The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear offers some semester-end shout-outs to UW student musicians.

December 20, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is just about over. Winter Break starts next week and lasts until mid-January.

Performances are just about over as students focus on final papers, final exams and degree recitals.

But The Ear went to a couple of performances by several groups that he thinks deserve shout-outs.

UW CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

On Sunday night, Dec. 6, The Ear went to a sparsely attended performance by the UW-Madison Chamber Orchestra under the director of conductor Jim Smith (both are below).

Too bad the audience wasn’t larger. The program was such a welcome relief from the hectic nature of the holidays. It proved to be a parenthesis of calm amid so much loudness and busyness.

The program featured Igor Stravinsky’s Neo-Classical ballet suite “Apollo” (Apollon, Musagete or Master of the Muses) on the first half. The second half was the “String Suite” by Czech composer Josef Suk, who was the student and eventual son-in-law of Antonin Dvorak. Historically, it may be a second-tier work, but it certainly has its lovely moments. And the overall pastoral mood was perfect for the occasion.

These are both deceptive scores that sound easy and transparent but are difficult to play and are loaded with many subtleties. The UW Chamber Orchestra played extraordinarily well and thoroughly convincingly.

One last thing to praise: Each piece lasted about 30 minutes. Add in the intermission and the whole program clocked in at about 90 minutes. It started at 7:30 p.m. and The Ear was home by just after 9.

That shorter concert time was refreshing and welcome, and allowed me to do things after the performance. In some important ways, shorter does not mean less!

UW Chamber Orchestra Stravinsky

UW CHORAL UNION and UW SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA with TYANA O’CONNOR

A week ago Saturday night, on Dec. 11, The Ear went to the all-20th century program performed by the campus and community UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra with graduate student and guest soprano soloist Tyana O’Connor, all under the baton of Beverly Taylor.

The program featured the Overture to “The Wasps” by Ralph Vaughan Williams; the Symphony of Psalms by Igor Stravinsky; and the eminently listenable Gloria by Francis Poulenc, which you can hear in a YouTube video at the bottom.

It was an original and engaging program, one that possessed a certain joy that wasn’t ruined even by the ticketing fiasco and by the long wait to get into the hall.

That meant it worked well with the holidays, but not in the obvious way that certain oratorios like “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel or cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach do. And all parties performed very well.

Here is what choral director Beverly Taylor had to say about the program in an interview with The Ear:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/12/08/classical-music-the-uw-choral-union-and-uw-symphony-orchestra-will-perform-an-all-20th-century-program-of-works-by-vaughan-williams-stravinsky-and-poulenc-this-coming-saturday-night-plus-conductor/

Special notice goes to the winds and brass (below) of the UW Symphony Orchestra, which replace the upper string (violins and violas) in the Stravinsky’s score. They performed outstandingly, often with the mastery of professionals, in a score that is thorny with polyrhythms and dissonances.

UW Symphony Orchestra winds and brass Stravinsky

And even though I had heard soprano soloist Tyana O’Connor in this semester’s Opera Scenes, I was unprepared for the power of her voice in the Poulenc. Perhaps she was sick earlier, or under-rehearsed; or maybe she didn’t want to overwhelm her duet partner; or maybe her strong and beautiful voice was simply swallowed up by the acoustics of Music Hall. Whatever the case, she was terrific in this performance and easily sang over the tight orchestra and the well prepared chorus without straining.

Tyana O'Connor soprano

So thanks you to all these musicians, and to so many other student performers, both singers and instrumentalists, who gave The Ear so many memorable and moving moments during the past semester and will do so again this coming semester.

Have a fine Winter Break, all of you!

You have earned it.


Classical music: The UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra will perform an all-20th century program of works by Vaughan Williams, Stravinsky and Poulenc this coming Saturday night. Plus, conductor Beverly Taylor talks about how severe budget cuts are hurting the choral program at the UW-Madison.

December 8, 2015
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Choral Union, a campus and community chorus, and the UW Symphony Orchestra will perform an all 20th-century program. (Both are below.)

