The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s organ concert on Tuesday night features two male singers in music from oratorios and operas

February 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming week, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will present  organist Samuel Hutchison (below) and acclaimed singers Andrew Bidlack and Kyle Ketelsen performing as a trio in vocal and instrumental music from oratorios and operas.

Sam Hutchison with organ (c) JoeDeMaio

The concert is Tuesday night, Feb. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street.

Principal Organist and Curator for the Madison Symphony Orchestra Samuel Hutchison joins forces with two outstanding singers in the first half to perform a program of favorite arias and overtures from Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Rossini’s Stabat Mater.

Opera will be the focus of the second half, featuring arias and selections from Bizet’s Carmen, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Gounod’s Faust.

For the full program, go to: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/organopera

Featured by Opera News as one of their top 25 brilliant young artists, tenor Andrew Bidlack (below) — who is replacing David Portillo — makes his debut in Overture Hall following performances at The Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Welsh National Opera and London’s Covent Garden.

andrew-bidlack-vertical

Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen (below, in a photo by Dario Acosta), who lives in nearby Sun Prairie, has sung with major opera companies throughout the world including The Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the State Opera of Berlin. He is praised for his vibrant stage presence and his distinctive vocalism.

In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Kyle Ketelsen sing the role of Don Escamillo in a Barcelona, Spain, production of Bizet’s “Carmen.” He is singing the same role in the Metropolitan Opera’s current production of “Carmen.”

Kyle Ketelsen face shot 1 Dario Acosta

General Admission for each Overture Concert Organ performance is $20. Tickets can be purchased at madisonsymphony.org/organopera, (608) 258-4141 or the Overture Center Box Office.

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 $10 tickets.

This performance is sponsored by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. 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 (MSO) commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts.

Overture Concert Organ overview


Classical music: This Friday night and Sunday afternoon, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir performs music composed by immigrants to the U.S.

April 14, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Robert Gehrenbeck (below), the talented and energetic director of the Wisconsin Chamber Choir who also directs choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, writes:

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will present “Songs In a New Land” on this Friday, April 15, at 7:30 p.m. in Bethel Lutheran Church, 312 Wisconsin Ave., in Madison and on Sunday, April 17 at 3 p.m. at Cargill United Methodist Church, 2000 Wesley Ave., in Janesville.

Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for students.

Advance tickets are available from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org. They are also available at the door.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir 1

The WCC’s concert will celebrate composers who were immigrants from the 15th century to the present, including emigres to the United States from China, Russia, Syria, Germany, Mexico, Argentina, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

At a time when immigration has become a burning issue in national politics, the WCC’s program highlights composers who emigrated from the country of their birth to make new homes elsewhere. They imported traditions from their homelands and enriched the cultural life of their adopted countries in innumerable ways.

Their reasons for leaving home were varied-some moved voluntarily but many were forced to emigrate for political, economic or religious reasons or, often, a combination of all of these.

While the experience of leaving behind all that is familiar and making a new life in a foreign country was rarely easy, the interaction of old and new influences resulted in some of the most lasting and unique artistic creations in history.

Most of the featured composers were or are immigrants to the United States, but the program opens with a set of Renaissance motets—“Stabat Mater” by Josquin des Prez (below top) and “Domine, Convertere” by Orlando di Lasso (below bottom) — demonstrating that migrant composers have played a major role throughout history.

Josquin Des Prez

Orlando Gibbons

Some of the more recent composers represented are: Kurt Weill, whose Kiddush was composed for Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City; Chen Yi (below top), represented by “A Set of Chinese Folksongs”; Osvaldo Golijov (below bottom), with an excerpt from his “Pasion segun San Marcos” (Passion According to St. Mark); and 20th-century giants Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky.

