The Well-Tempered Ear

How do post-pandemic concert attendance and programming in Madison compare to the rest of the U.S.?

May 25, 2023
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By Jacob Stockinger

How has concert attendance rebounded from the covid pandemic?

What kind of programming seems to help orchestras recover the most?

Earlier this week The New York Times published a well-researched story that explored those trends and questions in other major cities, including Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis in the Midwest.  

It includes statistics about attendance figures rising after the pandemic and links the results to certain trends in programming, including scheduling more of the core repertoire that draws people in.

Overall it paints an optimistic and hopeful picture of recovery for symphony orchestras.

It got The Ear to thinking: How are local groups such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the  Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Opera doing in comparison?

Lessons from other organizations might help to explain why next season’s concerts include an all-film score concert celebrating Pixar and Disney, and a live mariachi band.

Perhaps I missed it, but I can’t recall any local media doing a similar story with hard box office statistics about ticket sales and attendance numbers. But it would certainly be enlightening to see specific data and commentary about how well local groups have rebounded from the pandemic.

Here is a link to The New York Times story. You should be able to read it if you scroll down past the ad that says you need to set up a free account:

Do you have some idea or sense about attendance trends from personal experience?

How do you think orchestras and other groups, including chamber music, have fared as covid fears have eased?

The Ear wants to hear.


Is it pretentious for the NFL to use Roman numerals for the Super Bowl?

February 12, 2023
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today — Sunday, Feb. 12, 2023 — is Super Bowl LVII.

Or as we say in ordinary English — “57.”

(It airs at 5:30 p.m. Central Standard Time on Fox.)

The Ear thinks it is pretentious for the NFL to use Roman numerals, which are esoteric and incomprehensible to many members of the public.

Does anyone else think so?

Using the Roman numerals in sports also seems unpractical.

Imagine the NBA using the same antiquated number system to record LeBron James’ new record for a lifetime basketball score —  33,388 points. According to Google, it would be XXXIIICCCLXXXVIII.

How convenient! And silly, no?

It seems the same kind of pretentious authenticity The Ear hears too often in Classical music where authentic foreign pronunciations often seem a sort of status symbol that says “Look at what I know and you don’t, but should.”

Not exactly the kind of effort at reaching out that classical music needs to draw bigger and younger audiences.

It’s like when non-Hungarian, American speakers say “Budapesht” when in English it is simply Budapest. And this often comes from the same people don’t usually say München for Munich, or Roma for Rome, or Paree for Paris. 

Can American speakers just speak plain American English for the sake of clarity and simplicity?

And can the NFL just use either English numbers or, like the Olympics, the year to show which competition it is?

Anyway, despite such preciousness and pretentiousness, we can enjoy today’s 57th or 2023 Super Bowl championship game in Phoenix between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Here’s another easier equivalency: a beautiful long pass and a beautiful javelin throw.

Which why The Eater is offering the classical music piece “Javelin” in the YouTube video at the bottom, played by Yoel Levi conducting the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra.

Written on commission for the Atlanta Olympics by the Wisconsin-born composer Michael Torke, it soars with a grace and an energy that is made all the more understandable and moving for its lack of words and numbers.

Whatever quarterback does it, winner or loser, here’s to the thrower of the most beautiful pass today.

What do you think of the music? And of the comparison between passing a football and throwing a javelin?

And what do you think about using Roman numerals is sports and foreign pronunciations in classical music  

The Ear wants to hear.


Beethoven helps LeBron James break a big basketball scoring record

February 5, 2023
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By Jacob Stockinger

Sometime this coming week — maybe even by the time you read this — basketball superstar LeBron James (below) will break the all-time scoring record for the NBA.

The current record of 38,387 points is held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (known earlier in his career as Lew Alcindor) who he broke the previous record held by Wilt Chamberlain on April 5, 1984. Abdul-Jabbar, who is famous for his “skyhook,” retired at 42 in 1989 and is now 75.

At 38, James — who is just 63 points away from the record as of this writing — still has many years to play and score. 

Based on what the James (below, in action)  — who is also the first player to become a billionaire while playing in the NBA — usually scores each game, professional sports watchers expect he will surpass Abdul-Jabbar at a game against the Milwaukee Bucks this coming Thursday night, Feb. 9, in Milwaukee.

