The Well-Tempered Ear

This Sunday at 4 p.m., the Salon Piano Series debuts an online recital by pianist Kangwoo Jin. He plays music by Scarlatti, Beethoven, Liszt and Schumann. It is up until May 9

April 22, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. CDT, the Salon Piano Series, hosted by Farley’s House of Pianos, will debut an online concert by pianist Kangwoo Jin (below, in a photo by Andy Manis).

The concert, which was recorded at Luther Memorial Church, costs $10 and will be available online through May 9.

The program is:

Scarlatti – Sonatas in D minor and D Major, K. 213 and 214 (ca. 1756-1757)

Beethoven – Sonata in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No. 2, “Moonlight” (1801)

Liszt – Transcriptions for solo piano of the songs “Widmung” (Dedication) by Robert Schumann and “Litanei” (Litany) by Franz Schubert

Schumann – Symphonic Etudes, Op.13 (1830)

Bishop – Home, Sweet Home

Tickets are only available online at eventbrite.com. Service fees apply. Complete program and concert information is at salonpianoseries.org

PROGRAM NOTES 

Jin has written the following program notes for The Ear:

“As a musician, I am always eager to share music with the public. I am very excited to be able to reach out to the audience with this unprecedented Salon Piano Series Virtual Concert. 

“I believe music soothes our mental health in difficult times regardless of age, gender or race. I very much hope my performance will contribute to this collective healing we feel through music.

“I wanted to include three different styles, as I usually do for recitals. This time I have Baroque, Classical and Romantic music.

“I chose one of the most famous Beethoven sonatas in order to celebrate his 250th birth year (2020), which I did not have a chance to mark last year.

“This piece is popular with the title of “Moonlight,” which Beethoven (below) never intended. Five years after his death, the German critic Ludwig Rellstab used the word “Moonlight” in order to describe the first movement. But it was really inspired by the funeral march in Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni.” I try to bring out the tragic color of the first movement. (You can hear Jin play the exciting final movement of the sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“I also wanted to play the virtuosic masterpiece “Symphonic Etudes,” Op. 13, by Robert Schumann (below), including the beautiful posthumous variations 4 and 5.

I find this piece special in the sense that Schumann intended to make this piece “symphonic.” He created multiple layers of voices in various ways through each etude and created orchestral sounds. This polyphonic writing with multiple layers and a thick texture is what makes this piece difficult to play.

“I also specifically wanted to include one of the piano transcriptions by Franz Liszt (below) of Schubert’s Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen (Litany for the Feast of All Souls), D. 343.

“Schubert (below) used the poem “Litany” by Johann Jacobi (1740-1814). It is written for comforting the deceased. Robert Capell, the author of the book “Schubert’s Songs” (1929), said about this lied: There was never a truer or more touching expression of simple devotion and consoled grief … “The music rises from a pure well of affection and humility.” 

“I would like to dedicate this piece to all the people who  suffered from Covid 19.”

BACKGROUND

Here is a link to Kangwoo Jin’s impressive website where you can see many photos, learn about his extensive career as a teacher and hear many samples of his playing: https://www.pianistkangwoojin.com

Praised for his “refined tone quality with powerful energy” (Chosun Daily Newspaper), Jin (below, in a photo by Steve Apps for the Wisconsin State Journal) concertizes nationally and internationally, including performances in Germany, Italy, China, Indonesia and South Korea.

He gave his debut concert at the Sejong Arts Center in Seoul, South Korea, sponsored by the Chosun Daily Newspaper. He has given live performances on Wisconsin Public Radio and WORT 89.9 FM. 

Jin appears frequently as a guest artist at music festivals, universities and various concert series. Recent invitations include UW-River Falls, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, and Tongji University in Shanghai. Kawai Pianos USA has also invited him as a guest artist at the annual Piano Technicians Guild Convention and Technical Institute in Florida.

Jin completed the Bachelor of Music degree at Hanyang University in South Korea, then earned his Performer Diploma and Master’s of Music at Indiana University, where he worked as an associate instructor.

He is the recipient of the J. Battista Scholarship for performance excellence at Indiana University and received the Collins Distinguished Fellowship for his doctoral studies, completed last year, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied piano with Christopher Taylor and piano pedagogy with Jessica Johnson.


