The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: Retiring UW-Madison and Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras maestro James Smith gets the monthly ‘Making a Difference’ award from NBC TV Channel 15

December 29, 2016
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ALERT: In yesterday’s post about the upcoming house concert of keyboard music by Trevor Stephenson, The Ear listed the wrong date in the headline. It was corrected, but The Ear apologizes and feels a correction is still needed for those who missed it: The concert is on Friday, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m. For more information, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/28/classical-music-trevor-stephenson-will-use-a-variety-of-period-keyboard-instruments-to-perform-a-house-concert-of-music-by-baroque-classical-romantic-and-impressionistic-composers-on-jan-7/

By Jacob Stockinger

It comes as welcome and heart-warming news at a time when so much news is negative, accusatory and depressing.

Maestro James Smith (below, in a photo by Michael Anderson) — who has been conducting the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra, the UW-Madison Chamber Orchestra and the University Opera as well as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras for 32 years — has received a fine piece of community recognition.

UW Chamber Orchestra, James Smith, conductor

Smith has just received the monthly “Making a Difference” award from NBC TV Channel 15, which also broadcast once again three times WYSO’s traditional concert “Sounds of the Season” on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

james smith Jack Burns

Here is the 3-1/2 minute video, which includes an interview with Smith as well as testimony from a former student who has gone on to have a professional career in music, about the NBC award:

http://www.nbc15.com/content/news/Maestro-making-a-difference–408450735.html

Such recognition is nothing new for Smith, who has won many honors as well as the esteem of his colleagues, his students and his audiences.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Six years ago, The Ear named Smith as ‘Musician of the Year’ for 2010:

Here is that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/classical-music-uw-and-wyso-conductor-james-smith-is-“musician-of-the-year”-for-2010/

WYSO 50th James Smith conducting

More recently, The Ear talked about Smith’s upcoming retirement and his post-retirement plans in a post about four major people who will retire this spring from the UW-Madison School of Music:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/19/classical-music-four-major-retirements-this-spring-will-put-the-uw-madison-school-of-music-in-a-staffing-bind-and-could-further-hurt-the-standing-of-the-uw-madison/

The Ear loves Smith’s reply when he was asked by anchor John Stofflet of NBC for advice to his successor:

“Learn from the students,” said Smith, a trained professional and concertizing clarinetist who turned to conducting.

The Ear, who was a longtime teacher himself, knows the truth of that answer.

Thank you and bravo, Maestro Smith.

Bravissimo!!


Classical music: The UW Choral Union delivers an eclectic non-seasonal program of music by Beethoven, Brahms and Bernstein with power and lyricism

December 12, 2016
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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. 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 once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Eschewing any seasonal or holiday connections, the UW-Madison Choral Union (below) gave its December concert last Friday night with a program of three “B’s”.

uw-choral-union-with-chamber-orchestra-and-soloists-dec-2016-jwb

Well, two of the B’s are familiar ones. But in place of Bach, we got Leonard Bernstein, taking first place in reverse chronological order — his Chichester Psalms, dating from 1965.

This three-movement work probably represents Bernstein’s most important choral score. It sets texts in the original Hebrew, the middle movement calling for a boy treble to represent the young David in the rendering of Psalm 131 — a function here filled bravely by young Simon Johnson (below, front left) of the Madison Youth Choirs.

uw-choral-union-dec-2016-jwb-simon-johnson-of-myc

The platoon of percussionists in the first two movements confirms the composer’s flashy “modernism.” To be sure, there are some characteristic melodic twists that proclaim the composer familiar to us, and the swaying melodic tune of the third movement is really lovely.

But Bernstein (below) did not know what to do with it besides repeating it obsessively. Bernstein simply was not a savvy master of choral writing, and I firmly believe that this work—a trivial cross between Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Bernstein’s own Broadway musical West Side Story—would not merit much attention were it not for Bernstein’s name on it.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: You can decide on the work’s merits for yourself by listening to the live performance, conducted by the composer himself, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Leonard Bernstein composing in 1955

Just how inadequate Bernstein’s choral sense was emerged clearly with the next work, the short ode for chorus and orchestra by Johannes Brahms, Nänie, Op. 82.

The title adapts a Greek word for a lament, and Friedrich Schiller’s German text evokes the death of beauty in the death of Achilles. Brahms was among the supreme choral masters, and this particular example is one of several of his “minor” choral works that we hear too rarely.

brahmsBW

The second half of the program was devoted to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Mass in C major, Op. 86. No, not the monumental Missa solemnis of the composer’s last years when (as with the Ninth Symphony’s finale) he had transcended the realities of choral writing. This earlier Mass setting, dating from 1807, was in the direct line of Mass settings for the Esterházy family composed by the aged Haydn.