Chen Yi

Osvaldo Golijov 2

Although Schoenberg and Stravinsky were known for their dissonant, modernist works, much of the music they composed in the U.S. was tempered by an effort to communicate with audiences here. During the 1940s, both men ended up settling in Hollywood, along with countless other exiled European artists fleeing totalitarian regimes and persecution at home.

In the case of Schoenberg (below), even though he is known as “the father of atonality,” and the originator of “12-tone” music, he continued to compose tonal music throughout his life, and often wrote in a more accessible style for amateur musicians. The WCC will present two such tonal works by Schoenberg: “Verbundenheit” (Solidarity) for male chorus, and the folksong arrangement, “Mein Herz in steten treuen” (My Heart, Forever Faithful).

Arnold Schoenberg 1936

In the American works of Stravinsky (below), the Credo movement of his 1947 Mass was subtly influenced by American Jazz.

Igor Stravinsky old 2

Joining the WCC will be Madison organist Mark Brampton Smith, who will accompany several pieces at the organ as well as perform solo organ works by Paul Hindemith and Joaquin Nin-Culmell (two additional mid-century immigrants to the U.S.).

Mark Brampton Smith

The movements from Stravinsky’s Mass will be performed with Brampton Smith at organ and guest trombonist Michael Dugan (below), who will also enhance Josquin des Prez’s “Stabat Mater” by playing sackbut, the Renaissance ancestor of the trombone.

Michael Dugan

Guest percussionist Stephen Cherek will enliven several of the Latin American selections, playing a variety of instruments.

Here are some YouTube links to sample performances:

Josquin des Prez, “Stabat Mater”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsayDDRl3kI

Orlando di Lasso, “Domine Convertere”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufP3S_M4mog

Kurt Weill, “Kiddush”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RI2jTYqso0

Chen Yi, “Mo Li Hwa” (“Jasmine Flower” from A Set of Chinese Folksongs)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtlsW2ZjSHA

Osvaldo Golijov, “Demos Gracias” (from La Pasion segun San Marcos)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vldVEk29s3Y

Arnold Schoenberg, “Verbundenheit” (from Six Pieces for Male Chorus)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPAeA3sIoc8

Arnold Schoenberg, “Mein Herz in steten Treuen”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPsE1LBMHrs&index=5&list=PLdXviD-nr2a7RIabEqL5XrXLi4G7V71tP

Igor Stravinsky, Credo (from Mass)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBpfSfq9v0A


Classical music: Former UW-Madison professor and soprano Julia Faulkner is named Director of Vocal Studies at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

January 30, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Many of us remember when, more than a decade ago, soprano Julia Faulkner returned from her noteworthy career in Europe, which included many major opera and orchestral appearances as well as recordings on the Naxos and Deutsche Grammophon labels, to her native Wisconsin.

Then, once settled at home, she started teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music as an instructor, as adjunct academic staff. Eventually, she joined the department as a junior faculty member.

Julia Faulkner

Faulkner gave us many moments of pleasure when she performed at the UW-Madison and also with the Madison Opera and Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Two years ago, Faulkner went to do a guest teaching stint at the Ryan Opera School, an adjunct educational and professional development institution at the famous Lyric Opera of Chicago. Superstar diva Renée Fleming is an advisor to the school.

Now Faulkner is staying.

The gig is permanent and Faulkner is getting promoted.

This past week, Julia Faulkner was named Director of Vocal Studies at the school at the Lyric Opera of Chicago (below).

Lyric Opera of Chicago 1

Here is a link to the story:

http://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwopera/article/Julia-Faulkner-Named-Director-of-Vocal-Studies-at-Ryan-Opera-Center-20150126#

What can The Ear say?

Only: “Brava, bravissima!”

Plus, one can hope that Julia Faulkner’s departure is NOT a harbinger of things to come with other faculty and staff members under Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker‘s newly announced plan to implement huge cuts to the UW-Madison budget in exchange for more independence.

Anyway, listen to Julia Faulkner in her recording of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi‘s gloriously beautiful “Stabat Mater Dolorosa” in the YouTube video at the bottom.

