The Well-Tempered Ear

Music con Brio starts an annual Black Composers project with a FREE virtual concert

July 1, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from Carol Carlson, the co-founder and Executive Director of the Madison-based Music con Brio (below), who is a violinist and holds a doctorate in music from the UW-Madison:

Hello friends,

Happy summer! I hope you are able to enjoy some rest, relaxation and fun in the sun.

I am emailing you because Music con Brio embarked on an exciting new project this year, and I want to share it with you.

In an effort to diversify our repertoire and guest artists, we have launched our new “Music by Black Composers” project. Last winter, our staff chose four pieces of music by Black composers and made student-accessible arrangements of them. 

We then taught these new pieces during our online lessons this spring. On May 8, we gathered together outside at the Goodman Community Center, with four phenomenal local Black guest artists, to professionally record all four pieces.

And now, in lieu of our regular Community Concert Series this year, we are thrilled to present our first-ever Virtual Community Concert!

Click on the link to YouTube video at the bottom to watch and hear the 12-minute performance. Once there, click on Show More to see the composers, pieces and performers.

We are incredibly proud of our students and staff for all their hard work making this so successful. I’m sure you will enjoy their performance!

Please do feel free to pass the video along to anyone else you think might be interested in watching it.

And if you feel so inclined, we would really appreciate a donation in support of this work, which we plan to do every year from now on. To support Music con Brio and our Black Composers project by making a secure, tax-deductible donation, go to: https://www.musicconbrio.org/donate/ 

Thank you so much for your support! We hope to see you at a live concert again sometime soon!

If you wish to know more about Music con Brio, go to: https://www.musicconbrio.org


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Wisconsin Ensemble Project’s string quartet program to benefit the United Way of Dane County debuts online this Friday night

May 11, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night, May 14, the Wisconsin Ensemble Project will present a recorded concert (below, in an image by Katrin Talbot) in partnership with United Way of Dane County (UWDC). 

This is their second in a series of performances to benefit local and international organizations.  

This production offers viewers a meaningful program that leads to direct impact with a focus on housing stability and family well-being.  You will hear the story and see the face of UWDC woven throughout a chamber music performance. 

The program of works for string quartet includes “Park”  by Daniel Bernard Roumain (below top); the “Heiliger Dankgesang” (Sacred Hymn of Thanksgiving, which you can hear played by the Alban Berg Quartet in the YouTube video at the bottom) from Beethoven’s Opus 132; and selections from Five Folksongs in Counterpoint by Florence Price (below bottom).

WE Project members and performers are local, professional musicians who work together in the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra: violinists Leanne League and Mary Theodore; violist Jen Paulson; and cellist Karl Lavine.

“The WE Project is rooted in the quartet’s desire not only to delve deeply into chamber music repertoire, but also to address some of the many pressing social justice issues of our time,” says member Mary Theodore.

When exploring organizations to partner with for their second project, the quartet was inspired by the work of United Way of Dane County. The WE Project approached United Way out of their concern over housing security, with the understanding that one of UWDC’s key goals is to help more individuals and families find pathways out of poverty through housing and employment initiatives.

The recorded production will be available by registering at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/wisconsin-ensemble-project-spring-benefit-concert-registration-151923670789 from 6 p.m. this Friday, May 14, for 72 hours. Admission is free and contributions are strongly encouraged.

Contributions can be made through the website and will help to cover basic production costs and get funds directly into the hands of this very worthy organization which, most importantly, brings aid to the people they serve.


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Longtime friends organist Greg Zelek and Madison native and award-winning trumpeter Ansel Norris team up for a FREE live-streamed concert this Tuesday night

April 26, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Two longtime friends and fellow musicians will team up this Tuesday night, April 27, to close this season’s organ concert series, sponsored in the Overture Center by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

It will be live-streamed online because of the pandemic restrictions on attendance.

The concert features the critically acclaimed MSO organist Greg Zelek (below left) and Ansel Norris (below right), an award-winning trumpeter who is a native of Madison.

The program includes works by Bach, Vivaldi, Haydn and Samuel Barber among others.

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. CDT. It is FREE but you must register. The concert will be available to registered listeners for unlimited access through May 31.

