The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: UW-Madison soprano Mimmi Fulmer discusses and sings Finnish music, which she will perform in a FREE concert this Sunday afternoon

September 8, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, UW-Madison faculty member and soprano Mimmi Fulmer (below) will open the new concert season at the UW-Madison when she performs a recital celebrating the centennial of Finland’s independence.

Fulmer will sing a variety of Finnish songs, from folk songs to new music, and will be accompanied by pianist Craig Randal Johnson (below).

This past week, Fulmer gave a preview sampling of the concert on The Midday program of Wisconsin Public Radio. In the studio (below), she talked to host Norman Gilliland about the concert and about Scandinavian music.

She also previewed the concert through her own 2014 CD (below), called “Voyage Home” — for Centaur Records — of Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish songs.

Here is a link to the WPR website where you can listen to Fulmer’s appearance on The Midday:

https://www.wpr.org/shows/mimmi-fulmer-0

And for Sunday’s concert here is the full program – unfortunately without translations of the difficult and even obscure language – that you will NOT find on the UW-Madison website (but which will be provided at the concert):

Illalle Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

Soi vienosti murheeni soitto Oskar Merikanto (1868-1924)

Anmutiger Vertrag      Yrjö Kilpinen (1892-1959)

Var det en dröm?     Jean Sibelius

Syvä ilo    Olli Kortekangas (b. 1955)

Maalari; Nuoruuden kaupungissa; Adagio; Illan tullen

Pastorale     Tauno Pylkkänen        (1918-1980)

Armolaulu    Kari Tikka                 (b. 1946)

INTERMISSION

Kalevala-sävelmä (Runo melody) Arr. Ahti Sonninen (1914-1984)

Sydämeni laulu Kim Borg (1919-2000)

Suomalainen rukous       Taneli Kuusisto (1905-1988)

Je chante la chaleur désespérée (solo piano) Jouni Kaipainen (1956-2015)

Tuoll’ on mun kultani  Folk song

Kukapa sen saunan        Arr. Väinö Hannikainen (1900-1960)

Oravan pesä P.J. Hannikainen        (1854-1924)

Three Finnish Folksongs Arr. Ralf Gothóni (b. 1946)

Hilu, hilu; Tule, tule kultani (heard in the YoUTube video below); Minun kultani kaunis on

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Classical music: This week at the UW-Madison features three FREE concerts: the UW Wind Ensemble, pianist Leon Fleisher with the Pro Arte Quartet and the UW Symphony Orchestra in music by Prokofiev and Sibelius

October 4, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week there are three FREE concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music that merit your attention and attendance:

WEDNESDAY:

On Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Wind Ensemble (below top) will perform a concert of theater music under director Scott Teeple (below bottom).

UW Wind Ensemble

Scott Teeple conducting

The concert features special guest soloist, percussionist Darin Olson (below), assistant director of the University of Wisconsin Marching Band.

The program includes music from “The Three Penny Opera” by Kurt Weill; the wind octet “Figures in the Garden” by Jonathan Dove; the Concertino for Timpani with Brass and Percussion by Michael Colgrass; the “Nocturno” by Felix Mendelssohn; and the “Geschwindmarsch” (Wind March) by Paul Hindemith.

For more information, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-wind-ensemble-5/

darin-olson

THURSDAY

Famed pianist Leon Fleisher (below top) will perform a FREE noon concert with the Pro Arte Quartet (below bottom, in a photo by Rick Langer).

A single work is featured but it is a great one, an undisputed masterpiece: The Piano Quintet in F Minor by Johannes Brahms.

The concert is from noon to 1 p.m. in Mills Hall.

For more information and background, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/special-guest-artist-concert-the-legendary-leon-fleisher-in-concert-with-pro-arte-quartet/

Leon Fleisher

PAQ-8BIT03

FRIDAY

At 8 p.m. on Friday night in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra (below) will perform under its director and conductor James Smith.

The ingenious program features two terrific fifth symphonies that are NOT the most famous Fifth Symphony, the one by Ludwig van Beethoven: these are instead the Symphony No. 5 in B-flat by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev; and the Symphony No. 5 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius

You can listen to the exciting and moving finale of the Sibelius symphony, performed by the Finnish conductor Essa-Pekka Salonen and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra  in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is one of The Ear’s favorites.)