 

 


Classical music: The UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra, with guest soloists, offered a welcome trio of rarely heard works.

November 29, 2014
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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 for 20 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Well, last weekend was another train-wreck weekend with too many good things in competition with each other: pianist Valentina Lisitsa at the Wisconsin Union Theater (Thursday, Nov. 20), the Madison Opera’s Fidelio at the Overture Center (Friday, Nov. 21, and Sunday, Nov. 23), the UW-Madison Choral Union and Symphony Orchestra (Saturday, Nov. 22, and Sunday, Nov. 23), and the intimate Solo Dei Gloria concert at Luther Memorial Church (Saturday, Nov. 22). I won’t mention the basketball game, as well.

I was able to revel in Beethoven’s Fidelio on Friday evening, enjoy the SDGers on Saturday, and catch the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra (below) on Sunday evening. And a rewarding finale that was.

UW Choral Union and Symphony Nov. 2014

Conductor and director Beverly Taylor (below) wisely avoided any seasonal associations and gave us the chance to hear music that we are rarely likely to hear otherwise.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

There were three pieces.

The “filler” in the middle was a lushly exotic curiosity by Ralph Vaughan Williams (below), his Flos campi (or “floss campy,” as a Wisconsin Public Radio announcer identified it) — “Flower of the Field,” inspired by lines from the Biblical Song of Songs, and scored for the unusual combination of solo viola, wordless chorus and orchestra.

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

It is a rhapsodic affair, in six interconnected sections, exploring the sonorities and novel colors that his scoring allows. While it evokes a perfumed “eastern” ambiance, much of its musical character really derives from the composer’s steeping in folksong and folk spirit.

The chorus’s size gave its sound a good carrying power, helping the wordless ah-ing and humming to come through well against the orchestra, while viola soloist Sally Chisholm (below), a UW-Madison professor who also plays in the Pro Arte Quartet, made a beautifully ecstatic web of sound that only the viola can really achieve. When have you last heard such a dreamy novelty, and when again are you likely to?

UW Choral Union Sally Chisholm

On other side of that music came two different settings of the familiar Latin canticle, Te Deum laudamus, by two different composers. This all-purpose liturgical text has been set many, many times by a procession of composers over the centuries, but it would be difficult to imagine two more utterly contrasting treatments than the ones we heard.

The better known (or less unknown) one of the two was that by opera composer Giuseppe Verdi (below), among his very last compositions and now reckoned as the fourth of his Quattro pezzi sacri or “Four Sacred Pieces.”

Verdi 2

It is in a style familiar from his only other important setting of Latin liturgical texts, his Requiem. It is straightforward but noble, monumental and powerful music, and it was brought off with eloquence. (You can heard it, accompanied by the art of Michelangelo in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

That was the closing work.

The opening one was the other Te Deum. Antonin Dvorák (below), though a devout Roman Catholic, composed very little sacred music in Latin. Setting aside a purely functional Mass setting, his only familiar and recognized examples are his Stabat mater and his Requiem. Both of those are deeply felt, but are grandiose concert works.

dvorak

The only other such work is his setting of the Te Deum, cruelly neglected and unappreciated. It was composed in 1892 as a debut work for Dvorák’s new residence in New York City, and was intended as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World.

Against Verdi’s solemnity, Dvorák’s setting is festive. It is patterned along the lines of the traditional four-movement symphony, with a “slow movement” of folksong-like lyricism and a passionate “scherzo,” framed by flanking outpourings of extraordinary exuberance — all in unbroken succession.

For anyone who loves the music of this composer — as I do — or who is still discovering it, this work is an exciting revelation.

There were solo passages in the two Te Deums, beautifully sung by undergraduate soprano Emi Chen (below right) and graduate student baritone Joel Rathmann (below left).

