The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Pianist Ilya Yakushev returns to play Russian jazz with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra on Friday night, then a recital of piano classics at Farley’s House of Pianos on Saturday night

February 21, 2019
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ALERT: The second of two FREE Friday Noon Musicales — devoted to the music of John Harbison on the occasion of his 80th birthday — will take place this Friday at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. The Mosaic Chamber Players will perform. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m. The composer will be there to sign copies of his new book “What Do We Make of Bach?”

By Jacob Stockinger

Although he has heard the jazz suites by Dmitri Shostakovich many times, The Ear was surprised to learn how many modern Russian composers fell under the spell of American jazz.

Cultural difference combined with cultural exchanges might be one explanation.

But he also wonders if perhaps living in a state of psychological and emotional distress and danger – the Stalinist Terror facing composers in the Soviet Union and the Jim Crow racism facing African-American jazz artists in the United States – created a certain affinity between such apparently different musical traditions.

One thing is certain: the program that Ilya Yakushev (below), who was born and trained in Russia and now teaches at the Mannes College of Music in New York City – promises to be one of the most interesting programs of this season.

During his return to Madison, the Russian virtuoso pianist – who has his own interest in jazz and played a solo version of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” when last here — will perform two programs at venues where he has proven to be a sensational audience favorite.

This Friday night, Feb. 22, at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, Yakushev will once again team up with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) and its music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, to perform two rarely heard Russian works that demonstrate the influence of American jazz.

Those two Russian works are “Ten Bagatelles for Piano Orchestra” by Alexander Tcherepnin (below top) and the “Jazz Suite for Piano and Small Orchestra by Alexander Tsfasman (below bottom).

You can hear the Lyrical Waltz from Tsfasman’s Suite in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The WCO complements that with two jazz-influenced works by Igor Stravinsky (below): Suite No. 2 for Small Orchestra and “Ragtime.”

Then the concert concludes with one of the most iconic and well-known pieces of all classical music: the Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

For much more information about Yakushev and the program as well as to a link to buy tickets ($15-$80) go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-ii-4/

SATURDAY

Then on this Saturday, Feb. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522 Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne Mall, Yakushev will perform a program of impressive tried-and-true classics as part of the Salon Piano Series.

An artist’s reception will follow the concert.

Tickets are $45 in advance (students $10) or $50 at the door. Service fees may apply. Tickets can also be purchased at Farley’s House of Pianos. Call (608) 271-2626.

Student tickets can only be purchased online and are not available the day of the event. Tickets can be purchased in advance from:

https://www.brownpapertickets.com/producer/706809brownpapertickets.com

For more information, go to: https://salonpianoseries.org

Yakushev’s recital program is:

Adagio in B minor, K. 540 (1788), by Mozart

Sonata in F minor “Appassionata,” Op. 57 (1804), by Ludwig van Beethoven

Vallée d’Obermann, S. 160 (1855), from “Années de pèlerinage, Première année” (Years of Pilgrimage, First Year), by Franz Liszt

The song “Widmung” (Dedication) by Robert Schumann as transcribed for solo piano by Liszt, S.566 (1848)

“Mephisto Waltz No. 1,” S. 514 (1862), by Liszt (below, in an 1886 photo, the year before he died, when Liszt was teaching many students, by Nadar)

In addition, on Saturday at 4 p.m., Yakushev will teach a FREE and PUBLIC master class at Farley’s House of Pianos, where he will instruct local students.

The master class program will include:

Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 2, No. 1, First Movement by Beethoven; performed by Kevin Zhang who studies with Kangwoo Jin.

Six Variations on “Nel cor piu non mi sento” (In My Heart I No Longer Feel) by Beethoven, performed by Daniel Lee who studies with Irmgard Bittar.

Etude in G-Flat Major (“Black Key”) Op. 10, No. 5,by Frederic Chopin; performed by Alysa Zhou, who studies with Denise Taylor.

Master classes for the 2018-19 season are supported by the law firm of Boardman & Clark LLP.

The concert is 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.

The Salon Piano Series is a nonprofit founded to continue the tradition of intimate salon concerts featuring exceptional artists. To become a sponsor of the Salon Piano Series, please contact Renee Farley at (608) 271-2626 or email renee@salonpianoseries.org

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Classical music: Organist and composer Chelsea Chen debuts at Overture Hall on Tuesday night

February 18, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Organist Chelsea Chen (below) makes her Madison debut on this Tuesday night, Feb. 19, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall as part of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Concert Organ series.

Ticket information is below.

Chen brings to her Overture Hall premiere an array of widely known classical pieces plus her own original composition.

Chen’s performance begins with Ola Gjeilo’s Sinfonietta and Edvard Grieg’s First Peer Gynt Suite, Op. 46— continuing with Chen’s original work, the Taiwanese Suite, Camille Saint-Saens’ Finale from “Organ” Symphony No. 3, Ad Wammes’ Miroir, and finally, selections from Gustav Holst’s The Planets.

Composer Gjeilo (below) has praised Chen’s interpretation of Sinfonietta, which the organist has performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.

The First Peer Gynt Suite, Op. 46, by Grieg is one of the most easily recognizable compositions within the musical art form. Subtitled “Morning,” it is the first of two suites that Grieg (below) transcribed from Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 Norwegian play Peer Gynt.

