conducting lessons he ever had.”

Yannick Nezet-Seguin close up

Flummerfelt has a special connection with Madison as well. As an undergraduate student in De Pauw University in Indiana, he was deeply inspired by a performance of a visiting choir, and the conductor of this group was Robert Fountain, the legendary Director of Choral Programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Also on Saturday, May 7 at 11 a.m. there will be a question/answer session for all who would like to meet the Maestro Flummerfelt. The host is Edgewood College, and the session will be at the Washburn Heritage Room in the Regina Building. This is a FREE event.


Classical music: Cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio talks about the human quality of French music. She performs Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto No. 1 on an all-French program with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend.

November 16, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The award-winning cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio (below) makes her solo debut with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) in an all-French program this coming weekend.

sara sant'ambrogio 1

Sant’Ambrogio will solo in Camille Saint-Saëns’ stormy Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, a first-time performance of the work by the MSO under its music director and conductor John DeMain.

The opening piece, Maurice Ravel’s sensuous Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, showcases the classical simplicity and ultimate decadence of the waltz, and the colors of all the instruments in the orchestra.

ravel

Finally, the MSO will perform the groundbreaking Symphonie Fantastique by Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (below). It is an unorthodox five-movement work that vividly captures an artist’s tortured infatuation and the haunted hallucinations of an opium trip.

berlioz

The concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the Overture Center, 201 State Street.

Sara Sant’Ambrogio is an internationally-renowned soloist and founding member of the Eroica Trio (below). She launched her international career when she was a winner at the Eighth International Tchaikovsky Violoncello Competition in Moscow, Russia. She holds degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music and The Juilliard School, and won a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance for Leonard Bernstein‘s “Arias and Barcarolles.” She last appeared with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in 2001 as part of the Eroica Trio.

EroicaTrio4

Written in 1872, Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 was instantly regarded as a masterpiece by the Paris public. Saint-Saëns rejected the standard concerto form in this work by interlinking the piece’s three movements into one continuous musical expanse, held together by the rich lyrical power of the cello.

The composer found the Cello Concerto No.1 difficult to write, so much so that he vowed never to compose for cello again; Saint-Saëns broke this vow 30 years later with his Cello Concerto No. 2.

One hour before each performance, John DeMain, music director and principal conductor of the Madison 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 at http://www.madisonsymphony.org/santambrogio

Single Tickets are $16 to $85 each, available at     www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets 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 percent 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. 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 percent savings on seats in select areas of the hall on advance ticket purchases.

Seniors age 62 and up receive 20 percent savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts cannot be combined.

Find more information at www.madisonsymphony.org.

Major funding for the November concerts is provided by Barbara Ryder, DeEtte Beilfuss-Eager and Leonard P. Eager, Jr., in memory of Karen “Lovey” Johnson, and Rosemarie Blancke. Additional funding is provided by Martha and Charles Casey, Sunseed Research, LLC, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Sara Sant’Ambrogio (below) recently agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

sara sant'ambrogio

Could you briefly bring readers up to date on your career since 2001 when you last appeared with the Madison Symphony Orchestra as part of the Eroica Trio and performed the Triple Concerto for piano trio? What are current and future major plans and projects?

Wow, a lot has happened since 2001! I had a son, Sebastian, who just turned 11. I’ve recorded for solo CDs, the complete Bach solo suites, the Chopin collection and “Dreaming,” which has had a number of tracks used in movie soundtracks such as the HBO movie “A Matter of Taste.” I’ve recorded another Eroica Trio CD, “An American Journey,” which was nominated for a Grammy award.

I’ve toured China and all over Asia, and also the Arabian peninsula, which was amazing and mind-blowing. Petra in Jordan was like being in an Indiana Jones movie. It has been a truly amazing 14 years!

There seems to be a revival or rediscovery going on of the works of the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Why do you think that is?

Saint-Saens (below) has been grossly underrated in my view. His music has a wonderful mix of gorgeous melodies that speak to the human condition, sparkling virtuous pyrotechnics and a joie de vivre, which is just infectious! What’s not to love!

camille saint-saens younger

You are performing on an all-French program with Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique” and Ravel’s “Valses Nobles et Sentimentales.” What elements or traits do identify as being typically French in classical music, and does Saint-Saëns fit the mold?

