The Well-Tempered Ear

From Beethoven to today: The next five days at the UW-Madison are busy with FREE online concerts of new music, string music, brass music and more

April 8, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

From now through Monday, April 13, there are many FREE online concerts – virtual or pre-recorded – at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

The schedule includes three different concerts on Saturday, April 10, alone. (All times are central and many concerts will be available for longer than a day.)

The variety of music is terrific and features all kinds of instruments and genres of music.

Here is a link to all of them, which will appear on YouTube. If your click on “Show More,” you will see more information about the performers and the programs. You can also set a convenient Reminder Timer to help you remember to listen: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZZ2F66Bu2yAfccvsugEtsA

You can read all of them by yourself. But the Ear wants to single out several of special interest.

NEW MUSIC: TONIGHT

If you are a fan of new music, there are two concerts you should consider listenIing to.

TONIGHT, April 8, at 7:30 p.m. and then at 8:30 p.m. are two concerts of new music.

The first concert is by the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble.

Titled “Colors” (below is the poster) the concert features music by Debussy, Lang, San Martin, UW-Madison professor Laura Schwendinger and Edgard Varese.

The performance are by faculty performers violist Sally Chisholm, flutist Conor Nelson and pianist Christopher Taylor, as well as alumni and students Eric Tran, Eric Delgado, Heidi Keener, Ben Therrell and Ben Yats.

Here is a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5Gxe7yTWpI

Then at 8:30 p.m., a studio recital by composition students (below) at the UW-Madison will take place. No names of performers or pieces are listed. But here is the link that is given: https://youtu.be/WmTBoLD9IQc

BEETHOVEN QUARTET CYCLE 7: FRIDAY NIGHT

At 7:30 p.m. is the seventh installment of the cycle, which is part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s yearlong retrospective of Beethoven’s string quartets to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Members are David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violins; Sally Chisholm, viola; and Parry Karp, cello.

The program has two late quartets: the famous last one, Op. 135, in F major (1826) with the :”Muss es sein” (Must It Be?) motif, which can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom of the final movement played by the Cypress String Quartet;  and the famous “Grosse Fuge” quartet and ending in B-flat Major, Opp. 130 and 133 (1825-6).

The Ear — who particularly likes Beethoven’s return to clarity and classicism in his final quartet — has listened to all the installments and they have all been superb. There’s no reason to expect anything different with this installment.

UW professor of musicology Charles Dill will give short introductory talks before each quartet. You can find extended program notes about the quartet and the program here: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-beethoven-string-quartet-cycle-program-7/

And here is the link to the live-streamed concert from the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall in the Hamel Music Center: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIW_5NVgGaA

UNIVERSITY OPERA SINGS SONGS OF RACIAL AND SOCIAL JUSTICE: SATURDAY AND SUNDAY

This spring, University Opera follows up its groundbreaking video production on the life and times of composer Marc Blitzstein with another video.

What’s Past is Prologue: The Unfinished American Conversation, a program of staged and filmed songs and song cycles with social and racial justice themes, will be released on the Mead Witter School of Music YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/7Up_OXD6K2U this Saturday, April 10, at 7:30 p.m., with an encore stream this Sunday, April 11, at 2 p.m. David Ronis, Director of University Opera, is the director, and Thomas Kasdorf is the musical director, who accompanies the singers on piano.

For more background, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-presents-whats-past-is-prologue-the-unfinished-american-conversation/

For the performance, go to: https://youtu.be/7Up_OXD6K2U


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New York Times critics name their Top 10 online concerts in April. They start today with a Good Friday performance of Bach’s “St. John Passion.”

April 2, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

More people are getting COVID vaccines, but concerts will remain virtual and online for quite a while yet, especially if a fourth wave or another spike hits the U.S. and the world.

So here, once again, are the Top 10 online choices for April listening picked by the classical music critics for The New York Times.

This being the weekend of Good Friday and Easter Sunday, it couldn’t be more timely.

The first choice, which starts steaming today, is perfect for both occasions. It is a production of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion.” It is conducted by THE Bach performers – the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque soloists, all conducted by Bach expert John Eliot Gardiner.

Gardiner has recorded and toured the world with Bach’s cantatas and oratorios. He also wrote the well criticially acclaimed book “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven.”