The opus, albeit a short first movement from the suite, intends to instill imagery of the sunrise over the North African desert. Despite this, it is more commonly associated with the sweeping mountains, fjords and lakes that mark Norway’s landscape.

Chen’s own Taiwanese Suite combines the dynamic range of the organ with inflections of traditional Asian folksongs. It is composed of three movements: “Hills in the Springtime,” “Moonlight Blue” and “Mountain of Youth.”

Inspired by the works of Richard Wagner, Franz Liszt and others, Saint-Saens (below) composed a variety of arrangements and selections for numerous occasions. By age 10, the French composer and child prodigy had given his first concert. His Finale from “Organ” Symphony No. 3 is, as some consider, the pinnacle of his body of compositions. (You can hear Chen’s playing of the Finale from the “Organ” Symphony by Saint-Saens in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Miroir was composed by Dutch composer Ad Wammes (below) for Stephen Taylor to celebrate the organist’s appointment to the Nicolaïkerk, a church in the Netherlands. In an unconventional mirroring — hence the title — the right hand repeats the higher voices in the same pattern throughout the song, whereas the left hand varies texture, voice and tone in the lower registers. The result is a calming, low hum that is lifted by the glistening echoes of the upper registers.

To Holst, The Planets suite could be framed as “a series of mood pictures,” with its seven movements. Ironically, Holst (below) seemed to heavily dislike his explosive popularity resulting from the suite’s compositional structure. Despite his supposed negativity towards the piece, its inherent superb qualities of each movement — no two are alike — became a staple of evocative composition.

Following an academic career at the Juilliard School and Yale University, Chelsea Chen has practiced under the tutelage of known names in the musical world, such as Paul Jacobs and John Weaver. For more information about her, go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/chelsea-chen/

Single Tickets are available for $20 each and can be purchased online at http://madisonsymphony.org/chen, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Groups of 10 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit, https://madisonsymphony.org/groups

Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two tickets for $10 each. More information is at: https://madisonsymphony.org/studentrush

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

This performance is sponsored by Friends of the Overture Concert Organ (below) that was custom-built by Klais Orgelbau of Germany. 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 commissioned the Overture Concert Organ.


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Classical music: Here are classical music winners — and nominees — of the 61st annual Grammy nominations for 2019.

February 17, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This should have come out sooner since the Grammy Awards (below) were given out a week ago. But it has been such a busy week for Iive music in Madison – as will next week be – that this was the first occasion to post them.

In any case, for all their insider shortcomings they are a matter of interest to many, and can be helpful in understanding the contemporary classical scene and new music as you build your own playlists and recording library.

There are some points of interest including the fact that two Grammys were won by Canadian violinist James Ehnes for his performance of the Violin Concerto by the contemporary composer Aaron Jay Kernis.

Ehnes (below) is in town this weekend to play the Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (the last performance is this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. The Ear hopes he might return to perform the Kernis concerto with MSO.

Also, Apollo’s Fire, which won in the Best Solo Vocal category, will perform Baroque music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Marco Uccellini at the Wisconsin Union Theater on Saturday, March 30.

Finally and unfortunately, some Madison nominees — including retired UW-Madison flute professor Stephanie Jutt and her co-director of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society pianist Jeffrey Sykes — got edged out in the Producer category, as did retired UW professor James P. Leary for his liner notes to “Alpine Dreaming.”

 In the orchestra category is John Harbison — who is in town marking his 80th birthday with many events, including the world premiere tonight at the W-Madison of his Sonata for Viola and Piano. In the Chamber Music category, Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin will solo in concertos by Maurice Ravel and Richard Strauss with the Madison Symphony Orchestra on April 12-14. 

Look at the winners carefully. Clearly, the recording industry is, by and large, skipping over the usual classical masters such as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms to focus instead on living composers and contemporary music or stories relevant to our times, such as the opera by Mason Bates about the late Apple wizard Steve Jobs.

One major exception is the third Grammy in a row for the cycle of symphonies by the famed Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich being done by the Latvian-born conductor Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Here are the nominees and winners – the latter marked with an asterisk, a photo and the word WINNER — for the 61st Grammy Awards. Leave a comment with wa you think of the nominees and winners.

  1. Best Engineered Album, Classical
    An Engineer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

BATES: THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS. Mark Donahue & Dirk Sobotka, engineers; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Michael Christie, Garrett Sorenson, Wei Wu, Sasha Cooke, Edwards Parks, Jessica E. Jones & Santa Fe Opera Orchestra)

BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONY NO. 3; STRAUSS: HORN CONCERTO NO. 1
Mark Donahue, engineer; Mark Donahue, mastering engineer (Manfred Honeck & Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)

JOHN WILLIAMS AT THE MOVIES. Keith O. Johnson & Sean Royce Martin, engineers; Keith O. Johnson, mastering engineer (Jerry Junkin & Dallas Winds).