When he does, you will no doubt hear about it. It will be big news since the previous NBA scoring record has lasted for almost 34 years.

James, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, is known as a very disciplined, even obsessive, player who even follows a special diet to stay in shape.

What’s more, according to reports, James  — who took his first piano lesson from  the famous Chinese pianist Lang Lang — also listens to classical music. He especially likes to listen to Beethoven (below) after he listens to hip-hop while in the weight room, and then leaves to get ready and “calm down” before a game and heading out to the court.

Here is a link to that story on ClassicFM: 

https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.classicfm.com%2Fcomposers%2Fbeethoven%2Flebron-james-listens-before-basketball-game%2F&data=05%7C01%7C%7Ceeb2dbf1cde64157f57d08db0397e907%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C638107723208686058%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000%7C%7C%7C&sdata=6NsIo2MJe4LPGtvmevriGoM35znKQ2FPYNEpJ3VNyRk%3D&reserved=0

What Beethoven pieces do you think LeBron James listens to in order to calm down before a game? Symphonies? Concertos? Chamber music? A lot of Beethoven seems more aggressive than relaxing to The Ear. But the slow middle movement of the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” (played by Lang Lang in the YouTube video at the bottom) seems like a good choice.

Maybe James will even somehow read this and let us know his favorite works by Beethoven and other classical composers.

Do any other readers or athletes listen to classical music as part of their athletic training, preparation and activity? Do a lot of the runners who are listening to something through ear buds listen too classical music?

The Ear wants to hear.


YOU MUST HEAR THIS: No piece captures the mixed emotions of Memorial Day better than Charles Ives’ “Decoration Day”

May 30, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Memorial Day, 2022.

It is the annual holiday to remember those who died in military service to the country. (Below are flags placed each year at the tombstones in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.)

If you want to honor survivors and current service members, that would be Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

All weekend long the radio has been playing music and the television has been showing war movies.

A lot of the music is familiar and repeated every year: Sousa marches and Morton Gould suites, elegies by Gustav Mahler, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein; requiems by Mozart and Fauré; a hymn by John Williams and other movie scores. This year has also seen the playlist include rediscovered works of homage by African-American composers such as William Grant Still.

But only this year did The Ear finally hear — thanks to Wisconsin Public Radio — the one piece that, to his mind, best captures Memorial Day with its blending of consonance and dissonance, its mix of major and major keys, of familiar or “found” music and original music.

It is called, simply, “Decoration Day” and it was composed in 1912 — but not published until 1989 — by the 20th-century iconoclastic and early modernist American composer Charles Ives (below, 1874-1954). It ended up as part of a work the composer called “A Symphony: New England Hollidays.”

See if you agree with The Ear.

Listen to the 8-minute performance by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Listen to the deep anguish and and sense of loss conveyed in the opening, when a solemn remembrance procession goes to a cemetery to plant flags and lay flowers and wreaths to “decorate” the graves of the fallen.

Listen carefully and you will hear a faint version of “Taps” and ringing church bells in the atmospheric music.

Then as so often happens in reality, life suddenly intrudes in the form of a celebration by a loud marching brass band as it leaves the cemetery for the celebratory marches, picnics and fireworks.

But at the end, the darkness briefly returns. The sense of loss lingers long after the actual death and long after the holiday has been celebrated.

There is no closure.

Just resignation.

Just living with loss.

Here is the background from Wikipedia about how the holiday started as Decoration Day after the Civil War and when it evolved into Memorial Day in 1970: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Day

And here is biographical background, with the actual sources and depictions of “Decoration Day”  — just go  down the page to compositions and click — about Charles Ives: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Ives

Did you know and like Charles Ives’ music?

Does “Decoration Day” impress or move you?

What music most embodies Memorial Day for you?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Critics for The New York Times name their Top 10 online classical concerts for May

May 3, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Even as we wait to see whether concerts in the next season will be mostly streamed or live, the critics for The New York Times have named their Top 10 classical concerts to stream and hear online in May.

The Times critics have been doing this during the pandemic year. So perhaps if and when they stop, it will be a sign of returning to concert life before the pandemic.

Then again, maybe not, since The Ear suspects that many listeners have liked the online format, at least for some of the times and for certain events. So maybe there will be a hybrid format with both live and online attendance.

As the same critics have done before, they mix an attention to contemporary composers, world premieres and up-and-coming performers, including the Finnish conductor Susanna Maliki (below top) in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times).

