The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Tucson celebrates the Leonard Bernstein centennial. Why not Madison?

February 17, 2018
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Editor’s note: Larry Wells, better known as The Opera Guy who writes for this blog, recently spent time in Tucson, Arizona, where he attended many events celebrating the Leonard Bernstein centennial.

Tucson isn’t alone. This fall has seen many similar celebrations, including those in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Milwaukee. But curiously there has been little in Madison.

Perhaps that will change next season. At least this week will see a FREE concert by the UW-Madison Wind Ensemble this Wednesday night, Feb. 21, in Mills Hall. The mixed program with other composers features “Profanation” from Bernstein’s Symphony No. 1.

Here is a link with more information and the program:

https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wind-ensemble-2/

And here are observations about the Tucson celebration:

By Larry Wells

I recently spent a few weeks in Tucson. Part of that time happily coincided with the annual Tucson Desert Song Festival which this year commemorated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell).

I was able to attend 13 of the performances and was struck by the consistently intelligent programming, large audiences, and high performance standards.

Many of the events were held at the Fred Fox School of Music at the University of Arizona. Some of these involved talented student and faculty singers performing Bernstein’s Broadway songs as well as his more serious vocal works. The venue also hosted outstanding recitals by Metropolitan Opera veterans Jennifer Johnson Cano (below top) and Lisette Oropesa (below bottom).

One of the highlights was a recital by dual pianists Steven Bleier (below top, on right) and Michael Barrett (below top, on left), founders of the New York Festival of Song. Their program included Bernstein’s final song cycle “Arias and Barcarolles” featuring the very talented Joshua Jeremiah (below middle) and Rebecca Jo Loeb (below bottom).

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra (below), under the direction of its new conductor José Luis Gomez,  filled the cavernous Tucson Music Hall for two performances of Bernstein’s underperformed Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish.” Joined by the symphony’s outstanding chorus, the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus, and soprano Kelley Nassief this monumental work was electrifying. The many percussionists were given a good aerobic workout, and the audience seemed hypnotized.

The only flaw was the narration rewritten and delivered by Bernstein’s daughter Jamie. The original narration by the composer is a monologue between a man and his god. Ms. Bernstein’s narration changed the tone to that of a daughter speaking about her father.

For someone familiar with the work, I felt somewhat cheated that I was not hearing the work as it had been composed. Still it was a total delight to hear a live performance of a work that should be heard far more often than it is.

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra offered a second program which featured a sparkling performance of Bernstein’s opera “Trouble in Tahiti” with the widely-praised, and rightly so, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke (below in a photo by Dario Acosta).

Ballet Tucson offered a somewhat strange program featuring Bernstein songs beautifully performed by Cadie Jordan (below top) and David Margulis (below bottom, in a photo by Kristin Hoebermann). Sometimes they were accompanied by dancers and sometimes not.

Then, after a number of these songs, a recording came on of portions of the suite from Bernstein’s score for the film “On the Waterfront” with dancers performing a sort of “Romeo and Juliet” narrative. It didn’t seem to make any cohesive sense, but it was fun to watch and the quality of the music never faltered.

Two other large events were the Arizona Opera’s “Candide” and Tucson’s resident chorus True Concord’s MASS.

I attended the premiere of “Candide” (below) which was also performed in the vast Tucson Music Hall. I had only seen it performed once before, and that was the charming, witty, and intimate Harold Prince version. The Tucson version was one of the overlong operatic versions that featured additional musical numbers, which was a good thing, but wordy spoken dialogue that was unfortunately under-amplified. Therefore, unless someone was very familiar with the work, the production was a long string of seemingly unrelated musical numbers linked by incomprehensible spoken dialogue.

The dialogues themselves are very witty, but since they were not accompanied by supertitles as was the singing, the performance was seriously flawed. Still the singing was excellent, with special praise for Katrina Galka’s Cunegonde, and the staging was colorful and often amusing. Hopefully the sound issues were rectified for the following four performances. (You can hear the famous Overture to “Candide”– conducted by the composer —  in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

MASS (poster with scenes is below) was performed in what is termed as the ‘Chamber Version.’ I was apprehensive that somehow the musical content would be diminished, but my worries turned out to be unfounded and the performance was uniformly dynamic and engaging. True Concord is an outstanding choral group, and its leader Eric Holtan led a thoroughly engaging and moving performance of this monumental work. I was so taken by the first performance that I attended the second as well. Both performances filled the huge Centennial Hall.