Here is a link to the MSO website where you can register. It also has more information about the program and biographies of the two performers: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/norris-zelek-2021-streamed/

Here is more background. It appeared in the latest issue of the email newsletter of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), of which Norris was a member for many years:

Ansel Norris and Greg Zelek first met in 2010 as high school seniors who had both been selected as finalists in the YoungARTS Awards. The YoungARTS Award is a big competition with just a small percentage of students selected for the $10,000 prize from the thousands of high school applicants. In classical music that year, 12 students became finalists and assembled in Miami for a week of master classes with internationally recognized arts leaders.

Ansel Norris attended as an outstanding trumpeter from Madison East High School and Greg Zelek attended as an outstanding high school organist from the New World School of the Arts in Coral Gables, Florida. 

We hit it off right away and it came to me later what a great story this was,” Norris (below) mused. “Greg had grown up in south Florida and now was living in Madison, and I had grown up in Madison and was now living in south Florida.

“You know, there really is a synergy with trumpet and organ. The sounds are produced in a similar way and the way the sounds blend together is really special. Even then, I imagined a concert together.” 

Ten years later, the two friends were dreaming up this concert when Greg was in Miami in February, 2020. And then the world shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Norris has distinguished himself as a solo, orchestral and chamber musician.

After graduating from East High School in Madison, he attended Northwestern University, from which he received a Bachelor’s degree in Music in 2016.  From there he attended Rice University in 2019. Twice he was the first-prize winner at the National Trumpet Competition and a winner of the New World Symphony’s Concerto Competition. Then, at 26 years old, he became the first-ever American prizewinner in the International Tchaikovsky Competition’s Brass division. (You can hear Norris perform in the competition’s semi-finals in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Playing as soloist with orchestras is a special pleasure for Ansel, and he has enjoyed performances in front of the Mariinsky Orchestra, New World Symphony and his hometown Madison Symphony Orchestra, to name a few. Also a chamber musician, Ansel won a Bronze Medal at the Fischoff International Competition with his friends from the Lincoln Chamber Brass.

Ansel Norris currently resides in Naples, Florida, where he enjoys an eclectic musical career with the Naples Philharmonic. In a place without cold weather, the Naples orchestra could potentially play music safely outside all winter. But Ansel shook his head, “For the most part we’ve been indoors. The orchestra gets tested for COVID each week and we play on a stage with musicians spaced 10 feet apart. HEPA filters are positioned everywhere. Playing 10 feet apart is just crazy. You absolutely cannot depend on the musical cues you were trained to depend on.”

Norris remembers growing up in Madison where there was a “fine legacy for trumpet players. It was so great I didn’t want to go away to Interlochen, even with a full scholarship.” He studied privately with John Aley and attended WYSO rehearsals on Saturdays, which he absolutely loved. 

And now this Tuesday, this 2009 Bolz Young Artist Competition finalist will be returning to the Overture stage with his good friend Greg Zelek, who are both amazing and accomplished young musicians.

As Greg Zelek (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) writes: “Concerti of Bach and Haydn will bookend this program filled with music that is both written and arranged for this electrifying pairing of instruments. Mr. Norris’ remarkable technique and soaring lyricism will be on full display while our Mighty Klais both supports and shimmers in this exhilarating performance you won’t want to miss!” Register here for Tuesday’s concert! 


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Pianist John O’Conor plays the sublimely beautiful Impromptu in G-Flat Major by Franz Schubert

March 4, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear loves Franz Schubert, who wrote supremely beautiful music. And one of his most sublime pieces comes from his first set of Impromptus for solo piano, the one in G-Flat Major, D. 899, No. 3.

This beautiful music was superbly performed here in 2018 by the Irish pianist John O’Conor (below), who specializes in the composers of the Classical era — especially Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart. He also has revived the music of the Irish Romantic composer John Field and appeared in Madison with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Here is the introduction from the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos, which booked, hosted and recorded the live solo recital performance (below) on May 12, 2018.

“During these uncertain times, we appreciate remembering time spent together enjoying music.

“Please take a break from your day to see and hear John O’Conor perform Franz  Schubert’s Impromptu in G-flat, D. 899, No. 3, in the YouTube video at the bottom that was recorded live at Farley’s House of Pianos as part of the Salon Piano Series on May 12, 2018.

