The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This afternoon is your last chance to hear the all-Russian program by violinist Rachel Barton Pine and the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Here are two very positive reviews and a more critical one

October 20, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This afternoon, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, is your last chance to hear the highly praised all-Russian program by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers), conducted by music director John DeMain.

The  guest soloist is the critically acclaimed, virtuoso violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below) from Chicago.

For more details about the program, the performers, program notes and tickets, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/10/17/classical-music-this-weekend-guest-violinist-rachel-barton-pine-solos-in-an-all-russian-program-of-khachaturian-prokofiev-and-shostakovich-by-the-madison-symphony-orchestra/

The concert features the Violin Concerto in D Minor by Aram Khachaturian; the “Lieutenant Kijé Suite” film score by Sergei Prokofiev; and the Symphony No. 9 by Dmitri Shostakovich. 

From the previews, the thematic program – all works were composed in the Soviet Union under the threatening shadow of the terrorist-dictator Josef Stalin (below) — sounded promising.

And it turns out that that the promise was, to varying degrees, fulfilled.

Here are two very positive reviews of the concert.

The first is by Michael Muckian (below), who has taken over reviewing duties at Isthmus for the now retired critic John W. Barker: https://isthmus.com/music/wildrussianride/

Here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger (below): https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2019/10/19/madison-symphony-triumphs-over-the-soviets/

And here is a somewhat more critical review by UW-Madison music graduate Matt Ambrosio (below) written for The Capital Times: https://madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/review-rachel-barton-pine-gives-memorable-performance-with-the-mso/article_61f34b8d-8dd8-514d-8e75-576a47826a04.html

What did you think of the programs, the performers and the performance?

Which critic do you most agree with?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: This weekend guest violinist Rachel Barton Pine solos with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in an all-Russian program

October 17, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend the acclaimed Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below) makes her debut with the Madison Symphony Orchestra playing Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto in D minor.

The concert by the orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) opens with Prokofiev’s Suite from Lieutenant Kijé and concludes with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9.

Performances will be held in Overture Hall, 201 State St., on Friday night, Oct. 18, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, Oct. 19, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, Oct. 20, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. Tickets are $19-$95. See below for details.

“There will be great discoveries in our all-Russian concert, starting with the MSO debut of virtuoso violinist Rachel Barton Pine playing the Khachaturian Violin Concerto, a big, bold and beautiful work in its MSO premiere,” said MSO music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson). Lieutenant Kijé is sure to delight you with its wonderful melodies and infectious rhythms. Shostakovich has become a favorite with our audiences, and his ninth symphony is delightfully upbeat.”

Lieutenant Kijé is the fictional protagonist of an anecdote about the reign of Emperor Paul I of Russia. The story was used as the basis of a novella by Yury Tynyanov published in 1928 and filmed in 1934, with music by Sergei Prokofiev (below). The plot is a satire on bureaucracy and is often parodied in fictional works making fun of bureaucracies, most famously in the form of the M*A*S*H television episode “Tuttle,” featuring a fictional captain of similar provenance. (You can hear the popular “Troika” episode in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Many of the themes in Violin Concerto in D minor are evocative of the native Armenia of Aram Khachaturian (below). Although the folk melodies aren’t played explicitly, one can hear the Armenian roots through the oriental essence of the scales and the rhythmic range of the featured dances. The piece won the Stalin Prize in 1941, becoming one of Khachaturian’s favorites.

Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9 is entirely unlike his other symphonies. In fact, it completely disregards the expectations for its programmatic elements. Shostakovich’s prior two symphonies are thematically tied to the ongoing war, therefore the public presumed that the ninth symphony would be a grand culmination to Stalin and mark the end of World War II. Instead, the composer (below) produced a short, neo-classical work that generated an abundance of controversy.

ABOUT RACHEL BARTON PINE

In both art and life, violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below) – who has performed in Madison before with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra — has an extraordinary ability to connect with people.

Celebrated as a leading interpreter of great classic and contemporary works, her performances combine her innate gift for emotional communication and her scholarly fascination with historical research. She plays with passion and conviction, thrilling audiences worldwide with her dazzling technique, lustrous tone, and infectious joy in music-making.

