By Jacob Stockinger
A friend and reviewer for this blog – his specialty is opera but he also is very experienced with the symphonic repertoire — sent in the following opinion piece.
It is being posted in the wake of the announcement by the Madison Symphony Orchestra of its 2017-18 season.
For reference, here is a link to the lineup of the next season’s concerts that was posted yesterday:
By Larry Wells
I received my subscription renewal package for the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) a couple of weeks ago, and I was struck then by how conservative and prosaic most of the offerings are.
I’ve mentioned my feelings to acquaintances, and one of the prevailing arguments is that they have to fill the seats.
The assumption seems to be that the patrons will only tolerate music written before 1850.
I’m 70 and I grew up with Stravinsky. I can recall the world premieres of Shostakovich’s final three symphonies. I once eagerly awaited recordings of Britten’s latest works. And I heard the first performances of several works by John Adams (below) while living in San Francisco in the 1980s.
If the assumption is that most reliable patrons are in their 70s and 80s, this seems like a dead-end (pardon the pun). There will be no audience in 20 years.
I believe that audiences can tolerate music of the 20th century — look at the glowing reviews of and enthusiastic ovations for last week’s performances of Witold Lutoslawski’s “Concerto for Orchestra’’ — and attracting younger patrons with bolder musical choices seems an economic necessity.
How can the MSO not be commemorating the centenary of Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell)? The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is performing several of his pieces in its upcoming season.
On a positive note, I was heartened to see that Benjamin Britten’s “Sinfonia da Requiem” is scheduled next season since that has been on my wish list for years. Likewise, Leos Janacek’s “Glagolitic Mass” is a nice surprise.
However, when will we hear Britten’s “War Requiem,” Bernstein’s “Mass” or “‘Songfest,” a symphony by Walter Piston (below top) or William Schuman (below middle) or Alan Hovhannes (below bottom)?
I’m really tired of going to concerts where only one of the works is of interest to me and the others are historic artifacts. I’d like to see a reversal wherein Brahms, Mozart and Beethoven are brought out occasionally, but the bulk of the music performed comes from the rich source of the 20th century.
What do you think?
Leave word in the COMMENT section.
By Jacob Stockinger
The time for announcing new seasons has arrived.
Pretty soon, over the next several weeks and months, The Ear will hear from larger and smaller presenters and ensembles in the Madison area, and post their new seasons.
First out of the gate is the critically acclaimed and popular summer group, the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. (You can see a short promo video about BDDS on the YouTube video at the bottom.)
It has just announced its upcoming summer season this June, and sent out brochures with the season’s details.
This will be the 26th annual summer season and it has the theme of “Alphabet Soup.”
The concept is explained online and in a brochure newsletter (also online) in an editorial essay by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director flutist Stephanie Jutt (seen below with co-founder and co-director pianist Jeffrey Sykes).
In many ways it will be a typical season of the eclectic group. It will feature local and imported artists. Many of both are favorites of The Ear.
His local favorites include UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor; violist Sally Chisholm of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet; UW violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below top, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt); and Pro Arte cellist Parry Karp (below bottom).
Among The Ear’s favorite guest artists are violinist Carmit Zori, clarinetist Alan Kay, the San Francisco Piano Trio (below top); UW alumna soprano Emily Birsan; pianist Randall Hodgkinson; and baritone Timothy Jones (below bottom).
As usual, the season features 12 concerts of six programs over three weeks (June 9-25) in three venues – the Playhouse in the Overture Center (below top), the Hillside Theater (below middle) at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green and the Stoughton Opera House (below bottom).
In addition, there is a FREE family concert in the Overture Playhouse on June 10.
What does seem somewhat new is the number of unknown composers and an edgier, more adventurous choice of pieces, including more new music and more neglected composers.
Oh, there will be classics by such composers as Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Luigi Boccherini, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Bela Bartok, Arnold Schoenberg, Benjamin Britten and others. These are the ABC’s of the alphabet soup, according to BDDS.
But also represented are composers such as Philippe Gaubert, Czech Holocaust victim Gideon Klein (below), Guillaume Conneson, Carl Czerny, Paul Moravec and Franz Doppler. These are the XYZ’s of the alphabet soup.
In between come others. Contemporary American composer, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Kevin Puts (below) is a BDDS favorite and is well represented. You will also find less performed works by Ned Rorem, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gerald Finzi.