I think there is a lushness to French music that Saint-Saens shares. There is also a very human quality to the best of French music.

What would you like to say about the piece you will be performing in Madison, the Cello Concerto No. 1? What is typical or unusual about it?  What in particular would you like the public to listen to and notice?

Just to have a blast! The Saint-Saens starts with a bang and never lets up till the joyous end! (Note: You can hear it played by the late Russian cellist, conductor and human rights activist Mstislav Rostropovich in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

What else would you like to say?

I can’t wait to come back and play in Madison again. I had such a fantastic time playing there last time with my trio that the town loomed so large in my imagination, I had no idea until this interview that it had been 14 years since I was last there.

 


Classical music: Even as the school year winds down, there are several noteworthy events and concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music this weekend.

April 23, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Even as the school year winds down, there are several noteworthy events and concerts at the University of Wisconsin this weekend.

FRIDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Wind Ensemble will perform a FREE concert under director Scott Teeple.

The Wind Ensemble is the premier wind/percussion ensemble in the UW-Madison School of Music. Repertoire varies from classical wind compositions to contemporary works.

The Wind Ensemble actively commissions new works from world-renowned composers, often performing with internationally acclaimed soloists and guest conductors.

Jacob Klingbeil will assist as graduate student guest conductor.

YOUniversity Band will be side-by-side with community musicians

The program includes:

Gvorkna Fanfare by Jack Stamp

Baron Cimetieres Mambo by Donald Grantham

Irish Tune from County Derry by Percy Grainger

Starwars Trilogy, by John Williams/arr. Donald Hunsberger

UW Wind Ensemble performance

SATURDAY

At 1:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, a FREE Doctoral Recital: Russian Literature and the Music Salon. It is a multimedia concert with narration.

This doctoral project, organized by pianist Oxana Khramova, involves several students and faculty members from various departments.

It will be devoted to writers and composers who were connected to St. Petersburg in their lives and works: Nikolai V. Gogol, Anna A. Akhmatova, Joseph A. Brodsky, Sergei Prokofiev and Alfred Schnittke.

Listeners will experience their masterpieces through the prism of Russian music, language and visual images. By attempting to combine literature, music and art. participants hope to recreate the atmosphere of St. Petersburg’s culture (as recreated in the museum photo below).

Participants include:

Oxana Khramova, piano, DMA candidate, School of Music, where she is a student of Christopher Taylor

with

Yana Groves, piano, DMA candidate, School of Music

Nicole Heinen, soprano, MM candidate, School of Music

Ilona Sotnikova, visual images and literature, PhD candidate, Department of Slavic Languages and Literature

Conor Ryan, narrator, Undergraduate Student, Department of Slavic Languages and Literature

Russia salon in Saint Petersburg

At 4 p.m., in Mills Hall, the All-University String Orchestra will give a FREE concert under the baton of director Janet Jensen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot). Sorry, no word on the program.

Janet Jensen Katrin Talbot

From 4 to 6 p.m. the Wingra Woodwind Quintet will hold its 50th Anniversary Party at the University Club (below), 803 State St., next to the Humanities Building.

university club uw in winter

Embodying the Wisconsin Idea and serving as role models to our students, the Wingra Quintet has a rich tradition and will honor current and former members.

Former members who plan to attend are Robert Cole, flute, Marc Fink, oboe, Glenn Bowen, clarinet, Richard Lottridge, bassoon, Douglas Hill, horn, and Nancy Becknell, horn. (Below are photos from 1990 and 2010.)

A short program of 20 minutes is planned and then we will celebrate with hors d’oeuvres and beverages catered by the University Club. Everyone is invited to enjoy the food, music, and good company of current and former members of the Wingra Quintet.

Please RSVP to news@music.wisc.edu

Learn about the rich history of the WWQ here: http://www.music.wisc.edu/wingra-woodwind-quintet/

Wingra 1990 2010

SUNDAY

At 1 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Women’s Chorus (below) and University Chorus will give a FREE concert. Anna Volodarskaya and Sarah Guttenberg will conduct.

This event is FREE.  Registration is encouraged, but not required.

No program has been announced.

