The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: We should hear more encores, especially at outstanding chamber music concerts. Plus, a FREE Farmer’s Market organ recital is this Saturday at 11 a.m.

August 11, 2017
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ALERT: This Saturday at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will offer another FREE Farmers Market Organ Concert. The program, which runs 45 minutes, features music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Felix Mendelssohn, Charles-Marie Widor and Louis Vierne. The organist is the prize-winning Madison native Adrian Binkley.

By Jacob Stockinger

Two weeks ago, the Willy Street Chamber Players gave The Ear yet another reason to like them and be a fan.

After the season-ending program of Schubert, Osvaldo Golijov and Mozart was over, while the audience was cheering, standing and applauding loudly, two members of the young chamber music group played an encore.

The encore was “Julie-O” by Mark Summer. It was written for one cellist, as you can hear in a performance by the composer in the YouTube video at the bottom.

But this time it was performed by the two cellists of The Willys — Lindsey Crabb and Mark Bridges (below).

They agreed to play an encore only reluctantly – after some prodding by other members of The Willys, by guest clarinetist Michael Maccaferri (of the Grammy-winning group eighth blackbird) and, of course, by the audience.

But there shouldn’t have been any reluctance.

The Ear thinks we hear too few encores after so much memorable music-making.

Certain student recitals at the UW-Madison come immediately to mind. It sometimes seems that the protocol of student recitals prohibits encores, but The Ear has been told by faculty members that such is not the case.

What also comes to mind is the lack of encores at chamber music concerts by larger ensembles – piano trios, string quartets and piano or string quintets and sextets.

And rarely do you hear encores at the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or Madison Opera except when they are played by concerto soloists.

But why not?

The Ear recalls that several years ago the Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez, performing the aria with notoriously difficult nine high C’s in the aria “Ah! Mes amis” from Donizetti’s opera “La Fille du Regiment,” then quickly repeated the same passage to frenzied approval.

What are encores but a way of saying: “You liked me, so now I like you.”

Encores are not immodest bragging. They are a reward, a gift, a way for the performer to say thank you to the audience for its attention and appreciation.

Maybe every individual or group should have some kind of encore in the back pocket and ready to go. It could be a short movement or even a section of a movement, perhaps a coda or finale.

It seems to The Ear that many instrumentalists, especially pianists who have such a rich repertory, would do well to have four encores ready: one fast and one slow, one loud and one soft.

That way, the encore can underscore —  by either complementarity or contrast — the piece or pieces that preceded it and called for it.

Have you ever wanted to hear an encore and been frustrated?

What do musicians themselves say about playing encores?

Are there unwritten guidelines or an unstated protocol about when to play encores?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra leaves listeners wanting more after impressive performances of Corelli, Britten and Mozart

July 24, 2017
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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 radio 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. Barker also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

For six seasons past, the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (below top), founded and led by Mikko Rankin Utevsky, has enriched our summers.

It seemed that last year’s offerings were to be their final one. But they returned in an “Encore!” concert on last Friday night at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, giving hope that this wonderful ensemble of talented young musicians will yet continue to be with us.

The program was a brave and challenging one.

It opened with the Concerto Grosso in D major, Op. 6, No. 4, by Arcangelo Corelli. The wonderful concertos of the Op. 6 are well known from recordings, but are not that often heard in concert.

Corelli’s richly satisfying string sound was beautifully realized by MAYCO’s 22 players. The concertino was nicely set out in front of the full-ensemble tutti, and the performance was led by  concertmaster (and Utevsky’s wife) Thalia Coombs — who, to my ears, worked in some lively embellishments of her own.

Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings is one of the musical masterpieces of the 20th century, composed for horn virtuoso Dennis Brain and Britten’s partner, tenor Peter Pears, as well as the Boyd Neel Orchestra. It takes its point from the Italian word sera, meaning either “evening” or “night.” The six English poems Britten set to music deal with aspects of night, the horn adding comments to the tenor’s singing, all framed by a horn solo.

Utevsky led a strongly disciplined string ensemble, while horn soloist Joanna Schulz coped confidently with her terribly difficult part.

The weak link, unfortunately, was tenor Dennis Gotkowski, whose voice is neither attractive nor precise, and whose diction generally failed to project the important words clearly.

