The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: “Into the Woods” is a big deal in many ways for the UW-Madison. There are five performances at the Memorial Union between this Thursday night and Sunday afternoon

February 20, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Make no mistake.

The modern musical and theatrical retellings by Stephen Sondheim (below) of well-known childhood fairy tales do not offer your usual versions of Little Red Riding Hood, Prince Charming, Cinderella and Rapunzel among others.

Moreover the local production of the acclaimed 1986 Broadway musical “Into the Woods” – the woods being a dark, adult and disturbing Freudian metaphor of deeper meanings — is literally a big deal. (You can hear a sample of Sondheim’s music and supremely clever lyrics, taken from the 2014 movie version by Walt Disney, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

It involves both the University Opera and the University Theatre and Drama Department. The ambitious joint production – the first in a dozen years – took almost two years and involves over 90 people.

You can see the promising results for yourself in five performances starting this Thursday night in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights; and at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Happily, there are a lot of ways to check out background and prepare for the show, which faced its own trials.

You’ll notice, for example, that  the rehearsal picture below —  taken by Beau Meyer of Elisheva Pront (Cinderella) with Jake Elfner (her Prince Charming) — was taken with no costumes, even though such photos were planned. But during the recent deep freeze and big thaw, Vilas Hall got hit with flooding from broken pipes and the costumes got clobbered, so such photos are delayed.

Still, the show must go on — and did.

Here is an interview with David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke DeLalio), the prize-winning director of University Opera and other members of the production team and actors:

https://arts.wisc.edu/2019/02/15/into-the-woods/

Here is more information, including a plot summary, a cast and ticket information from the University Opera:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/2018/12/27/opera-theatre-sondheim-into-the-woods/

Here is a story from the Department of University Theatre and Drama, including interviews with the two women who play Cinderella:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-and-university-theatre-sondheims-into-the-woods/2019-02-22/

From the Wisconsin Union Theater, here is the complex and complete ticket pricing information ($10-$40):

https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/into-the-woods/#additional

And here is a complete list of the student cast, who will sing under the baton of UW-Madison professor Chad Hutchinson (below)  who will conduct the orchestra:

https://theatre.wisc.edu/2018/10/18/into-the-woods-cast/

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Classical music: Do Stephen Sondheim musicals qualify as opera?

February 8, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Do Broadway musicals by Stephen Sondheim (below) qualify as opera?

Granted, putting strict boundaries or criteria on certain musical genres only artificially limit their appeal.

But the question matters since this month will see two local opera companies stage two different works by Sondheim, who got his big break back when he collaborated with Leonard Bernstein on “West Wide Story.”

This Friday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m., on Feb. 8 and 10 respectively, the Madison Opera will stage its production of the popular “A Little Night Music” – a great offering about many varieties of love so close to Valentine’s Day — in the Capitol Theater at the Overture Center.

For more information about the production (photos of it are by James Gill for Madison Opera) and performances, including ticket sales, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=sondheim

(Below are Charles Eaton and Katherine Pracht.)

Then later in the month, for five performances from Feb. 21 through Feb. 24 in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theater, University Opera and University Theatre team up to stage Sondheim’s popular “Into the Woods,” based on classic fairy tales.

Find out more information here: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/into-the-woods/

So, do Stephen Sondheim musicals deserve to be included with operas by Mozart and Verdi, Wagner and Puccini?

The Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill) — a Harvard graduate and an opera veteran who worked at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Metropolitan Opera before coming to Madison — agreed to discuss that question as it relates to her company’s production of “A Little Night Music” this weekend.

Smith writes:

A Little Night Music has been performed by opera companies around the world since 1983, so it is a natural part of the repertoire.

Sondheim himself says, “For me, an opera is something that is performed in an opera house in front of an opera audience. The ambience, along with the audience’s expectation, is what flavors the evening.”

A Little Night Music is particularly intriguing because it is a modern operetta; that’s what the New York Times called it when it premiered in 1973.

The costumes and scenery make it look a bit like traditional operettas such as The Merry Widow, but its story and wit are distinctly modern, with a clear-eyed view of the complexities of adult relationships. (Below, from left, are Cassandra Vasta, Benjamin Barlow, Sarah Day, Emily Pulley and Maddie Uphoff.)

Sondheim’s musical sophistication is on brilliant display; the Act I finale (“A Weekend in the Country”) reminds me of the way Mozart or Rossini finales build scene upon scene. (You can hear a concert version of “A Weekend in the Country,” performed at the BBC Proms, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

I find A Little Night Music compelling for its beauty, style and humanity. The book and lyrics are laced with witty lines, but the underlying relationships are very real, as is the way people stumble on the way towards a happy ending.

It manages the trick of being simultaneously moving and entertaining, with glorious music underscoring it all.


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Classical music: Prize-winning composer John Harbison has turned 80. In February, Madison will see many celebrations of his birthday, starting this Friday night with the Imani Winds

January 30, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, Feb. 1, a month-long celebration in Madison of the 80th birthday of critically acclaimed and prize-winning composer John Harbison (below) gets underway.

The festivities start with a concert by the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds (below), which will perform this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. – with a pre-concert lecture at 6 p.m. — in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater. The program includes Harbison’s popular Wind Quintet.

Here is a link with more information about the group, the program and tickets: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/imani-winds/

Among America’s most distinguished artistic figures, Harbison is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, among them a MacArthur ”genius grant’ and a Pulitzer Prize. His work encompasses all genres, from chamber music to opera, sacred to secular. (You can hear Harbison discuss his approach to composing in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

He has composed for most of America’s premiere musical institutions, including the Metropolitan Opera, the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle and New York; and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival.