LIQUID MELANCHOLY – CLARINET MUSIC OF JAMES M. STEPHENSON
Bill Maylone & Mary Mazurek, engineers; Bill Maylone, mastering engineer (John Bruce Yeh)

*WINNER — SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONIES NOS. 4 & 11. Shawn Murphy & Nick Squire, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer (Andris Nelsons & Boston Symphony Orchestra)

VISIONS AND VARIATIONS. Tom Caulfield, engineer; Jesse Lewis, mastering engineer (A Far Cry)

  1. Producer Of The Year, Classical
    A Producer’s Award. (Artist names appear in parentheses.)

* WINNER — BLANTON ALSPAUGH (below)

  • Arnesen: Infinity – Choral Works (Joel Rinsema & Kantorei)
  • Aspects Of America (Carlos Kalmar & Oregon Symphony)
  • Chesnokov: Teach Me Thy Statutes (Vladimir Gorbik & PaTRAM Institute Male Choir)
  • Gordon, R.: The House Without A Christmas Tree (Bradley Moore, Elisabeth Leone, Maximillian Macias, Megan Mikailovna Samarin, Patricia Schuman, Lauren Snouffer, Heidi Stober, Daniel Belcher, Houston Grand Opera Juvenile Chorus & Houston Grand Opera Orchestra
  • Haydn: The Creation (Andrés Orozco-Estrada, Betsy Cook Weber, Houston Symphony & Houston Symphony Chorus)
  • Heggie: Great Scott (Patrick Summers, Manuel Palazzo, Mark Hancock, Michael Mayes, Rodell Rosel, Kevin Burdette, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Nathan Gunn, Frederica von Stade, Ailyn Pérez, Joyce DiDonato, Dallas Opera Chorus & Orchestra)
  • Music Of Fauré, Buide & Zemlinsky (Trio Séléné)
  • Paterson: Three Way – A Trio Of One-Act Operas (Dean Williamson, Daniele Pastin, Courtney Ruckman, Eliza Bonet, Melisa Bonetti, Jordan Rutter, Samuel Levine, Wes Mason, Matthew Treviño & Nashville Opera Orchestra)
  • Vaughan Williams: Piano Concerto; Oboe Concerto; Serenade To Music; Flos Campi (Peter Oundjian & Toronto Symphony Orchestra)

DAVID FROST

  • Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Volume 7 (Jonathan Biss)
    • Mirror In Mirror (Anne Akiko Meyers, Kristjan Järvi & Philharmonia Orchestra)
    • Mozart: Idomeneo (James Levine, Alan Opie, Matthew Polenzani, Alice Coote, Nadine Sierra, Elza van den Heever, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus)
    • Presentiment (Orion Weiss)
    • Strauss, R.: Der Rosenkavalier (Sebastian Weigle, Renée Fleming, Elīna Garanča, Erin Morley, Günther Groissböck, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus) 

ELIZABETH OSTROW

  • Bates: The (R)evolution Of Steve Jobs (Michael Christie, Garrett Sorenson, Wei Wu, Sasha Cooke, Edwards Parks, Jessica E. Jones & Santa Fe Opera Orchestra)
    • The Road Home (Joshua Habermann & Santa Fe Desert Chorale)

JUDITH SHERMAN

  • Beethoven Unbound (Llŷr Williams)
    • Black Manhattan Volume 3 (Rick Benjamin & Paragon Ragtime Orchestra)
    • Bolcom: Piano Music (Various Artists)
    • Del Tredici: March To Tonality (Mark Peskanov & Various Artists)
    • Love Comes In At The Eye (Timothy Jones, Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio, Jeffrey Sykes, Anthony Ross, Carol Cook, Beth Rapier & Stephanie Jutt)
    • Meltzer: Variations On A Summer Day & Piano Quartet (Abigail Fischer, Jayce Ogren & Sequitur)
    • Mendelssohn: Complete Works For Cello And Piano (Marcy Rosen & Lydia Artymiw)
    • New Music For Violin And Piano (Julie Rosenfeld & Peter Miyamoto)
    • Reich: Pulse/Quartet (Colin Currie Group & International Contemporary Ensemble)

DIRK SOBOTKA

  • Beethoven: Symphony No. 3; Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 1 (Manfred Honeck & Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra)
    • Lippencott: Frontier Symphony (Jeff Lippencott & Ligonier Festival Orchestra)
    • Mahler: Symphony No. 8 (Thierry Fischer, Mormon Tabernacle Choir & Utah Symphony)
    • Music Of The Americas (Andrés Orozco-Estrada & Houston Symphony)
  1. Best Orchestral Performance Award to the Conductor and to the Orchestra
  • BEETHOVEN: SYMPHONY NO. 3; STRAUSS: HORN CONCERTO NO. 1. Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra) 
  • NIELSEN: SYMPHONY NO. 3 & SYMPHONY NO. 4. Thomas Dausgaard, conductor (Seattle Symphony) 
  • RUGGLES, STUCKY & HARBISON: ORCHESTRAL WORKS. David Alan Miller, conductor (National Orchestral Institute Philharmonic)
  • SCHUMANN: SYMPHONIES NOS. 1-4. Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony) 
  • * WINNER — SHOSTAKOVICH: SYMPHONIES NOS. 4 & 11 Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)

