The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Maestro John DeMain discusses this weekend’s opening concerts of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s 89th season. Music by Richard Strauss, Frank Martin and Camille Saint-Saens will be played with MSO principal players spotlighted.

September 15, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming weekend will bring the opening of the 89th season of the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below), which was founded in 1925 and how has 91 players.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

By design, there will be no special guest soloist and no standard masterpiece –- say, a symphony or concerto by Haydn or Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms.

The works, chosen to highlight to Overture Concert Organ, will feature German composer Richard Strauss’ late Romantic tone poem “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” best known for its opening which served as the fanfare for Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Also featured are Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds, which was last performed by the MSO about 30 years ago); and French composer Camille Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3 “Organ.”

Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom (below) will provide a free 30-minutes prelude discussion that starts one hour before the performance.

anders yocom studio  head shot cr Jim Gill

Season tickets are still on sale with a 50 percent discount for new subscribers. And single tickets are now on sale, while rush tickets will also be available.

Tickets price run $16-$84.

Here is a link to the MSO site about the opening concert, with links to other information and ticket reservations:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/orchestra

You can also call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141 or visit www.overturecenter.com

Here is a link to program notes by MSO trombonist J. Michael Allsen (below), who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater:

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1415/1.Sep14.html

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

The performances, under the baton of longtime music director and conductor John DeMain, will take place in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 p.m; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

The Juilliard School-trained John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), who came to Madison from heading the Houston Grand Opera and is starting his 21st season in Madison, recently granted an interview about the opening concert to The Ear:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

What makes this season and especially this first concert special to you?

This 2014-15 season is especially important because it marks the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s 10th anniversary in Overture Hall. Being able to perform in this specially designed hall has been a game changer for the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

I can never adequately thank Jerry Frautschi for his incredible gift of the Overture Center for the Arts, and his spouse, Pleasant Rowland, for her additional endowment support and the gift of the Overture Concert Organ.

I have purposefully chosen a program for our first concert, on Sept. 19, 20 and 21, that is designed to explore the sonic power, as well as the subtlety, of Overture Hall (below).

Overture Hall

What would you like to say about the pieces on the program?

I purposefully do not have a guest artist on this first concert program because I like to focus attention on our wonderful orchestra and its principal players.

In Richard Strauss’ magnificent tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra (used as the iconic music of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey), special focus will go to the violin solos by our Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below), who never fails to move us with her gorgeous playing. (You can hear the irresistible opening fanfare by Richard Strauss at bottom in a popular YouTube video that has almost 3 million hits.)

Naha Greenholtz [playing

Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments will shine a spotlight on soloists, many of whom have also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:  Stephanie Jutt, flute; Marc Fink, oboe; Joseph Morris, clarinet; Cynthia Cameron-Fix, bassoon; Linda Kimball, horn; John Aley, trumpet; and Joyce Messer, trombone.

And last but certainly not least on the program is Camille Saint-Saëns’ magnificent Symphony No. 3, the “Organ Symphony”. Personally, I will never forget the first time we played it at Overture Center’s opening weekend, and we had to encore that incredible last movement! The Overture Concert Organ and its curator and organist, Samuel Hutchison (below, in a photo by Joe DeMaio), have earned a special place in the musical life of our community.

Sam Hutchison with organ (c) JoeDeMaio

Have you decided on any short-term or long-term plans for your next decade in Madison with the Madison Symphony Orchestra?

Long-term, I hope to revisit the symphonies by Gustav Mahler (below) and continue to expand the overall repertoire of the orchestra and continue to present the best of our living American composers to our audiences.

Gustav Mahler big

Working together with the wonderful MSO staff and particularly our violinist and Education Director Michelle Kaebisch (below), I’m hoping we can grow our very unique and broad-based outreach programs to the community.

Michelle Kaebisch WYSO cr Katrin Talbot

I’d also love to see us expand the Beyond the Score initiative. That January 2014 multi-media concert of Antonin Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony (below) with actors and videos, and the Symphony met with great success.