A prolific recording artist, she has also championed the works of female composers and African-American composers.

Pine was also recently named the recipient of the Cedille Records Musical Partnership Award for her Rachel Barton Pine Foundation. The Foundation was recognized as an organization that has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to the classical music community in Chicago. Cedille noted the Foundation’s “support of the Chicago musical community’s most valuable asset — its musicians and composers.”

Pine was presented with the award by U.S Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg whose son, Jim Ginsburg, founded Cedille Records. Pine began her Foundation in 2001 to provide instruments and instruction to children who might not otherwise be able to afford them.

You can read the Artist Story online about how Rachel Barton Pine overcame severe injuries and her own personal adversity to achieve her goals: https://madisonsymphony.org/19-20-artist-story-rachel-barton-pine-overcomes-adversity/

CONCERT, TICKET AND EVENT DETAILS

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert.

One hour before each performance, retired MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience. It is free to ticket holders.

The MSO recommends that concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the Prelude Discussion.

Program notes for the concerts are available online: http://bit.ly/msooct19programnotes.

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


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Classical music: Steve Kurr talks about his new work celebrating Middleton that will be premiered Wednesday night by the Middleton Community Orchestra alongside Mozart and Dvorak

October 8, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Wednesday night, Oct. 9, the mostly amateur but highly praised Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will open its 10th anniversary season, which is dedicated to retired critic John W. Barker for his help in championing the ensemble.

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. in the comfortable and acoustically excellent Middleton Performing Arts Center (below, in a photo by Brian Ruppert), which is attached to Middleton High School, 2100 Bristol Street.

Admission is $15 for the public, free for students. Tickets are available from the Willy Street Coop West and at the door. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. Auditorium doors open at 7 p.m. 

The appealing program features J.J. Koh (below), principal clarinet of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, as guest soloist in the beautiful and poignant Clarinet Concerto in A Major, K. 622. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the sublime slow movement, which may sound familiar from when it was used in the soundtrack to the film “Out of Africa.”)

Also on the program is the popular Symphony No. 9 – “From the New World” – by Antonin Dvorak.

But raising the curtain will be the world premiere of a work that was written specifically for this orchestra on this occasion in its own city.

The piece was composed by Steve Kurr, who teaches at Middleton High School and who is the resident conductor of the MCO.

For more information about the MCO’s season along with critical reviews and information about how to join it or support it and how to enter its new youth concerto competition, go to:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Kurr, below, will conduct the premiere of his own work, which he recently discussed via email with The Ear:

How much do you compose and why do you compose?

When I do compose, which is not often, it is usually with a specific event in mind. I have written several things for the musicians at Middleton High School, including a four-movement string symphony, a piece for a retiring colleague, and several works we have taken on tour.

In this case, the 10th season of the Middleton Community Orchestra provided a great reason to write. I always enjoy the process, but it can be time-consuming, so I don’t do it as often as I might like.

How does composing fit in with your teaching and conducting?

Most of the composing I do comes in the summer because it is when I can devote larger chunks of time. This new work was germinating in some form for several years, but almost all of the notes-on-the-page work came this past June.

How do you compose?

I approach composition in an analytical way, which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. I think about structure early on in the process, both at the full work scale and in the smaller sections.

Most of my work comes on the computer in the notation software Finale, and some comes on the piano or on a string instrument.

I run ideas past my wife Nancy for her input and for this piece I also got a huge amount of advice and help from composer and MCO violist Neb Macura (below). (Thanks, Neb! You were invaluable!) Most of the melodic material came to me in the car on the way to school.

How would you describe your musical or tonal style?

I would say that my style is mostly tonal and not all that adventurous in terms of harmony. The fact that I have spent much of my musical career studying the works of the Classical and Romantic periods shows through. And yet you might find some moments that hint at more recent styles.

Can you briefly tell the public about the new piece to be premiered?

“Good Neighbors” is subtitled “Episodes for Orchestra” and the connected episodes describe various aspects of the Middleton community.

