The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra and solo flutist Iva Ugrcic turn in polished performances of a fun program to kick off the new season

October 12, 2018
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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 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. He also took the performance photo.

By John W. Barker

The opening concert on Wednesday night by the largely amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below top), under the baton of Steve Kurr (below bottom), was a relatively brief but pithy one, with only three short works on the program.

The opener was Autumn, the most frequently played section of the ballet The Seasons, Op. 67 (1899), by Alexander Glazunov (below) and one of the composer’s most frequently heard pieces. It is a rondo-like sequence of varied dance movements, full of lyricism and bright colors. The Middleton players dug into it with gusto.

Second came the Flute Concerto in D Major, Op. 283, by the prolific 19th-century German composer Carl Reinecke (1824-1910, below). He was conservative as a teacher and as a prolific composer.

Among his concertos, this one was his last, written just two years before his death. It is an engaging work, not notable for great ideas, but amiable, with a good virtuosic workout for the soloist.

The soloist was the Serbian-born flutist Iva Ugrcic, an absolute whiz of a player, and, among other things, a product of the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music doctoral program.  She played with super-precision and confidence, giving her instrument great personality.

Without intermission, the concert ended with the Symphony No. 100, known as the “Military,” by Franz Joseph Haydn (below). It was first played in 1794 among the composer’s “London” Symphonies during his second visit to England. But it may well have been begun while he was in Vienna, for it reflects a particular fad popular there.

This was the use in orchestral writing of an adaptation of the sounds of the Turkish Janissary band. In the second movement, whose tune was taken from an earlier chamber work of his, Haydn introduced recurrently the “Turkish” instruments (two clarinets, triangle, cymbals, bass drums) with startling effect.

At the movement’s end, a trumpet call brings these novelties back for a crashing conclusion. And then, in the fourth movement’s ending, the “Janissary” instruments return for another razzle-dazzle finish. (You can hear the fourth movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

It’s all great fun, and the orchestra players seemed to find their own enjoyment in it.

The MCO continues its steady growth as a polished and reliable ensemble — all 98 players!


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Classical music: In “Clara,” Fresco Opera Theatre traces the love triangle between Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms.

March 28, 2016
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at Fresco Opera Theatre have sent the following information about the three performances of its intriguing and original production this coming weekend, April 1-3, in Promenade Hall at the Overture Center Promenade Hall.

Here it is:

One woman. Two men. A musical love affair. The story of the Schumanns and Brahms.

“Clara” is about the life of Clara Schumann, and centers around her skills as a performer, composer and most importantly her relationship with husband Robert Schumann and close friend Johannes Brahms.

poster04

It’s a 200-year-old “secret.” Schumann was the love of Clara’s life. Clara was the love of Brahms’ life. The music was their passion. Letters were burned in an attempt to erase history, but the historian will uncover the truth of this age-old love affair. 

Fresco Opera Theatre has created an original production celebrating the life of Clara Wieck Schumann (below). Adapted from Boman Desai’s critically acclaimed novel, “Trio,” Fresco Opera will use the music of Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms to tell the story of the lives of these three great composers. 

schumannclara

Admission is $30, and no children under 6 will be admitted. Performances are in Promenade Hall on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m.; and on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m.

For more information about the company, you can visit: www.FrescoOperaTheatre.com

What is really exciting is the opportunity to perform works not often heard on the concert stage. Lieder or art songs by Clara and Robert Schumann (both below), as well as vocal works by Brahms, including the Alto Rhapsody, will be featured.

Schumann_Robert_and_Wieck_Clara

We will have solo piano and voice for this performance, to match the pieces we have chosen. It was important to us to employ a female pianist given the story of Clara, so we are fortunate to have Erin Crabb, one of the best pianists in the area, to accompany our singers.

Repertoire includes: “Liebeszauber,” “Lorelei,” “Am Strande,” “Liebst du um Schonheit” and “Der Wanderer” by Clara Schumann; “Ich bin dein Baum,” “Erste Begegnung,” “Tanzlied,” “Widmung” and “Du ring an meinem finger” by Robert Schumann; and Alto Rhapsody, “Dein blaues auge,” “Die Mainacht” and “Neckereien Quartet” by Brahms (below).

(In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Jessye Norman sing the Alto Rhapsody by Brahms in its full orchestral and choral version.)

brahms3

There are many more pieces by all three composers, which have been left out here for the sake of brevity. This will all be performed live, and was researched and arranged by director Melanie Cain.

We teamed up with Chicago author Boman Desai (below), and adapted his novel “Trio”to create this operetta on the life of the Schumanns and Brahms. “Trio” is highly regarded and provides a reference for those looking for the story behind these three composers.

http://www.amazon.com/Trio-Novel-Biography-Schumanns-Brahms/dp/1504915909

Desai will conduct a pre-show talk one hour before each performance of “Clara.”

Boman Desai

Plus, since the Madison Symphony will be performing the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist Garrick Ohlsson that same weekend, we are offering a 20 percent discount to anyone who has a ticket stub from that performance. It will certainly be a Brahms weekend at the Overture Center!

Here is the link to the Overture Center’s page about “Clara” where you can find more information and purchase tickets:

http://www.overturecenter.org/events/clara


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