The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear hears the impressive young pianist Joyce Yang and thinks Madison needs more piano recitals. Plus, a FREE concert of female vocal duets is at noon on Friday.

October 22, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held 12:15-1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature sopranos Susan Savage Day and Rebekah Demaree with pianist Sharon Jensen in duets by Gabriel Faure, Jacques Aubert, Jules Massenet, Claudio Monteverdi, UW-Madison alumnus Lee Hoiby and more.

By Jacob Stockinger

There he was last Thursday, sitting in the lower balcony in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The Ear was in Piano Himmel, listening to a masterful performance.

The occasion was a solo piano recital by Joyce Yang (below), an up-and-coming, prize-winning Korea-born and America-trained pianist, still in her late 20s, who was making her Madison debut.

Joyce Yang

And the same thought haunted The Ear, himself an avid amateur pianist, that also came to him during a fine student piano recital this summer.

That thought was simply this: Madison needs to have many more solo piano recitals.

The piano is perhaps the one most commonly studied musical instrument and is a staple of music education, so the potential audience should be there. The repertoire is vast and wonderful. And the piano just hasn’t been receiving its due compared to the many new choral groups and chamber music ensembles that always seem to be proliferating in the area.

The Wise Teacher recalls years ago when almost a dozen solo piano recitals happened during a single season. This season there are only three -– and two have already taken place.

One was the recital of Mendelssohn, Franck and Chopin by Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino (below top)  on Oct. 4 at Farley’s House of Pianos on its Salon Piano Series. (The Ear couldn’t go because he is was in Chicago that afternoon hearing a piano recital by Maurizio Pollini.) The second was by Joyce Yang. The third one will be the performance by UW-Madison virtuoso professor Christopher Taylor (below bottom) on Friday, Feb 26. (No program has yet been announced.)

Daniel del PIno square

Christopher Taylor new profile

Here is an afterthought: Maybe the Madison Symphony Orchestra could start a piano series like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra offers on Sunday afternoons?

Let’s be clear: This is a matter more of pleasure and education than of justice.

Take Yang’s performance, which drew an unfortunately small house of only 300-400.

The first half was remarkable for both the clarity and color she possessed. Ethnic themes, folk songs and folk dances, especially Latin American and Spanish in nature, united the first half of her program.

She opened with two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, the three “Estampes” or Prints by Claude Debussy and two pieces from “Iberia” by Isaac Albeniz and three virtuosic “cowboy” dances by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera.

In all those works, Yang proved a complete and mature keyboard artist. Her technique is rock solid, but it is her musicality that most impresses the listener. The Ear was particularly struck by Yang’s command of dynamics, her ability to play softly and still project, and to delineate and balance various voices.

The second half, all works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, proved less satisfying to The Ear, if not to the audience. It featured two transcriptions of vocal works or songs — “Dreams” and  “Vocalise”  — by the late American virtuoso pianist Earl Wild (below).

earl wild

Unfortunately, Wild himself possessed a Lisztean (or Horowitzean) command of keyboard technique. And like Franz Liszt (or Vladimir Horowitz), Wild just couldn’t resist adding Liberace-like flourishes, flash and trash to his transcriptions in places where simplicity rather than Big Chords would have more than sufficed.

At certain points in a Wild transcription, the work inevitably sounds louche or decadent and over-the-top, like something you might hear at a piano bar or in a cocktail lounge. In short, they are more piano than music. (You can listen to Earl Wild himself performing his own transcription of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Then came  the Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor by Rachmaninoff (below) in its revised 1931 edition. To be honest, this is a Big Piece that is full of sound and fury signifying not very much that The Ear can discern. (The Ear much prefers Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos, preludes and Etudes Tableaux.)

To be sure, the bombastic sonata requires impressive and powerful piano playing, which must explain the muscular work’s popularity among professional pianists and certain segments of the public. It is a Wower and wow us it does, although many of us would rather be seduced than wowed.

Rachmaninoff

The sonata surely is effective in live performance and brought an immediate standing ovation. That, in turn, was rewarded with another Earl Wild transcription this time of George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Too bad the love once again seemed overpowered by difficult but flawlessly executed scales and runs.

But putting those shortcomings aside, the sound of an amazingly played piano recital was such a welcome experience.

The Ear hopes that many more of them are somehow in store.

 


Classical music education: Here are some highlights of Semester 2 during the upcoming season at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

August 14, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

The final schedules for the upcoming season by most major classical music groups in the area are now available.

Last but not least is the biggest of them all: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which offers some 300 events in a season, most of them FREE to the public.

UW logos

Some things are new. For example, you will note that the UW Choral Union has gone to just ONE performance instead of two, as in the past for many years.

Concert manager and director of public relations Kathy Esposito (below) writes:

Katherine Esposito

The UW-Madison School of Music is jazzed about its upcoming season and we’d like the world to know. Please make plans to attend!