Still, in all, it proved a brave delivery of a demanding and absorbing work. (You can hear it performed in its entirety by the artists for whom it was composed, hornist Dennis Brain and tenor Peter Pears, in the historic YouTube video at the bottom.)

Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, is certainly a familiar and often performed concert work. But I have to say that this student ensemble, under the baton of Utevsky, gave it a remarkably exciting performance.

This was not a performance that floated in a dark, but passively tragic gentleness. This was a performance that grabbed you by the lapels, looked you straight in the eye, and gave you a good shaking.

Its pungency was aided, of course, by the altering of the wind parts, nine of them – sitting apart (below) — against the string band that was far smaller than most orchestras muster these days.

One really could hear the different ways in which the winds spice or dialogue with the strings. But the exuberant playing that Utevsky drew from his orchestra made this a truly memorable rendition. (As a graceful gesture, Utevsky allowed his conducting apprentice and assistant, violist Brett Petrykowski, to preface the full Mozart performance by conducting just the exposition of the first movement.)

The audience was a modest one, perhaps diminished by concerns about the weather or by the limited promotion the event was given. But those present clearly enjoyed the concert, which makes many of us anticipate that MAYCO will really continue.


Classical music education: Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra performs an “encore” concert of music by Corelli, Mozart and Britten this Friday night

July 18, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

“The Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below) is a summer training orchestra dedicated to providing an intensive chamber orchestra experience for advanced high school and college musicians, ages 12-35.

“MAYCO was founded in 2011 by music director Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below). The ensemble prepares a full program over the course of each of its one-week summer sessions, culminating in a public concert.

“We had planned for last summer’s “Finale!” concert to be MAYCO’s last, but at the urging of disappointed students, we decided to stage a comeback. Student response has been incredible, and we hope to keep the program alive into the future.

“This summer, we will present a single concert, “Encore!”, featuring works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Benjamin Britten and Arcangelo Corelli.

“The program of bewitching atmosphere and stark contrasts will be performed this Friday night, July 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium (below in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

“The program opens with Corelli’s vivacious Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 4 in D major. Corelli’s Baroque concerti grossi all feature a solo group (“concertino”) of two violins and cello opposed by the full string band (the “ripieno”).

“Our performance will feature MAYCO concertmaster Thalia Coombs (below), principal cellist (and former conducting apprentice) Majestica Lor, and violinist Glen Kuenzi (a returning high school player now entering the UW School of Music, selected by audition).

“Benjamin Britten’s nocturnal Serenade, written for his partner, tenor Peter Pears, and virtuoso hornist Dennis Brain, sets an enchanting array of English poetry, including texts by William Blake, John Keats and Ben Jonson.

“Set in seven movements bookended by a Prologue and Epilogue for unaccompanied horn, the work traverses a wide range of emotions and orchestral colors. Joining the orchestra will be tenor Dennis Gotkowski, a recent doctoral graduate of the UW) and hornist Joanna Schulz (below, a current DMA candidate), who plays with the Wingra Wind Quintet.

“The concert will conclude with Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, the so-called “Great” G minor. Long beloved for its tempestuous character and affective power, it captivates players and audiences alike with its intense chromaticism and unrelenting darkness. It is a tremendously compelling piece, and we are excited to perform it this week. (You can hear the famous opening depicted with an unusual bar graph in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“Tickets are $10 cash at the door; by donation for students.

“More information about the MAYCO and its programming can be found on our website, http://mayco.org


Classical music: Madison Bach Musicians announces its 14th season with music by Vivaldi, Bach and Purcell

July 7, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from founder, artistic director and keyboardist Trevor Stephenson about the upcoming season of the Madison Bach Musicians (below):

“This season we are thrilled to present three wonderfully diverse programs of baroque masterworks.

“We’ll start in September with Imitation, exploring the Baroque fugal art of Antonio Vivaldi (below top) and Johann Sebastian Bach (below bottom) — with guest cellist Steuart Pincombe.

“December marks MBM’s seventh annual Baroque Holiday Concert (below, in a photo by Kent Sweitzer). This year we’ll feature Johann Sebastian Bach’s elegant Cantata 32 plus Vivaldi’s dramatic Winter from the Four Seasons.