But to Haydn’s incorporation of symphonic structure into Mass composition, Beethoven (below) brought his own strongly progressive personality, and a remarkable quality of melodic and thematic invention. This is a lovely work, and choirs who fling themselves doggedly against the Missa solemnis ought sometimes to revel in this beautiful work instead.

Beethoven big

The forces arrayed included a solo quartet (below, in the front from left) are bass John Loud, tenor Jiabao Zhang and sopranos Jessica Kasinski and Anna Polum.

uw-choral-union-dec-2016-soloists

The UW Chamber Orchestra proved able. But the star was, of course, the Choral Union chorus itself. Its diction worked from indistinguishable Hebrew through respectable German to really lucid Latin. Above all, it made mighty, full-blooded sound that bolstered Beethoven’s lyricism with powerful projection.

Once again, conductor Beverly Taylor (below) has gone beyond stale conventions to bring us valued exposure to music outside the conventional boundaries.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE


Classical music: Turning chaos into order. Conductor Beverly Taylor explains what makes Haydn’s “The Creation” special and fun to listen to. The UW-Madison Choral Union and UW Chamber Orchestra with soloists will perform it on Sunday afternoon.

April 18, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the campus-community UW-Madison Choral Union (below), the UW Chamber Orchestra and soloists will perform the oratorio the “The Creation” by the Classical-era master Franz Joseph Haydn.

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

First, The Ear wants to clear up any confusion about the date of the performance – which is ONE-TIME ONLY. (In the past, the Choral Union usually gave two performances.) The performance was originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Then it was moved to Saturday night and then, after a conflict with the Jewish Passover was seen, moved back to Sunday afternoon.

Tickets are $15 for the general public, $8 for students. For more information about tickets, the work and the performers, here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-choral-union2/

Beverly Taylor, director of choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who will conduct the performance, agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

What is the place of Haydn’s “The Creation” is the choral literature? Was it influential? Popular?

It’s considered wonderful and innovative. Its choruses are magnificent, and the opening depiction of Chaos is unlike anything that had been heard up to that time.

It was written late in Haydn’s career, and showed many aspects of his wonderful talent, including musical depictions of non-musical things—water, birds, dawn — and has terrific pacing of the extended choruses building to majestic climaxes.

The premiere was enthusiastically received. It was indeed popular, although the composer’s late masses also deserve great attention. The other vocal works by Haydn (below), such as “The Seasons,” are more slowly paced, and although they contain great music, they are not often felt to be as compelling as “The Creation” with its easy-to-follow sequence of creative days.

Haydn

Are there special moments or parts of the work you would like to point out to the public? How about special aspects of the performance?

Yes! One thing to do is to listen with an open mind to Chaos. (You can preview “Chaos” in a YouTube video at the bottom as performed by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music.)

When I first heard a dull performance of it years ago, I wondered what the big deal was. Then I took a good look at it: It contains chaotic oddities — a horn suddenly blaring loudly with no reference to other instruments, a trilling flute that never resolves its trill, bassoons and clarinets who play bubbling and pointless arpeggios until it all settles down to begin the first day of the Creation (famously depicted below by the British artist and poet William Blake).

Creation and God William Blake

There are also delightful musical depictions and sound paintings of weather that can be confusing unless you know that the orchestra depicts the weather before the bass tells us about it. That way hail won’t sound like snow! The same holds true for the description of animals — we hear the leaping stags before our singer tells us.

There will be terrific moments in the work — orchestral playing, fabulous choral singing. And there will be wonderful solo work by our experienced alumni and faculty artists soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below top), tenor James Doing (below second), bass-baritone Benjamin Schultz (below third) and baritone Benjamin Li (below bottom). It’s a pleasure to make music with them.

Jamie Rose Guarrine 2016

James Doing color

Benjamin Schultz 2016

Benjamin Li 2016

Composer John Harbison says that Haydn is the most neglected of all the great composers. Why do you think Haydn isn’t thought of more highly and performed more often?

Among musicians, Haydn is certainly thought of highly, and many people enjoy his work, especially the element of surprise in his work — sforzandos, sudden silences, changes of rhythm.

But many of his works are chamber works designed for smaller rooms and audiences. And in our modern life, the size of the orchestra and special instruments and added theatrical elements often attract more people. Haydn’s chamber works are fabulous, but sometimes subtle. However, they repay well those who pay attention to them.

The Creation poster 2016

What else would you like to say about the composer, this particular work or this performance?

Haydn was influenced by and had influence on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, on all the European composers. But what inspires audiences — including, we hope, ours — is the immediacy of the beauty of the music. You don’t need special training to jump right in and listen.


Classical music: Here’s bad news — There will be NO string orchestra this season to replace the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chamber Orchestra this year – or maybe next or maybe ever.