Besides the orchestra and chorus the work features a celebrant, in this case the appropriately named Jubilant Sykes, an ensemble of vocal soloists, a boys chorus and dancers. The choreographers decided to add an additional layer of complexity to an already complex work by having some of the dancers portray Rose, Jacqueline and Caroline Kennedy as well as what I think was supposed to be the spirit of JFK. This was not part of the original work, and I felt it was superfluous to an already multifaceted work. But the audience loved it all, and it turns out that Madison is not the only city that seems to give everything a standing ovation.

The takeaway moment of the festival occurred during a discussion involving composer Dan Asia, the festival director and conductor George Hanson, and Jamie Bernstein. When asked how younger audiences can be lured into concert halls, all three of them immediately concurred that the answer is to program 20th-century music. They claim that any time 20th-century music is programmed, ticket sales increase. My experience at this festival was that large venues were consistently filled with audiences of all ages.

This is something for Madison to think about.


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Classical music: African pianist William Nyaho gives FREE lectures, master classes and concert during his residency later this week at the UW-Madison School of Music.

April 7, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Ethnic diversity certainly matters to the current generation of music students who are helping to expand the field of classical music. Consider this letter sent to The Ear by a UW-Madison student:

My name is Ian Tomaz and I am a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. I am writing on behalf of our collegiate chapter of Music Teachers National Association which is hosting pianist William Chapman Nyaho on the week and weekend April 9-12 at the School of Music for a series of concerts, master classes and lectures. (In a YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Nyaho discuss what he does on campuses, this time at the University of Arizona.)

We are hoping to get the word out about the event. He is an excellent pianist and teacher, and he is presenting a program of traditional classical repertoire as well as African classical music plus lectures on African music and the music business. In addition to being a great pianist, he is a wonderful human being. I really think that the public would enjoy these events and the man behind them.

Nyaho at piano 1 Raised Hand

Here is the official blurb we’ve been using in other advertisements:

The University of Wisconsin-Madison MTNA Collegiate Chapter is planning a great event in April. We are bringing in the pianist and teacher William Chapman Nyaho for a three-day residency on April 9-11.

Here is the schedule of events:

Lecture: African Piano Music: Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 7 p.m. in Humanities Building, Room 2531

Lecture: Business Aspects of Music: Friday, April 10, 2015 at 4 p.m. in Humanities Building, Room 1351

Masterclass for Pianists: Friday, April 10, 2015 at 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall

Piano Recital: Saturday, April 11, 2015 at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall

Thursday night, April 9, at 7 p.m. in Room 2531: Nyaho will give a presentation and question-answer session about African piano music. He will discuss the melding of African and Western cultures found in classical piano music by composers of African descent.

William Nyaho portrait

On Friday, April 10, at 4 p.m. in Room 1351: Nyaho will give a presentation focused on several business aspects of music. He will draw from his own experience editing and compiling an anthology entitled “Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora.” He will also discuss the logistics of running his own private piano studio in Seattle.

Friday night at 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall, Nyaho will give a two-hour master class to four UW-Madison piano students.

On Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Nyaho will give a solo piano recital of a mixture of Western and African classical music.

William Nyaho at piano 2

All events will be FREE and OPEN to the entire Madison community.

Here is more about Dr. Nyaho:

William Chapman Nyaho grew up in Ghana and studied music at Oxford University in England and in the United States. He is known around the world for his engaging piano performances of both Western classical music and piano music of Africa and the African Diaspora.

Nyaho compiled and edited a five-volume graded anthology of piano sheet music by composers of African descent published by Oxford University Press. This anthology represents a wide variety of newly published material and has become quite influential in the classical music realm by expanding the repertoire available to both students and concert pianists.

Nyaho has also released two critically-acclaimed CDs of his performances of solo piano music by composers from Africa and the African Diaspora.