 76.  Best Opera Recording Award to the Conductor, Album Producer(s) and Principal Soloists.

  • ADAMS: DOCTOR ATOMIC. John Adams, conductor; Aubrey Allicock, Julia Bullock, Gerald Finley & Brindley Sherratt; Friedemann Engelbrecht, producer (BBC Symphony Orchestra; BBC Singers) 
  • * WINNER –BATES: THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS. Michael Christie, conductor; Sasha Cooke, Jessica E. Jones, Edwards Parks, Garrett Sorenson & Wei Wu; Elizabeth Ostrow, producer (The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra) 
  • LULLY: ALCESTE. Christophe Rousset, conductor; Edwin Crossley-Mercer, Emiliano Gonzalez Toro & Judith Van Wanroij; Maximilien Ciup, producer (Les Talens Lyriques; Choeur De Chambre De Namur) 
  • STRAUSS, R.: DER ROSENKAVALIER. Sebastian Weigle, conductor; Renée Fleming, Elīna Garanča, Günther Groissböck & Erin Morley; David Frost, producer (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; Metropolitan Opera Chorus) 
  • VERDI: RIGOLETTO. Constantine Orbelian, conductor; Francesco Demuro, Dmitri Hvorostovsky & Nadine Sierra; Vilius Keras & Aleksandra Keriene, producers (Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra; Men Of The Kaunas State Choir) 
  1. Best Choral Performance. Award to the Conductor, and to the Choral Director and/or Chorus Master where applicable and to the Choral Organization/Ensemble. 
  • CHESNOKOV: TEACH ME THY STATUTES. Vladimir Gorbik, conductor (Mikhail Davydov & Vladimir Krasov; PaTRAM Institute Male Choir) 
  • KASTALSKY: MEMORY ETERNAL. Steven Fox, conductor (The Clarion Choir) 
  • * WINNER — MCLOSKEY: ZEALOT CANTICLES. Donald Nally, conductor (Doris Hall-Gulati, Rebecca Harris, Arlen Hlusko, Lorenzo Raval & Mandy Wolman; The Crossing) 
  • RACHMANINOV: THE BELLS. Mariss Jansons, conductor; Peter Dijkstra, chorus master (Oleg Dolgov, Alexey Markov & Tatiana Pavlovskaya; Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks; Chor Des Bayerischen Rundfunks) 
  • SEVEN WORDS FROM THE CROSS. Matthew Guard, conductor (Skylark)
  1. Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance. For new recordings of works with chamber or small ensemble (24 or fewer members, not including the conductor). One Award to the ensemble and one Award to the conductor, if applicable.
  • * WINNER — ANDERSON, LAURIE: LANDFALL. Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet 
  • BEETHOVEN, SHOSTAKOVICH & BACH. The Danish String Quartet
  • BLUEPRINTING. Aizuri Quartet 
  • STRAVINSKY: THE RITE OF SPRING CONCERTO FOR TWO PIANOS. Leif Ove Andsnes & Marc-André Hamelin
  • VISIONS AND VARIATIONS. A Far Cry 

  1. Best Classical Instrumental Solo. Award to the Instrumental Soloist(s) and to the Conductor when applicable. 
  • BARTÓK: PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2. Yuja Wang; Simon Rattle, conductor (Berliner Philharmoniker) 
  • BIBER: THE MYSTERY SONATAS. Christina Day Martinson; Martin Pearlman, conductor (Boston Baroque) 
  • BRUCH: SCOTTISH FANTASY, OP. 46; VIOLIN CONCERTO NO. 1 IN G MINOR, OP. 26. Joshua Bell (The Academy Of St. Martin In The Fields) 
  • GLASS: THREE PIECES IN THE SHAPE OF A SQUARE. Craig Morris 
  • * WINNER — KERNIS: VIOLIN CONCERTO. James Ehnes; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony)
  1. Best Classical Solo Vocal Album. Award to: Vocalist(s), Collaborative Artist(s) (Ex: pianists, conductors, chamber groups) Producer(s), Recording Engineers/Mixers with 51% or more playing time of new material.
  • ARC. Anthony Roth Costanzo; Jonathan Cohen, conductor (Les Violons Du Roy) 
  • THE HANDEL ALBUM. Philippe Jaroussky; Artaserse, ensemble 
  • MIRAGES. Sabine Devieilhe; François-Xavier Roth, conductor (Alexandre Tharaud; Marianne Crebassa & Jodie Devos; Les Siècles) 
  • SCHUBERT: WINTERREISE. Randall Scarlata; Gilbert Kalish, accompanist 
  • * WINNER — SONGS OF ORPHEUS – MONTEVERDI, CACCINI, D’INDIA & LANDI. Karim Sulayman; Jeannette Sorrell, conductor; Apollo’s Fire, ensembles
  •  
  1. Best Classical Compendium. Award to the Artist(s) and to the Album Producer(s) and Engineer(s) of over 51% playing time of the album, if other than the artist. 
  • * WINNER — FUCHS: PIANO CONCERTO ‘SPIRITUALIST’; POEMS OF LIFE; GLACIER; RUSH. JoAnn Falletta, conductor; Tim Handley, producer 
  • GOLD. The King’s Singers; Nigel Short, producer 
  • THE JOHN ADAMS EDITION. Simon Rattle, conductor; Christoph Franke, producer
  • JOHN WILLIAMS AT THE MOVIES. Jerry Junkin, conductor; Donald J. McKinney, producer 
  • VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: PIANO CONCERTO; OBOE CONCERTO; SERENADE TO MUSIC; FLOS CAMPI. Peter Oundjian, conductor; Blanton Alspaugh, producer 
  1. Best Contemporary Classical Composition. A Composer’s Award. (For a contemporary classical composition composed within the last 25 years, and released for the first time during the Eligibility Year.) Award to the librettist, if applicable.
  • BATES: THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS. Mason Bates, composer; Mark Campbell, librettist (Michael Christie, Garrett Sorenson, Wei Wu, Sasha Cooke, Edwards Parks, Jessica E. Jones & Santa Fe Opera Orchestra) 
  • DU YUN: AIR GLOW. Du Yun, composer (International Contemporary Ensemble) 
  • HEGGIE: GREAT SCOTT. Jake Heggie, composer; Terrence McNally, librettist (Patrick Summers, Manuel Palazzo, Mark Hancock, Michael Mayes, Rodell Rosel, Kevin Burdette, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Nathan Gunn, Frederica von Stade, Ailyn Pérez, Joyce DiDonato, Dallas Opera Chorus & Orchestra) 
  • * WINNER — KERNIS: VIOLIN CONCERTO. Aaron Jay Kernis (below top), composer (James Ehnes, Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony). You can hear the first movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.
  • MAZZOLI: VESPERS FOR VIOLIN. Missy Mazzoli, composer (Olivia De Prato)