If you like Bach, you are in for some good listening this month. Pianist Jeremy Denk (below) will also perform the complete first book of Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier” at the end of the month. (You can hear the famous first prelude, popular with students and amateurs  but also used in a sacred setting by Schubert and Gounod, in the Youtube video at the bottom.)

You may recall that Denk performed Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” several years ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater, which also hosted an online concert by Denk this season in a program of Brahms and the two Schumann’s – Robert and Clara. 

You can also hear chamber music, including a concert of contemporary composers by the Attacca Quartet.

And there is a period performance of “Pelleas and Melisande” by Debussy (below). It will attempt to recreate how the opera score sounded when it was first performed in 1902.

The ever-inventive music educator Leon Botstein will conduct a concert of music by Stravinsky, Leonard Bernstein and Tania Leon. 

German baritone Benjamin Appl will perform the famous song cycle “Die Schöne Müllerin” (The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter) by Franz Schubert. It streams from the faned Wigmore Hall in London.

One of the most intriguing choices is the score to Philip Glass’ “pocket opera” based on the short story “In the Penal Colony” by Franz Kafka.

The well-known conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (below), who is also the new music director of the San Francisco Symphony after Michael Tilson Thomas retired last year. Much of the program is Salonen’s own music, along with Minimalist music by Steve Reich and Terry Riley.

There are also “Monumental Trios, featuring piano trios by Brahms and Beethoven, performed by members of the Chamber Music of Society.

And of course there will be a world premiere of the Symphony No. 2 by Huw Watkins  (below is his Wikipedia bio with a photo in case you haven’t heard of the composer).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huw_Watkins

For more details, here is a link to the Times story. Click on the headline. It includes some commentary by the critic who chose each piece. You will also find links to the artist and organization plus the debut date and how long the post will remain available. Please note that all times are Eastern Daylight Time.

Do you have other concerts you recommend for streaming – local, regional, national or international?

Please leave your selection in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy listening.


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TONIGHT at 7:30 the UW-Madison offers free but conflicting online concerts of opera and percussion music

November 24, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight – Tuesday, Nov. 24 – at 7:30 p.m. the University of Wisconsin’s Mead Witter School of Music will offer two FREE but competing events online.

You would think with so many empty spots in the events calendar due to the coronavirus pandemic that such conflicts could be avoided.

In any case, whichever concert you choose to watch – or perhaps to toggle back and forth between the two – here are the details:

OPERA SCENES

The first concert, done by University Opera, is Opera Scenes.

According to the website description: “What was to be Opera Workshop’s Fall Opera Scenes program has morphed in a delightful way.

“This term, each singer undertook an in-depth study of one particular operatic role. We’ll be presenting the fruits of that study – excerpted recitatives and arias from The Coronation of Poppea, Don Giovanni and Orfeo ed Euridice – staged in each student’s adapted habitat, and filmed by the students themselves.”

Here is the program with specifics about the singers and the selections as well as other aspects such as direction and accompaniment:

UW-Madison Opera Workshop: Professors Mimmi Fulmer, Thomas Kasdorf and University Opera head David Ronis (below) are the directors; William Preston and Molly Schumacher are the TAs.

“Batti, batti” and “Vedrai carino” from “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Zerlina: Maria Steigerwald
Directors: Molly Schumacher and David Ronis
Pianist: William Preston

“Chiamo il mio ben così” and “Che farò senza Euridice” from “Orfeo ed Euridice” by Christoph Willibald Gluck

Orfeo: Emily Quartemont
Director: David Ronis
Pianist: Thomas Kasdorf

“Or sai chi l’onore” and “Non mi dir” from “Don Giovanni” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Donna Anna: Sachie Ueshima
Director: Mimmi Fulmer
Pianist: Thomas Kasdorf

Excerpts from Act I, Scenes 3, 4, and 10 from “L’incoronazione di Poppea”by Claudio Monteverdi. (Below is a photo by Michael R. Anderson of a previous fully staged production in 2018 by University Opera of the Monteverdi opera.)

Poppea: Molly Schumacher
Director: Mimmi Fulmer
Pianist: William Preston

Here is a direct link to the one-hour production: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANcPY9sLGls

UW CHAMBER PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE

Also tonight is a concert by the UW-Madison Chamber Percussion Ensemble (below), directed by Anthony Di Sanza and Thomas Ross.

It takes place in the Mead Witter Foundation Concert Hall of the Hamel Music Center, and will run from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. No in-person attendance is allowed.