September 3, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Some bad news reached The Ear yesterday, on the first day of classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The following is an official announcement from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

It comes from the administration via Professor James Smith (below), who heads the program in orchestral conducting.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Writes Barbara Mahling: “I have some disappointing and sad news from Jim Smith. There are not enough string players for this new string orchestra, not enough violas or basses to make it work.”

“It is currently listed on the timetable, so that will need to be changed. It will not exist either term. We can hope for next year.

“Thanks,
“Barb Mahling
UW-Madison School of Music”

You may recall that a string orchestra seemed to be a temporary solution to the unexpected dissolution of the UW Chamber Orchestra (below, in 2012, and at bottom on YouTube in the opening of the Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.)

UW Symphony Orchestra 9-2012

The UW Symphony Orchestra (below top, with student conductor Kyle Knox on the podium) will continue to exist and will give its first performance on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 28, at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall The program features UW visiting voice professor, soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn, from Vienna, (below bottom) in Gustav Mahler’s Rückert Songs. The orchestra will also perform the Symphony No. 1 “Spring” by Robert Schumann.

Kyle Knox and UW Symphony Orchestra

Elizabeth Hagedorn 1

Here is a link to the UW School of Music (SOM) Calendar of Events:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

And here are two links to background stories about the UW Chamber Orchestra and the string orchestra that was supposed to replace  it and do some impressive repertoire, including Mahler’s orchestra version of the famous “Death and the Maiden” string quartet by Franz Schubert as well as intriguing works by Igor Stravinsky and Bela Bartok.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/classical-music-the-uw-chamber-orchestra-will-play-this-sunday-night-but-then-will-be-axed-and-fall-silent-next-season-is-this-au-revoir-or-adieu/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/classical-music-the-university-of-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-gets-a-reprieve-thanks-to-compromise-and-repertoire-adjustments-or-so-it-seems-right-now-that-makes-the-ear-happy-and-should-do-the/

The Ear finds that the announcement leaves him with some important and disturbing questions.

What is the solution to the problem? More scholarships to attract more talented students, as one source has said.

How will the lack of some smaller ensemble – either a chamber orchestra or a string orchestra – means for the prestige and national ranking of the UW School of Music?

How will the move affect recruiting of new players in strings and other areas?

Will the UW Symphony Orchestra end up doing double duty for the campus and community UW Choral Union (below), which usually alternates between the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra, depending on the work they are singing? (Below is a photo of the UW Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra performing the “Missa Solemnis” by Ludwig van Beethoven in 2010.)

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

What small orchestral group will perform smaller-scale orchestral works, either by itself or in collaboration with others?

And does the concluding phrase “We can hope for next year” mean that the chamber orchestra is dissolved forever? That the best we can hope for is another chance at an all-string orchestra?

No doubt details will emerge in the coming days and months.

But it is all too bad.

What do you think of the decision?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The University of Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra gets a reprieve, thanks to compromise and repertoire adjustments — or so it seems right now. That makes The Ear happy, and should do the same for you. Plus, you can hear BOTH of Mozart’s piano quartets for FREE on Monday night at Oakwood Village West.

May 16, 2014
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ALERT: Baroque and modern Madison violinist Kangwon Kim (below), who is a friend of this blog, writes: “I was hoping you could announce my FREE upcoming concert at Oakwood West.  I will be playing both of the glorious Mozart Piano Quartets (in G minor, K. 478, and in E-Flat Major, K. 493) in the “Music on Mondays @7” Series with my colleagues, Matthew Michelic, viola; Stefan Kartman, cello; and Jeannie Yu, piano.

The concert will be held on Monday, May 19, at 7 p.m. in the ARTS auditorium at Oakwood West University Woods, 6205 Mineral Point Road on Madison’s far west side. Both of these quartets are very beautiful and we are very excited to perform them in the same program.” And The Ear adds: The two Mozart piano quartets are very different, and very complementary in mood -– not repetitious and wonderfully listenable. This performance is a great way to hear the differences between major-key and minor-key Mozart in one sitting.

Kangwon Kim

By Jacob Stockinger

Talk about the perfect graduation gift for students at the graduation ceremonies this weekend at the University of Wisconsin-Madison!

It now seems that it will NOT be either au revoir or adieu for the UW Chamber Orchestra (below), as it first appeared. Conductor James Smith has made some compromises and adjustments that make it sound likely that the UW Chamber Orchestra will continue next season and next academic year without the hiatus of even one semester that seemed to be its certain fate earlier in this semester.

uw chamber orchestra USE

Here is how it all developed, the backstory, according to a previous posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/classical-music-the-uw-chamber-orchestra-will-play-this-sunday-night-but-then-will-be-axed-and-fall-silent-next-season-is-this-au-revoir-or-adieu/

And now comes a reassuring year-end letter to students, faculty and staff from Jim Smith (below), who heads the instrumental conducting program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

Here is the text:

“To the members of the Symphony and Chamber Orchestras:

“I am writing to thank you for the artistry and professionalism you brought to every rehearsal and performance. We made some beautiful and exciting music together, and I am indeed lucky to be your conductor.