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Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble performs a FREE live-streamed concert this Sunday afternoon

February 19, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

After a year of canceled events, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) will perform a live-streamed concert this Sunday afternoon, Feb. 21, at 3 p.m. CST.

The concert will take place at the First Congregational Church in Beloit as part of the Musica Maxima concert series.

(A concert scheduled for this Saturday night, Feb. 21, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison has been CANCELED.)

On the program are: six duos for two cellos, Op. 18, by Tommaso Giordani (below top), played by Charlie Rasmussen and Anton TenWolde (you can hear the same performers play the second of the six duos in the Centaur recording featured in the YouTube video at the bottom);  and the sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord obbligato (WQ 88) by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (below bottom) performed by Eric Miller and Max Yount, respectively.

There will be no live audience.

The link to the free concert as well as a full program can be found at our home webpage: http://www.wisconsinbaroque.org

There is no charge, but please consider making a donation to the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble to help defray our expenses. Go to: http://www.wisconsinbaroque.org/donate.html

In case you are unable to watch the live broadcast, the concert will remain posted for viewing for several weeks.

 


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The eighth annual UW Schubertiade is this Sunday afternoon. It features a FREE online retrospective of the past seven years plus a new four-hand piano performance

January 29, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The University of Wisconsin has posted the following announcement:

For the eighth consecutive year, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music will present its annual Schubertiade — a special concert celebrating the music of Franz Schubert (below).

Traditionally these concerts have been held around the composer’s birthday. This year’s concert will in fact occur on his birthday — this Sunday, Jan. 31, at 3-4:30 p.m. CST. The pre-recorded premiere is at: https://youtu.be/7sshhKiFPAg

You can also use the link to prepare for the concert before or during the concert. You will find the program with song titles, the original German texts and English translation, and biographies of the performers by simply clicking on “SHOW MORE” on the YouTube website and follow the links to PDFs.

BECAUSE THERE ARE NO COPYRIGHT ISSUES, ACCORDING TO UW OFFICIALS, THE POST SHOULD BE UP AND AVAILABLE INDEFINITELY AFTER ITS PREMIERE.

As in past years, founders and performers Martha Fischer (below left), professor of piano and head of the collaborative piano program at UW-Madison, and her husband Bill Lutes (below right), an independent piano teacher, and UW emeritus artist-in-residence, will host the program.

These concerts have been presented in the sprit of the first Schubertiades (below, in a painting by Julius Schmid) that took place during the composer’s lifetime (1797-1828) in the homes of his friends and fellow artists, poets and fans.

These were social as well as musical occasions with Schubert himself presiding at the piano, giving his audience a chance to hear his latest songs, piano duets and chamber music, as well as pieces that had already become favorites.

This year’s Schubertiade will be different in response to the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It will be an online look back — or Rückblick — at past concerts, with songs chosen from performances that have been preserved in the audio and video archive.

The featured performers will include faculty members, students and alumni from the Mead Witter School of Music, along with special guests.

In addition, pianists Fischer and Lutes will give a “new” performance recorded for this occasion of the great Fantasie in F minor for piano duet. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear that work, performed by Dutch brothers Lucas and Arthur Jussen and recorded live in Seoul, South Korea.)

The songs have been chosen to reflect themes that were not only relevant to Schubert and his circle, but also to all of us in the midst of this challenging time: hope for a brighter future; the need for connection with others; remembrance of happier times; and the consolation to be found in nature.

Schubert left a vast and precious legacy of beauty — an enormous output of music that he composed in his short lifetime.

In a sense, each time his music is performed and heard, it is a journey from the past to our own time, the sounds speaking to us today as vividly and consolingly as they did when they were created 200 years ago.

