The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho discusses her opera “L’Amour de Loin” on NPR. Its premiere production at the Metropolitan Opera will air this Saturday on “Live From the Met in HD” and on Wisconsin Public Radio

December 9, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday will see the “Live From The Met in HD” transmission to area cinemas of the popular 2002 opera “L’Amour de Loin” by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho (below, in a photo by Maarit Kytoharju).

The show starts at 11:55 a.m. at the Point Cinema in Madison’s far west side and the Palace Cinema in Sun Prairie. The running time is three hours with an intermission. (It will also be broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Radio starting at 1 p.m.) It will be sung in French with English supertitles.

kaija-saariaho-maarit-kytoharju-for-met

Based on the real-life story of the 12th-century French prince and troubadour Jaufré de Rudel, the opera will be the first one by a women composer to be done by the Metropolitan Opera in 113 years.

It must also be a landmark for Finland, since both the composer and the acclaimed conductor, Susanna Mälkki (below, in a photo by The New York Times), are Finnish. Mälkki is making her Met debut.

susanna-malkki-ny-times

And the cast sounds terrific: Bass-baritone Eric Own (below left, in a photo by Ken Howard) plays the troubadour.

eric-owens-plays-the-12th-century-french-prince-and-troubadour-jaufre-rudel-cr-ken-howard-met

Susanna Phillips (below right) plays his love Clémence, who hails from what is now Lebanon.

eric-owens-and-susanna-phillips-in-mets-%22lamour-de-loin%22-cr-ken-howard-for-met

It sounds like the production, by French-Canadian theater director Robert Lepage – who worked with the Cirque du Soleil and did the Met’s recent controversial “Ring” cycle by Richard Wagner, is appealing on several scores. (You can hear Robert Lepage and Kaija Saariaho discuss the production briefly in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is a link to more information about the opera and cast at the Met’s website:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/2016-17-Season/amour-de-loin-saariaho-tickets/

The appeal has been added to by a story that Jeff Lunden did for National Public Radio or NPR.

It is good background for seeing and hearing the production.

Here is a link. You can read the summary in print, and you can hear the longer broadcast version – which The Ear recommends — with the voices of the composer and others, by clicking on the big red button on the top left:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/12/03/503986298/half-of-humanity-has-something-to-say-composer-kaija-saariaho-on-her-met-debut

Do you know the opera “L’Amour de Loin”?

Have you seen or heard it already?

Whether you saw a previous Metropolitan Opera production or this one, let us know what you think of the opera as new music and a fetching love story. Will it “have legs” and survive long into the future?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Ear catches up with the hectic and fast rising career of the American Metropolitan Opera soprano Susanna Phillips, who closed this past season of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

June 2, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

It is no secret that the concert fees of performing artists have far outpaced inflation. The days of Madison presenters being able to afford and book superstars, with reasonable ticket prices, like the new Arthur Rubinstein, the new Jascha Heifetz, the new Marian Anderson, the new Vladimir Horowitz, the new Luciano Pavarotti and so on, are long over.

Still, Madison maestros and presenters sure know how to choose and book some up-and-coming classical stars as soloists. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the Madison Opera and even Farley’s House of Pianos have done an outstanding  job of finding great artists who are young, gifted and award-winning as well as still up-and-coming and affordable.

Take the case of the American, Alabama-born soprano Susanna Phillips, who sang Mozart concert arias beautifully when she closed the current season of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) under music director and conductor Andrew Sewell and who will be a very busy singer this coming summer and next season.

WCO lobby

Here is a press release from her public relations firm that details the upcoming 2013-14 appearances for Susanna Phillips (below), who also excels at Lieder or art songs (see the YouTube video at bottom of a song by Felix Mendelssohn).

susanna phillips

They include headlining roles in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Santa Fe Opera, Benjamin Britten’s “Peter Grimes” at the Aspen Music Festival and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony at Bravo! Vail as well as the world premiere of a work by Christopher Weiss at the Twickenham Fest this summer.

Then come her appearances in three different operas at the famed Metropolitan Opera (below) in New York City.

The Met hall 1

Here are the details:

“Following her resounding success in A Streetcar Named Desire at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Beverly Sills Artist Susanna Phillips returns to Santa Fe Opera as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro (June 29–Aug 23).

“In her first summer festival engagement, she celebrates the Britten centennial at the Aspen Music Festival, where she will make her role debut as Ellen Orford in a concert performance of Peter Grimes (July 27).

Aspen Music Festival

“At the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival (below), Phillips will join the Philadelphia Orchestra for Mahler’s Fourth Symphony (July 12).