“Many members of the orchestra will graduate in a few days, and to each of you I send my very best wishes for a creative and interesting life.

“Next year, there will a bit of a change in the orchestra program. There has been much speculation regarding the potential elimination of the Chamber Orchestra. I am happy to tell you that this is indeed NOT the case.

“There is, however, some uncertainty regarding the number of winds available to fill the positions required for a proper chamber orchestra. So I have elected to program works for strings with the potential of adding keyboards, percussion, faculty soloists, and the solo winds as needed for various works.

“Here are a few of the works under consideration:

“Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste” by Bela Bartok (below top)

“Metamorphosen” by Richard Strauss

Apollon Musagete” by Igor Stravinsky (below middle)

 “Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” string quartet as arranged by Gustav Mahler below bottom)

Adagio from the Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler

bartok

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

Gustav Mahler big

“I am quite excited about this repertoire, and know we will have wonderful concerts together.

“You can register for Chamber Orchestra if it has been reintroduced into the schedule of classes.  Hopefully, that will be the case. It may be listed Opera Orchestra, a title designed to act as a holding space for whatever substitute for the Chamber Orchestra was necessary to cover the opera production in the first semester.

“Whatever the title of the course, it serves as your organization credit. Difficulties can be sorted out later. The orchestra will meet as usual on Mondays and Wednesdays.

“Again, thank you for everything and have a wonderful summer.

“Sincerely yours,

“James Smith”

If you doubt how welcome this development is, take a listen to the video below. It comes from the outstanding last concert by the UW Chamber Orchestra, which, despite performing for free, deserve a full house every time they play. Some higher profile performing times might help achieve that.

First, they performed a delightful homage to Mozart by French composer Jacques Ibert (below top) and then an homage-like Dance Suite to Baroque French composer Francois Couperin by the late Romantic composer Richard Strauss (below bottom).

Jacques Ibert

richard strauss

Then came a highlight, a genuine masterpiece: the Symphony No. 39 in E-Flat Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below). The ensemble delivered with grace and taste, it also with muscularity.

Mozart old 1782

This was no music box Mozart, but a performance that shows you why Mozart has been so revered by other composers and listeners alike, and demonstrates what a big development Mozart proved in the history of Western classical music. It sure showed how Mozart wrote a lot more than pleasant, easy-listening wallpaper music to accompany brunch or to allow listeners to multi-task.

Here is a You Tube video of the opening of the first movement from that recent performance by the UW Chamber Orchestra:

 

 

 

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Classical music: Is it au revoir — or adieu? The UW Chamber Orchestra will play a FREE concert this Sunday night, but then will be axed and fall silent next season.

April 29, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear hears: The UW Chamber Orchestra (below) will NOT exist next school year.

uw chamber orchestra USE

But not before it performs its final concert of the current season -– FREE and open to the public — this coming Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. Under the baton of acclaimed longtime conductor James Smith (below), the chamber orchestra will perform what seems a fitting final program.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

What could be a better farewell than a program that features two homages: One to Francois Couperin (Dance Suite) by Richard Strauss (below top) and one to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by French composer Jacques Ibert (below bottom). And then comes the true Mozart in a true masterpiece: the Symphony No. 39 in E-Flat Major.

richard strauss

Jacques Ibert

The UW-Madison has not released any specific information yet about the reasons involved in canceling the UW Chamber Orchestra, which, together with the UW Symphony Orchestra, makes up the orchestra program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

But from what The Ear hears, the decision has to do with several factors.

Because there are fewer scholarships, there are fewer students coming into the school and therefore entering the performance groups.

There are also fewer students because some major professors who attract a loyal following from afar are retiring. They include tuba player John Stevens, University Opera director William Farlow and pianist Todd Welbourne.

Other full-time faculty are leaving the UW-Madison School of Music (violinist Felicia Moye, below, to McGill University, soprano Julia Faulkner to the Lyric Opera of Chicago school) and have been replaced with one-year appointments (oboist Kostas Tiliakos, singer Elizabeth Hagedorn, violinists Eugene Purdue of Madison and Leslie Shank of the Twin Cities, below, tubist Tom Curry and University Opera director David Ronis from CUNY’s Aaron Copland School of Music in New York City). And short-term instructors simply do not attract as many loyal students, especially those whose talent is on a superior or professional level.

Felicia Moye color

Leslie Shank

Here are some links to stories about the new incoming academic staff from the terrific blog Fanfare:

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/paq-tour-disanza-award-new-faculty/

Plus, there have been some financial problems, which have also caused the UW-Madison School of Music to scale back the new performing space it is seeking to build, and to substitute one-year appointments for tenure-track professorships.

