The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Performances by this year’s seven Handel Aria Competition finalists are now on YouTube

July 6, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Even if they change your opinion about who should have won what prize in this year’s fifth annual Handel Aria Competition, it’s too late.

That’s the thing about a competition: No second-guessing and no second chances — at least not this year.

But it’s not too late to enjoy the competition all over again

This past week, 14 performances by all seven finalists, who did two each, were posted on YouTube.

Here is the official announcement:

“The Handel Aria Competition is pleased to announce that first prize in the 5th annual competition, held on June 9 in Madison, Wisconsin, went to mezzo-soprano Nian Wang. Wang performed two fiery Handel arias, “Where Shall I Fly?” from Hercules and “Crude furie degl’ orridi abissi” from Serse (Xerxes).

Wang (below in a photo by Mary Gordon) is a New York-based mezzo-soprano originally from Nanjing, China. She graduated from the opera program at the Curtis Institute of Music, and in 2014 was selected as a San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow.

“Along with Wang, tenor Gene Stenger (below left, in a photo by David Peterson) won second prize and the audience favorite award, while mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski (below right) took third prize in the competition.

“Seven finalists (below), selected from a field of more than 100 singers, each sang two arias accompanied by the Madison Bach Musicians under the direction of Trevor Stephenson.

Finalists in the 2017 Handel Aria Competition are pictured below (top to bottom, left to right): Gene Stenger, Clara Osowski, Nicole Heinen, Brian Giebler, Nian Wang, Andrew Rader and Johanna Bronk.

UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe, Craig Trompeter and Alessandra Visconti served as the professional judges for this year’s competition.

Every finalist received some votes for the hotly contested audience favorite prize.

The Handel Aria Competition was established in 2013 to encourage emerging singers to explore the operas and oratorios of George Frideric Handel. It is held annually in Mills Hall of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music.

The competition, founded by Carol “Orange” and Dean Schroeder (below), was inspired by Mr. Schroeder’s passion for Handel’s operatic works.

Please note:  The arias by all seven finalists can now be seen on our YouTube channel. (As an example, winner Nina Wang‘s two arias are at the bottom.)

Bios of the winners and the other four finalists are on our web site.”


Classical music: Here are the winners of the fifth annual Handel Aria Competition

June 17, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This posting should have appeared earlier, but The Ear regrets that other news, reviews and previews preempted it and apologizes for the tardiness.

In any case, in case you haven’t already heard, the fifth annual Handel Aria Competition took place a week ago Friday night, and was well attended.

The seven finalists were chosen from an international field of 107 applicants. For the third year in a row, they were accompanied by harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson, who conducted the Madison Bach Musicians.

In five years, the competition has certainly blossomed into a respected global event, and it shows all the signs of continuing to grow. The Ear is unaware of other competitions devoted to the prolific vocal music of George Frideric Handel, who is so often overshadowed by his Baroque contemporary Johann Sebastian Bach.

First prize went to mezzo-soprano Nian Wang (below center in the photo by David Peterson) from Nanjing, China; second prize and audience favorite to tenor Gene Stenger (below left) from New Haven, Connecticut; and third prize to mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski (below right) from Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.

The competition judges for this year were Paul Rowe, Craig Trompeter and Alessandra Visconti.

You can’t yet find an audio video clip of Wang’s performances on YouTube. But contestants from previous years are there, and no doubt soon there will be a YouTube video of Wang singing.

Here are more photos of Nian Wang performing and receiving the first prize flanked by other contestants and the founders of the competition, Orange and Dean Schroeder:

For more information about the winners, identities and biographies of the seven finalists (below), and the competition itself – including previous years and winners — go to:

https://handelariacompetition.com

and

https://handelariacompetition.com/2017-handelariacompetition-finalists/


Classical music: The fifth annual Handel Aria Competition is this Friday night – and the event has grown into a major event with broad cross-cultural appeal

June 7, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

In a short time, it has become one of the year’s MUST-HEAR local events for fans of Baroque music, fine singing, and the music of composer George Frideric Handel.

This Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, the fifth annual Handel Aria Competition will take place.

Handel Aria Competition tickets are $15 for general admission, and will be available at the door.

For the third year, the Madison Bach Musicians, led by the keyboardist founder and artistic director Trevor Stephenson, will accompany the seven finalists who were selected from over 100 applicants from China, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and 26 states including Hawaii.