In a welcome development, the recommendations for this month also seem to mention more Black composers, performers and pieces than usual, including the rising star bass-baritone Davon Tines (below, in a photo by Vincent Tullo for The New York Times).

But you will also find many of the “usual suspects,” including Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Bartok, Benjamin Britten, Olivier Messiaen and Shostakovich. (On the play list is Schubert’s last song, “The Shepherd on the Rock,” which you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

You will also find dates and times (all are Eastern), links to the event and some short commentaries about what makes the concerts, programs and the performers noteworthy.

Here is a link to the story: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/29/arts/music/classical-music-streaming.html

Do you know of local, regional, national or international online concerts that you recommend? Leave word with relevant information in the Comment section.

Happy Listening!


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This weekend, starting Friday night, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra finishes up its winter season of online chamber music

April 15, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is the time of the year when music groups generally announce their next season while finishing up the current one.

But of course the pandemic continues to shroud plans for the new upcoming season in uncertainty and whether it will be online or in-person.

Meanwhile, groups are in the final stretch of finishing up this season.

This Friday night, April 16, at 7:30 p.m., the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO, below in photo by Mike Gorski) will debut the fourth and last online chamber music concert of its curtailed and substituted winter season.

The varied program includes works, both well-known and neglected, by four composers — from Italy, Russia, France and Austria — who come from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

The concert begins with the complete Concerto for Four Violins in B minor, RV 580, by Antonio Vivaldi (below). The string accompaniment will be scaled down.

Then comes the complete Septet for Winds, Strings and Piano by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (below).

The first and third movements of the Nonet by the rediscovered 19th-century French composer Louise Ferenc come next. (Here is the Wikipedia link to Ferenc (below):

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

The final music will be the first, fourth and fifth movements – including the famous theme-and-variations – of the famously tuneful “Trout” Piano Quintet by Franz Schubert (below).

In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the namesake theme-and-variations movement — based on one of Schubert’s songs — played by Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Daniel Barenboim, Jacqueline du Pre and Zubin Mehta, with a graphical depiction of the score.

The concert lasts 60-75 minutes.

Tickets are $30.

Here is a link to program notes by WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below, in a photo by Alex Cruz) and to purchasing a ticket through the Overture Center box office.

The ticket is good for one viewing between Friday night and Monday night, April 19, at 7:30 p.m.

https://wcoconcerts.org/events/winter-chamber-series-no-iv


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New York Times critics name their Top 10 online concerts in April. They start today with a Good Friday performance of Bach’s “St. John Passion.”

April 2, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

More people are getting COVID vaccines, but concerts will remain virtual and online for quite a while yet, especially if a fourth wave or another spike hits the U.S. and the world.

So here, once again, are the Top 10 online choices for April listening picked by the classical music critics for The New York Times.

This being the weekend of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, it couldn’t be more timely.

The first choice, which starts steaming today, is perfect for both occasions. It is a production of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion.” It is conducted by THE Bach performers – the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque soloists, all conducted by Bach expert John Eliot Gardiner.

Gardiner has recorded and toured the world with Bach’s cantatas and oratorios. He also wrote the well criticially acclaimed book “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven.”

If you like Bach, you are in for some good listening this month. Pianist Jeremy Denk (below) will also perform the complete first book of Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier” at the end of the month. (You can hear the famous first prelude, popular with students and amateurs  but also used in a sacred setting by Schubert and Gounod, in the Youtube video at the bottom.)

You may recall that Denk performed Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” several years ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater, which also hosted an online concert by Denk this season in a program of Brahms and the two Schumann’s – Robert and Clara. 

You can also hear chamber music, including a concert of contemporary composers by the Attacca Quartet.

And there is a period performance of “Pelleas and Melisande” by Debussy (below). It will attempt to recreate how the opera score sounded when it was first performed in 1902.

The ever-inventive music educator Leon Botstein will conduct a concert of music by Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein and Tania Leon. 

German baritone Benjamin Appl will perform the famous song cycle “Die Schöne Müllerin” (The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter) by Franz Schubert. It streams from the faned Wigmore Hall in London.

One of the most intriguing choices is the score to Philip Glass’ “pocket opera” based on the short story “In the Penal Colony” by Franz Kafka.

