The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: FREE choral concert by the “People’s Chorus” on Monday night to benefit the homeless.

August 16, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at Edgewood College write:

Edgewood College Professor Sergei Pavlov (below) is bringing his talent to a unique stage.

He is one of two conductors for the “People’s Chorus,” a performance to bring awareness to the problem of homelessness in Greater Madison.

Sergei Pavlov

This special concert is at 7:30 p.m. on this coming Monday, Aug. 17, at the Orpheum Theater, 216 State Street, in Madison.

Orpheum Theatre Madison EXT

Orpheum Theatre INT

The concert is FREE to attend, but there will be a freewill offering in support of Porchlight.

Here is a link to the performers — some from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — the sponsors and the program that will include music by Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein.

http://festivalchoirmadison.org/seasons/2015/PeoplesChorus_Program_Revised_8_10_15.pdf

Some of the performers in the People’s Chorus are homeless themselves.

“Music can be one of the ways to address challenges in society, and to hopefully make compassionate choices to meet those challenges,” Pavlov says. “Of course it is our way.”

The concert benefits Porchlight (below), a social services organization in Madison that seeks to decrease the homeless population by providing shelter, housing, supportive services and a sense of community in ways that empower residents and program participants to positively shape their lives.

porchlight 1

 

 


Classical music: The Oakwood Chamber Players announces its new season of serious “Play” for 2015-16.

August 11, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) has announced its new season for 2015-16. It has the theme of serious “Play.”

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

As usual, the eclectic programs feature well-known masterpieces but also neglected repertoire and new music. Notice that you don’t see anything by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Antonin Dvorak, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and many other standard composers on this season. That is unusual — and most welcome!

All concerts take place on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons in the Oakwood Village West auditorium (below) – now known as the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education — at 6201 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side.

For more information about the players, the programs, the group’s history and individual or season tickets, visit: http://www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com

Oakwood Village Auditorium and Stage

Here is the press release:

“The Oakwood Chamber Players welcomes you to our 2015-16 season, which promised to be FUN! We often refer to our work in music as “play,” and this season we look forward to sharing the fun with you.

“Our concerts will stir memories of fun and games in the outdoors! Join us for musical performances that contemplate the beauty and pleasure of nature. This season will lift your spirits and please your ears. We love to play for you … now come play with us!

Oakwood Village Players on playground

WEEKEND STROLL

Saturday, Sept. 19, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 20, at 1:30 p.m.

Amy Beach (below) – Pastorale and Caprice for flute, cello and piano

Ole Bull/Edvard Grieg – Dairy Maid’s Sunday for violin, viola and cello

Alec WilderSuite for clarinet, horn and piano

Amy Beach BW 1

HOLIDAY FUN

Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015 at 1 and 3:30 p.m.

Annual Christmas Lights Concert

ChristmasTreeBranch.j

FAIRY TALES AND OTHER STORIES

Saturday, Jan. 16, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 17, at 1:30 p.m.

Malcolm Arnold (below) – Quintet for violin, viola, flute, horn and bassoon

Elisenda Fábregas – Voces de mi Tierra (Voices of My Land) for flute, cello and piano

Robert Schumann — Fairy Tales, Op. 132 for clarinet, viola and piano

malcolm arnold

CHILDREN’S GAMES

Saturday, March 5, at 7 p.m. and Sunday March 7, at 1:30 p.m.

Irving Fine (below, at Tanglewood in 1956) – One Two Buckle My Shoe for oboe, clarinet, violin and cello

Georges BizetJeux d’Enfants for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn

Jack GallagherAncient Evenings & Distant Music for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn

Irving Fine at Tanglewood 1956

SUMMER SPLASH

Saturday, May 14, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, May 15, at 1:30 p.m.

Franz SchubertTrout Quintet for violin, viola cello, bass and piano

Samuel BarberSummer Music for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn (heard at bottom in a YouTube video)

Craig Bohmler – Six Pieces After Shakespeare for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bass


Classical music: Today marks 70 years since the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. The Ear commemorates the event with Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” What music would you choose?

August 6, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is August 6, 2015 – the 70th anniversary of the United States dropping the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in the hope of ending World War II. (That took a second atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.)