All in all, the UW-Madison School of Music, which has traditionally enjoyed a fine reputation and a high ranking among public music schools, faces some serious challenges.

The only large instrumental classical ensemble that will continue to exist will be the UW Symphony Orchestra, but all the musicians I have talked to say the two groups offer very different playing experiences.

And The Ear finds it ironic that the smaller-scale chamber orchestras generally seem to be thriving around the country far more than the larger, more ambitious and more expensive symphony orchestras and opera companies, many of which face serious financial challenges. (Below is the famed St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, in which violinist Leslie Shank plays.)

St Paul Chamber Orchestra

I have not heard reactions about axing the UW Chamber Orchestra from staff or students -– perhaps because they have not yet heard the news — but I would welcome hearing some in the COMMENTS sections of this blog. I also think that members of the public and listeners should chime in with their reactions.

To The Ear, the demise of the UW Chamber Orchestra is a sad shame. After all, the question seems to ask itself: How does a major public School of Music maintain its status without providing the experience and repertoire of the smaller orchestra?

We will see.

In the meantime, I suggest that the performance this Sunday night is a MUST-HEAR concert. (Below is the UW Chamber Orchestra rehearsing with conductor James Smith.)

UW Chamber Orchestra rehearsing under James Smith

We really don’t know yet whether this is an au revoir or an adieu -– a temporary good-bye or a permanent farewell, no matter what the initial intent is.

But The Ear knows this much: In almost any organization, it is a lot easier to get rid of something than to revive it or bring it into being. Inertia is a powerful institutional force. So I would like to see a public groundswell or reaction to either keep  the UW Chamber Orchestra active next academic year or to bring back the UW Chamber Orchestra after a one-year sabbatical — if that sabbatical really is necessary.

The Ear has many wonderful memories of the UW Chamber Orchestra, in both solo concerts but also in collaborating with the UW Choral Union (below) and the UW Concert Choir.

UW Choral Union and Chamber orchestra full view 12-2011

Here, at the bottom in a YouTube video is one of those moments: from several years ago, the first movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s iconic Fifth Symphony:

 

 

 

 

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Classical music: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music opens a very busy week with an FREE oboe recital and a PUBLIC opera master class on Monday. Plus, today is the last performance of the Mozart Requiem by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and UW student pianist Hailey O’Neil will fill in for a Beethoven Sonata Competition winner at this afternoon’s FREE recital.

April 6, 2014
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ALERTS: University of Wisconsin-Madison piano student Hailey O’Neil, who won an Honorable Mention, will fill in for the injured winner Oxana Khramova at the Beethoven Sonata Competition winners’ FREE recital today at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall. O’Neil will play the lovely “Pastoral Sonata, Op. 28, by Beethoven.

For more information, visit:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/classical-music-the-three-winners-of-the-29th-annual-beethoven-sonata-competition-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-school-of-music-are-named-and-will-perform-a-free-concert-on-sunday-afternoon/

Of course the Beethoven Sonata concert unfortunately conflicts with the last performance (at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall at the Overture Center) by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem and Joseph Jongen’s “Symphonie Concertante” with organ soloist Nathan Laube, all under the baton of guest conductor Julian Wachner. Here is a positive review by critic John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42448&sid=16e141d4e100c8abeb61a0720e30e06d

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

Tomorrow, Monday, April 7, opens a busy week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

It starts with opera and chamber music for oboe, then expands to include contemporary music by guest artists from the University of Iowa’s acclaimed Center for New Music; piano and string music” the Adagio from Joseph Haydn’s Piano Trio No. 22; Franz Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 1 in Flat Major; and Antonin Dvorak’s Piano Quintet by the UW’s Perlman Piano Trio and guest performers (all below in a photo by Katherine Esposito) ; three performances by the University Opera of Hector Berlioz’ opera “Beatrice et Benedict”; and one performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion”’ done by the UW Concert Choir and UW Chamber Orchestra under conductor Beverly Taylor.

For full details, go to www.musc.wisc.edu and click on Events Calendar.

perlman trio 2014 2 Esposito

Here is how the week starts out:

METROPOLITAN OPERA STAR SUSANNE MENTZER

On Monday from 1:15 to 3:15 p.m. in 1321 Humanities Building, opera star mezzo-soprano 
Susanne Mentzer (below) will be offering a master class to UW-Madison voice and opera students

Susanne Mentzer 1

This event is free and open to the public. Mentzer will be working one-on-one with students, performing a signature aria for the class, conducting a “Q&A session, and staying to meet and greet all attendees.