“To cap it all off in April, we’ll test the limits of comic-tragic juxtaposition with a double-billing: Bach’s highly-caffeinated Coffee Cantata paired with the heart-rending operatic masterpiece Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell (below).

“Please join us as we explore this wonderful repertoire on period instruments in acoustically magnificent settings reminiscent of Baroque performance spaces.

“We invite you to become a Madison Bach Musicians season subscriber. As a subscriber, you will receive the largest savings on ticket prices, preferred seating, and easy online ordering. And this year we’re offering some exciting new subscription options, including a 2-concert package ($62, $55 for seniors 65 and over, $32 for students with ID) or 3-concert package ($90, $80 for seniors 65 plus, $45 for students with ID), and a very economical student subscription rate.

“Ticket sales make up our most reliable and vital funding source. Your support through season subscriptions gives us the financial security to produce these creative and artistically ambitious programs. I hope you will consider subscribing to this series of outstanding musical events.

“Thanks for supporting baroque music in Madison.

See you at the concerts!
Trevor Stephenson, Artist Director (below)”

September 23 and 24 

Bach and Vivaldi: Imitation; with soloist Steuart Pincombe, baroque cello

Saturday, September 23, 2017; 6:45 p.m. lecture, 7:30 p.m. concert;
First Unitarian Society of Madison–Atrium Auditorium

Sunday, September 24, 2017; 2:45 p.m. lecture, 3:30 p.m. concert; Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton

Join us in this exploration of fugues and imitation from Bach and Vivaldi–two masters of the Baroque! Fugues are created when a musical line is introduced by one voice and then repeated with slight variations by any number of other voices. It’s always an amazing experience for audiences to hear and see how the different voices interact. Vivaldi has simplicity and Bach the complexity, but both play the fugue game with equal vigor.

Madison Bach Musicians is thrilled to have cellist Steuart Pincombe (below) returning for this season’s opening concert. Steuart can be heard in concert venues across Europe and quite possibly around the corner in your local brewery or cafe. Wherever he performs, Steuart aims to engage with his audience through creative presentations of the classical repertoire. Don’t miss this spectacular season opener.

December 9 

Baroque Holiday Concert; Saturday, December 9, 2017; 7:15 p.m. lecture, 8 p.m. concert; First Congregational United Church of Christ

Our seventh annual Baroque Holiday Concert will once again be held in the beautiful and sonorous sanctuary of the First Congregational Church.

Soprano soloist Alisa Jordheim (below top) will be joined by oboist Aaron Hill and a baroque string ensemble in Bach’s lyrical masterpiece Cantata BWV 32 Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen. And MBM concertmaster Kangwon Kim (below bottom) will be the featured violin soloist in Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

April 7 & 8 

Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas and Bach’s Coffee Cantata, BWV 211

Saturday, April 7, 2018; 6:45 p.m. lecture, 7:30 p.m. concert

Sunday, April 8, 2018; 2:45 p.m. lecture, 3:30 p.m. concert

First Unitarian Society Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams)

MBM will conclude the season with period performances of the tragic operatic masterpiece, Dido & Aeneas, by Henry Purcell (below) paired in a double-billing with one of J. S. Bach’s rare comic outings, the mischievous Coffee Cantata―where substance-preoccupation (coffee, no less) and family dynamics collide.

We are pleased to offer the production of Dido and Aeneas as a semi-staged baroque opera featuring outstanding soloists, a full baroque orchestra, and beautiful dancing sequences ―thanks to the collaboration of director David Ronis (below top, in a photo by like Delalio) artistic director of the University Opera), Karen McShane–Hellenbrand (UW-Madison Dance Department), and baroque-performance specialist conductor and UW-Madison bassoon professor Marc Vallon (below bottom, in a photo by James Gill).

Come hear spectacular vocal soloists, a sumptuous chorus, gut-strung violins, violas and cellos, viola da gamba, lute, harpsichord, baroque flute―and an amazing wind machine. (You can hear “Dido’s Lament” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more information and to see the season brochure, go to:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1nPBhC1sb3WWDZ5RG9CQ3VpSlNkVFM2d3AxQ3JiZmthQlNZ/view


Classical music: This Friday night at 6 the Willy Street Chamber Players open their new summer season with music by Brahms, Wolf and Higdon

July 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Over the past two years, the Willy Street Chamber Players have sure caught on.

