The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Broadcasts of operas from the Met and string quartets by the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet are featured on old media and new media this Saturday and Sunday. Plus, the 89th Edgewood college Christmas Concert is tonight and tomorrow afternoon.

December 2, 2016
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ALERT: Edgewood College will present its 89th Annual Christmas Concerts tonight at 7 p.m. and Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Now expanded to two performances, the holiday concert features the Edgewood College choirs and Concert Band, along with audience sing-alongs, prelude music by the Guitar Ensemble, and a post-concert reception featuring the Jazz Ensemble.

Tickets are $10, and seating is limited for this very popular annual event. Tickets should be purchased online in advance.

By Jacob Stockinger

Classical music meets old media and new media this weekend through opera and chamber music.

SATURDAY

This Saturday marks the beginning of the LIVE RADIO broadcasts of operas from the Metropolitan Opera (below) in New York City. This will be the 86th season for the radio broadcasts, which educated and entertained generations of opera lovers before there were DVDs, streaming and the “Live in HD From the Met” broadcasts to movie theaters.

Metropolitan Opera outdoors use Victor J. Blue NYT

Met from stage over pit

The performances will be carried locally on Wisconsin Public Radio, WERN-FM 88.7. This Saturday, the starting time for Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” with Russian superstar soprano Anna Netrebko (below, in a photo by Richard Termine for The New York Times), is 11:30 CST. Other operas will have different starting times, depending their length.

This season runs from Dec. 3-May 15.

Radio has certain strengths, The Ear thinks. For one, it allows the listeners to focus on the music, to be less distracted or less enriched – depending on your point of view – by sets, costumes, lighting, the physicality of the acting and other stagecraft that is left to the imagination.

This season, there will be lots of standard fare including: Verdi’s “La Traviata” and “Aida”; Puccini’s “La Boheme”; Bizet’s “Carmen”; Beethoven’s “Fidelio”; Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and “The Flying Dutchman”; Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” and “Salome”; and Mozart’s “Idomeneo.”

But you can also hear the new music and less frequently staged operas. They include the 2000 opera “L’amour de loin” (Love From Afar) by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, which will receive its Metropolitan Opera premiere next week, on Dec. 10.

Here is a link to the complete season along with links to information about the various productions. Starting times are Eastern Standard Time, so deduct an hour for Central Standard Time or a different amount for your time zone:

http://www.metopera.org/Season/Radio/Saturday-Matinee-Broadcasts/

met-manon-lescaut-anna-netrebko-cr-richard-termine-nyt

SUNDAY

On this Sunday afternoon, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), longtime artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will wrap up the first semester of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” which used to air weekly on Wisconsin Public Radio but now is presented once a month, on the first Sunday of the month, directly by the museum.

The program this Sunday features the “Italian Serenade” by Hugo Wolf; the String Quartet No. 3 in F Major by Dmitri Shostakovich; and the String Quartet in A-Flat Major, Op. 105, by Antonin Dvorak.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

The FREE concert takes place from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery No. 3 of the Chazen Museum of Art and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Donors to the museum can reserve seats. Concerts by the Pro Arte Quartet, kind of the house quartet of the museum, are usually “sold out.”

But the concert can also be streamed live via computer or smart phone by clicking on the arrow in the photo and using the portal on the following website:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/index.php?/events-calendar-demo/event/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-12-4-16/

sal-pro-arte-12-4-16

You might also want to arrive early or stay late to see the historic and rare First Folio edition (below) of the plays by William Shakespeare that is on display at the Chazen Museum through Dec. 11 to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard.

First Folio


Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players end the season with memorable performances of piano quintets by Faure and Brahms.

April 27, 2015
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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, who also provided performance photos. 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

For its final concert of the season, the Mosaic Chamber Players (below) gave a program Saturday night at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. It combined two of the great quintets for piano and strings: the second of that type, in C minor, Op. 115, by Gabriel Fauré (1847-1924); and the only one if its kind, in F minor, Op. 34, by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).

Mosaic Chamber Players  Quintets 1 JWB

So close together, one would think, and yet, so far apart. Contrasts result from distinct differences between the two composers in both nationality and personality — between Gallic eloquence and German burliness.

