The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players excel in piano trios by Rachmaninoff, Ives and Mendelssohn

April 3, 2017
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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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

The Mosaic Chamber Players closed their season on Saturday night at the First Unitarian Society of Madison with a program of three trios for piano and strings.

Rather than bypassing the fact that the date was April 1, the three players—violinist Wes Luke (below top), cellist Kyle Price (below middle), and pianist-director Jess Salek (below bottom) — embraced it as a chance for an “April Fool’s” offering, in the form of the trio composed by Charles Ives.

This is a prime example of the patriotic nose thumbing and iconoclasm in which Ives (below) delighted.

As Luke pointed out in his enthusiastic introduction, the second of its three movements is a Presto bearing the title of “TSIAJ,” an anagram for “This Scherzo Is a Joke.” (You can hear the Scherzo movement, played by the Beaux Arts Trio, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The three players dug into it with gusto and almost made its complexities and deliberate off-putting sound plausible—but, fortunately, not quite.

The first half of the program was devoted to the “Elegaic” Trio in D Minor, Op. 9, by Sergei Rachmaninoff. This work was modeled self-consciously on Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, Op. 50. Each was written in memory of an admired elder colleague.

Rachmaninoff (below) was well aware of the footsteps in which he was walking—and which he could not quite fill. Cast in three movements with a lot of variations on themes, Rachmaninoff’s Trio runs to almost an hour, and sometimes suggests that the composer’s ambition outran his ideas.

As a pianist himself, Rachmaninoff made the keyboard part very much the dominant one, especially in its latter parts, with the two string players often just along for the ride. Nevertheless, it is an impressive work, and the three Mosaic musicians were quite heroic in allowing us a chance to hear it.

The program concluded with the better known of Felix Mendelssohn’s two trios, the first one in D minor, Op. 49. This is intensely serious yet beautifully melodious music, and proved just the thing to restore a sense of stability and balance.

In all of these works, the three players gave performances that would be rated as first-class anywhere. In that, they upheld the tradition that Jess Salek has created with his colleagues of making Mosaic concerts outstanding events in Madison’s chamber music life.


Classical music: University Opera’s “Turn of the Screw” is a completely satisfying production of a complex modern masterpiece by Benjamin Britten

March 5, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Opera Guy filed this review, with photos by Michael R. Anderson, for The Ear:

By Larry Wells

I attended the opening performance of Benjamin Britten’s 1954 chamber opera “The Turn of the Screw” that was presented by University Opera and directed by David Ronis.

It was a completely satisfying theatrical experience of a complexly organized musical work.

The libretto is based on Henry James’ serial novella of the same name. Whereas the James work is an ambiguous, psychological tale, Britten’s opera is an eerie ghost story laden with suggestions of psychosexual mischief.

Musically the opera is based on a 12-tone theme with each of its scenes preceded by a variation of the theme. There are further structural complexities in this highly organized work, but the music is very accessible and was admirably performed by 13 musicians ably led by conductor Kyle Knox. Particular praise goes to the percussionist Garrett Mendlow.

The beautiful, minimalistic set and stunning lighting enhanced the creepiness of the tale.

As for the singing, the cast tackled the complex vocal lines with aplomb, and there were several exceptional performances.

Particular praise goes to Anna Polum for her outstanding portrayal of the ghostly Miss Jessell. She sang beautifully and acted convincingly. (Below, from left, are Katie Anderson as the Governess and Anna Polum as Miss Jessell.)

Dress Rehearsal for "Turn of the Screw"

Dress Rehearsal for “Turn of the Screw”

Likewise Emily Vandenberg as Flora was realistic in the role of a young girl. I have seen performances of this opera that were brought down by unconvincing portrayals of this difficult child role, but Vandenberg acted naturally and sang beautifully.

The other child role, Miles, was capably performed by Simon Johnson, a middle school student. Cayla Rosché adeptly performed Mrs. Grose, the enigmatic housekeeper. (Below are Amitabha Shatdal  as Miles, Cayla Rosché  as Mrs. Grose and Elisheva Pront as Flora.)

Dress Rehearsal for "Turn of the Screw"

Dress Rehearsal for “Turn of the Screw”

The two major roles are The Governess and the spectral Peter Quint. Erin Bryan was convincing as the increasingly confused and hysteric governess, and she played off Rosché’s Mrs. Grose to great effect. At one point I was thinking that these were two extremely flighty women. (Below, from left, are Cayla Rosché  as Mrs. Grose; Elisheva Pront as Flora; Katie Anderson as the Governess; and Amitabha Shatdal as Miles.)

Dress Rehearsal for "Turn of the Screw"

Dress Rehearsal for “Turn of the Screw”

Alec Brown (below) as Quint had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of singers like Peter Pears who made Quint an evil, threatening, nasty fellow. Brown’s Quint came off as slightly laid back, and his perfectly fine tenor voice was just not a Britten voice in the style of Pears, Philip Langridge or Ian Bostridge.

Dress Rehearsal for "Turn of the Screw"

Dress Rehearsal for “Turn of the Screw”

I had a couple of minor problems with the evening. First, I did not understand why the doors to Music Hall didn’t open until 7:20 for a 7:30 performance, which then actually started at 7:45. And, I was disappointed that the piano, which is a major contributor to the music’s sonority, was swapped for an electronic keyboard.

Yet I left feeling once again that Britten was a true musical genius of the 20th century and that I was eager to go to the 3 p.m. performance this afternoon to experience it all over again.

“The Turn of the Screw” will also be performed one last time on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

For more information about the opera, including how to buy tickets — admission is $25 with $20 for seniors and $10 for students, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2017/01/31/university-opera-presents-benjamin-brittens-the-turn-of-the-screw/


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
1 Comment

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.

 


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