Controversy still rages about whether it was the right decision to make.

The Ear has an opinion about that, but is keeping it to himself.

All he wants to do today is commemorate the historic event with music.

hiroshima1ruinslarge

First, as background, here is a story from The Washington Post about what it was like to survive the bombing of Hiroshima:

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/what-it-was-like-to-survive-the-atomic-bombing-of-hiroshima/ar-BBlpDXY,

I can’t think of a better piece of music to listen to this day than the sadly eloquent, heart-wrenching and poignant Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber (below), which is at the bottom in a YouTube video and is performed by Leonard Bernstein conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The moving music does not take sides, but simply expresses profound sorrow.

Samuel Barber 2 composing

Perhaps you have other choices for this day. Maybe a chorale from a passion or cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach? Maybe an aria by George Frideric Handel? Perhaps a Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Johannes Brahms, Giuseppe Verdi or Gabriel Faure? Maybe the  Ninth Symphony “Ode to Joy” by Ludwig van Beethoven or the Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” by Gustav Mahler? Maybe the opera “Doctor Atomic” by John Adams?

Leave your thoughts and choice in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Tell The Ear what music he should post on the Fourth of July?

July 3, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today, the stock markets, banks and many businesses are closed in observance of the Fourth of July.

American Flag

TETRRF-00024113-001

But Saturday is the real Independence Day for the United States of America.

Now, The Ear has some ideas about what classical music to celebrate the event -– and the choices do NOT include the “1812 Overture” by Peter Tchaikovsky or the “Marseillaise,” the French national anthem that started during the French Revolution. Maybe one of the overtures by Ludwig van Beethoven or an aria by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Giuseppe Verdi would do. Try and see if you can convince me.

But the Ear thinks it would be much more patriotic to have something by an American composer – say Charles Ives (below top) or Aaron Copland (below bottom), William Schuman or Samuel Barber.

Charles Ives BIG

aaron copland

Or maybe Roy Harris or Leonard Bernstein, Joan Tower (below top) or Jennifer Higdon (below bottom) -– would be appropriate and a good choice.

Joan_Tower

Higdon-and-Beau-Candace DiCarlo

But here is your choice to play DJ.

Leave your choice -– with a YouTube link, if possible -– in the COMMENT section.

Then I will decide which choice is most appropriate and best, and post a YouTube video of the work on Saturday to mark the real Fourth of July, the real Independence Day.

Thanks for your help.

I know I have some very knowledgeable readers, so I am looking forward to the seeing and hearing their suggestions.

 

 


Classical music: Competing concert “train wrecks” happen in summer too. Just look at TONIGHT with the FREE cello choir concert by the National Summer Cello Institute and the opening of the 24th season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

June 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Increasingly, the regular concert season is filled with what The Wise Critic calls “train wrecks”: Competing, compelling and appealing events you have to choose between.

But now it happens in summer too.

Take tonight, when two competing concerts will conflict. The Ear would like to hear both and wishes the organizers would arrange it so there is not a conflict.

Here they are:

BACH DANCING AND DYNAMITE SOCIETY

BDDS poster 2015

BDDS asks in a press release:

So, what does this year’s theme “Guilty As Charged” mean?

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is clearly a criminal enterprise. After all, we are named after the only major composer to ever spend a significant amount of time in jail, Johann Sebastian Bach.

Our crime at BDDS?

We’ve destroyed the stuffy, starched-collar atmosphere of traditional chamber music concerts and replaced it with a seriously fun vibe. We’ve broken down the barriers that separate audience and performer, making our concerts into riotously interactive events. Rather than leading audiences through a museum, we invite audiences to trespass into the creative and re-creative process right in the concert hall.

BDDS Eden Schumann Quintet

We own up to our crimes, and we proudly proclaim that we are GUILTY AS CHARGED.

GUILTY AS CHARGED features six programs, each performed multiple times and in multiple venues, and each named after some “crime.”

In the first program of six, tonight’s “Stolen Moments,” we feature music that has been stolen in some fashion: stolen from another composer, stolen from oneself, stolen from a completely different land and culture.