UW Symphony violins 2015

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Three student recitals, including graduate recitals in viola and piano, are also on the schedule this week. For information, visit:

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


Classical music: A FREE CD and a dedicated concert are perfect memorial tributes for flutist Robin Fellows — or for any musician

March 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

There was so much to like about last Friday night’s concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), including a fantastic performance of the sublimely beautiful Violin Concerto by the American composer Samuel Barber.

WCO lobby

The concerto, with its soaring melodies, poignant harmonies and spiky perpetual motion finale, was played superbly by Russian-born, London-based virtuoso Alexander Sitkovetsky (below), who received a masterful accompaniment from longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell and the WCO. (As an encore and change of pace, Sitkovetsky played the soulful Sarabande from the Partita No. 2 in D Minor for Solo Violin by Johann Sebastian Bach.)

Here are two very positive reviews, written by John W. Barker for Isthmus and Greg Hettmansbeger for Madison Magazine, with which The Ear agrees:

http://isthmus.com/music/dashing-brilliance-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra/

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/sewell-and-sitkovetsky-bring-out-the-best-of-a-couple-of-bs/

alexander-sitkovetsky

But The Ear notes this: Perhaps the most touching moment came off-stage.

As you may have heard, last October Robin Fellows died of cancer at 66. For 26 years, he had been the principal flutist of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He also played and taught at many other places.

If you went to the indoor classical Masterworks concerts by the WCO, you heard him.

And if you went to the popular summertime Concerts on the Square, you heard him.

So it was right and fitting, as they say, for the WCO to dedicate the concert to Fellows (below). Indeed, the program seemed perfect in its homage.

We heard a new principal flutist and heard lots of prominent flute playing in works by Irish composer Joan Trumble, Swedish composer Lars-Eric Larsson and especially the Symphony No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven.

robin fellows with flute

But the most stirring tribute happened off-stage.

That is because the family gave out a FREE memorial tribute CD of 20th-century flute music – with singers, bassoonists, clarinet, harp and piano — that was played by Fellows, recorded and released in 2002.

It includes music by Aaron Copland, Walter Piston, Albert Roussel, Ernst Toch, Daren Hagen (a UW-Madison alumnus) and Vincent Persichetti.

Out in the lobby of the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center was a table with not only the new season brochures for 2016-17, but also many stacks of FREE CDs. The audience was invited to take one by a current WCO flutist and oboist.

Robin Fellows CD table

And as you entered and left the theater, there was a large poster with a picture of Fellows and a paragraph about his life and accomplishments.

Robin Fellows poster

The Ear is still sampling all the pieces on the CD.

So far, it is both enjoyable and enlightening. The Ear would include a sample, but unfortunately he doesn’t see that any tracks have been uploaded to YouTube.

Still, one cannot imagine Fellows — or any musicians, for that matter — wishing for a better tribute.

The Ear says: Kudos to the Fellows family and to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra for providing such memorable memorials.


Classical music: Violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky performs Samuel Barber’s beautiful and popular Violin Concerto this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, which also celebrates spring with works by Beethoven and other composers. Plus, University Opera’s production of “Transformations,’ which ends Tuesday night, gets a rave review from Isthmus

March 14, 2016
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ALERT: University Opera’s production of “Transformations,” with dark and adult takes on fairy tales by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Anne Sexton and music by Conrad Susa, gets a rave review from critic Jay Rath writing for Isthmus. It calls the production breath-taking and an astonishing success. It also gives you tasty morsels of the show to whet your appetite.  The last performance is this Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m in Music Hall. Here is a link:

http://isthmus.com/arts/stage/university-opera-transformations/

And here is a link to the A Tempo blog, with more information, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) will perform a captivating concert this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO lobby

As usual, longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below) has pulled together an arresting program of both well-known and rarely heard works.

Indeed, Sewell seems to have an endless knack for finding modern music that is not well-known but nonetheless appeals on first hearing.

andrewsewell

Not that he neglects tried-and-true masterpieces.

Take the famous Violin Concerto by American composer Samuel Barber — most famous for his “Adagio for Strings” – which will feature the return of the young European prize-winning soloist Alexander Sitkovetsky (below).

alexander-sitkovetsky

The Ear always finds the work by Barber (below) absolutely riveting. It takes all of about 10 seconds before you realize you are hearing a beautiful masterpiece that will endure. And then it just gets better. (You can hear the slow second movement — performed by James Ehnes who has played with the Madison Symphony Orchestra — in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Samuel Barber

The concert opens with a work by Irish composer, Joan Trimble (below), specifically her ethereal Suite for Strings from 1955.

joan trimble

That work proves a perfect complement to the popular Pastorale by Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larsson (below).

