The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Here is an NPR interview with British cellist sensation Sheku Kanneh-Mason and an encore presentation of his performance at the Royal Wedding last weekend

May 27, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

So far, at least in the United States, the 19-year-old British sensation Sheku Kanneh-Mason (below) has been more talked about than talked to.

But on Saturday afternoon, NPR interviewed him for “All Things Considered.”

Some interesting facts about him and his blossoming career and his inaugural recording for Decca Records (below) came out of the six–minute discussion and questions by host Michel Martin.

Especially impressive was how all the children in his family are accomplished classical musicians. Here is a video of them playing music by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev together:

And in case you missed it the first around, also included is an encore presentation of the three pieces he played last Saturday at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and American Meghan Markle, now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

Here is a link to the interview and the encore performance:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2018/05/21/613025939/cello-bae-sheku-kanneh-mason-wins-worldwide-fans-after-royal-wedding

And here is a YouTube video of Sheku Kanneh-Mason playing his own cello transcription of a the song “No Woman No Cry” by reggae legend Bob Marley, who was a mentor and inspiration to the young musician:


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra draws its largest crowd yet as it rings in the New Year with Viennese waltzes, ethnic dances and violin showpieces

December 22, 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. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

On Wednesday night, the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below)  had the last word of the December holiday season with a distinctly non-Christmas program.

To be sure, it was not a typical concert devoted to a tiny handful of major works. Rather, conductor Kyle Knox (below) devised something a cut above simplistic “pops” programming, with a clutch of nearly a dozen short works, each one of charm and substance—more like what Sir Thomas Beecham used to call “lollipops.”

The opener was a group of three selections from Tchaikovsky’s score for the ballet Swan Lake. There followed three of the Hungarian Dances by Brahms intermingled with two of the Slavonic Dances by Dvorak, in their orchestral versions.

The first half then closed with the first of two pieces featuring the conductor’s wife, violinist Naha Greenholtz (below), who is also the concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. This was a kind of mini-concerto tidbit by Tchaikovsky, his Danse Russe.

The high point of the program’s second half was the second violin solo for Greenholz. Ravel’s Tzigane is a contemplation of Gypsy style. It begins with a wild unaccompanied solo for the violin, to which the orchestra then joins in a colorful set of variations. Here the playing by Greenholz was simply dazzling.

(You can hear Ravel’s virtuosic “Tzigane” — played by superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta —  in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Otherwise, the second half of the program was a bit of old Vienna, via Johann Strauss II, perhaps hinting at that city’s famous New Year’s Concert.

Setting the scene was the overture to Die Fledermaus. Knox’s direction throughout showed a lot of hard work to bring off all the selections with precision, but I often felt that he strove mainly for exuberance at the cost of subtleties. Notably in this overture, it seemed to me that the strings, especially the violins, sounded a bit coarse, certainly below their best ensemble polish.

But doubts were certainly dispelled with one Strauss miniature, the Persian March, followed by that noblest of the composer’s achievements, the Kaiserwalzer or Emperor Waltz.

All in all, this worked as a responsible seasonal treat. It seemed to me that it drew the largest audience that the Middleton Community Orchestra has yet had, and this audience simply loved everything.

So, if you will, Happy New Year!


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra offers a head start on celebrating the New Year this coming Wednesday night

December 15, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information to post:

“Dear friends,

“The mostly amateur and critically acclaimed Middleton Community Orchestra (below) has a fun and entertaining evening planned for this coming Wednesday night, Dec. 20.

“Think of it as an early New Year’s Eve concert.

“The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School, 2100 Bristol Street.

“The program features:

Johann Strauss            Overture to Die Fledermaus (The Bat)

Johannes Brahms            Hungarian Dances 5, 6, 7 

Antonin Dvorak         Slavonic Dances Op. 46, Nos. 6, 7

Peter Tchaikovsky (below)   Selections from the Swan Lake               Suite; Opening Scene, Little Swans, Czardas, Dance Russe with Naha Greenholtz, violin

Johann Strauss            Persian March

Maurice Ravel             Tzigane, Naha Greenholtz, violin

Johann Strauss        Emperor Waltz (see the YouTube video below)

“The MCO is having a great time preparing this concert with our regular guest conductor Kyle Knox (below top) and our violin soloist, Naha Greenholtz (below bottom), who many of you know as the concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The two musicians are also married.

“Tickets are $15 and are available at the door or in advance at the Willy Street Coop West. Students are FREE.

“The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. Doors open at 7p.m.

“A meet-and-greet reception (below) follows the concert.

“For information, call (608) 212-8690.

Hope to see you there.”

Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic, co-founders of the Middleton Community Orchestra


Classical music Q&A: Russian pianist Olga Kern explains the popularity of Russian music. She performs Rachmaninoff this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

October 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Not only does the Russian pianist Olga Kern (below, in a photo by Chris Lee) play Russian music superbly, she speaks about it just as well, even eloquently and poetically.