“To see how the 1908 Chickering concert grand played by John O’Conor was restored, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5RJWeve6R8

“Over the years, you have supported Salon Piano Series with your attendance, individual sponsorships and donations (you can link to https://salonpianoseries.org/donate).

“We look forward to bringing you world-class musical performances in our unique salon setting again soon.

Sincerely,

Salon Piano Series

 


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Four local classical musicians perform Black women composers in a virtual holiday concert to benefit the health of Black women

December 23, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Ensemble (WE) Project, a quartet of local classical musicians, has announced that it will host a holiday concert to support Dane County-based non-profit, the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness (FFBWW, below).

The concert will be the first in a series of performances to benefit local and international organizations working for social justice and human interest. 

This unique effort is rooted in the quartet’s desire to not only delve deeply into chamber music repertoire, but also to address some of the many pressing social justice issues of our time. 

This recorded, virtual YouTube concert will be available at https://wisconsinensembleproject.com from 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 25, through 6 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 3. — times are CST — where contributions will be accepted via PayPal.

Viewers will hear the story and see the face of the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness woven through quality chamber music by Black women composers performed by WE Project artists violinists Leanne League and Mary Theodore (below ends, in a photo by Katrin Talbot); violist Christopher Dozoryst (second from right); and cellist Karl Lavine. The four play together in the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Pieces they will perform include Strum (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom) and Voodoo Dolls by Jessie Montgomery (below top, in a photo by Jiyang Chen); Modes by Dorothy Rudd Moore (below center); and String Quartet in G Major by Florence Price (below bottom).

“This production offers viewers a meaningful program which leads to direct impact,” says WE Project member Mary Theodore who has been working with Foundation staff to coordinate the benefit over the last few weeks.

”We felt strongly about the work of the Foundation as we learned more about their mission to eliminate the startling health and economic disparities Black women face in our community,” adds Theodore. “When you donate and tune in to our concert, you will be helping to cover basic production costs and getting funds directly into the hands of this very worthy organization”. 

Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness CEO Lisa Peyton-Caire (below), who launched the Black women’s health advocacy organization in 2012, says the concert is a beautiful example of how community and organizations can partner to drive social change together. 

“We are elated that WE Project chose us as their first benefit recipient, and that our mission and work to transform Black women’s health in Wisconsin resonated with them,” said Peyton-Caire. “We know that ultimately it takes all of our effort to solve the inequities in our community, and this benefit concert is a beautiful example of the loving and creative ways we can join forces to do this.” 

To learn more about the concert, visit https://wisconsinensembleproject.com, where you can contribute via PayPal anytime beginning now through Jan. 3.

To listen to a recent morning coffee chat between members of the two organizations, go to: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=431169757916539&ref=watch_permalink. Click on individual profiles to hear them.

To learn more about The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, visit https://ffbww.org


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Salon Piano Series cancels the rest of this season but offers a free monthly video from past concerts

December 13, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from the Salon Piano Series that take place at Farley’s House of pianos:

Dear friends,

How we’ve missed seeing you, since last we were able to gather – in February, for pianist Shai Wosner (below, in a photo by Marco Borggreve) and his recital of heart-stopping Schubert, Scarlatti, Rzewski and Beethoven.

Since then, our pianos have sat silent, waiting for the day we can safely reopen and welcome you back.

For now, although it breaks our hearts, we do need to stay dark through the rest of the 2020-21 season, for everyone’s safety. Our highest priority is the well-being of our artists, audience and staff.

But rest assured that we are rescheduling all of our postponed performances:

Drew Petersen (below) (https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4275242) will perform next October.

Jazz great Bill Charlap (below) (https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4275248) will perform in June.

We are working to schedule Sara Daneshpour, violinist Rachel Barton Pine, Niklas Sivelov and John O’Conor over the next two seasons.

In the meantime, while we can’t gather in person, we’re pleased to announce the launch of a monthly video series featuring some of our past and upcoming artists.

December brings us the incomparable Shai Wosner  and in January, Adam Neiman (below).

During these uncertain times, we appreciate remembering time spent together enjoying music.

Please take a break from your day to see and hear Shai Wosner (below) performing Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in C Minor, K. 230, and Frederic Rzewski’s Nano Sonata No. 12.

The video was recorded live at Farley’s House of Pianos as part of the Salon Piano Series on Feb. 23, 2020.

