The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The fourth annual Schubertiade at the UW-Madison takes place this Sunday afternoon – with some important changes

January 25, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The fourth annual Schubertiade – a concert to mark the birthday of the Austrian early Romantic composer Franz Schubert (below top, 1797-1828) – is now a firmly established tradition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music (below bottom, in Mills Hall, which is rearranged for more intimate and informal on-stage seating.)

Franz Schubert big

Schubertiade 2016 stage

Over the past there years, the Schubertiade has become a popular and well-attended event. And with good reason.

Every time The Ear has gone, he has enjoyed himself immensely and even been moved by the towering and prolific accomplishments, by the heart-breaking beauty of this empathetic and congenial man who pioneered “Lieder,” or the art song, and mastered so many instrumental genres before g his early death at 31.

But there are some important changes this year that you should note.

One is that the time has been shifted from the night to the afternoon – specifically, this Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Admission is $15 for adults, $5 for students. (Below is this year’s poster, mistaking this year’s event of the third, with a painting by Gustav Klimt of Schubert playing piano at a salon musicale.)

schubertiade-2017-painting-by-gustav-klimt

After the concert, there is another innovation: a FREE reception, with a cash bar, at the nearby University Club. There you can meet the performers as well as other audience members.

The program, organized by pianist-singers wife-and-husband Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes (below), will last a little over two hours.

martha fischer and bill lutes

Usually there is a unifying theme. Last year, it was nature.

This year, it is friends Schubert knew and events that happened to him. It is called “Circle of Friends” and is in keeping with the original Schubertiades, which were informal gatherings (depicted below, with Schubert at the keyboard) at a home where Schubert and his friends premiered his music.

Schubertiade in color by Julius Schmid

Performers include current students, UW-Madison alumni and faculty members. In addition, soprano Emily Birsan, who is a graduate of the UW-Madison and a rising opera star, will participate.

Emily Birsan 2016

For more about the event, the performers and how to purchase tickets, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2016/12/19/schubertiade_birsan2017/

Here is a complete list of performers and the program with the initials of the perfomer who will sing the pieces:

Performers

Emily Birsan (EB), Rebecca Buechel (RB), Mimmi Fulmer (MFulmer), Jessica Kasinski (JK), Anna Polum (AP), Wesley Dunnagan (WD,) Daniel O’Dea (DO), Paul Rowe (PF), Benjamin Schultz (BS), singers. Bill Lutes (BL) and Martha Fischer (MF), pianists.

Program

Trost im Liede (Consolation in Song ), D. 546 (MF, BL)

Franz von Schober (1796-1882)

Der Tanz (The Dance), D. 826 (AP, RB, WD, PR, MF)

Kolumban Schnitzer von Meerau (?)

Der Jüngling und der Tod (The Youth and Death), D. 545 (PR, BL)

Josef von Spaun (1788-1865)

4 Canzonen, D. 688 (EB, BL)

No. 3, Da quel sembiante appresi (From that face I learnt to sigh) 

No. 4, Mio ben ricordati (Remember, beloved) 

Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782)

From the Theresa Grob Album (November, 1816)

Edone, D. 445 (WD, MF)

Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803)

Pflügerlied (Ploughman’s Song), D. 392 (BS, MF)

Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis (1762-1834)

Am Grabe Anselmos (At Anselmo’s Grave), D. 504A (JK, MF)

Matthias Claudius (1740-1815)

Mailied (May Song), D. 503 (DO, BL)

Ludwig Hölty (1748-1776)

Marche Militaire No. 1, D. 733 (MF, BL)

Viola (Violet), D. 786 (EB, BL)

Schober

Ständchen (Serenade), D. 920A (RB, DO, WD, PR, PR, MF)

Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872)

Epistel ‘An Herrn Josef von Spaun (Letter to Mr. Joseph von Spahn), Assessor in Linz, D. 749 (EB, MF) Matthäus von Collin (1779-1824)

Intermission

Geheimnis (A Secret), D. 491 (EB, MF)

Johann Mayrhofer (1787-1836)

Des Sängers Habe (The Minstrel’s Treasure), D. 832 (PR, MF)