That’s little wonder because they consistently turn in must-hear, top-quality performances with accessible but innovative programs that mix old and new works in a shorter-than-usual format. For all those reasons, The Ear named them Musicians of the Year for 2016.

This season The Willys have already performed a preview winter concert and a spring community concert at Warner Park. Then earlier this spring and summer, they warmed up, so to speak, by opening the Rural Musicians Forum season in Spring Green and then also played at the Marquette Waterfront Festival.

This Friday at 6 p.m. the Willys will open the three-concert regular summer season of 2017.

Here is an announcement:

“The Willy Street Chamber Players will begin their third annual Summer Series this Friday night, July 7, at 6 p.m. Join these energetic young chamber musicians for an exciting concert that has something for everyone.

“The concert will begin with two short works: “Amazing Grace” by contemporary American composer, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Jennifer Higdon (below) and the delightful “Italian Serenade” by Hugo Wolf.

The special guest will be violinist Suzanne Beia – who performs with the UW-Madison Pro Arte Quartet and is also concertmaster of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and assistant concertmaster with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Beia (below) will join the group in a performance of the gorgeous String Sextet No. 2 in G major by Johannes Brahms. (You can hear the Shanghai Quartet, performing live in Tokyo, play the second and third movements in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“All this will take place in the beautiful sanctuary (below) of Immanuel Lutheran Church, on Lake Monona at 1021 Spaight Street.

“The concert will run about 80 minutes.

“It will be followed by a reception where guests can meet the musicians and share snacks provided by Festival Foods Madison and Let It Ride Cold Brew Coffee.

“Tickets are $15 and additional information about the group and its upcoming performances — including reviews and a schedule of the Community Connect series as well as a concert at Allen Centennial Gardens — can be found at www.willystreetchamberplayers.org.”

And here is a post with more details about this summer’s concerts:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/05/23/classical-music-the-willy-street-chamber-players-announces-its-expanded-summer-season-and-its-another-appetizing-winner/


Classical music: Starting this Friday, the Madison Early Music Festival will devote a week to exploring familiar and unfamiliar Iberian music during the age of Cervantes. Part 1 of 2

July 2, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Friday, when the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) starts its week-long exploration of Iberian music during the Renaissance Age of novelist Miguel de Cervantes (below) and his pioneering novel “Don Quixote,” much will be familiar but much will also be new.

To provide a look at what to expect, the longtime co-artistic directors of the festival – wife-and-husband singers soprano Cheryl Bensman Rowe and baritone Paul Rowe (below) – provided the following overview through an email Q&A with The Ear.

All-festival passes are $90 and tickets to individual concerts cost $20, $10 for students.

Click here to buy online, call 608-265-ARTS (2787), or visit the Campus Arts Ticket Box Offices in Memorial Union or Vilas Hall (click here for hours).

(Note: All MEMF Concert Series concerts and lectures are free for participants in the MEMF Workshop. There is a $4 transaction fee per ticket when purchasing online or by phone.)

How successful is this year’s festival compared to others in terms of enrollment, budgets, performers, etc.? How does this program of MEMF’s reach nationally or even internationally compare to previous years?

We will have about 100 students at our workshop this summer, which has been a steady number for the past five years. Our budget increased to cover the big Don Quixote project by Piffaro, which you can read about below.

We continue to attract workshop participants and performers from all over the United States and Canada, and this year our concert series will present Xavier Diaz-Latorre from Spain. For more information, go to: www.xavierdiazlatorre.com

What is new and what is the same in terms of format, students, faculty members and performers?

The following events are new to MEMF this summer:

The Historical Harp Society will be giving a conference before MEMF begins, from Thursday, July 6 through Saturday, July 8, with classes and lectures that will culminate in a concert of Harp Music from the Spanish Golden Age on Friday, July 7, at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, which is FREE and open to the public. Go to www.historicalharpsociety.org

Master teacher and performer Xavier Diaz-Latorre  will be giving a master class in Morphy Recital Hall on Saturday, July 8, from 10 a.m. to noon. It is free and open to the public.