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

Featured are the “Symphony of Psalms” by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky; the “Gloria” by French composer Francis Poulenc; and the Overture to “The Wasps” by the British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Tickets are $15, $8 for seniors and students.

Here is a link to more information, including how to buy tickets:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-choral-union1/

Beverly Taylor, who heads up the choral program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who is assistant music director at the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will conduct.

Taylor agreed to a recent email interview with The Ear:

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

This year, you are giving only one performance, both now and in the spring for “The Creation” by Franz Joseph Haydn. For many years, you have generally given two performances. Why the change? Is it an experiment or trial, or is it permanent?

Three things combined:  Really, the main reason was that the hall and players were only available one night.  As more groups emerge and the hall is booked, and string players may be playing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra or several new chamber groups, it’s hard to get everyone together on the same night.

Also, we thought we’d pack them in for one night, although with all that goes on in town, we may leave some people out.

Third, because we did not have a full chamber ensemble yet available at the time we planned “The Creation,” and knowing I’d have to hire some additional players, we planned on one night for budget reasons.

Next year?  Who knows?  Check back in February …

UW Choral singers

It is a great program of very different 20th-century works. What was your idea or reason for linking them by putting them on the same program?

Great question, and yes I’ve given it a fair amount of thought.

Before I answer that, I should say that I’ve added a bonus piece to the program in the form of the orchestra-only Overture to “The Wasps” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Because the program is a bit on the short side, I had an overture in mind, but hadn’t confirmed it till I saw how quickly the orchestra took on the challenges of the Poulenc and Stravinsky.

One of the great things about programming 20th century music — and I expect will be the same as we add more 21st century music — is the astounding variety of styles available to us. And many of the 20th-century composers lived long enough to provide differing styles within their own work.

UW Symphony violins 2015

UW Symphony Strings cellos

What can you tell us about the work by Stravinsky (below)?

Stravinsky’s earliest works were late Romantic, then, with pulsing rhythms, sometimes called primitive; later there was neo-Classicism, and 12-tone, etc.  If forced to choose a title, I would call “Symphony of Psalms” a mixture of the primitive and the Romantic.

What makes it Romantic is the writing for the choir, which entails long lines, some stunning dynamic changes from loud to soft, and a pure, almost disembodied gentle melody at the end.

What makes it Primitive is the pulsing rhythms in the orchestra in movement III and the unexpected chord interpolations in the first.

What makes it clever intellectually is the difficult, jagged but fascinating double fugue in the second movement; and what makes it a wonderful sonic treat is the elimination of Violin I, II and Viola in favor of FIVE flutes, FIVE oboes, FOUR bassoons, FOUR horns, FIVE trumpets, THREE trombones TWO pianos, ONE harp and ONE tuba, some cellos, double basses and a partridge in a pear tree.

When you get four flutes and a piccolo, playing sometimes a half-step apart, you set up weird shimmering overtones.  It’s fascinating to hear, although I may be deaf after the concert from being so close to them.

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

What about the work by Poulenc (below top)?

I wanted to contrast the modern instrumentation of the pulsing rhythms of Stravinsky with an equally interesting 20th-century work with a different flavor.

What makes Poulenc’s “Gloria” (heard in a YouTube video at the bottom) hard to sing is what we hear all the time in popular music — the major seventh chord — think C, E, G and B natural.  For performers, singing C’s against B’s can be hard to tune, but the chords are closely allied with jazz and the piano bar!  And the piano was Poulenc’s composing instrument.

With long lines in the strings, we are treated to the lushest of lines in the third, fifth and sixth movements. The first movement is regally strong; the second and fourth are playful.

Our wonderful soprano soloist, Tyana O’Connor, sings gorgeously in three of the movements, both powerfully direct, and then in soft floating sounds.

Francis Poulenc

And the work by Vaughan Williams?

I chose the Vaughan Williams for its length, its instrumentation (lots for the upper strings, which weren’t playing in the Stravinsky, and nice parts for the harps that we have already playing in the Poulenc and Stravinsky) and its buoyant, positive nature as an opening to our concert.

