The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Globe-trotting conductor Edo de Waart bids farewell to Madison and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra this Sunday afternoon at the Wisconsin Union Theater with music by Mozart, Bloch and Elgar

May 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Music director and conductor Edo de Waart is coming to the end of his widely praised eight-year tenure at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, after which he will become a conductor laureate of the MSO.

The busy and energetic 75-year-old de Waart (below, in a photo by Jesse Willems) started  his career as a assistant principal oboist of the Concertgebouw and rose to become an acclaimed symphony and opera conductor. Currently, he is also the music director of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. In the past, he held major posts in Hong Kong, San Francisco, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Santa Fe, New York, Houston, Sydney, Rotterdam and Amsterdam among many others.

For more on de Waart, go to his Wikipedia entry:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edo_de_Waart

Unless they go to Milwaukee on the following weekend — Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 26-28 — to hear de Waart conduct Gustav Mahler’s mammoth Symphony No. 3 as his final farewell, listeners in the Madison area will likely have their last chance to hear the formidable de Waart and the accomplished Milwaukee players (below, with concertmaster Frank Almond on the left) this coming Sunday afternoon.

At 2:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater, de Waart and the MSO will perform the Overture to the opera “Don Giovanni,” K. 527, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; Ernest Bloch’s “Schlomo: A Hebraic Rhapsody” with MSO principal cellist Susan Babini (below); and Sir Edward Elgar’s Symphony No. 1, Op. 55.

There will also be a free pre-concert lecture at 1:30 p.m. by Randal Swiggum.

Tickets run from $15 to $49. For more information, including ticket prices and purchasing outlets, audiovisual links and links to reviews and background stories, go to:

https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/milwaukee-symphony-orchestra/

The Ear has always been impressed not only with the quality of de Waart’s conducting, but also with his choice of soloists and his creative approach to programming. He has fond memories of other performances in Madison by the MSO, which used to tour here regularly.

The distinguished de Waart, a native of the Netherlands, has enjoyed critical acclaim in his international career across Europe, Asia and North America. For a while, this acclaimed world-class musician who has made so many award-winning recordings and performed so many guest stints around the world, was even a neighbor who lived in Middleton, a suburb of Madison, where his wife is from.

Plus, de Waart has a fine philosophy of making music and leading an orchestra, as you can hear in the YouTube video below that was made when he first took over the reins of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra:


Classical music: Here are the classical music nominations for the 2017 Grammy Awards. They make a great holiday gift list of gives and gets

December 10, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This posting is both a news story and a holiday gift guide of classical recordings you might like to give or get.

It features the classical music nominations for the 59th annual Grammy Awards that were just announced this past week.

As you can see, several years ago, the recording industry decided that the Grammys should put more emphasis on new music and contemporary composers as well as on less famous performers and smaller labels as well as less well-known artists and works. You don’t see any music by Bach, Beethoven or Brahms this year, although you will find music by Mozart, Handel, Schumann and Dvorak. And clearly this is not a Mahler year

The winners will be announced on a live TV broadcast on Sunday night, Feb. 12, on CBS.

grammy award BIG

BEST ENGINEERED ALBUM, CLASSICAL

“Corigliano: The Ghosts of Versailles” — Mark Donahue & Fred Vogler, engineers (James Conlon, Guanqun Yu, Joshua Guerrero, Patricia Racette, Christopher Maltman, Lucy Schaufer, Lucas Meachem, LA Opera Chorus & Orchestra)

“Dutilleux: Sur Le Même Accord; Les Citations; Mystère De L’Instant & Timbres, Espace, Mouvement” — Alexander Lipay & Dmitriy Lipay, engineers (Ludovic Morlot, Augustin Hadelich & Seattle Symphony)

“Reflections” — Morten Lindberg, engineer (Øyvind Gimse, Geir Inge Lotsberg & Trondheimsolistene)

“Shadow of Sirius” — Silas Brown & David Frost, engineers; Silas Brown, mastering engineer (Jerry F. Junkin & the University Of Texas Wind Ensemble)

“Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow: Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 & 9” — Shawn Murphy & Nick Squire, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer (Andris Nelsons & Boston Symphony Orchestra)

dutilleux-sur-le-meme-accord-cd-cover

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, CLASSICAL

Blanton Alspaugh

David Frost

Marina A. Ledin, Victor Ledin

Judith Sherman (pictured below with the Grammy Award she won last year. She came to Madison to record the double set of new commissions for the centennial of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet)

Robina G. Young

Judith Sherman 57th Grammy 2016

BEST ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE

“Bates: Works for Orchestra” — Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony). You can hear excerpts in the YouTube video at the bottom.