Olga Kern

Witness her remarks below, which serve as an introduction to Kern, who will return to Madison to solo this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) under longtime music director and conductor John DeMain.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The all-Russian program includes the Suite from “Swan Lake” by Peter Tchaikovsky; the Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-Sharp Minor by Sergei Rachmaninoff; and the Symphony No. 6 by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $16-$84 with student rush tickets available. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

Here is link to the MSO’s webpage about the concert, which includes biographical information, program notes and some audiovisual clips.

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/kern

And here is a link to the always comprehensive and informative but accessible program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1415/2.Oct14.html

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

The half-hour pre-concert talk will be given by the accomplished violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (below). She plays with the MSO, the Madison Bach Musicians and the Ancora String Quartet and who also serves as a weekend host for Wisconsin Public Radio. The FREE talk starts in Overture Hall one hour before the start of the concert.

MarikaFischerHoyt

NOTE: In addition, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Club 201 will host a special concert and after-party for Madison’s young professionals on Friday, Oct. 17. Fun, friendship, networking and tastings are included. The post-concert party, located in nearby Promenade Lounge within Overture Center, will include hors d’oeuvres and desserts, and offer drink specials. All Club 201 guests will have the exclusive chance to mingle with Madison Symphony Orchestra musicians and fellow music lovers. The $35 ticket will include a discounted concert ticket (usually $63-$84), seating near other young professionals during the performance, and access to the post-concert party with food. Purchase tickets by this WEDNESDAY, OCT. 15, by calling (608) 257-3734 or at www.madisonsymphony.org/club201

Here is the email interview that Olga Kern, who won the first Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition when she was just 17, graciously granted to The Ear:

Olga Kern

How do you compare the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Sergei Rachmaninoff – which you played to win the Van Cliburn gold medal — to its more popular counterparts such as the Concertos Nos. 2 and 3 and the “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” which you also perform? What do you like about the work and what should listeners pay attention to?

The first concerto is Rachmaninoff’s Opus 1 piece. He re-edited it later in life, and in this composition you can hear the fresh approach immediately from the beginning of the first movement. And what an incredibly beautiful second movement it has. He gives the piano an opportunity to start the main melody, which sounds almost like an improvisation in a way.

It’s so unique, and at the same time you can hear Rachmaninoff’s special style as a composer in every note and bar. It’s his first composition and it gives incredible platform and base to his other orchestral works, especially to his piano concerti.

This concerto is similar in structure to his third concerto. It has also a long piano cadenza in the first movement, which is the dramatic point of the whole composition. Also, as in the third concerto, the finale of the last movement is challenging for both the pianist and the orchestra.  (You can hear Olga Kern perform Rachmaninoff’s fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto No. 3 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

This is why, I think, this concerto is not performed very often — because it’s not easy. But it’s really a great pleasure and excitement to perform this concerto. It’s such a wonderful jewel of Rachmaninoff’s music!

rachmaninoffyoung

You have performed in Madison several times, both solo recitals and concertos. Do you have anything to say about Madison audiences or the Madison Symphony Orchestra?

I love Madison — the city, the people, the concert hall, the audience, the orchestra and of course the Maestro, John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad). He is fantastic. I can’t wait to work with him again. It’s always great! I have wonderful friends here and I always come back to this great place with pleasure!

I like to work with the Madison Symphony Orchestra — they are so sensitive and responsive, and I always have a great and fun time at the rehearsals with them. In the end, at the concert time, the performances come off so beautifully that it is a joy and a great celebration of music!

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The Rachmaninoff piano concerto is part of an all-Russian program that also features music by Tchaikovsky (below top) and Shostakovich (below bottom). Are there certain qualities that you identify with Russian music and that explain the music’s appeal to the public?

Russian music is full of feeling and is very powerful emotionally. Russian people, even if they are happy, are always sad inside. And this explains why Russian music is so complicated with feelings -– it is in its nature — always a fight between sadness and happiness, between darkness and light, between good and bad. You feel it — whether you listen to it or you perform it.

All the composers who will be performed in this concert had very difficult, complicated lives. They went through so much, but at the same time they wanted to be happy. They were romantics in their souls, fighters in their hearts.

They wanted to make the world beautiful, no matter what, with their heavenly amazing music! This is why it’s always so exciting and so touching to listen and to perform their incredible works and compositions!

tchaikovsky

dmitri shostakovich

Since winning the gold medal at the Van Cliburn International Competition in 2001, you have been very busy. What are your current recording projects and touring plans?

Yes, I am very busy, and of course very happy about it. I definitely have lots of exciting plans for the near future, but — if you don’t mind — I will keep it as a secret to keep many wonderful surprises soon for my wonderful fans and friends!

Please follow me on my website, www.olgakern.com, my official Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/olgakern?fref=ts, Twitter: @kernolga1, and Instagram @kernolga. I will be posting all my exciting news and projects and share it with all of you there!

Is there more you would like to say or add?

I am looking forward very much to coming back to beautiful autumn season in Madison. It’s my favorite season there. Nature is gorgeous and, as always for me, very inspiring!


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