Mentzer is in Madison to perform as Mrs. Patrick DeRocher in Madison Opera‘s production of “Dead Man Walking,” conducted by Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera maestro John DeMain, April 25 and April 27 in Overture Hall. For more information, visit:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2013-2014/dead_man_walking/

Internationally known mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer enjoys a significant opera, concert and recital career of over 30 years. She has appeared on four continents at nearly every great opera house and with every great orchestra. She has been a guest artist at the Metropolitan Opera (below) in leading roles since 1989.

metropolitan opera 1

Her extensive discography includes over 25 CDs of opera and oratorio. She has recorded two recitals she often performs in concert: “The Eternal Feminine,” a recital of music by women composers (Koch International Classics), which includes the premiere of Libby Larsen’s “Love After 1950” with her long-time pianist, Craig Rutenberg; and her personal favorite, “Wayfaring Stranger” (Erato), a collection of international folksongs arranged for voice and guitar with Grammy Award winning Sharon Isbin.

She also received a Grammy nomination for her work as Colombina in Busoni’s Arlecchino. She is on the recent releases of Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking” and “Plump Jack” by Gordon Getty. Mentzer appears on DVDs of “The Tales of Hoffman” (Opéra de Paris), Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” (La Scala), and Grammy-nominated “The First Emperor” by Tan Dun (Metropolitan Opera), and Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” (Metropolitan Opera).

She has appeared numerous times on PBS as part of the “Live from Lincoln Center” and “Live from the Met” programs and Live From the Met satellite cinema broadcast. Mentzer is a mentor to young singers. She recently relocated to the San Francisco area where she teaches privately after 12 years in academia as a Professor at the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University and DePaul University in Chicago. She has also served as faculty at the Aspen Music Festival and School and has been a guest teacher at the San Francisco Opera Merola program, the Castleton Festival and frequently gives master classes in conjunction with her engagements.

To read more about Susanne Mentzer, go to her website, www.susannementzer.com.

susanne Mentzer

OBOIST KOSTAS TILIAKOS

On Monday night, at 7:30 in Morphy Recital Hall, pianist Christopher Taylor and flutist Stephanie Jutt will accompany Kostas Tiliakos on oboe and English horn in his only solo recital on the Faculty Concert Series this year.

Admission is FREE and open to the public.

kostas tiliakos 2013

His program will consist of works by composers Minas Alexiadis, Anastassis Philippakopoulos, Theodore Antoniou, Jurgis Juozapaitis, and Thea Musgrave.

A native of Athens, Greece, Kostas Tiliakos (below in a photo by Katherine Esposito) has been principal oboist in the Greek National Opera Orchestra in Athens since 1997. Previous to that, he held the position of Solo English Horn for eight years.

An avid lover of contemporary music, Tiliakos has been a member of the Hellenic Ensemble for Contemporary Music since 1990 and has premiered and recorded works by contemporary composers, many of which he was a dedicatee.

He has also recorded solo and chamber music works on Wandelweiser (Germany), Lyra and Irida Classics (Greece) and has been broadcast on radio and television throughout Europe.

Internationally, he has appeared as soloist throughout Europe, Africa, Canada and the U.S. During his time in Greece, Kostas was a sought-after music journalist and editing consultant with Lambrakis Press SA and 4pi Special Editions, the two largest publishing organizations in Greece. Kostas studied Biology at Athens University and holds a BA in European Cultural Studies.

He received his Masters of Music from UW-Madison under Marc Fink where he was a Paul Collins Wisconsin Distinguished Fellow. His principal teachers have included Marc Fink, Claude Chieulet, Didier Pateau. He has also studied with Paul Dombrecht and Hansjörg Schellenberger.

Most recently, Kostas was selected for the position of Visiting Associate Professor of Oboe at UW-Madison. The Ear understands that he has been renewed to do the same next academic year.

 

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Classical music: What would be a good April Fool’s joke about classical music? But it is no joke that April will bring a lot of major choral music by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Faure and Rachmaninoff among others.

April 1, 2014
2 Comments

READER SURVEY: Today is April Fool’s Day! So in keeping with tradition, here is what The Ear wants to know: What would be a really good April Fool’s joke about classical music? Discovering a 10th symphony or sixth piano concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven? Finding one of the many lost cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach? Unearthing a letter from Arnold Schoenberg disavowing his own 12-tone or atonal music as a dry and boring experiment? Use the COMMENT section to leave your April Fools treat. Be creative, original and unexpected, and have some fun.

Here is a link to one year’s entries:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/classical-music-news-the-discovery-of-beethovens-tenth-symphony-wins-first-prize-for-the-best-april-fools-day-story/

april fools day

By Jacob Stockinger

April is the “choralist month,” to paraphrase — with a badly twisted pun — a famous opening line from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland.”

Is it because of Easter? The end of the semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison? Or maybe the arrival of spring? Or perhaps the closing on some current seasons?

