The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: “I like tunes,” says Academy Award-winning composer Thomas Cabaniss, who talks about his “Double Rainbow” piano concerto. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and guest soloists will give the world premiere of the work this Friday night.

April 24, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Even for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), which likes to mix things and up during its winter season, the concert this Friday night is something special to close out the current season.

The WCO will give the world premiere of the “Double Rainbow” Piano Concerto by Thomas Cabaniss, which was commissioned for the WCO.

The performance will also feature husband-and-wife duo-pianists Michael Shinn and Jessica Chow Shinn.

The concert is Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

Also on the program is Maurice Ravel’s Neo-classical homage to World War I, “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” and the Symphony No. 2 by Robert Schumann.

Tickets are $10 to $80.

For more information about the program, the soloists and tickets, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-v-2/

Composer Thomas Cabaniss recently did an email Q&A for The Ear:

Can you briefly introduce yourself and your career to the reader?

I’m Thomas Cabaniss (below). I am a composer and teaching artist from Charleston, South Carolina. I have lived in New York for the last 30 years, and so I greedily claim both places as home. I teach at the Juilliard School — where I met Michael and Jessica Shinn — and I also lead arts education projects at Carnegie Hall.

After graduating from Yale in 1984, I was an assistant conductor on a variety of projects including Leonard Bernstein’s opera A Quiet Place at La Scala and the Kennedy Center. Setting out to forge a career as a composer, I moved to New yolk City, which had the added benefit of being the same city where my girlfriend was attending medical school. A few years later we married and settled in Manhattan.

To start, I worked primarily as a theater composer, but I was also writing piano and chamber music on the side, and doing arts education work in between shows. In 1990 I scored and arranged a short film called The Lunch Date, which won the Palme D’Or and the Academy Award. In 1995 I joined the New York Philharmonic education programs, eventually becoming the orchestra’s Education Director.

I kept composing, and wrote a chamber opera called The Sandman, which was premiered in New York in 2002 and revived again the following season. In 2004 I was appointed to special education position with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and at the same time I wrote a series of evening length dance scores that were premiered in New York.

In 2009, I began working as composer-in-residence for the LinkUp program at Carnegie Hall, which has grown in that time to serve over 95 orchestras around the world and across the U.S. – including the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

I also helped to create the Lullaby Project at Carnegie Hall, which serves young parents in shelters, hospitals and prisons, and we are working hard to extend that work across the country through a series of partnerships.

How would you describe your musical style in general and the style of the new two-piano concerto specifically? Accessible? Tonal or atonal? Modernist or Neo-Classical? Melodic or percussive? Are there composers or works that have influenced your style?

I like tunes. I like to write songs, and I like to sing, so my music tends to value melody. My works are generally tonal, often spiked with cluster chords and other atonal devices, but I am always interested in the musical gravity of tonal centers. (You can hear a sample of Thomas Cabaniss’ music in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This piece is inspired by its soloists, Michael and Jessica Shinn (below), and by the image of a Double Rainbow (also the work’s title). I have written Michael and Jessica pieces for piano-four hands, and there is one piece they have championed called Tiny Bits of Outrageous Love. Something about the chemistry of their relationship as musicians (and as husband and wife) has inspired me to create music that is particularly exciting and intimate.

And yes, I suppose most composers embed hints of the music they love in the music they write, and I am no different. Tiny Bits was a kind of homage to the Brahms Waltzes for piano-four hands, and Double Rainbow nods to Leonard Bernstein, Olivier Messiaen, Leos Janacek and John Adams. I’m sure listeners will hear other influences, too.

What would you like listeners to know about and listen for in the piano concerto? What were the special challenges of writing for duo-pianists?

This is from the program note I wrote for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra:

DOUBLE RAINBOW is based on an experience I had with my family on the Isle of Palms, South Carolina, about 20 years ago. On this particular August day, there was a huge rain in the early afternoon, many dark clouds, thunder (but no lightning). After the storm, from the porch of our beach rental house, we saw not one, but two rainbows (below). My sister-in-law is an avid photographer, and so she coaxed us all down onto the beach so she could get a pristine angle. That alone might have been enough inspiration for a piece of music, but when we got to the water’s edge, as Julia was snapping her photos, a dolphin jumped out of the water in a vertical launch, the tail clearing the water’s surface. It was one of those moments that seemed so unbelievable that none of us said a word. 