Finalists in the 2017 Handel Aria Competition are pictured below (left to right): Gene Stenger, Clara Osowski, Nicole Heinen (who studied at the UW-Madison), Brian Giebler, Nian Wang, Andrew Rader and Johanna Bronk.

In addition to the professional judging for first, second and third prize, there will be a cash prize for Audience Favorite.

The Handel Aria Competition is an annual event held in Madison, Wisconsin to promote the performance of Handel’s extensive vocal repertoire.

Once connected to the Madison Early Music Festival in July, it has evolved into a separate event due to logistics and staffing.

Founders Dean and Orange Schroeder (below) are enthusiasts of George Frideric Handel’s music and lifelong supporters of the arts.

They write:

“In the spring of 2013, we started the Handel Aria Competition with no real experience, using only the Handel Singing Competition in London – the world’s only, at that time – as a model. We were inspired by the recent groundswell of interest in Handel’s operas and oratorios, most of which have been rarely performed for some 300 years!”

Since then, the competition has grown from 50 to 105 applicants and features orchestral accompaniment as well as large, enthusiastic and often partisan audiences.

You can follow the competition, with news and background stories on the Facebook page for the Handel Aria Competition at https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=handel%20aria%20competition

For more information, including extensive biographies of the finalists and the results of past competitions as well as advice about how to apply for the competition and how to support it, go to the website HandelAriaCompetition.com

Countertenor Eric Jurenas, winner of the 2016 competition, can be heard in the YouTube video below:


Classical music: Your warhorses are my masterpieces — and I want to hear them

June 3, 2017
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ALERT: This Sunday afternoon from 12:30 to 2 p.m., “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” will feature Madison keyboard artist Trevor Stephenson performing on a restored 1855 Boesendorfer grand piano. The program includes music by Chopin, Granados, Brahms, Wagner, Bartok, Debussy, Schoenberg and Satie.

You can attend it live for FREE in Brittingham Gallery No. 3 of the UW-Madison’s art museum. But you can also stream it live using the link on this web page:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/index.php?/events-calendar-demo/event/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-6-4-17/

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s that time of the year again when music groups announce their new seasons.

And it seems to The Ear that the word “warhorse” is again being tossed around a lot, especially by experienced listeners who use the term pejoratively or disapprovingly, in a snobby or condescending way, to describe great music that is performed frequently.

But more than a little irony or inaccuracy is involved.

For example, a some people have referred to the Symphony No. 1 by Johannes Brahms – scheduled next season by both the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra — as a warhorse.

Yet The Ear has heard that symphony performed live only once – perhaps because programmers wanted to avoid the warhorse label.

The same goes for the iconic Fifth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven, which will be performed next year by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below). It was a revolutionary work that changed the course of music history, and it is a great piece of engaging music. (You can hear the opening movement, with an arresting graphic representation, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here’s the irony: I have heard the Piano Quintet by Brahms, the Cello Quintet by Franz Schubert and the String Octet by Felix Mendelssohn – all great masterpieces — far more often than I have heard those “warhorse” symphonies by Brahms and Beethoven. Can it be that connoisseurs usually seem more reluctant to describe chamber music masterpieces as warhorses? (Below in the Pro Arte Quartet in a photo by Rick Langer.)

The Ear is reminded of a comment made by the great Russian-American musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky (below): “Bizet’s opera “Carmen” is not great because it is popular; it is popular because it is great.”

So yes, I don’t care what more sophisticated or experienced listeners say. I still find the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Peter Tchaikovsky to be a beautiful and thrilling work that rewards me each time I hear it. It never fails.

Add to the list the popular symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms, the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak, several piano concertos by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below), the Brandenburg Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, the “Jupiter” Symphony and Symphony No. 40 in G minor by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And one could go on and on.

They are all great masterpieces more than they are warhorses.

Plus, just because a piece of music is new or neglected doesn’t mean that it is good or that it merits a performance.

Otherwise, you could easily spend the rest of a life listening to second-rate and third-rate works out of curiosity and never feel the powerful emotional connection and deep intellectual insight that you get with a genuine masterpiece that rewards repeated hearings.

Of course, some warhorses do leave The Ear less than enthusiastic The “1812 Overture” comes immediately to mind. Boy, do the crowds like that potboiler — on the Fourth of July, of course, when it has a traditional place.

But often enough your warhorse is my masterpiece, and I want to hear it without being thought of as a philistine.

It might even be that playing more warhorses — not fewer — will attract some new audience members at a time when music groups face challenges in attendance and finances?

