The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Bach Musicians perform their sixth annual Baroque holiday concert this coming Saturday night. Plus, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s “Messiah” on Friday night is close to selling out

December 5, 2016
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ALERT: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and its acclaimed music director Andrew Sewell are pretty busy these days playing the accompanying music for the Madison Ballet‘s multiple performances of Peter Tchaikovsky‘s holiday ballet “The Nutcracker.”

Then on this coming Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Blackhawk Church in Middleton, the WCO, the WCO Chorus, the Festival Choir of Madison and guest soloists, all under the baton of Sewell, also give their annual and usually sold-out performance of George Frideric Handel‘s oratorio “Messiah.” The Ear has been told that this year’s performance is also close to selling out to. For more information and tickets, go to: 

http://www.wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/messiah-at-blackhawk-church-middleton/

By Jacob Stockinger

At 8 p.m. this Saturday night, Dec. 10, the Madison Bach Musicians (below top) will give their sixth annual Baroque Holiday Concert.

mbm-baroque-holiday-2015-all-singing

The event will once again be held in the beautiful and sonorous sanctuary (below) of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue.

mbm-baroque-holiday-2015-audence-and-players

MBM holiday 2014 Marc Vallon on bassoon JWB

There is a free pre-concert lecture by the always witty, informative and entertaining MBM founder, artistic director and harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson (below) at 7:15 p.m. NOTE: Trevor Stephenson will also discuss the upcoming holiday concert and play excerpts from past ones TODAY AT NOON on The Midday program aired by Wisconsin Public Radio.

Trevor Stephenson full face at keyboard USE

The program will feature: a cappella (solo vocal) masterworks by Orlando di Lassus and Josquin des Prez performed by a vocal quartet; a Christmas Cantata for soprano and strings by Alessandro Scarlatti—featuring soprano soloist Chelsea Morris (below top); a trio sonata by Johann Joseph Fux; an intriguing  Partita for two scordatura violins (scordatura means the open strings are re-tuned into a new interval configuration!) by Heinrich Biber; the Sonatina in A minor for baroque bassoon and continuo by Georg Philipp Telemann ― with soloist and UW-Madison professor Marc Vallon (below bottom, in a photo by James Gill); one of the Christmas Cantatas, BWV 122Das neugeborne Kindelein (The Newborn Baby) by Johann Sebastian Bach (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); and a bonus feature ― a preview of MBM’s upcoming April performance of Bach’s oratorio  St. John Passion, the tenor aria Ach, mein Sinn.

CHELSEA Shephard

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

Advance-sale discount tickets: $28 for general admission, $23 for students and seniors 65 and over. They are available at Orange Tree Imports, Farley’s House of Pianos, Room of One’s Own, and Willy Street Co-op (East and West) . You can also find online advance-sale tickets at madisonbachmusicians.org 

Tickets at the door are: $30 for general admission; $25  for students and seniors 65 and over.
 Student Rush tickets are $10 at the door and go on sale 30 minutes before lecture (student ID is required)

Musicians will include: Chelsea Morris, soprano; Joseph Schlesinger, counter-tenor; Scott Brunscheen, tenor; Matthew Tintes, bass; Kangwon Kim and Brandi Berry, baroque violins; Marika Fischer Hoyt, baroque viola; Martha Vallon, baroque cello; Marc Vallon, baroque bassoon; and Trevor Stephenson, harpsichord


Classical music: The future looks brighter for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Madison Ballet, which just received $30,000 from the Madison Community Foundation to see if they should work jointly

May 23, 2016
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A REMINDER: Tonight at 8 p.m., Wisconsin Public Television will air a one-hour broadcast of the 50th anniversary concert in Overture Hall by the various groups in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.

For more information, here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/05/21/classical-music-education-the-50th-anniversary-gala-concert-by-the-wisconsin-youth-symphony-orchestras-wyso-will-air-on-wisconsin-public-television-monday-night-at-8/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following news release, which should interest a lot of local arts fans. Unfortunately, it contains some grant jargon. But the bottom line is clear: Both the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Madison Ballet will use the money see if and how they can share their resources and thereby become more secure, efficient and financially stable. You may recall that Madison Ballet had to abruptly cancel its past season when donations for its production of “Peter Pan” fell short:

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Madison Ballet have been awarded a $30,000 Community Impact grant from Madison Community Foundation to explore an innovative and shared resource business model for the two organizations.

WCO new Logo 2016 Square

The award will fund a comprehensive feasibility study that will assess the resources of each organization and identify opportunities for efficiency and growth.