Lars-Erik Larsson

The Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, by Ludwig van Beethoven (below) is like his Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” in that it celebrates the joy, fullness and robust qualities of life. The slow movement has an other-worldly beauty. With its driving finale, the symphony packs a punch.

Yet wedged in between the three of Beethoven’s most famous symphonies – Nos. 3 “Eroica,” 5 and 6 “Pastoral” – the Symphony No. 4 often gets overlooked. Sewell’s mastery of the Classical style should bring it to life in a memorable performance.

Beethoven big

Tickets are $15-$80 with student rush tickets for $10, available on the day of the performance. For tickets, call the Overture Center box office at 608 258-4141 or visit www.wcoconcerts.org

ABOUT ALEXANDER SITKOVETSKY

Alexander Sitkovetsky, 32, was born in Moscow into a family with an established musical tradition and made his concerto debut at the age of eight. That same year he went to study at the Menuhin School in England.

Lord Yehudi Menuhin (below) was his inspiration throughout his school years and they performed together on several occasions, including the Double Concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach and Duos for Two Violins by Bela Bartok at the St. James Palace, and he played the Violin Concerto by Felix Mendelssohn under Menuhin’s baton.

Yehudi Menuhin

Since then, Sitkovetsky has gone on to perform with the Netherlands Philharmonic, the Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic, London Mozart Players, Konzerthaus Orchester Berlin, Brussels Philharmonic, the European Union Chamber Orchestra, Malmo Symphony Orchestra, Anhaltische Philharmonie Dessau, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Mulhouse Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, St. Petersburg Symphony, Welsh National Opera and the BBC Concert Orchestra among many others.

This season, Alexander Sitkovetsky will make his debut in Brussels, Poznan, Santa Cruz in Bolivia and St. Petersburg and will go on two nationwide tours of the UK with the Brussels Philharmonic and St. Petersburg Symphony. He will also tour Australia with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and perform with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Sitkovetsky will return to the Kuhmo and Cheltenham Festivals and make debuts at the Verbier and Lockenhaus Festivals

Sitkovetsky, an avid chamber musician, has recorded for Angel/EMI, Decca, Orfeo, Onyx, BIS and Avanti Classics including the Bach Double Concerto with Julia Fischer.


Classical music: The Madison Symphony Chorus performs a medley of choral music this Sunday at 2 and 4 p.m. Plus, a FREE harpsichord recital of music by Bach, Handel and Scarlatti is at noon this Friday.

February 25, 2016
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, Trevor Stephenson — the founder and director of the Madison Bach Musicians — will play harpsichord music by Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel and Domenico Scarlatti.

He will perform on his own four-octave, crow-quilled 17th-century-style Flemish instrument and will talk about the well-tempered tuning of this instrument, the composers’ lives and the concert repertoire. Selections are from Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier,” Scarlatti’s Sonatas and Handel’s “Keyboard Suites.”

By Jacob Stockinger

Some groups perform more in tandem or as adjuncts to other groups than by themselves. This seems especially true of choruses.

But this weekend, the Madison Symphony Chorus, which normally performs with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will have the spotlight to itself. (You can hear the chorus sing as part of the MSO’s Christmas concert in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Twice on the same day.

Here are the details:

On this Sunday, Feb. 28, at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., director Beverly Taylor and the Madison Symphony Chorus  (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) will present a “Memories” concert in Promenade Hall at the Overture Center for the Arts.

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

Taylor (below) is the longtime assistant conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the director of choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

The concerts will feature an array of musical styles, including classical music selections from Johannes Brahms and contemporary American composer John Corigliano, a collection of Swedish, Norwegian, Scottish and Mexican ethnic tunes, traditional spirituals and gospel music, and nostalgic songs from the Tin Pan Alley era by Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, and Fats Waller.

Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) Principal Pianist Daniel Lyons will accompany much of the music.

Dan Lyons

Tickets are $20, and are available: at madisonsymphony.org/chorusconcert; at the Overture Box Office (201 State Street); or by calling (608) 258-4141.

Formed in 1927, the Madison Symphony Chorus gave its first public performance in 1928 and has performed regularly with the MSO ever since.