William Chapman Nyaho

In addition to his performing and recording career, Nyaho is known for his sensitive and empowering teaching. Having served as Visiting Professor at many university campuses around the United Sates, he is universally praised for his authenticity, enthusiasm and artistry as a clinician and teacher.

You can read more reviews about Nyaho at his website http://nyaho.com/reviews.cfm, including one by Maya Angelou, who had this to say about him: “A talented young man with a rare mixture of youthful enthusiasm and mature reliability… intelligent, sensitive and possesses remarkable character….”

For his recital, he will be playing a mixture of Western and African piano repertoire, including the Piano Sonata Op. 31, No. 3, by Ludwig van Beethoven. His specific program will be posted soon on the UW-Madison School of Music website at http://www.music.wisc.edu


Classical music education: Let us now praise and support student musicians even as we cheer on the University of Wisconsin Badgers basketball team playing against the University of Arizona Wildcats in tonight’s NCAA’s “Elite Eight” game. Here are the winners of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s 2014 Bolz Young Artist Competition and “Final Forte” concert. PLUS, WYSO’s Art of Note fundraiser is tonight.

March 29, 2014
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ALERT: Tonight is the gala Art of Note annual fundraiser for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). It will be held at CUNA Mutual at 5910 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side,  from 6 to 10 p.m. and features great food and many items for auctions as well as performances by student music groups. For more information, visit:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/support-wyso/art-of-note/

wyso horns

By Jacob Stockinger

Even as many Badger eyes will be turned tonight to the “Elite Eight” round of the NCAA’s annual March Madness “The Big Dance” national college basketball championship in Anaheim. California, tonight at 7:49 p.m. CDT on TBS (Turner Broadcasting System)  with the hopes that the University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers will win over top-seeded University of Arizona Wildcats and go on to advance to the “Final Four” and further — we would do well to remember the students who excel in other fields besides athletics but who receive far less media coverage and much less popular acclaim than they deserve.

Take student classical musicians, for instance.

Chances are you already know the news if you were there in person Wednesday night at  “The Final Forte” in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, or if you heard the performances that were broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio.

But now it is official, complete with the press release from the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) that names the results of the state annual teenage concerto competition called the Bolz Young Artist Competition.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The four instrumentalists performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, under guest conductor James Smith of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, who filled in for MSO music director John DeMain.

The four finalists who competed in two preliminary rounds and who are pictured below in a photo by James Gill, were (from the left):

mso final forte 2014 David Cao, Elizabeth Moss, Bobby Levinger, Ephraim Sutherland CR James Gill

Violinist David Cao, 15, who attends James Madison Memorial High School in Madison. He played the first movement of the Violin Concerto in D Minor by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. He took First Prize and $2,000. (you can hear a YouTube video of the first movement of this demanding concerto at the bottom.)

Violinist Bethany Moss, 17, is a senior home-schooled in Appleton, Wisconsin. She performed the third movement of the Violin Concerto in B Minor by French composer Camille Saint-Saens. She received an Honorable Mention.

Pianist Bobby Levinger, 17 is a senior at Central High School in La Crosse. He played the first movement of the Piano Concerto in A Minor by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. He received an Honorable Mention.

Marimba player Ephraim Sutherland, 15, is a sophomore at Viroqua High School. He performed the Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra by French composer Emmanuel Sejourne. He received Second Prize and $2,000.

Cao and Sutherland also performed as soloists with the Madison Symphony Orchestra at the MSO’s Spring Young People’s Concert on Thursday, March 27, which area school children attended. (Below is a photo by Greg Anderson of a previous Young People’s Concert.)

MSO Fall Youth kid greg anderson

Do you agree with the results?

If you have an observation to make about the competition and performances, or wishes to leave the contestants, please use the COMMENTS section of this blog.

Major funding for this concert is provided by Diane Ballweg, Larry and Julie Midtbo, Fred and Mary Mohs, The Berbeewalsh Foundation, and The Boldt Company, with additional funds from the A. Paul Jones Charitable Trust, Stephen D. Morton, Mildred and Marv Conney, James Dahlberg and Elsebet Lund, Kato L. Perlman, Sentry Insurance Foundation, W. Jerome Frautschi, and Friends of Wisconsin Public Television.

 

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