The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The UW’s fifth annual Schubertiade traced the composer’s entire career with lovely singing and beautiful playing

January 31, 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 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. Barker also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

The annual “Schubertiade” has become not only a firm tradition but also invariably one of the highlights of each season. And so it was again on last Sunday afternoon on-stage at the UW-Madison’s Mills Hall.

These programs have been organized, run and performed by that magnificent couple (below), Martha Fischer and Bill Lutes.

Each plays the piano and Martha also sings (below).

For this year’s fifth annual Schubertiade, the program was not just a replica of the musicales that Franz Schubert (1797-1828) and his friends would enjoy. It was instead an extra-long venture (running almost three hours) in chronological comprehensiveness, offering one or more selections from each successive year of the composer’s creative span (1812-28). It was funded this year, by the way, by the generous Ann Boyer.

The result was a mixture of 21 solo songs, three vocal ensembles, two chamber works and three pieces for four-hand piano duo—the last played, of course, by our founding couple.

There was one guest singer, mezzo-soprano Rachel Wood (below), a sensitive artist who teaches at UW-Whitewater, but whose vibrato was somewhat excessive. Otherwise, the performers were faculty members or students at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music, and all of them were simply wonderful.

Of the two instrumental ensemble pieces, one was an adaptation of Schubert’s Sonatina written for violin and piano but played in an adaptation for cello by Parry Karp (below).

The other was the superb Quartettsatz (Quartet Movement), played with mature power by the Hunt Quartet (below), made up of graduate students.

The three ensemble items were delightful novelties. The first was Schubert’s rewrite of a trio, Die Advokaten (below), in which two lawyers squeeze their fees out of a rich client.

Another was a charming soprano duet. The third was a vocal quartet with piano, Des Tages Weihe (Consecration of the Day), rich in ensemble beauty. (You can hear the piece on the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The songs were also a mix of very familiar and rarely heard, so many of them rich experiences. It is daunting to single out exceptional ones, for there was so much lovely singing and there were so many masterpieces. Personally, I found myself particularly moved by the absolutely gripping performance of Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel) by soprano Claire Powling (below).

And I really admired the beautiful singing of young soprano Talia Engstrom and veteran tenor Benjamin Liupiaogo. Beyond the solo performances, though, was an interesting expansion of the Erlkönig done by four singers cast in distinct “roles” in the text.

After the whole company took bows (below), there was the customary finale in the song An die Musik (To Music) in which the audience joined the singers.

Long may this wonderful Schubertian tribute that the founding couple has created continue!

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Classical music: Today is Sept. 11. What music would you listen to, to commemorate the terrorist attacks on that day

September 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The news today will be filled with Hurricane Irma, Hurricane José and Hurricane Harvey as well as the wildfires raging out west.

But today is also Sept. 11, 2017.

That makes today the 16th anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in the Twin Towers in New York City (below top); the Pentagon in Virginia, close to Washington, D.C. (below middle); and that thwarted hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93, which passengers forced to crash in a field in Pennsylvania (below bottom)  before it could reach the Capitol or White House.

During the September 11 attacks, 2,996 people were killed and more than 6,000 others wounded. These immediate deaths included 265 on the four planes (including the 19 terrorists), 2,606 in the World Trade Center and in the surrounding area, and 125 at the Pentagon.

A lot of music could be played to mark the occasion.

At bottom, in a YouTube video, is “On the Transmigration of Souls,” a piece by the American composer John Adams that was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic specifically to mark the event. It ended up winning a Pulitzer Prize.

It uses both an orchestra and a chorus, and it incorporates voices and sounds, actual recordings and tapes, from the events of that day. It all makes for a moving tribute.

But other music, in smaller forms and in many other styles,  would also be appropriate.

What piece would you suggest?


Classical music education: This Thursday morning, WORT-FM 89.9 will air a lengthy tribute to retiring UW-Madison and Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras conductor Jim Smith

May 16, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Rich Samuels hosts the radio show “Anything Goes” every Thursday morning on WORT-FM 89.9.

But Samuels is also a documenter extraordinaire of the local classical music scene. Chances are you have seen him operating his computer and microphones at a recent concert.

