By Jacob Stockinger
The mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (MCO, below), which has gotten better and better and rarely disappoints even in ambitious and difficult music, will wind up its fifth anniversary season this coming Wednesday night with a brass extravaganza.
The performance is at 7:30 p.m. in the modern, comfortable and spacious Middleton Performing Arts Center (below) that is attached to Middleton High School.
Tickets are $10; students get in for FREE.
Advance tickets are available at Willy Street Coop West. The Box office opens at 6:30 p.m. and the doors open at 7 p.m.
The program includes The “Capriccio Italienne” by Peter Tchaikovsky; the Carnival Overture by Antonin Dvorak; the Horn Concerto by Reinhold Glière with soloist Paul Litterio (below); and the world premiere of the Tuba Concerto by University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music graduate Pat Doty, who will also be the soloist.
Steve Kurr (below) will conduct.
Here is a link with more information about the MCO and how to join it and support it:
Composer and tuba performer Pat Doty (below, in a photo by Steven Thompson) answered an email Q&A for The Ear:
Can you tell us briefly about your background, including your education and performance history?
I grew up in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. I hold a master’s degree in tuba performance from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where I was a member of the University of Wisconsin Marching Band for four years, including three trips to the Rose Bowl.
While at the UW-Madison, I performed with the Wind Ensemble (including a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City), Concert Band, Tuba and Euphonium Ensemble, the Middleton Community Orchestra, Low Brass Ensemble, 4BA Tuba Quartet, Madrigal Singers and the Lumberjack Brass Quintet.
My solo tuba performance credits range from solo recitals to guest appearances at schools across southern Wisconsin.
When and how did you start composing? What works have you written in the past?
I first started writing music when I was in high school and I was very interested in singer/songwriters like Elton John and Billy Joel. During my time at Mount Horeb High School, I wrote more than 500 songs, most of which never made it past the grand piano in the living room.
When I started graduate school, the tuba studio at UW-Madison was treated to a guest performance by Øystein Baadsvik, who really inspired me to start writing for tuba. I was also heavily influenced by my undergraduate professor, John Stevens (below).
My catalogue now includes dozens of works for solo tuba, chamber ensembles and large ensembles. It probably comes as no surprise that I compose rather frequently for tuba quartet and brass quintet.
Additionally, I write a great deal of music for my wife Brigid, who holds a degree in vocal performance from UW-Madison, to sing with me accompanying her on the piano.(You can hear them in a YouTube video at the bottom in a song by Pat Doty.)
How would you describe your compositional style — tonal or atonal, accessible, melodic and so forth?
My music is tonal, accessible, melodic and so forth. I jest, but I really do strive to write music that is very fun, beautiful and accessible to a wide-ranging audience.
My major influences are not famous classical composers, but rather those musicians who I listened to when I was growing up.
For example, I draw a lot from pop music and classic rock. I know that might seem like an odd connection — pop music and the tuba — but I have always fallen back on my vocal training to instruct my tuba playing, and I see no reason why the same connection shouldn’t exist in my compositions.
To put it simply, I approach writing for solo tuba (with any sort of accompaniment) in quite the same way that I approach writing a song at the piano. I always have a poem, an idea, something in mind that inspires me. For example, my tuba duet “Mendota” is based on a poem that I wrote for a pop song, but it works beautifully for an instrumental piece.
What would you like the public to know about your new Tuba Concerto, which you will perform and premiere with the Middleton Community Orchestra?
First and foremost, my Tuba Concerto doesn’t take itself too seriously. That is a recurring theme in my music. I am very excited for the premiere with the Middleton Community Orchestra, which is sounding great by the way, and I really hope that people have as much fun and find as much joy in listening as I do playing this music.
A couple of interesting quirks to note are that there is a large, essential euphonium part in this piece, and that there is a marimba solo in the third movement. These are both things that, I think it is safe to say, are not particularly common in orchestral music.
I used a euphonium (below) and no tuba in the orchestra because I want this to be a piece that an orchestra could use to feature their own tubist if they so choose. Also, I am friends with quite a few euphonium players.
What else would you like to say?
First, I would like to say thank you to the Middleton Community Orchestra for premiering my Tuba Concerto. I am very much looking forward to the performance for many reasons, not the least of which is that this will be my first chance to present my compositions to a broad classical music audience.