Vaughan Williams (below) wrote it while he was fairly young, as occasional music to a production of Aristophanes’ play “The Wasps.” He makes a nod to “The Wasps” in the form of a string buzz in the opening and toward the end. But for the most part the overture is formed of two tunes — a perky, angular march and a warm, lush tune aligned with English folksong.  These tunes are presented separately and then combined.

By choosing three different flavors of 20th-century music, I hope to present a balanced evening with appeal to everyone.

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

Have steep budget cuts to the UW-Madison hurt the Choral Union? Do such cuts affect your ability to hire guest soloists? Do they account for the reduction in performances? Do they alter the repertoire that you can do?

Yes, they have hurt the Choral Union in certain ways, although I don’t think our excellence will be any the less.

Without the availability of some discretionary concert funds, we have had to increase some fees for members, and we have had to postpone some special works that might include high rentals of materials or special instruments or another venue to perform in.

We sometimes program using the great soloists available to us from our faculty and graduate students, and save funds for when we need to hire a professional voice that we don’t have. With more money we might do that more often, but we are lucky to have gifted people within our reach.

Good classical music has costs that the public often doesn’t know about — high costs for copyrighted parts and scores (below) for recent works, and specialty instruments such as viols or oboes d’amore and portative organs for early music.

Beethoven Symphony 5 score

What else would you like to say?

I’m so glad you asked me to write.  Although this concert by the Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra is a ticketed event, the great majority of our concerts are FREE.

We encourage listeners of all types and generations to TRY to listen to something new and LIVE, and perhaps in a different genre than they’ve ever tried before.

 


Classical music education: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has lined up its schedule of events for the 2015-16 season. Here it is in two parts. Today is Semester 1.

August 13, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

The final schedules for the upcoming season by most major classical music groups in the area are now available.

Last but not least is the biggest of them all: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which offers some 300 events in a season, most of them FREE to the public.

UW logos

Some things are new. For example, you will note that the UW Choral Union has gone to just ONE performance instead of two, as in the past for many years.

Concert manager and public relations director Kathy Esposito (below) writes:

Katherine Esposito

The UW-Madison School of Music is jazzed about its upcoming season and we’d like the world to know. Please make plans to attend!

Here is a link to the online calendar, which is now complete except for specific pieces on programs and last-minute changes: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Our events of 2015-2016 range from performances by a vocal dynamo (soprano Brenda Rae, Sept. 27) to a in-demand LA jazz woodwind musician (Bob Sheppard in April) plus an enterprising young brass quintet (Axiom Brass, October) and a dollop of world music in March (duoJalal). In addition, we offer ever-popular opera productions, faculty concerts and student ensembles ranging from classical to jazz to percussion.

Full concert calendar link: http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Other social media connections include:

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

https://www.facebook.com/UWMadisonSchoolOfMusic

https://twitter.com/UWSOM

Our Newsletter, A Tempo!

https://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/

Hear our sound: https://soundcloud.com/uw-madisonsom

Here’s a partial list with highlights (Semester 1 is posted today; Semester 2 will be posted tomorrow):

SEMESTER 1 

August 30: “Performing the Jewish Archive”: Shining a Spotlight on Forgotten Jewish Performance Works. Various venues and times; click link for details.

The U.S. component of an international research project led by the University of Leeds, England, with UW-Madison leadership provided by Teryl Dobbs, chair of music education. Featuring a Sound Salon with Sherry Mayrent and Henry Sapoznik (below) of the Mayrent Institute; Chamber Music with the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society; and a Cabaret Performance with Mark Nadler. Events continue in May, 2016. All events are free.

Link to event: http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/performing-the-jewish-archive/

BDDS Henry Saposnik

September 7: 37th Annual Karp Family Concert. Mills Hall, 7:30 PM.

Chamber music of the 19th and 20th centuries for piano and strings. Pianist and patriarch Howard Karp (below center) passed away last summer, but the family continues with a long-standing tradition. With Suzanne Beia, Violin; Katrin Talbot, Viola; Parry Karp, Violoncello; Frances Karp, Piano; Christopher Karp, Piano. Free.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/37th-annual-karp-family-concert/

karps 2008 - 13

September 26: Soprano Brenda Rae with the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra. Mills Hall, 7:30 PM.