Madison Ballet and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, both well-established arts organizations, have long been providing world-class performances and creative programming in the community.

But as competition for non-profit funding increases, these two organizations are looking for creative business solutions to maintain excellence, support program growth, and ensure long-term sustainability.

“We are so pleased that Madison Community Foundation is supporting this project,” says Madison Ballet’s General Manager Gretchen Bourg. “All businesses—especially those in the non-profit sector—are realizing the need for new models for success and sustainability. This study is an exciting first step toward a truly innovative way of serving our community.”

The feasibility study represents Phase 1 of a larger project that could result in a business model in which the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Madison Ballet share key administrative functions, minimizing redundant costs and leveraging each organization’s unique strengths.

Each would retain the signature artistic and outreach programs for which they are known.

Mark Cantrell, CEO of the WCO says “This grant provides a wonderful opportunity to explore ways for our two organizations to come together to help build a better community.”

“I have worked together with Earle [Smith] for the past 16 years. We arrived in Madison within a year of each other and have always maintained an excellent artistic and working relationship,” says Andrew Sewell (below), music director of the WCO. “Our two organizations have performed together for their annual Nutcracker performances, as well as collaborated on special projects such as the Halloween concert, Concerts on the Square® and most recently the 10th anniversary concert of Overture Center. I’m excited to explore the benefits this unique arts organizational model may represent for both groups.”

andrewsewell

Madison Ballet’s Artistic Director, W. Earle Smith (below), echoes support for the project: “I am very grateful to the Madison Community Foundation for this opportunity to find better ways to engage our audiences and support our artists.”

w. earle smith

The boards of directors of Madison Ballet and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra expect to select a consulting firm to conduct the study by the end of May. Data from the study will be used to identify next steps in strategic planning for long-term sustainability.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, led by Maestro Andrew Sewell, is a vibrant and thriving professional orchestra dedicated to advancing Wisconsin communities through the transformative power of music.

The WCO performs for over 240,000 people per year, including Concerts on the Square (below)®, Masterworks, Holiday Pops, Handel’s Messiah, Youth Concerts, and other performances across the state.  For more information, visit wcoconcerts.org.

ConcertsonSquaregroupshot

Madison Ballet touches the lives of 50,000 individuals in the community each year through engaging outreach programs and unforgettable performances.

Its annual presentation of The Nutcracker remains an essential part of many families’ holiday traditions, and it has broken new ground with innovative productions like the original rock ballet, Dracula.

The School of Madison Ballet is one of the premier training academies in the Midwest, providing quality dance education for dancers of all ages. For more information, visit madisonballet.org.

 


Classical music: Conductor Andrew Sewell reveals how he keeps Handel’s “Messiah” fresh. He will perform it on Friday and Sunday nights with the Wisconsin Chamber orchestra, soloists, the WCO Chorus and the Festival Choir of Madison

December 7, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The weekend will see two seasonal performances of the iconic oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel.

Conductor Andrew Sewell – who will also be busy leading performances of the Madison Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” this weekend — will again lead the combined forces of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra along with the WCO Chorus and the Festival Choir of Madison.

WCO Messiah stage and banners

There will also be four guest soloists:

Soprano Sarah Lawrence:

Sarah Lawrence photo

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck:

Jamie Van Eyck photo 2015

Tenor Calland Metts:

Callend Metts photo

Returning bass Peter Van de Graaff, who is also the host of overnight music on Wisconsin Public Radio:

WCO Messiah bass Peter Van de Graaff

The two performances will be in different locations and have different ticket prices:

The first performance is this Friday night, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. at the Blackhawk Church, at 9620 Brader Way, in Middleton.

The second performance is on this Sunday night, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m. at the Westbrook Church, at 1100 Highway 83, in Hartland, about an hour from Madison and near Milwaukee. It is about 1-2 hours from Madison.

For more information, here are two links:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/messiah-at-blackhawk-church/

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/messiah-at-westbrook-church-hartland-wi/

Andrew Sewell recently talked via email to The Ear about “Messiah”:

andrewsewell

What keeps “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel so perennially popular with the public, especially at holiday time? In your mind, does it have to do more with the music or the text? And is it as popular with the performers as with the audiences?

I think the meaning of the text, the recounting of the story of the life of Christ particularly in the first part, which is always recounted at Christmas, makes this work so enduring. It gives people pause to stop and think.

It has become a tradition, not unlike the Nine Lessons and Carols, although one can perform it at any time.

It is both the text and the genius of Handel to set the text so beautifully to music. Especially when you realize he was not a native English speaker, yet wrote it for an English-speaking audience.