Performers

Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes, pianists

Alumni:

Jamie-Rose Guarrine, soprano (below, in a photo by Peter Konerko)
Emily Birsan, soprano
Michael Roemer, baritone
Jennifer D’Agostino, soprano
Daniel O’Dea, tenor
Wesley Dunnagan, tenor
Sarah Brailey (alumna and current DMA student)
Sara Guttenberg

Guests:

Marie McManama, soprano
Cheryl Bensman-Rowe, mezzo-soprano

Faculty:

Mimmi Fulmer, soprano
Paul Rowe, baritone (below)
Julia Rottmayer, soprano

Staff

David Alcorn, videographer, editor, etc.
Katrin Talbot, images for audio only tracks

 


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Edgewood College’s virtual fall concert on this Sunday afternoon, Nov. 22, has been CANCELED

November 21, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The free live-streamed and pre-recorded virtual Fall Concert on this Sunday afternoon, Nov. 22, at Edgewood College’s McKinley Performing Arts Center (below) has been CANCELED due to new restrictions to prevent and contain the coronavirus. The Chamber Orchestra, Guitar Ensemble and the Wind-Percussion Ensemble were scheduled to perform.

 


The Madison Opera launches its Digital Fall this Sunday afternoon and Sept. 27 with more to come through December. The cost is $50 per household

September 18, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from the Madison Opera about its Digital fall season, which will open with an artists’ panel discussion this Sunday afternoon, Sept. 20, and then an original world-premiere production on Sept. 27, a week from this Sunday.

“Although the coronavirus pandemic has closed the Overture Center for the Arts this fall, Madison Opera is not going silent.

“We are creating a fall season that lasts from September through December. It includes both digital content and live performances at the Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center, our home in downtown Madison.

“All content will be available to subscribers for at least one month from the “live” date, so you can watch at your leisure, and as often as you wish.”

A Digital Fall subscription is $50 per household. It can be purchased on its own, or as part of a new subscription package. It can be purchased through the link at the bottom.

Here is how it will work: About 48 hours before each event, subscribers will receive an email with the private link to that event.  (You may need to check your spam folder).  If you have not received an email the day before an event, email info@madisonopera.org and we’ll send you the link directly.

The link remains active for one month, so if you cannot watch an event live – or want to re-watch it – you won’t miss out.

Do you miss operatic conversation? Join us online! Opera Up Close is a favorite event for Madison Opera subscribers, usually featuring a discussion of the upcoming opera from a historical context and with cast members.

For our Digital Fall, this conversation is reimagined via technology to discuss broader opera topics, featuring favorite Madison Opera company members, interviewed by Madison Opera’s general director Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill).

Opera Up Close Cocktail Hour Discussions take place on Sunday afternoons, 4– 5:30 p.m. Subscribers will have the opportunity to ask questions both in advance and during the talk.

UP CLOSE COCKTAIL HOUR DISCUSSION

This Sunday, Sept. 20, 4-5:30 p.m.

Many singers have debuted at Madison Opera (MO) early in their careers, before going on to sing around the world.

Featured in this discussion are: Kyle Ketelsen of Sun Prairie (below top in a photo by Lawrence Brownlee, MO debut 2000); Emily Fons (below middle, MO debut 2012); and Will Liverman (below bottom, MO debut 2015). Join us for a wide-ranging discussion about their careers, training paths, and much more.

WORLD PREMIERE OF  A SONG CYCLE

Jeni Houser and David Blalock, singers

Saturday, Sept. 26, 7:30 p.m.

Featuring the world premiere of “Keep Moving” by Madison composer and UW-Madison graduate Scott Gendel

Married singers Jeni Houser and David Blalock (below) have a long history with Madison Opera. Jeni was one of our first Studio Artists in 2012, and has returned many times, most recently as Anne in Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music.”

David debuted in Beethoven’s “Fidelio” (2014), and both artists sang at Opera in the Park 2019 (below). This past season, Jeni and David made (separate) Metropolitan Opera debuts, and were slated to sing the leads in Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld ” in Madison last spring, which was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Wisconsin residents will launch our Live from the Opera Center series in a joint recital, accompanied by principal pianist Scott Gendel (below).

Gendel is also an acclaimed composer, and the recital will feature the world premiere of his song cycle “Keep Moving,” set to poetry by Maggie Smith, which he is writing specifically for Jeni and David. (below, in a photo by David Scott, are all three are rehearsing in the Madison Opera’s Winston Center.)