It may not be cool to say that, but it might be true, even allowing room for new and neglected works that deserve to be programmed for their merit — not their newness or their neglect.

So-called “warhorses” have usually survived a long time and received many performances because they are great music by great composers that speak meaningfully to a lot of listeners. They deserve praise, not insults or denigration, as well as a secure and unapologetic place in balanced programming.

Of course, it is a matter of personal taste.

So …

What do you think?

Are there favorite warhorses you like?

Are there warhorses you detest?

Leave word in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Local music critic John W. Barker will host a fundraiser this Wednesday night for the Fifth Handel Aria Competition

April 22, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following information to post:

John W. Barker (below right), local music critic for Isthmus and The Well-Tempered Ear and an arts supporter extraordinaire, will present “Handel and Other Friends,” a fundraiser for the Handel Aria Competition, at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1021 Spaight Street, on this Wednesday night, April 26, at 7:30 p.m.

Performers will include:

  • Madison Savoyards
  • Karlos Moser
  • Trevor Stephenson of the Madison Bach Musicians
  • Paul Rowe and Cheryl Bensman Rowe
  • Pro Arte Quartet
  • Mosaic Chamber Players
  • Claire Powling, Rebecca Buechel and Talia Engstrom from the U.W. Madison Opera Program singing Handel duets

A highlight of the evening will be the official announcement of the seven national finalists in the Fifth Annual Handel Aria Competition (below is contestant and winner soprano Chelsea Morris).

Tickets to the April 26 fundraiser are $25 general admission, and $40 for special donor seating. They are available in advance at Orange Tree Imports, 1721 Monroe Street, online at Brown Paper Tickets, and at the door.

We are delighted to have received over 100 applicants from Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and 26 states — including Hawaii — for this year’s competition. Please plan to join us on Friday, June 9 at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall in the Humanities Building, University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music for the Fifth Annual Handel Aria Competition.

The Madison Bach Musicians, under the direction of Trevor Stephenson, will again accompany the finalists. In addition to the professional judging for first, second and third prize, there will be a cash prize for Audience Favorite. (In the YouTube video below is Christina Kay singing from Handel’s “Joshua” during the 2016 Handel Aria Competition.)

Tickets will be $15 each and go on sale in May.

For more information, or to make a contribution, please go to www.HandelAriaCompetition.com


Classical music education: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras’ Percussion Ensemble holds a benefit concert this Saturday afternoon for Ronald McDonald House Charities

March 22, 2017
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ALERT: Radio host Rich Samuels of WORT-FM 89.9, who recorded all of “Bach Around the Clock” this year, writes: “At 7:08 a.m. this Thursday morning, I’ll be airing Saturday’s “Bach Around the Clock” performance of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. This was a collaboration of Trevor Stephenson, Kangwon Kim. Nathan and Gillian Giglierano, Micah Behr, Marika Fischer Hoyt, Illana Schroeder, Martha Schroeder, Martha Vallon, Eric Miller and Mark Bridges.”

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has been asked by Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) to post something about a worthy cause and a worthy event:

Drum roll, please!

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) Percussion Ensemble (below) will host its 16th annual PERCUSSION EXTRAVAGANZA!! on this Saturday, March 25, at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall of the UW George L. Mosse Humanities Building. (A video sampler of profiles and music of WYSO’s 13th Annual Percussion Ensemble in 2014 can be heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for youth under 18, and are available at the door 45 minutes before the concert begins.

The WYSO Percussion Ensemble (below top) — 14 student musicians from 10 communities playing under Vicki Jenks (below bottom) — hosts this signature percussion benefit to help others.  Previous PERCUSSION EXTRAVAGANZAS! have benefitted Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin and the local American Red Cross.

This year—for the first time ever—Ronald McDonald House Charities will partner with WYSO in the collection of tangible items need for the Ronald McDonald House in Madison. The concert will also feature Ronald McDonald himself in person.

Nearly 60 performers—featuring Mannheim Steamroller drummer, Tom Sharpe (below) —will present eclectic, global music dedicated to PEACE. The theme of the event is “Lifting the World to Peace.”

Other EXTRAVAGANZA artists include Madison’s own Black Star Drum Line Percussion Group, led by Joey B. Banks; the UW-Madison Pan-Global Percussion Ensemble, Todd Hammes, instructor; and the WYSO Chamber Strings, led by its director Karl Lavine (below), principal cellist with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

For more information and details about the performers and the complete program as well as a video and a list of related activities and needed items you can bring and donate to the Ronald McDonald House Charities, go to:

http://www.wysomusic.org/events/concerts-recitals/percussionextravaganza/

Parking is available at State Street Campus, Helen C. White, and Grainger Hall parking facilities.