The well-known conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below), who is also the new music director of the San Francisco Symphony after Michael Tilson Thomas retired last year. Much of the program is Salonen’s own music, along with Minimalist music by Steve Reich and Terry Riley.

There are also “Monumental Trios, featuring piano trios by Brahms and Beethoven, performed by members of the Chamber Music of Society.

And of course there will be a world premiere of the Symphony No. 2 by Huw Watkins  (below is his Wikipedia bio with a photo in case you haven’t heard of the composer).

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

For more details, here is a link to the Times story. Click on the headline. It includes some commentary by the critic who chose each piece. You will also find links to the artist and organization plus the debut date and how long the post will remain available. Please note that all times are Eastern Daylight Time.

Do you have other concerts you recommend for streaming – local, regional, national or international?

Please leave your selection in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy listening.


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Classical music: This summer’s Token Creek Festival is CANCELED. Plus, a teenager’s piano “practice journal” on Instagram is instructive, entertaining and encouraging

July 17, 2020
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NEWS ALERT: This summer’s Token Creek Festival (TCF) — with the chamber music theme of Legacy to run from Aug. 21-Sept. 6 –has been CANCELED. Organizers say they hope to launch a virtual online season of archived performances at the end of the summer.  Also, once modestly sized gatherings are safe again, the TCF hopes to hold an off-season event. For more information and an official statement from TCF, go to: https://tokencreekfestival.org 

By Jacob Stockinger

Somewhere in New York City is a young Chinese piano prodigy who can help you get through what is often the most challenging and discouraging part of piano lessons: practicing.

His name is Auston (below) – no last name is given – and you can find him, in T-shirts and shorts, on Instagram at Auston.piano.

Auston is quite the prodigy. A 13, he plays difficult and dramatic repertoire: the Nocturne in C minor, the Scherzo No. 1 in B minor and the Ballade No. 1 in G minor, all by Chopin.

You can also hear him play the Prelude and Fugue No. 3 in C-sharp minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I, by Johann Sebastian Bach; the fiendish Toccata by Sergei Prokofiev; and the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

One day, The Ear expects, Auston might well be among the impressive amateurs and, later, professionals who compete in international competitions.

But more than listening to him playing, his frequent social media entries – sometimes he posts two or three times a day — allow us to hear him practice. We even hear him practicing scales – so-called Russian scales that combine scales in parallel and contrary motion.

This week, he hit 100 video posts. Just yesterday Auston started sight-reading the “Winter Wind” Etude of Chopin, Op. 25, No. 11, which many consider to be the most technically difficult of all Chopin’s etudes. (You can hear the etude – played by Maurizio Pollini – and see the note-filled score in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Starting out, he often plays hands separately (below) and sight-reads the score very, very slowly, making mistakes and working out fingering. He also uses a metronome at a very slow tempo. He gets frustrated but he never gives up. He just starts over again and provides an excellent role model for aspiring piano students.

But this young man is also fun to read. In his one-minute or less entries of his “practice journal” – which he also calls his “practice journey” — he is witty and self-deprecating in his commentaries about the music and especially about himself when he makes mistakes. As seriously as he takes the piano and practicing, he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

All in all he can even encourage others – including The Ear –to persevere and go through the same frustrations of practicing and learning a new piece.

In this case, it is the piano, but the postings could easily apply to practicing any other instrument or even to singing.

Check it out.

You will be impressed.

You will admire him.

You will laugh along with him.

And you just might practice more.

If this practice journal is a pandemic project, it succeeds way beyond what you — and probably Auston himself — might expect.

Happy listening!

And patient, productive practicing!

 


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Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra announces an ambitious 2020-21 season with new guest soloists and conductors, but with no Middleton venue

March 30, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Amid all the concert cancellations due to COVID-19 comes good news.

The mostly amateur and critically acclaimed Middleton Community Orchestra (MCO, below) — which has canceled and postponed concerts for the remainder of this season — has announced its five-concert line-up for the 2020-21 season.

It is undeniably ambitious on several counts.

But unfortunately it usual venue — the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School — will be undergoing renovations.

That means that the MCO will be using other venues besides its home base (below) for its 11th season.

The new venues include the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall (below) in the new Hamel Music Center, 740 University Ave., at the UW-Madison, which will host three of the concerts.

