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:
By Jacob Stockinger
It’s Valentine’s Day.
If you want to celebrate, there is always chocolate or roses or champagne or a special dinner.
But there is music too.
Many composers come to mind: Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, Franz Liszt, Antonin Dvorak, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Gabriel Faure, Giacomo Puccini, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Sergei Prokofiev, and Sergei Rachmaninoff to name a few.
But The Ear thinks one of the most beautiful pieces is a short one, a miniature if you will.
It is the Romance in F-sharp Major, Op. 28, No. 2, by the Romantic German composer Robert Schumann (below with his wife Clara Wieck Schumann). Nobody wrote music about love, music filled with love and yearning, better than Schumann.
Not only does the piece sound intimate.
It IS intimate — with the two thumbs playing the melody a third apart much of the time. It is as if the two thumbs, left and right, are the two lovers.
Little wonder that the composer asked his virtuoso pianist-composer wife Clara to play it for him as he lay dying.
And to top it off, it is not all that difficult to play, so you could learn it and play it for your Valentine.
Here it is, performed in a YouTube video by the late Van Cliburn:
But what about you?
As radio stations like to say ”The Request Line is open!
What piece of classical music – big or small, old or new, hard or easy — would you play or dedicate to your Valentine?
Duets of all kinds seem especially appropriate. But so do songs and symphonies, operas and oratorios, and all kinds of chamber music.
So tell us about your musical gift for Valentine’s Day.
Leave a message in the COMMENT section, with a short explanation and dedicatory comment and perhaps with a YouTube link if possible — the forward it to your Valentine.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The weekend always seems like a good time for a reader survey or poll.
So this week, here is what The Ear wants to know:
What was the first piece of chamber music that you loved and that really hooked you on chamber music?
There are so many pieces to choose from in such a rich repertoire that covers all instruments and the human voice as well.
There are sonatas and duos for violin and cello with piano, for example, and songs for voice and piano or other accompaniment, There are piano trios and string trios. There are string quartets and piano quartets. There are wind quintets, string quintets and brass quintets as well as piano quintets. And there are even wonderful sextets, septets and octets. (Below are UW faculty members pianist Christopher Taylor and violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino.)
So what pieces or performers or qualities hooked you on chamber music?
And what pieces or performers or qualities keep you listening?
The “Trout” Quintet or the string quartets or the piano trios by Franz Schubert? For The Ear it was a magical and entrancing performance of the beautiful Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat Major by Schubert, performed outdoors. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Was it the Baroque trio sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel? Or various Classical-era sonatas and string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Ludwig van Beethoven? Maybe more Romantic string quartets by Antonin Dvorak and Johannes Brahms. Or more modern ones by Sergei Prokofiev or Dmitri Shostakovich? Perhaps even contemporary string quartets by Philip Glass? (Below are the Willy Street Chamber Players, who regularly program new music.)
Leave word in the COMMENT section with link to a YouTube performance if possible.
Maybe your choices will even help win over new converts to chamber music.
And be sure to tell us what appeals to you about chamber music versus other music genres such as operas and orchestral works.
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison 900 University Bay Drive, features cellist Leonardo Altino playing Suites Nos. 1, 5 and 6 for unaccompanied cello by Johann Sebastian Bach. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
WYSO will kick-off its 51st season with the Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts on this Saturday, Nov. 12, and next Saturday, Nov. 19. Nearly 500 young musicians will display their talents to the community during the concerts, which are dedicated to music teachers.
Kenneth will be playing cello and Cynthia will be conducting in the Cello Concerto by British composer Philip Sawyers. (You can hear Kenneth Woods conduct the opening movement of the cello concerto in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Youth Orchestra, under the direction of James Smith, will also be playing Symphony No. 2 by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Overture to the opera “Der Freischuetz” by Carl Maria von Weber.
Cynthia Woods (below) is currently the Music Director of the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and the conductor for the Youth Preparatory Orchestra at the New England Conservatory, where she serves on the violin, chamber and conducting faculty.
Along with her conducting activities, Ms. Woods is also a frequent speaker and writer. She has been a guest lecturer at institutions such as MIT and the Longy School of Music of Bard College, a panelist for radio shows such as WGBH’s Callie Crossley, and a frequent contributor to The Boston Herald’s State of the Arts blog. Cynthia was a member of WYSO from 1984–1989 in Concert, Philharmonia and Youth Orchestra.