For more information, please contact the WYSO office at (608) 263-3320.

The WYSO Percussion Ensemble and PERCUSSION EXTRAVAGANZA! are supported by the Eric D. Batterman Memorial Fund, the Theodore W. Batterman Family Foundation, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


Classical music: A second photograph of Chopin has been discovered. Here it is along with how it was found and what it tells us

March 11, 2017
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

A conservative musician who admired and valued the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart above that of  Ludwig van Beethoven and his own contemporaries, Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) is one of the most popular and most played of all Romantic composers.

He remains a perennial favorite of audiences, students and concert artists. Witness the recent sold-out concerts featuring Chopin’s music by Trevor Stephenson at his home and by Adam Neiman at Farley’s House of Pianos. An amazingly high percentage of Chopin’s works remains in the active repertoire.

His was no belated posthumous fame, either. Chopin, the famous Polish pianist-composer who was exiled in Paris, was well-known and widely respected in his own lifetime by the public and by other famous composers and pianists such as Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann.

Yet despite many drawings and paintings of Chopin – often at odds in their depictions — until recently only one known photograph of Chopin existed: The familiar one taken by Louis-Auguste Bisson in Paris towards the end of Chopin’s life, just months before he died of tuberculosis at age 39 in 1849.

Now a second photograph — or daguerreotype, to be exact — has been discovered. It probably dates from 1847 or so.

Here is the new photographic portrait of Chopin:

Want to know some background?

Here is the story from Poland via The Washington Post and the Associated Press:

https://etsuri.com/articles/a-rare-unknown-photo-of-frederic-chopin-probably-found

Here are the two known photographs side by side for comparison:

http://www.businessinsider.com/only-2-known-photos-of-chopin

And here is a terrific blog analysis of the two photographs that also discusses his late music and what the photographs tell us about Chopin:

http://jackgibbons.blogspot.com/2010/03/chopins-photograph.html

The Ear wonders how long it will be before we start seeing the new photograph of Chopin on CD jackets and liner notes.

In any case, as an homage, here is Chopin’s last composition, the archetypically Polish form of the Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68, No. 4, played in a YouTube video by Vladimir Ashkenazy :


Classical music: The all-female Arbor Ensemble performs a concert of all-French chamber music this SATURDAY (NOT Friday) night

January 31, 2017
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CORRECTION: In a recent post, The Ear used a wrong date and time for the Chopin and Debussy house concert by pianist Trevor Stephenson. The correct time is SATURDAY, FEB. 25, at 7 p.m. For more information, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/classical-music-trevor-stephenson-is-offering-a-4-part-chopin-course-and-an-all-chopin-concert-on-feb-24-today-is-the-deadline-for-enrolling-in-the-course/

By Jacob Stockinger

The all-women chamber group Arbor Ensemble will perform a recital of all-French chamber music this weekend.

It will take place this SATURDAY (NOT Friday, as mistakenly reprinted form a faulty press release), Feb. 4, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, in Madison.

Admission is $10 general, and $5 for students and seniors.

The group will perform rarely heard chamber works by French composers, featuring Madison soprano Rachel Edie Warrick (below).

rachel-edie-warrick-2017

The program includes the Trio Sonata by Claude Debussy; Prelude, Recitative and Variations by Maurice Duruflé; “Où voulez-vous aller?” (Where do you want to go?) by Charles Gounod; “Une Flûte Invisible” (An Invisible Flute) by Camille Saint-Saëns; and Trio No. 2 in A minor by Cécile Chaminade (below).

You can hear the Chaminade Trio No. 2 in the YouTube video at the bottom.

cecile-chaminade

Founding members of the Arbor Ensemble are flutist Berlinda Lopez (below top), violist Marie Pauls (below middle) and pianist Stacy Fehr-Regehr (below bottom).

berlinda-lopez

marie-pauls-2017

stacy-fehr-regehr

The ensemble often performs programs by female composers.

For more information, go to Arbor Ensemble’s website at www.arborensemble.com.


Classical music: Trevor Stephenson is offering a 4-part Chopin course and an all-Chopin concert on Feb. 25 (NOT Feb. 24 as first announced an mistakenly printed here). TODAY is the deadline for enrolling in the course

January 27, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Trevor Stephenson (below), who founded and co-directs the Madison Bach Musicians, may be best known in the Madison area for his work with early music and Baroque music.