Also included for the other two concerts are the brand new McFarland Performing Arts Center (below)  – where the MCO will give the center’s inaugural public concert on Oct. 7 — and Madison Memorial High School.

Concert dates and times are usually Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. They are Oct. 7, Dec. 16, Feb. 17, April 2 (Friday) and May 26. Admission will remain $15 with free admission for students. And, as usual, post-concert meet-and-greet receptions will be held at all performances.

The ambitious new season includes some familiar faces but also some new names.

On Oct. 7, pianist Thomas Kasdorf (below) will open the season by performing the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Rachmaninoff; and then, on May 26, he will close the season with the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Beethoven as the first installment of a complete cycle of Beethoven piano concertos.

On Oct. 7, UW professor and Pro Arte Quartet first violinist David Perry (below top) will make his MCO debut in the Violin Concerto No. 4 by Mozart; and on Dec. 16, Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below bottom) will return to play the Violin Concerto by Brahms.

On April 2, the Festival Choir of Madison (below), under its director Sergei Pavlov, will makes its MCO debut in the movie-score cantata “Alexander Nevsky” by Prokofiev.

And the teenage winners of the second Youth Concerto Competition, to be held next December, will perform with the orchestra on Feb. 17.

The conductor for three concerts will be Kyle Knox, the music director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and associate conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO).

A frequent MCO guest conductor, Knox has also agreed to become the ensemble’s new principal conductor and artistic adviser. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Kyle Knox conducting the MCO last December in Wagner’s Overture to the opera “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” (The Master Singers of Nuremberg) at the UW’s Hamel Music Center.)

Two guest conductors will be making their MCO debuts: UW-Whitewater professor Christopher Ramaekers (below top) on Oct. 7 and Edgewood College professor Sergei Pavlov (below bottom) on April 2.

Some repertoire still hasn’t been decided. For up-to-date information, as well as information about how to audition for the MCO, how to subscribe to its email newsletter and how to support it, go to the newly redesigned website at: https://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

“We will also try to schedule the concert with this year’s Youth Concerto Competition winners for this summer, even if it means going to an outdoor venue,” says MCO co-founder and co-artistic director Mindy Taranto. The winners are: violinists Ava Kenny and Dexter Mott, and cellist Andrew Siehr.

Adds Taranto: “We are really excited about the lineup of guest soloists and new conductors, and are especially grateful to Kyle Knox for his continued association with us. We’re going to have a fantastic year.”

 


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Classical music: Acclaimed native son Kenneth Woods returns this weekend to conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra. He talks to The Ear about what Madison meant to him and his international career

March 2, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, native Madisonian Kenneth Woods (below) returns from his home in the UK to conduct three performances of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The concerts feature two MSO debuts: the prize-winning young Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor; and the acclaimed guest conductor, Kenneth Woods, leading the orchestra for the MSO premiere of Haydn’s Symphony No. 96, “Miracle” plus Richard Strauss’ tone poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life).

Performances will be held in Overture Hall on Friday night, March 6, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, March 7, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, March 8, at 2:30 p.m.

Single tickets are $19-$95 each and are on sale now, along with discounted tickets, at: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/the-miracle/; through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street; or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141. Fees apply to online and phone sales.

You can view program notes for this concert online at http://bit.ly/msomar2020programnotes

A Prelude Discussion by Randal Swiggum will take place one hour before each concert.

Guest conductor Kenneth Woods is a busy and versatile musician. He is the Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of both the Colorado MahlerFest and the Elgar Festival in England. (You can hear Woods conducting Carl Maria von Weber’s “Oberon” Overture in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

Woods has won accolades for rediscovering and recording the music of the Austrian-British composer Hans Gàl. Woods, who has played guitar in a rock band, is also a professional cellist who solos with orchestras and plays chamber music. He writes a respected blog. And he currently plays and records in the Briggs Piano Trio for Avie Records.

For much more information about Kenneth Woods, including his blog “A View From the Podium,” go to: https://kennethwoods.net/blog1/

Woods recently spoke via email to The Ear about what Madison has meant to him and to his international career.

How did living in Madison play a role in your decision to become a professional musician?

Madison offered me a chance to hear music at an early age. I was taken to watch a rehearsal of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra as a very young kid, maybe three or four years old. That made a huge impression on me, especially seeing the rehearsal process. Later, my parents took us to all the UW Symphony Orchestra concerts for years.

