The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Acclaimed local soprano Sarah Brailey explains why performing artists and presenters need help during the COVID-19 pandemic

March 23, 2020
2 Comments

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Sarah Brailey (below) is worried.

And with good reason.

Chances are good that you have seen the local soprano or heard her sing.

She is the artistic director of the Handel Aria Competition, which she herself won in 2015. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Brailey sing the aria “Will the Sun Forget to Streak” from Handel’s oratorio “Solomon,”  with the Trinity Baroque Orchestra under conductor Julian Wachner, in the St. Paul Chapel in New York City.)

Brailey is a co-founder of and participant in the monthly free Just Bach concerts here. In addition, while pursuing graduate studies at the UW-Madison, she is a concert artist with a budding international career. For more about her, including a rave review from The New York Times and sample videos, go to: https://sarahbrailey.com

But right now the Wisconsin native is especially concerned about the lasting impact that the Coronavirus pandemic will have on her own career as well as on the careers of others like her and on the well-being of arts presenters.

Brailey (below, in photo by Miranda Loud) sent The Ear the following essay:

By Sarah Brailey

This is a scary time for everyone, but particularly for anyone who works as an independent contractor.

I am a freelance classical soprano based in Madison. I maintain a very active performing career, traveling all over the globe, and I am also a doctoral student at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music.

When COVID-19 hit the United States, presenting organizations on the east and west coasts started canceling concerts to comply with social distancing recommendations.

I initially thought I was lucky to be living in the middle of the country where our lesser population density might save us. Plus, I am a Teaching Assistant at the UW right now, so I will still be getting my stipend — although teaching virtual voice lessons will be its own special challenge!

But many of my colleagues are not so lucky and are facing bankruptcy. If the government doesn’t include independent contractors in its relief packages, a lot of people are going to be insolvent.

And I myself am not immune. As the seriousness of the situation became clear, all my concerts in the next two months soon disappeared one by one.

While not being able to perform is emotionally devastating, these cancellations are also financially devastating.

There exists a clause in every standard performance contract called “force majeure” (superior force), which is idiomatically referred to as, “an act of God.” This clause excuses a party from not honoring its contractual obligations that becomes impossible or impracticable, due to an event or effect that the parties could not have anticipated or controlled.

This can come in handy for a presenter if there is, say, a blizzard that necessitates the cancellation of a concert. (This happened to me a few seasons ago with the Boston Symphony.) If the presenter will not make any money on ticket sales, they are not then further injured by having to pay the musicians for the canceled concert. (Below, Brailey sings Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” with the Colorado Symphony.)

The ramifications of this pandemic are unprecedented. Every freelance musician I know is suddenly out of work. The current conventions put all of the upfront financial burden on the artists. We are paid in one lump sum at the end of a project. We do not get a fee for the countless hours of preparation.

We often book travel and lodging on our own dime, and are not reimbursed until the end of the gig. We pay for our own health insurance, and we cannot file for unemployment because our work is paid via IRS Form 1099 and not W2s. The abrupt work stoppage caused by this pandemic means insolvency – or even bankruptcy — for many artists. (Below, Brailey sings Handel’s “Messiah” at the famed Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City.)

Many institutions — and, unfortunately, many of the bigger players like The Metropolitan Opera — are invoking force majeure without much regard for how their artists are struggling.

My colleague, tenor Zach Finkelstein, is covering this in great detail on his blog The Middle Class Artist, as is Alex Ross, the prize-winning music critic for The New Yorker. Read his piece on force majeure here.

However, there are also thankfully some good stories to tell. The Bach Society of Minnesota reimbursed all my travel expenses and is paying 75 percent of my fee, as is the Lyra Baroque Orchestra.

I am helping Zach keep track of the organizations that are helping their artists in this time of need. (Read about them here. Madison Opera is on the list.)

The arts are not just cultural enrichment; they are an essential part of our economy. In 2017, the industry contributed $877.8 billion, or 4.5 percent, to U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employed over 5 million workers. We cannot afford to let this industry disappear. I fear that many individual artists and arts organizations will not recover from this. (Below, Brailey sings Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Magnificat” at the Bucknell Bach Festival.)

While we wait out this storm, I implore you to donate to a Madison arts organization. Here is a short list of recommendations along with some national relief funds for artists.

Local Arts Organizations

Madison Bach Musicians

Handel Aria Competition

Madison Early Music Festival

Madison Opera

Madison Youth Choirs

List of National Relief Funds


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Classical music: Clocks in Motion and Transient Canvas perform new music for winds and percussion this Wednesday night. Plus, the Pro Arte Quartet performs a FREE concert of Mozart, Beethoven and Webern on Saturday night.

