The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Three new releases highlight familiar and unfamiliar Danish music. Here are reviews from NPR (National Public Radio.) Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra and violinist Sarah Chang in an all-Scandinavian program that gets rave reviews.

November 9, 2014
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ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to catch the all-Scandinavian program by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top)  and guest violinist Sarah Chang (below bottom) under John DeMain.

The Ear didn’t go on Friday or Saturday night.

But here are two reviews by reliable critics who did.

Here is a review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=43955&sid=b882e66c32e729bead598e9a3a6fdfbb

Here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger, who writes the Classically Speaking blog for Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/November-2014/Sarah-Chang-Sizzles-and-the-Madison-Symphony-Proves-Inextinguishable/

Here is a link to Jess Courtier’s review for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/news/madison-symphony-orchestra-explores-scandinavia-in-sublime-concert/article_fac39f53-24a9-51b4-a326-0cb99b316881.html?comment_form=true

And here is a link to a previous posting on this blog that served as a preview and included a Q&A with violinist Sarah Chang:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/classical-music-qa-violinist-sarah-chang-explains-the-popularity-of-scandinavian-music-as-a-blend-of-ice-and-fire-she-performs-the-violin-concerto-by-jean-sibelius-this-weekend-with-the-madison/

MSO-HALL

Sarah Chang playing

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear was very pleased to see that music director John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra had programmed an all-Scandinavian program this weekend.

It featured the accessible a d folk-like Lyric Suite by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg; the famous Violin Concerto in D minor by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius with violinist Sarah Chang as guest soloist; and the powerful Symphony No. 4 (“The Inextinguishable”), done in the aftermath of World War I — which also makes it timely choice for Veterans Day on this Tuesday — by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

That got The Ear to thinking: Which Nordic country is least well represented in classical music performances?

I think Norway is pretty popular precisely because of Edvard Grieg (below), especially his Piano Concerto in A Minor and his “Peer Gynt” Suite and his Lyric Piece for solo piano.

edvard grieg

And Jean Sibelius (below) is a in a kind of one-man band for Finland, plus he seems to be rediscovered, especially thanks to the new Grammy-winning Sibelius symphony cycle on the BIS label by the Finnish award-winning conductor Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra.

sibelius

The Swedes seem pretty underrepresented to me and probably take the prize. But I really need to do some research and know more about Swedish composers .

But Denmark is also not especially well-known, although may be changing, The current revival of Carl Nielsen (below), who was championed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, the same superstar conductor and composer who did so much to bring Gustav Mahler into the mainstream, has been renewed by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic.

Carl Nielsen at piano

Anyway, just by coincidence it turns out that the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog on the website of NPR (National Public Radio) feature reviews of recent recordings of music by three Danish composers.

The three Danish composers featured are: the experimental Per Nørgård (below top); the more mainstream Poul Ruders (below bottom, in a  photo by Kirsten Bille), whose Violin Concerto is at the bottom in a YouTube video; and of course Carl Nielsen, who represented by the “Inextinguishable” Symphony as interpreted by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic.

contemporary music guide Per Norgard

Poul Ruders CR Kirsten Bille

Here is a link that also has sound samples as well as background and critical comments.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/10/23/358308335/great-danes-three-symphonic-albums-by-danish-composers

 

 

 

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Classical music Q&A: Violinist Sarah Chang explains the popularity of Scandinavian music as a blend of ice and fire. She performs the Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Plus, Overture Hall the MSO hosts a FREE public Hymn Sing with organ on Saturday morning at 11.

November 4, 2014
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ALERT: This Saturday at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall, the Madison Symphony Orchestra is holding a FREE 45-minute public Hymn Sing with organist Deborah Krauss Smith (below) of Monroe, Wisconsin.

Deborah Krauss Smith.jeg

By Jacob Stockinger

This season the Madison Symphony Orchestra seems to be emphasizing thematic programs. Last time, it was all Russian music with pianist Olga Kern; this coming weekend, it will be all-Scandinavian music with violinist Sarah Chang as the guest artist.

The formula seems to work well for the MSO. From what The Ear has seen and heard, the programs are drawing very good houses and the orchestra is playing very tightly and very expressively.

It all bodes well for this coning weekend. Not only does American-Korean violinist Sarah Chang (below) play Scandinavian music superbly, along with so much other of the violin repertoire, she speaks about it just as well.

Sarah Chang playing

Witness her remarks below.

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

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The all-Scandinavian or Nordic program includes the Lyric Suite by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg; the Violin Concerto in D Minor by Finnish composer by Jean Sibelius; and the Symphony No. 4 “Inextinguishable” by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

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

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

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

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/chang

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

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1415/3.Nov14.html

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

The half-hour, pre-concert talk will be given by Randal Swiggum (below), the education coordinator of the Elgin (Illinois) Symphony Orchestra. The FREE talk starts in Overture Hall one hour before the start of the concert.