Choral Union Joel Rathmann, Emi Chen

The UW Choral Union itself, 123 singers strong, sang with appropriate sonority. There were some rough spots in the opening of the Dvorák, with its off-putting rhythmic eccentricities, but the UW Symphony Orchestra played quite well otherwise — even if it sometimes was allowed to overshadow the other participants.

In sum, this proved an evening of truly refreshing choral experience, and another tribute to Beverly Taylor’s enterprise.


Classical music Q&A: The prolific American composer Robert Kyr discusses the origin and interpretation of his oratorio “The Passion According to Four Evangelists,” which the UW Choral Union, the UW Chamber Orchestra and four soloists will perform this coming Saturday and Sunday. Part 1 of 2. Plus, FREE opera scenes will be performed Wednesday night at the UW.

April 23, 2013
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ALERT: On Wednesday night, April 24, 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall (below) Opera Workshop will perform a Scene Recital that is FREE and OPEN to the public. The program includes scenes from the following operas: “Hansel and Gretel” by Humperdinck; “La Clemenza di Tito,” “Cosi Fan Tutte” and “Idomeneo” by Mozart; and “The Pearl Fishers” by Bizet. Opera workshop is a semester-long course designed to help the singer improve his or her competency as a singing actor. The student is given a scene from an opera to learn. During the course, the student is coached, assisted with language diction, and given tips on stage directions. At the end of the semester, students perform their pieces in front of an audience. The workshop is considered a safe place for the student to learn and grow as an artist. 

MusicHall2

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming weekend will see two performances of American composer Robert Kyr’s “The Passion According to Four Evangelists” by the campus-community UW Choral Union (below), the UW Chamber Orchestra and four soloists, all under the baton of longtime UW choral director Beverly Taylor.

 UW Choral Union  12:2011

The soloists are soprano Anna Slate, mezzo-soprano Jennifer D’Agostino, tenor James Doing and baritone Paul Rowe.

The concerts are in Mills Hall on Saturday at 8 p.m. and on Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOT 3:30 p.m.as mistakenly printed first). Tickets are $15 for the General Public and $8 for Students and Seniors. The 
UW Box Office can be reached at (608) 265-2787. Remaining tickets are sold at the door.

Also: The American composer Robert Kyr will do half-hour pre-concert lectures in Mills for TICKETED patrons one hour before each concert. UW students are not free to these concerts. Saturday’s lecture 7-7:30 p.m. with the concert at 8 p.m. Sunday’s lecture is 6:30-7 p.m. with the concert at 7:30 p.m.

For background, here is a link to a fascinating NPR story about and interview with Robert Kyr and to Kyr’s own website:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2011/06/01/132089851/robert-kyrs-songs-from-a-desert-monastery

www.robertkyr.com

The composer (below) — who is deeply committed to social justice and peace activism — graciously agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

robert kyr

Could you briefly introduce yourself and your work and career, and where the Passion According to Four Evangelists fits in?

I am a composer, writer and filmmaker who has composed 12 symphonies, three chamber symphonies, three violin concertos, chamber music, and more than 80 works for vocal ensembles of all types (with and without instruments).

Within the past two decades, most of my works explore a wide variety of topics from an intercultural perspective: Spiritual Themes (The Passion according to Four Evangelists, Songs of the Soul, and The Cloud of Unknowing); Conflict and Reconciliation, as well as Peace-Making  (Symphony No. 9—The Spirit of Time, Symphony No. 10— Ah Nagasaki: Ashes into Light, The Unutterable, and Waging Peace, which is based on first person witness testimony of the citizens of Baton Rouge about violence in their city); and Living in Harmony with Nature, preserving our environment (A Time for Life, an environmental oratorio, and  Symphony No. 11—Yosemite: Journey of Light, a multimedia symphony).