The work by Fauré (below) was completed in 1921, by which time Debussy was dead and Ravel, who was Faure’s student, was in his prime. It  is one of a half-dozen chamber pieces with which the composer rounded out his final years — almost, one might think, as an extension of his long output of piano writing.

Its expansive four-movement format is conventional in scope and with a range of expression. But its heart is a long and rapturous slow movement that flows with the unfolding elegance of one of Fauré’s piano nocturnes. (You can hear the slow movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

faure

By contrast, the quintet by Brahms (below) is one of the masterpieces of his early chamber-music writing. It dates from 1862, when Richard Wagner was between the composition of “Tristan und Isolde” and “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.”

Starting as some ideas for a symphony, it exists also in Brahms’s own adaptation of it as a sonata for two pianos. Its four movements are more conventionally conceived than Fauré’s, combining masterful Classical craftsmanship with powerful Romantic urgency.

brahms3

The performances involved five players from the group. The two violinists alternated in the first chair: Laura Burns for the Fauré, Wes Luke for the Brahms. Micah Behr and Michael Allen played viola and cello, respectively, while pianist Jess Salek (below) was the anchor as pianist, just as he is as the group’s guiding spirit.

Jess Salek JWB

These players have worked together before, but not as a consistent ensemble, although they suggested a close collegiality that more established groups might envy. They fully captured the moods, nuances and strengths of the two works.

If there were problems, it had to do with some balances, above all disadvantaging the viola. Some of the explanation could be in the choice of the cavernous Atrium Hall (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) as performing venue, rather then the more intimate Landmark auditorium, the original meeting house of the First Unitarian Society, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Atrium’s highly reverberant acoustics overwhelmed the players’ sound, and, at the same time, prompted over-exertions in volume output, to the detriment of carefully calculated ensemble.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

The size of the hall also pointed up the painfully small size of the audience. There are always weekend competitions for attention, especially in the spring. Still, the Mosaic group is only beginning to develop sufficient promotion and publicity for its activities. Potential audience members need to be made aware of what the group offers.

Mosaic Chamber Players bow at Quintets JWB

What it does offer is one of the high-quality sources of chamber music performance in Madison’s very rich spectrum of events in that category.

The next Mosaic season should win the wider attention it greatly deserves.


Classical music review: Madison Opera’s “Dead Man Walking” packs an emotional punch that will leave you changed. It is that good. The last performance is this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. Don’t miss it. Plus, here are links to other rave reviews.

April 27, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Utevsky. The young violist and conductor is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chamber  Orchestra.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra, which will perform its fourth season next summer. For more information, visit: http://www.madisonareayouthchamberorchestra.org  He has also been named the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra. The ensemble has a website here: www.disso.org.

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a guest review of this weekend’s production of Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking” by the Madison Opera at the Overture Center. The last performance is today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. Tickets are $18-$108.

I immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour two summers ago with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review by Mikko Utevsky (below):

Mikko Utevsky with baton

By Mikko Utevsky

“The Truth will set you free.”

Here, then, is The Truth:

There are no words for art like this. None suffices. The English language is inadequate when tasked with depicting an experience of the kind to which “Dead Man Walking” belongs.

Dead Man Walking Eugene Opera

I was speechless for a long time after the final curtain, even when I finally stopped crying openly — those who know me can appreciate how rarely I am at a loss for words. The nearly full house reacted similarly, with a prolonged stunned silence before the clapping started and then built into a standing ovation. Then the whole house rose to its feet in unison when Michael Mayes took the stage for a bow.

However, I promised a review, and so a review there shall be, insofar as words can express what must be said.

The opera — musical drama would be a more appropriate term – by composer Jake Heggie (below top) and librettist Terrence Nally (below bottom) is a masterwork on the scale of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme” or Richard Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde,” and in every respect deserves to stand by their side in the repertory.

If anything, the opera is more deeply human than anything in the canon I have yet seen or heard. The libretto is skillfully crafted, capturing every character in life-like depth. Its score is masterful, propulsive, colorful, and powerfully moving, with influences from Mozart, Wagner and George Gershwin apparent. Remarkably, for a composer’s first opera, it balances to the stage apparently without effort. 