Randal Swiggum conducting BW

Here is the email interview that Sarah Chang (below) graciously granted to The Ear:

Sarah Chang

How would you place the dramatic and lyrical Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius (below, in a famously granitic photo portrait by Yousuf Karsh) among the great violin concertos in the repertoire? What would you like audiences to pay special attention to in the work?

The Sibelius is a spectacular concerto. It is one of my personal favorites and has been a good friend for a very long time! (You can hear Sarah Chang is the opening of the Sibelius concerto in a live performance in a YouTube video at the bottom. Be sure to read the reader comments.)

sibelius

The Sibelius Violin Concerto is part of an all-Nordic program of Finnish, Danish and Norwegian composers that also features the Symphony No. 4 “The Inextinguishable” by Carl Nielsen (below top) and Lyric Suite by Edvard Greig (below bottom). What characteristics do you identify with Scandinavian music?

There’s something very special about Scandinavian music. There’s an amazing blend of Nordic iciness and incredible passion.

Carl Nielsen at piano

edvard grieg

This is a return concert to Madison and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson)? Do you have comments about the city or the symphony you care to share?

The Madison Symphony Orchestra is absolutely wonderful! I remember the audience being amazingly warm and the people in Madison are so kind and welcoming. I’m so happy to be going back!

John DeMain conducting MSO CR Greg Anderson

What are your current plans and projects?

I spend about half the year in the USA performing and the rest of the year touring Europe and Asia. My schedule is planned at least 2 years in advance so the challenge is always trying to find some personal time in between all the concerts. I also recently got a new puppy who is, unapologetically, the center of my universe, and he makes it very difficult to leave home!

Was there an Aha! Moment when you knew you wanted to be a professional violinist? How old were you and what was it – a particular piece or performer, recording or live concert?

I started playing at the age of 4 (below) and started attending the Juilliard School when I was 6, so I was always surrounded by phenomenally talented musicians and engulfed in the music world. I could never imagine my life without music.

Sarah Chang as a child

How do you think we can attract more young people to classical music?

I think repertoire and artists are key. Musical exposure is also important. The U.S. Embassy gave me the honor of becoming an Artistic Ambassador and I focus on bringing music into schools, playing for students, giving master classes and Q-and-A’s, inviting them to dress rehearsals to get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on backstage before a concert, etc.

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

I’m looking forward to returning to Madison!
 Thank you!


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra announces its new 2014-15 season. It includes programs from Bach to Hollywood exiles from Hitler and the Nazis, acclaimed soloists and ticket prices with only modest increases.

March 19, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) has just announced its next season for 2014-15.

MSO-HALL

It strikes The Ear as both deeply interesting and tightly cohesive, a good blend of sure-fire hits and unknown or rarely heard repertoire. It also features some fine local talent and some unusual repertoire, though, unlike the past several seasons, no new or contemporary music is included. After all, this is a business with seats to fill, not some theoretical exercise in programming.

“You can’t have everything, especially when you are playing only eight concerts,” lamented MSO maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) when he discussed the new season with me.

But, DeMain added, the MSO is exploring doing another Chicago Symphony Orchestra “Beyond the Score” format concert — like this season’s presentation of Antonin Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, which sold out — probably in January and probably with more than one performance, if they can find a sponsor to front the $50,000 cost. Then he will decide on what work out of more than 20 possibilities would be right.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Concerts take place in Overture Hall in the Overture Center on Friday nights at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday nights at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m.

The deadline for subscriptions renewals and keeping your current seat is May 8.

Here is the official press release that unveils the new season. The Ear also talked at length one-on-one with MSO music director and conductor John DeMain. Since the announcement is long enough for one post, DeMain’s insightful comments will appear a bit later in another post.

mso from above

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA ANNOUNCES 2014-15 SEASON

Maestro John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will deliver a diverse and exciting season of composers and guest artists for 2014-2015.

Beginning with a September program that focuses on the highly-talented musicians in the orchestra, DeMain will lead the audience through an exhilarating variety of themes and cultures throughout the season.  Russia, Scandinavia, and Golden-Age Hollywood are just a few of the sound worlds the MSO will explore, while monumental works central to the orchestra, such as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, will anchor the year.

A world-class roster of guest artists has been invited to Madison for the season’s performances, including violinist Sarah Chang, pianist Olga Kern, violinist Daniel Hope, pianist Ingrid Fliter and University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music pianist Christopher Taylor.