Click here or at the bottom for the YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MCxr5ioV4o&feature=youtu.be

Last March, Shai Wosner released a 2-CD album (http://www.shaiwosner.com/recordings.html) of Schubert late piano sonatas. The album’s producer is nominated for a Grammy Award for the album.

Over the years, you have supported the intimate Salon Piano Series with your attendance, individual sponsorships and donations (https://salonpianoseries.org/donate).

We look forward to bringing you more world-class musical performances in our unique salon setting again soon.

In the meantime, these performances are a way to recapture the live concert experience, including commentary from artistic director Tim Farley, with videography by Tom Moss.

Those on our e-newsletter list, available at our website at https://salonpianoseries.org/contact.html, will receive a video link each month, and the videos are also available on our social media channels.

Stay safe, stay healthy and keep listening.

Sincerely,

The Salon Piano Series Board of Directors

 


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The UW-Madison’s Wingra Wind Quintet performs a FREE online virtual concert this Wednesday night. Plus, local music critic Greg Hettmansberger has died

December 8, 2020
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NEWS ALERT: Local music critic and blogger Greg Hettmansberger (below) was killed in a car accident on Dec. 2, near Wichita, Kansas. Hettmansberger, 65, was driving when he hit a deer and then another car hit him. His wife survived but remains hospitalized in Wichita in critical condition. Here is a link to a news account:  https://www.kake.com/story/42993718/man-dies-in-crash-caused-by-deer-in-pratt-county

By Jacob Stockinger

This Wednesday night, Dec. 9, the UW-Madison’s Wingra Wind Quintet (below, in 2017) will perform a FREE virtual online concert from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

Here is a direct link to the pre-recorded video premiere on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/e1NhVZJW2cA

Due to the pandemic, the Wingra Wind Quintet has been unable to perform chamber music in a traditional way since March 2020. (You can hear the quintet play “On, Wisconsin” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

In response, the quintet put together a program that allowed each member to record parts separately and have those parts edited together.

Current faculty members (below) are: Conor Nelson, flute; Lindsay Flowers, oboe; Alicia Lee, clarinet; Marc Vallon, bassoon; and Devin Cobleigh-Morrison, horn

The engineer/producer is Kris Saebo.

The program is: 

The first piece “Allegro scherzando” from Three Pieces by Walter Piston (below, 1894-1976)

The Chaconne from the First Suite in E-flat for Military Band by Gustav Holst (below, 1874-1934)

“Retracing” by Elliott Carter (below, 1908-2012)

Selections from “Mikrokosmos” by Bela Bartok (below, 1881-1945)

“A 6 letter letter” by Elliott Carter

Intermezzo from the First Suite in E-flat for Military Band by Gustav Holst

“Esprit rude/esprit doux” by Elliott Carter

Since its formation in 1965, the Wingra Wind Quintet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music has established a tradition of artistic and teaching excellence.

The ensemble has been featured in performance at national conferences such as MENC (Miami), MTNA (Kansas City), and the International Double Reed Society (Minneapolis). 

The quintet also presented an invitational concert on the prestigious Dame Myra Hess series at the Chicago Public Library, broadcast live on radio station WFMT.

In addition to its extensive home state touring, the quintet has been invited to perform at numerous college campuses, including the universities of Alaska-Fairbanks, Northwestern, Chicago, Nebraska, Western Michigan, Florida State, Cornell, the Interlochen Arts Academy, and the Paris Conservatoire, where quintet members offered master classes.

The Wingra Wind Quintet has recorded for Golden Crest, Spectrum, and the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music recording series and is featured on an educational video entitled Developing Woodwind Ensembles.

Always on the lookout for new music of merit, the Wingra has premiered new works of Hilmar Luckhardt, Vern Reynolds, Alec Wilder, Edith Boroff, James Christensen and David Ott. The group recently gave the Midwest regional premiere of William Bolcom’s “Five Fold Five,” a sextet for woodwind quintet and piano, with UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor (below).

New York Times critic Peter Davis, in reviewing the ensemble’s Carnegie Hall appearance, stated “The performances were consistently sophisticated, sensitive and thoroughly vital.”

The Wingra Wind Quintet is one of three faculty chamber ensembles in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music. 