Here are links to previous posts with interviews featuring composer Jake Heggie and librettist Terrence McNally:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/classical-music-qa-composer-jake-heggie-talks-about-how-writing-dead-man-walking-changed-his-professional-and-personal-life-and-left-a-mark-on-his-heart-with-the-issue-of-capi/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/classical-music-qa-dead-man-walking-is-dramatic-not-didactic-morally-complex-neither-issue-art-nor-a-lecture-opera-says-librettist-a/

Jake Heggie

Terrence McNally

Not a note is lost from either orchestra or cast, for which joint credit should also be given to Artistic Director and conductor John DeMain (below in a photo by Prasad) and the musicians of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, who fill the pit.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

The singing is world-class. Baritone Michael Mayes lives and breathes the role of death-row convicted murderer Joseph DeRocher, portraying his inner demons with true clarity and conviction. Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, singing the role of Sister Helen Prejean for the first time (not that anyone would know) balances faith, doubt, and forgiveness with poignancy and eloquence.

Dead Man Walking  2 Michael Mayes and Daniela Mack

Susanne Mentzer is heartbreaking as DeRocher’s loving mother, and Alan Dunbar is equally so, standing out from the excellent quartet of the victims’ parents (with Jamie Van Eyck, J. Adam Shelton, and Saira Frank). Baritone Erik Larson, appearing as the motorcycle cop who stops Sister Helen for speeding, is also memorable, providing one of the only moments of levity in an otherwise powerfully dark show, and Karen Slack (below top) as Sister Rose exhibits powerful vocal skills and a capacity for comfort and mercy. (The photo, below bottom, shows, from left, Daniela Mack, Susanne Mentzer, Michael Mayes, Saira Frank, Alan Dunbar, Adam Shelton and Jamie Van Eyck.)

Karen Slack 2

Dead Man Walking with  (from left) Daniela Mack, Susanne Mentzer, Michael Mayes, Saira Frank, Alan Dunbar, Adam Shelton and Jamie Van Eyck

The brilliant stage direction by Kristine McIntyre (below) brings the whole production to life against the starkly effective scenery from the Eugene Opera in Oregon. The costumes, lighting and sound design are simple and successful.

Kristine McIntyre color

It would take too long to list every singer in the cast deserving of recognition, or every technical and visual aspect worthy of acknowledgement. But there is not a single weak link, and the whole company shows a total commitment to their art, from the last member of the chorus up through the principals, the orchestra, the director, Maestro DeMain, and General Director Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), to whom eternal gratitude is due for having the courage and vision to bring this work to the Madison stage.

Kathryn Smith Fly Rail Vertical Madison Opera

This is opera. This is art. This is human expression at its most direct, at its most powerful, at its most deeply touching.

Go see “Dead Man Walking.”

You will come away changed.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Madison Opera production of “Dead Man Walking” production has received other rave reviews. For purposes of comparison, here are links to others:

Here is the review by John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42616&sid=f94c056bdd9b4be709a6a60deca6c020

John-Barker

Here is the review be Greg Hettmansberger (below) for Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/April-2014/Dead-Man-Walking-Conquers-Another-City/

greg hettmansberger mug

 

 

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Classical music: John W. Barker recounts his Excellent Adventure about Richard Wagner’s stays in Venice during the opera composer’s bicentennial celebration year.

November 14, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting, a commentary (with his own photos except for the Palazzo) 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 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

At the beginning of September, I had the honor of participating in a two-day conference in Venice, Italy, on that city’s image and traditions, on the strength of my two recent books on opera composer Richard Wagner’s connections with that city.  (Among other things, he died there.)

With a little time to myself, I undertook some quick re-visits to favorite sites in this city I love so much.

Wagner 166 Canal view

In particular, I sought Wagner sites. Wagner loved Venice. Taking advantage of new transportation opportunities developed in his lifetime, he travelled widely. Much was for professional reasons, but he came to enjoy travel, and foreign residences, for pleasure and recuperation.

All such travel was to Italy, and Venice emerged as his favorite city there. He visited it six times. During the first stay, in 1858-59, he composed Act II of “Tristan und Isolde” (see the YouTube video at the bottom) and the sixth, in 1882-83, ended with his death there.

In that final stay, Wagner and his family occupied some 27 rooms that he leased in the mezzanine of the Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi on the upper Grand Canal.