“Ibert: Orchestral Works” — Neeme Järvi, conductor (Orchestre De La Suisse Romande)

“Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 In B-Flat Major, Op. 100” — Mariss Jansons, conductor (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra)

“Rouse: Odna Zhizn; Symphonies 3 & 4; Prospero’s Rooms” — Alan Gilbert, conductor (New York Philharmonic)

“Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow – Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 & 9” (below) — Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)

nelsons-shostakovich-5-cd-cover

BEST OPERA RECORDING

“Corigliano: The Ghosts of Versailles” (below) — James Conlon, conductor; Joshua Guerrero, Christopher Maltman, Lucas Meachem, Patricia Racette, Lucy Schaufer & Guanqun Yu; Blanton Alspaugh, producer (LA Opera Orchestra; LA Opera Chorus)

“Handel: Giulio Cesare” — Giovanni Antonini, conductor; Cecilia Bartoli, Philippe Jaroussky, Andreas Scholl & Anne-Sofie von Otter; Samuel Theis, producer (Il Giardino Armonico)

“Higdon: Cold Mountain” — Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor; Emily Fons, Nathan Gunn, Isabel Leonard & Jay Hunter Morris; Elizabeth Ostrow, producer (The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra; Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program for Singers)

“Mozart: Le Nozze Di Figaro” — Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Thomas Hampson, Christiane Karg, Luca Pisaroni & Sonya Yoncheva; Daniel Zalay, producer (Chamber Orchestra of Europe; Vocalensemble Rastatt)

“Szymanowski: Król Roger” — Antonio Pappano, conductor; Georgia Jarman, Mariusz Kwiecień & Saimir Pirgu; Jonathan Allen, producer (Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Royal Opera Chorus)

ghosts-of-versailles-cd-cover

BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE

“Himmelrand” — Elisabeth Holte, conductor (Marianne Reidarsdatter Eriksen, Ragnfrid Lie & Matilda Sterby; Inger-Lise Ulsrud; Uranienborg Vokalensemble)

“Janáček: Glagolitic Mass” — Edward Gardner, conductor; Håkon Matti Skrede, chorus master (Susan Bickley, Gábor Bretz, Sara Jakubiak & Stuart Skelton; Thomas Trotter; Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; Bergen Cathedral Choir, Bergen Philharmonic Choir, Choir of Collegium Musicum & Edvard Grieg Kor)

“Lloyd: Bonhoeffer” — Donald Nally, conductor (Malavika Godbole, John Grecia, Rebecca Harris & Thomas Mesa; the Crossing; below)

“Penderecki Conducts Penderecki, Volume 1” — Krzysztof Penderecki, conductor; Henryk Wojnarowski, choir director (Nikolay Didenko, Agnieszka Rehlis & Johanna Rusanen; Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra; Warsaw Philharmonic Choir)

“Steinberg: Passion Week” — Steven Fox, conductor (The Clarion Choir)

lloyd-bonhoefffer-cd-cover

BEST CHAMBER MUSIC/SMALL ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

“Fitelberg: Chamber Works” — ARC Ensemble

“Reflections” — Øyvind Gimse, Geir Inge Lotsberg & Trondheimsolistene

“Serious Business” — Spektral Quartet

Steve Reich” — Third Coast Percussion (below)

“Trios From Our Homelands” — Lincoln Trio

reich-third-coast-percussion-cd-cover

BEST CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO

“Adams, J.: Scheherazade.2” — Leila Josefowicz; David Robertson, conductor (Chester Englander; St. Louis Symphony)

“Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway” — Zuill Bailey; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor (Nashville Symphony)

“Dvořák: Violin Concerto & Romance; Suk: Fantasy” — Christian Tetzlaff; John Storgårds, conductor (Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra)

“Mozart: Keyboard Music, Vols. 8 & 9” – Kristian Bezuidenhout

“1930’s Violin Concertos, Vol. 2” – Gil Shaham; Stéphane Denève, conductor (The Knights & Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra)

john-adams-scheherazade2-cd-cover

BEST CLASSICAL SOLO VOCAL ALBUM

“Monteverdi” — Magdalena Kožená; Andrea Marcon, conductor (David Feldman, Michael Feyfar, Jakob Pilgram & Luca Tittoto; La Cetra Barockorchester Basel)

“Mozart: The Weber Sisters” — Sabine Devieilhe; Raphaël Pichon, conductor (Pygmalion)

“Schumann & Berg” — Dorothea Röschmann; Mitsuko Uchida, accompanist

“Shakespeare Songs” — Ian Bostridge; Antonio Pappano, accompanist (Michael Collins, Elizabeth Kenny, Lawrence Power & Adam Walker)

“Verismo” — Anna Netrebko; Antonio Pappano, conductor (Yusif Eyvazov; Coro Dell’Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia; Orchestra Dell’Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia)

bostridge-shakespeare-songs-cd-cover

BEST CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM

“Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway; American Gothic; Once Upon A Castle” — Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Tim Handley, producer

“Gesualdo” — Tõnu Kaljuste, conductor; Manfred Eicher, producer

“Vaughan Williams: Discoveries” — Martyn Brabbins, conductor; Andrew Walton, producer

“Wolfgang: Passing Through” — Judith Farmer & Gernot Wolfgang, producers; (Various Artists)

“Zappa: 200 Motels – The Suites” — Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor; Frank Filipetti & Gail Zappa, producers

tales-of-hemingway-cd-cover

BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION

“Bates: Anthology of Fantastic Zoology” — Mason Bates, composer (Riccardo Muti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

“Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway” — Michael Daugherty, composer (Zuill Bailey, Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony)

“Higdon: Cold Mountain” — Jennifer Higdon, composer; Gene Scheer, librettist (Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Jay Hunter Morris, Emily Fons, Isabel Leonard, Nathan Gunn & the Santa Fe Opera)