Franz Xavier von Schlechta (1796-1875)

An Sylvia, D. 891 (MF, BL)

Shakespeare, trans. Eduard von Bauernfeld (1802-1890)

Nachtstück (Nocturne), D. 672 (DO, BL)

Mayrhofer

Das Lied in Grünen (The Song in the Greenwood), D. 917 (MFulmer, BL)

Johann Anton Friedrich Reil (1773-1843)

8 Variations sur un Thème Original, D. 813 (MF, BL)

Cantate zum Geburtstag des Sängers Johann Michael Vogl, D. 666 (AP, DO, PR, BL) Albert Stadler (1794-1888)

Ellens Gesang No. 3, Ave Maria, D. 839 (EB, MF)

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), from The Lady of the Lake, trans. Adam Storck (1780-1822)

An die Musik, D. 547 (You can hear it performed by the legendary soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and pianist Gerald Moore in the YouTube video at bottom)

Schober

Everyone is invited to sing along. You can find the words in your texts and translations.

Schubert etching

Here is a link to a story in The Wisconsin State Journal with more background:

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/music/bringing-back-the-schubert-house-party/article_a0d27e9d-7bc7-5f32-bb57-590eb0bc7b91.html

And if you want to get the flavor of the past Schubertiades, here are two reviews from past years:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/classical-music-what-classical-music-goes-best-with-the-nfls-super-bowl-48-football-championship-today-plus-university-of-wisconsin-madison-singers-and-instrumentalists-movingly-celebrate-franz-s/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/classical-music-the-third-annual-schubertiade-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-school-of-music-was-so-popular-and-so-successful-it-should-serve-as-a-model-for-other-collaborative-concerts-feat/


Classical music: A FREE organ and violin concert is this Saturday at noon at Grace Episcopal Church

November 16, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Grace Presents, now entering its seventh year offering FREE public concerts at Grace Episcopal Church (below), located at 116 West Washington Avenue on the Capitol Square, will host resident organist Mark Brampton Smith with violinist Maureen McCarty on this Saturday, Nov. 19.

grace episcopal church ext

Grace Episcopal harpsichord

The concert begins at noon and ends at 1 p.m. Audience members are invited to bring their lunch.

The program — an asterisk indicates that both the violin and organ will play — includes:

Psalm 19: “The Heavens Declare the Glory of God” by Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739)

*”Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). (You can hear an organ version of the popular work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Partita on “Werde munter, mein Gemüte” (Sing not yet, my soul, to slumber) by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)

*”Ornament of Grace” by Bernard Wayne Sanders (b. 1957)

Variations on ‘Cwm Rhondda’ by Mark Brampton Smith (b. 1954) Introduction – Allegro – Duo – Reflection – Finale

*Meditation from “Thaïs” by Jules Massenet (1842-1912)

Concerto in a minor, after Vivaldi (BWV 593) – Johann Sebastian Bach Allegro

Toccata and Fugue in d minor (BWV 565) – Johann Sebastian Bach

The final concert of 2016 will feature the widely renowned Russian Folk Orchestra on Dec. 10.

Mark Brampton Smith Biography:

Mark Brampton Smith (below) serves as the current organist at Grace Episcopal Church. Mark began his church music career as a boy soprano at St. Paul’s Parish on K Street in Washington, D.C., eventually serving on the music staff of churches in seven states. He holds degrees in organ performance from the Eastman School of Music and the University of Michigan.

As an organist, Mark won prizes in the Fort Wayne, Ann Arbor, and American Guild of Organists National Competitions, and he’s performed solo recitals at venues such as Overture Hall. As a collaborative pianist, Mark has worked with numerous singers, instrumentalists, and ensembles, including the Ann Arbor Cantata Singers, University of Michigan choirs, Colgate University Chorus, and currently the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.

Mark Brampton Smith

Maureen McCarty Biography:

Maureen McCarty (below) began the violin in the Madison public schools, and played in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras for many years. She received a BA in violin performance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

While working on her degree, she performed as a musician with American Players Theatre for five seasons. She has extensive orchestral experience playing in such local ensembles as the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, as well as various orchestras in five Midwestern states, the Barcelona City Orchestra and the Orquesta Filarmónica de Gran Canaria in Spain.