Bottom line: I always want, and can envision, the Madison Symphony Orchestra becoming an even more vital presence for ALL the citizens of Madison and the surrounding region as we contribute to our city and the arts.

MSO Dvorak

What out-of-town guest stints will you do this season? Other major plans?

In October 2014, I’m opening the Long Beach (California) Symphony Orchestra season, and then conducting a concert of American composers with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in Feb 2015. In the 2015-16 season, I’ll return to the Kennedy Center.

 

 

 

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Classical music: Bach and the H-Bomb. The Ear celebrates five years of writing his blog by offering a poem about thermonuclear weapons, Edward Teller and the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

August 22, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, marked the fifth anniversary of The Well-Tempered Ear blog, which this past June surpassed one million hits and now has over 1,800 daily posts and 6,200 comments. Thank you, all, for your loyalty and your participation. The results have exceeded my wildest expectations or hopes.

To mark the occasion, I thought I would do something different, something I have not done before: Offer a poem of my own from a personal project: A collection of poems I often write about the piano pieces that I am myself playing or listening to. Maybe a reader out there who likes the poem will know, or even be, a literary agent or a publisher of some kind who would be interested in seeing the poem, and others like it, reach a larger audience. The YouTube link at the bottom to the music in question adds a certain unusual attraction.

This particular poem is based on historical fact, but I have of course taken some liberties. It is like historical fiction, only in the form of poetry.

The poem concerns Johann Sebastian Bach (below top) and the late Hungarian-born and controversial theoretical physicist Dr. Edward Teller (1908-2003, below bottom), who was the model for Dr. Strangelove in Stanley Kubrick’s famous 1964 satirical movie of the same name. Teller developed the Atomic Bomb, created the Hydrogen Bomb and proposed Star Wars.

Bach1

Edward Teller

Here is a photo of the young Dr. Edward Teller, whose mother was an accomplished concert pianist, playing the Steinway piano that he bought at a hotel auction in Chicago, while his wife Mici looks on:

Edward Teller plays piano with wife MIci CR Jon BrenneisIf you wish to check out more biographical information, including his being named Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1960, here are some links:

http://www.webofstories.com/play/edward.teller/7;jsessionid=2C9ABDC3269E3F2ABC31706C137871EA

Here is a biography with a video clip at the bottom of the web page of Edward Teller playing the first movement, in an overheated manner, of the “Moonlight” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven at his home at Stanford University, California, in 1990, when he was 90 years old. He died there of a stroke at 95, two months after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush.

http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/tel0bio-1

At bottom is a link to a YouTube performance by Friedrich Gulda –- a famous jazz musician but also an important teacher of classical piano titan Martha Argerich — of the Bach prelude and fugue in question.

I hope you like the poem and find it rewarding. If you do, let me know, and perhaps I will post some more in the future.

Hydrogen Bomb

DR. EDWARD TELLER PLAYS BACH

By Jacob Stockinger

Late at night, when he is not in his lab
Building the world’s first atomic bomb,
Dr. Edward Teller is back in his barracks.
He thinks through his fingers
As he pedals with his fake right foot,
Practicing and playing on the century-old Steinway
He had shipped to the high New Mexico desert.

The physicist’s taste runs to Mozart and Beethoven.
But tonight he is working on Prelude and Fugue No. 8
In E-flat Minor and D-sharp Minor,
from Book I of Johann Sebastian Bach’s
The Well-Tempered Clavier.”

Since childhood, his mind has been held captive
By only two things: the music of mathematics
And the mathematics of music.

This slow, melodious and mournful
Music, he finds, is solidly, stolidly built.
The paired-up pieces match,
Mirror-like in their linkage
Like fission and fusion,
Like Bombs A and H.

Bach and bombs seem compatibly ingenious,
Old equations for a new beauty.
He likes how the main melody at the core
Radiates and grows, outward and inward,
Down and up, across treble and bass.
The multiple voices echo in a chain reaction of sound,
Like the counterpoint of nuclei and electrons,
And the dialogue of chalkboard equations.

The transparent thickness of Baroque beauty
Suits his scientific bent and emotional need,
His taste for a stately and elegant destruction
In which he can lose himself and others.