I would also like to mention my new record label, Merp Entertainment, which I co-founded with my wife Brigid last year. Our debut CD “Dare to Entertain” has found national success, particularly on the internet streaming service Spotify, where it has amassed more than 3 million song streams to date.
By Jacob Stockinger
Does The Ear ever love chamber music!
And it has been a good few days for him and for other Madison fans of string quartets.
On Saturday night, The Ear heard the Ancora String Quartet (below) in outstanding performances of the “Dissonance” Quartet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the late String Quartet No. 13 in A Minor, “Rosamunde,” by Franz Schubert.
Then on Monday night, the Ear heard the terrific Rhapsodie Quartet (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson), made up of players in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, perform the “American” String Quartet by Antonin Dvorak followed by the sublime and profound Cello Quintet by Franz Schubert. UW-Madison and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp (below bottom) sat in as the extra cellist.
At the Ancora concert, cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, made the case that Mozart’s “Dissonance” Quartet is well known for its apt nickname and is probably the best known or most popular string quartet of all time.
But that got The Ear to thinking:
What are the most well-known and most popular string quartets?
And which string quartets are your favorites that you would recommend to other chamber music fans?
The Ear drew up a list of candidates of the first honor of being well-known.
He suspects that the “Emperor” Quartet — with its famous and infamous slow movement theme that was turned from an homage to the Austrian emperor into an anthem for Nazi Germany — by Franz Joseph Haydn, the “Death and the Maiden” Quartet of Schubert and the “American” Quartet of Dvorak all rival or surpass the public reputation of the Mozart’s “Dissonance,” although that one is certainly and deservedly famous to the general public.
As to The Ear’s favorite quartets: The Ear is especially partial to the six early Op. 18 string quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven (below), which often take a back seat to the same composer’s middle quartets and late quartets. But of the famous last ones, The Ear loves the very last one, Op. 135, with its return to classical structure and clarity.
He also loves all of the Op. 76 string quartets by Haydn (below top) and is especially partial to the “Sunrise” and the “Quinten” or “Fifths” quartets. He also loves Haydn’s earlier Op. 20 “Sun” quartets; and all six string quartets that Mozart (below bottom) composed for and dedicated to Haydn, generally considered the father or the modern string quartet who also played string quartets with himself on violin and Mozart on viola.
The Ear likes Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” well enough, but he is always blown away by Schubert’s last quartet in G major, which was used as a soundtrack in Woody Allen’s great movie “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
He also loves the lyrical quartets on Dvorak (below), especially the Op. 51 “Slavonic” as well as the “American.” (You can hear the opening of the “Slavonic” String Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
As for Johannes Brahms, The Ear prefers the string quintets and string sextets to the string quartets.
Francophile that he is, The Ear also loves the single string quartets by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.
Among other modern string quartets, he loves the third and fifth of Bela Bartok, the second one by Sergei Prokofiev and the eight and 11th by Dmitri Shostakovich. He also adds the String Quartet No. 3 “Mishima” by Philip Glass.
Well, that’s enough for today and for this post.
What string quartet do you think is the most famous or most popular?
And which string quartets are your favorites?
Leave word, with a YouTube link if possible, in the COMMENT section.
The Ear wants to hear.
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 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. He also provided the performance photos for this review.
By John W. Barker
Two of the city’s important choral groups joined forces for a program presented at the First Congregational United Church of Christ last Friday night and Sunday afternoon.
Albert Pinsonneault (below), who used to teach at Edgewood College and now teaches at Northwestern University, and who is the director of both groups, conducted.
Each group had its own showcase in the program’s first half.
The Madison Chamber Choir (below) led off with the “Serenade to Music,” a setting of lines from William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, which Ralph Vaughan Williams composed in 1938 for 16 of his favorite singers, with orchestra. He adapted this for full chorus, but that transition did not quite produce a work truly choral in character.
The choir sang the beautiful work very handsomely, but the substitution for the orchestra of a piano accompaniment was uncomfortable and, indeed, a disruption of diction. (You can hear the original version for chorus and orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Madison Choral Project (below top) came next with a performance of “Images, Shadows, Dreams: Five Vignettes” by the late David Baker (1931-2016, below middle).
Baker was a noted scholar and promoter of jazz, and his goal was a “fusion” of jazz with classical forms. To the five composed poems, Pinsonneault added readings of poems written by five young participants (below bottom) in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Odyssey Project activities in cultural and educational support.