The UW-Madison Chamber Percussion Ensemble is dedicated to the performance of significant and engaging works for the Western percussion ensemble tradition. Repertoire from diverse trends in 20th and 21st century chamber composition is explored with an emphasis on new compositions for percussion.

Here is a direct link to the live-streamed concert, with more information  about the program and the names of the players if you click on “Show More”: https://youtu.be/iZKO8pZmomA

And here is the program of the mostly new music:

Living Room Music (in the times of Covid) (1940) by John Cage and heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.
I. To Begin
II. Story
III. Melody
IV. End

Spanesque Oscillations (2003) by Steve Riley

For High Hats (2017) by Matt McBane

INTERMISSION

Marimbaireachd (1997) by Matthew Welch

The Lonelyness of Santa Clause (1994) by Fredrik Andersson

Metric Lips (1988) by Bela Fleck (arr. Steinquest)


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Classical music: Excellent singing, acting, orchestral playing, sets and costumes combined to make Verdi’s “La Traviata” one of Madison Opera’s best ever productions

November 6, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

The experienced Opera Guy for this blog – Larry Wells – took in last weekend’s production by the Madison Opera of Verdi’s “La Traviata” and filed the following review. Performance photos are by James Gill.

By Larry Wells

During the first few moments of the Overture to Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” — on Sunday afternoon in Overture Hall — I had a feeling that this would be a special performance. Members of the Madison  Symphony Orchestra sounded full and alive and attentive to artistic director and conductor John DeMain.

(You can hear the haunting overture or prelude, performed at the BBC Proms by the Milan Symphony Orchestra under Chinese conductor Xian Zhang, in the YouTube video at the bottom,)

Presented by Madison Opera, this performance will remain in my memory as one of the best I have attended here.

The traditional production was well staged by director Fenlon Lamb with beautiful sets (below) designed for Hawaii Opera Theater and provided by Utah Opera. The sets provided a sense of spaciousness and perspective as befits grand houses in 19th-century Paris.

Likewise, the costumes were spectacular, particularly in the masquerade scene (below) in the second act where almost everyone was in opulent black.

The three principal characters were all well portrayed, although tenor Mackenzie Whitney’s Alfredo (below left) seemed rather youthful to be proclaiming he was being reborn by his love for Violetta (below right).

Both Whitney and baritone Weston Hurt (below right), who portrayed Alfredo’s father Germont, sang perfectly well.

But all of my notes seem to have focused on soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez’s portrayal of Violetta (below left, with Mackenzie Whitney as Alfredo). One aria, duet and ensemble after another was remarkably sung with her pure and crystalline voice.

Lopez is also a talented actress who convincingly conveyed the emotions of the heroine in their wide gamut from care-free courtesan to love-struck woman to abandoned consumptive.

I was close enough to the stage to see the changing emotions flicker across Lopez’s face, and I was very impressed, and ultimately moved, by her performance.

All three of the main characters could sing, but Lopez could really sing and act as well. It was an outstanding performance that left me quite affected.

The chorus sounded wonderful, and the choristers did not overact, for which I was grateful. Their contribution to the finale of the second act made that ensemble heartbreaking. Likewise, the final ensemble at the end of the opera left me bereft.

Altogether conductor, orchestra, singers, chorus, set, costumes and lighting combined to create an unforgettable afternoon. I pay tribute to Verdi for creating an enduring work of art and to John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) for an amazing performance.

For more background about the real-life story and inspiration of the opera and more details about the production and the cast, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/10/28/classical-music-the-madison-opera-performs-verdis-la-traviata-this-friday-night-and-sunday-afternoon-in-overture-hall/

Unfortunately, I was seated behind an older couple. The woman was obviously very ill and apparently was unable to lift her head high enough to see the stage, let alone read the supertitles. Her partner — I assume it was her husband — patiently whispered a summary of the supertitles throughout the performance.

I believe that people feel that they are inaudible to others when they whisper to their neighbor, but we all know that this is not the case.

I mentioned this to friends during the intermission, and they said that I should say something. However, my Midwestern niceness kicked in and I just endured it. I thought that perhaps this would be the last opera she would ever attend.

Yet I could not help feeling that I would not have enjoyed someone whispering in my ear while music was being performed; and I would have perhaps prepared in advance so that I knew what I would be hearing.

Additionally, I darkly mused that perhaps “La Traviata” is not an appropriate opera to bring someone who is critically ill to.