He knows that the two pieces remain something of a mystery,
The only ones Bach wrote in those keys,
Obscure keys that no one used back then.
But rarity equals a kind of originality
and that attracts Teller, who is still thinking up
“The Super,” his own word for an even
more powerful thermonuclear device.

That is what he now calls apocalyptic energy,
When he is not playing Bach.

And especially when he is.

© Jacob Stockinger

 


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra announces its new 2014-15 season. It includes programs from Bach to Hollywood exiles from Hitler and the Nazis, acclaimed soloists and ticket prices with only modest increases.

March 19, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) has just announced its next season for 2014-15.

MSO-HALL

It strikes The Ear as both deeply interesting and tightly cohesive, a good blend of sure-fire hits and unknown or rarely heard repertoire. It also features some fine local talent and some unusual repertoire, though, unlike the past several seasons, no new or contemporary music is included. After all, this is a business with seats to fill, not some theoretical exercise in programming.

“You can’t have everything, especially when you are playing only eight concerts,” lamented MSO maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) when he discussed the new season with me.

But, DeMain added, the MSO is exploring doing another Chicago Symphony Orchestra “Beyond the Score” format concert — like this season’s presentation of Antonin Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, which sold out — probably in January and probably with more than one performance, if they can find a sponsor to front the $50,000 cost. Then he will decide on what work out of more than 20 possibilities would be right.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Concerts take place in Overture Hall in the Overture Center on Friday nights at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday nights at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m.

The deadline for subscriptions renewals and keeping your current seat is May 8.

Here is the official press release that unveils the new season. The Ear also talked at length one-on-one with MSO music director and conductor John DeMain. Since the announcement is long enough for one post, DeMain’s insightful comments will appear a bit later in another post.

mso from above

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA ANNOUNCES 2014-15 SEASON

Maestro John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will deliver a diverse and exciting season of composers and guest artists for 2014-2015.

Beginning with a September program that focuses on the highly-talented musicians in the orchestra, DeMain will lead the audience through an exhilarating variety of themes and cultures throughout the season.  Russia, Scandinavia, and Golden-Age Hollywood are just a few of the sound worlds the MSO will explore, while monumental works central to the orchestra, such as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, will anchor the year.

A world-class roster of guest artists has been invited to Madison for the season’s performances, including violinist Sarah Chang, pianist Olga Kern, violinist Daniel Hope, pianist Ingrid Fliter and University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music pianist Christopher Taylor.

SEPTEMBER 19, 20 and 21, 2014

“Orchestral Splendor,” John DeMain, Conductor

RICHARD STRAUSS, “Also sprach Zarathustra”

FRANK MARTIN, Concerto for Seven Winds

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS, Symphony No. 3 (“Organ” Symphony)

German composer Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra was once among his least performed works, but it is now firmly established as standard orchestral repertoire.  The trumpet theme and thunderous timpani entrance (heard in Stanley Kubrick’s epic film “2001: A Space Odyssey”) are unmistakable.

Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds was written in 1949.  It features seven solo instruments, exploring differences in sonority and expression.  The virtuosic and conversational writing in these piece results in a playful, sportive character.

French composer Camille Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3, known also as the “Organ” Symphony, draws on elements of both the conventional symphony and the tone poem. Formally unusual in its own time, yet popular from its conception, the work features virtuosic piano and organ passages and a masterful display of the vast colors possible in the symphony orchestra.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

OCTOBER 17, 18 and 19, 2014

“The Russian Spirit” with John DeMain, conductor, and Olga Kern (below), piano

PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY, Suite from “Swan Lake”

SERGEI RACHMANINOFF, Concerto No. 1 for Piano

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH, Symphony No. 6

The Suite from “Swan Lake” tells the magical tale of a young prince enchanted by a swan maiden under the moonlight.  Peter Tchaikovsky’s charming work utilizes haunting melodies, captivating waltzes, Russian and Hungarian folk themes, and a Spanish dance.

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano displays a youthful freshness and an assertive, extroverted personality.  Indeed, the composer began this work when he was 17!  For audience members who delight in keyboard fireworks, this piece will thrill.