All this represents noble and praiseworthy efforts on behalf of disadvantaged African-Americans. But high ideals do not necessarily guarantee artistic achievement. Baker uses a combo of five instrumentalists, which bangs away behind the choir, hardly “fusing” anything in styles—neither honest jazz nor multicultural synthesis.
The choir, in its turn, sings mightily at music of generally simplistic technique — mostly unisons and chordal declamations. There is little to remember or admire, once the “messages” have worn off.
Fortunately, the intermission yielded to the one work of substance on the program, the Mass for Double Choir, by the Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974, below), a combination of neo-classical and modernist styles that is better appreciated in Europe than here.
For this, the two choirs (below) merged, then divided into the requisite two components.
Martin’s writing is subtle, and his juxtaposition of the two choirs is not just antiphonal but artfully varied in their interaction—to which is added a great deal of harmonic experimentation. This is one of the choral masterpieces of the 20th century.
Pinsonneault and his 57 choristers gave it a glorious performance, showing what this conductor can do to make great choral sound out of great choral music.
The final programmed piece was a somewhat pretentious setting by contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan (below) of a ballad by poet Robert Burns. As an encore, the singers perpetrated a glitzy, but uncredited, arrangement of “Loch Lomond”—the only piece that brought the audience to its feet.
This concert was an undeniable testimony to the splendid choral groups we have here, and to what Pinsonneault is accomplishing with these groups. But I kept returning to the dichotomy at which I hinted earlier.
Choral singing is a wonderful activity both to listen to and to participate in, and I share some of the enthusiasm for that. But I wonder how many in the audience were there seeking great CHORAL singing. I was there seeking great choral MUSIC.
Our choirs can give us the former, no question, and audiences can justly admire it. But has all this musical talent been applied responsibly to the latter? How much do our choral programs deal with trivia and little sweetmeats, rather than digging into the vast literature of magnificent choral art?
By Jacob Stockinger
The SOLD-OUT gala concert (below), given last February in Overture Hall by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) to mark the organization’s 50th anniversary, will be featured in a special one-hour statewide broadcast on Wisconsin Public Television.
The program, which airs on Monday night, May 23, at 8 p.m., will feature highlights from the concert as well as interviews from current members (below), staff and alumni, and features background about music education and WYSO’s 50-year history.
For more about the concert’s details and the five world premieres of WYSO commissions that were featured, visit this post:
Here are some photos from the event, including WYSO music director James Smith (below top) and conductor Michelle Kaebisch (below bottom):
The broadcast will be repeated on Sunday, May 29, at 3 p.m. and then archived on the Wisconsin Public Television website: www.wpt.org
PLEASE NOTE: This is also a great weekend to hear WYSO members in LIVE concerts. Today (Saturday) and tomorrow (Sunday), various WYSO groups will give the annual series of spring concerts, including performances by winners of the WYSO concerto competition.
Here is a link with full details about the WYSO concerts this weekend:
Here is a sampler to whet your appetite for both the recorded television show and the live concerts. In the YouTube video below, WYSO students play the “Great Gate at Kiev” from “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear is passing along the following announcement in time for you to mark your datebook and make plans:
For the 2016 summer season, the Rural Musicians Forum welcomes audiences to Taliesin, the historic estate of Frank Lloyd Wright, near Spring Green, and to the Wright-designed Wyoming Valley Cultural Arts Center.
In commenting on the venues for the series, RMF’s artistic director Kent Mayfield (below) said: “RMF is honored to work in close collaboration with Taliesin Preservation Inc. to host much of this year’s series at the Taliesin’s Hillside School Theater.
The Hillside Theater (below) provides a dramatic but intimate setting for performances totally consistent with Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision: imaginative, bold and beautiful. And, for its part, the Wyoming Valley Cultural Arts Center underscores the sustained vitality of that vision.”
Madison’s acclaimed harpsichordist, fortepianist, pianist and founder of the Madison Bach Musicians, Trevor Stephenson (below top) opens the 2016 season on June 13 with mezzo-soprano Margaret Fox (below bottom).
Violinist Alexander Ayers (below) follows on June 27. Ayers, earlier a player in the Madison Symphony and now a member of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, has been widely praised for his shimmering virtuosity and technical precision. (You can hear him perform the virtuosic Caprice No. 11 for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
July 11 brings on the memorable trio of Dan Barker (piano), Rob Shepherd (saxophone) and Cleo Ware (vocals) for an evening of glorious, nostalgic music by George Gershwin (below).
