By Jacob Stockinger
How and how much?
David Stern, the son of violinist Isaac Stern, returns to China and discusses the major advances made since his father’s trip to China to make the Oscar-winning 1979 movie “From Mao to Mozart.” (You can see an excerpt, of Isaac Stern teaching a young Chinese student, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
That blossoming has affected the building of new state-of-the-art concert halls; more concerts with bigger audiences; major competitions; the formation of new chamber music, operatic and orchestral ensembles; and of course superior education and training for individual performers.
David Stern gives a blogger a detailed tour of the astonishing progress made after culture wars waged by Mao Zedong and since his father’s pioneering experience in post-Cultural Revolution China in the following story:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following word:
Bell’s performance kicks off the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Concert Series on Saturday, Nov. 5, at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall.
The all-masterpiece program includes: the Sonata in A Major, Op. 12, No. 2, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the Sonata No. 3 in D Minor and the Scherzo in C Minor from the FAE Sonata, both by Johannes Brahms; the Sonata No. 3 in D minor by Eugene Ysaye; the Sonata in G minor by Claude Debussy; and the “Carmen” Fantasy by Pablo de Sarasate. (You can hear Joshua Bell play the opening movement of the Debussy sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Ticket prices are: UW-Madison students are $25; Union Members and non-UW students are $62, $56 and $25; UW Faculty and Staff are $64, $58 and $25; and members of the general public are $68, $62 and $35.
Tickets should be purchased soon and can be purchased on the website – https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/theater-tickets/ – or at the Memorial Union box office or by calling 608 265-ARTS.
Joshua Bell is one of the most celebrated violinists in the world, with numerous Grammy wins and nominations including Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra and Best Engineered Album, Classical. He was one of the first classical artists to have VH1 feature a music video, and has performed on the Grammys twice.
Bell has performed for three different U.S. presidents and the president of China, and has taken part in several award-winning collaborations. He was the subject of a BBC documentary and received the Humanitarian Award from Seton Hall University. Bell is devoted to charitable causes, and has received the Academy of Achievement Award in 2008.
The vast experience of pianist Alessio Bax (below) in the music industry includes performing as a soloist with over 100 orchestras, including the London and Royal Philharmonics. He won the 2009 Avery Fisher Career Grant, and his impressive repertoire has continuously increased since he graduated from a conservatory in Bari, Italy, at the age of 14.
Both artists have performed several times in Madison, always to large houses and enthusiastic receptions.
By Jacob Stockinger
Several years ago, artistic director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) decided to use the season-opening concerts of the Madison Symphony Orchestra to spotlight the symphony and its first-chair players as soloists.
No big-name imported guest soloists were to be booked.
Such multimedia events increasingly seem to work as a way to build audiences and boost attendance by new people and young people. After all, a music director has to sell tickets and fill seats as well as wave a baton.
And it seems that, on both counts, DeMain’s strategy proved spectacularly successful.
All sections of the orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) — strings, brass, winds, percussion — played with energy, precision and subtlety. The MSO proved a very tight ensemble. Each year, you can hear how the MSO improves and grows increasingly impressive after 23 years of DeMain’s direction.
The public seemed to agree. It came very close to filling the 2,200-seat Overture Hall for all three performances with more than 6,100 audience members, according to Peter Rodgers, the new marketing director for the MSO. Especially noteworthy, he said, was the number of children, students and young people who attended.
In fact, so many students showed up for student rush tickets on Friday night that the performance was delayed by around 10 minutes – because of long lines at the box office, NOT because of the new security measures at the Overture Center, which Rodgers said worked smoothly and quickly.
But not everything was ideal, at least not for The Ear.
On the first half, the playing largely outweighed the music.
True, the Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 by a very young George Enescu (below) received a sizzling and infectious performance. With its catchy folk tunes, dance rhythms and Gypsy harmonies, the fun work proved an irresistible opener – much like a starting with an encore, which is rather like eating a rich and tasty dessert before tackling the more nutritious but less snazzy main course.
The music itself is captivating and frequently played – although this was its surprising premiere performance by the MSO. Little wonder the Enescu got a rousing standing ovation. Still, it is hardly great music.
Then came the Chaconne for violin and orchestra by the American composer John Corigliano (below), who based the work on his Oscar-winning film score for “The Red Violin.”
Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) impressed The Ear and most others with her mastery of what appeared to be a very difficult score. The ovation was for her, not for the music.
That music also has some fine moments. But overall it seems a dull and tedious work, an exercise in virtuosity with some of the same flaws you find in certain overblown piano etudes by Franz Liszt. Once again the playing trumped the music.
Then came The Big Event: Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” coupled with clear, high-definition photos of the planets taken by NASA that were projected on a huge screen above the orchestra. Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s and Venus’ clouds and Mars’ landscape (below) have never looked so impressive.
The orchestra again struck one with its exotic and “spacey” sound effects and with what must have been the difficulty of timing simultaneously the music and the images.
Yet ultimately Holst’s work became a sound track — music accompanying images rather than images accompanying the music. The Ear heard several listeners compare the admittedly impressive result to the movies “Fantasia” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” That says something.
At some moments the sound and images really matched and reinforced each other, especially in the dramatic opening section, “Mars, the Bringer of War.” Holst’s score also succeeds nicely with “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” and to a lesser degree with “Venus, the Bringer of Peace.”
But overall “The Planets” reminds The Ear of colorful and dramatic programmatic showpieces such as Ottorino Respighi‘s “The Pines of Rome” and “The Fountains of Rome.” (Earth, curiously, is not included in “The Planets.” Makes you wonder: What would Earth bring?) Enjoyable music, to be sure, but not profound fare.
The Ear’s extensive library of CDs has none of the three works on the program. And it will probably remain that way.
While Holst’s work does have great moments, it grows long, repetitive and finally uninteresting as it ends not with a bang but with an underwhelming whimper – which was beautifully enhanced by the atmospheric singing of the MSO Women’s Chorus. There are just too many planets!
Listen to the YouTube video at the bottom, played by James Levine conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and you will see: Mars rules!
Add it all up and despite three standing ovations, in the end The Ear found the concert less than fully satisfying. The music, however likable and appealing, was not, for the most part, great music. Moreover, it was mostly trumped first by the performances and then by the visuals.
So on a personal note, here is The Ear’s request to the MSO, which scored an undeniably brilliant success with this program: Keep the same all-orchestra and first-chair format for season-openers and use multimedia shows whenever appropriate. But please also include at least one really first-rate piece of music with more substance.
Is that asking for too much?
Is The Ear alone and unfair in his assessment?
Other critics had their own takes and some strongly disagree with The Ear.
Here is a link to three other reviews:
By John W. Barker (below) for Isthmus:
By Jessica Courtier for The Capital Times:
And by Greg Hettmansberger (below), who writes for WISC-TV Channel 3 and his Classically Speaking blog for Madison Magazine, and on his own blog, What Greg Says:
What did you think of the music, the performances and the visual show?
How well did they mix?
What did you like most and least?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Attention all BRASS FANS!
A big and loud fanfare is in order.
The schedule includes master classes (on the trumpet, trombone, tuba and horn) and performances.
The major concerts require tickets – adult admission is $20 for the Friday night concert and $15 for the Saturday night concert with $5 admission for students and children for both concerts.
The star of the festival is the Stockholm Chamber Brass (below), which is on its first tour of the U.S.
Concerts are on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. There will be a reception after the Saturday night concert.
Players from several area high schools will also be featured in the festival and performances.
For more information, including background on the Stockholm Chamber Brass and a link to the complete programs, which includes music by Gabrieli, Mahler, Shostakovich and Scandinavian composers, visit this link:
By Jacob Stockinger
Two FREE and appealing but very different concerts are on tap this week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music:
PRO ARTE QUARTET
On Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the acclaimed Pro Arte Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer) will perform a program that features standard works as well as new music.
The quartet will play the String Quartet in B-flat Major (1790), Op. 64, No. 3, by Franz Joseph Haydn; and the String Quartet No, 10 (1809), Op. 74, called the “Harp” Quartet, by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Less well is the contemporary work “Fantasies on the Name of Sacher” (2012) by French composer Philippe Hersant.
Here are program notes from Pro Arte cellist Parry Karp (below):
“The Haydn and Hersant are new pieces for the Pro Arte and it has been a great pleasure to learn them.