Felix Mendelssohn stole a chorale tune from Johann Sebastian Bach as the basis of the slow movement of his second cello sonata; Franz Joseph Haydn stole from himself to create his flute divertimentos; Ludwig van Beethoven stole Irish and Scottish folksong texts and tunes as the basis for his songs with piano trio accompaniment.

“Stolen Moments” will be performed at The Playhouse (below) in the Overture Center for the Arts, TONIGHT — Friday, June 12, at 7:30 p.m., and at the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green, on Sunday, June 14 at 2:30 p.m.

BDDS Playhouse audience

Single general admission tickets are $40. Student tickets are always $5.

Various ticket packages are also available starting at a series of three for $114. First time subscriptions are half off.

For tickets and more information, including the specific pieces on the programs, visit www.bachdancinganddynamite.org or call (608) 255-9866.

Single tickets for Overture Center concerts can also be purchased at the Overture Center for the Arts box office, (608) 258-4141, or at overturecenter.com additional fees apply).

Tickets for the Hillside Theater (below) can be purchased from the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor’s Center on County Highway C, (608) 588-7900. Tickets are available at the door at all locations.

taliesin_hillside2

NATIONAL SUMMER CELLO INSTITUTE

Writes NSCI director UW-Madison cellist Professor Uri Vardi (below):

Uri Vardi with cello COLOR

It would be great if you could remind your blog readers about the FREE NSCI cello concert tonight — Friday, June 12 — at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Cello Choir 2014 Improvisation exercise

The program will include solo pieces in the first half by:

Johannes Brahms, Bela Bartok, Franz Schubert, George Crumb, William Walton, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Dmitri Shostakovich and Samuel Barber.

Cello Choir 2014 Aleks Tengesdal, Claire Mallory piano

After intermission, we will play ensemble pieces:

Sonata in C major for Two Cellos by Luigi Boccherini

And the NSCI Cello Choir will perform the following pieces with UW-Madison graduate conducting student Kyle Knox (below):

Kyle Knox 2

Adagio from Violin Sonata No. 3 by Johann Sebastian Bach as arranged by Ohashi Akira

“Oblivion” (at bottom in a YouTube video) by Astor Piazzolla, arranged by P. Villarejo

Requiem by David Popper

Requiem “In Memory of Connie Barrett” by UW-Madison School of Music student composer Kyle Price

And “Hymnus for Twelve Cellos” by J. Klengel

Cello Choir 2014 Improvisation exercise

Here is a link to the previous post on this blog about the cello institute this summer:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/classical-music-the-sixth-national-summer-cello-institute-and-feldenkrais-for-performers-will-take-place-over-the-next-two-weeks-at-the-uw-madison-school-of-music-the-event-culmina/


Classical music: Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz explains Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade,” which she will perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this weekend in concerts that also feature Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

May 7, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear supposes that Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade for violin and orchestra  qualifies as program music since it aims to translate Plato’s famous dialogue about love — “Symposium” — into music. (At the bottom, is a YouTube video of Joshua Bell performing the work with the New York Philharmonic under conductor Alan Gilbert in 2013.)

This much is sure. The 1954 work by Bernstein — to be performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) — is part of what makes this weekend’s one of the most interesting programs, maybe THE most interesting, of the season from the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Naha Greenholtz [playing

The combination of Romantic and post-WW II modern music includes the performance of a major symphony that is beloved around the world: the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, also known as the “Choral” and Ode to Joy” symphony.

That was the symphony that Leonard Bernstein himself famously conducted in Germany to celebrate to fall of the Berlin Wall. So, what better offering is there to accompany it than something composed by Bernstein?

(John DeMain talked about the Beethoven symphony in a Q&A here earlier this week. Here is a link to that post: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/classical-music-maestro-john-demain-talks-about-the-challenges-and-rewards-of-beethovens-ninth-the-choral-or-ode-to-joy-sympho/ )

Love and joy: Can there be a better way to finish out a season?

The program will be performed under the baton of longtime MSO music director John DeMain, who studied and worked with Leonard Bernstein. It will feature the Madison Symphony Chorus, as prepared by MSO assistant conductor Beverly Taylor, who heads the UW-Madison choral department.

Guest vocal soloists are: soprano Melody Moore; contralto Gwendolyn Brown; tenor Eric Barry; and bass Morris Robinson.