I am the chair of the composition department at the University of Oregon School of Music and Dance, where I also direct three musical organizations: the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium, the Music Today Festival, and the Vanguard Concert and Workshop Series. Currently, I am also the President of our University Senate, which involves doing quite a bit of mediation, as an endeavor of peace-making. (A performance of Robert Kyr’s “Now Is the  TIme” is in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

What are your current and future projects and plans?

Immediately following the performances of The Passion according to Four Evangelists, I will go directly to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the rehearsals and premiere of a work that I finished in the past few months, Waging Peace for 6 actors and actresses, soprano and baritone soloists, a chorus of 120 singers, and an instrumental ensemble. The text is based on first-person witness accounts of the citizens of Baton Rouge about the plague of violence in their city. It was written as part of a workshop that I gave there, which resulted in 400 pages of testimony that is anguished and often terrifying, yet ultimately hopeful.

In our relentlessly violent era, I believe that music and the arts have a significant role to play as part of our individual and collective healing process. I have co-created Waging Peace with the citizens of Baton Rouge as a testament to the power of the human spirit to overcome even the most extreme adversity.

On quite a different note, at the end of May, I will travel to Austin, Texas, to work with Craig Hella Johnson and his remarkable ensemble, Conspirare Company of Voices. They will perform an entire concert of my music, consisting of two works—The Cloud of Unknowing and Songs of the Soul, which explores the theme of love from a variety of perspectives. It includes texts by St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross — the former was the spiritual mentor of the latter  — as well as Psalm texts and excerpts from “The Cloud of Unknowing,” a guide to contemplation of the Divine by an anonymous 14th-century monk. Following their two concerts, Craig and Conspirare will record both of my works for the Harmonia Mundi record label. (Below is a photo Robert Kyr composing at a piano.)

robert kyr composing

What was the inspiration behind The Passion according to Four Evangelists?

In setting the passion text, I wanted to emphasize the universality of the story. As a narrative, it is neither doctrine nor dogma, but rather, a story told collaboratively by four individuals who emerge from “the community” as represented by the chorus.

In The Passion according to Four Evangelists, the story of Christ’s suffering and death is told from the differing viewpoints of the four gospel narrators, who join together to present a composite version of it.

The roles of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are sung by four soloists — soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone, respectively — and the shared parts of the story are set as duos, trios and quartets.

Unexpectedly, the most prominent evangelist roles—Matthew and Mark—are sung by the soprano and alto, which reverses the oratorio and opera tradition of giving women’s roles to men. In addition, each soloist also takes the part of a principal character in the drama: the soprano and alto represent Mary and Mary Magdalene in the Stabat Mater (Mary Stood Weeping); the tenor is Jesus; and the baritone is Pilate. In this way, the evangelists narrate a story that they enact, as well.

My intention to emphasize the universal qualities of the passion involves the issue of gender, as well. In The Passion according to Four Evangelists, the role of women is highlighted by prominently featuring them in two pivotal scenes—Daughters of Jerusalem (scene 3 of Part II, the central scene of The Way of the Cross) and Witness (the final scene of Part III).

In Witness, the passion concludes with an intense tableau in which the soprano and alto soloists sing Psalm 88, a psalm of desolation, while the women’s chorus (accompanied by violins and violas only) repeats a phrase from the Latin Stabat Mater text—“stabat mater lacrimosa”…Mary stood weeping.” This scene focuses on the women standing at the cross who mourn the death of Jesus.

These final moments of the work are a musical pièta expressing the lamentation of Jesus’ mother and friends. As the Stabat Mater finishes, the circle of mourners expands to include all of humanity, as represented by the full chorus (SATB), which sings the De Profundis: “Out of the Depths, I cry to you, O Lord”, followed by an epilogue that foreshadows the resurrection.

Kyr Passion CD cover

Tomorrow: Part 2 — What should the audience listen for in this weekend’s performances by the UW Choral Union of Robert Kyr’s “The Passion according to Four Evangelists”? How does the composer describe the sound and style of his music? What does he think of his ties to Madison?

 


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