UW Women's Chorus


Classical music education: Classical music can help students study for final exams. Plus, the WYSO Harp Ensemble and Youth Orchestra perform Saturday afternoon.

December 12, 2014
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ALERT: Just a reminder that tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 13, at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, on the UW-Madison campus in the George Mosse Humanities Building at 455 North Park Street.

The Youth Orchestra (below) and the Harp Ensemble of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will perform.

The orchestra’s program includes The Roman Carnival Overture by the French composer Hector Berlioz; three excerpts from Act 3 of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” by the German Opera composer Richard Wagner; and the first, third and fourth movements from the Symphony No. 1 in D Minor by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The Harp Ensemble will perform the traditional tune “Be Thou My Vision” as well as “Grandjany, Eleanor and Marcia”; and a medley of music by the Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini.

Call the WYSO office at (608) 263-3320 for up-to-date concert and ticket information. Or visit http://wyso.music.wisc.edu

Tickets are $10 for adult, $5 for young people 18 and under; and they are available at the door 45 minutes prior to each concert.

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is officially the last day of classes for the first semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The next two weeks are devoted to a study period and to final papers and exams.

That means classes are also ending at a lot of other public and private universities and colleges around the nation, The Ear suspects. And elementary schools, middle schools and high schools will not be far behind.

Final exams 2

So it is a timely time to post the results of research that shows that classical music -– not just any music, but specifically classical music, which lowers rather raises blood pressure –- can help students study and prepare for final exams.

It was published in advance of two radio stations’ scheduling of useful classical music in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California and in San Francisco.

Apparently, the secret is that it has to do with the embedded structure of the music itself.

The researchers, which range from the cancer center at Duke University and the University of San Diego to the University of Toronto, even mention some specific composers and musical genres or forms that exhibit that sense of structure in outstanding ways.

The composers cited include such Old Masters as Johann Sebastian Bach (below top), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below middle) and Johannes Brahms (below bottom). Richard Strauss and George Frideric Handel also were mentioned. Surprisingly, no mention was made of music by Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Joseph Haydn or Franz Schubert.

But students should avoid loud and more scattered music, the research suggests. No “1812 Overture,” complete with cannons, by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky! Such music is actually disrupting and counterproductive.

Bach1

mozart big

brahms3

Hmmmm.

Maybe that same sense of structure and regularity — especially noticeable in Baroque music as well as the Classical period and early Romantic music — also explains why those composers have appealed to so many people for so long.

It may also explain why student who study music  and go through formal music education often go on to high achievement in other fields.

And the preferred forms include solo music, including the piano and the lute, and string quartets. That makes sense to me since they are more intimate and less overwhelming forms. Solo French piano by Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré  and Francis Poulenc come in for special mention. (I would also add the 550 sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.)

The Ear suspects that what works for final exams also works for other studying and homework in general and other intensive intellectual tasks.

studying to music CR Holly Wilder.jpeg

And maybe what is good for college students is also good for high school or even middle school or elementary school students.

final exams 1

I do have some questions: Did the researchers take the conflicting evidence about multi-taking into account? But I assume they probably gave that some thought. Still, you have to wonder.

Here is a link to the story:

http://news.usc.edu/71969/studying-for-finals-let-classical-music-help/

Do you have favorite music to study by? (One of my favorites is the Waltz in C-Sharo minor by Frederic Chopin as played with great discernible structure, repetition and variation — listen to inner voices — as well as incredible color and nuance by Yuja Wang in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

Favorite composers, favorite kinds and favorite pieces?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: American composer Stephen Paulus dies at 65. The Festival Choir of Madison performed many world premieres by him and will perform the All-Night Vigil by Tchaikovsky this coming Saturday night.

October 27, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last week brought sad news.

The prolific American composer Stephen Paulus, who lived and worked in St. Paul, Minnesota, died last week at 65. He died of complications from a stroke he suffered last year, according to his son.

Stephen Paulus 1

Paulus was probably best known to Madison-area residents for the many works and several compositions that the Festival Choir of Madison commissioned and performed.

And talk about timing.

The Festival Choir of Madison (below) will open its new season by performing the All-Night Vigil of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky –- NOT the more famous work with the same name by Sergei Rachmaninoff –- on this coming Saturday night, November 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Day Drive, on Madison’s near west side.

