ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features David Miller, trumpet; Amy Harr, cello; and Jane Peckham, piano. They will play music by Bach, Schmidt, Piazzolla, Honegger and Cooman. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
Call it activist beauty or beautiful activism.
It sure seems that political and social relevance is making a comeback in the arts during an era in which inequality in race, gender, ethnicity, wealth, education, health, employment, immigration status and other issues loom larger and larger.
For the Madison Choral Project (below), for example, singing is about more than making music. It can also be about social justice.
Writes the Project:
“The Madison Choral Project believes that too often the classical music concert is simply a museum of the beautiful. Yet the worlds of theater, art and literature can so brilliantly combine beauty with material that provokes contemplation and understanding.
“Our world is increasingly complicated, and we seek to provide voices exploring important emotional and social concerns of today.”
That means that, in its two concerts this weekend, the Madison Choral Project will explore the concept of privilege in two performances this weekend.
The repertoire is all new music or contemporary music by living composers.
The Madison Choral Project, under the direction of Albert Pinsonneault (below), who formerly taught at Edgewood College and is now at Northwestern University, presents their 10th Project – Privilege – on this Friday night, April 21, at 8:30 p.m. (NOT 7:30, as originally announced, because of noise from a nearby football game); and on Sunday afternoon, April 23, at 3 p.m.
Both performances are at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, near Camp Randall Stadium.
General admission is $24 in advance and online; $28 at the door; and $10 for students either in advance or at the door. A limited number of preferred seats are offered for $40.
The Privilege concerts feature the work Privilege by Ted Hearne (b. 1982), which Hearne (below) writes “are settings of little texts questioning a contemporary privileged life (mine).”
With texts that range from the inequality of educational experiences, to the unfair playing field brought through race, the work sets thought-provoking texts in a beautiful and musically accessible way. (NOTE: You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The program also includes the world premiere of a new piece of music from Wisconsin composer and UW-Madison graduate D. Jasper Sussman (b. 1989, below), whose piece Work: “What choice?” is a contemplation of society’s confusing and hypocritical demands on women, their bodies and their appearance.
Sussman writes “I have never identified as a feminist. It’d be impossible, however, for me to remain ignorant of the clumsily uneven climate of our world, and certainly of this country. Work: “What Choice?” is an attempt at telling a common story shared by many.”
Included on the concert are two works of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang (b. 1957, below), whose new minimalism includes sonorities influenced by rock and popular music, but with layered repetition that gives the pieces a meditative and contemplative quality.
Also featured is When David Heard by Eric Whitacre (b. 1970, below), a gorgeous and devastating monologue contemplating the death of one’s child.
For more information and tickets, go to www.themcp.org
You can also go to a fine story in The Capital Times:
The Madison Choral Project is Wisconsin’s only fully professional choir. All the singers on stage are paid, professional musicians.
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Avenue, features “Kassia and Friends” -– music for two sopranos, piano, violin, trumpet and bassoon. The program includes music by George Frideric Handel, Barbara Harbach, Lori Laitman, Alessandro Melani, Thomas Pasatieri and Eric Whitacre.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today’s post, an interview with the award-winning playwright and opera librettist Terrence McNally, is by guest blogger Michael Muckian (below). He is a long-time Wisconsin music journalist who covers everything from grand opera to the Grateful Dead. He writes about theater, art, food, wine and travel, as well as financial services and other business topics. He is currently a freelance writer and independent corporate communications consultant.
This weekend, the Madison Opera will present Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking” at 8 p.m. this Friday, April 25, and at 2:30 p.m. this Sunday, April 27 in Overture Hall at the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison.
The opera will be sung in English with project text in surtitles. Tickets are $18 to $121. Call (608) 258-4141 or visit www.madisonopera.org.
The opera does have a Parental Advisory because it contains nudity, graphic violence, and explicit language, and is not recommended for anyone under age 18.
PLEASE NOTE: Sister Helen Prejean and composer Jake Heggie will be in Madison and offer a FREE public discussion TONIGHT at 7 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue. No reservations are needed.
By Michael Muckian
Terrence McNally rose to fame as a playwright, musical theater writer and eventually, an operatic librettist. His best-known works are “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune,” “Corpus Christ,” “Master Class” and the musical adaptation of “Ragtime.” He is the winner of four Tony Awards, an Emmy Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships and numerous other honors. “Dead Man Walking,” written in collaboration with composer Jake Heggie, is one of his first operas.
What attracted you to “Dead Man Walking”? How hard was it to adapt Sister Helen Prejean’s work?
I wanted to write an opera based on issues — moral, political, social — that would engage a contemporary audience. I also wanted two strong central characters. Most contemporary operas are chastised for insufficiently compelling or interesting librettos. Sister Helen’s life and struggles for saving the life of condemned people had all the elements I was looking for.
The libretto is based on the idea of her life, not an actual character she dealt with. It is not based on the film, either. Joseph de Rocher and his mother are my creations. The opera is a response to the book and obviously resonates with memories of the film but it is not an adaptation of either one, the way that, say “Ragtime,” is an adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s novel.
What were the key themes you felt necessary to include in the opera?
The opera is about forgiveness. The issue of the death penalty is for the audience to wrestle with for themselves after they have experienced the opera. That said, it’s not an “issue” piece of art. It’s about love and forgiveness and facing the truth. (Below is a photo by James Gill of Daniela Mack playing Sister Helen Prejean and Michael Mayes playing Joseph DeRocher in the Madison Opera’s upcoming production.)
Did any of themes or experiences in the opera touch you personally? Did you have any personal experiences you drew on when writing the opera?
I think any intelligent American has a complex response to organized religion, our legal system and our own relationship to the less fortunate members of American life. Sister Helen (below) is proof that you can be a devout member of a religious belief system AND an activist for reform and have a huge and loving heart. She is one of my role models. It is an honor — and challenge — to emulate and to know her. Jake (Heggie) and I are very proud that she is proud of the opera we have made of her and her life’s work.
“Dead Man Walking” is an opera about social justice or, if you will, social injustice. Did writing he opera change or enhance your opinion of capital punishment?
I still wrestle with it. Intellectually and morally, it’s easy to be against it. But some crimes are so heinous my knee-jerk response still surprises me. Writing this libretto set me on a journey that is still unfolding.
How did you interact with Jake Heggie (below)? Was it libretto first, music after or did the two of you work more collaboratively?
We had many long discussions before I sat down alone to write the first draft and then we talked about that.
How does “Dead Man Walking” stand as a tale of redemption? Are there any victors in this story, or is everyone a victim?
I have answers to those questions, but I prefer the audience to answer those questions for themselves. This is not a lecture opera. It’s a human drama. We want people to think and feel. I love the ending. The mechanical sounds of the Death Machine followed by an a cappella human voice. I don’t think the orchestra plays for the last several minutes. I’d call that pretty fuckin’ innovative. (You can hear the Prelude and Prologue to “Dead Man Walking” in a YouTube video at the bottom)
What lessons can be learned from the opera?
That unconditional love and the truth shall set you free.
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