November 3, 2015
2 Comments

ALERT: The Pro Arte Quartet, artists-in-residence at the UW-Madison School of Music, will give a FREE concert this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program features: the String Quartet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 1 (1799-1800) by Ludwig van Beethoven; the Langsamer Satz (Slow Movement) for String Quartet (1905) by Anton Webern; and the String Quartet in E-flat Major, K. 428 (1783) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following word from Clocks in Motion:

Clocks in Motion (below), Madison’s premier new music ensemble, welcomes the renowned bass clarinet and marimba duo Transient Canvas to Madison for a collaborative performance of new sounds, new instruments, and new music.

Clocks in Motion Group Collage Spring 2015

Featuring a world premiere by Italian-American modernist composer Filippo Santoro, as well as rarely heard works by Daniel T. Lewis, Matthew Welch, and Franco Donatoni, this concert offers a singular chance to experience the cutting edge of new music.

The performance is this Wednesday night, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. in the DeLuca Forum (below bottom) of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below top), across from the Union South at 330 North Orchard Street.

WID_extr11_1570

SEW Forum room

It will feature Transient Canvas (below), which consists of the “dazzling” (Boston Globe) clarinetist Amy Advocat and the “expert and vivid” (Boston Musical Intelligencer) marimbist Matthew Sharrock performing thrilling repertoire commissioned for their distinctive instrumentation, as well as larger works in partnership with Clocks in Motion.

Transient Canvas close up

Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 the day of the show; $5 with a student ID. PURCHASE TICKETS

Advance tickets are available at https://www.artful.ly/store/events/7534

Praised by the Boston Globe as “superb,” Transient Canvas has been blazing its own trail in the world of contemporary music since 2011. In four years, they have premiered over 40 new works, essentially creating an entirely new repertoire for their unique instrumentation. Fearless in their programming and hungry for new collaborations, TC actively seeks out new composers who will stretch their instrumentation to its limits. (You can hear a sample in the YouTube video at the bottom)

Learn more about Transient Canvas at http://www.transientcanvas.com/

Transient canvas performing

Hailed as “nothing short of remarkable” (ClevelandClassical.com), Clocks in Motion is a group that performs new music, builds its own instruments, and breaks down the boundaries of the traditional concert program. The group Clocks in Motion consistently performs groundbreaking concerts involving performance art, theater, and computer technology.

Featuring world premieres alongside rarely performed classic works, the ensemble strives to create a new canon of percussion repertoire.

clocks in motion in concert

Clocks in Motion works passionately to educate young audiences through master classes, residencies, presentations, and school assemblies. The ensemble’s unique skill sets and specialties contain an impressive mix of rock, jazz, contemporary classical, orchestral, marching, and world styles.

Clocks in Motion has served as resident performers and educators at the Interlochen Arts Academy, Casper College, the University of Michigan, Baldwin-Wallace University, VIBES Fine and Performing Arts, Traverse City West High School, Traverse City East Middle School, Rhapsody Arts Center, and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

Formed in 2011, Clocks in Motion began as an extension of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Graduate Percussion Group, and now serves as an affiliate ensemble of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

 


Classical music: Here are the best classical recordings of 2014 from The New York Times, The New Yorker magazine and The Boston Globe as well as NPR.

December 20, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This is the last weekend for holiday shipping before Christmas, and retailers expect today to be even bigger and busier than Black Friday.

But whether you go to a local brick-and-mortar store such as Barnes & Noble or use the Internet, there is still time to order and receive such items as gifts.

Plus, whether you are looking for a gift for someone else or for what to buy with that gift card or cash you receive, perhaps you will find the following lists convenient and helpful.

The three lists are compilations of the Best Classical Music Recordings of 2014, even if they appear a bit late. (I seem to recall that these lists appeared closer to Thanksgiving or Black Friday in past years, but I could be wrong.)

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

The first list, a long one, comes from the various critics at The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/arts/music/classical-critics-pick-the-top-music-recordings-of-2014.html?_r=0

It covers solo instruments, vocal music, operas, orchestral music, chamber music – you name it.

The second list from a critic for The Boston Globe:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/music/2014/12/13/the-best-albums/6q7Tin4lPvj5RmqfCCSTFP/story.html

The third list comes from ace music critic and prize-winner Alex Ross (below) of The New Yorker Magazine. He names 20 different recordings along with 10 memorable live events from the concert scene in New York City.

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/ten-notable-performances-recordings-2014

Alex Ross 2

The Ear finds it interesting how many agreements there are about certain composers, works and performers – such as the haunting, 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning work “Become Ocean” by the contemporary American composer John Luther Adams (below top and at the bottom in a YouTube video) and the Schubert recording by British pianist Paul Lewis (below middle) in late music by Franz Schubert or Alan Gilbert conducting the New York Philharmonic in two symphonies by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

John Luther Adams

Paul Lewis

Here is a link to a previous Top 10 Best of 2014 list from NPR (National Public Radio), complete with CD covers and sound samples, that I posted:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/classical-music-need-gift-suggestions-npr-names-its-top-10-classical-music-albums-of-2014/

Happy shopping!

And even happier listening!!

It will be interesting to see what 2015 brings.


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