For more background about Cynthia Woods, go to:
Kenneth Woods (below) is currently the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra. As a cello soloist and chamber musician, Wood’s collaborators have included members of the Toronto, Chicago and Cincinnati symphonies, the Minnesota, Gewandhaus and Concertgebouw orchestras and the La Salle, Pro Arte, Tokyo and Aubudon String Quartets.
He also is currently cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo, with whom he performs regularly in the UK, Europe, and the USA. He writes a popular blog, “A View From the Podium.” Kenneth was a member of WYSO from 1980–1986 in Concert, Philharmonia and Youth Orchestra. He also studied cello at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music with Parry Karp, of the Pro Arte Quartet.
For more background and an interview with Kenneth Woods, go to:
Schedule and Programs
November 12, 2016 – 1:30 P.M., Mills Hall
November 12, 2016 – 4 P.M., Mills Hall
CONCERT ORCHESTRA (below)
November 19, 2016 – 7 P.M., River Arts Center
YOUTH ORCHESTRA (below)
The Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the UW Humanities Building, 455 N. Park Street, Madison, and at the River Arts Center, 105 Ninth St. Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin.
WYSO concerts generally run about an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.
Tickets are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and under.
This project is supported by Dane Arts with additional funds from the Evjue Foundation, Inc., the charitable arm of The Capital Times. This project is also supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.
By Jacob Stockinger
By any measure the opening concert last Friday night of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) under music director Andrew Sewell was a complete and compelling success.
It left The Ear with several big lessons:
The Ear remembers hearing one of the first Compact Discs commercially available: a recording of the famous “Eroica” Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven performed by the popular chamber orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under its recently deceased founder and longtime conductor Sir Neville Marriner.
Was it going to be Beethoven Lite after all the versions from the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein and the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan?
Not at all.
It turned out that symphony orchestras are about power while chamber orchestras are about subtlety. The same work sounds very different when performed by the two different kinds of ensembles.
So it was with the Violin Concerto by Peter Tchaikovsky with Russian prize-winning soloist Ilya Kaler and conductor Andrew Sewell. The WCO players performed beautifully, and with the chamber orchestra you felt a balance and an intimacy between the soloist, the orchestra and conductor Sewell (below).
You could hear with more clarity or transparency the structure of the concerto and the dialogue of the violin with various orchestral sections – the flutes and clarinet stood out – that often get drowned out by bigger accompanying forces.
So when you see the same work programmed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, do not think of them as duplications you have to choose between. Go hear both. Listen for the differences. You will not be disappointed.
That’s what The Ear did and he came away enthralled and enchanted with this smaller-scale Tchaikovsky.
The world has more first-rate musical talent than ever. Ilya Kaler (below), the only violinist ever to win gold medals at the Tchaikovsky, Paganini and Sibelius competitions, is a case in point. We owe a big thanks to the WCO for finding and booking him. He is right up there with the American violinist Benjamin Beilman, whom the WCO booked last season.
Kaler’s playing was first-rate and world-class: virtuosic, both lyrical and dramatic, but also nuanced. His tone was beautiful and his volume impressive – and all this was done on a contemporary American violin made in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (You can hear Kaler play in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Ear says: Bring Kaler back – the sooner, the better. The Ear wants to hear him in violin concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Antonio Vivaldi and other Italian Baroque masters like Francesco Geminiani and Arcangelo Corelli. Classical-era concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would be wonderful. More Romantic concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Nicolo Paganini, Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann would also be great. And how about the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev and the neo-Classical Violin Concerto by Igor Stravinsky?
But anything will do. Kaler is a violinist – he records for the Naxos label — we should hear more often. These days, we need fewer big stars and more fine talent that makes attendance affordable. The Ear will take young and talented cellists Alisa Weilerstein and Joshua Roman over such an overpriced celebrity as Yo-Yo Ma, great as he is.
The WCO opened with a rarely heard eight-minute work, the Symphony No. 5 in D Major, by Baroque English composer William Boyce (below top). It was enjoyable and The Ear is happy he heard it.
True, it comes off as second-rate Handel (below bottom). Why? Because as composer John Harbison explained so succinctly at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival he co-directs here every summer, the music by George Frideric Handel has a hard-to-explain “heft.” Just a few notes by Handel make memorable music that somehow sticks in your memory.
So The Ear heard the pleasantness of Boyce and ended up appreciating even more the greatness of Handel. What a two-fer!
The rarely played Symphony No. 4 “Tragic” by Franz Schubert received an outstanding reading. But it ended the concert and left the audience sitting in its seats.
The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, by contrast, got an immediate standing ovation and an encore – a wonderful rendition of an unaccompanied Gavotte by Johann Sebastian Bach — and they ended the first half triumphantly.