Maureen returned to UW-Madison for a teaching certificate in music education in 1999, and taught strings and general music for students in grades 3-12 in Monona Grove during her fifteen years in the district. Recently retired from public school teaching, she now teaches privately, performs with the Camerata String Quartet, tutors Spanish, and takes photographs for her local newspaper. Formative violin teachers include Eva Szekely, Sharan Leventhal, Thomas Moore and Vartan Manoogian.

maureen-mccarty

For more information, visit www.GracePresents.org


Classical music: Classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein pays homage to the late Canadian songwriter, singer and poet Leonard Cohen with theme and variations on the song “Suzanne”

November 14, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Leonard Cohen (below), the acclaimed Canadian songwriter, singer and poet, died at in his home in Los Angeles last Thursday at the age of 82.

leonard-cohen-singing

Cohen was not a major figure in classical music.

But even as a young artist (below) in the 1960s, he inspired many musicians, including classical musicians, who covered his songs. (You can hear him singing his most influential song “Hallelujah” in the YouTube video at the bottom. It has more than 41 million views.)

leonard-cohen-young-in-1960s

Here is a link to an obituary in Rolling Stone magazine:

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/leonard-cohen-dead-at-82-w449792

For example, pianist Simone Dinnerstein (below), who made her name with a self-financed recording of the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach — has paid tribute to Cohen with a set of piano variations (called “The Cohen Variations”) on the song “Suzanne,” which was popularized by the folk and pop singer Judy Collins.

simone dinnerstein2.

A recording of that work is featured on the Deceptive Cadence blog for National Public Radio.

Here is a link to it:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/11/11/501693707/a-new-twist-on-the-leonard-cohen-classic-suzanne


Classical music: Rare repertoire for four pianos will be played at Farley’s House of Pianos on Friday and Saturday nights. Plus, Pro Arte Quartet gives a FREE concert tonight and tickets to pianist Christopher Taylor have SOLD OUT

October 25, 2016
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ALERT 1: The UW-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet will give a FREE concert TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. The program is the “Italian Serenade” (1887) by Hugo Wolf (1860-1903); the String Quartet No. 3 in F Major, Op. 73, (1946) by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975); and the String Quartet in A-flat Major, Op. 105 (1895) by Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904).

ALERT 2: Tickets to the piano recital of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s “Goldberg” Variations by Christopher Taylor this Friday night are SOLD OUT as of Monday morning.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about a set of unusual piano concerts this coming weekend:

In their only North American appearance, world-renowned pianists Daniel del Pino, Lucille Chung, Alon Goldstein and Roberto Plano will be heard this Friday and Saturday nights in the opening program of the third season of the Salon Piano Series.

Hosted by Tim and Renee Farley at Farley’s House of Pianos, the Salon Piano Series has quickly gained a reputation for unique and stimulating programs in the intimate and historic setting of the Farley showroom.

But never have four pianists been heard at once on four restored instruments.

“It’s an honor knowing the pianists chose our location for their only North American performance,” says Renée Farley, co-founder of the Salon Piano Series. “We thought of no better way to open our third season.”

The repertoire for the “Four on the Floor” concerts could hardly be more entertaining or appropriate for Halloween weekend: arrangements of the “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens; the “Carmen Fantasy” based on the beloved opera by Georges Bizet; Maurice Ravel’s own transcription for four keyboards of his “Bolero” (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); and an arrangement of the “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” by Franz Liszt.

four piano concert sketches--sps--2016b.indd

For the first time, an SPS program will be heard twice, on Friday, Oct. 28, and Saturday, Oct. 29, with both events beginning at 7:30 p.m. at the Farley’s House of Pianos Showroom, 6522 Seybold Road, Madison. That is on Madison’s far west side near the West Towne Mall.

Tickets are $45.

For more information about tickets, the concerts and the artists, plus other artists and concerts in the Salon Piano Series this season, visit:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

For information about Farley’s House of Pianos, go to:

http://www.farleyspianos.com/index.html

THE ARTISTS

Daniel del Pino (below) is a leading Spanish concert pianist juggling an international recital career with teaching in the Basque Country in Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain.