“The Haydn was written at the time that Haydn’s job as the court composer of the court of Esterhazy had come to an end. It is one of the “Tost” Quartets, named for the Hungarian violinist Johann Tost. Haydn dedicated the quartets to him to thank him for his performances and for helping Haydn get a publisher for the quartets.
“The next piece on the program is the “Fantasies for String Quartet” by the French composer Philippe Versant (b. 1948, below). Here are the composer’s notes on this piece:
“This piece has been in the works for years. First performed in 2008, the first version for string trio included six fantasies. I added two the following year, then an additional instrument (second violin). This version for string quartet was commissioned for the Cully Classique Festival, where it was premiered in 2012. Finally, for the Grand Prix Lycéen for Composers, I imagined a version for string orchestra, commissioned by Musique Nouvelle en Liberté (2013).
“The initial challenge was to write a series of pieces that were as different as possible, from a basic material that was very narrow. That common material is a short motif of 6 notes, which correspond (in Germanic notation) to the letters of Sacher’s name (with a few twists): S (E-flat) A C H(B) E R(D).
“This motif has already been used by a number of composers (Henri Dutilleux, Pierre Boulez and Benjamin Britten) in their homages to Paul Sacher, the great patron and conductor.
“Joined together by the omnipresence of these six notes, the eight fantasies offer strong contrasts in character and style:the first has a high-pitched, rarefied atmosphere a la Shostakovich; the second has a taunting and obsessional tone; there is a dramatic, tense ambience in the fourth …. Two others showcase the voices of the soloists: viola (lyrical) in the third and the cello (stormy) in the seventh.
“Some quotations pepper the discourse: In the third fantasy an altered version of a passage from Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 13, Op. 130, and the sixth combines motifs borrowed from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, Igor Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” and Dmitri Shostakovich. A falsely naive, short children’s song closes the set.
The last piece on the program, the String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 74, by Beethoven, was named the “Harp” Quartet by the first publisher of the work. It was so named because of the the unique use of pizzicato in the first movement of the piece.
This string quartet is one of the great masterpieces of the quartet repertoire with a brilliant first movement, a profound slow movement which foreshadows Beethoven’s late period, a brilliant scherzo, and a classical style variation movement as the finale.
On Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Trio Unprepared will perform a FREE concert of improvised music.
Here is the blurb from the UW-Madison School of Music’s website:
Drawing from the vast resources of contemporary, jazz, classical and global music, the Trio Unprepared presents an evening of IMPROVISED music for piano and percussion. Ensemble members are Andre Gribou, piano, and Roger Braun and Anthony DiSanza on percussion. (DiSanza teaches at the UW-Madison and is a member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)
Trio Unprepared has performed globally in extraordinarily diverse musical settings and worked together in various configurations for many years.
This concert — and the subsequent tour of Wisconsin — brings the trio back together for the first time since performing in Switzerland in July 2015.
A master class will follow this concert, from 9 to 10:30 p.m.
By Jacob Stockinger
They will be in effect for the three MSO concerts this weekend, including the performance today, Sunday, Sept. 25, at 2:30 p.m.
For more information about the program, visit this link:
“Due to changes in the Overture Center’s security procedures, there will be only THREE main entry points into the building (below) as you come for your concert. When you arrive, please enter at:
• The main Overture Center entrance on State Street
• An entrance on Fairchild Street (one door only)
• The “back” entrance on Henry Street
Security stations will be placed at each entrance where Overture staff will conduct a bag search on bags larger than a small purse, including backpacks.
We anticipate that the process will be smooth and proceed quickly, although we do recommend you come early for peace of mind so you can enjoy the concert from start to finish!
For more information on the Overture Center’s security measures, please visit the website at overturecenter.org/about/security
The Ear wonders what effect these new security measures will have on attendance at the symphony, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra concerts, the Madison Opera, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and other non-musical events.
The Ear would like to know if the new security measures come in response to an actual terrorist threat or are simply a new standard operating procedure. The published explanation leans to the latter and says the Overture Center was to take the same precautions that big presenters in, say New York City and Washington, D.C., do.
Does anyone have more information or an opinion?
What do you think about the necessity or desirability of such measures ?
And what was your experience like with the new procedures?
The Ear wants to hear.
In the meantime, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the program that generally gets very positive reviews.