Maybe the Schubert and Tchaikovsky should have been reversed in order. Or else, what about programming a really energetic symphony by Mozart or Beethoven to end the concert on an upbeat note. Just a thought.
If you went to the season-opener by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, what thoughts and impressions did you have?
Do you agree or disagree with The Ear?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
This week there are three FREE concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music that merit your attention and attendance:
On Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Wind Ensemble (below top) will perform a concert of theater music under director Scott Teeple (below bottom).
The concert features special guest soloist, percussionist Darin Olson (below), assistant director of the University of Wisconsin Marching Band.
The program includes music from “The Three Penny Opera” by Kurt Weill; the wind octet “Figures in the Garden” by Jonathan Dove; the Concertino for Timpani with Brass and Percussion by Michael Colgrass; the “Nocturno” by Felix Mendelssohn; and the “Geschwindmarsch” (Wind March) by Paul Hindemith.
For more information, visit:
Famed pianist Leon Fleisher (below top) will perform a FREE noon concert with the Pro Arte Quartet (below bottom, in a photo by Rick Langer).
A single work is featured but it is a great one, an undisputed masterpiece: The Piano Quintet in F Minor by Johannes Brahms.
The concert is from noon to 1 p.m. in Mills Hall.
For more information and background, visit:
At 8 p.m. on Friday night in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra (below) will perform under its director and conductor James Smith.
The ingenious program features two terrific fifth symphonies that are NOT the most famous Fifth Symphony, the one by Ludwig van Beethoven: these are instead the Symphony No. 5 in B-flat by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev; and the Symphony No. 5 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
You can listen to the exciting and moving finale of the Sibelius symphony, performed by the Finnish conductor Essa-Pekka Salonen and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is one of The Ear’s favorites.)
Three student recitals, including graduate recitals in viola and piano, are also on the schedule this week. For information, visit:
By Jacob Stockinger
There are many great violinists playing today. But arguably the most important and innovative is 36-year-old Hilary Hahn (below), the thoughtful virtuoso who returns to perform a MUST-HEAR recital in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater at 7:30 p.m. this coming Sunday night.
The last two recitals there by Hahn were two of the most memorable live chamber music performances The Ear has ever heard.
Tickets are $27.50 to $50.50. UW-Madison students are $10.
Here is a link to information about tickets, the program and audio samples:
During her 20-year career, Hahn – who often mixes the old and new both in live performances and on recordings — has consistently turned in astounding performances of the violin repertoire, including classics. Those works include concertos and sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Niccolo Paganini, Johannes Brahms, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Charles Ives, Jean Sibelius, Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Samuel Barber, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich, Leonard Bernstein and others.
But she also frequently commissions and adds new works to the repertoire, including a concerto by Edgar Meyer and a Pulitzer Prize-winning concerto by Jennifer Higdon, who teaches composition at the Curtis Institute of music where Hahn studied. Plus, she is a talented and charming “postcard” blogger and interviewer.
Both sides of Hilary Hahn’s artistry – the classic and the contemporary — will be on display during her Madison recital. The very busy Hahn (below, in a photo by Peter Miller) recently agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:
You have long been known as an innovative artist. What are your new and upcoming projects, including recordings and commissions?
I’m in the middle of a 14-month-long artist residency at the Vienna Konzerthaus. It’s my first such experience, so I feel like a kid in a candy store, getting to try out ideas sequentially that I would otherwise have to stretch over several years.
I’m excited to include among my residency performing as soloist with five different orchestras in the same hall, as well as giving a recital there and developing local initiatives to bring the community and classical music even closer together. Next year, I will be in residence in Seattle and Lyon. It’s been fun seeing what residency activities I want to carry over and what I can add that is specific to each city.
As far as commissions go, over this season and next, I’m world-premiering and touring a significant new contribution to the solo violin repertoire, Six Partitas by Antón García Abril (below), written for me.
That is a meaningful project for me, because I sensed that Mr. García Abril would write a fantastic set of pieces if I could convince him to take on the assignment. He decided to do it and the music turned out to be more wonderful and inspiring to play than I could have imagined. It feels like those phrases breathe with me and the notes fit in my hands.
In addition, I am in the process of wrapping up the original trajectory of my project, In 27 Pieces: the Hilary Hahn Encores. After some concerts on this upcoming tour, as encores, my recital partner Cory Smythe and I will be giving world premieres of the Honorable Mentions from my Encores contest.
Finally, in the fall, the complete edition of the sheet music for all 27 original works will be published as a single edition, with my fingerings, bowings and performance notes.