For the complete programs and schedules as well as the list of performers, some YouTube videos and ticket prices, both for season tickets ($109.50, $146, $182 and $219) and for individual concerts ($43), and other information, go to:
ALERT: The concert by Edgewood Chamber Orchestra scheduled for 2:30 p.m. today — Sunday, Feb. 26 — has been CANCELLED. The cancellation was caused by a heating issue in the performance venue. The Chamber Orchestra’s season will continue with its next performance on Sunday, April 23, 2017.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Oscars (below) will be given out this Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. CST on ABC-TV.
Around the nation and the world, more and more symphony orchestras and chamber music groups are turning to performing movie music to attract new audiences — and to explore new repertoire.
And that includes the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
This past fall, the MSO put the Chaconne from the film “The Red Violin,” composer by John Corigliano, on the opening program of this season. And this summer, the MSO will perform music by John Williams used in the Harry Potter films.
This morning from 10 a.m. until noon, Wisconsin Public Radio will use the listener’s choice program “Classics By Request” to air its annual Salute to the Oscars that includes past film scores and those up for Academy Awards this year.
So this seems a great time to raise the question: “Do film scores qualify as classical music”?
The question was recently debated for Gramophone magazine by the critic Jed Distler and two distinguished contemporary composers who have written for the concert hall and for Hollywood: Philip Glass (below top) and John Corigliano (below bottom).
It is a fascinating discussion that may surprise you. One great crossover example that The Ear loves is the String Quartet No. 3 by Philip Glass, which is based on the same composer’s full score for the film”Mishima.” (You can hear the last movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Here is a link to that discussion:
Don’t forget to leave your favorite movie score and what you think about movie music and classical music in the COMMENTS section.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
You may recall that several days ago, The Ear named the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) as Musicians of the Year for 2016.
He also mentioned that although there were not yet any YouTube videos of the group, which will have its third season this summer, the alternative radio station WORT-FM 89.9 has broadcast recordings of live performances.
Here is a link to that posting:
If you haven’t yet heard the Willy Street Chamber Players live, you can hear them this Thursday morning on WORT FM 89.9.
Here is what Rich Samuels, radio host and friend of the Willys, writes:
“Thursday morning, Jan. 5, at 7:28 a.m. on my WORT “Anything Goes” broadcast, I’ll be airing the Willy Street Chamber Players performing the Clarinet Quintet in A Major, K. 581, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which I recorded last July 29 at Madison’s Immanuel Lutheran Church.
(In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the opening movement of Mozart’s beautiful Clarinet Quintet performed by the Emerson String Quartet with clarinetist David Shifrin of the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Players in New York City.)
“Michael Maccaferri is the clarinet soloist (below). He’s a member of the eighth blackbird ensemble of Chicago. He’s participated in four eighth blackbird Grammy-winning releases on the Cedille label, the local nonprofit recording label that is also in Chicago and that recently turned 25.
“Violinist Eleanor Bartsch (below), who presently freelances in Chicago, recruited Maccaferri for this event. In addition to Eleanor, this performance features Willy Street violinist Beth Larson, violist Rachel Hauser and cellist Lindsay Crabb.
“It was my privilege to record most of the first two seasons of the Willy Street Chamber Players for broadcast on WORT.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to continue that tradition in 2017.”
Here is a link about upcoming strong quartet concert on Jan. 21 and 22 and about the Willy Street Chamber Players in general:
ALERT: In yesterday’s post about the upcoming house concert of keyboard music by Trevor Stephenson, The Ear listed the wrong date in the headline. It was corrected, but The Ear apologizes and feels a correction is still needed for those who missed it: The concert is on Friday, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m. For more information, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
It comes as welcome and heart-warming news at a time when so much news is negative, accusatory and depressing.
Maestro James Smith (below, in a photo by Michael Anderson) — who has been conducting the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, the UW-Madison Chamber Orchestra and the University Opera as well as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras for 32 years — has received a fine piece of community recognition.
Smith has just received the monthly “Making a Difference” award from NBC TV Channel 15, which also broadcast once again three times WYSO’s traditional concert “Sounds of the Season” on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Here is the 3-1/2 minute video, which includes an interview with Smith as well as testimony from a former student who has gone on to have a professional career in music, about the NBC award:
Such recognition is nothing new for Smith, who has won many honors as well as the esteem of his colleagues, his students and his audiences.