Palazzo Vendramin

That majestic building is now the Casino, Venice’s gambling palace.  But the Associazione Richard Wagner di Venezia, Italy’s primary institute for Wagner studies, has taken over several of the rooms that Wagner used and restored them in period style, complete with some displays of Wagneriana. Guided visits are allowed there, by application, on a very limited schedule. I had visited the rooms a few years ago, but the news that two more were added prompted my desire to return, and a visit was arranged for me and a colleague.

The exhibit rooms now consist of a straight-line string of four chambers, plus a small side cabinet. These had all been reserved for Wagner’s personal use. The photo taken on my last visit shows the second room, looking toward the first.

Wagner sofa

From written sources, I had understood that Wagner had used a single large room, with drapery partitions. This represented what he called his “Blue Grotto,” his personal hideaway for purposes of isolation and work, amid the lavish luxury of the precious fabrics and perfumes that he loved. But the surviving rooms–which I am assured have not been structurally altered–indicate they were separable by doors.

So I conclude that the first room was intended for reception of visitors, the second for his personal work, and the third as his bedchamber, where he had a huge ottoman created for his repose. To that his dying body was transferred on Tuesday afternoon, February 13, 1883, after he collapsed on a sofa, a recreation of which can been seen in that photo, or up close here.

Wagner 119 sofa

The original is now in Wahnfried, the Wagner family home in Bayreuth, Germany.

From the bedroom, the view now extends into the first of two added chambers.

Wagner 123 bedroom

The distant room to be seen (with his portrait on the wall) I take to be the location of his enormous wardrobe.

There have been no signs that Wagner’s ghost haunts these rooms, but for those who love his music there is something quite moving about visiting this place where the composer breathed his last. The ARWV deserves great praise for reviving this milieu for us.

Wagner’s death was unexpected. The fact that it happened in Venice served to complete a picture of the composer’s identification with that city. For, in his own way, Wagner now became assimilated into Venice’s rich traditions. As his music proceeded to acceptance in Italy, so his memory was assiduously cultivated by Venice.  Memorial concerts were held, the anniversary of his death commemorated for decades, and monuments and markers set up. No other foreigner has so many of the latter in Venice as does Wagner.

Among those was a marble bust of the composer, mounted in the Giardini Pubblici, or Public Gardens, at the eastern end of the city.  Unveiled on October 8, 1908, in the 25th anniversary year of Wagner’s death, the monument was largely financed by a wealthy Berlin admirer of the composer’s music, and supported by the resident foreign community of Venice.

Then, on April 24, 1908, adjacent to the Wagner bust, a marble counterpart representing Giuseppe Verdi was unveiled. This monument was apparently a civic commission, and presumably represented a nationalist riposte to the previous year’s attention to a foreign artist.

The two busts are located parallel to each other in a little alcove overlooking the waters of the Lagoon.

Wagner 145 Two Busts

They are so positioned that neither man looks at the other, as if to avoid any recognition of a rival.  Verdi’s expression is one of slight puzzlement, while Wagner gazes imperiously out over Venice’s Bacino, as if in command of it.

Whenever I am in Venice I try to visit this complex, but it had special meaning this time.  For I had heard that the two busts — Wagner is below top, Verdi below bottom — had recently been defaced. Sure enough, on each bust the nose has been smashed off.

Wagner 148 bust

Wagner 152 Verdi bust

Clearly, this was not random vandalism, but a deliberate and carefully executed act of parallel animosity. Just when these defacements occurred, and just who was responsible, I have yet to find out. It is not clear if and when the damages will be repaired–things like that take a long time in Italy.

There are ever so many reasons for one to visit Venice. But, for devout Wagnerians, reminders of the Master’s intense associations with that city are very much to be kept in mind.

They certainly are for me.


Classical music: Which opera villain would Vladimir Putin be? Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s last performance of its acclaimed opening concert is TODAY at 2:30 p.m.

