The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: There was so much to like about the Grand Tour finale of the 2019 Madison Early Music Festival. But where were the high notes in Allegri’s legendary “Miserere”?

July 19, 2019
7 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Fair is fair.

Before he talks about last Saturday night’s conclusion of the successful 2019 Madison Early Music Festival – which marked its 20th anniversary — The Ear has a confession to make: He generally prefers later Baroque music and he generally prefers instrumental music to vocal or choral music.

That said, he nonetheless had a memorable and very enjoyable time on the “Grand Tour” during the well-attended All-Festival concert. There was so much to like and to admire.

The concert used the conceit of a Grand Tour by a composite 17th-century traveler going to London, Venice, Rome, Naples, Paris and Dresden to take in the local sights and local music, and included lesser-known composers such as William Lawes and William Child as well as such famous figures as Claudio Monteverdi, Giovanni Gabrieli , Jean-Baptiste Lullyand Heinrich Schütz.

Like most journeys, this one – once again assembled in an ingenious scissors-and-paste job by early music specialist Grant Herreid (below) – had many entertaining and uplifting moments.

But it also had one big disappointment.

The Ear really looked forward to hearing a live performance  of the famous “Miserere” by Gregorio Allegri (below) as a high point. But those haunting, ultra-high descant notes that give you goosebumps and that you never forget hearing just never materialized.

Maybe it had to do with the different ornamentation that the MEMF forces used. Maybe it was based on a different manuscript or score. Maybe there was no one capable of singing those spellbinding and unforgettable high notes.

Whatever the reason, The Ear’s hope for a live performance of the dramatic and iconic work were dashed and the famous, even classic, recorded versions – the 1980 recording by the Tallis Scholars is heard in the YouTube video at the bottom — remain for him the unsurpassed standard.

The evening also had its ironies. That same night on the NBC TV news The Ear saw a story about “overtourism” in Europe and China. Venice, for example, has now shrunk to only about 50,000 unhappy residents who put up with some 20 million tourists a year.

But centuries ago, travel was a rare and exotic luxury of the wealthy and well-educated, not an affordable indulgence or curiosity by ever-expanding middle classes. And this metaphorical trip proved an ideal vehicle to sample 16th- and 17th-century music in England, France, Germany and Italy.

Combining high culture and low, Herreid chose witty and detailed travelogue texts that gave the audience the rich flavor of various cultures at the time.

Details mattered to the four sharp-eyed travelers on which this tour was based. So as “our hero” wandered, we got to hear about the “libidinous ladies” of Naples and the musical talented courtesans of Venice as well as the richly attired archbishop of Paris attending a feast day service in the newly finished Notre-Dame cathedral.

Such descriptions were well delivered by unnamed narrators (below) from the chorus and proved a refreshingly earthy and entertaining counterpoint to the more serious spiritual and religious music of the era.

Another big satisfaction was the exceptional quality of the ensemble playing – exhibited even in large amounts of less interesting music — by the many singers and instrumentalists on the stage of Mills Hall, and, at one point, in the hall’s balcony.

Whether the players and singers were conducted by Herreid or by assistant conductor Jerry Hui — a UW-Madison graduate who is now a tenured professor at UW-Stout — the music sounded tight, authentic and expressive.

As for more superficial pleasures, it is great visual fun watching such early versions of modern string, wind and percussion instruments being played — trombone-like sackbuts, oboe-like shawms, flute-like recorders and lute-like theorbos. (Below are cello-like viols.)

The players, both faculty and students, were particularly convincing on their own in the sound painting done to depict battle scenes and political upheaval. And who will ever forget the surprise of loud foot-stomping by all the performers and conductor?

Herreid was absolutely spot-on to keep the program to about 80 minutes with no intermission. It helped the audience stay in the spirit of the Grand Tour and added cohesion to the program.

The Grand Tour, in short, proved outstanding in concept and excellent in execution.

But was The Ear alone in missing to those high notes?