Festival Choir of Madison 2013

One wonders if the group will dedicate the performance to the memory of Paulus, whose music proved both modern and accessible, and often seemed Midwestern in that Aaron Copland kind of way.

Written nearly 35 years before the more famous Vespers by Sergei Rachmaninoff, the All-Night Vigil by Tchaikovsky (below) was written in an attempt to ensure that church music in Russia retained a uniquely Russian flavor. (You can hear a sample of the Tchaikovsky work in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

young tchaikovsky

The work, containing settings from three “overnight” canonical hours (Vespers, Matins and First Hour), is a beautiful representation of the Russian liturgical repertoire.

A pre-concert lecture begins at 6:30 p.m.

Tickets are $15 for the general public; $12 for seniors; and $9 for students.

Here is a link with information and reservations:

http://festivalchoirmadison.org/Season1415/tickets.htm

And here is more about Stephen Paulus (below), whom The Ear interviewed many years ago when he was working for The Capital Times. He was the model of a cordial and gracious artist who cared deeply about the public’s ability to appreciate his work.

Stephen Paulus 2

Here is an obituary that appeared in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/22/arts/music/stephen-paulus-classical-composer-rich-in-lyricism-dies-at-65.html?_r=0

And here is a story that appeared on Minneapolis Public Radio, which, like Wisconsin Public Radio, emphasizes classical music when many affiliates of NPR (National Public Radio) are increasingly turning to talk radio.

http://www.mprnews.org/story/2014/10/20/stephen-paulus-a-musical-life

 

 


Classical music Q&A: Russian pianist Olga Kern explains the popularity of Russian music. She performs Rachmaninoff this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

October 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Not only does the Russian pianist Olga Kern (below, in a photo by Chris Lee) play Russian music superbly, she speaks about it just as well, even eloquently and poetically.

Olga Kern

Witness her remarks below, which serve as an introduction to Kern, who will return to Madison to solo this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) under longtime music director and conductor John DeMain.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The all-Russian program includes the Suite from “Swan Lake” by Peter Tchaikovsky; the Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-Sharp Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff; and the Symphony No. 6 by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $16-$84 with student rush tickets available. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

Here is link to the MSO’s webpage about the concert, which includes biographical information, program notes and some audiovisual clips.

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/kern

And here is a link to the always comprehensive and informative but accessible program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1415/2.Oct14.html

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

The half-hour pre-concert talk will be given by the accomplished violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (below). She plays with the MSO, the Madison Bach Musicians and the Ancora String Quartet and who also serves as a weekend host for Wisconsin Public Radio. The FREE talk starts in Overture Hall one hour before the start of the concert.

MarikaFischerHoyt

NOTE: In addition, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Club 201 will host a special concert and after-party for Madison’s young professionals on Friday, Oct. 17. Fun, friendship, networking and tastings are included. The post-concert party, located in nearby Promenade Lounge within Overture Center, will include hors d’oeuvres and desserts, and offer drink specials. All Club 201 guests will have the exclusive chance to mingle with Madison Symphony Orchestra musicians and fellow music lovers. The $35 ticket will include a discounted concert ticket (usually $63-$84), seating near other young professionals during the performance, and access to the post-concert party with food. Purchase tickets by this WEDNESDAY, OCT. 15, by calling (608) 257-3734 or at www.madisonsymphony.org/club201

Here is the email interview that Olga Kern, who won the first Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition when she was just 17, graciously granted to The Ear:

Olga Kern

How do you compare the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Sergei Rachmaninoff – which you played to win the Van Cliburn gold medal — to its more popular counterparts such as the Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 and the “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” which you also perform? What do you like about the work and what should listeners pay attention to?

The first concerto is Rachmaninoff’s Opus 1 piece. He re-edited it later in life, and in this composition you can hear the fresh approach immediately from the beginning of the first movement. And what an incredibly beautiful second movement it has. He gives the piano an opportunity to start the main melody, which sounds almost like an improvisation in a way.

It’s so unique, and at the same time you can hear Rachmaninoff’s special style as a composer in every note and bar. It’s his first composition and it gives incredible platform and base to his other orchestral works, especially to his piano concerti.