Episode 1 depicts the city of Middleton and its bustling energy within a small town feel. Episode 2 is about all of the water around, including the creeks, ponds and Lake Mendota. Episode 3 is the Good Neighbor Festival, appearing at the end of summer for so many years. Episode 4 describes the land around, including the rolling farmland, the driftless area, and the Ice Age Trail.

The final episode brings together tunes from the previous four, combining them to demonstrate that the Good Neighbor City is more than the sum of its parts. The opening theme shows up in several different versions throughout, including most notably the theme from Episode 4.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

At first I considered the endeavor almost self-indulgent as I set a piece of my own in front of the ensemble. Then I started to feel presumptuous. It is a humbling experience to see my name on a program with Mozart and Dvorak, two of my favorite composers.

It has been a terrific experience working with these fine musicians as we realize this new work together. My thanks go to them for their willingness to help me present this gift to the Middleton community.


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Classical music: The Madison Early Music Festival’s 20th anniversary Grand Tour includes a silent movie and rare books as well as lots of varied music to mark its success after 20 years. Part 2 of 2

July 6, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

A big anniversary deserves a big celebration – and that is exactly what the organizers of this year’s Madison Early Music Festival, which is marking its 20th year, have come up with.

All concerts include a pre-concert lecture at 6:30 p.m. The concerts begin at 7:30 p.m.

Here’s the link for all the information about MEMF: https://memf.wisc.edu/

Tickets are $90 for an all-event pass. Individual concerts are $22, $12 for students. Tickets are available for purchase online and by phone at 608-265-ARTS (2787) with a $4 service fee; or in person at the Campus Arts Ticketing Box Office @ Memorial Union.

Co-artistic director Cheryl Bensman-Rowe recently wrote about the festival in a Q&A for this blog. Yesterday she spoke about the overall concept and the first weekend’s concerts. Here is a link to Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/07/05/classical-music-the-madison-early-music-festival-will-present-a-grand-tour-of-musical-styles-a-movie-and-rare-books-to-mark-its-success-after-20-years-the-tour-starts-this-saturda/

Here is Part 2 of 2:

What events take place next week?

The concert on Tuesday, July 9, is going to be a unique experience for MEMF audiences. HESPERUS creates the soundtrack for the 1923 silent film “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” with music (below) from 14th- and 15th-century France. (The cathedral was started in 1163 and finished in 1345.)

Compositions include French and Burgundian music from 1300 to 1500, featuring Guillaume de Machaut, Jehan l’Escurel, Guillaume Dufay, as well as lesser-known composers such as Vaillant, Morton and Borlet.

On Friday, July 12, the vocal ensemble Calmus (below) performs “Faith and Madness,” a program of a dialogue between sacred music masterpieces followed by madrigals that portray madness, love, war and loneliness.

Composers include Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Heinrich Schütz, Claudio Monteverdi, Carlo Gesualdo, Clement Janequin and others.

All of the singers are graduates of Leipzig’s renowned St. Thomas Church Choir School. Calmus was founded in 1999. This a cappella quintet embodies the rich choral tradition of its hometown, the city associated with Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn.

To hear a preview of their arrangement of Bach’s “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland,” BWV 659, visit: https://youtu.be/WNzzUU0GcF4

Can you tell us about the program and performers for the All-Festival concert on Saturday, July 13?

The All-Festival Concert includes all of our workshop participants and faculty. We work together to prepare the concert all week and it is truly a MEMF community project. Grant Herreid (below) has created the All-Festival program this year. Grant is a genius at designing a program that tells a musical story featuring MEMF’s faculty and participants.

“Musical Postcards from The Grand Tour” features a narrator, loosely based on Thomas Coryat (below, at sea and in the Alps), the English 17th-century century travel writer, who, as a young man, travels throughout Europe in search of music. Beginning in London, 1641, the musical itinerary continues to Venice, Rome, Naples, Dresden, Paris, and back to London.

The program features so many wonderful composers, and the large ensemble pieces are: the Gloria from Monteverdi’s Selva morale et spirituale; the beautiful Miserere of Gregorio Allegri; Nun danket alle Gott by Heinrich Schütz; Domine salvum fac regem setting by Jean-Baptiste Lully; and, as an ending, This point in time ends all your grief from Ye tuneful muses by Henry Purcell.

