The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Can the annual Handel Aria Competition be improved? Here are two modest proposals from a fan. What do you think?

June 13, 2018
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a guest posting by George Savage, a blog follower who is a self-described musical amateur. In his youth he sang in choirs and had a bit solo part of Morales in his college production of Bizet’s Carmen. Then, a long musical hiatus until his 60th birthday celebration, when he sang Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah,” black hat in hand, knees on floor.

Most of his adult life was spent teaching literature and composition at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, specializing in the American Renaissance. To the extent he has stayed connected to the world of music, it is through his daughter Kelly Savage, who has a D.M.A in harpsichord from Stony Brook University and now teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

By George Savage

As my bio indicates, I am a musical amateur, meaning simply that I am a lover (French amateur) of music. For the past three years, I have had this love rekindled through the annual Handel Aria Competition in Madison, Wisconsin.

The vocal quality has consistently been high — especially this year! — and it is fun to vote for the Audience Favorite, even when the judges disagree with your assessment.

(Editor’s note: This year the Audience Favorite was mezzo-soprano Lindsay Metzger, below top, while the three judges awarded First Prize to soprano Suzanne Karpov, below bottom. Here is a link to story about all the winners: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/06/11/classical-music-here-are-the-winners-of-friday-nights-sixth-annual-handel-aria-competition/).

My heartfelt congratulations go to Dean and Carol “Orange” Schroeder (below) for establishing this annual competition in 2013 and for the many supporters who have made this competition a success.

I have two modest proposals, though, for improvement, one minor and one major.

A minor proposal: Unless you have an encyclopedic knowledge of opera — and I know that some people reading this have that knowledge — you will not know the context of the arias.

I propose that the program notes contain a brief context for each of the arias. Alternatively, the singers – below are the seven finalists this year — could introduce their songs with a similar brief context.

A major proposal: As I listened this year to Handel piece after Handel piece after Handel piece, I wondered: “Could there be some variation?”

I started to think of other festivals that started with a single-artist focus but then gradually expanded, such as the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, or, closer to home, the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

Both summer theater venues began with a single focus – Shaw and Shakespeare — but then evolved while at the same time staying true to their precipitating muse.

There is still lots of Shaw at the Shaw festival and lots of Shakespeare at APT. The same is true of the Carmel Bach Festival, which started with Bach but now has expanded to include many other forms of classical music. The same holds true for the famous Mostly Mozart Festival in New York City, which continues to expand its repertoire beyond Mozart.

In that spirit, I wonder if the singers at the Handel Competition, back up by the period-instrument Madison Bach Musicians, could in future events sing two selections — the first an aria by Handel and the second a non-Handel Baroque aria of the singer’s choice.

I think many singers would welcome the expanded repertoire and the audience would appreciate the added variety. The judging would be murkier, but it would be a good kind of murky.

I hope these proposals will engender a discussion: Should the competition be tweaked, or should it stay the same?

Your thoughts on these two proposals would be appreciated as well as other suggestions of your own.


Classical music: A new blog about the future of classical music has been launched in Madison by Lydia Sewell. It is called “A View From the Stage” and features interviews with prominent musicians

March 24, 2018
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

As the classical music industry continues to shift and adapt to changing cultural patterns, many performers, administrators, educators, journalists, and music enthusiasts are tracking these changes and exploring best practices to keep the institution alive.

In December 2017, Madison native Lydia Sewell (below) – an accomplished  violinist and daughter of Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra artistic director Andrew Sewell — launched a blog that seeks to address those issues in a comprehensive, timely fashion.

“A View From the Stage” features the voices of world-renowned classical musicians, educators and arts administrators and their thoughts on the future of classical music and symphony orchestras.

The blog arose out of Sewell’s research on the strike by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 2016.

Says Sewell: “As a graduate student at Duquesne University prepping for auditions, I was trying to answer the question, ‘If orchestras like the PSO are struggling to survive, what does that mean for regional orchestras who don’t have the donor bases that the majors rely on?”

“A View from the Stage” currently features interviews with musicians including Noah Bendix-Balgely, concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic; Scott Pingel, principal bass of the San Francisco Symphony; David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra who performed this fall at the UW-Madison; and Eric Nowlin, principal viola of the Detroit Symphony, as well as administrators including Paul Hogle, Dean of the Cleveland Institute of Music, and critic and composer Gregory Sandow.

With more than 30 interviews to roll out in the coming months, Sewell plans to continue interviewing classical thinkers and document their perspectives in “A View From the Stage,” in hopes to initiate further conversations surrounding 21st-century musicianship, concert reinvention and the sustainability of symphony orchestras.

Here are links to featured interviews, with photos below the link:

Noah Bendix-Balgely: https://www.lydiasewell.com/aviewfromthestage/2017/8/4/noah-bendix-balgely

Scott Pingel: https://www.lydiasewell.com/aviewfromthestage/2017/8/4/scott-pingel

David Kim (photo by Ryan Donnell): https://www.lydiasewell.com/aviewfromthestage/2017/10/26/david-kim

Eric Nowlin:

https://www.lydiasewell.com/aviewfromthestage/2017/8/9/eric-nowlin-principal-violist-of-the-detroit-symphony

Paul Hogle:

https://www.lydiasewell.com/aviewfromthestage/2017/10/27/paul-hogle

Gregory Sandow: https://www.lydiasewell.com/aviewfromthestage/2017/8/21/gregory-sandow

Mike Block:

 https://www.lydiasewell.com/aviewfromthestage/2017/8/4/mike-block

Upcoming interviews include:

Steve Hackman (conductor, composer, arranger)

Rachel Barton Pine (violin soloist)

Tracy Silverman (electric violin soloist)

Kate Sheeran (Dean, Provost of San Francisco Conservatory)

Philip Setzer (Emerson String Quartet)

Aaron Dworkin (Founder of Sphinx, Detroit)

Stanford Thompson (Founder Play on Philly!)


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