Daniel del PIno square

The reputation of Lucille Chung (below), who often performs with her husband Alessio Bax, has grown steadily since her debut at the age of 10 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. To date she has performed with more than 60 orchestras.

lucille-chung

Alon Goldstein (below, in a photo by Meagan Cignoli) is particularly admired for his artistic vision and innovative programming. The New York Times described a recent performance as “exemplary throughout, with his pearly touch and sparkling runs.”

alon-goldstein-cr-meagan-cignoli

Roberto Plano lives in Travedona Monate, Italy and teaches there at Accademia Musicale Varesina, which he founded.

robert-plano


Classical music: This will be a busy and historic week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

October 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week will be a busy one at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, which is now funded in large part by the Mead Witter Foundation.

The big event is the long-awaited groundbreaking for the new performance center. That, in turn, will be celebrated with three important and appealing concerts.

Here is the lineup:

FRIDAY

From 4 to 5:30 p.m., an official and public groundbreaking ceremony for the new Hamel Music Center will take place at the corner of Lake Street and University Avenue. (Below is an architect’s rendering of the completed building.)

uw hamel performance center exterior

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, pianist Christopher Taylor (below) will perform the “Goldberg” Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach on the two-keyboard “Hyperpiano” that he has invented and refined. (You can hear the opening aria theme of the “Goldberg” Variations played by Glenn Gould in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more information about the concert and the innovative piano, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2016/09/13/pianist-christopher-taylor-to-debut-new-piano/

Tickets are $18 and are available at the Wisconsin Union Theater box office. Last The Ear heard, the concert was close to a sell-out.

Christopher Taylor with double keyboard Steinway

SATURDAY

At 7 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison faculty bassoonist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill), who studied and worked with the recently deceased French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, will lead a FREE “Breaking Ground” concert of pioneering music from the 17th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

Composers represented include Ludwig van Beethoven, Michelangelo Rossi, Alexander Scriabin, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Helmut Lachenmann and Morton Feldman.

For more information and the complete program, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/breaking-ground-with-marc-vallon-and-sound-out-loud/

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

SUNDAY

At 3 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Wisconsin Brass Quintet will give a FREE concert.

For more information about the group and the program, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/the-wisconsin-brass-quintet/

Wisconsin Brass Quintet

Wisconsin Brass Quintet


Classical music: This season’s last Sound Waves program, to explore origins and beginnings in science and music, is at the UW-Madison this Friday night.

April 25, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following notice:

The final SoundWaves event of the year will be on this Friday, April 29, at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Center of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discover (WID), 333 North Orchard Street, across from the Union South.

WID_extr11_1570

Wisconsin Institute for Discovery

SoundWaves events explore a broad theme through different lenses from the sciences and the humanities, ending with a related performance.

The title of Friday’s event is “Let’s Start at the Very Beginning: Origins in Science and Music.”

The presenters are John Yin, speaking about the COOL (Chemical Origins Of Life) Project; Clark Johnson speaking about the first billion years of the Earth’s history; Elizabeth Hennessy on the interaction of man and animal in a pristine environment (the Galapagos) and about Darwin; and the School of Music’s own composer Laura Schwendinger (below), speaking about the inspiration for the creation of new works.

Laura Schwendinger 2

Then, SoundWaves Curator Daniel Grabois (below, in a photo by James Gill), horn professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Music, will speak about the process of creating a new CD recording.

Daniel Grabois 2012 James Gill

The event will conclude with a performance by School of Music pianist Christopher Taylor (below). He will be playing a dual-manual piano (a piano with two keyboards).

This is an instrument that creates whole new possibilities in piano performance, and Professor Taylor will be performing selections from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations as well as his own arrangement of Liszt’s “Paysage” (“Landscape” from the Transcendental Etudes) made for this instrument.

(You can hear the haunting opening Aria from Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, from the second recording made by Glenn Gould, in a popular YouTube video at the bottom that has almost 1.9 million hits.)