Posted in Classical music
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Classical music: Recorder virtuoso Piers Adams solos in baroque and contemporary concertos this Friday night with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

April 18, 2019
3 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

During his long and successful tenure with Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), music director and conductor Andrew Sewell has established a reputation for championing unusual repertoire and booking young or relatively unknown soloists as well as for offering insightful interpretations of classic masterworks.

But Sewell (below) seems to be surpassing himself with the concert he will lead this Friday night, April 19, at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

For one, the concert features the British recorder virtuoso Piers Adams (below), who established his own reputation as a part of the unusual baroque quartet Red Priest, the nickname for Antonio Vivaldi, who was indeed a priest in Venice with flaming red hair. (In the YouTube at the bottom, you can sample Adams’ virtuosity as he makes bird calls on the recorder while playing a section of “Spring” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”)

You can also go to the following websites for more information about Piers Adams:

https://piersadams.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piers_Adams

The Ear can’t think of another time any major group in the area offered a soloist on the recorder – a baroque wooden flute-like instrument — except for the Madison Early Music Festival.

True to form, Adams will perform baroque music with the WCO – specifically, the Concerto for Recorder in C Major by Georg Philipp Telemann.

But to add to the more unusual aspects of the concert, Adams will also perform a contemporary work with the WCO – specifically, a 1994 recorder concerto by the English composer David Bedford (1937-2011, below) that was commissioned by Adams and has proven popular both on a recording and in concert.

For more information about Bedford, go to:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bedford

To round out the program, Sewell has programmed two other rarely heard works: the “Brook Green” Suite by Gustav Holst, best known for “The Planets”; and the Serenade in E-Flat Major, Op. 6, by the Czech composer Josef Suk (below), a very accomplished violinist and composer who studied with Antonin Dvorak and then became his son-in-law.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josef_Suk_(composer)

For more information about the concert, including tickets ($12-$80) and notes on the performers and the program, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-iv-4/


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Classical music: Why do symphony orchestras program so few women composers – and often none?

July 26, 2018
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The summer is rolling along.

Soon August will be here, and then September with the new concert season.

Looking over the programs, which feature new music and living composers, for the next season at the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO), The Ear was reminded of a recent story.

It came from National Public Radio (NPR) and was about why so few women composers – or even no women composers – are being programmed at major national and regional symphony orchestras.

One major exception is Jennifer Higdon (below), the Curtis Institute teacher who has won a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award, who has been performed by the MSO and who is quoted in the story.

Here is a link to the story:

https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2018/06/19/617136805/the-sound-of-silence-female-composers-at-the-symphony

Now, The Ear likes the 2018-19 season at the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) for many reasons he will go into another time. He thinks it is a big improvement over last year, probably because it also celebrates the 25th anniversary of John DeMain’s tenure as the artistic director. And it does open with the “Fanfare Ritmico” by Jennifer Higdon. But you still won’t find major works by Higdon or other women composers.

Here is a link:

https://www.madisonsymphony.org/18-19

And the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) also has an interesting and appealing season that includes some unusual features, including a recorder soloist and a repeat performance of a two-piano concerto that the WCO commissioned and premiered a couple of seasons ago. But, again, there are no women composers:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performance-listing/category/2018-19-season

The UW Symphony Orchestra, which last year performed a work by Caroline Shaw (below), hasn’t yet released its new schedule of programs.

If The Ear’s memory is correct, certain local chamber music and vocal groups — the Willy Street Chamber Players and the Oakwood Chamber Players come to mind — do a better job at programming works by women and composers of color, although there is still room to improve.

And it sure seems to The Ear that Wisconsin Public Radio has started to make a concerted effort to program more works by women.

What do you make of the lack of women composers?

Would you like to see more works by women composers programmed — say, Higdon’s violin and viola concertos? (You can hear the slow second movement of the Violin Concerto with Hilary Hahn in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

Do you think programming more women composers would boost, lessen or not affect attendance?

Do you have suggestions for specific composers and specific works?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music education: Here is the latest update on the search for a new director of University Opera.

November 7, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Recently, a reader asked The Ear about the status of the nationwide search for a new artistic director of University Opera after two years of having David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) as a popular guest director from New York City after the retirement of William Farlow.