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Classical music: Madison Opera’s “A Little Night Music” proved totally satisfying as both music and theater

February 13, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Larry Wells – The Opera Guy for The Well-Tempered Ear – went to both performances in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center last weekend by the Madison Opera of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” and filed the following review. Photos are by James Gill.

By Larry Wells

Although I was familiar with the recording, my first experience seeing “A Little Night Music” by Stephen Sondheim (below) was in London 25 years ago. I remember it as a theatrical experience – it featured Judi Dench and was performed at the National Theatre – more than as a musical event.

Two years ago, I saw it performed by Des Moines Metro Opera, and although it was “operatic” it was also sabotaged by a confusing, even chaotic, production designed by Isaac Mizrahi.

I finally experienced the complete package with the recent performances by the Madison Opera. It was a totally satisfying combination of acting, music and theatrical design.

Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s film “Smiles of a Summer Night,” which in turn was inspired by Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “A Little Night Music” concerns itself with mismatched lovers who are eventually properly paired or else reconciled.

Without going into detail, suffice it to say that the carryings-on are amusing, the dialogue is witty, and the lyrics are sophisticated.

One of the earliest numbers in the show — the trio of songs “Later,” “Now” and “Soon” — set the tone for the evening musically. Each was performed individually by three fine singers – Quinn Bernegger, Jeni Houser (below left) and Daniel Belcher (below right).

In a musical tour-de-force, the three songs ultimately combined into one. Houser’s clear tone, Benegger’s intense passion, and Belcher’s suave lyricism promised an outstanding musical experience to come. Special praise must go to Bernegger (below) who sang while comically, but skillfully, miming playing a cello.

One show-stopper was Sarah Day’s “Liaisons” which was really perfect in its world-weariness. Day (below) — from American Players Theatre in Spring Green — half-declaimed and half-sang such memorable lines of regret as, “What once was a sumptuous feast is now figs. No, not even figs. Raisins.” Or amusing internal rhymes like “…indiscriminate women it…”.  (I am completely taken by Sondheim’s clever use of language.)

Likewise, the singing of “Miller’s Son” by Emily Glick (below) was a good old Broadway rendition – no operatic pretense – and the audience, and I, loved it.

Charles Eaton (below left) as a puffed-up dragoon and Katherine Pracht (below right) as his long-suffering wife were both outstanding vocally and deftly comic.

The center of most of the activity was the character Desirée Armfeldt portrayed by Emily Pulley (below). At first I thought she was overacting, but then I realized that, of course, she was portraying a veteran stage actress – a matinee idol type – who had internalized theatrical gestures into her own character. Her “Send in the Clowns” stopped the show, and the lyrics finally made sense to me. (You can hear the familiar Judy Collins interpretation in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

But I would have to say that the star of the show was the chorus, a quintet of excellent voices – Stephen Hobe, Kirsten Larson, Benjamin Liupaogo, Emily Secor and Cassandra Vasta. They waltzed through the action while sliding the panels and frames that comprised the set, moving props, and commenting on the action.

Never obtrusive but always necessary, I thought they were a delight. The three women got to sing a brief round “Perpetual Anticipation” that is another wonder of Sondheim’s musical imagination.

As mentioned, sliding panels, along with dropping frames and panels, comprised the set. The continuous changing of the panels, the blocking and the movements of the quintet were the creative product of stage director Doug Schulz-Carlson (below). There was often a whirlwind of activity, but I was never distracted.

The costumes by Karen Brown-Larimore seemed straight out of Edward Gorey – which is a good thing.  And altogether I felt it was the best production of the musical I’ve seen.