“Theofanidis: Bassoon Concerto” — Christopher Theofanidis, composer (Martin Kuuskmann, Barry Jekowsky & Northwest Sinfonia)

“Winger: Conversations With Nijinsky” — C. F. Kip Winger, composer (Martin West & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra)

higdon-cold-mountain-cd-cover


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Classical music: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will perform its second-to-last concert with maestro Edo de Waart at the Wisconsin Union Theater next May

June 22, 2016
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Union Theater has announced some news:

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra with conductor Edo de Waart and Principal Cello Susan Babini will perform in Shannon Hall on Sunday afternoon, May 21, 2017 at 2:30 p.m.

edodewaart1

The program includes the Overture to the opera “Don Giovanni,” K. 527, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; “Schelomo, A Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra” by Ernest Bloch; and the Symphony No. 1 in A-flat major, Opus 55, by Sir Edward Elgar.

Ticket prices are as follows: General public tickets are $49, $45 and $25, Union Member and non-UW students tickets are $44, $40 and $25, UW Faculty and Staff tickets cost $46, $42 and $25, UW-Madison student tickets cost $15, and youth tickets (age 6-18) cost $20, limit 2 with the purchase of a full-priced ticket.

Tickets can be bought online, by phone at 608-265-ARTS (2787) or in person, see locations and hours here

This performance will be conductor and former music director Edo de Wart’s the second-t0-last concert as MSO’s chief conductor. (His final ones are performances of the Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler on the following weekend in Milwaukee ) He has served as conductor also for the Netherlands Wind Ensemble, the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

De Waart was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal, and was appointed an Honorary Officer of the Order of Australia. He is also a knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion. De Waart also has vast experience in opera conducting, from the Santa Fe Opera House and the Metropolitan Opera to the Royal Opera House.

The performance is presented by the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Performing Arts Committee.


Classical music: Madison’s maestro John DeMain and others preview and review the world premiere by the Santa Fe Opera’s production of Jennifer Higdon’s opera “Cold Mountain.”

August 10, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

First it was a best-selling and prize-winning novel.

Then it became a popular Oscar-winning Hollywood movie.

Now it is an opera that received its world premiere at the Santa Fe Opera this past week and is proving so popular with audiences that an extra performance has been added and regional premieres are already booked around the country. (The Minnesota Opera will give the Midwest premiere.)

It is “Cold Mountain,” a Civil War story about a Confederate soldier’s return home that is loosely based on Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey.”

cold mountain cast and set

Here is a review, posted on Facebook, by our own John DeMain, the music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera, who attended the world premiere performance. DeMain came to Madison, by the way, from his post as director of the Houston Grand Opera, where he gave the world premiere of John Adams’ “Nixon in China.” So he is a fan of new operas.

DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) writes:

“How wonderful “Cold Mountain” was last night at its world premiere in Santa Fe. Jennifer Higdon is simply a wonderful composer and her piece with Gene Scheer‘s compelling libretto, soared to great heights. Great directing from Leonard Foglia, with a brilliant design concept, and a great cast. Emily Fons was magnificent as Ruby. Fabulous orchestral writing, beautiful choral work, and compelling duets and ensembles. A very sad, grim piece given a dynamic treatment by all involved.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Such discerning enthusiasm makes you wonder if DeMain and the Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith might not be looking to bring “Cold Mountain” to Madison in a couple of seasons. (The male lead Nathan Gunn has already sung in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater and  with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, by the way.) One can hope! (Below are the leads mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as Ada and baritone Nathan Gunn as Inman in a photo by Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera.)

Cold Mountain Nathan Gunn as Inman and Isabel Leonard as Ada CR Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera

You can hear the creators of the opera discuss it in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Here are some other sources for previews and reviews:

Here is a story from NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/08/05/429370329/cold-mountain-takes-civil-war-odyssey-to-the-opera-stage

cold mountain by ken howard

The PBS NewsHour aired a lengthy feature by Jeffrey Brown that includes lots of video and interviews with the cast; with Charles Frazier (below right), who wrote the best-selling novel; and with Jennifer Higdon (below left), the composer of the opera who teaches at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/civil-war-tragedy-cold-mountain-inspires-opera/

Jennifer Higdon and Charles Frazier

And here is a short news story and a longer, more negative or critical review from Zachary Woolfe of The New York Times:

http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/07/16/santa-fe-opera-adds-performance-of-cold-mountain/?_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/arts/music/review-cold-mountain-at-santa-fe-opera-recounts-a-separated-lovers-arduous-journey-only-one-half-makes-the-journey.html


Classical music: Stage Director Norma Saldivar talks about Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” The Madison Opera gives three performances of it this coming weekend.

February 2, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will present its first-ever production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” by Stephen Sondheim (below) this coming weekend on Friday and Saturday nights and on Sunday afternoon in the Capitol Theater at the Overture Center for the Arts.

The company has built a new production of this American masterpiece — which is so popular that it was made into a 2007 film by director Tim Burton that starred Johnny Depp, Alan Rickman and Helena Bonham Carter. The powerhouse cast, Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra all promise to bring a very operatic theater score to life.

stephen-sondheim-aa58e636211efdc134e6540533fff5cc52c73909-s6-c30

The show tells of the barber Sweeney Todd, who returns to the gas-lit streets of Victorian London after 15 years of unjust imprisonment to claim vengeance on those who wronged him. He is aided in his murderous activities by Mrs. Lovett, maker of some rather tasty meat pies.