On the program: Reinhold Gliere’s Concerto for Coloratura Soprano. A benefit for University Opera.

Brenda Rae (below) is a 2004 graduate of the School of Music, and has been impressing audiences and critics all over Europe for many years. Her 2013 U.S. debut as Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata” won her praise from James R. Oestreich of The New York Times: “Ms. Rae soared beautifully in the early going, but it was in her pianissimo singing that she really shone.”

Tickets $25.

Master class: Friday, September 25, Music Hall, 5-7 PM.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/soprano-brenda-rae-with-the-uw-symphony-orchestra/

Soprano Brenda Rae

October 7: Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in a photo by Rick Langer) with Violist Nobuko Imai (below bottom, in a photo by Marco Borggreve). Mills Hall, 7:30 PM.

Nobuko Imai is considered to be one of the most outstanding viola players of our time. After finishing her studies at the Toho School of Music, Yale University and the Juilliard School, she won the highest prizes at both the Munich and the Geneva international competitions.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-with-violist-nobuko-imai/

Master class: October 6, 7:30 PM, Mills Hall. Both events are free.

Pro Arte 3 Rick Langer copy

Imai Nobuko 018.jpg

October 9-10-11:  BRASS FEST II!

Last year’s Celebrate Brass festival was so much fun, we decided to program another. Three days of exhilarating music from leading brass players and ensembles, including the award-winning Axiom Brass Quintet (below, now in residence at the Tanglewood Music Festival) and trumpeter Adam Rapa. With the Wisconsin Brass Quintet and students from the UW-Madison School of Music. 

October 9: Axiom Brass, Mills Hall, 8 PM. Tickets $15.

October 10: Festival Brass Choir with Axiom Brass, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet and trumpeter Adam Rapa. Tickets $15.

October 11: Trumpeter Adam Rapa and vocalist Elizabeth Vik. Classical and jazz. Free concert.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/brass-fest-2/

Buy tickets for both concerts for $25.

Axiom Brass Quintet

October 23-24-25-27: University Opera presents Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Mozart and da Ponte’s masterpiece of comedy and intrigue, shows the two geniuses at the height of their powers. Directed by David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke De Lalio); music conducted by James Smith.

Music Hall. Tickets $25/$20/$10.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/university-opera-the-marriage-of-figaro/

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

November 5-6: Celebrating Alumni Composers. UW-Madison prize-winning alumni composers of new music Andrew Rindfleisch (below), Paula Matthusen, Jeffrey Stadelman, Bill Rhoads and Kevin Ernste return for a two-day event featuring their acoustic and electronic music.

November 5, Mills Hall, 7:30 PM: Performances by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet, the Wingra Woodwind Quintet, and smaller ensembles of faculty and students.

November 6, 7:30 PM: Performance with the UW Wind Ensemble, Scott Teeple, conductor.

Both concerts are free.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/celebrating-alumni-composers-two-free-concerts/

Andrew Rindfleisch portrait

November 13: Debut Faculty Concert with Violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt). Altino takes the stage as the newest member of the school’s string faculty. With pianist Martha Fischer.

Mills Hall, 8 PM.

Tickets $12. Students free

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/debut-faculty-concert-soh-hyun-park-altino-violin/

Soh-Hyun Park Altino Carroline Bittencourt

December 10: Wingra Woodwind Quintet (below, in a photo by Michael Anderson). With Stephanie Jutt, flute; Marc Vallon, bassoon; Kostas Tiliakos, oboe; and welcoming new members Wesley Warnhoff, clarinet; and Joanna Schulz, horn. 

Morphy Hall, 7:30 PM. Free.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wingra-woodwind-quintet/

Wingra Woodwind Quintet 2013 Michael Anderson

December 12: UW Choral Union & UW Symphony Orchestra with Beverly Taylor, conductor. Presenting “Gloria” of Francis Poulenc and “Symphony of Psalms” by Igor Stravinsky.

Mills Hall, 8 PM.

Tickets $15/$8.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-choral-union1/

UW Choral Union and Symphony Nov. 2014

Tomorrow: Highlights of Semester 2

 


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