Are there other sessions — guest lectures, certain performers, particular works — that you especially recommend for the general public?

All the planning that goes into each festival leads me to encourage the general public to attend everything! The concert series, lectures and workshops have so much to offer.

The special moments that I’m looking forward to are singing in the All-Festival concert and performing Allegri’s  Miserere,a stunning piece that I have never heard performed in Madison. (You can hear it in there YouTube video at the bottom.)

I also look forward to hearing the fantastic musical soundtrack created by HESPERUS for the silent movie “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and the Calmus singing connection back to Bach through their musical education in Leipzig, plus experiencing all the different travelogues of the past as they come to life through narrations and music.

Special events include a dance with a live band drawn from the MEMF Faculty with dance instruction by Peggy Murray, Grand Tour Dance Excursions, at the Memorial Union in the Great Hall on Thursday, July 11, at 7:30 pm. https://memf.wisc.edu/event/07-11-2019-2/

The lecture series features some well-known Madisonians like J. Michael Allsen (below top), who writes program notes and lectures for the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Maria Saffiotti Dale (below bottom), curator at the Chazen Museum of Art.

There will be a special exhibit created for MEMF in the lobby of Memorial Library by Jeanette Casey, the head of the Mills Music Library and Lisa Wettleson of Special Collections at Memorial Library. This curated display includes materials about the Grand Tour, including one of the oldest travelogues from 1611 written by Thomas Coryat.

The exhibit will be in the lobby of Memorial Library (below) and open to the public from Saturday, July 6, through Thursday, July 18, with a special talk about the exhibit during the festival on Monday, July 8, at 11:30 a.m.

This partnership allows the library to display rarely seen original and facsimile publications, some dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries within the context of the MEMF theme.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

In 1611 Thomas Coryat, the author of the travelogue Crudities foretold what you will hear at MEMF in 2019:

“…I heard the best musicke that ever I did in all my life…so good that I would willingly goe an hundred miles a foote at any time to heare the like…the Musicke which was both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so superexcellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like”.

Get your tickets for the concert series. Attend the lectures. Take some classes. See a movie. Come and dance with us. Join us to experience the ultimate musical gap year at our 20th anniversary celebration!


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Classical music: Looking for serious fun? The thoroughly successful opening concerts by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society bode well for the upcoming second weekend

June 19, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

After 28 summers, going to a concert by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society still feels like attending a family reunion – the best kind of family reunion where everyone is familiar and friendly, where everything is fun, and where you always leave glad that you went.

That’s not by chance.

The first thing that co-founders and co-artistic directors Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes did last Friday and Saturday nights was to thank the loyal audience. And the audience, full of longtime fans, returned the favor by being attentive to and appreciative of the first-rate music-making as well as responsive to the horseplay and antics – such as the surreal scene of virtuoso Axel Strauss playing “The Skater’s Waltz” on his violin while rollerblading around the stage (below).

BDDS players really mean it when they say that their audiences are in for something different, something they won’t find elsewhere and won’t forget.

Last weekend that meant the return of two longtime guest performers: San Francisco cellist Jean-Michael Fonteneau and Montreal violinist Axel Strauss (below, with pianist Jeffrey Sykes). Neither disappointed as they performed very varied music by Franz Joseph Haydn, C.P.E. Bach, Johannes Brahms, Gabriel Faure, Lili Boulanger, Maurice Ravel and Ned Rorem. And as always, the amazing  pianist Jeffrey Sykes proved a chameleon who blended masterfully into the style of each period and each composer.

But for The Ear, the unexpected standout last weekend was guest accordion player Stas Venglevski from Milwaukee. Born in Russia and trained at the Moscow Conservatory, he is a virtuoso player, a sensitive arranger and a convincing composer – all done with good humor and a charismatic stage presence.

The Ear never thought of the accordion – the Russian bayan, to be specific – as an instrument for chamber music. But he does now, after hearing Venglevski play serious Russian, French and Latin American music that ran the gamut from a graceful waltz and a sprightly polka to torchy tangos. And then there were his flying fingers punching out “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” a real crowd-pleaser.