The orchestra was situated on stage behind the set, which made additional seats available close to the stage. People seated in those rows had to bend their necks to read the supertitles, but the diction was so consistently excellent that I rarely needed to even glance at the supertitles.

Praise is due for members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and particularly conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad). I heard subtleties in the music that had heretofore eluded me, and that is always a reward for attending a live performance and is a tribute to the maestro.

I was happy to see a younger audience, particularly Friday night. Let us hope that they were enchanted enough to attend the upcoming production on April 26 and 28 of Antonin Dvorak’s “Rusalka.”

This is an opera I have never seen; and until recently, I was familiar only with one of its arias, the so-called “Song to the Moon.”

But now that I have a recording, I realize that it is a musical treasure that should not be missed. I suppose the reasons it is not so frequently performed are that it is in Czech and its plot involves water sprites. But don’t let that stop you. The music is wonderful.


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Classical music: On Saturday night, UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor continues his virtuosic Liszt-Beethoven symphony cycle along with music by Kapustin and Schubert

February 5, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following press release, researched and written by Katherine Esposito, concert manager at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, about a noteworthy upcoming concert:

Franz Liszt (below, 1811-1886) was a superstar pianist. He was a virtuoso who invented the orchestral tone poem, taught 400 students for free, conducted and composed.

Musicologist Alan Walker wrote a definitive three-volume biography of Liszt, shedding light on all of Liszt’s work but especially his genius for transcription.

Writes Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times : “The best of these works are much more than virtuosic stunts. Liszt’s piano transcriptions of the nine Beethoven symphonies are works of genius. Vladimir Horowitz, in a 1988 interview, told me that he deeply regretted never having played Liszt’s arrangements of the Beethoven symphonies in public.”

Few pianists have tackled all nine Beethoven transcriptions.

UW-Madison professor and Van Cliburn Competition medal winner Christopher Taylor (below in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) is one of them. On this coming Saturday night, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Taylor will perform his sixth transcription — Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93.

Saturday’s concert will also include: six preludes (Nos. 19-24) from 1988 by Nikolai Kapustin (below), whose works span both classical and jazz; and the Fantasy in C Major, D. 760 (based on the song “The Wanderer”) of Franz Schubert, a piece so virtuosic that the composer himself had to give up playing it  before finishing. (You can hear Kapustin’s Prelude No. 23, which Taylor will play, in the YouTube video at the bottom and can follow the intimidating-looking score to it.)

In 2020, Christopher Taylor will celebrate Beethoven’s 250th anniversary with performances of the Franz Liszt transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies, in Madison and elsewhere.

In Boston, Taylor will perform the entire set of nine in five concerts at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Tickets for Taylor’s Feb. 9 concert at the UW are $17 for adults, and $7 for children and students. They can be purchased online or in person.

Purchasing options are here: https://www.music.wisc.edu/about-us/tickets/

Or, purchase online directly at this link.


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Classical music: This afternoon’s Schubertiade concert at the UW-Madison will be STREAMED LIVE because of the cold weather

January 27, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post from co-founders, co-directors and performers Bill Lutes and Martha Fischer, and from other performers on today’s Schubertiade concert at the UW-Madison:

We are very much looking forward to welcoming you to our sixth annual Schubertiade in Mills Hall this afternoon – Sunday, Jan 27 — at 3 p.m.

It has been such a joy for all of us to prepare this music — all from the last year of Schubert’s life — to share with you, and to once again celebrate the genius of Schubert in your company.

For more information about today’s Schubertiade, including the pre-concert lecture, all performers and the complete program, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/01/25/classical-music-music-from-schuberts-last-year-of-life-is-the-focus-of-this-years-uw-madisons-schubertiade-on-this-sunday-afternoon/

Because of tomorrow’s forecast for very low temperatures, we are happy to share the news that the concert will be LIVE-STREAMED on the Internet. If you are unable to get to the concert in person, we hope you will join us online.

While it is always wonderful to have you with us in the hall to share the special feeling of community and love of this great music  — not to mention hearing your voice joining us in our traditional audience sing-along of “An die Musik”! (see the YouTube video at the bottom) — we understand if the frigid weather makes going out an unadvisable option. So we would still like to know that you have the opportunity to tune in and be with us via the wonder of technology.

Use this link and you will be able to watch the live stream of the concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bA9n6wHCdDI

Best wishes — and stay warm!


Classical music: Music from Schubert’s last year of life is the focus of this year’s UW-Madison’s Schubertiade this Sunday afternoon when a world-famous Schubert scholar will share her insights

January 25, 2019
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NEWS UPDATE: The UW-Madison is offering FREE ADMISSION to Sunday afternoon’s Schubertiade, discussed below, to furloughed federal workers, who just have to show their federal identification to an usher.

By Jacob Stockinger

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s sixth annual Schubertiade – a re-creation of the historical and informal celebration of his music that Franz Schubert (1797-1828) used to hold with friends – will take place this Sunday afternoon, Jan. 27, at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

The focus this year is the music composed in the last year of Schubert’s life, before his death at 31.

A schedule of events and information about tickets are below.

This Schubertiade will feature a world-famous Schubert scholar. Susan Youens, recently retired from the University of Notre Dame, has one of the most impressive musicology resumes in the world, and will share her insights about the late style of Franz Schubert (below) in her pre-concert lecture.