Clocks in Motion (below) brings its adventurous and absolutely contemporary percussion repertoire to Taliesin on July 25.
That will be followed on Aug. 8, by a showcase of captivating new music by the Madison-based wind quintet, Black Marigold (below).
The season closes with RMF’s annual “Music in the Fields,” on Sunday, Aug. 21. The Stellanovas’ evening of café jazz promises equal parts Hawaiian luau, Parisian wedding and mellow summer pleasure on the lawn at the Wyoming Valley Cultural Arts Center. The center is located at 6306 State Highway 23. (This event is ticketed.)
Now in its 35th season, RMF continues to provide all members of the community an opportunity to enjoy live music featuring a wide range of styles and combinations of music with performers of extraordinary ability.
Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. There is no ticket charge for concerts at Hillside Theater, but a freewill offering to support the series is taken. Given the unique appeal of the Taliesin location, early arrival for the concerts is recommended.
NOTE: Sorry, but The Ear has received no word about specific programs an works to be performed. He also doesn’t see them listed on the website for the Rural Musicians Forum.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will wind up their 50th anniversary season when they present the final concert series of the season — the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family Spring Concerts — on this Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22.
The concert series will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus in the George Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, in Madison.
WYSO concerts generally run about an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.
Tickets are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for young people 18 and under.
Almost 400 young musicians will display their talents to the community during four concerts.
The concert series will drop its downbeat at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, when Sinfonietta (below), under the baton of Mark Leiser, takes the stage. The group will perform the Poet and Peasant Overture by Franz von Suppe; the Suite for String Orchestra on Old English Songs by Ritter George; the Adagio from Symphony No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff; As Summer Was Just Beginning (Song for James Dean) by Daehn; and Final Quest composed by Chisam.
Following Sinfonietta, Christine Mata-Eckel will lead the Concert Orchestra (below) on stage to perform Kallalanta by William Harbinson, Peter Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet and finally Jacob’s Fantasia on the Alleluia Hymn.
The Harp Ensemble (below), under the direction of Karen Beth Atz, will also perform at this concert. It will be performing Courante CLXXXIII by Michael Praetorius and Toward the Sun by Izmaylov.
For the 4 p.m. concert on Saturday, May 21, Vicki Jenks will direct the Percussion Ensemble (below) as it gets the concert started. It will perform Dark Flight by Campbell and their annual performance of Londonderry Air (“Danny Boy”) in honor of graduating seniors.
Following Percussion Ensemble, the Philharmonia Orchestra (bel0w), under the direction of Michelle Kaebisch, will take the stage. It will perform the final movement of Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 and Espana by Emmanuel Chabrier.
The orchestra will also perform two concertos featuring the Philharmonia Orchestra Concerto Competition Winners. Pianist Antonio Wu (below top) will perform Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto and violinist Monona Suzuki (below bottom) will perform the Carmen Fantasy for Solo Violin by Pablo de Sarasate.
On Sunday, May 22, at 2 p.m. WYSO’s Brass Choirs (below) under the direction of Brett Keating will start the show performing works by George Frideric Handel, Olson, Heinrich Schutz and more.
Following Brass Choirs, Youth Orchestra (below) with WYSO music director James Smith will perform four concertos along with Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.
Violinist Thea Valmadrid (below top) will perform Tzigane for Solo Violin by Maurice Ravel; violinist Aurora Greane (below second) will play the first movement of the Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky; pianist Audrianna Wu (below third) will perform the final movement of the Piano Concerto by Edvard Greig; and cellist Tatiana Tandias (below bottom) will perform the first movement of the Cello Concerto by Sir Edward Elgar.
These concerts are generously supported by the Eugenie Mayer Bolz Family, along with funds from Dane County, the Endres Mfg. Company Foundation, The Evjue Foundation, Inc., charitable arm of The Capital Times, W. Jerome Frautschi Foundation and Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation. This project is also supported in part by additional funds from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the State of Wisconsin, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
By Jacob Stockinger
This Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, the Ancora String Quartet (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) closes out its 15th anniversary season with a selection of gorgeous favorites.
Here is the MUST-HEAR program of masterpieces by an ensemble that performs beautifully but too often flies under the radar, given how many chamber music ensembles have burst onto the local classical music scene:
The famed “Dissonance” string quartet, K. 465, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart journeys from its hauntingly modernistic and brooding opening to the most perfectly cheerful closing. (You can hear the opening in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
There will be a Mystery Piece that is billed as “a little gem of energy and drama.”
