The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This Wednesday night, four teenage soloists compete in this year’s Final Forte competition with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Attend it live for FREE, or watch and hear it live on PBS Wisconsin and Wisconsin Public Radio

February 23, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Wednesday night, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. in Overture Hall, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below in a  photo by Peter Rodgers), PBS Wisconsin and Wisconsin Public Radio will present the 14th annual “Wisconsin Young Artists Compete: The Final Forte.”

The concert of four teenage concerto competition winners features the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) led by Associate Conductor Kyle Knox (below).

The concert is FREE and open to the public. But audience members must register in advance, and arrive by 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 26, prior to the beginning of the live broadcast. Reservations are required. Call (608) 257-3734 or go online to register at https://madisonsymphony.org/finalforte

Doors open at 6:15 p.m. and close at 6:45 p.m. due to the live broadcast. The event runs until 8:30 p.m. No tickets will be issued at the door. Seating is general admission in select areas of the concert hall.

The four finalists (below, in a photo by James Gill who did all the contestant photos) were chosen from 10 semi-finalists in November.

They are:

Jessica Jiang (far left), who will perform the first movement from Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3. (You can hear the Prokofiev movement, played by Martha Argerich, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Jonah Kartman (far right), who will perform the first movement from Saint-Saens’ Violin Concerto No 3.

Emily Hauer (third from left) who will perform the first movement from Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor.

Pianist Michael Wu (second from left) who will perform Liszt’s “Totentanz” (Dance of Death).

Videos to introduce each finalist are now available for viewing online.

Jessica Jiang: https://pbswisconsin.org/wpt-video/wpt-music-arts/final-forte-jessica-jiang-qto5ir/

Emily Hauer: https://pbswisconsin.org/wpt-video/wpt-music-arts/final-forte-emily-hauer-8ihe8s/

Jonah Kartman: https://pbswisconsin.org/wpt-video/wpt-music-arts/final-forte-jonah-kartman-xsr1z6/

Michael Wu): https://pbswisconsin.org/wpt-video/wpt-music-arts/final-forte-michael-wu-frbf66/

Rebroadcast dates on the Wisconsin Channel (WPT-2) will be Friday, March 6 at 8 p.m. and 11p.m.; Saturday, March 7, at 3 p.m.; and Thursday, March 12, at 3 a.m.

ABOUT THE FINALISTS

Jessica Jiang (below) is a junior at Madison Memorial High School. She took up the piano at the age of four and currently studies with Bill Lutes, Emeritus Professor at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music. Jessica received the Steenbock Youth Music Award in the 2018 Bolz Young Artist Competition and took second place in Division III of the National Steinway and Sons Piano Competition in 2019.

Emily Hauer (below) is a home-schooled senior from Appleton. She began violin lessons at the age of two and currently studies with Ilana Setapen, associate concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Emily won the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Young Artist Concerto Competition in 2017 and is currently in her fourth year as the concertmaster of the Fox Valley Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Jonah Kartman (below) is a home-schooled senior from Glendale. He has been playing the violin for 13 years, and currently studies with I-Hao Lee at DePaul University’s School of Music. Jonah was a finalist in the 2019 Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s Audrey G. Baird Stars of Tomorrow competition, and a two-time winner and scholarship recipient in the Civic Music Association of Milwaukee Competition.

Michael Wu (below) is a senior at Sun Prairie High School. He began piano lessons at age five, and currently studies with Bill Lutes, Emeritus Professor at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music. Michael received the Steenbock Youth Music Award in the 2017 Bolz Young Artist Competition and took first place in Division III of the National Steinway and Sons Piano Competition in 2018.

ABOUT THE FINAL FORTE

This competition has captured an enormous following and numerous honors, including an Emmy nomination, First Place in the “Special Interest” category from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association in 2007, and the fifth most-watched program in the February 2007 Nielsen ratings. The 2008 broadcasts reached more than 60,000 viewers and listeners in the Madison market alone and the 2009 broadcasts reached an estimated 200,000 statewide.