Youens has won four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as fellowships from the National Humanities Center, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. She has published eight books, hundreds of articles, essays and chapters, and lectured all over the world.

“Dr. Youens (below) will explore the rich relationship of Schubert’s music to the poems he chose to set and the emergence of new directions in Schubert’s style,” says co-organizer William Lutes. “The influence of Beethoven had loomed large throughout Schubert’s music, and in the year following Beethoven’s death, the 31-year-old composer wrote works of homage to this great master, as he saw his own music becoming more widely recognized, published and performed.”

Highlights of the Schubertiade will be a complete performance of Schubert’s 14 final songs, published after his death as Schwanengesang, or “Swan Songs” — among the composer’s richest and most forward-looking works. (You can hear the famous “Serenade” from “Swan Songs” sung by Angela Gheorghiu in the YouTube video at the bottom,)

Also on the program are the humorous and risqué Refrain-Lieder; the slow movement of the great Piano Trio in E-flat major; the enchanting Rondo in A major for piano four-hands; and the beautiful song Auf den Strom for voice, horn and piano, composed for a concert commemorating the first anniversary of Beethoven’s death, and filled with subtly haunting references to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.”

In addition to pianists and singers Martha Fischer and William Lutes (below), guest performers will include voice faculty members Mimmi Fulmer, Julia Rottmayer and Paul Rowe, voice students Sarah Brailey, Wesley Dunnagan, and Benjamin Hopkins, graduate hornist Joanna Schulz, and guest singer Cheryl Bensman-Rowe.

Also participating is the Perlman Trio (Mercedes Cullen, violin; Micah Cheng, cello; and Kangwoo Jin, piano).

The School of Music also thanks donors Ann Boyer and Kato Perlman for their longtime support of the Schubertiades, the Perlman Trio and other musicians and events.

2019 SCHUBERTIADE SCHEDULE

Pre-concert lecture: 2 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 27, Morphy Hall. (Free.)

Concert: 3 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 27, Mills Hall. (Ticketed.)

Post-concert reception, included with ticket purchase: Sunday, Jan. 27, at the nearby University Club, 5:30 p.m.

TICKETS: $17 for adults, $7 for all age students/children; free to music majors, faculty and staff. To avoid long lines, we suggest arriving 30 minutes early or buying tickets ahead of time, either in person or online. Please see the link below.

Purchase options (online, by telephone and in person) here: https://www.music.wisc.edu/about-us/tickets/

To buy tickets directly online, click here.


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Classical music: Starting this Thursday, Madison Opera offers FREE preview events leading up to its staging of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” on Feb. 8 and 10

January 16, 2019
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ALERT: This Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson, artistic director of the Madison Bach Musicians, will play selections by Johann Sebastian Bach for solo harpsichord. He will be joined by baroque flutist Kristen Davies for Bach’s Sonata in C major for Flute and Harpsichord. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

The Madison Opera will present Stephen Sondheim’s classic A Little Night Music on Friday, Feb. 8, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 10, at 2:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center for the Arts, 201 State Street.

One of the most popular stage pieces of the 20th century, this modern operetta waltzes through a story of the complications of love across generations, spiced with sparkling wit and rueful self-awareness.

Set in Sweden in the early 1900s, A Little Night Music tells of multiple couples with mixed ideas of love. During a weekend in the country, marriages are made and unmade and the summer nights smile on the young and old alike. Through delicious humor and a ravishing score, human folly eventually gives way to happily-ever-after.

A Little Night Music is an absolutely delicious piece,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director. “I think of it as a grown-up operetta, with some of the best dialogue and lyrics ever written, all to Sondheim’s brilliant score. It’s a delightful way to spend a winter evening, and I’m so thrilled with our cast and production team, who are creating a new production for the Capitol Theater.”

“A Little Night Music” opened on Broadway in 1973 to rave reviews. The New York Times wrote: “At last, a new operetta!  A Little Night Music is heady, civilized, sophisticated, and enchanting.”

It has since been performed by both theater and opera companies all over the world and was revived on Broadway in 2009. Sondheim composed the score entirely in variations of waltz time, and it includes several now-classic songs, such as “Send in the Clowns,” “A Weekend in the Country,” and “The Miller’s Son.” (You can hear Dame Judi Dench singing a restrained but deeply moving rendition of “Send in the Clowns” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“Can you imagine? An entire musical composed in some form of waltz time,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson), Madison Opera’s artistic director. “I love this score, which feels like Johann Strauss meets the harmonies of Ravel. It’s an incredible verbal and musical achievement that gets better every time I hear it. Madison Opera’s cast should prove to be sensational as we bring this Sondheim masterpiece to life. I so look forward to conducting it.”

Madison Opera’s cast features both returning artists and debuts.

Emily Pulley (below top) returns to Madison Opera as Desirée Armfeldt, a famous actress searching for “a coherent existence after so many years of muddle.” Daniel Belcher returns as Fredrik, Desirée’s ex-lover, who is currently married to the 18-year-old Anne, played by Wisconsin native Jeni Houser (below bottom), who recently made her debut at the Vienna State Opera.