I have always been fascinated by the search for the elusive “perfect moment,” and DOUBLE RAINBOW is a sort of study of that kind of exploration. It is all bound up in the idea of “doubleness,” represented by the two pianos. It is divided into three movements: “Surfaces” (exploring the accumulation of drops of water from tiny, atomized particles), “Disturbances” (exploring imbalances and the storms that result from them), and “Revelation” (of the Double Rainbow). Not surprising in a double concerto, there is a great deal of dialogue between the pianos, and the orchestra has more of an accompanying role in the first two movements. The final movement is different, though. Everybody is in, and the music pulses with magic. The movement seems to be headed for a big climax, but at the last moment, it suddenly slows down and there are stars.

The main challenge for me in writing a double piano concerto is all those fingers! Twenty of them, and they are capable of so much. The music I write does not usually focus on virtuosity, and yet I also wanted it to be a vehicle for them to be expressive and dynamic. I worked hard to achieve a balance between the lyricism and the fireworks – we’ll see how audiences experience it.

What else would you like to say?

I am especially excited to be able to visit Madison for the premiere. I’ll get to meet members of the family of Jessica Chow Shinn (below, she is a Madison native), and I have a former student in the orchestra (Midori Samson, Second Bassoon). My Carnegie Lullaby Project collaborators include another Madison native (Ann Gregg) and Elizabeth Snodgrass, who is originally from Appleton (I think) but recently moved to Madison. I will get to meet WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) in person. We have been doing some Skype rehearsals and phone consultations. It will be great to watch Andrew in action.

While we are here, my wife Deborah will be giving Grand Rounds at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, and my son Will leads an a cappella group at University of Chicago (Voices In Your Head), and this year they have been singing frequently with a wonderful University of Wisconsin group (Fundamentally Sound).

The last few seasons the Madison Symphony Orchestra has been offering Carnegie Hall LinkUp concerts to kids in grades 3-5, and this year is no exception. They will perform The Orchestra Moves in May, for which I wrote two of the works (Come To Play and Away I Fly) and arranged another (Cidade Maravilhosa).

This project has been a few years in the making, and so for Michael and Jessica and me, this is a kind of celebration. We can’t wait to share DOUBLE RAINBOW with you.

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Classical music: Presidential debates should include questions about funding and supporting the arts and humanities

October 27, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Well, well.

Tomorrow night — from 7 to 9 p.m. CDT on CNBC — there will be another presidential debate.

The always astonishing and amazing Republicans, led by the always astonishing and amazing Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson, will debate in Boulder, Colorado.

Republican presidential debate

The Ear has watched three presidential debates so far — two Republican and one Democratic.

But he still has no idea of where the various candidates on both sides stand when it comes to government support of the arts –- including music — and the humanities.

Please tell us, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, what you think?

bernie sanders and hillary clinton in presidential debate

And you too, Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum and Chris Christie and Jeb Bush and Rand Paul and John Kasich and ….

Do you want to defund PBS?

pbs logo in black

Or defund NPR?

npr

Or will you support these important and historic cultural commitments? Why or why not?

Along the same lines, do you want to defund, sustain or enhance the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities?

Why or why not?

Some funny reasoning is going on here. Some of the candidates want to eliminate all subsidies to the arts, which are a form of economic development after all – at a time when a lot of conservatives don’t mind funding big rich corporations in the same name of economic development.

The arts create a lot of jobs and spark a lot of spending and stimulus. Or don’t the culture-challenged charlatans realize that?

Stop and think a minute about the local situation. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Overture Center (below), public schools, the University of Wisconsin and its School of Music — all rely in part on public funding. They employ a lot of people and generate a lot of value.

OvertureExteior-DelBrown_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85

Don’t these issues deserve a public airing? Doesn’t the arts consuming public have a right to know where the various candidates stand on these issues? Shouldn’t voters know what they might be getting in those areas?

As The Ear understand its, one flank of the attack has to do with the so called left-leaning liberal or progressive bias and politics of PBS and NPR.

Plus, there is the view that the art that public taxpayer money is helping to create doesn’t defend the so-called family values that the most radically conservative Republicans and Christian fundamentalists and Evangelicals want defended.

The other flank of the attack has to do with the stance that government should be smaller and that therefore should be funding less in general.

Makes you wonder just how the radical “freedom coalition” and Tea Party people in South Carolina, Texas and California feel about having a smaller government when it comes to providing aid for victims of torrential floods and devastating wildfires. And how is that kind of help for those in need different from funding education or health care?

California wildfires 2015 nbcnews

AUSTIN, TX - MAY 25, 2015 Extreme flooding takes place in Austin, Texas May 25, 2015. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

AUSTIN, TX – MAY 25, 2015
Extreme flooding takes place in Austin, Texas May 25, 2015.
(Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

Anyway, wouldn’t it be appropriate for some of the panelists to question the candidates on the issues pertaining to the arts and humanities?