We have a new partnership with the Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies (LACIS) Program at UW-Madison. LACIS has helped us translate materials and supported MEMF with two grants. www.lacis.wisc.edu

A new display in the Memorial Library foyer will celebrate the 2017 Madison Early Music Festival with a special exhibit of Don Quixote Through the Ages, featuring a selection of books, musical scores, and other materials from the UW-Madison Libraries. While viewing the exhibition, patrons can scan a QR code and listen to a Spotify playlist featuring music that will be heard at the MEMF 2017 Concert Series! This is a MEMF first, created by co-artistic director Paul Rowe.

We worked with several librarians to select the materials: Paloma Celis-Carbajal, Ibero-American Studies and Romance Languages Librarian; Jeanette Casey, head of Mills Music Library; and Lisa Wettleson from Special Collections at Memorial Library (below, in a photo by Brent Nicastro).

Dates: June 26 – August 10, 2017

Location: Memorial Library foyer | 728 State Street | Madison

Library Hours: 8 a.m.-9:45 p.m.

We have several new performers this year.

Xavier Diaz-Latorre, a vihuela player from Spain, and the ensemble Sonnambula from New York. Xavier is a world-renowned musician, and plays the vihuela, a Spanish Renaissance type of guitar, and the lute.

Xavier will perform a solo recital featuring music of the vihuela by composers Luis Narváez, Alonso Mudarra, Gaspar Sanz and Santiago de Murcia. The link below will give you more information about the predecessors to the guitar:

http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/~lsa/aboutLute/Vihuela.html

Daphna Mor and Kane Mathis will present a program featuring music from the geographic regions of Andalusia, North Africa, the Ottoman Empire and the Sephardic Diaspora. Based on the monophonic music of modes referred to as the Makam, the audience will be drawn to distinct beauty and great similarities of music from the courts, liturgical forms, dance airs and folk music.

Daphna Mor (below top) sings and plays several historical wind instruments, and Kane Mathis (below bottom) plays the oud, a lute type of stringed instrument with 11 or 13 strings grouped in 5 or 6 courses, commonly used in Middle Eastern music.

Percussionist Shane Shanahan (below) will join them. Shane is an original member of the Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma and a Grammy award winner. https://www.stepsnyc.com/faculty/bio/Shane-Shanahan/

And watch Shane play frame drum in the Cave Temples of Dunhuang at the Getty Museum:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQjC3y6CXQ8

Hear and read about Daphna Mor: http://www.daphnamor.com/

You can watch Kane Mathis play the oud at this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tHrxEohai8

Sonnambula (below), an ensemble of violins and viol da gambas, has performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and have a regular series at the Hispanic Society of America in New York. It played a sold-out program of Spanish Golden Age works drawn from the over 450 pieces in the Cancionero Musical de Palacio, a manuscript at the Royal Palace of Madrid. This same program will be presented at MEMF on Friday, July 14. (You can hear them perform Spanish music in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

www.sonnambula.org

Why was the theme of the Spain’s Golden Age and The Age of Cervantes and Don Quixote chosen for the festival? What composers and works will be highlighted?

We liked the connection with last year’s theme, Shakespeare 400, because, although they never knew one another, Cervantes and Shakespeare (below) were contemporaries and share a “deathaversary,” as they both died on April 23, 1616. They led quite different lives, as Shakespeare was very successful throughout his lifetime and Cervantes wasn’t well known until the end of his life, when Don Quixote was published in 1605.

http://www.dw.com/en/shakespeare-and-cervantes-two-geniuses-and-one-death-date/a-19203237

Also, the Renaissance band Piffaro (below, in a photo by Church Street Studios) — an ensemble from Philadelphia that is well loved by MEMF audiences — suggested we explore this connection to Don Quixote and present their program The Musical World of Don Quixote, a huge project that they have been researching for several years.