The Chorus was featured at the popular Madison Symphony Christmas concerts in December and will join the MSO April 29 and 30, and May 1 for Carmina Burana, the colossal modern oratorio based on medieval Latin songs by 20th-century German composer Carl Orff.

The Chorus is comprised of more than 125 volunteer and amateur musicians from all walks of life who enjoy combining their artistic talent. New members are always welcome.

Visit madisonsymphony.org/chorus for more information about the chorus and the program for this concert.

 


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS: “Interlude” by Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar.

July 26, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

It happened again.

There I was, writing in the early morning.

I was also listening to Wisconsin Public Radio, which often serves as background music while I write.

But this particular morning host Stephanie Elkins played a piece that I had never heard. It stopped me in my tracks.

It is so beautiful and poignant, and it moves so slowly and movingly that The Ear thought you should also hear it.

It is the Interlude by the Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar from his cantata “The Song.” If his other music is as good, Stenhammar (below) might well deserve a rediscovery. He was a prolific composer with several symphonies and piano concertos to his credit.

Wilhelm Stenhammar

This performance of the Interlude, featured in a YouTube video, was done in 2014 by renowned conductor Neeme Jarvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra.

The Ear hopes you enjoy this rarely performed work as much as he did.

Perhaps my memory is faulty. But I don’t recall hearing it performance live in Madison.

Yet it might make a nice curtain raiser or encore for the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra or the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.


Classical music: Three new releases highlight familiar and unfamiliar Danish music. Here are reviews from NPR (National Public Radio.) Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra and violinist Sarah Chang in an all-Scandinavian program that gets rave reviews.

November 9, 2014
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ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to catch the all-Scandinavian program by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top)  and guest violinist Sarah Chang (below bottom) under John DeMain.

The Ear didn’t go on Friday or Saturday night.

But here are two reviews by reliable critics who did.

Here is a review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=43955&sid=b882e66c32e729bead598e9a3a6fdfbb

Here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger, who writes the Classically Speaking blog for Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/November-2014/Sarah-Chang-Sizzles-and-the-Madison-Symphony-Proves-Inextinguishable/

Here is a link to Jess Courtier’s review for The Capital Times:

http://host.madison.com/news/madison-symphony-orchestra-explores-scandinavia-in-sublime-concert/article_fac39f53-24a9-51b4-a326-0cb99b316881.html?comment_form=true

And here is a link to a previous posting on this blog that served as a preview and included a Q&A with violinist Sarah Chang:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/classical-music-qa-violinist-sarah-chang-explains-the-popularity-of-scandinavian-music-as-a-blend-of-ice-and-fire-she-performs-the-violin-concerto-by-jean-sibelius-this-weekend-with-the-madison/

MSO-HALL

Sarah Chang playing

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear was very pleased to see that music director John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra had programmed an all-Scandinavian program this weekend.

It featured the accessible a d folk-like Lyric Suite by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg; the famous Violin Concerto in D minor by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius with violinist Sarah Chang as guest soloist; and the powerful Symphony No. 4 (“The Inextinguishable”), done in the aftermath of World War I — which also makes it timely choice for Veterans Day on this Tuesday — by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

That got The Ear to thinking: Which Nordic country is least well represented in classical music performances?

I think Norway is pretty popular precisely because of Edvard Grieg (below), especially his Piano Concerto in A Minor and his “Peer Gynt” Suite and his Lyric Piece for solo piano.

edvard grieg

And Jean Sibelius (below) is a in a kind of one-man band for Finland, plus he seems to be rediscovered, especially thanks to the new Grammy-winning Sibelius symphony cycle on the BIS label by the Finnish award-winning conductor Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra.

sibelius

The Swedes seem pretty underrepresented to me and probably take the prize. But I really need to do some research and know more about Swedish composers .

But Denmark is also not especially well-known, although may be changing, The current revival of Carl Nielsen (below), who was championed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, the same superstar conductor and composer who did so much to bring Gustav Mahler into the mainstream, has been renewed by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic.

Carl Nielsen at piano

Anyway, just by coincidence it turns out that the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog on the website of NPR (National Public Radio) feature reviews of recent recordings of music by three Danish composers.