The large audience responded on both nights with wild applause and a standing ovation every time that Venglevski (below) played, and Jutt promised the audience that he will be back.

“As you can see, we have fun here,” Jutt deadpanned.

She is not exaggerating.

Which bodes well for the second weekend of three that will happen this coming weekend.

The second weekend — two programs in three venues — celebrates Jutt and Sykes, plus two of BDDS’ favorite guest artists: violinist Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio and Madison pianist Thomas Kasdorf.

Kasdorf (below) and Sykes are both featured in a program called “Rock the Sykes-o-delic Kas-bah.” Kasdorf is featured in Brahms’ Horn Trio with guest horn player Karl Kramer Johansen, and in the appealing and accessible Café Concertino by the contemporary Australian composer Carl Vine.

Sykes will perform another chamber transcription of a Classical-era symphonic work, which over the years has become a welcome specialty of BDDS. In this case it is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s snappy and appealing Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, K. 271, the “Jeunehomme” concerto. (You can hear the irresistible last movement of the piano concerto, used in the film “Amadeus,” in the YouTube video at the bottom.) Sykes will also perform in Robert Schumann’s “Fairy Tales” for clarinet and viola.

A Madison native, cellist Alison Rowe (below) — an artist from the Dynamite Factory, which is BDDS’ program for emerging talent — will be featured in the Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Major by Johann Sebastian Bach.

“Rock the Sykes-o-delic Kas-bah” will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 21, at 7:30 p.m. Braisin’ Hussies Food Cart will be parked outside the Opera House prior to the performance. The program will also be performed in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, Sunday, June 23, at 2:30 p.m.

Jutt (below top) and Sant’Ambrogio (below bottom, in a photo by Stephanie Ann Boyd) worm their musical way into the most unexpected places in the other program, “Steph Infection.” The Nocturne for flute, violin, horn and piano of Franz Doppler opens the program, which continues with Jutt’s own arrangement of Antonin Dvorak’s popular “American” String Quartet, with a flute substituting for one of the two violins.

Dmitri Shostakovich’s Five Pieces for flute, clarinet and piano add spice to the program, and the evening concludes with Ernst von Dohnanyi’s epic Sextet for clarinet, horn, violin, viola, cello and piano. A work that ranges from stormy and turbulent to tender and funny, it features an all-star cast including audience favorite clarinetist Alan Kay, horn player Karl Kramer Johansen, violist Carol Cook (principal at the Lyric Opera of Chicago), and Madison’s own cellist of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet, Parry Karp (below).

“Steph Infection” will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts, Saturday, June 22, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, Sunday, June 23, at 6:30 p.m.

And of course there could also be some unannounced surprises – more door prizes, perhaps a mystery guest, or more shenanigans and antics that correspond to the “Name Dropping” pun theme of the programs.

For tickets ($43-$49) and more information, go to: https://bachdancing.org


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Classical music: Why does Pavarotti – the man and now the movie – fascinate us?

June 8, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend a lot of people nationwide will go see the movie “Pavarotti,” the documentary by Ron Howard about the legendary Italian tenor who died 12 years ago.

Luciano Pavarotti (below) was and remains a superstar, a major cultural phenomenon, which is why Decca Records is cashing in by releasing not only the soundtrack to the documentary film but also a new 3-CD compilation of Pavarotti’s best singing.

It’s all so curious, especially if you compare Pavarotti’s artistic accomplishments against those of, say, Placido Domingo.

Pavarotti couldn’t read music.

He couldn’t act very convincingly.

The roles he learned were relatively limited in number.

He made major personal and professional missteps.

Yet we remain deeply drawn to Pavarotti.

Why?

It certainly has to do with his extraordinary voice, the tone and power of which could make your neck hairs stand on end, give you goosebumps, bring tears to your eyes and make you sob out loud.

Just listen to his singing of Puccini’s “Nessun dorma,” the crowd-pleasing signature aria from “Turandot” that Pavarotti performed over and over again in concerts, operas and at the famous “Three Tenors” stadium concerts. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

But there is more to Pavarotti as a cultural phenomenon, much more, that tells us about ourselves and about the appeal of opera in general.