The late “Rosamunde” String Quartet in A Minor, D. 804, by Franz Schubert wafts an air of gentle melancholy.
Tickets at the door are $15 for general admission; $12 seniors and students; $6 children under 12.
A free reception follows the performance.
Members of the Ancora String Quartet are: Leanne Kelso League and Robin Ryan, violins; Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola; and Benjamin Whitcomb, cello.
Members of the quartet also play with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and both violinist Leanne Kelso League and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb teach at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
NEWS ALERT: David Ronis (below, in a photo by Luke Delalio) — who has been an interim director for two years — is the new director of University Opera. He was chosen from a nationwide search, and has posted the following news on his Facebook page:
“For some reason, I’ve been resisting posting my big news, now a couple of months old. But perhaps it’s time. I’ve been appointed the inaugural Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera at University of Wisconsin-Madison! It’s truly humbling to be going into an endowed chair established in memory of such a dear, wonderful, talented, and dedicated soul. This endowment will enable us to continue to develop the exemplary opera program at UW-Madison in all kinds of directions. Stay tuned!”
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following note to pass along:
Con Vivo!…music with life (below) presents a chamber music concert entitled “Five by Seven” on this Saturday, May 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave., across from Camp Randall.
Tickets can be purchased at the door for $18 for adults and $15 for seniors and students.
Con Vivo!’s spring concert “Five by Seven” features septets and quintets for winds, strings and organ.
The program includes the Septet, Op. 20, by Ludwig van Beethoven, and the folk-like Bagatelles, Op. 47, for strings and organ by Antonin Dvorak. (You can sample Dvorak’s tuneful Bagatelles in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
Additional pieces include the story of a lover’s unrequited love in the quintet “Serenata in vano” by Danish composer Carl Nielsen below top) and the miniature “Lyrical Andante” by the German composer Max Reger (below bottom), whose centennial was just marked.
Audience members are invited to join Con Vivo! musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss the music.
Artistic Director Robert Taylor said: “With Con Vivo!’s spring concert, we conclude our 14th season with exceptional music that combines the wonderful sounds of winds, strings and organ. Our Madison audience will be able to hear our musicians up close and personal playing music of extreme delight and depth.”
Con Vivo! is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following notice, which is noteworthy on several counts artistic, educational and social:
On Friday, May 20, at 7:30 p.m. and again on Sunday, May 22, at 2:30 p.m., two Madison choirs join forces on a unique pair of fantastic concerts.
The two performances will take place at the First Congregational Church of Madison, 1609 University Ave., near Camp Randall.
Tickets are available in advance at www.themcp.org as well as at the door. Admission is $25 at the door, $20 in advance; students are$10 student with student I.D)
The Madison Choral Project (below top) and the Madison Chamber Choir (below bottom) will team up for the first time to present the transcendentally beautiful “Mass for Double Choir” by Frank Martin.
The Mass for Double Choir (1926) by Swiss composer Frank Martin (1890-1974, below) is one of the masterpieces of 20th-century choral music. Lush and gorgeous, with sweeping melodies, it is brilliant vocal writing on a grand scale. The 25-minute Martin Mass is truly a symphony for voices. (You can hear the “Agnus Dei” movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
The two choirs will also present “The Gallant Weaver” for three soprano soloists and a cappella (unaccompanied) choir by Scottish composer James MacMillan (below) and Jonathan Quick‘s arrangement of the Scottish folk tune “Loch Lomond.”
The choirs will additionally perform separately, with the Madison Chamber Choir singing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Serenade to Music,” and the Madison Choral Project performing David Baker’s “Images, Shadows, Dreams: Five Vignettes.”
Jazz icon David Baker (1931-2016, below) set text of poet Mari Evans (b. 1923) in “Images, Shadows, Dreams: Five Vignettes.” The poetry describes five tableaux or scenes from the perspective of the underprivileged in America.
The music is jazz-derived, with voices joined by a full rhythm section of string bass, drums, and piano as well as flute and guitar.
During the performance of the Baker piece, students from UW-Odyssey Project (below) will recite original works, giving a local voice to complement the poems of Mari Evans. The UW-Odyssey Project serves adults near the poverty level.
Odyssey students have gone from homelessness to become college graduates, and from incarceration to doing meaningful work in the community. We are especially excited to share their voices in our concert.