September 29, 2013
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A REMINDER: The last performance of the season-opening concert by Madison Symphony Orchestra (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) takes place at 2:30 p.m. today in Overture Hall. The program of Aaron Copland’s dance suite “Appalachian Spring,” Richard Wagner‘s “Love Death” (Liebestod) from the opera “Tristan und Isolde” and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s symphonic tone poem “Scheherazade” celebrates the 20th anniversary of conductor John DeMain‘s tenure. And the performances have received rave reviews. Here are links to reviews by John W. Barker of Isthmus and Greg Hettmansberger of Madison Magazine:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=41041&sid=7853c5de52499cbd8d735576acaa10e0

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/September-2013/Demonstrating-What-All-the-Fuss-Is-About/

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

You may recall that last weekend I asked whether we should boycott the performances and recordings of superstar soprano Anna Netrebko (below top) and globe-trotting conductor Valery Gergiev (below bottom) because they supported the election of Vladimir Putin, the thuggish former KGB agent who is the scheming and vicious President of Russia.

anna netrebko

Gergievin NY

There is a lot to complain about Vladimir Putin (below, pictured on a poster in a pro-=gay rights protest) and his record of injustice, human rights and political intrigues. In particular, putting aside questions of Syria and internal Russian dissent, I chastised Netrebko and Gergiev for not standing up to and not speaking out about Putin’s support of extremely harsh and oppressive anti-gay laws in Russia, especially both musicians no doubt work with and depend on gay and lesbian colleagues in performing artists.

pro-gay march in russia with putin poster

The comments led to some pretty heated responses from various readers.

Here is a link so you can see for yourself:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/classical-music-lets-boycott-them-if-music-superstars-anna-netrebko-and-conductor-valery-gergiev-dont-enlighten-vladimir-putin-about-gays-and-lesbians/

Then a god friend and loyal, knowledgeable reader of the blog, who is on a bicycling tour of Hungary, checked in and sent on a link to a piece about how opera houses – including the famed Metropolitan Opera in New York City — have been asked to sign petitions and at least dedicate their opening night performances against Putin and his supporters.

The Met’s general director Peter Gelb (below) refused, pleading that the arts are separate from politics, and some other opera leaders agreed with him. Well, what do you expect from management?

Peter Gelb

Here is a link to that fascinating story in the Wall Street Journal:

http://on.wsj.com/176cPgk

The whole idea of Vladimir Putin (below) as an opera villain got me thinking: Which villain in the opera repertoire best parallels or embodies Vladimir Putin, seen as a parody of himself as a real-life bare-chested macho man in the photo below top? (The beef-cakey baritone Nathan Gunn, below bottom) would be an ideal choice to cast int the role no?)

vladimir putin barechested

Nathan Gunn barechested in Billy Budd

Could Putin be the infamous Scarpia (below, as sung by Dmitri Hvorostovsky in a popular YouTube video) who tortures and kills opponents in Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca”?

Could he be the notorious Duke of Mantua who betrays his friend in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto”?

Or maybe Mephistopheles in Charles Gounod’s “Faust”?

Perhaps Modeste Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov as leader who runs astray of the law and the people?

And there many other villain who kill, torture and betray.

In fact, to help you decide here is a list – by no means complete – of the Top 10 opera villains as provided by the famed radio station WQXR FM in New York City.

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/167716-top-10-opera-villains/

Maybe you can think of others?

And just maybe we will see a contemporary opera composed that is based on Putin. Why not, The Ear asks, since recently world premiere of a commissioned opera ‘”Anna Nicole” based on the glittery and totally superficial life of the trashy Anna Nicole Smith recently took place at the Royal Opera in London?

anna nicole opera

Anyway, which opera villain do you think best embodies Vladimir Putin?

And could the real Vladimir Putin himself serve as a villainous role in a new and contemporary opera?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music Q&A: Maestro John DeMain talks about this weekend’s opening concerts of his 20th anniversary season as music director and conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Plus, pianist Jeffrey Siegel opens Keyboard Conversations with an all-Beethoven program at 7:30 tonight in Mills Hall.

September 24, 2013
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A REMINDER:  Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Wisconsin Union Theater presents pianist Jeffrey Siegel (below) who will start his new season of Keyboard Conversations with “The Glory of Beethoven.” The program will conclude with a Q and A. Among the  works on this program will be the “Teresa Sonata” Op. 78,  (who was she and why did Ludwig van Beethoven compose this for her?) and the final Piano Sonata in C Minot, Op. 111, written after deafness enjulfed the composer. Here are ticket prices: General Public is $32 ; Memorial Union Member is $28; UW-Madison Faculty and Staff is $28; Non UW-Madison Students are $28; UW-Madison Student (with ID) is FREE; Youth is a Family Savings Event ofF $14 with purchase of an adult ticket and a limit of 2 youth tickets per adult ticket.