Here is the review that John W. Barker (below) wrote for Isthmus:
And here is the review that Jessica Courtier wrote for The Capital Times:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement from the Madison Symphony Orchestra:
The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below), with Music Director John DeMain conducting, opens its 91st season – and its 23rd season under Maestro DeMain — with three works by 20th-century composers.
Science, music and stunning visuals come together with Gustav Holst’s The Planets accompanied by a spectacular, high-definition film featuring NASA imagery. (Below is a photo of Jupiter, “The Bringer of Jollity” to Holst. The musical depiction of Jupiter — performed by James Levine conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra — is in the YouTube video at the bottom.
The concerts are in Overture Hall on this Friday., Sept. 23, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 24, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 25, at 2:30 p.m.
A national hero in his homeland, Enescu rarely included hints of his Romanian heritage in his music, except when he composed the Romanian Rhapsodies as a teenager. Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 captures a series of Romanian folk songs, including melodies of increasingly wild Gypsy dances. This is MSO’s first performance of this work.
In the Chaconne, American composer John Corigliano (below) draws the audience in with a foreboding and haunting signature tune, which he wrote for the powerful film about music, The Red Violin. His film score for the movie earned him an Academy Award in 1999 for his original music. This will be the first time MSO has performed this Oscar-winning work, and features MSO Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz.
Greenholtz (below) has captivated audiences as Concertmaster of the MSO and the Quad City Symphony Orchestra. A Canadian violinist, Greenholtz was born in Kyoto, Japan, where she began her violin studies at age three.
Since her solo debut at 14, she continues to perform internationally, most notably with: the Oregon Symphony, Calgary Philharmonic, National Ballet of Canada, Omaha Symphony, and Memphis Symphony.
The Planets is known as Holst’s most popular work. The musical movements were inspired by characteristics connected with astrology’s seven planets. For instance, ominous sounding Mars, the Bringer of War, is followed by the calmly flowing Venus, the Bringer of Peace. (Below top is Mars and below bottom is Venus.)
The performances will be accompanied by a high-definition film projecting celestial images above the main stage.
According to New York Times senior critic Anthony Tommasini, the film shows “photographs from rovers and satellites, radar images and computer-generated graphics … combining to give the audience the impression of circling individual planets and sometimes flying over their awesomely barren landscapes.” (Below is a close-up of the surface of Mars.)
The Madison Symphony Women’s Chorus (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson), under the direction of Beverly Taylor, will be part of the final movement of The Planets, and the Overture Concert Organ (below bottom) is featured at several moments in the piece.
This is the first time MSO’s performance of The Planets will be accompanied by the high-definition film.
One hour before each performance, Randal Swiggum, the artistic director of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra Artistic, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.
For more background on the music, please view the Program Notes at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1617/1.Sep16.html or madisonsymphony.org/planets.
Before all of the concerts and at intermission, Friends of University of Wisconsin–Madison Astronomy will have an interactive display in the lobby concertgoers can experience.
The Symphony recommends that concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations, and so they can experience the pre-concert talk and the astronomy exhibit (free for all ticket-holders).
Single Tickets are $16 to $87 each and are on sale now at madisonsymphony.org/planets, through the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information visit, madisonsymphony.org/groups.
Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Center Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is at: madisonsymphony.org/studentrush.
Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.
Major funding for the September concerts is provided by: NBC15, Diane Ballweg, Capitol Lakes, Friends of University of Wisconsin–Madison Astronomy, The Gialamas Company, Inc., and Nicholas and Elaine Mischler. Additional funding is provided by: Analucia and Mark Allie, for their beloved “Doc” Richard Greiner; Judith and Nick Topitzes, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.
By Jacob Stockinger
Who says classical music is dying?
You wouldn’t know it from some of the many world premieres of new music that will take place across the U.S. this season. Such events add a lot of excitement to the new concert season. And many critics and observers think they draw in new and younger audiences.
Quite a few of the premieres feature performers and composers familiar to Madison audiences. They include cellist Alisa Weilerstein (below top, in a photo by Harold Hoffmann for Decca Records), pianist Emanuel Ax (below second), composer Kevin Puts (below third) and composer Jake Heggie (below bottom).