Readers’ thoughts on this matter would be appreciated.


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Classical music: University Opera’s “Poppea” proves engaging, satisfying and timely. Performances remain this afternoon at 2 and Tuesday night at 7:30 

November 18, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Larry Wells – who is The Opera Guy for The Well-Tempered Ear blog – went to the recent production of the University Opera and filed this review, with rehearsal photos of students, who alternate roles in different performances, by Michael R. Anderson.

By Larry Wells

The only other time I attended a performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s “The Coronation of Poppea” (1643) was in the early 1980s at The San Francisco Opera. Despite the appearance of Tatiana Troyanos as Poppea, I remember being baffled by both the static nature of the music and the grandness of the production of what seemed should be an intimate opera.

That memory, in addition to my being a fan of 20th-century music, made attending the opening performance of University Opera’s performance Friday evening fraught with foreboding.

Despite the production being a lengthy three hours, I must praise the ensemble and director David Ronis — who never disappoints — for keeping my attention throughout the evening as I witnessed an intimate retelling of the passion between Nero and Poppea (portrayed below by Benjamin Hopkins and Anja Pustaver).

The opera was staged in Music Hall on a semicircular platform with the small instrumental ensemble directly to the front side of the audience. Stunning lighting and beautiful costumes made up for the minimal set. I was seated in the center of the first row of the balcony and must say that the sightlines and the sound were superb, even though it was very hot up there. (Below is the coronation scene with Hopkins and Pustaver in the center.)

The ensemble was conducted by Chad Hutchinson (below) whom I had heard conduct the UW Symphony Orchestra the night before in a rousing Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. The plucked instruments – harp, guitars, theorbo (I had to look it up, too) and harpsichords – were the backbone of the accompaniment. Strings and recorders completed the orchestra, and they were a delight to the ear – totally delicate and restrained.

The plot of the opera involves love triangles and political intrigue. The supertitles created by David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Dalalio) were amusing and colloquial. So much of the political posturing by Nero, whose main motivation is consistently self-interest, seemed to be pertinent to our time.

Nero was sung by countertenor Thomas Aláan who has a voice of great agility and expressiveness. His lover, Poppea, who yearns to be his empress, was sung by Talia Engstrom. Hers is a voice of great suppleness and flexibility. Throughout the evening she acted and sang with great subtlety, and I admired her performance very much.

I had been primed for the opera’s very final duet (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom) to be the most sublime moment of the opera, but I was much more aroused by the farewell duet between Nero and Poppea toward the end of the first act. It was highly charged vocally and erotic in its beauty and delivery.

Other characters included Seneca, portrayed by bass Benjamin Galvin (below left front, surrounded, from left to right, by Eliav Goldman, Jack Innes, Jiabao Zhang, Jake Elfner and Noah Bossert.) The lower range of his voice is profound and impressive.

Kevin Green (below right with Pustaver) portrayed the hapless Ottone, and his baritone voice shows promise.

It was, however, a night for the female singers. Cayla Rosché’s Ottavia was beautifully sung. She was completely believable as the spurned wife of Nero. Likewise Kelsey Wang’s Drusilla, Ottone’s second choice, was also wonderfully sung.

In the first scene we were introduced to Fortuna, Virtù and Amore who shone vocally. Throughout the remainder of the opera they silently hovered in the background as visual reminders of the forces driving the plots. Love, portrayed by Emily Vandenberg, eventually triumphed and got to sing a bit more.

There were moments of humor sprinkled throughout the production. I do not know how historically informed they were, but they did help to lighten the heaviness of the political intrigue and amorous complexities.

Some were perhaps unintentional – particularly the absurdly amusing wig that Fortuna wore. But Professor Mimmi Fulmer, in the small role as Nutrice, had a moment of complete hilarity. Her performance – both vocally and as an actress – underlined the contrast between earnestly serious, focused students and a relaxed, confident professional. (Below is the final scene with Nero and Poppea).

Altogether, it was a surprisingly engaging evening. There remain chances to see it this afternoon and Tuesday evening. It is not a brief or light evening of entertainment, but it is wholly engaging, thought provoking, timely and certainly something out of the ordinary.

Two more performances take place in Music Hall: today at 2 p.m. and Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. For more information including how to get tickets – adults are $25, seniors are $20 and students are $10 — go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-monteverdis-the-coronation-of-poppea/


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