Without question, the best cultural analysis of Luciano Pavarotti that The Ear has ever seen or heard came recently from the critic Zachary Woolfe in The New York Times.

As Woolfe deconstructs “this hulking, sweaty man with stringy hair, a patchy beard and an unforgettable sound,” you learn much about the popular appeal – both high and low — of opera as well as the commercial and artistic appeal of Pavarotti.

Here is a link to Woolfe’s “Critic’s Notebook” analysis, which is well worth reading on its own or either before or after you see the new film.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/03/arts/music/pavarotti-ron-howard.html

And here is the official trailer for the film, with comments from many of his colleagues, which gets mixed reviews:

What do you think of Zachary Woolfe’s analysis of Pavarotti?

Why do you think the singer was so popular?

What is your favorite performance of his?

And if you saw the film, what did you think of it? Do you recommend seeing it?

Leave a comment.

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra and UW duo-pianists showcase the remarkable music of Camille Saint-Saens and Mozart in the popular concert that closes its season

June 1, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

The mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a  photo by Margaret Barker) closed its season Thursday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center with a promising and well-received program.

The centerpiece featured two graduate student soloists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music, pianists Thomas Kasdorf (below right) and Satoko Hayami (below left), who joined in Mozart’s Concerto in E-flat Major, K. 365, for two pianos and orchestra. The two soloists were alert and polished collaborators. (You can hear the energetic and catchy final movement, used in the Academy Award-winning film “Amadeus,” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Conductor Steve Kurr (below) set a bouncy pace but a rather fast and overpowering one, and with an orchestra — especially strings — quite overblown by the standards of Mozart’s day.

The MCO was blessed by the loan of a very special model of a Model B Steinway instrument, now owned and lovingly restored by Farley’s House of Pianos. This was paired against a Steinway of much later vintage, owned by the hall. But nowhere was there identification about which piano was which as they sat onstage, much less which pianist was playing which piano (and they switched between the two works utilizing them.) This was disappointing for it prevented making an informed comparison of the two instruments.

Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921, below) is backhandedly treated as being on the margins of composer greatness. But his scope was remarkable, as witnessed by the two works that were the program’s bookends.

The opener was his humorous Suite, “Carnival of the Animals.” This set of 14 short pieces was written for one private performance, in chamber terms, one player per part. So the orchestra that was used — of 87 listed musicians, 60 of them were string players — became a crushing distortion. The two pianists were a bit formal, but ideally facile.

Saint-Saens made no provision for any kind of spoken text, certainly not in French. In the middle of the last century, the American poet of high-spirited doggerel, Ogden Nash, wrote wickedly funny verses with offbeat rhymes and puns to go with each movement.

It was these Nash verses that Wisconsin Public Radio host Norman Gilliland (below), who was only identified as the “narrator,” read with a good bit of tongue-in-cheek. Nowhere are these at all identified or credited in the bumbling program booklet.  (Many in the audience might have just thought that they were written by Gilliland himself.)

In many of the suite’s movements, Saint-Saens quoted or alluded to hit tunes by earlier composers, for parodistic purposes. Unfortunately, there are no program notes in the booklet, so these tidbits would easily go unnoticed by many listeners.

Saint-Saens composed, among his numerous orchestral works, a total of five symphonies, only three of which are numbered. I had originally been given to expect No. 2, a charming work I love, as the program closer. All but the last of them are early works in a graceful post-Classical style.

But No. 3 was composed much later in his life, and in a more expansive style. This is a frequently performed spectacle, unconventional in plan and in scoring. It adds the two pianists and an organ — hence the nickname the “Organ Symphony.”

Unfortunately, the hall has no organ of its own, so the substitute was a rig of electronic organ with its own booming speakers and exaggerated pedal notes. Again totally unmentioned is that this contraption was played by MCO sound technician Alex Ford (below, with the portable electronic organ keyboard from Austria with its computer-screen stops).

This kind of organ could never be integrated into the full orchestral texture and served only to allow the orchestra to play this grandiose score. Such ambition was backed by really splendid and well-balanced orchestral playing.

As intended, the large local audience, with many children and families, was wildly enthusiastic.


