The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Next season the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will expand to two performances of its winter Masterworks concerts by adding a Saturday night concert in Brookfield, near Milwaukee

May 21, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Next season will mark the 20th anniversary of Andrew Sewell (below top) coming to Madison to serve as the music director and principal conductor of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below bottom).

It is hard to imagine a better Bravo! or anniversary gift for the maestro – who has said he wants the WCO to become a chamber orchestra, as its name implies, for the entire state of Wisconsin — than what will in fact take place: the WCO will expand its winter Masterworks concerts to two performances by adding a Saturday night performance at 7:30 p.m. in the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts (below) in Brookfield, a suburb of Milwaukee. (Sewell is also the music director of the San Luis Obispo Symphony in California.)

Madison performances of Masterworks will continue to take place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

You can find out more about the Masterworks programs for next season by going to the WCO home website:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performance-listing/category/masterworks

There you will find the usual eclectic mix of new guest artists and new or neglected composers and repertoire that has marked Sewell’s tenure and brought him critical acclaim.

Pianist Orion Weiss will perform the popular  Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, K. 467 – “Elvira Madigan” – by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; violinists Giora Schmidt and Eric Silberger will perform concertos by Dmitri Kabalevsky and Niccolo Paganini, respectively; harpist Yolanda Kondonassis will perform a concerto by Argentinian Alberto Ginastera; and Andrew Balio (below), principal trumpet of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, will return to Madison where he grew up and perform a 1948 trumpet concerto by Italian composer Andre Tomasi.

Early music and new music to be featured includes works by: Donald Fraser (an acclaimed English conductor, composer and arranger, below) who now lives in Illinois, and often comes to Madison); Joseph Martin Kraus, known as the “Swedish Mozart”; Norwegian composer Johann Svensen; and three English composers (always favorites of Sewell who was born and educated in New Zealand) who are John Marsh, James Macmillan and York Bowen. (In the YouTube video at the bottom you can hear the English Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Woods — a native Madisonian who will return next season to conduct the Madison Symphony Orchestra — recording the Scherzo movement from Donald Fraser’s “Sinfonietta,” the same work that the WCO will perform.) 

Works by Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn and Sergei Prokofiev also figure prominently, including Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” in honor of the composer’s 250th birthday in 2020.

Also on the website, you will find the upcoming season of Wednesday night Concerts on the Square for this summer (June 26-July 31) plus the dates and themes – although no guest artists or works — for 2020 (June 24-July 29).

Go to: https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances

You can also find information for next season about the WCO performing George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah,” Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker” with the Madison Ballet; the Young Artist Concerto Competition; the free Family Series; and the community Super Strings program for elementary students.

To receive a brochure with information about all these events and about how to get tickets — an “early bird” discount on subscription tickets runs through May 31– call (608) 257-0638 or go to: https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org


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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 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!


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