Bravo Vail Gerald Ford Amphitheater.

“And the world premiere of a new commission from Christopher Weiss (below) will crown Twickenham Fest, the festival that Phillips herself co-founded in her hometown of Huntsville, Alabama (Aug 30–Sept 1).

After this full summer, the soprano looks forward to returning to New York’s Metropolitan Opera, where she will star in three important productions next season.

It was in the opening run of Jonathan Kent’s hit staging of The Marriage of Figaro at Santa Fe Opera that, “as the Countess, young soprano Susanna Phillips proved a major find” (Musical America). In the same role at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland last summer, “with a voice that is beautifully warm, brassy and blooming, the American soprano Susanna Phillips captivated from the first measures of the second act” (Forum Opera).

Now Phillips returns to Santa Fe to reprise the Countess for eight performances in June, July, and August, with baritone Zachary Nelson in the title role, and conductor John Nelson leading the revival of Kent’s production.

Last season at the Aspen Music Festival, the soprano impressed the Aspen Times with her ability to convey “emotions and memories radiantly.” Now she returns to the festival to honor Benjamin Britten’s centennial, making her role debut as Ellen Orford (a part she will reprise at Carnegie Hall this November) in a semi-staged production of Peter Grimes on July 27. Led by festival music director Robert Spano, Britten’s psychological thriller will co-star Anthony Dean Griffey – “the best Grimes of the moment” (Los Angeles Times) – in the title role.

At Colorado’s Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, Phillips continues to demonstrate her range outside the opera house. On July 12 she sings solo with the Philadelphia Orchestra and acclaimed, dynamic and openly gay music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin (below) in Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. Finding her voice “optimally suited” to the work, the Washington Post has reported: “Phillips sang the solo with gorgeous, well-supported clarity, a shining, simple but not colorless sound, limpid and calm on the mysterious chords of ‘Sankt Peter im Himmel sieht zu,’ which return as a refrain.”

Yannick Nezet-Seguin in aciton

For her final festival appearances of the summer, Phillips returns to her hometown of Huntsville, Alabama, for the fourth season of Twickenham Fest, the chamber music festival that she herself co-founded. As the Birmingham News recognized in a five-star review, “Twickenham Fest is well on its way to becoming a driving force in classical music in Alabama.” This year’s festival will showcase such notable guest artists as Israeli pianist Roman Rabinovich and cellist Matthew Zalkind.

Twickenham Fest gave its first world premiere last season, when Phillips sang “Speaking for the Afghan Woman,” a song cycle by William Harvey (below) set to verses by female Afghan poets that was written especially for her. The Birmingham News found the poetry “poignant, often gut-wrenching,” and reported that “Phillips’ emotive powers” were such that she “penetrated directly to the hearts of these poets.”

William Harvey composer

Continuing this exciting new tradition for a second season, this year’s Twickenham Fest will present the world premiere of a new commission from 2013 composer-in-residence Christopher Weiss, the recipient of a Theodore Presser Foundation Career Grant, whose music has been hailed by the New York Times as “wonderfully fluid [with a] cinematic grasp of mood and lighting.” The festival will be held from August 30 to September 1, and will be enriched by educational outreach programs at local schools and libraries.

Christopher Weiss composer

The 2013-14 season will also see Phillips star in three important Metropolitan Opera productions. The first of these is Mozart’s Così fan tutte, for which company music director James Levine (below) makes his long-awaited return to the Met podium. Alongside Isabel Leonard, Matthew Polenzani and Rodion Pogossov, Phillips will sing the role in which the Dallas Morning News pronounced her “a glorious Fiordiligi, her soprano honeyed and agile” (Sept 24 & 28; Oct 2 & 5; April 23 & 26). Her final performance in the role will also be transmitted live to cinema audiences worldwide on April 26, in the Met’s celebrated “Live in HD” series.

James Levine conducting

For her second Met engagement of the new season, Phillips will sing Rosalinde in Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, headlining a new production from two-time Tony Award-winner Jeremy Sams. The opening night’s performance will serve as the highlight of the company’s New Year’s Eve gala (Dec 31–Feb 22).

It was as Musetta in Puccini’s La Bohème that the soprano made her Met debut, for which more than 400 residents of her Alabama hometown expressly traveled to New York. After her recent Met interpretation of the role, the New York Times noted: “Phillips (below) sparkled as the sassy Musetta, her bright, nimble soprano tinged with a coquettish flair.” Next season, she resumes her portrayal for two performances in Franco Zeffirelli’s iconic staging of the opera, the second of which will also be featured in the Met’s Live in HD series (April 2 & 5).