Back in the day when I was a violinist, we would perform the full “Messiah” (all 3 hours and 15 minutes) twice on two successive days. Yes, it became hard work after a while, just the sheer physicality of holding your instrument up with very few breaks. However, the score never became old, and there is always something new to be found whether a different soloist, or the way the choir is prepared.

WCO Messiah Cover 2

How many times have you conducted “Messiah”? As a conductor, how do you keep it fresh for yourself and not boring or predictable? How do you find new things to say or new ways to say them?

Well this is our seventh season since performing it at Blackhawk Church, and before then we performed it twice a year for the “sing-out” Messiah from 2000 to 2008. I have conducted it also in Syracuse. So, I’ve conducted it probably around 30 times.

I think it’s the same with any piece of great music that is often repeated year after year: you find ways to keep it fresh. Perhaps you try new things — new articulations, different repeats, adding or subtracting movements, using different “cuts” since we have the challenge of bringing a 3 hour and 15 minute work in under 2-1/2 hours.

WCO Messiah full orchestra and two choirs

How have your conception of the work and your performances of it evolved over the years?

I have found that the tradition in the United States was different to the one I had been accustomed to in New Zealand. Again, I found that for the most part, for local performances of “Messiah,” church choir directors usually cut it down to be about 2 to 2-1/2 hours in length.

I had never heard of the Christmas portion or the Easter portion before moving to the United States. My experience had always been to play the work in its entirety — merely a different tradition.

Nowadays, I enjoy including as many choruses and arias as we have time for, that both challenge the chorus and make sense of the text in some chronological capacity. And of course, there are those arias you cannot omit -– “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” for instance.

WCO Messiah WCO Chorus and Festival Choir 1

What would you like the public to know about Handel and “Messiah” that they may not already know or need to be reminded of?

That it ostensibly started out life as a secular work in a secular environment; and that, over the years, it has become to be considered more as a sacred work and performed in a church. In either venue it is okay and a great masterpiece, whatever your religious or non-religious affiliations may be.

WCO Messiah taking bows

Is there something else you would like to say?

I think as you pay attention to the ebb and flow of the arias and choruses, they should tell a compelling story that reaches its climax in the most positive way. It is a story of great redemption for humanity and is what Handel achieves with his setting of “Worthy Is the Lamb” and the “Amen.” (You can hear the glorious “Amen” in the YouTube video below.)

 


Classical music: A critic “unwraps” the holiday gift of Tchaikovsky’s music and other mysteries in “The Nutcracker.” The production by the Madison Ballet and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opens this Friday and runs through Dec. 27.

December 6, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Perhaps it is because it is so popular, especially at holiday time when it has become an annual tradition almost everywhere.

Perhaps it is because it is basically a story about children and the holidays, especially Christmas.

Whatever the reason, the ballet “The Nutcracker” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky is usually seen as a largely naïve work, an innocent fairy tale or fantasy with some darker undertones.

Madison Ballet The Nutcracker title screen

But the truth is that, if you dig into it, “The Nutcracker” is far more complex than most people usually think.

Of course it was meant to be more about dance — classical ballet — than about the music.

Yet it is the beautiful music by one of history’s greatest melody writers that draws so many people to the work.

Madison Ballet Nutcracker WCO playing

And according to one writer for The New York Times, of the many mysteries layered in “The Nutcracker,” the music remains one of the biggest mysteries. (In a YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear a 2012 performance by conductor Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky Theatre in St, Petersburg, Russia.)

It is always especially relevant at this time of the year.

So The Ear is posting about the production by the Madison Ballet and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, which opens this coming Friday night for nine performances in Overture Hall of the Overture Center.

It features the choreography of Madison Ballet’s artistic director W. Earle Smith (below top) and the live music by the WCO under the baton of its longtime music director Andrew Sewell (below bottom).

w. earle smith

AndrewSewellnew

Here are performance dates:

December 12  |  2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday

December 13  |  2 p.m. Sunday

December 19  |  2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday

December 20  |  2 p.m. Sunday

December 24  |  1 p.m. Thursday

December 26  |  2 p.m. Saturday

December 27  |  2 p.m. Sunday

Here are links with detail of the performances and the production, including tickets, which start at $14:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/nutcracker/

http://www.madisonballet.org/nutcracker/

Madison Ballet The Nutcracker

And here is a link to a story in The New York Times with some excellent background about various productions and their interpretations:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/22/arts/dance/the-nutcracker-and-its-many-mysteries.html?_r=0

If you go see and hear “The Nutcracker,” enjoy — and solve or at least appreciate — some of the mysteries in this evergreen holiday work!

 


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