Institute Professor at MIT, Harbison serves as composer, conductor, performer, teacher and scholar. He divides his time between Cambridge, Mass., and Token Creek, Wis., where he co-founded and co-directs a summer chamber music festival with his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison.

Other local birthday events include a performance by the Madison Symphony Orchestra; several chamber music and choral concerts at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, including one by the Mosaic Chamber Players; an exhibition of books and manuscripts at the Mills Music Library at UW-Madison’s Memorial Library.

There are also several concerts, including the world premiere of a new Sonata for Viola, and a composer residency at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music; and the world premiere of a new motet by the Madison Choral Project.

Harbison will also be featured in radio interviews and broadcast retrospectives by both Wisconsin Public Radio and WORT community radio.

National and international celebrations include other world premieres of commissions, many new recordings and the publication of Harbison’s autobiographical book about Johann Sebastian Bach, “What Do We Make of Bach?”

For more details about the many local celebrations, you can go to the following two links. Schedules, programs and updates – events are subject to change — will be posted at www.tokencreekfestival.org and www.johnharbison.com.

To receive “Harbison Occasions,” an intermittent e-newsletter, write to arsnova.artsmanagement@gmail.com


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Classical music: A ticket to the concert here by the Imani Winds is an ideal gift to mark the African-American holiday Kwanzaa

December 27, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The African-American and Pan-African harvest and heritage holiday of Kwanzaa started Wednesday and runs through Jan. 1.

Many people know the name of the events that mark the African Diaspora.

But do you know more about the holiday itself?

Do you know the seven principles of Kwanzaa?

Do you know the history and person behind the celebration, which started the United States in 1966?

Here is a link to a comprehensive view of Kwanzaa in Wikipedia:

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

If you are looking for a suitable gift to give during Kwanzaa, it would be hard to beat tickets to the concert by the Imani Winds (below) on Friday, Feb. 1, at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The Imani Winds have been nominated for a Grammy Award, and have established a reputation for world music and commissioning new works.

For more information about the group, the performers, ticket prices and how to buy tickets, go to: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/imani-winds/

The group’s name comes from a principle of Kwanzaa — namely, faith. And one member, Valerie Coleman, composed a signature piece based on the first principle of Kwanzaa – Umoji, or Unity. You can hear that work in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Then in June, from June 6 to June 9, Valerie Coleman (below) returns to Madison as the Composer-in-Residence for the second annual LunArt Festival — a cultural and all-women festival devoted to performers, composers, writers and artists.


Classical music: Moscow and Paris meet through cello and piano music at the Wisconsin Union Theater this Saturday night at 7:30

December 4, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

What was the musical relationship between Paris and Moscow, especially after the Russian Revolution?

You can find out, and hear examples, this Saturday night, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall (below) at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

Pianist Lise de la Salle and cellist Christian-Pierre La Marca (below right and left, respectively) will explore the musical relationship between Moscow and Paris through works by Gabriel Fauré (you can hear them play his Elegy in the YouTube video at the bottom), Camille Saint-Saëns, Jules Massenet, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. It is the subject of their latest recording from Sony Classical.

For the full program plus biographies and videos of the performers and information about obtaining tickets ($25-$42 for the general adult public, $20 for young people, $10 for UW students), go to: https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/lise-de-la-salle-and-christian-pierre-la-marca/

Lise de la Salle made her debut at age 13 in a performance at the Louvre. According to Le Monde, she “possesses a youthful single-minded spirit and the courage of conviction seldom expected of such a young artist.”

Now 29, de la Salle has established a reputation as one of today’s most exciting young artists and as a musician of uncommon sensibility and maturity. Her playing inspired a Washington Post critic to write, “For much of the concert, the audience had to remember to breathe … the exhilaration didn’t let up for a second until her hands came off the keyboard.”

She specializes in Russian composers and has played with symphony orchestras in London, Paris, Munich, Tokyo, Baltimore, Detroit and Quebec. Says Bryce Morrison of Gramophone magazine,“Lise de la Salle is a talent in a million.”

In just a few years, through his international concert appearances, the young cellist Christian-Pierre La Marca already ranks among the masters of the cello. He has performed in concert halls such as the Louvre, the Philharmonie of Berlin, the 92nd Street Y in New York City, and Izumi Hall in Osaka, among others.

La Marca has appeared as a soloist with many leading orchestras and is also highly sought after in chamber music. He plays a unique golden period Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume cello (1856) and the Vocation Foundation has provided him a rare Jacob Eury cello bow (1825). An exclusive Sony Classical artist, La Marca has already released three albums unanimously praised by international press and international critics.

Before the performance, enjoy a lecture by Kyle Johnson (below) at 6 p.m. Check Today in the Union for room location. Johnson is a pianist who recently received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the UW-Madison.

His performing experience ranges from solo and festival appearances throughout the U.S. and U.K., co-founding the Madison-based contemporary ensemble Sound Out Loud, and as a performance fellow in the Longitude Contemporary Ensemble in Boston, Mass.

His research interests strongly correlate with his interest in 20th-century piano repertoire, of which he produces a podcast series around (Art Music Perspectives). For more information, visit www.kyledjohnson.com.

This performance is presented by the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Performing Arts Committee. This project was 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. WORT-FM 89.9 is the media sponsor.


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