Sarah Day (below), a member of the core acting company of American Players Theatre in Spring Green, makes her debut as Madame Armfeldt, the elegant ex-courtesan who is Desirée’s mother. Charles Eaton returns as Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, Desirée’s current lover; his wife Charlotte is played by Katherine Pracht in her Madison Opera debut.

Rounding out the cast are Quinn Bernegger as Henrik, son of Fredrik; Emily Glick as the maid Petra; and Maddie Uphoff as Fredrika, Desirée’s 13-year-old daughter.

The Liebeslieders, who function as a waltz-prone Greek chorus throughout the show, are portrayed by Emily Secor, Cassandra Vasta, Kirsten Larson, Benjamin Liupaogo, and Stephen Hobe.

Doug Schulz-Carlson (below) returns to direct. The artistic director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival, his most recent Madison Opera production was Romeo and Juliet in 2016.

The original set is designed by R. Eric Stone (below top) and is being built in the Madison Opera Scene Shop. The costumes are designed by Karen Brown-Larimore (below bottom), who most recently designed costumes for Madison Opera’s production of Florencia en el Amazonas.

Members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra accompany Sondheim’s gorgeous score.

PREVIEW EVENTS

Events leading up to the performances can help the community learn more about A Little Night Music.

A FREE community preview will be held this Thursday, Jan. 17, from 7 to 8 p.m. at Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street.

Opera Novice, also FREEtakes place this Friday, Jan. 18, from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Madison Opera Center (below), 335 West Mifflin Street, and offers a free, entertaining look at the works of Stephen Sondheim including A Little Night Music.

Opera Up Close — which is free to season subscribers and costs $20 for others — provides an in-depth discussion of the production, including a cast roundtable, and takes place on Feb. 3 from 1-3 p.m. at the Madison Opera Center, 335 West Mifflin Street.

Pre-Opera Talks will take place at the Overture Center one hour prior to each performance.

For more information, including interviews with cast members and the production team, and to get tickets ($25-$115), go to: https://www.madisonopera.org/2018-2019-season/a-little-night-music/

Madison Opera’s production of “A Little Night Music” is sponsored by Thompson Investment Management, Inc., Fran Klos, David Flanders and Susan Ecroyd, and Charles Snowdon and Ann Lindsey.


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Classical music: WQXR names the best classical recording of 2018. Plus, here are other guides to help you use gift cards

January 5, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is another gift list that The Ear just found. Even though it was compiled before the holiday, he looked for it but didn’t find it.

It’s another of the top classical recordings of 2018. But this time, the list – with plenty of sound samples — comes from WQXR, the famed classical music radio station in New York City.

It may be too late to use for holiday gift giving – unless it is for yourself. After all, there are a lot of gift cards waiting to be redeemed.

Also below are several other lists so that you can cross-check and compare. The CD of Chopin ballades and nocturnes by Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes (below), for example, makes almost all the lists, which is a good sign of quality. (You can hear Andsnes play the Ballade No. 4, The Ear’s favorite, in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

Here is the link to WQXR:

https://www.wqxr.org/story/best-classical-releases-2018/

Here is a link to the top picks by critics for The New York Times and the Top 10 for National Public Radio (NPR):

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/22/classical-music-gift-guide-or-gift-or-both-critics-for-the-new-york-times-name-their-top-25-classical-recordings-of-2018-so-does-national-public-radio-npr/

And here are the nominations for the 2019 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/classical-music-here-are-the-just-announced-grammy-nominations-for-2019-they-can-serve-as-a-great-holiday-gift-guide/


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Classical music: You be the critic. Was there a specific piece or an entire concert of holiday music that you especially liked – or disliked — this year?

December 26, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, Hanukkah, the winter solstice and Christmas are over and we’ve just about made it through another holiday time, with Kwanzaa and New Year’s still to come.

Holiday music, especially choral music, is undeniably popular during holiday season.

Year after year, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Christmas program (below is a photo by Peter Rodgers)  – which uses local and ethnically diverse talent and well as imported guest vocal artists — usually comes close to selling out three performances in Overture Hall.

And year after year for a decade, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Festival Choir plus guest soloists (below) sell out their one performance of “Messiah” at the Blackhawk Church in Middleton.

Plus, there are lots of other holiday events – including the Madison Bach Musicians with Baroque chamber music favorites and the Madison Choral Project with spoken word narration and new music as well as programs of traditional carols and hymns– that drew good crowds or even full houses.

There are so many holiday music events, in fact, that it can often be hard to choose.

So here is what The Ear is asking: You be the critic.

Please tell us if there was a particular piece of music you especially enjoyed – say, Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” or George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah” or violin concertos by Arcangelo Corelli – music you really liked or disliked?

For next year, what do you recommend that people should keep an eye and ear out for, including programs on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television as well as on other TV and radio stations?

Similarly, was there a specific program or event – an entire program or concert – that surprised you for better or worse?

Given the limited time that most people have during the holidays, what holiday concerts should people plan on attending or avoid next year?

Often the public trusts other audience members more than they trust professional critics.

So here is a chance for you to be a critic and to direct the public’s attention as well as to thank certain performers and groups for what you see as the Best Holiday Music of 2018.

The Ear wants to hear.


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