Here is a link to the initial schedule of events, including a cooperative production of Jean Cocteau’s monologue opera “The Human Voice” with the Austin Opera in Texas, and biographies of various singers and participants.

More events will be added and announced in the coming months.

You will also a find a button to click on to subscribe to the Digital Fall: https://www.madisonopera.org/Fall2020


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Classical music: Trevor Stephenson announces the new season of the Madison Bach Musicians on YouTube. It features smaller concerts and familiar comfort music

May 15, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

At a time when so many concerts are being canceled, it is especially welcome when a local ensemble announces plans for the 2020-21 season.

To announce the 17th season of the Madison Bach Musicians — a period-instrument group that uses historically informed performance practices — the founder and artistic director Trevor Stephenson (below), who also plays the harpsichord, fortepiano and piano, has made and posted a 13-1/2 minute YouTube video.

The season will also be posted on the MBM website in early June, and will also be announced with more details about times and ticket prices via email and postal mailings.

In the video, Stephenson plays the harpsichord. He opens the video with the familiar Aria from the “Goldberg” Variations and closes with two contrasting Gavottes from the English Suite in G minor.

As usual, Stephenson offers insights in the programs that feature some very well-known and appealing works that are sure to attract audiences anxious to once again experience the comfort of hearing familiar music performed live.

One thing Stephenson does not say is that there seems to be fewer ambitious programs and fewer imported guest artists. It’s only a guess, but The Ear suspects that that is because it is less expensive to stage smaller concerts and it also allows for easier cancellation, should that be required by a continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

If the speculation proves true, such an adaptive move is smart and makes great sense artistically, financially and socially given the coronavirus public health crisis.

After all, this past spring the MBM had to cancel a much anticipated, expensive and very ambitious production, with many out-of-town guests artists, of the “Vespers of 1610” by Claudio Monteverdi. Nonetheless, MBM tried to pay as much as it could afford to the musicians, who are unsalaried “gig” workers who usually don’t qualify for unemployment payments.

“Hope and Joy” is a timely, welcome and much-needed theme of the new season.

The new season starts on Saturday night, Oct. 3, at Grace Episcopal Church downtown on the Capitol Square, and then Sunday afternoon, Oct. 4, at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton.

The program is Haydn and Mozart: songs composed in English and German by Haydn plus songs by Mozart; the great violin sonata in E minor by Mozart; and two keyboard trios, one in C major by Haydn and one in G major by Mozart.

Only four players will be required. They include: Stephenson on the fortepiano; concertmaster Kangwon Kim on baroque violin; James Waldo on a Classical-era cello; and soprano Morgan Balfour (below), who won the 2019 Handel Aria Competition in Madison.

On Saturday night, Dec. 12, in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, near Camp Randall Stadium, MBM will perform its 10th annual holiday concert of seasonal music.

The program includes several selections from the “Christmas Oratorio” by Johann Sebastian Bach; a Vivaldi concerto for bassoon with UW-Madison professor Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) as soloist; and the popular “Christmas Concerto” by Arcangelo Corelli.

On Saturday night, April 24, at Grace Episcopal Church and Sunday afternoon, April 25, at Holy Wisdom Monastery, the MBM will perform a concert of German Baroque masterworks with the internationally renowned baroque violinist Marc Destrubé (below).

The program features Handel and Bach but also composers who are not often played today but who were well known to and respected by Bach and his contemporaries.

Specifically, there will be a suite by Christoph Graupner (below top) and a work by Carl Heinrich Graun (below bottom).

There will also be a concerto grosso by George Frideric Handel and two very well-known concertos by Bach – the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and the Concerto for Two Violins.

Here is the complete video:

What do you think of the Madison Bach Musicians’ new season?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: Madison Opera announces its 2020-21 season and plans for Opera in the Park on July 25. Plus, today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. What music would you choose to mark the event?

April 22, 2020
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ALERT: Today, April 22, is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which was founded by Gaylord Nelson, a former Wisconsin governor and senator. To celebrate it, in the YouTube video at the bottom is “The Earth Prelude” — a long work, both Neo-classical and minimalist, with beautiful photos, by the best-selling, award-winning Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi. It has more than 2.3 million views.