There’s really no reason not to take young kids to concerts! For me, a love of live music led to a love of recorded music, listening to records at home, and from there, to an interest in playing music as a kid.

We were lucky to have a very strong music program in the Madison public schools when I was growing up here. The orchestras at Memorial High School played some really impressive repertoire under Tom Buchhauser (below top, in a photo by Jon Harlow). The UW Summer Music Clinic made being a musician social – it was a great immersion with one’s peers.

Most important, however, was probably the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). Playing under Jim Smith (below bottom) was the most fantastic education in orchestral playing one could hope for. He and Tom are a big part of why I became a conductor.

Madison in those days wasn’t a super-pressurized scene, like one might encounter around the big pre-college programs in New York or LA. But what I might have missed in terms of conservatory-level instrumentalists in every corridor, one made up in terms of feeling like you could find your own path. By the time I was in high school, I pretty much knew music was that path.

How did your experiences in Madison help prepare you for that career?

I learned so much about rehearsing from Jim Smith. In his first year, we worked on Dvorak’s 8th Symphony pretty much all year. Every week, he opened our ears to new facets of the music. I’ve never forgotten that.

I went off to Indiana University to do my Bachelor’s degree, but returned to Madison for a Master’s, when I studied cello with UW-Madison professor Parry Karp (below top).

Those were wonderful years for me. I learned an enormous amount from Parry as both a cello teacher and chamber music coach (and especially as a person).

I played in fantastic chamber groups, did lots of wacky new music and had solo opportunities. UW Symphony Orchestra conductor David Becker (below bottom) even gave me my first meaningful chance to rehearse an orchestra when he had me take a couple of rehearsals on the Copland Clarinet Concerto.

And I played in both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. I came away from that time with both new skills and new confidence.

What does returning to your hometown to conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra mean to you?

It’s both very exciting and a little surreal. Under the leadership of John DeMain (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson), the MSO (below bottom, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) has come so far since the time I was in it. And the new hall is such a treasure for all of Wisconsin – it’s practically a different orchestra.

I still have many friends and former mentors in the orchestra and it’s going to be wonderful to see them all and make music together again after so long.

But it’s more than a homecoming. It’s a chance to celebrate where we’ve all been and what we’ve all done the last 20 years or so. My musical life has mostly been in the UK for a long time, so to re-connect with my musical roots here is rather magical.

What are your major current and upcoming projects?

The English Symphony Orchestra (below) represents the biggest chunk of my musical life. This year we’re celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday and the orchestra’s 40th anniversary.

The ESO has a special commitment to new and unknown music, and right now we’re in the midst of something called the 21st Century Symphony Project, which involves commissioning, premiering and recording nine new symphonies by diverse composers. It’s one of the most ambitious commissioning projects I’ve ever heard of, let alone been involved in.

I’m also excited about this year’s Colorado MahlerFest in Boulder, where we’re focusing on Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” this May, which will crown a week of music exploring themes of color and visual art with music by Wagner, Messiaen and British composer Philip Sawyers.

Is the MSO program special to you?

I must say that it was incredibly generous of John DeMain to offer me such a fantastic program. Not every music director is gentleman enough to let a guest have Ein Heldenleben.

What would you like the public to know about your approach to music and about the specific works by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Richard Strauss?

Haydn’s music is maybe the richest discovery of my adult life. I didn’t get it as a kid, largely because most performances I heard were so dull.

His music is so varied, and his personality so complex, one mustn’t try to reduce him down to a simplistic figure. The late symphonies, of which this is one of the finest, are inexhaustible sources of wisdom, beauty, humor and sanity.

The Mendelssohn is really an astonishing piece. I’ve probably conducted it as much as any piece of music, with so many different soloists, all of whom had hugely different temperaments, personalities, sounds and approaches.

I’ve played it with some of the greatest violinists in the world and with young students. Somehow, whoever is playing, it always leaves me, and the audience, smiling. I’m pretty sure we can continue that streak with Blake Pouliot (below, in a photo by Jeff Fasano).

The Strauss is a rich, personal, wise, funny and moving work. It’s always a challenge, particularly bringing out all the astonishing detail in the score, but it’s also a real joy to perform. If the Mendelssohn always leaves me smiling, the Strauss always leaves me smiling with a tear in my eye.

 


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