But Stephenson, who is known for his outstanding pre-concert lectures as well as for his performances, is also deeply involved in period instruments and historically informed performance practices concerning Romantic music.

trevor-stephenson-with-1855-bosendorfer-grand

He writes to The Ear: “In February, I’m offering a four-part course on  piano music by Frederic Chopin (below). This will meet on Thursday evenings 6-7:30 p.m. at my home studio. Information is below. Email me to enroll.

“Also, I’ll play an all-Chopin house concert on SATURDAY, FEB. 25 AT 7 P.M. — NOT Sunday, Feb. 26, at 3 p.m. as first and mistakenly printed here — which will be here at the home studio as well. Refreshments will be served. Reservations are required (trevor@trevorstephenson.com). Admission is $40.”

Chopinphoto

CHOPIN COURSE

DATES: February 2, 9, 16, 23

TIME: Thursdays 67:30 p.m.

PLACE: 5729 Forstyhia Place, Madison WI 53705

COST: Enrollment is $120

Reading knowledge of music is suggested.

Class size is limited to 15, and enrollment closes TODAY, Friday, Jan. 27.

Contact trevor@trevorstephenson.com

TOPICS:

Feb. 2: Waltzes, Preludes

Feb. 9: Nocturnes, Mazurkas

Feb. 16: Etudes, Polonaises

Feb. 23: Ballades, Scherzos

Instruments to be used are: an 18th-century Fortepiano (Sheppard after Stein)
 c. 1840; a Cottage Upright Piano (attr. C. Smart ) c. 1850; and English Parlor Piano (Collard & Collard) 
c. 1855; and a Viennese Concert Grand Piano (Bösendorfer) 

Subject matter will include: Origins of Chopin’s compositional style; tonal qualities of his pianos, early 19th-century temperaments; fingering; pedaling; articulation; touch; tempo; and tempo rubato.


Classical music education: Retiring UW-Madison and Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras maestro James Smith gets the monthly ‘Making a Difference’ award from NBC TV Channel 15

December 29, 2016
1 Comment

ALERT: In yesterday’s post about the upcoming house concert of keyboard music by Trevor Stephenson, The Ear listed the wrong date in the headline. It was corrected, but The Ear apologizes and feels a correction is still needed for those who missed it: The concert is on Friday, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m. For more information, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/28/classical-music-trevor-stephenson-will-use-a-variety-of-period-keyboard-instruments-to-perform-a-house-concert-of-music-by-baroque-classical-romantic-and-impressionistic-composers-on-jan-7/

By Jacob Stockinger

It comes as welcome and heart-warming news at a time when so much news is negative, accusatory and depressing.

Maestro James Smith (below, in a photo by Michael Anderson) — who has been conducting the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, the UW-Madison Chamber Orchestra and the University Opera as well as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras for 32 years — has received a fine piece of community recognition.

UW Chamber Orchestra, James Smith, conductor

Smith has just received the monthly “Making a Difference” award from NBC TV Channel 15, which also broadcast once again three times WYSO’s traditional concert “Sounds of the Season” on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

james smith Jack Burns

Here is the 3-1/2 minute video, which includes an interview with Smith as well as testimony from a former student who has gone on to have a professional career in music, about the NBC award:

http://www.nbc15.com/content/news/Maestro-making-a-difference–408450735.html

Such recognition is nothing new for Smith, who has won many honors as well as the esteem of his colleagues, his students and his audiences.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Six years ago, The Ear named Smith as ‘Musician of the Year’ for 2010:

Here is that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/classical-music-uw-and-wyso-conductor-james-smith-is-“musician-of-the-year”-for-2010/

WYSO 50th James Smith conducting

More recently, The Ear talked about Smith’s upcoming retirement and his post-retirement plans in a post about four major people who will retire this spring from the UW-Madison School of Music:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/19/classical-music-four-major-retirements-this-spring-will-put-the-uw-madison-school-of-music-in-a-staffing-bind-and-could-further-hurt-the-standing-of-the-uw-madison/

The Ear loves Smith’s reply when he was asked by anchor John Stofflet of NBC for advice to his successor:

“Learn from the students,” said Smith, a trained professional and concertizing clarinetist who turned to conducting.

The Ear, who was a longtime teacher himself, knows the truth of that answer.

Thank you and bravo, Maestro Smith.

Bravissimo!!


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