Christopher Taylor with double keyboard Steinway

Admission is free.

Cash bar opens at 7 p.m.

Registration is suggested at www.discovery.wisc.edu/soundwaves

 


Classical music: A major reassessment of Rachmaninoff is under way. Plus, French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez has died at 90 and the Unitarian Society’s FREE Friday Noon Musicales start again this week

January 7, 2016
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ALERT: The influential and controversial French avant-garde composer and conductor Pierre Boulez had died at 90. The Ear will feature more about him this weekend. Stay tuned.

ALERT: The FREE Friday Noon Musicales at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison‘s Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive, start up again this Friday after a break for the holidays. The concert takes place from 12:15 to 1 p.m. and features bassoonist Juliana Mesa-Jarmillo and pianist Rayna Slavova in music by Gustav Schreck, Eugene Bordeau, Gabriel Pierne and Antonio Torriani.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear can remember when Sergei Rachmaninoff (below, 1873-1943) was treated as something of a joke by serious classical musicians – especially by the 12-toners and atonalists, who were more into R&D music (research and development) than into offering pleasure and emotional connection.

Rachmaninoff

The academic musicians, and some prominent music critics too, thought that the Russian composer’s music was too Romantic — meaning too accessible, too shallow and even cheap. They just didn’t consider Rachmaninoff a major 20th-century composer or artist.

But time is proving them wrong.

And how!!!

Surely The Rachmaninoff Deniers would like such popularity, durability and enthusiasm for their own music.

Haha.

Not likely.

Because Rachmaninoff had real genius linked to real heart.

So surely The Ear is not the only listener who finds so much of Rachmaninoff’s music -– especially his preludes, concertos, etudes and variations — irresistible and even moving.

Rachmaninoffold

Last fall saw Rachmaninoff’s appealing final work, the Symphonic Dances, performed by both the Madison Symphony Orchestra, under John DeMain, and the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, under James Smith.

And pianist Joyce Yang played the momentous Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor at her recital in the Wisconsin Union Theater.

This year’s Grammy nominations also include a whole CD of Rachmaninoff’s solo and concerto variations, including the wonderful tuneful and ingenious Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Last year also saw “Preludes,” (below, in a photo by Tina Fineberg for The New York Times) ) a successful play about the young Rachmaninoff — or Rachmaninov — climbing out of a deep depression with the help of therapist and hypnotist Dr. Nikolai Dahl, who helped him compose again and become world-famous with his Piano Concerto No. 2.

Rac and Rachmaninoff Tina Fineberg NYT

Just this fall and winter, the New York Philharmonic with music director and conductor Alan Gilbert and pianist Daniil Trifonov (below), performed a retrospective featuring the complete cycle of Rachmaninoff piano concertos.

danill trifonov 1

trifonov rachmaninov

And here are some very perceptive and respectful remarks by conductor Marin Alsop (below) about Rachmaninoff’s life and work and about the less frequently played Symphony No. 3 in A minor that she will discuss and conduct.

Marin Alsop big

It comes from an interview with Scott Simon on Weekend Edition for NPR or National Public Radio. The Ear found her remarks about Rachmaninoff’s life in Beverly Hills and his effect on other exiled European musicians working in Hollywood to be especially perceptive.

Indeed, you may recall that Rachmaninoff was offered a lucrative chance to write a movie score and refused. So the moviemakers hired the British composer Richard Addinsell to write a piece that sounded like Rachmaninoff. The result was the Warsaw Concerto and the result does indeed sound a lot like Rachmaninoff.

Alsop, you may recall, was a student of Leonard Bernstein and is now the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Sao Paulo State Symphony Orchestra in Brazil.

Here is a link to the NPR story, which has audio samples of the Symphony No. 3, that also features a written essay by Marin Alsop about Rachmaninoff:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2015/12/28/461281186/rachmaninoff-an-american-without-assimilation

I like a Rachmaninoff tune. How about you?

So here is a YouTube performance, made in 1920, of Rachmaninoff himself playing my favorite Rachmaninoff piece — the wistful Prelude in G Major, Op 32, No. 5:

 


Classical music: The “Eroica” Symphony gets a heroic reading from the amateur Middleton Community Orchestra in a popular all-Beethoven program that also featured an outstanding performance of the “Choral Fantasy.”