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Classical music: This Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, the Oakwood Chamber Players finish their “Vignettes” season with an American audio-visual work and music by French, Italian and British composers

May 14, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Oakwood Chamber Players — known for highlighting neglected composers and works — perform the last concert of their current season series “Vignettes” with an array of contrasting and generally neglected works from the late 19th to 21st century.

Performances will take place on Saturday night, May 18, at 7 p.m. and on Sunday afternoon, May 19, at 2 p.m. Both concerts will be held at the Oakwood Village Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne Mall.

Tickets can be purchased with cash or personal checks at the door: $25 for general admission, $20 for seniors and $5 for students.

Members of the Oakwood Chamber Players (below) are: Marilyn Chohaney, flute; Nancy Mackenzie, clarinet; Amanda Szyczs, bassoon; Anne Aley, horn; and Maggie Townsend, cello.

They are joined by guest artists: Valree Casey, oboe; Hillary Hempel, violin; Michael Koszewski, percussion; Jason Kutz, piano; and Carrie Backman, conductor.

American composer Michael Gandolfi (below top) collaborated with MIT computer animator Jonathan Bachrach (below bottom) to create a unique musical and visual partnership for his Abridged History of the World in Seven Acts. Six instrumentalists create overlapping textures and rhythmic interplay in response to mesmerizing images.

Four French composers from the late 19th to mid-20th century are featured: The piano, four-hand “Dolly Suite” by Gabriel Fauré (below top) in an arrangement for woodwind quintet and piano; Petite Pièces (Small Pieces) for violin, horn and piano by his student Charles Koechlin (below middle; the sweetly engaging quartet Sérénade  (Serenade) by Reynaldo Hahn (below third)and five Pièces en Trio (Trio Pieces) for oboe, clarinet and bassoon by Jacques Ibert (below bottom).

The Piano Trio in One Movement” by British composer Norman O’Neill (below) is full of verve and heart-felt melodies.

The woodwind quintet Piccolo Offerta Musicale” by noted Italian film composer Nino Rota (below), who wrote the scores for many films by Federico Fellini, is a short homage to Johann Sebastian Bach. (You can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for over 30 years. They perform in other groups, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Willy Street Chamber Players.

For more information, go to www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com or call (608) 230-4316.

The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.


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Classical music: This Wednesday night, the Middleton Community Orchestra will perform a Russian trumpet concert and a new work by an orchestra member along with a famous Schumann symphony

February 24, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from the mostly amateur but critically acclaimed Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a  photo by Brian Ruppert) to post:

“For our winter concert, we are excited to welcome trumpeter Jessica Jensen back to the stage on this Wednesday night, Feb. 27, at 7:30 p.m. to perform the Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra by Aleksandra Pakhmutova with the musicians of the Middleton Community Orchestra led by conductor Steve Kurr (below).

“I am beyond thrilled to be playing Aleksandra Pakhmutova’s Trumpet Concerto with the Middleton Community Orchestra,” says Jensen (below).

“After completing her concerto in 1955, Pakhmutova (below) — who is still actively composing and performing today at the age of 89 — cultivated a legendary career as one of Russia’s top film and popular music composers.

“Her future cinematic success was foreshadowed in her trumpet concerto as parts of it sound as though they could have been taken directly out of the score to a 1950s film. Week after week the MCO adds a new electricity to the work. I cannot wait to share this rarely performed fiery, dramatic piece with everyone.”

The program will open with “Polar Nights,” a piece composed by MCO violist Nebojsa Macura (below), who says: “‘Polar Nights’ uses a variety of instrumental colors to conjure up images of winter above the Arctic Circle. I’m tremendously honored to perform my own piece as a member of such a dedicated orchestra.”

The program will conclude with the famous Symphony No. 3 “Rhenish” by Robert Schumann. (You can hear the lyrical second movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The concert is at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, which is attached to Middleton High School at 2100 Bristol Street.

General admission is $15.  All students are admitted free of charge. Tickets are available at the door and at Willy St. Coop West.

The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. and the concert hall doors open at 7 p.m.

A meet-and-greet reception (below) follows the concert.


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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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