One of Sondheim’s most renowned works, “Sweeney Todd” has a stunningly inventive score containing drama, macabre humor, lyrical purity and an unforgettable final scene.

“I love this piece,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director. “It’s a true American classic, with a story that is simultaneously dark and comic, and music that ranges from beautifully lyrical songs like ‘Not While I’m Around’ (at bottom in a YouTube video ) to vaudevillian turns like ‘A Little Priest,’ all with some of the wittiest lyrics ever written.”

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

Although it premiered on Broadway in 1979 – winning eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical – “Sweeney Todd” has been a staple of opera companies since 1984, when Houston Grand Opera first staged it, followed a few months later by New York City Opera. With a score that is almost entirely sung, it has been described by Sondheim as a “dark operetta.”

That first Houston Grand Opera production was conducted by John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of the Madison Opera, who will conduct these performances.

“For me, it is a brilliantly composed work for the musical theater that has marvelous melodies, incredible lyrics, a unique and thrillingly fascinating story, and a climax that is the stuff of grand opera,” says DeMain. “I can’t wait to conduct our stunning cast in this masterwork for the lyric stage.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Corey Crider (below top) and Meredith Arwady (below bottom) make their Madison Opera debuts as the vengeful barber and the ever-practical Mrs. Lovett. Crider has sung leading roles with Lyric Opera of Chicago, Arizona Opera, and the Castleton Festival. Arwady has sung leading roles with San Francisco Opera, the Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and Santa Fe Opera.

Corey Crider

Meredith Arwady

In the role of the mysterious Beggar Woman, Emily Pulley (below) makes her Madison Opera debut after recent performances at the Metropolitan Opera, Central City Opera, and Opera Theater of St. Louis.

tEmily Pulley

Returning to Madison Opera are former Madison Opera Studio Artist Jeni Houser as Johanna, Sweeney’s daughter; Daniel Shirley as the young sailor Anthony Hope; and Thomas Forde as the evil Judge Turpin. Three tenors round out the cast. Joshua Sanders, who has been singing with Madison Opera since high school, plays the innocent Tobias Ragg. Jared Rogers makes his debut as the menacing Beadle Bamford. Robert Goderich, a local theater and opera favorite, plays Sweeney’s rival barber, Adolfo Pirelli.

Performances are on Friday, at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

The production will be sung in English with projected text.

Tickets are $25-$110 with group discounts available. Contact the Overture Center Box Office,
201 State St., Madison, WI. You can also call (608) 258-4141 and email www.madisonopera.org

Madison Opera is building a new production specifically for the Capitol Theater. Stage director Norma Saldivar, set designer Joseph Varga, costume designer Karen Brown-Larimore, and lighting designer Hideaki Tsutsui are creating a world set in an Industrial Age factory, with the orchestra on stage to bring the action even closer to the audience.

“Building a new production allows us to take advantage of the Capitol Theater,” says Smith. “The gorgeous venue is ideally suited to this piece and it is exciting to create something new.”

Stage Director Norma Saldivar (below, in a photo from Madison Magazine) is Executive Director of the UW-Madison Arts Institute and a professor in the Theater Department, recently granted an email interview to The Ear:

Norma Saldivar color

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers?

I’m Norma Saldivar, and I am the stage director for the Madison Opera’s production of “Sweeney Todd.”

How does directing an opera differ from directing a play?

I know that you’d like me to say that there is some real difference in directing opera or straight theatre productions – and there are distinct differences. However, the work of the director remains the same.

I am a storyteller, a chief creative leader of a team of people who bring the story to life and three-dimensional form. There are differences in working with music that obviously involve expressing the intention of the composer, which means working with a conductor who brings to life and secures the intention of the composer and lyricist.

But ultimately, we all work to bring the story to an audience and to engage and entertain them.

In the case of “Sweeney Todd,” how does such a grim and gory or grotesque plot – about murdering men by slitting their throats and then baking their bodies into cannibalistic meat pies –- end up being an enjoyable and entertaining opera? Does being so over the top help or offer special challenges?

The story predates Sondheim and began in “penny dreadfuls” — these stories of suspense were very popular and connected to their audience in a way that so many contemporary suspense and horror stories do now for our audience.

I think there is a great deal of suspense in the story, in that as it unfolds an audience can’t believe their eyes or ears. The audaciousness is surprising and tantalizing –- and then there is also humor, heartbreak and love in the story. It is a different take on an age-old story of revenge.

What does Stephen Sondheim do in the libretto and music to overcome that kind of inherent handicap?

I don’t see the aspects of the genre — suspense and horror – as handicaps. There are other musical pieces – “Phantom of the Opera” is one – that make for great drama.

The music is the added character to the story.

Sondheim writes in one of his books that he was inspired by the movie music of Bernard Hermann – his work in horror films by Alfred Hitchcock fueled Sondheim’s work on Sweeney. But Sondheim is so brilliant that he integrates other musical genres in the piece to create a very specific effect. There are intricate pieces that pull us momentarily away from the suspense. Like any good storyteller, his music takes the audience on an unexpected ride.

What is your approach to staging it? Are there special things in this production that you would like the audience to take notice of?