Performances are in Overture Hall in the Overture Center. Times are Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12-$84.

For details, go to https://www.madisonsymphony.org or call the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information, including audio samples and a link to program notes by MSO bass trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen, visit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/beethoven

Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) recently agreed to do an email Q&A about Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade” with The Ear:

Naha Greenholtz profile

How would you compare Leonard Bernstein’s work to the great historical violin concertos by Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius? What about to modern and contemporary violin concertos by, say, Samuel Barber and Philip Glass, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich? Are there any you would draw parallels or contrasts to?

The five-movement format in Bernstein’s “Serenade” differentiates it substantially from some of the 18th and 19th century classics. While there’s no literal program, there is the suggestion of a basic narrative in Bernstein’s re-imagination of Plato’s communal dialogue. This element alone connects the work more closely to the late 19th and 20th century sub-genre of “program music.” (Below is a portrait of Leonard Bernstein composing at the piano in 1955, around the time of the “Serenade.”)

In its familiar tonal language — combing modal and traditional harmonic elements — it has some resemblance to the Barber concerto. I don’t think middle-of-the-century American composers like Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and Leonard Bernstein were consciously adhering to style parameters.

That said, there is a distinctive “American-ness” to their works.  Much the same way music by Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev has a “Russian” sound, without necessarily being nationalistic.  It’s subtler than that.  It is more like these composers shared some common aesthetic DNA due to their national and cultural origins.

Leonard Bernstein composing in 1955

Where do you place it among Bernstein’s body of works? Is he generally underappreciated as a composer compared to his work as a conductor and his music for the Broadway theater?

To the latter question, this is certainly true.  He was such a charismatic public figure in music, especially in his work as an educator, conductor and composer of popular music. In light of this, I think his remarkable contributions to “art” music are easily overlooked.

In the Serenade he manages to blend many stylistic elements.  I hear the Devil’s Dance from Igor Stravinsky’s “Histoire du Soldat” and, in the fourth movement, glimpses of Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.  The instrumentation is a nod to Bela Bartok in his “Music for Strings Percussion and Celeste” and the tonal language shows Paul Hindemith’s influence.

But despite all of that, Bernstein’s unique language is apparent within the first five seconds of the piece when the rising augmented 4th resolves up a half step.  That’s what is so remarkable about Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell) — he manages to blend disparate elements of other great artists without losing his own intrinsic style.

Leonard Bernstein CR Jack Mitchell

How does Bernstein express the idea of Platonic dialogue?

Each of the movements is loosely based on the themes of the seven speakers in the work by Plato (below is an ancient sculptural depiction of the philosopher). The concerto begins with the soloist alone in a rhetorical statement and the piece unfolds as each orator presents his perspective on the topic of love. By the end of the fifth movement, drinking seems to have taken over the gathering, leading to a thrilling depiction of a boisterous dinner party.

Plato

How is the idea of love as a carnal and spiritual subject that the guests discuss get expressed?

On describing the duality of love, as a force that cuts both ways, Bernstein is explicit. For example in the third movement Erixymathus, he uses the soloist and orchestra as warring factions. The orchestra explodes with a three-note jab. Then the soloist introduces a quasi-tone row that’s passed back and forth with contrasting intensity. Further into the movement, he piles these themes on top of each other in a frenetic fugue that expresses the mystery and ecstasy of love.

In contrast, the next movement Agathon features the same three-note motive that opened the previous movement, but stretched to 10 times its initial length, utterly transforming it into a spiritual and intimate aria. Bernstein does this all over the piece, taking material from previous movements and showing them in a new light. (Below is a fresco depiction of the Symposium.)

Fresco of Symposium USE

What do you think of the work itself and how its fits with Beethoven’s Ninth? Have you played it before or is it new to you?

Until last year I’d only known the Serenade by recording, so I was thrilled when John suggested we perform it here with the MSO.

It’s strangely neglected in the solo violin repertoire. Maybe that is because of the unconventional five-movement format, or that the title “after Plato’s Symposium”   is somehow intimidating or off-putting.