What music would you listen to to mark the event? Leave suggestions with YouTube links, if possible, in the Comment section.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera has just announced its upcoming 2020-21 season.

As usual, there are three works. The fall and spring operas take place in Overture Hall and the winter production, a Broadway musical, will use the Capitol Theater.

Below are the titles with links to Wikipedia entries for more information about the works and their creators:

Here are the titles:

“Il Trovatore” (The Troubadour) – with the popular “Anvil Chorus” — by Giuseppe Verdi (below) in Overture Hall on Friday night, Nov. 6, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 8, at 2:30 p.m. It will be sung in Italian with projected English translations.

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

“She Loves Me” with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick (below) – the same team that created “Fiddler on the Roof” — in the Capitol Theater on Friday night, Jan. 29, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Jan. 31, at 2:30 p.m. It will be sung in English with projected text.

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

“The Marriage of Figaro,” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below) in Overture Hall on Friday night, April 30, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, May 2, at 2:30 p.m. It will be sung in Italian with projected English translations.

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

You can see a short preview peek — with music but no word about casts, sets or production details — on Vimeo by using the following link: https://vimeo.com/398921274

For more forthcoming information about the season, go to: https://www.madisonopera.org

OPERA IN THE PARK

You may recall that this spring the Madison Opera had to cancel its production of “Orpheus in the Underworld” by Jacques Offenbach because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What about this summer’s 19th annual Opera in the Park (below, in a photo by James Gill)?

It is still slated for Saturday, July 25, in Garner Park, on Madison’s far west side, with a rain date of Sunday, July 26.

But the opera company is being understandably cautious and says: “At this time, we are proceeding with Opera in the Park as scheduled.

“The safety and wellbeing of our community are our top priority, and we are closely following the guidelines and recommendations of public health officials. We are prepared to make necessary decisions in response to rapidly changing conditions.

“We appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate these circumstances.”

For updates and more information about Opera in the Park, go to: https://www.madisonopera.org/2019-2020-season/oitp2020/

 


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Classical music: Here’s how to apply Madison Symphony Orchestra cancellation refunds to a subscription ticket for next season. Plus, the Oakwood Chamber Players cancel two concerts in May

April 17, 2020
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ALERT: In accordance with the state’s Stay at Home order, concerts by the Oakwood Chamber Players (below) that were scheduled for Saturday night, May 16, and Sunday afternoon, May 17, at Oakwood Village University Woods, on the far west side, have been CANCELED.

By Jacob Stockinger

Now that the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below in a photo by Peter Rodgers) has canceled the rest of its current season, The Ear and others have wondered how to apply refunds to a subscription ticket for the MSO’s 2020-21 season, with the theme of “Ode to Joy: Beethoven and Beyond.” (See the YouTube promotional video at the bottom.)

The MSO recently announced cancellations because of the COVID-19 pandemic and closing of the Overture Center with detailed descriptions of how you could donate the tickets to benefit musicians or exchange them for vouchers to one concert in the next season.

Here is a link: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/04/13/classical-music-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-cancels-concerts-and-events-through-june-here-are-details-and-links-about-donations-exchanges-and-refunds/

But missing was the possibility of applying the cost of tickets to this season’s cancellations to a subscription ticket for next year.

So The Ear called Peter Rodgers, the marketing director for the MSO, to get a clarification.

It turns out that the MSO administrative staff met with representatives of the box office at the Overture Center to discuss various refund options.

Rodgers said the box office is very busy handling refunds from other events that have been canceled. That has made for complex mechanical or technical difficulties in applying one season’s subscription tickets to another.

It is true that you can apply this season’s ticket or tickets to one subscription concert next season, but there is no guarantee of securing your current seat preference, according to Rodgers.

If you want apply this season’s refunds and keep your seat for all the concerts or selected one next season, Rodgers said that the best solution is to ask for the refund and then pay in full for the next season’s subscription tickets.

Here is a link to more information about the MSO’s next season with performers and programs: https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/2020-2021-symphony-season-concerts/

Single tickets go on sale Aug. 15.

You can renew online, by mail and by calling (608) 257-3734. The deadline for subscription renewals or new subscriptions, with a discount of up to 50 percent, is Thursday, May 7.