I am a very visual director. I love that Sondheim himself talks about this piece being a movie for the stage. What a great challenge for the stage director to try and interpret quick cuts and split screens, or changes in time and location on stage. We have a great design team that provides me the tools and background to work with the singers to support the musical story and to work in visual harmony. Without the design team and singers — well, I wouldn’t have much.

The challenge with this piece in particular is the length of the story. It moves quickly, spans months of time, and exists in a theatrical and psychological platform all at once. It’s a terrific challenge for a director, production team and performers. All the nuances that have to play to make the story clear is what makes the challenge really interesting.

Is there anything else you would like to add or say about this work and this production of it — the cast, the sets, the costumes — for The Madison Opera?

It has been a pleasure to work with the extraordinary John DeMain and the entire Madison Opera family. From the administration to the designers to the principal artists to the lovely chorus to the folks building the show — what more can a director ask for? Everyone is top-notch and devoted to giving everyone the best show. I feel honored to be working with them — really honored.

 


Classical music: Classical music is hardly dying. As the new seasons begins, National Public Radio (NPR) surveys the many new works and world premieres that will take place across the U.S.

September 6, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight marks the opening of a lot of concert seasons across the country. That includes the new season right here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

UW-Madison flutist Stephanie Jutt (below, in a photo by C&N Photography) will perform a FREE program of Latin American music and German music at tonight 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall. She will be accompanied by UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor and UW-Milwaukee pianist Elena Abend.

Stephanie Jutt CR Dick Ainsworth

And over the next several weeks the many other classical music institutions in Madison will also open their seasons: the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Oakwood Chamber Players, the Madison Bach Musicians and so on.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Yet the idea that classical music is moribund, that it is a dying form of culture and art, persists. And critical observers cite smaller audiences, older audiences and debt-strapped organizations as proof.

But if you want to judge the vitality – and possible future -– of classical music in America, you might want to take a look at the season preview that was posted on the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog by NPR or National Public Radio.

The preview looks at world premieres of new works and unusual events or programming of all kinds — but mostly orchestral and operatic — that will take place around the country. The story includes new works by such well-known and prize-winning composers as Jennifer Higdon (below top), John Adams, John Corigliano and Kevin Puts (below bottom) — all of whom have had works performed in Madison.

Jennifer Higdon and cat Beau

Kevin Puts pulitzer

The Ear finds it encouraging and heartening, although he finds it dispiriting that Madison doesn’t make the list, and wonders why? Is it an oversight on the part of NPR? Or the lack of large-scale new music here, despite upcoming appearances by the Jack Quartet and premieres of works by UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger (below) and the world premiere on Sept. 26 by the Pro Arte Quartet of a commissioned Clarinet Quintet by composer Pierre Jalbert. And this summer saw a world premiere by Jeff Stanek at the Token Creek Chamber  Music Festival.

Laura_Schwendinger,_Composer

Anyway, whet your appetite for the new music and for repeat performances of it elsewhere -– like here at home — by reading about it or, better, listening to it. One of the important sites for new works is the impressive outdoor amphitheater at the Santa Fe Opera, (below, in photo by Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera).

Santa Fe Opera auditorium CR Ken Howard SFO

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/09/03/345259101/great-expectations-a-new-season-of-new-music

Do you think classical music, for all the challenges it faces, is a dying art form?

Or will it persist in some form or another?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Is Beethoven still relevant and our political contemporary with his opera “Fidelio”?

August 10, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

You might recall that Ludwig van Beethoven (below) composed only one opera.

It is “Fidelio,” and it reflected his Enlightenment-era political ideas about equality and democracy –- despite the composer’s own financial reliance on patronage by aristocrats and royals.

Beethoven big

And you may recall that the Madison Opera has slated “Fidelio” for a production this coming season in Overture Hall on Friday night, Nov. 21, and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 23.

The production comes during a time of great political unrest and perhaps upheaval at home, with crucial national and state elections, and especially overseas and in foreign affairs with Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Africa’s Ebola strife and many other hot spots showing no sign of letting up.

So will the local production of “Fidelio” be more or less a traditional one? Or will the Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith and its artistic director, John DeMain, who is also the music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, have other ideas about how to tweak the opera and recast it for modern or contemporary relevance?

It will be interesting to see, although The Ear understands that the production will be traditional.

Here is a link to the Madison Opera’s website:

http://madisonopera.org/performances-2014-2015/

Currently, the acclaimed Santa Fe Opera is staging a controversial new version of “Fidelio”(below), created by director Stephen Wadsworth, that takes place in the Nazi death camp Bergen-Belsen. Sounds very Peter Sellars-like. (You can hear the moving music from the Prisoners’ Chorus at the bottom in a YouTube video.)

FIDELIO in Bergen-Belsen at Santa Fe

Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, of The New York Times, did not like it and, in fact, said it offended her because it belittled the Holocaust. She also complained that the roles in the actual text did not match the roles that the new staging created. She saw the production as too inconsistent.

Her larger complaint seems to reflect the notion that after the Holocaust, writing poetry and creating art is impossible, that beauty has been ruined.

It is an ambitious, lofty and tempting thought, but one that is clearly not true. In fact, it is downright wrong. Great suffering and art are old pals. Sometimes art takes you away from suffering; sometimes it takes you deeper into it. It depends on the work and on the performers. But we need both.