Here is a link to the online calendar, which is now complete except for specific pieces on programs and last-minute changes: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Our events of 2015-2016 range from performances by a vocal dynamo (soprano Brenda Rae, Sept. 27) to an in-demand LA jazz woodwind musician (Bob Sheppard in April) plus an enterprising young brass quintet (Axiom Brass in October) and a dollop of world music in March (duoJalal). In addition, we offer ever-popular opera productions, faculty concerts and student ensembles ranging from classical to jazz to percussion.

Full concert calendar link: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Other social media connections include:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/

https://www.facebook.com/UWMadisonSchoolOfMusic

https://twitter.com/UWSOM

Our Newsletter, A Tempo!

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/

Hear our sound: https://soundcloud.com/uw-madisonsom

Here’s a partial list with highlights.

Semester 1 was posted yesterday, and here is a link to that:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/08/13/uw-highlights-semester-1/

Here are highlights of Semester 2:

SEMESTER 2

January 19-24: Student Recital Festival. The public is invited to our first free weeklong feast of music performed on all instruments by many of our students, both undergraduate and graduate. Morphy and Music Halls. Times and programs to be announced in late fall.  All events free. (Below is the scholarship-winning Perlman Piano Trio from several years ago.)

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/student-recital-festival/

Perlman-Trio Thomas Kasdorf piano, Eleanor Bartsch violin and Maureen Kelly cello

January 30: Our third “Schubertiade” (below) with pianists Martha Fischer, Bill Lutes, students, faculty and guests. Songs, chamber music and four-hand piano works, all composed by Franz Schubert.

Mills Hall, 8 PM.

Tickets $12.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/schubertiade-2016-the-music-of-franz-schubert/

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

February 12: Jazz singer Sharon Clark (below) with the UW Jazz Orchestra. Washington, D.C. standout Sharon Clark has brought festival and concert audiences to their feet across the U.S. and Europe. Her New York run drew raves from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and she won New York’s Bistro Award for Best Vocalist.

Music Hall, 8 PM. Free concert.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/guest-artist-jazz-singer-sharon-clark-with-the-uw-jazz-orchestra/

Sharon Clark

February 14: Symphony Showcase Concerto Winners Solo Recitals. The best performers of 2015-2016, graduate and undergraduate, from the UW-Madison School of Music. Bring your Valentine! Click the link below to watch videos. (Below top is the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra; below bottom are the concerto winners in 2015.)

Mills Hall, 7:30 PM.

Tickets $10.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/symphony-showcase-concerto-winners-solo-recital/

uw concerto winner 2014 big audience Michael R. Anderson

2014 Concerto Winners

February 26: Pianist Christopher Taylor in solo recital.  “We in Wisconsin are privileged to call Christopher Taylor (below) one of our own,” wrote reviewer Jessica Courtier in the Capital Times following his performances last spring with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Taylor is also known for his work inventing a digital double keyboard piano, now being built.

Mills Hall, 8 PM.

Tickets $15.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/christopher-taylor-piano-faculty-concert/

Christopher Taylor new profile

March 11-13-15: University Opera presents “Transformations” (Conrad Susa (below top)/Anne Sexton below bottom). Directed by David Ronis, music conducted by Kyle Knox. Susa’s chamber opera for eight singers and eight players, is an adult re-telling of 10 classic fairy tales (among them, Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel) as seen through the eyes of poet Anne Sexton. Sexton’s struggle with mental illness frames the darkly humorous, and audaciously recounted tales, filled with mid-20-century references, both literary and musical. (You can hear excerpts and a summary in a YouTube video at the bottom;)

Music Hall.

$25/$20/$10

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-transformations/

Conrad Susa

anne sexton

March 14: duoJalal (below) with Kathryn Lockwood and Yousif Sheronick, the wife-and-husband viola and percussion global chamber music duo. From their chamber music foundation, duoJalal moves from Classical to Klezmer, Middle Eastern to Jazz, with a skillful confluence that is natural, exploratory and passionate.

Morphy Hall, 7:30 PM.

Tickets $15.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/duojalal-viola-percussion-guest-artists/

Kathryn Lockwood and Yousif Sheronick

April 26-28-29: Jazz Immersion Week. A weeklong residency with LA-based Bob Sheppard (below), worldwide multi-woodwind performer, recording artist, and jazz musician. Also featuring UW Jazz Ensembles, the UW Jazz Orchestra, the UW High School Honors Jazz Band, and the Johannes Wallmann Quintet.

April 26: Bob Sheppard with the UW-Madison Composers Septet & Contemporary Jazz Ensemble. Free concert.

April 28: Bob Sheppard with the Johannes Wallmann Quintet. Tickets $15.

April 29: Bob Sheppard with the UW Jazz Orchestra & High School Honors Jazz Band. Tickets $15.

Buy tickets for both concerts for $25.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/jazz-bob-sheppard-guest-artist/

Tickets sold through the Campus Arts Ticketing Box Office online or in person. You may also buy day of show.

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/location.html

bob sheppard

 


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