The three Danish composers featured are: the experimental Per Nørgård (below top); the more mainstream Poul Ruders (below bottom, in a  photo by Kirsten Bille), whose Violin Concerto is at the bottom in a YouTube video; and of course Carl Nielsen, who represented by the “Inextinguishable” Symphony as interpreted by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic.

contemporary music guide Per Norgard

Poul Ruders CR Kirsten Bille

Here is a link that also has sound samples as well as background and critical comments.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/10/23/358308335/great-danes-three-symphonic-albums-by-danish-composers

 

 

 


Classical music Q&A: Pianist Isabella Wu discusses Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which she will perform tonight at the opening of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s 31st annual Concerts on the Square. Plus, the Madison Summer Choir sings Brahms and Bizet on Friday night.

June 25, 2014
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ALERT: Just a reminder that the Madison Summer Choir (below) will present the “Song of Destiny” by Johannes Brahms and the “Te Deum” by Georges Bizet with orchestra this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave. The concert is entitled “Philosophically Speaking,” also features pieces exploring human reality, existence, and reason.  The first half includes works by Orlando Gibbons, Stephen Chatman, Cecil Effinger and Daniel Mulholland. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for students. Here is a link with information about the concert and about how to join the choir:

http://madisonsummerchoir.org

Madison Summer Choir

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight at 7 p.m. brings the opening of what has been billed in the past as “The Biggest Picnic of Summer”: The 31st annual FREE Concerts on the Square (below) by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under the baton of WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell. Each of the six concerts draws upwards of 10,000 people.

(NOTE: The weather reports call for possible storms tonight. To find out about  possible cancellation of the concert, final word will be posted every Wednesday afternoon by 3 p.m. on www.wcoconcerts.org.)

Over the next six consecutive Wednesday nights (Thursdays are the rain date), all kinds of music -– from classical to rock, pop and blues -– will be featured on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square in downtown Madison.

ConcertsonSquaregroupshot

Of special note is the appearance tonight by Madison pianist Isabella Wu (bel0w), who won the annual young artist concerto competition this year. She will perform the first movement of the Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor by the Romantic 20th-century Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninov.

Isabella Wu

Also on the “Midsommer Stars” program are: the “Swedish Festival Music” by Swedish composer August Soderman (1832-1876); Swedish Dance Nos. 1-7 by Max Bruch; the “Cossack Scherzo” from the Symph0ny No. 2 by Mily Balakirev; the Festival Overture on the American National Air by British composer Percy C. Buck (1871-1947); and “Midsommervaka” by Swedish Hugo Alfven (1872-1960).

Here is a link to an overview of this summer’s six Concerts on the Square.

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square/

Here is a link to rules and guidelines that are useful for attending the concerts:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square/attendingtheconcerts/

And here is a link to vendor menus if you don’t bring your own food for dinner:

http://wcoconcerts.org/assets/files/153411_2014COSVendorMenus.pdf

Pianist Isabella Wu recently agreed to doing an email Q&A about her performance tonight:

Isabella Wu2

Can you briefly introduce yourself to readers.

I am Isabella Wu, age 15 and a freshman at Madison Memorial High. I began piano lessons at the age of 5. In third grade, I became interested in picking up a second instrument, the violin (below, Wu is seen soloing with WYSO’s Philharmonia Orchestra) and have been in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (below) for six years. (I will be on WYSO’s tour to Argentina in late July).

My other pursuits in music have been numerous. I am an avid singer, and recently finished a semester coaching choir at my middle school. Most recently, my interests have extended to playing percussion and composing.

Music has been the most essential part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I would consider it my first language and my first world. Where I would be without music or art, for that matter, would be most certainly a cataclysmic shift; hence, I expect to be in the music world in the future. Where, I don’t know. I have an interest in the back-stage business area of the artistic world, and being an impresario is a possibility.

Isabella Wu on violin with WYSO Philharmonia Soloist 3

Why did you choose the rarely played Piano Concerto No. 1 by Sergei Rachmaninov to study, play and perform?

When I heard the Rachmaninov 1, the work touched me as something soulful and heart-wrenching, yet fleeting at times, and touched with a bit of bravura. The soaring theme following the opening passage became an immediate favorite with my daily spontaneous outbursts of singing.

But the cadenza of the first movement is where I felt the heart of the first movement could be found. Around that time, I was deciding between this Rachmaninov 1, and his famous second concerto. I was a bit puzzled when I found I was reluctant to play the second, as I had always longed to play it. (The second concerto is much-loved and very popular).