Symphony No. 6 by Dmitri Shostakovich, written as war clouds were gathering in Russia, was quite a contrast to Symphony No. 5.  Lopsided movement lengths, a lack of obvious theme, and characters of anxiety and desolation reflect the intriguing political situation of the time, as well as Shostakovich’s own remarkably wide emotional compass.

Olga Kern, Mogens Dahl Konsertsal 26.1.2009

NOVEMBER 7, 8 and 9, 2014

“Scandinavian Wonders” with John DeMain, conductor, and Sarah Chang (below), violin

EDVARD GRIEG, Lyric Suite

JEAN SIBELIUS, Concerto for Violin

CARL NIELSEN, Symphony No. 4 (“The Inextinguishable”)

Over the course of his long career, Edvard Grieg composed 66 Lyric pieces for piano, strongly rooted in the songs, dances, mythology, and spirit of Norway.  He selected four of these fragrant and diverse miniatures for an orchestral suite, premiered in 1906.

 “…For…10 years it was my dearest wish to become a great virtuoso.” wrote Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in his diary.  Unfortunately the composer never reached great proficiency on the instrument, and his Concerto for Violin, awash in Nordic textures, expresses a melancholic farewell to that childhood dream.

As a philosophical guideline to his often raging Symphony No. 4, Danish composer Carl Nielsen said, “Music is life, and, like life, inextinguishable”.  Four interlinked movements of frequently agitated energy lead to a climax of ultimate triumph and grand 19th century symphonic tradition.

Sarah Chang playing

DECEMBER 5, 6 and 7, 2014

A Madison Symphony Christmas

With John DeMain, conductor; Alyson Cambridge (below), soprano; Harold Meers, tenor; the Madison Symphony Chorus, Beverly Taylor, director; the Madison Youth Choirs, Michael Ross, artistic director; and the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, Leotha Stanley, director.

John DeMain and the Madison Symphony don their Santa hats for this signature Christmas celebration. This concert is filled with traditions, from caroling in the lobby with the Madison Symphony Chorus to vocal performances by hundreds of members of Madison’s musical community. Christmas classics are interwoven with enchanting new holiday music. The culminating sing-along is Madison’s unofficial start of the holiday season!

Alyson Cambridge

DeMain Santa Bob Rashid

FEBRUARY 13, 14 and 15, 2015

“Fliter Plays Chopin” with John DeMain, conductor, and Ingrid Fliter (below), piano

BENJAMIN BRITTEN, Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge

FREDERIC CHOPIN, Concerto No. 2 for Piano

ROBERT SCHUMANN, Symphony No. 4

Frank Bridge, one of Benjamin Britten’s earliest composition teachers, was certainly responsible for the surpassing clarity, individuality, and discipline in Britten’s most cherished works.  Britten’s “Variations” on Bridge’s theme range from passionate to playful, capturing the heartfelt musical admiration of a pupil for his teacher.

From the moment he arrived in Paris at age 21, Frederic Chopin drew the admiration of both the public and esteemed critics, alike.  Concerto No. 2 was in fact his first concerto, displaying the composer’s prolific improvisatory and imaginative style.  

In composing Symphony No. 4, Robert Schumann departed significantly from the standard Classical form he previously employed, connecting all four movements with recurring musical ideas–a novel proposition at the time.

Ingrid Fliter playing

MARCH 6, 7 and 8, 2015

“Composers in Exile: Creating the Hollywood Sound” with John DeMain, conductor, and  Daniel Hope (below), violin

FRANZ WAXMAN, Sinfonietta for Strings and Timpani Ride of the Cossacks from “Taras Bulba”

MIKLÓS RÓZSA, Theme, Variations and Finale;  Parade of the Charioteers from “Ben Hur”;                          Love Theme from “Ben Hur”; Love Theme from “Spellbound”

ERICH KORNGOLD, Concerto for Violin and the  Suite from “Captain Blood”

This unique concert features the works of great classical composers before they fled Nazi persecution and also showcases their later brilliant contributions to Hollywood film scores.