It’s clearly one of Bernstein’s great orchestral works and is a firework of a showpiece for the violin. As far as pairing with Beethoven’s Ninth, the themes of brotherhood and platonic love feature prominently in both works.

How challenging is it to play and what are the challenges both technically and interpretively? What would you like the audience to pay special attention to?

I find all music challenging. Mozart is simpler in terms of notes and patterns than, say, Shostakovich or Bernstein, but in its own way it is just as hard to play and requires just as much diligent work to pull off.

The Bernstein is full of musical challenges and requires lots of imagination and characterization to communicate the narrative of Plato’s dialogue.

That being said, it’s a major 20th-century solo work so it’s also chock full of technical hurdles. Isaac Stern (below, in 1977) – for whom this piece was written — has left us fingering and bowing suggestions, so I know the thorny passages are at least theoretically possible!

Isaac Stern in 1979

In any event, I’m really looking forward to these performances and think these will be fantastic concerts for anyone who loves great music.

 


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS: Samuel Barber’s “Canzonetta” for Oboe and String Orchestra. Plus a FREE one-hour hymn sing in Overture Hall is this Saturday morning at 11 a.m.

March 5, 2015
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ALERT: A FREE one-hour community Hymn Sing will take place this Saturday morning at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall with the Overture Concert Organ played by guest Joe Chrisman. The event is put on jointly by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Overture Center for the Arts.

Overture Concert Organ overview

By Jacob Stockinger

Today’s YOU MUST HEAR THIS comes from a recent concert that I attended.

I first heard this work — the Canzonetta for Oboe and String Orchestra by the 20th-century American composer Samuel Barber (below top) — at the concert by the Middleton Community Orchestra (below bottom) on Wednesday night a week ago.

barber 1

Kyle Knox conducts MCO

So far as The Ear knows, the piece has never been programmed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra or, more appropriately, by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Not that it is too late. It could stand being programmed again and having a wider hearing. I think it would even be welcome at Concerts on the Square.

I also can’t recall ever hearing it at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, although it seems a perfect choice and could well have been part of a student recital with a piano instead of the orchestra.

In any case, the Canzonetta for Oboe and String Orchestra was a last work -– the middle movement on an unfinished oboe concerto, much like British composer Gerald Finzi’s beautiful “Eclogue” was the middle movement of an uncompleted piano concerto.

The piece has all the hallmarks of Barber, who is best known for his Adagio for Strings. It is neo-Romantic, melodic, tonal and wholly accessible while being unmistakably modern. It is poignant and bittersweet, like many moments in the gorgeous and widely performed Violin Concerto that Barber composed.

In fact, some of the harmonies in the Canzonetta remind The Ear of the sublime and moving “Nimrod” Variation in Sir Edward Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations.

I am not alone in being introduced to this work for the first time. A few very seasoned musicians and music fans in the audience I spoke to had never heard it either.

But it was given a splendid performance by the MCO under conductor Kyle Knox and guest oboist Andy Olson (below), who was trained at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin, and who now works at Epic Systems near Madison.

Andy Olson oboe

Here is a link to a rave review that John W. Barker (below), who normally writes for Isthmus, did for this blog:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/classical-music-the-middleton-community-orchestra-under-conductor-kyle-knox-turns-in-its-most-impressive-performance-so-far-the-brass-proves-especially-noteworthy/

John Barker

So here is a link to a YouTube video of the piece itself — the seven-minute “canzonetta” or little song, as the title announces. It is sadly telling of the work’s fate that you cannot find a version with either a well-known oboist or well-known string orchestra.

Enjoy and let us know what you think of it.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra, under conductor Kyle Knox, turns in its most impressive performance so far. The brass proves especially noteworthy.

February 28, 2015
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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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The concert by the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) on last Wednesday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, at Middleton High School, drew an audience little deterred by snow and slow traffic, and greatly rewarded by the results.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

The orchestra appeared this time under a guest conductor, Kyle Knox, who has prior and future connections with it and who is currently both pursuing graduate studies and conducting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Knox (below) is a musician of very distinct talents: a knowing perspective on the works he conducts, a propensity for well-thought phrasing, and an ability to achieve definite rapport with his players.