SEPTEMBER 19, 20 and 21, 2014

“Orchestral Splendor,” John DeMain, Conductor

RICHARD STRAUSS, “Also sprach Zarathustra”

FRANK MARTIN, Concerto for Seven Winds

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS, Symphony No. 3 (“Organ” Symphony)

German composer Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra was once among his least performed works, but it is now firmly established as standard orchestral repertoire.  The trumpet theme and thunderous timpani entrance (heard in Stanley Kubrick’s epic film “2001: A Space Odyssey”) are unmistakable.

Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds was written in 1949.  It features seven solo instruments, exploring differences in sonority and expression.  The virtuosic and conversational writing in these piece results in a playful, sportive character.

French composer Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3, known also as the “Organ” Symphony, draws on elements of both the conventional symphony and the tone poem. Formally unusual in its own time, yet popular from its conception, the work features virtuosic piano and organ passages and a masterful display of the vast colors possible in the symphony orchestra.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

OCTOBER 17, 18 and 19, 2014

“The Russian Spirit” with John DeMain, conductor, and Olga Kern (below), piano

PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY, Suite from “Swan Lake”

SERGEI RACHMANINOFF, Concerto No. 1 for Piano

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH, Symphony No. 6

The Suite from “Swan Lake” tells the magical tale of a young prince enchanted by a swan maiden under the moonlight.  Peter Tchaikovsky’s charming work utilizes haunting melodies, captivating waltzes, Russian and Hungarian folk themes, and a Spanish dance.

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano displays a youthful freshness and an assertive, extroverted personality.  Indeed, the composer began this work when he was 17!  For audience members who delight in keyboard fireworks, this piece will thrill.

Symphony No. 6 by Dmitri Shostakovich, written as war clouds were gathering in Russia, was quite a contrast to Symphony No. 5.  Lopsided movement lengths, a lack of obvious theme, and characters of anxiety and desolation reflect the intriguing political situation of the time, as well as Shostakovich’s own remarkably wide emotional compass.

Olga Kern, Mogens Dahl Konsertsal 26.1.2009

NOVEMBER 7, 8 and 9, 2014

“Scandinavian Wonders” with John DeMain, conductor, and Sarah Chang (below), violin

EDVARD GRIEG, Lyric Suite

JEAN SIBELIUS, Concerto for Violin

CARL NIELSEN, Symphony No. 4 (“The Inextinguishable”)

Over the course of his long career, Edvard Grieg composed 66 Lyric pieces for piano, strongly rooted in the songs, dances, mythology, and spirit of Norway.  He selected four of these fragrant and diverse miniatures for an orchestral suite, premiered in 1906.

 “…For…10 years it was my dearest wish to become a great virtuoso.” wrote Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in his diary.  Unfortunately the composer never reached great proficiency on the instrument, and his Concerto for Violin, awash in Nordic textures, expresses a melancholic farewell to that childhood dream.

As a philosophical guideline to his often raging Symphony No. 4, Danish composer Carl Nielsen said, “Music is life, and, like life, inextinguishable”.  Four interlinked movements of frequently agitated energy lead to a climax of ultimate triumph and grand 19th century symphonic tradition.

Sarah Chang playing

DECEMBER 5, 6 and 7, 2014

A Madison Symphony Christmas

With John DeMain, conductor; Alyson Cambridge (below), soprano; Harold Meers, tenor; the Madison Symphony Chorus, Beverly Taylor, director; the Madison Youth Choirs, Michael Ross, artistic director; and the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, Leotha Stanley, director.

John DeMain and the Madison Symphony don their Santa hats for this signature Christmas celebration. This concert is filled with traditions, from caroling in the lobby with the Madison Symphony Chorus to vocal performances by hundreds of members of Madison’s musical community. Christmas classics are interwoven with enchanting new holiday music. The culminating sing-along is Madison’s unofficial start of the holiday season!

Alyson Cambridge

DeMain Santa Bob Rashid

FEBRUARY 13, 14 and 15, 2015

“Fliter Plays Chopin” with John DeMain, conductor, and Ingrid Fliter (below), piano

BENJAMIN BRITTEN, Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge

FREDERIC CHOPIN, Concerto No. 2 for Piano

ROBERT SCHUMANN, Symphony No. 4

Frank Bridge, one of Benjamin Britten’s earliest composition teachers, was certainly responsible for the surpassing clarity, individuality, and discipline in Britten’s most cherished works.  Britten’s “Variations” on Bridge’s theme range from passionate to playful, capturing the heartfelt musical admiration of a pupil for his teacher.

From the moment he arrived in Paris at age 21, Frederic Chopin drew the admiration of both the public and esteemed critics, alike.  Concerto No. 2 was in fact his first concerto, displaying the composer’s prolific improvisatory and imaginative style.  

In composing Symphony No. 4, Robert Schumann departed significantly from the standard Classical form he previously employed, connecting all four movements with recurring musical ideas–a novel proposition at the time.