The Final Forte is funded by major support from Diane Ballweg, Stephen Morton, W. Jerome Frautschi, A. Paul Jones Charitable Trust, Julie and Larry Midtbo, Fred and Mary Mohs, and Elizabeth Olson, with additional support from Bell Laboratories, James Dahlberg and Elsebet Lund, Kato Perlman, Cyrena and Lee Pondrom, Sentry Insurance Foundation, Darcy Kind and Marc Vitale, Dr. A. Beyer-Mears, Nick and Judith Topitzes, the Focus Fund for Young Performers, and Friends of PBS Wisconsin.

 


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Classical music: Is Royal Wedding cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason the next Yo-Yo Ma?

May 22, 2018
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

If you watched the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and American Meghan Markle – who are now known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – you were probably impressed by many things.

Not the least of them was the performance by the young Afro-British cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who performed three pieces: “After a Dream” by Gabriel Faure; “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert; and “Sicilienne” (an ancient dance step) by Maria Theresia von Paradis.

The young player acquitted himself just fine, despite the pressure of the event, with its avid public interest in the United Kingdom and a worldwide TV viewership of 2 billion.

But that is to be expected. He is no ordinary teenage cellist. Now 19, he was named BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2016 — the first black musician of African background to be awarded the honor since it started in 1938. A native of Nottingham, even as he pursues a busy concert and recording schedule, he continues his studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

So it was with great anticipation that The Ear listened to “Inspiration,” Kanneh-Mason’s new recording from Decca Records, which is already a bestseller on Amazon.com and elsewhere, and has topped the U.S. pop charts. (There are also many performances by him on YouTube.)

Unfortunately, The Ear was disappointed by the mixed results.

The cellist’s playing is certainly impressive for its technique and tone. But in every piece, he is joined by the City of Birmingham Orchestra or its cello section. The collaboration works exceptionally well with the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Dmitri Shostakovich. 

However, so many of the other works seem too orchestrated and overly arranged. So much of the music becomes thick and muddy, just too stringy. The Ear wanted to hear more of the young cellist and less of the backup band.

One also has to wonder if the recording benefits from being a mixed album with a program so full of crossovers, perhaps for commercial reasons and perhaps to reach a young audience. There is a klezmer piece, “Evening of the Roses” as well as a reggae piece, “No Woman, No Cry” by Bob Marley and the famous song “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen.

In addition, there are the familiar “The Swan” from “The Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saens and two pieces by the inspiring cellist referred to in the title of the recording, Pablo (or Pau in Catalan) Casals (below).

A great humanist and champion of democracy who spent most of his career in exile from dictator Franco’s Spain, Casals used the solo “The Birds” as a signature encore. Played solo, it is a poignant piece — just as Yo-Yo Ma played it as an encore at the BBC Proms, which is also on YouTube). But here it simply loses its simplicity and seems overwhelmed.

Clearly, Sheku Kanneh-Mason is a musician of great accomplishment and even greater promise who couldn’t have wished for better publicity to launch a big career than he received from the royal wedding. He handles celebrity well and seems a star in the making, possibly even the next Yo-Yo Ma, who has also done his share of film scores and pop transcriptions

But when it comes to the recording studio, a smaller scale would be better. Sometimes less is more, and this is one of those times. (Listen to his beautiful solo playing and his comments in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

To take the full measure of his musicianship, The Ear is anxious to hear Kanneh-Mason in solo suites by Johann Sebastian Bach and concertos by Antonio Vivaldi; in sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert and Johannes Brahms; in concertos by Antonin Dvorak and Edward Elgar; and in much more standard repertory that allows comparison and is less gimmicky.

Did you hear Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s live performance at the royal wedding? What did you think?

And if you have heard his latest recording, what do you think of that?

Do you think Sheku Kanne-Mason is the next Yo-Yo Ma?

The Ear wants to hear.


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