Regular MCO conductor Steve Kerr was wise to give Knox an opportunity to hone the podium talents of this very promising conductor, and as a stimulus to this steadily maturing ensemble. (Kerr himself eventually turned up working the bass drum.)

Kyle Knox 2

The MCO delights in taking on compositions that are both challenging and quite familiar. In testing themselves thus, the orchestra invites its listeners to measure its progress against the orchestras that have set extremely high performing standards in concerts and recordings. So it is proper that we do just that, especially in the beloved music from the score for the Incidental Music to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Felix Mendelssohn.

The conventional five movements were played. In the fabled Overture, the strings had some struggles with their extremely demanding parts, but generally Knox achieved a well-integrated balancing of the elfin and the eerie.

Perhaps to avoid straining the players too much, Knox set a slightly slow tempo in the fairyland Scherzo, which sagged just a bit, but the Intermezzo was beautifully shaped.

Best was the evocative Nocturne, in which the French horn section demonstrated greatly improved tone and ensemble over recent showings, in a truly beautiful rendition. (You can hear the Nocturne in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Wedding March was also marked by a bit of ragged playing, but Knox paced it nicely and integrated it successfully. Overall, they get good marks for showing distinct progress in some very satisfying Mendelssohn.

Kyle Knox conducts MCO

The novelty of the program was the rarely played Canzonetta for Oboe and Strings by the 20th-century American composer Samuel Barber (below). This was a late work, the only completed movement of what was to be a full-length oboe concerto, and was published posthumously.

barber 1

It displays the familiar qualities of Barber as the pre-eminent American neo-Romantic, in music that is gentle, gracious and lyrically flowing. But it also highlights another feature of Barber: the composer’s identification with the human voice. A fine singer himself (he was a baritone), Barber was a master of song and vocal music, and the solo oboe part is, to a considerable degree, a kind of song — as the title says, a “canzonetta” or small song.

The oboe soloist, Andy Olson (below), with his own long affiliations with the MCO, clearly recognized this characteristic, and realized it in his beautiful playing.

Andy Olson plays at MCO

Andy Olson oboe

For the finale, the other super-familiar score, was the dazzling — and very tricky — orchestration by Maurice Ravel of the solo piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (below).

Modeste Mussorgsky color

At the very outset, in the opening “Promenade,” the brass section displayed a new level of power and ensemble. The saxophone solo in “The Old Castle” was truly compelling. The heavy cartwheels of “Byddlo” were inexorable, and “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs” or “Baba-Yaga” (a sorceress) was truly ferocious.

The triumphant final movement, “The Great Gate of Kiev” was stunning. One feature of old Russian city portals was the inclusion of working chapels. I have never heard the hymn-like quality of the whole piece, with its interludes of liturgical chanting and tolling bells, so successfully evoked.

Overall, this performance was magnificent, and I have never heard this orchestra play so well.

It was a performance full of head and heart, with open-throttle devotion from the players. Knox obviously deserves much credit for this, but the players themselves made it clear that they owed no apologies for the results they could produce. (Below, conductor Kyle Knox singles out the brass for recognition by the audience.)

Kyle Knox applauds MCO brass

The MCO has proven itself to be, more than ever, a really extraordinary factor in the Madison area’s musical life. It is a non-, or semi-, or extra-professional ensemble whose music-making is truly inspirational. Its concerts should be supported and enjoyed by all our cultural community.


Classical music: After hearing pianist Shai Wosner play two Haydn concertos with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, The Ear asks: When will Wosner return for a solo recital?

February 25, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last weekend brought a lot of conflicting classical music concerts to Madison.

But one of the best events proved to be the concert on Friday night in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

The program featured the supremely gifted but much under-publicized pianist Shai Wosner (below, in a photo by Marco Borggreve). He performed two contrasting keyboard concertos by Joseph Haydn — No. 4 in G Major and the better known No. 11 in D Major.

It was simply a sublime use of a modern instrument to make older music that was originally composed for the harpsichord. Never was the witty music by Haydn overpedaled or overly percussive or distorted for virtuosity’s sake. In every way, Wosner served Haydn — not himself.