Most recently, he brought the revival of Bach Around the Clock to his listeners.

Now he has done it again.

Here is what he wrote to The Ear, who is grateful for his many efforts:

“I just finished editing a 52-minute tribute to Maestro James Smith (below, rehearsing at the UW-Madison) who conducts his final Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra concert this coming Sunday at the Overture Center in a joint appearance, called “Side by Side,” with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

“This segment will air this week at 7:08 a.m. on my Thursday WORT broadcast.

“Listeners will hear Maestro Smith (below, conducting WYSO students) prepare his young musicians for the Sunday event and hear him reflect on his 32 years on the WYSO podium.

“Also contributing to the segment are WYSO alumni violist Vicki Powell (now based in Berlin), violinist David Cao (a joint music and pre-med major at Northwestern University) and Beth Larson (of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Willy Street Chamber Players, to name a few of her many affiliations).”

Smith’s final WYSO concert is in Overture Hall of the Overture Center on Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. The concert is FREE and open to the public. No tickets are required and seating is general admission. Doors open at 3:45 p.m. (You can hear a short sample of a 2015 Side by Side in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The program includes music by Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov, Georges Bizet, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Niccolo Paganini, Ottorino Respighi and Dmitri Shostakovich.

For more information about the Side-by-Side concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and WYSO, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/side-by-side-1/


Classical music: A FREE CD and a dedicated concert are perfect memorial tributes for flutist Robin Fellows — or for any musician

March 24, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

There was so much to like about last Friday night’s concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below), including a fantastic performance of the sublimely beautiful Violin Concerto by the American composer Samuel Barber.

WCO lobby

The concerto, with its soaring melodies, poignant harmonies and spiky perpetual motion finale, was played superbly by Russian-born, London-based virtuoso Alexander Sitkovetsky (below), who received a masterful accompaniment from longtime music director and conductor Andrew Sewell and the WCO. (As an encore and change of pace, Sitkovetsky played the soulful Sarabande from the Partita No. 2 in D Minor for Solo Violin by Johann Sebastian Bach.)

Here are two very positive reviews, written by John W. Barker for Isthmus and Greg Hettmansbeger for Madison Magazine, with which The Ear agrees:

http://isthmus.com/music/dashing-brilliance-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra/

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/sewell-and-sitkovetsky-bring-out-the-best-of-a-couple-of-bs/

alexander-sitkovetsky

But The Ear notes this: Perhaps the most touching moment came off-stage.

As you may have heard, last October Robin Fellows died of cancer at 66. For 26 years, he had been the principal flutist of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He also played and taught at many other places.

If you went to the indoor classical Masterworks concerts by the WCO, you heard him.

And if you went to the popular summertime Concerts on the Square, you heard him.

So it was right and fitting, as they say, for the WCO to dedicate the concert to Fellows (below). Indeed, the program seemed perfect in its homage.

We heard a new principal flutist and heard lots of prominent flute playing in works by Irish composer Joan Trumble, Swedish composer Lars-Eric Larsson and especially the Symphony No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven.

robin fellows with flute

But the most stirring tribute happened off-stage.

That is because the family gave out a FREE memorial tribute CD of 20th-century flute music – with singers, bassoonists, clarinet, harp and piano — that was played by Fellows, recorded and released in 2002.

It includes music by Aaron Copland, Walter Piston, Albert Roussel, Ernst Toch, Daren Hagen (a UW-Madison alumnus) and Vincent Persichetti.

Out in the lobby of the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center was a table with not only the new season brochures for 2016-17, but also many stacks of FREE CDs. The audience was invited to take one by a current WCO flutist and oboist.

Robin Fellows CD table

And as you entered and left the theater, there was a large poster with a picture of Fellows and a paragraph about his life and accomplishments.

Robin Fellows poster

The Ear is still sampling all the pieces on the CD.

So far, it is both enjoyable and enlightening. The Ear would include a sample, but unfortunately he doesn’t see that any tracks have been uploaded to YouTube.

Still, one cannot imagine Fellows — or any musicians, for that matter — wishing for a better tribute.

The Ear says: Kudos to the Fellows family and to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra for providing such memorable memorials.


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