This concerto is similar in structure to his third concerto. It has also a long piano cadenza in the first movement, which is the dramatic point of the whole composition. Also, as in the third concerto, the finale of the last movement is challenging for both the pianist and the orchestra.  (You can hear Olga Kern perform Rachmaninoff’s fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

This is why, I think, this concerto is not performed very often — because it’s not easy. But it’s really a great pleasure and excitement to perform this concerto. It’s such a wonderful jewel of Rachmaninoff’s music!

rachmaninoffyoung

You have performed in Madison several times, both solo recitals and concertos. Do you have anything to say about Madison audiences or the Madison Symphony Orchestra?

I love Madison — the city, the people, the concert hall, the audience, the orchestra and of course the Maestro, John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad). He is fantastic. I can’t wait to work with him again. It’s always great! I have wonderful friends here and I always come back to this great place with pleasure!

I like to work with the Madison Symphony Orchestra — they are so sensitive and responsive, and I always have a great and fun time at the rehearsals with them. In the end, at the concert time, the performances come off so beautifully that it is a joy and a great celebration of music!

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The Rachmaninoff piano concerto is part of an all-Russian program that also features music by Tchaikovsky (below top) and Shostakovich (below bottom). Are there certain qualities that you identify with Russian music and that explain the music’s appeal to the public?

Russian music is full of feeling and is very powerful emotionally. Russian people, even if they are happy, are always sad inside. And this explains why Russian music is so complicated with feelings -– it is in its nature — always a fight between sadness and happiness, between darkness and light, between good and bad. You feel it — whether you listen to it or you perform it.

All the composers who will be performed in this concert had very difficult, complicated lives. They went through so much, but at the same time they wanted to be happy. They were romantics in their souls, fighters in their hearts.

They wanted to make the world beautiful, no matter what, with their heavenly amazing music! This is why it’s always so exciting and so touching to listen and to perform their incredible works and compositions!

tchaikovsky

dmitri shostakovich

Since winning the gold medal at the Van Cliburn International Competition in 2001, you have been very busy. What are your current recording projects and touring plans?

Yes, I am very busy, and of course very happy about it. I definitely have lots of exciting plans for the near future, but — if you don’t mind — I will keep it as a secret to keep many wonderful surprises soon for my wonderful fans and friends!

Please follow me on my website, www.olgakern.com, my official Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/olgakern?fref=ts, Twitter: @kernolga1, and Instagram @kernolga. I will be posting all my exciting news and projects and share it with all of you there!

Is there more you would like to say or add?

I am looking forward very much to coming back to beautiful autumn season in Madison. It’s my favorite season there. Nature is gorgeous and, as always for me, very inspiring!


Classical music: Con Vivo! will perform Russian and Eastern European chamber music this Saturday night.

May 28, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Con Vivo! … music with life, concludes its 12th season of chamber music with a concert entitled “Eastern Block Party” on Saturday, May 31, at 7:30 p.m. at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, across from Camp Randall.

Con Vivo core musicians

The program includes the Serenade for violin, viola, cello and two clarinets by Bohuslav Martinu (below top), the Polonaise No. 1 in D Major for violin and piano by Henryk Wieniawski (below middle), and Spiegel im Spiegel for clarinet and piano by Arvo Pärt (below bottom in a YouTube video that features the viola rater than the clarinet).

Bohuslav Martinu

Henryk Wieniawski

Arvo Part

The performance will also feature the outstanding church organ with the Prelude in G Major by Friedrich Constantin Homilius. To conclude the evening’s offering, con vivo! will perform the Piano Quintet for two violins, viola, cello and piano by Dimitri Shostakovich (below).

dmitri shostakovich

Audience members are invited to join Con Vivo! musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss this chamber music literature and to hear about their Carnegie Hall debut this past December.

Con Vivo at Carnegie Hall

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

Artistic Director Robert Taylor, talking about the concert, said: “As is our tradition, con vivo!’s post Carnegie Hall debut season brings to our audience works that are familiar and some that are new. We’ve been honored as the “Best Classical Concert of 2013” by reviewer John W. Barker (below). With this concert, we aim to continue that trend.”

John-Barker

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

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