Six years ago, The Ear named Smith as ‘Musician of the Year’ for 2010:
Here is that post:
More recently, The Ear talked about Smith’s upcoming retirement and his post-retirement plans in a post about four major people who will retire this spring from the UW-Madison School of Music:
The Ear loves Smith’s reply when he was asked by anchor John Stofflet of NBC for advice to his successor:
“Learn from the students,” said Smith, a trained professional and concertizing clarinetist who turned to conducting.
The Ear, who was a longtime teacher himself, knows the truth of that answer.
Thank you and bravo, Maestro Smith.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is Christmas Day, 2016.
You may have your own collection of recorded holiday music.
But if you are looking for familiar or especially unfamiliar classical music to help you celebrate the holiday, The Ear has some suggestions as a sort of holiday gift.
There is always the reliable Wisconsin Public Radio and other affiliates of National Public Radio (NPR), which will feature holiday music throughout the day. And chances are pretty good that the local community-sponsored alternative radio station WORT-FM 89.9 will do the same.
But YouTube also is offering some other sources that you can stream while you are opening gifts, eating, mingling, gathering with others for the holiday or just enjoying it by yourself.
Plus the audio sites have timings so you can skip or find specific pieces or event movement within the pieces.
Here are two:
And here is one of The Ear’s favorites, with over one million hits because it features more than three hours of music with a lot of music of the Italian Baroque, including works by Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli, Giuseppe Torelli, Francesco Manfrediini and Pietro Locatelli as well as music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Hector Berlioz, Peter Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Astor Piazzolla:
Feel free to make other suggestions by leaving a composer, title and links, if possible, in the COMMENT section.
And also feel free to tell us what is piece is your favorite classical music for Christmas and why.
The Ear wants to hear.
And MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!
By Jacob Stockinger
The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras has two pieces of news to report:
As in past years, WYSO will perform its popular one-hour, commercial-free “Sounds of the Season” concerts on TV on NBC 15 this weekend.
Three WYSO groups will be featured: the Youth Orchestra (below top), the Youth Brass Choir (below middle) and the Percussion Ensemble (below bottom).
There will be one performance on Christmas Eve at 10 p.m., and then two performances on Christmas Day at 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
The orchestra and ensembles will also be joined by choirs from area high schools. Sorry, but The Ear can’t find word of which ones.
You can hear part of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” as performed by WYSO on “Sounds of the Season” in the YouTube video at the bottom.
For more information, photos and audiovisual clips from a last year’s “Sounds of the Season,” go to:
In addition WYSO has named an interim replacement for outgoing music director James Smith (below), who is retiring from WYSO as well as from the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the end of this season.
Here are details from WYSO’s executive director Bridget Fraser:
“Randy is well-known to many WYSO students already, whether through Summer Music Clinic, the recent Wisconsin Middle Level Honors orchestra, or Suzuki Strings of Madison. He prepared the WYSO Youth Orchestra for its 2012 Overture Center performance of “To Be Certain of the Dawn,” and has subbed in with Philharmonia Orchestra and chamber music rehearsals.
“Randy is in his 19th season as Artistic Director of the award-winning Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, a large program similar to WYSO, which draws students from 70 different communities in suburban Chicago.
“Under his direction, the EYSO has collaborated with renowned artists like Midori, Yo-Yo Ma and Rachel Barton Pine, as well as Grammy-winning chamber ensemble eighth blackbird. The EYSO has appeared on NPR’s “From the Top” and at the Ravinia Festival, where they will return to perform again in 2018.
“The Illinois Council of Orchestras has twice named him Conductor of the Year and awarded its prestigious Programming of the Year Award to the EYSO.
“A frequent guest conductor of orchestral and choral festivals, Randy recently conducted the Scottish National Youth Symphony in Glasgow, All-State Orchestras in Georgia and Illinois, the American Mennonite Schools Orchestra Festival, Northern Arizona Honors Orchestra, the APAC Orchestra Festival in Seoul, and both the Wisconsin Middle Level Honors Choir and Orchestra, among many others.
“Randy also works with a number of professional orchestras, designing and conducting concerts for young people. Last year, he led the Madison Symphony in his original “Symphony Safari: What Nature Teaches Us About the Orchestra,” attended by several thousand middle school students in Overture Hall.
“Next February, he returns for a fourth season with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in its acclaimed “Teen Partner” series, conducting the Gloria by Francis Poulenc.