Something didn’t quite seem so right. Months after I had chosen the first, I was still pondering why. I think I knew the Second Concerto by Rachmaninov (below) was too ingrained in the public’s mind, too well-known by onlookers and by me to search for my own voice. If I had chosen the second, I would have felt overwhelmed by the high stature placed on it, and been (as I already was) too influenced by the numerous recordings to call it my own.

But the first concerto — that was something different. The sparse recordings I found were none alike, and it was not well-known, but equally special. The concerto is not so spectacular at first glance, but has the capability of bringing tears to the most reticent of audience members.

rachmaninoffyoung

What do you most like about the concerto and what would you like the public to know about it?

Rachmaninov wrote this concerto, his Op. 1, at the age of 19, when he was still a student at the Moscow Conservatory. As was the custom for novitiates of the Conservatory, Rachmaninov based his work on that of another composer — in this case, the Piano Concerto in A Minor by Edvard Grieg (below).

“Based” is an understatement — Rachmaninov literally wrote his music into Grieg’s concerto, copying it form for form. If you compare the two concertos, you will see that they are very much alike in structure.

edvard grieg

Rachmaninov entered his concerto into the conservatory competition, and took first place. However, years later, after Rachmaniov had sought asylum in the United States, and even after he had edited his second and third concertos, Rachmaninov went back to redraft the first.

As the concerto was already published, there was not much structural change he could make to the piece. Instead, he filled in the lines, developing a much more mature work, and completely re-writing the cadenza.

Yet the public did not receive his work well, and Rachmaninov is said to have stated: “I have rewritten my First Concerto; it is really good now. All the youthful freshness is there, and yet it plays itself so much more easily. And nobody pays any attention. When I tell them in America that I will play the First Concerto, they do not protest, but I can see by their faces that they would prefer the Second or Third.”

Once when Rachmaninov was asked what inspired his music, he replied, “Love. Love -– this is a never fading source of inspiration. It inspires like nothing else. To love means to combine happiness and force of the mind. It becomes a stimulus for the flourishing of intellectual energy, and as such -– for creativity.”

One can only wonder what he meant. At the time of 19, he had already experienced a great number of tragedies, including the deaths of two of his sisters. He had also fallen in love with a neighbor, Verochka Skalon, but was forbidden to write letters to her. Later, after many years, his statement probably also included his love for his country, which he could never go back to.

Whatever the love might be, I hope you too find it in this piece.

Rachmaninoff

You are a competition veteran and winner. How do you cope with performance, especially before such a big crowd? Do you get nervous? How do you prepare? Are there “tricks” you would like to share with others?

Performance anxiety is a nasty deal. Experience usually helps, but isn’t the ultimate solution. For me, yes, I do get nervous, but the key is to channel the nervousness into a positive asset. Nervousness, if directed correctly, gives you the extra boost.

Another occasional problem is “Paralysis by Analysis,” which occurs when the analytical left brain tries to dominate the more natural right brain. However, if you manage to find the zone where your mind clicks, you will do fine.

I usually do stretching exercises and slow down my breathing. I also have some pieces I’ve designated as “warm-up” pieces that tend to click. Try to develop a routine; it will all feel natural in good time.

stage fright

What do you think we have to do to interest more young people in classical music? How did you get interested in it?

For me, music just always happened to be around, with the stereo playing Johann Sebastian Bach while I went to sleep. The big difference, say, between pop music and classical is the accessibility of pop music. Pop songs are generally around 5 minutes long and “catchier,” and can be easily simulated by voice. Classical music, however, requires — most unfortunately — money, and usually a good deal of it. Not to mention classical music’s centuries-old rules, whereas pop songs are more spontaneous and thriving.

The problem is that our liberal-minded age seeks the more libertarian values. However, we’ve been doing a good job introducing classical music to the young public. The high school music program, and to a lesser degree, the middle school program, does a good job of introducing students to an individual instrument and developing a passion for ensemble works. Even some of the elementary school programs are noteworthy, with the common recorder and occasional musicals.

Around here in Madison, Michelle Kaebisch (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), of both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, does an excellent job of bringing classical music to the schools through numerous programs — Link-Up, the Hunt Quartet and the Fall Youth Concerts, in  which I soloed twice — that are eye-openers to students.

Michelle Kaebisch WYSO cr Katrin Talbot

What else would you like to say or add?