Ingrid Fliter playing

MARCH 6, 7 and 8, 2015

“Composers in Exile: Creating the Hollywood Sound” with John DeMain, conductor, and  Daniel Hope (below), violin

FRANZ WAXMAN, Sinfonietta for Strings and Timpani Ride of the Cossacks from “Taras Bulba”

MIKLÓS RÓZSA, Theme, Variations and Finale;  Parade of the Charioteers from “Ben Hur”;                          Love Theme from “Ben Hur”; Love Theme from “Spellbound”

ERICH KORNGOLD, Concerto for Violin and the  Suite from “Captain Blood”

This unique concert features the works of great classical composers before they fled Nazi persecution and also showcases their later brilliant contributions to Hollywood film scores.

Franz Waxman (below) is responsible for a long list of memorable Hollywood scores, including “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Rebecca.”  His Sinfonietta, written for only strings and timpani, is comprised of three wildly different movements. Waxman also composed the soundtrack for the 1962 epic, “Taras Bulba.”  “Ride of the Cossacks” is the exhilarating theme to which Taras and his army gallop to Dubno.

Franz Waxman

According to Miklos Rózsa (below), his “Theme” was conceived in the manner of a Hungarian folk song, then treated in variations of contrasting feeling, and summarized in a wild and swift finale.  The 1934 work earned him his first international success. By the late 1940’s Rózsa was an Oscar-winning, film score composer, and joined the staff of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer.  His thrilling score for the 1959 film “Ben Hur” is one of his lasting achievements, earning him his third and final Oscar.

Miklos Rozsa

The Concerto for Violin, written by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (bel0w top) in 1945, perfectly blends the two musical lives of the composer, unapologetic in both its rigorous craftsmanship and its Hollywood charm. “Captain Blood” was a milestone for Korngold, as it was his first fully symphonic movie score.  Produced in only three weeks, the music evidences his most professional and imaginative effort.

erich wolfgang korngold at piano

savannah_french

APRIL 10, 11 and 12, 2015

“Piano Genius” with John DeMain, conductor, and Christopher Taylor (below), piano

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, Concerto No. 4 for Clavier

FRANZ LISZT, Concerto No. 1 for Piano

ANTON BRUCKNER, Symphony No. 7

Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach is part of a set of six concertos, dated to 1738.  The piece was originally written for harpsichord and is ripe with movement and ornamentation. Bach’s concertos laid a crucial formal and harmonic groundwork for centuries of composition to follow.

Franz Liszt’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano is more than a century-long leap forward in time. Liszt’s Romantic genius is unabashedly on display, with thick orchestration, cadenzas that range from delicate to thundering, and lush harmonies.

Anton Bruckner was a country man, transplanted into bustling cosmopolitan Vienna, and he and his music were unlikely successes with audiences and critics. His music was said to “compel the element of the divine into our human world”.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

MAY 8, 9 and 10, 2015

“Ode to Joy” with John DeMain, conductor; concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below top), violin; Melody Moore, soprano; Gwendolyn Brown, contralto; Eric Barry, tenor; Morris Robinson (below bottom), bass; and the Madison Symphony Chorus, Beverly Taylor, director.

LEONARD BERNSTEIN, “Serenade” (after Plato’s “Symposium”)

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN, Symphony No. 9 (“Choral”)

Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade” for violin and orchestra, resulted from a rereading of Plato’s charming dialogue, “The Symposium.”  The music dances through a series of inter-related “speakers” at a banquet (Phaedrus, Aristophanes, Erixymachus, Agathon, and Socrates), praising love.

Naha Greenholtz [playing

Ludwig van Beethoven’s last and monumental Symphony No. 9 stands apart from his other symphonies by virtue of its humanistic message, enormous scale and organic unity of design.  The mammoth fourth movement, operating like a symphony in miniature, is like nothing else in symphonic music.  Four soloists, full chorus, the entire orchestra, and the famous “Ode to Joy” theme will conclude the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s season. (You can hear a populist flash mob version of the “Ode to Joy” at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that had almost 4-1/2 million hits.)

Morris Robinson

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

Single tickets for individual concerts have increased slightly and are $16 to $84 each, and go on sale Aug. 16. They are available at www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

New subscribers can receive savings up to 50%.  For more information and to subscribe, visit www.madisonsymphony.org/newsub or call (608) 257-3734.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

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

You can also check out the official MSO website announcement of the new season by visiting:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/14-15

The Madison Symphony Orchestra engages audiences of all ages and backgrounds in live classical music through a full season of concerts with established and emerging soloists of international renown, an organ series that includes free concerts, and widely respected education and community engagement programs. Find more information at www.madisonsymphony.org.

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