Anyway, here is the review from the Times as well as another one with a different take. Read them for yourself. Then decide and make up your own mind. It sure sounds like a concept worth pursuing, even if flawed, to The Ear.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/04/arts/music/santa-fe-opera-sets-fidelio-in-a-concentration-camp.html?_r=0

Critic Heidi Waleson, of The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, praised the production:

http://online.wsj.com/articles/opera-review-santa-fe-opera-1407191039

Be sure to tell The Ear, and other readers, including members of the Madison Opera, if you have ever seen an updated version of “Fidelio” and what you thought of it.

Where do you think “Fidelio could be recast to best advantage The Holocaust? The Spanish Inquisition? The Soviet Gulag and Great Terror? The Killing Fields of Cambodia? The Rwandan genocide? Abu Graib prison in Iraq? A CIA black site torture prison in Egypt? The Chinese Cultural Revolution?

Or, given the fact that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, how about a Supermax prison in Wisconsin?

You get the idea.

Go wild with your imagination, and then write in.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The Ear generally doesn’t like countertenors. Do you? Is it sexist or artistically wrong to prefer female singers to countertenors and to boy sopranos, especially in Bach cantatas. What do you say about the choices?

July 26, 2013
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

No doubt about it: Countertenors are once again cool.

Finally, after centuries of being ignored, slighted and downright ridiculed, countertenors are back in. They are mainstream these days and their numbers are increasing, as are their popularity and their quality.

When you plug the word “countertenor” into the YouTube search engine, you get more than 106,000 results. (At bottom is YouTube video of French countertenor Philippe Jarousskey singing a Vivaldi aria that has almost 2.5 million hits.)

On this past Thursday, NPR’s “Morning Edition” featured a terrific piece about countertenors with Miles Hoffman, the music commentator who is also a professional violist.

The report and commentary concerned the upcoming world premiere this weekend of the opera Theodore Morrison’s “Oscar,” based on the life and trial of Oscar Wilde, at the open air Santa Fe Opera (below).

santa fe opera house

The main point about the singing is that the lead role is played by the universally acclaimed countertenor David Daniels, for whom the opera was specifically composed. And Daniels (below, on the right, as Oscar Wilde in a photo by Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera) has a voice that was described as “high” and heavenly.”

Here is a link to the story with audio clips of other performances by Daniels including music by Handel and Franz Schubert:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/07/25/205148226/The-High-Heavenly-Voice-Of-David-Daniels

oscr_0417

Now, I have heard a few countertenors, in live performances and on recordings, and there are times when I liked them a lot. I certainly was impressed by them and glad that they now have place in the mainstream of vocal music and opera.

The resurgence of countertenors over the past 15 or so year was inevitable, I suppose, given the revival of Baroque opera and especially the operas of George Frideric Handel (below), who usually wrote his high-pitched hero roles for countertenors.

handel big 2

In fact, here is a link to an earlier piece that NPR “Deceptive Cadence” blogger Tom Huizenga wrote about the Handel recording by another prominent countertenor Bejun Mehta (below):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2010/11/30/131701596/when-a-man-sings-like-a-woman-a-countertenor-convergence

Bejun Mehta

But I found myself disagreeing with Miles Hoffman (below) and others who think that countertenors somehow bring an added richness to the singing.

Miles Hoffman NPR

My ears tell me just the opposite. So now is a good time to files what appears to be a minority report.

I generally find the countertenor tone uncomfortable. In general, I find adult women’s voices or ordinary male tenors more convincing and expressive, less artificial and more normal to my standards.

I feel the same way about using boy sopranos in choruses of J.S. Bach’s cantatas. There are times when I love the sound of boychoirs and boy sopranos.

But even in period performances of early music – by far, my preference — Bach’s cantatas seem much more convincing and beautiful to me with a soloists and choruses of adult men and adult women.

Of course, we all live in history.

But the fact of the matter is that women were not used for singing not because high male voices were superior but because earlier epochs were heavily sexist and discriminated against women.

That is also, I believe, why the roles of young women in Shakespeare’s plays were usually played by young men. Women were simply not allowed full participation in the performing arts.

And although we may want to reconstruct such practices out a curiosity for historically informed performance and to hear how a certain piece of music originally sounded, I say that earlier periods – not ours – were the more deprived epochs.

Anyway, I look forward to hearing from readers and sophisticated fans of vocal music about whether my objections are misplaced and inappropriate, or whether they agree with me. Not that I expect the trend toward  using countertenors will abate. I am sure it will only grow.

In the end, I suspect, it was comes down to taste and personal preference – as is so often the case, given the inevitable subjectivity of art.

But let me know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Ear catches up with the hectic and fast rising career of the American Metropolitan Opera soprano Susanna Phillips, who closed this past season of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

June 2, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

It is no secret that the concert fees of performing artists have far outpaced inflation. The days of Madison presenters being able to afford and book superstars, with reasonable ticket prices, like the new Arthur Rubinstein, the new Jascha Heifetz, the new Marian Anderson, the new Vladimir Horowitz, the new Luciano Pavarotti and so on, are long over.

Still, Madison maestros and presenters sure know how to choose and book some up-and-coming classical stars as soloists. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the Madison Opera and even Farley’s House of Pianos have done an outstanding  job of finding great artists who are young, gifted and award-winning as well as still up-and-coming and affordable.