Franz Waxman (below) is responsible for a long list of memorable Hollywood scores, including “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Rebecca.”  His Sinfonietta, written for only strings and timpani, is comprised of three wildly different movements. Waxman also composed the soundtrack for the 1962 epic, “Taras Bulba.”  “Ride of the Cossacks” is the exhilarating theme to which Taras and his army gallop to Dubno.

Franz Waxman

According to Miklos Rózsa (below), his “Theme” was conceived in the manner of a Hungarian folk song, then treated in variations of contrasting feeling, and summarized in a wild and swift finale.  The 1934 work earned him his first international success. By the late 1940’s Rózsa was an Oscar-winning, film score composer, and joined the staff of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer.  His thrilling score for the 1959 film “Ben Hur” is one of his lasting achievements, earning him his third and final Oscar.

Miklos Rozsa

The Concerto for Violin, written by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (bel0w top) in 1945, perfectly blends the two musical lives of the composer, unapologetic in both its rigorous craftsmanship and its Hollywood charm. “Captain Blood” was a milestone for Korngold, as it was his first fully symphonic movie score.  Produced in only three weeks, the music evidences his most professional and imaginative effort.

erich wolfgang korngold at piano

savannah_french

APRIL 10, 11 and 12, 2015

“Piano Genius” with John DeMain, conductor, and Christopher Taylor (below), piano

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, Concerto No. 4 for Clavier

FRANZ LISZT, Concerto No. 1 for Piano

ANTON BRUCKNER, Symphony No. 7

Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach is part of a set of six concertos, dated to 1738.  The piece was originally written for harpsichord and is ripe with movement and ornamentation. Bach’s concertos laid a crucial formal and harmonic groundwork for centuries of composition to follow.

Franz Liszt’s Concerto No. 1 for Piano is more than a century-long leap forward in time. Liszt’s Romantic genius is unabashedly on display, with thick orchestration, cadenzas that range from delicate to thundering, and lush harmonies.

Anton Bruckner was a country man, transplanted into bustling cosmopolitan Vienna, and he and his music were unlikely successes with audiences and critics. His music was said to “compel the element of the divine into our human world”.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

MAY 8, 9 and 10, 2015

“Ode to Joy” with John DeMain, conductor; concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below top), violin; Melody Moore, soprano; Gwendolyn Brown, contralto; Eric Barry, tenor; Morris Robinson (below bottom), bass; and the Madison Symphony Chorus, Beverly Taylor, director.

LEONARD BERNSTEIN, “Serenade” (after Plato’s “Symposium”)

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN, Symphony No. 9 (“Choral”)

Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade” for violin and orchestra, resulted from a rereading of Plato’s charming dialogue, “The Symposium.”  The music dances through a series of inter-related “speakers” at a banquet (Phaedrus, Aristophanes, Erixymachus, Agathon, and Socrates), praising love.

Naha Greenholtz [playing

Ludwig van Beethoven’s last and monumental Symphony No. 9 stands apart from his other symphonies by virtue of its humanistic message, enormous scale and organic unity of design.  The mammoth fourth movement, operating like a symphony in miniature, is like nothing else in symphonic music.  Four soloists, full chorus, the entire orchestra, and the famous “Ode to Joy” theme will conclude the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s season. (You can hear a populist flash mob version of the “Ode to Joy” at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that had almost 4-1/2 million hits.)

Morris Robinson

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

Single tickets for individual concerts have increased slightly and are $16 to $84 each, and go on sale Aug. 16. They are available at www.madisonsymphony.org/singletickets and through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street or call the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

New subscribers can receive savings up to 50%.  For more information and to subscribe, visit www.madisonsymphony.org/newsub or call (608) 257-3734.

Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, www.madisonsymphony.org/groups

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

You can also check out the official MSO website announcement of the new season by visiting:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/14-15

The Madison Symphony Orchestra engages audiences of all ages and backgrounds in live classical music through a full season of concerts with established and emerging soloists of international renown, an organ series that includes free concerts, and widely respected education and community engagement programs. Find more information at www.madisonsymphony.org.

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