David Ronis color CR Luke DeLalio

That’s when word came from Martha Fischer  (below), professor of collaborative piano at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. Fischer is the head of the search committee to find a new director of the opera program.

Martha Fischer color Katrin TalbotHere is what Professor Fischer sent: her official update with the PVL (Professional Vacancy Listing) attached:

Writes Fischer as a prefatory comment: “We are incredibly fortunate, thanks to the Karen K. Bishop fund, to be able to search for a full-time tenure track Assistant Professor of Opera. At a time when the University as a whole is feeling extreme budget pressures, it is indeed something to celebrate.

“We are currently accepting applications from a broad and diverse pool of applicants with a deadline of Dec. 1, 2015.

“We are following the University of Wisconsin‘s strict guidelines about how searches are conducted to ensure a fair and equitable process.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to announce a new opera director sometime in the spring.”

The Ear notes that under Wisconsin’s open record laws, there will be no word about the dozens of individual applicants until the finalist stage of the search. That is designed to help protect the current jobs of applicants who do not make it into the pool of four or five finalists who are invited to visit the campus. (Below is a photo by Michael R. Anderson from the most recent production, “The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.)

Marriage of Figaro dress rehearsal. Tia Cleveland (Marcellina), Joel Rathmann (Figaro), Anna Whiteway (Susanna), Thomas Weis (Bartolo).

Marriage of Figaro dress rehearsal. Tia Cleveland (Marcellina), Joel Rathmann (Figaro), Anna Whiteway (Susanna), Thomas Weis (Bartolo).

Here is the official notice for the UW-Madison School of Music Position Vacancy Listing for the Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera:

“The School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison invites applications for an Artistic Director of University Opera and teacher of operatic performance, interpretation, and literature.

“This is a full-time, tenure-track appointment at the Assistant Professor level beginning August 2016. Successful candidates will demonstrate evidence of an established or emerging national/international career, along with an ability to enhance the School’s educational mission and overall commitment to teaching.

“Candidates will be expected to pursue creative activities or research interests appropriate to a tenure-track position.

“Candidates will also be expected to help recruit and teach a diverse student body of undergraduate and graduate students, to advise and mentor students, to serve on graduate degree committees, and to carry out leadership and service within the School, College, and University.

Duties:

  • Serve as Artistic Director of University Opera
    • –  Organize, administer and coordinate all facets of the program, recruiting and fundraising as necessary
    • –  Direct and supervise all facets of two major productions each year
  • Coordinate and co-teach the University Opera Workshop Course

– Prepare scenes and productions, including stage movement and character development;

  • Promote and participate in local and state outreach programs
  • Nurture relationships and serve as liaison with community and regional arts organizations
  • Teach related courses as needed and according to the candidate’s expertise
  • Supervise doctoral minors in opera/voice coaching and in opera production
  • Minimum Qualifications:
  • Master’s degree with significant professional experience
  • Proven excellence as an opera director in the professional and/or academic setting
  • Comprehensive knowledge of operatic literature, styles and traditions
  • Ability to pursue research and/or creative activity and service to the profession at the national/international 
level
  • Ability to teach effectively in the classroom and in rehearsal, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels
  • Ability to guide research and advise on the preparation of graduate documents and exams
  • Ability to work effectively and collaborate within the School of Music and with outside groups and 
community arts organizations
  • Ability to serve as advisor for doctoral minors
  • Commitment to recruitment for the School of Music
  • Ability to collaborate with the voice faculty, School of Music, and university in developing and planning for 
the opera program

Preferred Qualifications:

  • PhD/DMA/MFA completed
  • Ability to conduct/lead musical rehearsals
  • Ability to coach singers from the piano
  • Fluency in standard operatic languages (French, German, Italian, English)
  • Experience as an operatic performer
  • Salary: $65,000 (minimum)

(Below is a photo of the University Opera’s 2011 production of Giacomo Puccini‘s “La Bohème.”)

University Opera La Boheme Photo 2


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