Take the case of the American, Alabama-born soprano Susanna Phillips, who sang Mozart concert arias beautifully when she closed the current season of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) under music director and conductor Andrew Sewell and who will be a very busy singer this coming summer and next season.

WCO lobby

Here is a press release from her public relations firm that details the upcoming 2013-14 appearances for Susanna Phillips (below), who also excels at Lieder or art songs (see the YouTube video at bottom of a song by Felix Mendelssohn).

susanna phillips

They include headlining roles in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Santa Fe Opera, Benjamin Britten’s “Peter Grimes” at the Aspen Music Festival and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony at Bravo! Vail as well as the world premiere of a work by Christopher Weiss at the Twickenham Fest this summer.

Then come her appearances in three different operas at the famed Metropolitan Opera (below) in New York City.

The Met hall 1

Here are the details:

“Following her resounding success in A Streetcar Named Desire at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Beverly Sills Artist Susanna Phillips returns to Santa Fe Opera as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro (June 29–Aug 23).

“In her first summer festival engagement, she celebrates the Britten centennial at the Aspen Music Festival, where she will make her role debut as Ellen Orford in a concert performance of Peter Grimes (July 27).

Aspen Music Festival

“At the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival (below), Phillips will join the Philadelphia Orchestra for Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (July 12).

Bravo Vail Gerald Ford Amphitheater.

“And the world premiere of a new commission from Christopher Weiss (below) will crown Twickenham Fest, the festival that Phillips herself co-founded in her hometown of Huntsville, Alabama (Aug 30–Sept 1).

After this full summer, the soprano looks forward to returning to New York’s Metropolitan Opera, where she will star in three important productions next season.

It was in the opening run of Jonathan Kent’s hit staging of The Marriage of Figaro at Santa Fe Opera that, “as the Countess, young soprano Susanna Phillips proved a major find” (Musical America). In the same role at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland last summer, “with a voice that is beautifully warm, brassy and blooming, the American soprano Susanna Phillips captivated from the first measures of the second act” (Forum Opera).

Now Phillips returns to Santa Fe to reprise the Countess for eight performances in June, July, and August, with baritone Zachary Nelson in the title role, and conductor John Nelson leading the revival of Kent’s production.

Last season at the Aspen Music Festival, the soprano impressed the Aspen Times with her ability to convey “emotions and memories radiantly.” Now she returns to the festival to honor Benjamin Britten’s centennial, making her role debut as Ellen Orford (a part she will reprise at Carnegie Hall this November) in a semi-staged production of Peter Grimes on July 27. Led by festival music director Robert Spano, Britten’s psychological thriller will co-star Anthony Dean Griffey – “the best Grimes of the moment” (Los Angeles Times) – in the title role.

At Colorado’s Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, Phillips continues to demonstrate her range outside the opera house. On July 12 she sings solo with the Philadelphia Orchestra and acclaimed, dynamic and openly gay music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin (below) in Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. Finding her voice “optimally suited” to the work, the Washington Post has reported: “Phillips sang the solo with gorgeous, well-supported clarity, a shining, simple but not colorless sound, limpid and calm on the mysterious chords of ‘Sankt Peter im Himmel sieht zu,’ which return as a refrain.”

Yannick Nezet-Seguin in aciton

For her final festival appearances of the summer, Phillips returns to her hometown of Huntsville, Alabama, for the fourth season of Twickenham Fest, the chamber music festival that she herself co-founded. As the Birmingham News recognized in a five-star review, “Twickenham Fest is well on its way to becoming a driving force in classical music in Alabama.” This year’s festival will showcase such notable guest artists as Israeli pianist Roman Rabinovich and cellist Matthew Zalkind.

Twickenham Fest gave its first world premiere last season, when Phillips sang “Speaking for the Afghan Woman,” a song cycle by William Harvey (below) set to verses by female Afghan poets that was written especially for her. The Birmingham News found the poetry “poignant, often gut-wrenching,” and reported that “Phillips’ emotive powers” were such that she “penetrated directly to the hearts of these poets.”

William Harvey composer

Continuing this exciting new tradition for a second season, this year’s Twickenham Fest will present the world premiere of a new commission from 2013 composer-in-residence Christopher Weiss, the recipient of a Theodore Presser Foundation Career Grant, whose music has been hailed by the New York Times as “wonderfully fluid [with a] cinematic grasp of mood and lighting.” The festival will be held from August 30 to September 1, and will be enriched by educational outreach programs at local schools and libraries.

Christopher Weiss composer

The 2013-14 season will also see Phillips star in three important Metropolitan Opera productions. The first of these is Mozart’s Così fan tutte, for which company music director James Levine (below) makes his long-awaited return to the Met podium. Alongside Isabel Leonard, Matthew Polenzani and Rodion Pogossov, Phillips will sing the role in which the Dallas Morning News pronounced her “a glorious Fiordiligi, her soprano honeyed and agile” (Sept 24 & 28; Oct 2 & 5; April 23 & 26). Her final performance in the role will also be transmitted live to cinema audiences worldwide on April 26, in the Met’s celebrated “Live in HD” series.