They created a musical soundtrack to the novel in chronological order, and their program will open our 2017 concert series. This link from the Early Music America article “Piffaro Tilts At Musical Windmills” will tell you about their project in depth:

https://www.earlymusicamerica.org/web-articles/emag-piffaro-tilts-at-musical-windmills/

www.piffaro.org

The other concerts in the series draw from the music that is mentioned in Don Quixote and from the Spanish Renaissance, known as Siglo de Oro, or the Century of Gold. Many composers from this time period will be represented: Tomás Luis de VictoriaCristóbal de MoralesFrancisco GuerreroLuis de Milán and Alonso Lobo

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

https://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/concerts.htm

Check out our website for the most up-to-date information and how to get tickets:

www.madisonearlymusic.org

Tomorrow: What makes Renaissance music in Spain different? What composers and music will be featured in concerts?


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Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra, with solo violinist Paran Amirinazari, closes its seventh season with rousing and intense performances of Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky

June 9, 2017
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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 FM. 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

On Wednesday night, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) closed its seventh season with a rousing program offering three contrasting Russian works.

The opener was the Overture to Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor, as realized by Alexander Glazunov. It served to show off the orchestra’s ever-developing string band, solid in tone, if still lacking a little in warmth.

A real gem was the second work, the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev. By contrast with the composer’s first venture in that form — a taut, aggressive affair — this one is more relaxed and jovial, if no less demanding technically.

The soloist was Paran Amirinazari (below), stepping out of her usual concertmaster’s slot into the full spotlight. She handled admirably the great technical demands of her solo role, full of quirky and tricky writing.

But, amid all the spikiness she pointed up handsomely the real and almost neo-Romantic lyrical sweetness that Prokofiev infused into the showiness. (Just listen to the gorgeous second movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This is one of the truly great violin concertos, and Amirinazari — the brilliant artistic director of the fabulous Willy Street Chamber Players — demonstrated that adroitly.

The final work was a grand effort: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. This is, of course, one of those “warhorses” about which The Ear has been debating lately. It is thereby the more challenging for an orchestra to present to an audience likely to be familiar with it.

Its calculated lavishness has made it a masterpiece beloved by the public, but it is still fascinating to encounter with close listening. The composer pulled out all his tricks of dazzling orchestration and melodic invention, but in the service of a grand-scaled structure that skillfully manipulates cyclical and cross-referential transformation of themes through the score’s totality.

Maestro Steve Kurr (below) by now has nurtured remarkably solid resources for an orchestra of this kind. The potent brass choir is really well consolidated, backing fine-sounding woodwinds. Kurr made the most of these resources, in a well-rehearsed performance in which the stress on intensity of playing resulted in highly dramatic results, culminating in a truly noble ending.

This was a richly satisfying program, showcasing an ensemble of which Middleton should be button-burstingly proud.


Classical music: The 26th season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society chamber music festival opens this weekend with two programs in three locations

June 6, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (BDDS) presents its 26th annual summer chamber music festival — Alphabet Soup — starting this weekend.

It will run from this Friday, June 9, through Sunday, June 25. The festival features 12 concerts over three weekends, and each weekend offers two different programs.

Concerts will be performed in The Playhouse at the Overture Center in Madison, the Stoughton Opera House in Stoughton and the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.

In the three-weekend festival, you can hear great classical masterpieces and fine contemporary works. A roster of musicians with national and international reputations will perform.

The venues are suitably intimate for chamber music: The Playhouse (below top) at the Overture Center at 201 State St.; the jewel box historic Stoughton Opera House (below middle) at 381 East Main St.; and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside Theater (below bottom) at Taliesin on County Highway 23 in Spring Green.

Added attractions include stories about the music, mystery guests and even door prizes. As BDDS puts it, “It’s chamber music with a bang!”

BDDS is led by co-artistic directors and performers flutist Stephanie Jutt (below right), who is principal flute with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and who just retired from the UW-Madison faculty; and pianist Jeffrey Sykes (below left), who graduated from the UW-Madison and teaches in Berkeley, California,  where he is a member of the San Francisco Trio. Nineteen guest artists will also perform in the festival.

This season’s theme is Alphabet Soup, because it’s the 26th year and there are 26 letters in the alphabet. Each program is named after a combination of letters used in everyday language. Sometimes the musical interpretation of those letters is literal and sometimes it’s quite loose.