The Ear is reminded of Sir Winston Churchill’s comment during World War II. Some members of the British Parliament asked him if funding for the arts shouldn’t be cut and used instead to fight Hitler and the Nazis. He said no and added, “Then what would we be fighting for?”

winston churchill

Tell the Ear what you think. Leave a COMMENT.

Maybe, just maybe, someone else will read it and pass it along and we will finally get a substantive discussion from the candidates about where they stand on arts and humanities funding by the federal government.

 


Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society will wind up its current summer season of masterful music-making with two MUST-HEAR programs this weekend.

June 25, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you needed more proof about why you should take in one or both of the final two programs – “Crooked Business” and “Highway Robbery” — by the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, you should have been at one or both of the BDDS concerts last weekend.

BDDS poster 2015

For this coming weekend of the 24th season: “Crooked Business” features the Sonata for Flute and Keyboard in B Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach; the chamber music reduction of the Piano Concerto in C minor, K. 491, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and a chamber music arrangement version of the Serenade in D Major, Op. 11, by Johannes Brahms.

“Highway Robbery” offers the First Rhapsody for Clarinet by Claude Debussy; “Seven Seascapes” by the American composer Kevin Puts, who won the Pulitzer Prize; and the great Octet by Franz Schubert.

For more information about programs and performers, venues and tickets, visit: http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society continues to be incapable of being boring, ordinary or mediocre. It’s just not in their genes or DNA.

Last Saturday night, The Ear took in the “Breaking and Entering” concert in The Playhouse of the Overture Center. The theme was meant to explore how composers broke new ground and violated boundaries.

The theme might seem a bit of a stretch — they often do — and when one of the two fake security guards frisked an audience member for a gun or weapon, it might have struck some audience members as uncomfortable or in questionable taste rather than amusing or funny, given the recent shootings in Charleston, South Carolina.

BDDS Breaking 2015 guard

But humor and silliness aside, there is no question that the music received the superb performances it deserved.

The San Francisco Trio, veteran BDDS guest artists, delivered two masterful readings of two Romantic masterpieces. The trio opened the concert perfectly with the lovely and short “Notturno” (1827) by Franz Schubert. Then it closed the concert with the revised version of the substantial and even epic Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major (1854, revised in 1889), Op. 8, by Johannes Brahms. The trio is made up of pianist Jeffrey Sykes (a co-founder and co-artistic director of BDDS), violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau.

BDDS Breaking SF Trio

Then came the somewhat eccentric Sonatina for Trio (1934) by the rarely performed French composer and eccentric music critic Florent Schmitt.

The players were an unusual combination of flutist Stephanie Jutt (the UW-Madison professor is a co-founder and co-artistic director of BDDS as well as principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra); local pianist Thomas Kasdorf, who is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music; and the incredible clarinetist Alan Key from New York City who teaches at the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School, and who plays with the respected Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

BDDS Breaking 2015 Jutt, Kasdrof, Kay

Violinist Axel Strauss, who teaches at McGill University in Montreal, sure showed some impressive fiddling skills in two crossover pieces – “Pining for Betsy” and “Who Let the Cat Out Last Night?” — by Paul Schoenfield (b. 1947). It brought audible WOWs and cheers from the audience. (Listen for yourself to the virtuosic “Cat” piece in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

BDDS breaking 2015 Axel Strauss

An unusual and rarely heard piece by the Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne (b. 1959)  imagines Franz Joseph “Papa” Haydn and a South American composer discussing music at the Esterhazy estate where Haydn worked. The work was delivered with great panache by flutist Stephanie Jutt, clarinetist Alan Kay and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau.

BDDS Breaking 2015 Jutt, Fonteneau, Kay. jpeg

Both the variety of the repertoire and the players and the quality of the performances recommend the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society to any serious classical music fan as well as to beginners. The Ear says: Go have some classical fun!

 


Classical music: Music festivals, with premieres of new operas and chamber music, might fit into your summer travel plans. Check them out here.

April 25, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Many people are starting to make their summer travel plans.

Those plans could include music festivals, many of which will include the American premiere or even world premiere of a new opera or new chamber music. (Below is Marin Alsop conducting the Cabrillo Festival in Santa Cruz, California, which champions new music.)

Cabrillo Festival and Marin Alsop

Many are well known, such as the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York City, the Bard Music Festival in the Hudson River Valley and the Aspen Festival in Colorado as well as the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina and the Wolf Trap Festival in Virginia, not far from Washington, D.C.

But there are many, many others you may not know.

Here is a line-up as it appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/04/22/399609489/get-out-and-hear-some-new-music-this-summer

 


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