December 22, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Happily avoiding all the holiday falderal this month, the Middleton Community Orchestra (below) gave Ludwig Beethoven a slightly delayed birthday tribute in the form of an unusual concert program on last Friday night that drew a full house.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

Led by the bold and enterprising conductor Steve Kurr (below center), the orchestra plunged straightway into no less than Beethoven’s epochal Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica.”

NOTE: For more background, here is a link to The Ear’s interview with Steve Kurr about this program: 

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/12/14/classical-music-conductor-steve-kurr-talks-about-the-all-beethoven-program-that-the-middleton-community-orchestra-performs-this-friday-night-with-pianist-thomas-kasdorf-and-the-madison-symphony-choru/

MCO Beethoven Kurr and orchestra

The 50-minute long “Eroica” is a work that transformed the symphonic genre, and it continues to challenge performers. Provocative sounds, passages of complex counterpoint and assertions of tonal power—all these call for a disciplined and confident performance.

Kurr brought that off handsomely, to his and his players’ great credit. I had the feeling that he asked of these players more than they had first thought they could give, and he drew it out of them, to their obvious pride and satisfaction.

To be sure, there were some occasional smudges here and there, but the ensemble standards were otherwise consistently high. I am always interested to hear, in an orchestra that does not have overwhelming strings, the more balanced audibility of the winds, especially the woodwinds.

Here it was the brass (complete with four horns) that offered particular heroics. At times Kurr perhaps allowed them too much freedom when only filling out chords; but where they deserved prominence they sounded magnificent—notably in the scherzo’s trio section. In all, the overall mix really brought out the daring  use by Beethoven (below) of pungent dissonances and harmonic shocks.

Beethoven big

Kurr took the opening movement at a particularly brisk speed, while the second movement, the profound funeral march, was paced much more slowly than most conductors would take it — but to truly eloquent effect. (You can hear the astonishing Funeral March movement performed by the Vienna Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

I found the symphony’s finale sometimes was given a rather foursquare quality, but the enthusiasm maintained momentum.

It was a difficult act to follow. But the choice of the other item on the program was a brilliant one, bringing us a remarkable Beethoven work that is rarely ever heard in concerts.

How often can an orchestra afford to assemble a brilliant pianist, six vocal soloists and a chorus — all for one 25-minute work? But those are the demands of Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy,” a product of a time when concerts often brought together a whole circus of performers.

In a special way, this novelty made a perfect pairing with the “Eroica.” In the two works, we catch Beethoven in his two great instances of self-borrowing to the end of evolving perfection.

The finale of the “Eroica” was the fourth and final destination for a set of variations on a contradance tune. In its turn, the Fantasy, after opening with an improvisatory exercise for the pianist, turns into a concerto-like set of variations on a tune, which is finally taken up by solo vocalists and then the chorus.

That tune represents the second of three stages in what eventually became the triumphant “Ode to Joy” melody of the famous finale of the Ninth Symphony.

The brilliant and versatile Thomas Kasdorf (below), a familiar soloist around these parts who was raised in Middleton and studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music — was the energetic pianist.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

Six young singers were the solo battery, and a corporal’s guard from the Madison Symphony Chorus (below top and bottom) provided the brief but telling final justification for calling this a “Choral Fantasy.”

MCO Beethoven MSO Chorus left

MCO Beethoven MSO Chorus right

(The singers, below but not in order, were sopranos Allison Vollinger and Kirsten Larson; alto Jessica Lee Kasinski; tenor Richard Statz; baritone Gavon Waid; and bass Robert Dindorff.)

MCO Beethoven 3 women singers

MCO Beethoven 3 male singers

The orchestra played its role with gusto, and it’s wonderful how, by the end, it almost sounds as if we are moving into the Ninth Symphony.

This was an exhilarating concert, and a wonderful achievement for all involved.

 


Classical music: Conductor Steve Kurr talks about the all-Beethoven program that the Middleton Community Orchestra performs this Friday night with pianist Thomas Kasdorf and the Madison Symphony Chorus.