Deeply committed to the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea, the group travels widely to offer its concerts and educational services to students and the public in all corners of the state. (Editor’s note: For more about the Wisconsin Idea, which seems more relevant today than ever, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisconsin_Idea.)

Portions of this recording were made at the Hamel Music Center, a venue of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

 


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The Madison Early Music Festival will again be virtual this summer

December 4, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

After much discussion, the 2021 Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) has  decided to create an online Festival again this summer.

Whenever  possible, the University of Wisconsin–Madison recommends that events and meetings continue to be held virtually.  This was a difficult decision, but at this time it doesn’t seem safe for our MEMF community to travel to the UW–Madison campus, stay in the dorm, meet in small classrooms, and teach, sing, dance and play instruments together. 

We are currently planning what we will offer, and announcements will be publicized in February 2021. (In the YouTube at the bottom is a sample of the video that the Orlando Consort created for last summer’s virtual festival.)

For the latest news regarding classes and campus operations at the UW–Madison, please visit the COVID-19 Response website

Although it has been a difficult nine months, performing artists are creating amazing projects and producing them for virtual audiences. This includes many of our MEMF artists and ensembles, and we are looking forward  to sharing their talents with you in the future! 


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Cellist Camille Thomas makes her Madison debut online from Paris for the Wisconsin Union Theater this Saturday night

November 6, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Union Theater’s fall virtual Concert Series performances will begin this Saturday night, Nov. 7, at 7:30 p.m. CST with a live online performance from Paris by the acclaimed cellist Camille Thomas (below).

The “Midnight in Paris” recital – performed in Paris and streamed — features music by Claude Debussy, Nadia Boulanger, Maurice Ravel and Frederic Chopin. The performance will be preceded by a live 30-40 minute online Q&A with Thomas and pianist Julien Brocal on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. CST.

Here are the specific works on the program, which will last about 75 minutes with no intermission:

Debussy, “Clair de Lune” (arr. Roelens)

Nadia Boulanger, “Three Pieces” for cello and piano

Ravel, Kaddish

Chopin, Cello Sonata in G Minor, Op. 65; and Introduction et Polonaise brillante, Op. 3 

Tickets for this online event are $10 for UW-Madison students, $18 for Wisconsin Union members, and $20 for all other patrons.

For more information about the Thomas’ performance – including a video and how to purchase tickets — visit union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/camille-thomas.

Thomas (below), a Franco-Belgian cellist, says she uses her music to bring people together from a range of cultures and backgrounds. Thomas released her second album, called “Voice of Hope,” with the exclusive Deutsche Grammophon this past June. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Thomas play a solo version from the album of Gluck’s “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from his opera “Orfeo ed Euridice.”)

Thomas plays the Feuermann Stradivarius cello (1730, below) — named for the famous 20th-century cellist Emanuel Feuermann who played it — with a bow by Eugene Sartory, who is regarded as one of the finest bow makers in history. Joining her for this performance will be pianist Julien Brocal.

“Camille Thomas’s extraordinary talent makes her one of the most captivating artists of our time, as evidenced by being the first cellist in several decades to be signed by the major record label Deutsche Grammophon,” says Wisconsin Union Theater director Elizabeth Snodgrass. “Her ‘Midnight in Paris’ program brings us closer to her roots and reflects the beauty and charm of her personality as well as her musicality.”

The Ear has listened to some of Thomas’ performances on YouTube and finds her tone, intonation and phrasing outstanding.

The performance by Camille Thomas is the start of the fall Concert Series events, which includes a concert with pianist Jeremy Denk (below, in a photo by Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times) on Friday, Dec. 11.

In its 101st year, the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Concert Series is one of the oldest uninterrupted series of its kind in the United States.

The Wisconsin Union Theater (WUT) has served as a cultural center for community members and visitors for more than 75 years. The WUD Performing Arts Committee plans many of the Theater’s events, including the Concert Series.

While usually held in-person and most often in Shannon Hall, the Wisconsin Union Theater team will hold this fall’s theater events in a virtual format for the health and safety of patrons, artists and team members in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The team aims for all of its spaces, including online ones, to be accessible. Those that need accommodations can reach out to the Wisconsin Union Theater team at wisconsinuniontheater@union.wisc.edu

The WUT team says it continues to evaluate what changes may need to occur related to the spring Concert Series events as well as other spring Theater season performances.