Here is a round-up of the national scene by Tom Huizenga, who writes the Deceptive Cadence blog for National Public Radio or NPR.
It makes one wonder: What about the local scene here in Madison?
True, several seasons ago, the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison commissioned and premiered six new works to mark its centennial. They included four string quartets, one piano quintet and one clarinet quintet, all of which are now available in terrific recordings from Albany Records.
This summer the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society featured bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below) in the world premiere of a song cycle it commissioned from American composer Kevin Puts, who is mentioned in the NPR story, to mark its 25th anniversary.
And this fall, at its annual Labor Day concert the Karp family premiered a new work by Joel Hoffman for piano and cello, based on the life of the late pianist and former UW professor Howard Karp and performed by his sons pianist Christopher Karp and cellist Parry Karp (below).
This winter the Madison Opera will stage the new jazz-inspired opera “Charlie Parker’s Yardbird,” although Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera will do a world premiere of a work it commissioned. Could the Madison Opera commission again its own new work, such as it did years ago with Daron Hagen‘s opera “Shining Brow” about Frank Lloyd Wright?
And there are other commissions and premieres by smaller groups, such as the percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion.
But what is the problem with getting new commissions and world premieres at bigger ensembles such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the UW Symphony Orchestra, which does perform a student work each year? Lack of money? Lack of will? Lack of audience interest?
What do you think?
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Admission is free for persons with an Edgewood College ID, and $5 for others. Tickets will be available at the door.
Also featured is the Symphony No. 82 in C major, “The Bear,” by Franz Joseph Haydn. In its last movement, Haydn imitates the music used in the 18th-century Austria to accompany dancing bears — a popular form of street entertainment. (You can hear the last movement of the symphony in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The central part of the program is the last movement Finale of the Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37, by Ludwig van Beethoven. It marks the orchestral debut of pianist Johanna Novice-Leonard (below), winner of the Edgewood College Concerto Competition, and a student of Dr. Beatriz Aguilar.
Founded in 1993 via a generous endowment established by benefactors William O. Hart and Vernon Sell, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra fulfills a unique role in the Madison community, providing high-quality performances and unique educational opportunities. The ensemble is the permanent, in-house chamber orchestra of the college.
By Jacob Stockinger
Recently The Ear stumbled upon a fascinating story, on a blog by Nathan Cole, about famous violin concertos.
It was NOT about the Top 10 Best Violin Concertos ranked in order.
It was NOT about the Top 10 Most Difficult Violin Concertos.
It was simply about the most difficult openings of violin concertos – about what happens when the violinist walks on stage and starts up along with the orchestra or before it or after it.
It uses the Olympics’ sports competitions as a model and awards degrees of difficulty along with explanations for the scoring.
(For a close to simultaneous start by orchestra and soloist, listen to American violinist Hillary Hahn, who played a recital last spring at the Wisconsin Union Theater, and conductor Paavo Jarvi in the opening of the popular Violin Concerto in E Minor by Felix Mendelssohn in the YouTube video at the bottom. It has over 8 million hits and it is very relevant to the story.)
The story reminds The Ear of famous literary critic Frank Kermode’s classic book “The Sense of an Ending” — only now it would be “The Sense of a Beginning,” a subject the late literary critic, cultural analyst and Palestinian activist Edward Said wrote about in his book “Beginnings: Intention and Method.”
The musical discussion features accessible and informative analysis by an accomplished violinist as well as terrific audio-visual clips of each concerto and the openings in question.
It’s a long piece – good for weekend reading, perhaps because it can be done in different segments at different times.
But even if you read only a part of it, it certainly imparts a sense of the challenges that a soloist faces. You vicariously experience the thrill and intimidation of walking out on stage and starting to play.
And it enhances your appreciation of some famous violin concertos and of what it takes to pull them off in live performance.
Like The Ear, you will come away with a new appreciation of the challenges that any concerto soloist – violinist, pianist, cellist, brass player, wind player, whatever — faces.
Here is a link:
The Ear also hopes the website violinist.com follows up with a listing or ranking of the most difficult ENDINGS of violin concertos and a discussion of what makes them so difficult.
In the meantime, The Ears asks:
Do violinists out there agree or disagree with the scoring and reasons?
Do they care to leave a comment one way or the other?
The Ear wants to hear.