Here is a link to the page for online renewals or new subscriptions: https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/subscribe-now/

 


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Classical music: This afternoon is your last chance to hear native son Kenneth Woods conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot. Here are two reviews, one a rave and the other very positive

March 8, 2020
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear native son and guest conductor Kenneth Woods and guest Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers).

Woods (below), once a student in Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and a student at Memorial High School, has established an international reputation by leading the English Symphony Orchestra, the Colorado MahlerFest and the British Elgar Festival, and by making many highly praised recordings.

At 26, Pouliot (below in a photo by Jeff Fasano) is a rising star, thanks to winning a major competition in Montreal and other prizes. (You can hear him play “Lotus Land,” composed by Cyril Scott and arranged by Fritz Kreisler, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The program is: Symphony No. 96 “Miracle” by Franz Joseph Haydn; the Violin Concerto in E Minor by Felix Mendelssohn; and “Ein Heldenleben” (A Hero’s Life) by Richard Strauss.

For more background and program notes, information about purchasing tickets ($19-$95) and The Ear’s detailed interview with Woods about growing up in Madison, go to: https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2020/03/02/classical-music-accomplished-native-son-kenneth-woods-returns-this-weekend-to-conduct-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-in-music-by-haydn-mendelssohn-and-richard-strauss-he-talks-to-the-ear-about-what/

The opening performance on Friday night received excellent reviews. Here are two major ones:

Here is the rave review that veteran critic Greg Hettmansberger (below) wrote for his blog “What Greg Says,” which is well worth following:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2020/03/07/a-healthy-orchestra-in-strong-hands/

And here is a largely positive review for The Capital Times newspaper written by freelancer Matt Ambrosio (below), who received his doctorate in music theory from the UW-Madison and now teaches at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin:

https://madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/soloist-blake-pouloit-brings-mso-audience-to-its-feet-with/article_d559c040-87d8-506d-8120-ae77b0d5481b.html/

You can be a critic too.

If you heard the concert, what did you think?

The Ear wants to hear

 


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Classical music: Acclaimed native son Kenneth Woods returns this weekend to conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra. He talks to The Ear about what Madison meant to him and his international career

March 2, 2020
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PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, native Madisonian Kenneth Woods (below) returns from his home in the UK to conduct three performances of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The concerts feature two MSO debuts: the prize-winning young Canadian violinist Blake Pouliot performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor; and the acclaimed guest conductor, Kenneth Woods, leading the orchestra for the MSO premiere of Haydn’s Symphony No. 96, “Miracle” plus Richard Strauss’ tone poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life).

Performances will be held in Overture Hall on Friday night, March 6, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, March 7, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, March 8, at 2:30 p.m.

Single tickets are $19-$95 each and are on sale now, along with discounted tickets, at: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/the-miracle/; through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street; or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141. Fees apply to online and phone sales.

You can view program notes for this concert online at http://bit.ly/msomar2020programnotes

A Prelude Discussion by Randal Swiggum will take place one hour before each concert.

Guest conductor Kenneth Woods is a busy and versatile musician. He is the Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra and the artistic director of both the Colorado MahlerFest and the Elgar Festival in England. (You can hear Woods conducting Carl Maria von Weber’s “Oberon” Overture in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

Woods has won accolades for rediscovering and recording the music of the Austrian-British composer Hans Gàl. Woods, who has played guitar in a rock band, is also a professional cellist who solos with orchestras and plays chamber music. He writes a respected blog. And he currently plays and records in the Briggs Piano Trio for Avie Records.

For much more information about Kenneth Woods, including his blog “A View From the Podium,” go to: https://kennethwoods.net/blog1/

Woods recently spoke via email to The Ear about what Madison has meant to him and to his international career.

How did living in Madison play a role in your decision to become a professional musician?

Madison offered me a chance to hear music at an early age. I was taken to watch a rehearsal of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra as a very young kid, maybe three or four years old. That made a huge impression on me, especially seeing the rehearsal process. Later, my parents took us to all the UW Symphony Orchestra concerts for years.

There’s really no reason not to take young kids to concerts! For me, a love of live music led to a love of recorded music, listening to records at home, and from there, to an interest in playing music as a kid.