The Wisconsin Union Theater has made multiple commitments to take a stand against racial injustice, including being more than allies, being activists; using the arts to create social justice; remembering students are future leaders and must be part of the change; using its voice to influence leadership and being firm in its resolve; and making space, stepping back and learning how to give up undeserved or unnecessary power and privilege.

 


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University Opera’s original online video project celebrates the life and music of American composer Marc Blitzstein. It will be posted for FREE on YouTube this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m.

October 21, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This fall, University Opera presents its first project of 2020-21 in video format as it turns to the music of the American composer Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964).

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” will be released free of charge on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music’s YouTube channel this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m. CDT at the general site www.youtube.com/meadwitterschoolofmusic or the official specific link: https://youtu.be/77FXFZucrWc.

Director of University Opera David Ronis (below top) is the director of the original production and will give introductory remarks. UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom) is the musical director. The production lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes, and features four singer-actors, a narrator and a piano.

Marc Blitzstein’s life story parallels some of the most important cultural currents in American history of the mid-20th-century.

Known for his musicals — most notably The Cradle Will Rock in 1937 (you can hear Dawn Upshaw sing the lovely song “I Wish It So” from “Juno” in the YouTube video at the bottom) — his opera Regina and his translation of Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, Blitzstein was an outspoken proponent of socially engaged art. Like many artists of his time, he joined the American Communist Party. But he also enthusiastically served in the U.S. Army during World War II (below, in 1943).

Nevertheless, in 1958, long after he had given up his Communist Party membership, Blitzstein (below) was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where he “named no names.”

An extremely gifted yet underappreciated composer, he was a close friend of and mentor to Leonard Bernstein (below right, with Blitzstein on the left) and traveled in a close circle of American composers including David Diamond and Aaron Copland.

Although openly gay, he married Eva Goldbeck in 1933. Sadly, she died three years later from complications due to anorexia.

Blitzstein’s own death was likewise tragic. In 1964, while in Martinique working on an opera about the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, he was robbed and badly beaten by three Portuguese sailors whom he had picked up at a bar. He died the next day of internal injuries. 

Although throughout his life and afterwards, Blitzstein’s work was championed by Bernstein and others, many claim that neither the composer nor his stunning music and beautiful lyrics ever received the attention they deserved. So University Opera is proud to present this show celebrating his life and his works.

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” is a unique production put together by David Ronis. A biographical pastiche, it tells the story of Blitzstein’s life by recontextualizing 23 songs and ensembles from his shows, juxtaposing them with spoken excerpts from his working notes and letters, and tying it all together with a narration.

The result is a dramatic, evocative and enjoyable portrait of Blitzstein’s life and his art, according to Ronis.

“We’ve discovered a lot of “silver linings” while working on this production,” says Ronis. “We were disappointed at not being able to do a normal staged show. But working with video has had tremendous artistic and educational value.

“Our students are learning on-camera technique, not to mention how to work with a green screen (below, with soprano Sarah Brailey), which allows for post-production editing and digital manipulation of backgrounds. They’re also working with spoken text as well as sung pieces. Mostly, we’re just very grateful to have a creative project to sink our teeth into during the pandemic. 

“And the music of Blitzstein is so fantastic, we’re very happy to be able to share it with our audience. This project is like none other I’ve ever done and we’re thinking that it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Research on the project was completed at the Wisconsin Historical Society, where Blitzstein’s archives are housed. University Opera gratefully acknowledges the help of both Mary Huelsbeck of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Television Research, and the Kurt Weill Foundation for their assistance with this project.

The cast features five UW-Madison graduate students: Sarah Brailey, Kenneth Hoversten, Justin Kroll, Lindsey Meekhof (below) and Steffen Silvis.

The video design was done by Dave Alcorn with costumes by Hyewon Park.

Others on the production staff include Will Preston, rehearsal pianist; Elisheva Pront, research assistant and assistant director; Dylan Thoren, production stage manager; Alec Hansen, assistant stage manager; Teresa Sarkela, storyboard creator; and Greg Silver, technical director.

The video will be accessible for 23 hours starting at 8 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 23. Although there will be no admission price for access, donations will be gratefully accepted. A link for donations will be posted with the video. 

University Opera, a cultural service of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, email opera@music.wisc.edu or visit music.wisc.edu.

 


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