All play a role, The Ear suspects, but so does coincidence. Besides, after such a hard winter, singing out seems healthy and almost normal.

During this April, local audiences will have the chance to hear more than half a dozen major choral works –- and that doesn’t even include the Russian and Baltic concert performed this past weekend by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.

Many of the events will have more detailed postings on this blog. But here is a summary roundup to help you fill in your datebooks and make plans.

It will kick off this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Symphony Chorus (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) and guest soloists when they perform the famously storied Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Concerts are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Guest conductor Julian Wachner will be substituting for the MSO music director John DeMain, and the program also includes guest organ soloist Nathan Laube in Jongen’s “Sinfonia Concertante.” For more information, including program notes and ticket information, visit: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/laube

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

On Friday, April 11, at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with guest pianist Stewart Goodyear and the Festival Choir (below), under WCO music director Andrew Sewell, will perform Mozart’s late, short and sublime “Ave Verum Corpus” (heard at the bottom with conductor Leonard Bernstein in a popular YouTube video that has over 2 million hits) and Beethoven’s rarely heard “Choral Fantasy,” which is a sketch with solo piano of the famous last chiral movement, with the famous “Ode to Joy,” of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Stewart Goodyear’s own Piano Concerto is on the program, as is Beethoven’s epic Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.” For details, visit: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/72/event-info/

festivalchoir

On Saturday, April 12, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will see a FREE performance on Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” performed by the Concert Choir (below) and the UW Chamber Orchestra).

Concert Choir

The next day Sunday, April 13 is Palm Sunday. It will see two performances (10 a.m. and 3 p.m.) of the gorgeously calm and reassuring Requiem by Gabriel Faure (below) at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, performed in the old historic Landmark Auditorium, where the organ is. FUS music director Dan Broner will conduct. Free-will offerings will be accepted.

faure

Then on Good Friday, April 18, in the First Congregational Church and on Saturday, April 19, in the Atrium auditorium of the First Unitarian Society, J.S. Bach’s landmark Mass in B Minor will receive two performances (both at 7:30 p.m. with a pre-concert lecture at 6:45 p.m.) from the Madison Bach Musicians, and guest soloists and the Madison Choral Project under conductor and UW bassoonist Marc Vallon.  

MadisonBachMusicians

On Saturday, April 19, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is also a FREE concert by the UW Madrigal Singers under conductor Bruce Gladstone (below, in a  photo by Katrin Talbot). Sorry, no word on the program yet.

BruceGladstoneTalbot

On Saturday, April 26, at 8 pm. in Mills Hall the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union (below) will perform the lovely and rarely performed Russian Orthodox, a cappella “Vespers” of Sergei Rachmaninoff. Beverly Taylor, who heads the UW-Madison choral program, will conduct the one-time only performance -– normally the UW Choral Union gives two performances. Tickets can be purchased for the concerts. Admission is $10 for adults and the general public; free for  students and seniors.
 Remaining tickets will be at the door. 
Call (608) 265-ARTS (2787) for ticket info.

UW Choral Union  12:2011

As an added bonus to April, and to wind up the spring semester, on Saturday, May 3, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall is the FREE concert by the UW Women’s Chorus and University Chorus. On Monday. May 5, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall the UW Master Singers will perform a FREE concert.

I’m betting there are some others I am missing, especially at Edgewood College, which I haven’t heard from yet. Perhaps readers will leave word in a COMMENT. But even from what I have listed, you see that listeners are in store for a lot of choral treats.

 

 

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Classical music: It will be a busy week with many FREE concerts of many different kinds of music at the University of Wisconsin School of Music. Plus, the Miro Quartet of Austin, Texas, will perform Haydn, Schubert and Philip Glass on Friday night.

February 17, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The next two weeks will be especially busy ones at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

All save one of the concerts will be FREE, and they include orchestral music, percussion, strings, winds and even lectures linking science and music.

The one major non-free exception is a notable MUST-HEAR: The acclaimed Miro Quartet (below) as presented by the Wisconsin Union Theater, will perform on Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. The Miro Quartet is in residence at the University of Texas-Austin. (You can hear it playing Beethoven in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

miro quartet informal

The program of Classical and contemporary masterpieces of features the “Lark” Quartet, Op. 64, No. 5, by Franz Joseph Haydn; Franz Schubert’s well-known and the String Quartet No. 14 “Death and the Maiden”; and Philip Glass’ Quartet No. 5 (1991).

Tickets are $25 for the general public; $21 for UW faculty and staff and for Memorial Union members; and $10 for UW students.