JeffreySiegel

By Jacob Stockinger

True enough, officially the new music season started on Labor Day with the 36th annual Karp Family Concert. It proved to be a memorable evening of varied chamber music. Ad there have been some memorable chamber concerts and recitals since then.

But for many listeners, the season doesn’t really get underway until some BIG group with a BIG sound starts performing BIG works before a BIG audience.

That will happen this weekend when the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) will open its season-long tribute to mark the 20th anniversary of music director and conductor John DeMain’s tenure with the orchestra.

mso from above

The program – done without a soloist – features three major and well-known orchestral works: Aaron Copland’sAppalachian Spring”; Richard Wagner’s “Prelude and Love Death” to the opera “Tristan und Isolde”; and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.”

Performances are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center and take place on Friday night at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom (below) will give Prelude discussion of the program one hour before each performance.

anders yocom studio  head shot cr Jim Gill

And here is a link to the program notes by the always enlightening and accessible J. Michael Allsen, who plays trombone in the MSO and teaches at the University fo Wisconsin-Whitewater.

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1314/1.Sep13.html

Single tickets are $13,50 to $82.50. For more information about the concerts and tickets, visit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/orchestra

In advance of the concert, Maestro John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) graciously granted an email interview to The Ear:

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Why did you decide to open the season without the usual piano or violin soloist?

There has been a long-standing tradition in the past among many orchestras to open the season with an all orchestral concert that focuses on the great musicians who make up the orchestra.

I felt that on the occasion of my 20th anniversary with the Madison Symphony, this would be a good time to revive that custom and try it out here in Madison.

I wanted to share my anniversary with the orchestra, because they are my instrument, and without them, I wouldn’t be able to perform. I do hope that this can become a tradition.

Of course, “Scheherazade” throws a huge focus on our concertmaster, Naha Greenholtz (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson), as she represents the Princess Scheherazade through numerous violin solos throughout the piece. Other members are featured as well, notably the cello, clarinet, horn and bassoon.

Naha Greenholtz playing CR Greg Anderson

What did you choose to program these particular pieces? Can you walk us briefly through the program and tell us why they appealed to you:

The program has something for me: “Appalachian Spring”; something for music itself: “Tristan,” celebrating Wagner’s 200th birthday, and Something for the audience: “Scheherazade,” a dazzling crowd-pleaser.

I’m an America-born and America-trained musician. Copland (below) was our idol growing up. He stood for all that was American in the classical music world. He appealed to both musician and listener, and I wanted him to be on my anniversary program.

aaron copland

I’m an opera conductor as well, and Wagner (below) gave us dazzling works for the operatic canon that featured the orchestra in a major way. “Tristan und Isolde” is my favorite Wagner opera, so, again, I wanted the Prelude and Love-Death to be my anniversary choice on his 200th anniversary as well.

And lastly, I wanted a major work that showcases our incredible orchestra, with its virtuosic musicians on our glorious Overture Hall stage.

Actually all three works feature the orchestra in a spectacular manner, so it should be a real treat for the audience.

Richard Wagner

How healthy is the Madison Symphony Orchestra now in terms of finances, artistic achievement and audiences?

The Madison Symphony continues to draw broad support from our subscribers, single ticket buyers, and major donors. I’m particularly proud of the major increase in student attendees, and very proud of our educational programs interacting with our wonderful community.

I would encourage people who have not been to a symphony concert to take advantage of our 50% discount for first time subscribers and sign up. This season’s programs are rich and varied, and I think a first-timer will have a marvelous experience.

(Editor’s note: Until this Thursday, Sept. 26, the MSO is making a special offer that any new subscriber can receive 50% off on a subscription of five or more concerts. Details are at: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/newsub

After that our regular offer to new subscribers is that they can save UP TO 50% off a subscription. (50% off when people subscribe to 7 or 8 concerts and 40% off when people subscribe to 5 or 6 concerts.)

MSO-HALL

What goals have you met in your 20-year tenure and what goals remain to be fulfilled?