December 14, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

It is definitely not your typical program at holiday time.

But it sure is appealing — and timely too, given the birthday on this Wednesday, Dec. 16, of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

This Friday night – NOT the usual Wednesday night concert time — the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will perform a big and ambitious all-Beethoven program.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below, the exterior and interior) that is attached to Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton PAC1

The program features the Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major “Eroica” and the Choral Fantasy. Guest artists include the Madison Symphony Chorus and returning pianist Thomas Kasdorf.

Admission is $10; free for students. Advance tickets are available at a variety of outlets. The box office opens at 7 p.m. and the theater opens at 7:30 p.m.

As always, there will be an informal meet-and-greet reception for musicians and the audience after the performance.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

For more information about the Madison Community Orchestra, including its spring concerts and how to join it or support it, visit:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Conductor Steve Kurr took time out from his busy schedule of teaching and rehearsing to discuss the program via email with The Ear.

Steve Kurr.

The “Eroica” is one of Beethoven’s biggest, most famous and most popular symphonies. Why did you program it for an amateur orchestra?

I think you answered your own question. Our musicians and our audience are interested in experiencing a titanic work like the “Eroica.” We are having a spectacular time as we prepare the work–learning the ins and outs of this symphony and getting to know more about Beethoven and his compositional processes. And it has opportunities for each instrument to shine, so it is fun to play.

What kind of technical and interpretative challenges will the “Eroica” pose to you and to the players in the Middleton Community Orchestra?

One of the toughest parts of the “Eroica” is its size. Clocking in at around 50 minutes, this work can be taxing for players both physically and mentally.

In addition, there are some overarching ideas that Beethoven begins in the opening movement that are not resolved until the finale and we have to keep those in mind over the length of the whole symphony.

There are also some typical Beethoven gestures that add to this mix–such as the crescendo leading to a sudden piano–that shows up all over the place in the “Eroica.”

Middleton Community Orchestra Steve Kurr conducting

What special things should the public listen for in the “Eroica”?

  • The connection of this symphony to Napoleon is well documented.  Beethoven (below top) dedicated the work to the French leader, but was so incensed when Napoleon (below bottom) declared himself emperor that he scratched the dedication out on the cover page. But the original idea of the piece being “heroic” remains.
  • The work was composed around the same time as his ballet “The Creatures of Prometheus” and includes some similar thematic material.  Think about Prometheus as you listen.
  • The premier coup d’archet (“opening stroke of the bow”) at the very start calls the audience to sit up and pay attention–a very exciting way to start.
  • Tovey’s Cloud: The odd resolution to the opening phrase (heard in the cello just seconds into the first movement) was identified by musicologist Donald Francis Tovey back in the first half of the 20th Century as a cloud that hung over the work and is not resolved until much later in the work.
  • The accents throughout the opening movement obscure the meter and propel the movement forward, and there are some exquisite dissonances in the first movement that increase a tension that does not truly resolve until the finale. It is almost as if the Romantic Period is struggling, as we listen in, to emerge from the composer’s pen.
  • Right before we return to the opening material in the first movement, the strings become as quiet as they have ever been and the horn barges in with an “accidental” statement of the first theme. Publishers and conductors at first thought it was a mistake in the parts, but the sketches for the piece included that little gag from the very beginning.
  • For the first time, the dance movement (the minuet in earlier symphonies, the scherzo by this work) has taken on a scope and weight equal to the rest of the piece.
  • The da capo or repeat of the scherzo movement is completely written out (a major use of ink in his day) so that he could insert just a few measures of duple meter in one spot–definitely a curious and charming moment.
  • The theme upon which the finale is based is one of those Prometheus melodies, but it also shows up in a set of piano variations and in a contredanse.  Overall, the finale has a definite feeling of dance to it.
  • The finale combines the idea of a set of variations and the sonata form concept.

Beethoven big

Napoleon

What did you program the Choral Fantasy with the Eroica Symphony?