“He also appears next spring with the Chippewa Valley Symphony, conducting his “Beethoven Superhero” concert, which has been popular with teachers, students and parents alike, with the Elgin Symphony and The Florida Orchestra (Tampa).
“As an author and lecturer, Randy works with teachers around the country and internationally, most recently with international school teachers in Hong Kong and at Carnegie Hall, where last summer he returned for a fourth season teaching its Music Educator Workshops, and leading members of the National Youth Orchestra of the USA.
“Randy is a proud UW-Madison graduate and lives in Madison, where you can find him on Monday nights working with the Madison Boychoir (in the Madison Youth Choirs) alongside colleague Margaret Jenks.
“WYSO is truly fortunate to have such a dedicated and tireless educator guiding its artistic vision next season.”
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.
By John W. Barker
Eschewing any seasonal or holiday connections, the UW-Madison Choral Union (below) gave its December concert last Friday night with a program of three “B’s”.
Well, two of the B’s are familiar ones. But in place of Bach, we got Leonard Bernstein, taking first place in reverse chronological order — his Chichester Psalms, dating from 1965.
This three-movement work probably represents Bernstein’s most important choral score. It sets texts in the original Hebrew, the middle movement calling for a boy treble to represent the young David in the rendering of Psalm 131 — a function here filled bravely by young Simon Johnson (below, front left) of the Madison Youth Choirs.
The platoon of percussionists in the first two movements confirms the composer’s flashy “modernism.” To be sure, there are some characteristic melodic twists that proclaim the composer familiar to us, and the swaying melodic tune of the third movement is really lovely.
But Bernstein (below) did not know what to do with it besides repeating it obsessively. Bernstein simply was not a savvy master of choral writing, and I firmly believe that this work—a trivial cross between Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Bernstein’s own Broadway musical West Side Story—would not merit much attention were it not for Bernstein’s name on it.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: You can decide on the work’s merits for yourself by listening to the live performance, conducted by the composer himself, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Just how inadequate Bernstein’s choral sense was emerged clearly with the next work, the short ode for chorus and orchestra by Johannes Brahms, Nänie, Op. 82.
The title adapts a Greek word for a lament, and Friedrich Schiller’s German text evokes the death of beauty in the death of Achilles. Brahms was among the supreme choral masters, and this particular example is one of several of his “minor” choral works that we hear too rarely.
The second half of the program was devoted to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Mass in C major, Op. 86. No, not the monumental Missa solemnis of the composer’s last years when (as with the Ninth Symphony’s finale) he had transcended the realities of choral writing. This earlier Mass setting, dating from 1807, was in the direct line of Mass settings for the Esterházy family composed by the aged Haydn.
But to Haydn’s incorporation of symphonic structure into Mass composition, Beethoven (below) brought his own strongly progressive personality, and a remarkable quality of melodic and thematic invention. This is a lovely work, and choirs who fling themselves doggedly against the Missa solemnis ought sometimes to revel in this beautiful work instead.
The forces arrayed included a solo quartet (below, in the front from left) are bass John Loud, tenor Jiabao Zhang and sopranos Jessica Kasinski and Anna Polum.
The UW Chamber Orchestra proved able. But the star was, of course, the Choral Union chorus itself. Its diction worked from indistinguishable Hebrew through respectable German to really lucid Latin. Above all, it made mighty, full-blooded sound that bolstered Beethoven’s lyricism with powerful projection.
Once again, conductor Beverly Taylor (below) has gone beyond stale conventions to bring us valued exposure to music outside the conventional boundaries.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement to post:
The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) invites the entire community to celebrate the holiday season and sing together with the Overture Concert Organ at a free Christmas Carol Sing-Along in Overture Hall, 201 State Street, Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 7 p.m.
All ages are welcome to the FREE event and no registration or tickets are required.
The Christmas Carol Sing’Along will feature holiday favorites including George Frideric Handel‘s Joy to the World, Angels We Have Heard on High, Away in a Manger and The First Noel, along with some lesser known works such as the arrangement of In the Bleak Midwinter by Gustav Holst (below). NOTE: You can hear Holst’s arrangement in the YouTube video at the bottom.
MSO Principal Organist and Curator Samuel Hutchison (below) will lead the carol singing, which will last approximately one hour.
Concerts will be presented in Overture Hall on Friday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 4 at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets for those concerts can be purchased at madisonsymphony.org/christmas, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund. With a gift from Pleasant T. Rowland, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.
For more Overture Concert Organ information, visit madisonsymphony.org/organ