Musicians for Week One include three veteran string players: Naumberg Award-winning violinist Carmit Zori (below top); Madison’s very own violist Sally Chisholm (below middle) of the Pro Arte Quartet; and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s principal cellist Joseph Johnson (below bottom).

They will be joined by young artists who are participants in the newly formed Dynamite Factory, a BDDS program for nurturing and furthering the talents of three exceptional young musicians — violist Jeremy Kienbaum, violinist Misha Vayman and cellist Trace Johnson.

In one of two “sandwich” programs this weekend, PB&J, Carmit Zori will play the haunting Violin Sonata in F minor by Sergei Prokofiev and the program includes the heavenly Piano Quartet in A Major of Johannes Brahms.

The Dynamite Factory artists are featured in the emotional String Trio by Gideon Klein (below), a work he wrote at the Auschwitz concentration camp shortly before his death. (You can hear the trio by Gideon Klein in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

PB&J will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 9, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, Sunday, June 11, at 2:30 p.m.

A second “sandwich” program, BLT, features the emotionally complex Cello Sonata (featuring Joseph Johnson) by Benjamin Britten (below top); all of the artists working together in the great “London” Symphony by Franz Joseph Haydn as arranged by Haydn’s contemporary and impresario Johann Peter Salomon (below bottom); and the beautiful string sextet “Souvenir de Florence” by Peter Tchaikovsky.

BLT will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts, on Saturday, June 10, at 7:30 p.m. and at the Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green, on Sunday, June 11, at 6:30 p.m. 

For the seventh year, BDDS will perform two FREE family concerts, interactive events intended for all ages.

One event takes place 11–11:45 AM, on Saturday, June 10, in The Playhouse of the Overture Center.  The other will be at the Central Library Bubbler on this Thursday afternoon, June 8, from 4 to 5 p.m.

This is a performance for families with children of all ages and seating will be first come, first served. CUNA Mutual Group, Pat Powers and Thomas Wolfe and the Overture Center underwrite these performances.

Photos by Dick Ainsworth of BDDS performances and behind-the-scenes are on exhibit in The Playhouse Gallery through July 9.

Single general admission tickets are $43. Student tickets are always $10.

Tickets can also be purchased at Overture Center for the Arts, (608) 258-4141, www.overturecenter.org (additional fees apply). Tickets are available at the door at all locations.

For more information about the group, performers and programs, including audiovisual clips, go to: http://bachdancing.org


Classical music: Your warhorses are my masterpieces — and I want to hear them

June 3, 2017
6 Comments

ALERT: This Sunday afternoon from 12:30 to 2 p.m., “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” will feature Madison keyboard artist Trevor Stephenson performing on a restored 1855 Boesendorfer grand piano. The program includes music by Chopin, Granados, Brahms, Wagner, Bartok, Debussy, Schoenberg and Satie.

You can attend it live for FREE in Brittingham Gallery No. 3 of the UW-Madison’s art museum. But you can also stream it live using the link on this web page:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/index.php?/events-calendar-demo/event/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-6-4-17/

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s that time of the year again when music groups announce their new seasons.

And it seems to The Ear that the word “warhorse” is again being tossed around a lot, especially by experienced listeners who use the term pejoratively or disapprovingly, in a snobby or condescending way, to describe great music that is performed frequently.

But more than a little irony or inaccuracy is involved.

For example, a some people have referred to the Symphony No. 1 by Johannes Brahms – scheduled next season by both the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra — as a warhorse.

Yet The Ear has heard that symphony performed live only once – perhaps because programmers wanted to avoid the warhorse label.

The same goes for the iconic Fifth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven, which will be performed next year by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below). It was a revolutionary work that changed the course of music history, and it is a great piece of engaging music. (You can hear the opening movement, with an arresting graphic representation, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here’s the irony: I have heard the Piano Quintet by Brahms, the Cello Quintet by Franz Schubert and the String Octet by Felix Mendelssohn – all great masterpieces — far more often than I have heard those “warhorse” symphonies by Brahms and Beethoven. Can it be that connoisseurs usually seem more reluctant to describe chamber music masterpieces as warhorses? (Below in the Pro Arte Quartet in a photo by Rick Langer.)