Pairing Beethoven works together has benefits. It puts us in a Beethoven frame of mind, which helps the musicians focus on the style.  And with the length of the “Eroica,” the “Choral Fantasy” fits so well into a concert program. It is also nice to pair a lesser-known work with the familiar “Eroica.”

Who will perform the choral part in the Choral Fantasy? And what should we listen for in the work?

We are extremely excited to be joining with the Madison Symphony Chorus (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) for this endeavor.  It will be one of our first times working with a chorus, and we are all looking forward to the chance to collaborate with this first-rate ensemble.

The piece is an unusual one: it begins with a large piano solo section followed by a section that trades back and forth between the soloist and the orchestra.

It ends with the piano, orchestra and chorus joining together for a rousing finish that foreshadows the last movement (“Ode to Joy”) of the Ninth Symphony.

The piece was premiered on Dec. 22, 1808 (with the composer at the keyboard) at a concert that also included the Fifth and Sixth (“Pastoral”)  Symphonies. Listen for the improvisatory quality of the opening piano solo and for the text, written by Christoph Kuffner, which extols music and its great powers. (NOTE: In a YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear it performed live at the BBC Proms by Norwegian pianist and conductor Leif Ove Andsnes with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the BBC Singers.) 

Madison Symphony Chorus women CR Greg Anderson

Thomas Kasdorf, a talented Middleton native and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, is the piano soloist in the Choral Fantasy. He has done a number of concertos by other composers such as Edvard Grieg, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky with you. Will he become a regular with the MCO? Might you do a cycle of Beethoven piano concertos with him?

We always enjoy having Mr. Kasdorf as our soloist. He is an excellent musician and he is what I might call a low-maintenance soloist–working with him is effortless. I sincerely hope to continue our collaborations, but I hesitate to speculate on any future repertoire. But the Fourth Piano Concerto of Beethoven is a favorite of mine, so Thomas and I may have to chat.

thomas kasdorf 2:jpg

Is there anything else you would like to say?

It is such an honor to work with these marvelous people in the Middleton Community Orchestra.  This is our sixth season and we continue to enjoy spending our Wednesday evenings making music together.

 


Classical music: Here is Holiday Gift Guide No. 5 — the Best Classical CDs of 2015 as chosen by critics for The New York Times.

December 12, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The holidays have started and the shopping days left are winding down.

And just in time, this past week, the critics for The New York Times have published their selections for the Best Classical music Recordings of 2015.

NY Times CD 2015

Here is a link to that listing:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/11/arts/music/best-classical-recordings-2015.html?_r=0

Of course, this is not the first such list or holiday gift guide that The Ear has posted.

On Black Friday, The New York Times published a classical music gift guide that The Ear linked to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/28/classical-music-its-small-business-saturday-here-are-classical-music-gift-suggestions-from-the-critics-for-the-new-york-times/

Then The Ear published similar lists by the BBC Music Magazine and the Telegraph newspaper:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/classical-music-here-are-the-best-classical-music-cds-of-2015-according-to-the-bbc-music-magazine-and-the-telegraph-newspaper/

And yesterday The Ear published the 2015 Grammy nominations, which also offered some outstanding suggestions:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/classical-music-the-new-grammy-nominations-can-serve-as-a-holiday-gift-guide/

You will notice that there are some duplications, such as the CD of Daniil Trifonov and Yannick Nézet-Séguin performing various themes and variations by Sergei Rachmaninoff – plus some by Trifonov himself — on a Deutsche Grammophon CD (below).

Such agreement is a good indication that the recording in question is truly outstanding and will appeal to many tastes. The Ear sure likes that particular recording.

trifonov rachmaninov

Same goes for tenor Jonas Kaufmann’s CD of arias by Puccini, which you can sample through the famous “Nessun dorma” from “Turandot” in a YouTube video at the bottom. What a big, beautiful voice! And he seems as home in Puccini as in Wagner!

jonas kauffmann puccini

You will also notice that each year seems to see an increasing role for new music. Whether that means the new music is getting better or the critics have just altered their priority remains to be seen.

Whatever is the case: Happy Buying! Happy Receiving! Happy Listening!

And be sure to leave your own suggestions from your own listening experience in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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