Hope to see you Wednesday!


Classical music Q&A: Pianist Yefim Bronfman, who mixes power and poetry, talks about his stamina and the two piano concertos he will perform during this weekend’s all-Beethoven concerts by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

March 4, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

He may not yet be a household name like Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz or Van Cliburn, but pianist Yefim Bronfman (below) — a prolific recitalist, concerto soloist and chamber music partner — commands great respect from critics and his fellow musicians.

Yefim Bronfman portrait

And with good reason.

“Fima,” as he known to friends and even his loyal followers, possesses a technique that other pianists envy plus a total commands of style, ranging from early period works through Romanticism and Modernism to new music.

He also is renowned for his stamina and power, but, at the same time, for subtle playing without banging. Combining power and poetry seems to be his signature.

Yefim Bronfman hansd in air

Here is a link to his website with his full biography — he emigrated to Israel from his native Tashkent — and critical reviews plus a discography, sound samples and other information:

http://www.yefimbronfman.com

People in the Madison area can hear Yefim Bronfman’s talents for themselves this weekend. That is when he joins the Madison Symphony Orchestra under its longtime music director and conductor John DeMain in a MUST-HEAR all-Beethoven program.

Bronfman will play the Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat Major, Op. 19, AND the famous Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73, also known as  “The Emperor.” Also on the program are the Symphony No. 1 in C Major, and “The Creatures of Prometheus” Overture that Beethoven incorporated into his epic Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.”

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 are $16.50-$82.50. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

For more information, including audio samples of the various pieces and of playing by Bronfman, visit:

http://madisonsymphony.org/bronfman

For program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor J. Michael Allman, visit:

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1314/6.Mar14.html

Yefim Bronfman recently agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

Yefim Bronfman playing a concerto

You are known for your stamina and power, as your cycle of the complete sonatas and concertos by Sergei Prokofiev and this Madison Symphony Orchestra concert with two Beethoven concertos prove. Are there special tricks or secrets you have to cultivate that kind of “marathon” playing and also avoid injury? Or is it just a natural gift?

It certainly helps to be in good physical shape, but recitals require the same kind of stamina and no one really questions that. Playing two concertos is actually less effort than playing a full solo recital.

Yefim Bronfman emotional

What are your current plans and future projects, both for live concerts and recordings, especially of works by living composers?

I just played a lot of new music in a chamber program with members of the New York Philharmonic, including the world premiere of a solo piano piece written for me by Marc Neikrug and a trio commissioned by Carnegie Hall several years ago by Marc-Andre Dalbavie. In Asia, on tour with the New York Philharmonic, we performed the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Magnus Lindberg (below, in a  photo by Saara Vuorkjoki), which is a co-commission with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam and Gothenburg Symphony of Sweden. (Editor’s note: Bronfman’s recording of it was nominated for a Grammy Award.)

I’m always on the lookout for talented composers. My natural curiosity makes me wonder about the language of composers of today who often give me ideas that contribute to playing the music of composers who are no longer alive.

Magnus Lindberg Saara Vuorjoki

You frequently perform Beethoven concertos and have made outstanding recordings of them with David Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra on the Arte Nova budget label. What would you like to say to the general public about Beethoven (below), about his Piano Concertos No. 2 and No. 5, the “Emperor”?

These two pieces belong to very different worlds. The first one belongs to the Mozartean period of Beethoven, very classical in structure and texture. But a lot happened between concertos No. 2 and No. 5.

They come from a composer with a great deal of desire to experiment, so those two concertos are like works of two different composers. Yet we never stop to wonder at the genius of someone able to do that. (At bottom is a YouTube video in which Yefim Bronfman, as Artist-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic, and conductor Alan Gilbert discuss the complete cycle of Beethoven’s piano concertos they performed together.)

Beethoven big

I first heard you here years ago at the Wisconsin Union Theater in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1.  Do you have any special memories of or thoughts about Madison?

Madison and this particular theater have some wonderful memories from my youth because I played here some of the earliest concerts of my career. Playing Beethoven 1 with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in Madison could have been one of the first Beethoven 1’s I ever performed.

What advice would you give today to young pianists and young musicians in general about pursuing a career in music? And how can classical music reach more young people and new audiences?

Arts and culture in general enrich our lives, and we have to give that understanding to the young generation. Without it our lives diminish greatly, and we have to learn to cherish what past artists have left to us.

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