Shai Wosner Photo: Marco Borggreve

The concert was also noteworthy because it featured the longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell. He led the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) to shine in an eclectic program that included the Samuel Barber-like neo-Romantic and neo-Baroque Prelude and Fugue by the 20th-century Italian-American composer Vittorio Giannini and especially the youthful Symphony No. 2 by Franz Schubert.

WCO lobby

Plus, Sewell (below) proved a perfect accompanist in the Haydn concertos. Clearly, chemistry exists between Sewell and Wosner, who have also performed together concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with the WCO.

andrewsewell

It was, in short, a program that was beautifully planned and beautifully played – even down to Wosner playing an encore by Schubert (the late Hungarian Melody, a lovely bittersweet miniature) that set up the second half with the Schubert, whose musical attractions Wosner explains so insightfully in a YouTube video at the bottom.

For his part, Sewell brought out balance and voicing, along with the expressive, but not excessive, lyricism that befits the ever-songful Schubert. As he has proven many times with his readings of Haydn and Mozart symphonies and concertos, Sewell is a master of the Classical style.

Wosner’s subtle and suitably quiet playing — he always puts virtuosity at the service of musicality — was also a model of clarity and restraint, perfectly suited to Haydn. But it left me with only one question:

When will we in Madison get to hear Shai Wosner in a solo recital?

(Below, you can hear Shai Wosner perform the second and third movements of the “Appassionata” Sonata by Beethoven at the 92nd Street Y in New York City in a YouTube video.)

Three of Wosner’s four acclaimed recordings are solo recitals of difficult works. They feature the music of Johannes Brahms, Arnold Schoenberg, the contemporary American composer Missy Mazzoli and especially Franz Schubert, with whom Wosner obviously feels, and shows, a special affinity. The fourth CD is a violin and piano duo done with the gifted young violinist Jennifer Koh.

I don’t know what presenter, besides the Wisconsin Union Theater, would bring Wosner back — and benefit from the WCO audiences that already have heard him. Or maybe the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra could sponsor a solo recital as a sideline. But we could use more solo piano recitals in Madison — especially if they offer playing of the scale of Wosner’s.

I don’t know how it would happen, but I sure hope it does happen.

Shai Wosner is a great pianist who deserves a wider hearing in a wider repertoire.


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra will perform music by Barber, Mendelssohn and Mussorgsky this Wednesday night.

February 23, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following invitation from his good friends over at the Middleton Community Orchestra:

Dear friends,

We invite you to step out of the cold to enjoy the winter concert of the Middleton Community Orchestra (below top) under the baton of guest conductor Kyle Knox (below), who is a graduate student in conducting at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

Kyle Knox 2

The program includes the short but hauntingly beautiful Canzonetta for Oboe and Strings by the 20th-century neo-Romantic American composer Samuel Barber (below top), with oboe soloist Andy Olson (below bottom), who was educated at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin and who now works at Epic Systems digital health care records near Madison.

barber 1

Andy Olson oboe

Also included on the program are the popular, playful and tuneful “Incidental Music to a Midsummer Night’s Dream” by Felix Mendelssohn (below top); and the darkly dramatic “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky (below bottom), a work famous for the familiar and regal “The Great Gate of Kiev” finale, which you can hear at the bottom in a YouTube video as performed by Sir George Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

mendelssohn_300

Modeste Mussorgsky color

The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. this coming Wednesday evening, Feb. 25, at the comfortable Middleton Performing Arts Center (below) that is attached to Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton PAC1

Tickets are $10, and are available at Willy St. Coop West and at the door on the night of the show. Students are admitted free of charge.

The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. and doors open at 7 p.m.

There will be a meet-and-greet reception for the musicians and the audience following the performance.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

For more information, please call 608-212-8690. You can also visit www.middletoncommunityorchestra.org for information about upcoming concerts and how to join or support the ensemble.

Sincerely,

Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic, Co-founders, Middleton Community Orchestra

Editor’s note: If you are not familiar with the Middleton Community Orchestra, you might want to read the post from this past December in which The Ear named the four-year-old Middleton group and other amateur musicians the Musician of the Year for 2014

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/classical-music-here-is-a-follow-up-story-from-the-middleton-times-tribune-newspaper-about-the-ears-musician-of-the-year-for-2014-the-middleton-community-orchest/


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