James Levine conducting

For her second Met engagement of the new season, Phillips will sing Rosalinde in Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, headlining a new production from two-time Tony Award-winner Jeremy Sams. The opening night’s performance will serve as the highlight of the company’s New Year’s Eve gala (Dec 31–Feb 22).

It was as Musetta in Puccini’s La Bohème that the soprano made her Met debut, for which more than 400 residents of her Alabama hometown expressly traveled to New York. After her recent Met interpretation of the role, the New York Times noted: “Phillips (below) sparkled as the sassy Musetta, her bright, nimble soprano tinged with a coquettish flair.” Next season, she resumes her portrayal for two performances in Franco Zeffirelli’s iconic staging of the opera, the second of which will also be featured in the Met’s Live in HD series (April 2 & 5).

Susanna Phillips smiling

Details of the soprano’s upcoming engagements are available at susannaphillips.com.


Classical music: The bigger concert hall doesn’t necessarily have the better music.

November 2, 2012
9 Comments

ALERT: On Saturday night ay 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall, UW bassoonist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill, with modern and baroque bassoons) will perform a FREE concert on the University of Wisconsin School of Music Faculty Concert Series. The program will feature a variety of works by Georg Philipp Telemann; “Récit et Allegro “by Noël-Gallon; “Stick” by UW composer by Stephen Dembski; “Chamber Concerto for Bassoon and Strings” by David Dies and a selection of John Coltrane songs.

By Jacob Stockinger

This is A Tale of Two Concert Halls.

One is Mills Hall (below), the largest concert hall at the University of Wisconsin School of Music. It has a capacity of about 700.

The second is the smaller Morphy Recital Hall, which is right across from Mills. It has a capacity of about 170.

Mills is usually where the Faculty Concert Series takes place; where the UW Symphony Orchestra and Chamber orchestra take place; where the Choral Union and other large groups take place.

I know Mills mostly from smaller events such as student recitals, master classes and the annual concert by the winners of Beethoven Sonata Competition.

But last Thursday night, Oct. 25, provided a wonderful example of how you cannot and should not use the size of the hall to judge the quality of the music.

Most people in line were waiting to get into a flute recital that featured Stephanie Jutt with acclaimed pianist Christopher Taylor and cellist Trace Johnson. That was in Mills Hall and turned out to be, I have no doubt, a memorable concert.

But The Ear was going to the warm and woody Morphy Hall to hear a concert that was advertised simply as an appearance by the soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine and keyboardist-composer Scott Gendel.

That concert turned out to be so much more than was advertised.

Despite the comparatively small, though enthusiastic, attendance (below) and empty seats, the concert proved to be a perfect Homecoming event.

In addition to Guarrine and Gendel, who were classmates and graduated from the UW School of Music in 2005, we heard Guarrine’s husband Karl Knapp (below, who studied with UW professor and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp)

These two distinguished and talented alumni, who have gone on to big careers as singer and composer, were also joined in Baroque music by UW oboist Marc Fink, Pro Arte Quartet violinist Suzanne Beia and UW trumpeter John Aley (see the three below).

In perhaps the most touching moment, her teacher of 12 years, UW tenor James Doing, joined Guarrine on stage for a warm and touching Nocturne by Donizetti.

So it was indeed a reunion in so many ways. As I said: A perfect event for Homecoming.

Other things only added to the concert.

The Baroque arias by Handel, Bach and Alessandro Scarlatti were wonderful – light, transparent, lyrical and soulful. Guarrine’s singing of bel canto from Donizetti and Bellini was admirable. And she sang two lovely songs by Gendel, who talked a bit about his music.

Imagine: A voice concert with no Mozart, no Schumann or Brahms, no Puccini or Verdi. But I did hear two beautiful songs (one is at the bottom) by the neo-Romantic Italian composer Stefano Donaudy (1880-1941, incorrectly identified on the program as his poet brother Alberto, whom I had never even heard of. I’ll have to check him out, and so should you. (See the YouTube video at bottom.)

As for Guarrine, who has sung locally with the University Opera and the Madison Opera as well as the Santa Fe Opera, the Minnesota Opera and many others, she is a voice to continue to watch as her career will no doubt continue to blossom. Her pitch is impeccable, her tone is beautiful and her diction is excellent. She has stage presence.

And she has power to spare. Gendel, who not only an award-winning composer but also a professional opera rehearsal pianist and vocal coach played difficult piano parts powerfully. His playing is not shy or timid. But Guarrine was never drowned out. She easily held her own and then some in great balance.

And as an encore for the standing ovation she received, she  delighted the audience with one of Harvard math professor Tom Lehrer’s old but enduringly naughty ditty “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.”

As I recently wrote, the UW School of Music really is attracting more and more talented students with better and better performances as a result:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/classical-music-hear-for-yourself-how-university-of-wisconsin-music-students-have-gotten-better-by-going-to-the-uw-chamber-orchestras-free-opening-concert-of-maxwell-davies-ravel-and-schube/

Here are links to individual websites that will convince you.

First, through her agent, for Jamie-Rose Guarrine:

http://jamieroseguarrine.com

Then for Scott Gendel:

http://www.scottgendel.com/Home.html

No doubt I will see and you will see me many more time this semester in Mills Hall.

But I also expect you will see me more than usual in Morphy Hall. I hope to see you there.


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