Is there an underlying unity or purpose to your program of works by Mozart, Bach, García Abril, Copland and Davidson?
I hope the listeners will find their own versions of unity and purpose in the program. The pieces weren’t assembled randomly, but then again, everyone listens differently.
García Abril’s Six Partitas, of which I will play No. 1, entitled “Heart,” are solo polyphonic works. The violin alone carries multiple melodic lines, as well as providing its own harmonies. Johann Sebastian Bach (below top) wrote his polyphonic Six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin in 1720. I felt it was important to carry forward this particular type of composition into the present day, so I commissioned Mr. García Abril (below bottom, in a photo by Julio Ficha) to create this set of works. (You can hear Hilary Hahn interview Anton Garcia Abril in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
His writing for violin is compelling, fluid, emotional, clever and expressively rich in a way that I felt needed to be explored further. Especially as this is the premiere tour of his Partita No. 1, I wanted to juxtapose the new work with one of Bach’s, namely the Third Sonata with its complex and multifaceted fugue.
As for the duo pieces on the program, the compositional styles — though they span 250 years — have a certain openness in common: the writing is not densely layered, leaving lots of room for imagination.
What about the works by Mozart and Copland?
Mozart’s set of sonatas for keyboard and violin is one of the most extensive for this instrumentation, and since I was a student, I’ve been adding at least one to my repertoire annually. It’s wonderful to explore such a prolific composer’s work over a long stretch of time. This particular sonata vacillates among stormy drama, lyricism and playfulness.
The piece by Aaron Copland (below) is gorgeous, revealing. In this sonata, Copland’s musical language is clearly recognizable, but the texture is more sparse than in his famous larger-ensemble works, making it boldly direct and engrossing to listen to.
And the music by Tina Davidson?
The work by Tina Davidson (below) follows on the tonality of the Copland, but the composer’s treatment of the music goes in an entirely different direction. “Blue Curve of the Earth” was written in Wyoming during an artist residency, and was inspired by a photo of the edge of the Earth from space. The music is dreamy yet dimensional, angular yet lush. “Blue Curve of the Earth” is from the Encores project.
What would you like the public to know about composers Antón García Abril and Tina Davidson and their violin music or music in general?
I like to picture where pieces were written; the surroundings can add another dimension to the music. Environment influences the creative process. The studio is the private stage. Antón works in a studio outside of Madrid that his son, the architect by the same name, designed for him. Tina is based out of a refashioned church in Pennsylvania, with vaulted ceilings and a garden.
Both write beautifully for voice. Since violin can be a lyrical instrument and is tonally varied, capable of both sustaining and articulating, the ability to write expressively for voice transfers to the violin. Also, I have the impression that both composers start from a strong conceptual point with their works. When I play their music, the big line is the first thing that jumps out at me; the myriad fine details support the gestures.
If you play an encore or two, will they be from the ones you commissioned a couple of years ago and won a Grammy for?
That’s the plan! I feel very close to those pieces. Great encores exist from previous centuries, too; I never rule out the classics.
Why did you commission 27 short encores?
I began to notice that new encore pieces were not being showcased as much as other types of contemporary works. Shorter pieces remain a crucial part of every violinist’s education and repertoire, and I believed that potential new favorites should be encouraged and performed as well.
How successful have they been with the public and with other artists?
The public embraced the project. The music contained within the Encores is varied and imaginative. Each composer had a different concept of what an encore can add to today’s musical landscape.
I think every listener can find at least one work that is particularly poignant. I want the audience to discover these pieces for themselves. It is thrilling to listen to music that you have never heard before and, uninfluenced by other people’s opinions, be free to feel your own response.
This project is something I’ve been working on for a long time; I would estimate that my direct involvement in all of the different parts will wind up having a 15-year arc. What I have learned on musical and creative levels from working with the composers will stay with me for my whole career, and the logistical lessons from organizing such a big project will influence my future work.
Most importantly, I hope the Encores themselves will continue in the active repertoire beyond my lifetime. That will be up to other performers, of course.
You have played here several times, both concertos and solo recitals. Is there anything you would like to say about performing in Madison and about Madison audiences?
I really enjoy Madison itself. It’s in a beautiful part of the country. I’ll never forget the first time I visited, in the winter, when the city was covered by snow and one of the sidewalks featured a table topped by a tower of knit hats and sweaters. As for the Madison audience, their curiosity and involvement are energizing.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
By Jacob Stockinger
But that’s not how The Ear sees them.