The Ear is reminded of a comment made by the great Russian-American musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky (below): “Bizet’s opera “Carmen” is not great because it is popular; it is popular because it is great.”

So yes, I don’t care what more sophisticated or experienced listeners say. I still find the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Peter Tchaikovsky to be a beautiful and thrilling work that rewards me each time I hear it. It never fails.

Add to the list the popular symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak, several piano concertos by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below), the Brandenburg Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, the “Jupiter” Symphony and Symphony No. 40 in G minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And one could go on and on.

They are all great masterpieces more than they are warhorses.

Plus, just because a piece of music is new or neglected doesn’t mean that it is good or that it merits a performance.

Otherwise, you could easily spend the rest of a life listening to second-rate and third-rate works out of curiosity and never feel the powerful emotional connection and deep intellectual insight that you get with a genuine masterpiece that rewards repeated hearings.

Of course, some warhorses do leave The Ear less than enthusiastic The “1812 Overture” comes immediately to mind. Boy, do the crowds like that potboiler — on the Fourth of July, of course, when it has a traditional place.

But often enough your warhorse is my masterpiece, and I want to hear it without being thought of as a philistine.

It might even be that playing more warhorses — not fewer — will attract some new audience members at a time when music groups face challenges in attendance and finances?

It may not be cool to say that, but it might be true, even allowing room for new and neglected works that deserve to be programmed for their merit — not their newness or their neglect.

So-called “warhorses” have usually survived a long time and received many performances because they are great music by great composers that speak meaningfully to a lot of listeners. They deserve praise, not insults or denigration, as well as a secure and unapologetic place in balanced programming.

Of course, it is a matter of personal taste.

So …

What do you think?

Are there favorite warhorses you like?

Are there warhorses you detest?

Leave word in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Con Vivo concludes its 15th season with an outstanding concert of music by Spohr, Martinu and Dvorak with guest conductor John DeMain

May 28, 2017
2 Comments

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 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also took the performance photographs.

By John W. Barker

For the conclusion of its 15th season, the Con Vivo chamber music ensemble (below, in a photo by Don Sylvester) called out an unusual plethora of players.

And, as it did back in 2013, it brought back conductor John DeMain (below), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and artistic director of the Madison Opera, to whip them into shape.

The program consisted of three very ample works.

The first was the Nonet, Op. 31, composed in 1813 by Louis Spohr (below, 1784-1859) — the first of its kind for this combination of strings and winds.

It’s in that no-longer-Classical-but-not-quite-Romantic idiom in which Beethoven was the big troublemaker. It is music of charm and imagination, altogether enjoyable as one appreciates the composer’s experimentation.

Following this was a contrasting work in the same form, the Nonet No. 2 (1959) by Bohuslav Martinu (below, 1890-1959). It dates from the last months of the composer’s life — note that, by coincidence, he died exactly a century after Spohr.

Using Spohr’s same combination of the nine instruments (below), it is a perky affair, in which Czech song and dance meet Igor Stravinsky, as it were. The second of its three movements is a particularly beautiful piece of coloristic writing. It can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The pièce-de-resistance was the final work, the Serenade, Op. 44 (1878), by Antonin Dvorak (below, 1841-1904).

I have to admit that this is one of my favorite works by one of my favorite composers. Composed for 11 players, it is really the composer’s tribute to Mozart, via a Romantic rethinking of the kind of wind serenades that Mozart wrote so wonderfully.

Thus, it is really a wind octet, with the addition of a third horn plus two string players (cello and double bass). Adding those two stringed instruments was a wonderful idea, allowing a significant enrichment of textures in the bass role.

The pool of 14 players involved in the program drew upon a lot of superlative talent active in the Madison area. Highly accomplished players individually, they join in full-bodied ensembles, given the added spirit brought by DeMain’s leadership.

While it would be unfair to single out individuals too much, I must say that I was greatly impressed by Olga Pomolova’s command of the fiendishly difficult violin parts in the two nonets, while I was also struck by the strong leadership of Laura Medisky, who played oboe in the nonets and first oboe in the serenade. (Valree Casey played second oboe in the serenade.)

The audience at First Congregational Church responded justly with an enthusiastic ovation at the end. Truly an outstanding concert!


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