We were lucky to have a very strong music program in the Madison public schools when I was growing up here. The orchestras at Memorial High School played some really impressive repertoire under Tom Buchhauser (below top, in a photo by Jon Harlow). The UW Summer Music Clinic made being a musician social – it was a great immersion with one’s peers.

Most important, however, was probably the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). Playing under Jim Smith (below bottom) was the most fantastic education in orchestral playing one could hope for. He and Tom are a big part of why I became a conductor.

Madison in those days wasn’t a super-pressurized scene, like one might encounter around the big pre-college programs in New York or LA. But what I might have missed in terms of conservatory-level instrumentalists in every corridor, one made up in terms of feeling like you could find your own path. By the time I was in high school, I pretty much knew music was that path.

How did your experiences in Madison help prepare you for that career?

I learned so much about rehearsing from Jim Smith. In his first year, we worked on Dvorak’s 8th Symphony pretty much all year. Every week, he opened our ears to new facets of the music. I’ve never forgotten that.

I went off to Indiana University to do my Bachelor’s degree, but returned to Madison for a Master’s, when I studied cello with UW-Madison professor Parry Karp (below top).

Those were wonderful years for me. I learned an enormous amount from Parry as both a cello teacher and chamber music coach (and especially as a person).

I played in fantastic chamber groups, did lots of wacky new music and had solo opportunities. UW Symphony Orchestra conductor David Becker (below bottom) even gave me my first meaningful chance to rehearse an orchestra when he had me take a couple of rehearsals on the Copland Clarinet Concerto.

And I played in both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. I came away from that time with both new skills and new confidence.

What does returning to your hometown to conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra mean to you?

It’s both very exciting and a little surreal. Under the leadership of John DeMain (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson), the MSO (below bottom, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) has come so far since the time I was in it. And the new hall is such a treasure for all of Wisconsin – it’s practically a different orchestra.

I still have many friends and former mentors in the orchestra and it’s going to be wonderful to see them all and make music together again after so long.

But it’s more than a homecoming. It’s a chance to celebrate where we’ve all been and what we’ve all done the last 20 years or so. My musical life has mostly been in the UK for a long time, so to re-connect with my musical roots here is rather magical.

What are your major current and upcoming projects?

The English Symphony Orchestra (below) represents the biggest chunk of my musical life. This year we’re celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday and the orchestra’s 40th anniversary.

The ESO has a special commitment to new and unknown music, and right now we’re in the midst of something called the 21st Century Symphony Project, which involves commissioning, premiering and recording nine new symphonies by diverse composers. It’s one of the most ambitious commissioning projects I’ve ever heard of, let alone been involved in.

I’m also excited about this year’s Colorado MahlerFest in Boulder, where we’re focusing on Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection” this May, which will crown a week of music exploring themes of color and visual art with music by Wagner, Messiaen and British composer Philip Sawyers.

Is the MSO program special to you?

I must say that it was incredibly generous of John DeMain to offer me such a fantastic program. Not every music director is gentleman enough to let a guest have Ein Heldenleben.

What would you like the public to know about your approach to music and about the specific works by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Richard Strauss?

Haydn’s music is maybe the richest discovery of my adult life. I didn’t get it as a kid, largely because most performances I heard were so dull.

His music is so varied, and his personality so complex, one mustn’t try to reduce him down to a simplistic figure. The late symphonies, of which this is one of the finest, are inexhaustible sources of wisdom, beauty, humor and sanity.

The Mendelssohn is really an astonishing piece. I’ve probably conducted it as much as any piece of music, with so many different soloists, all of whom had hugely different temperaments, personalities, sounds and approaches.

I’ve played it with some of the greatest violinists in the world and with young students. Somehow, whoever is playing, it always leaves me, and the audience, smiling. I’m pretty sure we can continue that streak with Blake Pouliot (below, in a photo by Jeff Fasano).

The Strauss is a rich, personal, wise, funny and moving work. It’s always a challenge, particularly bringing out all the astonishing detail in the score, but it’s also a real joy to perform. If the Mendelssohn always leaves me smiling, the Strauss always leaves me smiling with a tear in my eye.

 


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