My goals in the beginning were to increase the size of the audience by going to triple performances; increase the size of the string section; expand the repertoire; challenge the players, and lobby for a better performance space. (Below is Overture Hall, the permanent home of the MSO.)

These goals were not only met, but the results have far exceeded even my expectations. There is still much more repertoire to explore, ever-expanding educational opportunities to develop still more audiences for classical music, and the constant addition of major new performing artists that I would like to bring to our audiences.

Overture Hall

What conclusions about your 20-year tenure with the MSO would you like the audience to hear and take away from hearing this opening concert of your anniversary season?

I would like the audience to feel how blessed we are in this community to have such a fine orchestra that adores performing for its audience and is deeply committed to artistic excellence, and how worthy it is to continue to have great music enrich our lives in live performances that bring musician, audience member, and the music itself, together in a unique way.

MSO playing

And lastly, I am so grateful and forever indebted to Pleasant Rowland and Jerry Frautschi for giving us the Overture Center for the Arts. It is the thrill of my lifetime to be able to perform in this beautiful space. I also would like to add how much my lovely wife Barbara (below top), and my beautiful daughter Jennifer (below bottom) have loved living, growing up, and studying in this great city of Madison. Thank you from all of us to the community.

John DeMain and Barbara DeMain

John DeMain and Jennifer DeMain


Classical music: Music critics of The New York Times name their favorite recordings — historical and current — of Richard Wagner to celebrate this year’s bicentennial of the famous opera composer’s birth. What are your favorite Wagner works and recordings?

August 27, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

This year is the bicentennial of the birth of composer Richard Wagner.

Just about everything about Richard Wagner (below) is epic and titanic, dramatic and revolutionary.

Little wonder, then, that he is known especially for “The Ring of the Nibelung,” that 16–hour, four-opera mythological cycle that challenges the most resourceful singers, actors, stage directors, orchestras, conductors and opera companies. It took many complications and until the 1960s for conductor Sir Georg Solti to make the first complete recording of “The Ring” for Decca — and it still holds up to the best complete recordings since then.

Richard Wagner

Stop and think and consider this: In the time it usually takes to hear “The Ring” you could listen to all the symphonies and concertos of Beethoven, or all his string quartets and most of his piano trios.

True, some of Wagner’s vocal music is quite stirring and enthralling.

But only some of it — at least to my ears.

I share some of the sentiments of his detractors, who included some pretty good artists and discriminating musicians.

Take the composer Gioachino Rossini, who quipped “Wagner’s music has great moments but dull quarter hours.”

The American writer and humorist Mark Twain observed that “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”

The comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen remarked: “Every time I listen Wagner, I get the urge to invade Poland.”

If you like those, here is a link to some more quips about Wagner, including some by French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire and French composer Claude Debussy:

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Richard_Wagner

I am probably a dissenter, but I think Wagner generally wrote better for instruments than he did for the voice. At least I generally find his orchestral music tighter and more enjoyable to listen to.

Indeed, I would like to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra or the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra do one of the various versions of “The Ring Without Words,” perhaps the orchestral anthology of highlights from “The Ring” and other operas that famed conductor George Szell (below) arranged and conducted with the Cleveland Orchestra (in a YouTube video at the bottom).

George Szell wide BW

I love the overtures and preludes, and I don’t think they get programmed often enough these days. Same for the charming “Siegfried Idyll.”

I remember an old vinyl LP recording with Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. How I loved, and found endlessly thrilling the Overture to “Tannhauser,” the “Prelude and Liebestod” to “Tristan und Isolde,” the Overture to “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” preludes from “Lohengrin,” and the magically static and haunting Prelude to “Parsifal.” They are terrific curtain-raisers.

So I was happy to see orchestral recordings by Herbert von Karajan and Otto Klemperer included on the list in The New York Times.

I also love “best moment” anthologies so it is also good to see choices like the new recording by the German tenor Jonas Kaufmann – a great choice since Kaufmann (below) seems a perfect Wagner singer who has a huge but subtle voice, stamina and the handsome good looks for the parts.

Kaufmann Wagner CD

Anyway, here is a link to the Wagner discography in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/23/arts/music/critics-name-their-favorite-wagner-recordings.html?pagewanted=all

What is your favorite Wagner recording? What piece and what performer?

And do you favor his vocal or instrumental music?

The Ear wants to hear.


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