The Ear sees symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras not as competitors but as complements.
The two can serve as role models for each other. A symphony orchestra can aim to achieve the transparency and clarity of the smaller group; the chamber orchestra can aim to achieve the richness and bigger sound of the larger ensemble.
Almost two weeks ago, that is exactly what the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) and conductor John DeMain did with the “Leonore” Overture No. 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven, the Clarinet Concerto by Aaron Copland and especially the big, loud and brassy Ethel Merman-like Symphony No. 4 by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky.
Here is how The Ear heard that performance:
So how did the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra do in meeting the challenge?
In a word — superbly.
The WCO did so last Friday night in the Overture Center’s Capitol Theater under its longtime music director Andrew Sewell.
The program started with one of those welcome rarities that Sewell has a knack for unearthing. This time the native New Zealander played the piece “Landfall in Unknown Seas” by Douglas Lilburn (below), whom Sewell described as the Kiwi Copland.
Well, maybe, though The Ear finds Aaron Copland’s music more interesting and emotionally moving than the clearly modern but tonal and accessible music by Lilburn, whose centennial is this year.
The piece — written to commemorate the tricentennial of the discovery of New Zealand — was hobbled with one of those puffily pretentious and over-the-top occasional celebratory poems, which was recited by actor James Ridge (below) of American Players Theatre in Spring Green. It treated navigation and discovery as metaphors of something much bigger than the discovery of New Zealand.
All in all, it proved an interesting but not arresting piece, a curiosity worth hearing but not repeating.
Then came the rarely played Symphony No. 2 in A minor by Camille Saint-Saens. It is a kind of Late Romantic pastiche that reminds one of the “Classical” Symphony by Sergei Prokofiev. One could hear strains of earlier composers such as Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn in this charming work that once again is worth hearing but maybe not repeating or at least not soon.
To be fair, critic John W. Barker disagreed in his review for Isthmus:
In both cases, Sewell (below) and the various sections of the WCO brought not only the kind of transparency or clarity that one expects from the WCO but also a robustness that made the orchestra seem bigger than it looked.
Yet it was in the second half where the WCO really showed its stuff.
The piece was the formidable Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven.
The soloist was the 25-year-old Benjamin Beilman (below), making his Madison debut.
Together, Beilman and Sewell delivered what is the finest and most exciting live performance of the famous and famously difficult concerto that The Ear has ever heard. It possessed intimacy as well as heroics. (You can hear Itzhak Perlman and Daniel Barenboim conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in the last movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Sewell shaded the piece and brought both chamber orchestra transparency and symphony orchestra heft to the work. He also emphasized Beethoven’s mastery of counterpoint, a legacy from his days as a student of Franz Joseph Haydn. This time the often thorny Beethoven score seemed smoother and more decipherable.
Beilman, for his part, is already a master of the kind of small details that make a huge difference. He is also not afraid to play softly.
Beethoven (below) was a master crafter but not a great melody writer, and often the opening movement can often seem little more than a patchwork of scales and runs, chords and arpeggios.
But not this time. Beilman made this often flat-sounding violin part exciting with the subtleties he brought to it. He found hidden melodies and camouflaged suggestions of a theme, all delivered with a great tone from his modern 2004 violin.
One unusual touch was the cadenzas. Beethoven didn’t write any for the violin. When he transcribed this work for the piano he composed piano cadenzas. And those were the basis of what Beilman, the top winner of the Montreal International Violin Competition and the recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, used for his exciting cadenzas.
Tempi mattered too. This long, dense concerto moved right along, and when it was done, the performance drew an immediate standing ovation from the audience of 900 or so.
And here’s the thing: At no point did the chamber orchestra seem to lack the horsepower needed to drive this big and iconic piece of music. Sewell and Beilman were well matched in projecting a big, rich sound and intense interpretation that engaged and excited you from beginning to end.
The audience even drew two encores from Beilman, both solo pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach (below), the ultimate test of a violinist. One was the songful slow movement from the Solo Sonata in C Major; the other was the lively Gavotte from the Solo Partita in E Major that almost seems a mirror image of the last movement of the Beethoven concerto.(ATTENTION ALL SOLOISTS: Please announce your encores!)
The first Bach movement, by the way, was also the piece that Beilman played at the wedding this summer where his sister married Joe Morris, the gifted principal clarinet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra who so stood out in the Copland concerto two weeks ago.
Plus, Beilman’s parents and grandparents hail from Madison.
So young Benjamin Beilman has roots in and ties to Madison.
Could that mean he will return soon?
The Ear sure hopes so.