Susanna Phillips smiling

Details of the soprano’s upcoming engagements are available at susannaphillips.com.


Classical music: Famed Japanese violist Nobuko Imai joins the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte String Quartet this Wednesday night in a MUST-HEAR and FREE concert of Mozart, Brahms and Britten. Plus, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra ends its winter “Masterworks” season Friday night with Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Canteloube. And pianist Jeremy Denk gives a public master class on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. (NOT 7) in Morphy Hall.

April 9, 2013
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AN ALERT and  A REMINDER: Pianist Jeremy Denk’s masterclass is Wednesday night at 8 p.m. (NOT 7 p.m., as erroneously stated yesterday in a reader comment, in Morphy Hall. Also, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra closes out its current Masterworks season this Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. The conductor is WCO music director Andrew Sewell, and the emphasis in on the Classical era composers — Haydn (Symphony No. 83, “The Hen”), Mozart (love songs from the opera “Don Giovanni” with Metropolitan Opera soprano Susanna Phillips, below) and Beethoven (Symphony No. 2) — that Sewell performs so brilliantly and so convincingly. Joseph Canteloube’s popular and more Romantic “Songs of the Auvergne” are also featured. For more information and tickets, here is a link: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/51/event-info/

susanna phillips

By Jacob Stockinger

The music schedule for April is crazy busy, and it just keeps getting crazier and busier.

Take the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer), which has a fine reputation when it plays by itself.

PAQ-8BIT03

But it also brings in some respected guests fairly often, especially guests cellist, violists and pianists. That is what makes the PAQ’s FREE concert this Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall so special.

The guest this time will be the acclaimed Japanese violist Nobuko Imai (below), who once played with the esteemed Vermeer String Quartet and who rarely plays in America.

Nobuko Imai CR Marco Borggreve

The program includes: the masterful Viola Quintet in C major, K. 515, by Mozart (substituted for the Quintet, Op. 11, No. 5 by Luigi Boccherini); Benjamin Britten’s Solo Cello Suite No. 2 transcribed for solo viola; and the great String Quintet No. 2 in G major, Op. 111, by Johannes Brahms.

Violist Elias Goldstein (below) – who did his doctorate here at UW-Madison and now teaches at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge –will also perform with members of the Pro Arte Quartet.

elias goldstein 2

Here is some background about Noboku Imai, provided by the UW-Madison School of Music: s

“With her exceptional talent, musical integrity and charisma, Nobuko Imai is considered to be one of the most outstanding violists of our time. She has excelled as a soloist, recitalist, chamber musician, and pedagogue, and performs often with world-renowned artists.

“In 2003, Nobuko Imai, Mihaela Martin, Stephan Picard and Frans Helmerson formed the Michelangelo Quartet (below), which gained an international reputation has become one of the finest quartets in the world.

michelangelo quartet

“Imai currently teaches at the Geneva and Amsterdam Conservatories, Kronberg International Academy and Ueno Gakuen University in Tokyo.”

Here are words of tribute from the regular Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm (below) about Imai and about the role of the viola, which often goes understated in the shadow on violins and cellos:

Sally Chisholm

“Nobuko Imai is coming to Madison from Curtis where she is giving a master class just before arriving here, and will also appear in the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota on April 14. We are very lucky to bring her to Madison, both because she is so renowned a musician and violist, but also because she makes very few appearances in the US. Nobuko teaches in Geneva, Switzerland, and in Germany and Japan. Busy lady. She will be in residence at the Marlboro Festival this summer.

“We are honored and thrilled to have Nobuko Imai, one of the world’s most famed violists, include Madison for a rare U.S. appearance. She is a star in the solo world of string playing, and a person of humility and vision. Though she is one of the most influential performers and teachers in Europe and Asia, she seldom performs in the United States.

Nobuko Imai

“On this coming trip she will be performing only at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, St. Paul, Minn., and in Madison. Her master classes are renowned for her ability to show a student how to transform from good to superb, all in a public setting.”

As for the role of the viola (below), Chisholm adds: “Brahms loved the sound of contralto, which is one reason he is so generous to the viola in his chamber music. With so many roles to fulfill, as an inner voice, a leader of harmonic motion, a primary texture, and a solo voice, the sound of the viola is often turned to as the soul of the quartet.

viola

Whether contralto or mezzo-soprano, the voice of the viola is used when a composer has something very important to say. For performers, the luxury of living inside the quartet sound, yet having many occasions to soar above, is so rewarding that it lasts a lifetime.”


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