Here is a link to more information that includes tickets, sound samples and critical reviews:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season13-14/Miro-String-Quartet.html

miro quartet playing

TUESDAY

At 7:30 p.m.in Mills Hall, the accomplished UW Chamber Orchestra, under the baton of director James Smith, the Overture to “La scale di seta”  (The Silk Ladder) by Gioacchino Rossini;
 the Chamber Symphony by Franz Schreker; the
 “Classical” Symphony by Sergei Prokofiev; and the
 “Winter’s Tale” by Lars-Erik Larsson.

UW Chamber Orchestra entire

WEDNESDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, guest artist Todd Reynolds (below) will give a FREE recital. Reynolds is the violinist of choice for such well known individual and ensemble performers as composers as Steve Reich and Meredith Monk and the group Bang on a Can. He violinist, composer, educator and technologist is known as one of the founding fathers of the hybrid-musician movement.

Todd Reynolds will be performing compositions of his own from his critically acclaimed 2011 CD “Outerborough,” including music by Michael Gordon, David Little, Michael Lowenstern and Ingram Marshall, and a couple of pieces written and improvised  especially for the evening, right there, from the stage and in real time.

Todd Reynolds

THURSDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Western Percussion Ensemble (below) will perform a concert that features the monumental work “Strange and Sacred Noise” by the contemporary American composer John Luther Adams (below), whose work was also featured recently by Clocks in Motion. Directors of the Western Percussion Ensemble are Tom Ross and Anthony Di Sanza.

Western Percussion Ensemble

FRIDAY

At 7 p.m. in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (below), at 330 North Orchard Street, across from the Union South, the ongoing SoundWaves program, curated by UW hornist Daniel Grabois, program will explore the science and art of wood. Here is a summary that, unfortunately, offers no information about the music and specific topics and speakers:

Wood You Could You? The Science and Music of Wood

“SoundWaves combines scientific lectures about the world with live classical music performances. Each event revolves around a theme, exploring it first from many scientific angles and then through the lens of music. The program concludes with a live performance of music related to the evening’s theme.

“The science lectures are delivered using language that the curious layman can understand, with a minimum of jargon and formulas. The music lectures, while demanding careful listening, are likewise designed for the layman and not the specialist.

“Every SoundWaves event brings UW-Madison scientists from several departments together with UW-Madison School of Music faculty performers to explore a topic that is relevant to our world and our lives. SoundWaves is free and open to the public. This series generally is held in the evening at the Town Center of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.’

8 p.m. in Mills Hall: The Miro Quartet. (See above.)

WID_night10_2152

SATURDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Wind Ensemble (below) will give concert under director Scott Teeple that features the Wisconsin premiere of a work by composer Roger Zare

Works on the program include “Smetana Fanfare,” by Karol Husa; “Mar Tranquillitatis (Sea of Tranquility),” by Roger Zare (Wisconsin premiere); and “Ecstatic Waters for Wind Ensemble and Electronics,” by Steven Bryant.

UW School of Music

SUNDAY

At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Concert Band will perform under Mike Leckrone (below). Sorry, no details about the program are available yet.

leckrone

Then at at 3:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, the Hunt Quartet will perform a FREE concert. The program includes Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Sunrise” Quartet, Op. 76, No. 4, and Bela Bartok’s String Quartet No. 1.

The Hunt Quartet (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) is comprised of outstanding graduate students from the School of Music, and is sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

This year’s members (from the left) include Ju Dee Ang, Elspeth Stalter-Clouse, Paran Amirinazari and Lindsey Crabb.

hunt quartet 2013-14

 

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Classical music: Let us now praise University of Wisconsin conductor James Smith and the marvels he achieves with student orchestras. Plus, the UW Chamber Orchestra performs a FREE concert tonight of music by Schumann, Haydn and Wagner.

October 1, 2013
3 Comments

REMINDER: At 7:30 p.m. tonight in Mills Hall, the UW Chamber Orchestra (below) under conductor James Smith performs a FREE concert. The program features the “Overture, Scherzo, and Finale” by Robert Schumann; the Symphony No. 88 by Franz Joseph Haydn and the “Siegfried Idyll” by Richard Wagner.  

UW Chamber Orchestra low res

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 hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. 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

Last weekend witnessed the acclaim justly given to John DeMain for what he has built the Madison Symphony Orchestra into during his 20 years with it.  But on Sunday evening, there was a demonstration of the debt we owe to another conductor and his orchestra.

James Smith (below) has built his orchestral programs for the UW School of Music into something quire remarkable in their own terms.  Evidence of this was on display at Sunday night’s concert in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.  A considerable, if hardly capacity audience, but an enthusiastic one, heard the 2013 season opening event for the UW Symphony Orchestra, in a really meaty program, to say the least.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

To begin, Smith yielded the podium to Kyle Knox (below), a graduate student and conducting assistant, for Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture.  His was a young man’s projection of the familiar piece, not without nuances, but basically a propulsive and dramatic reading.  The orchestra sounded confident and secure under his baton.

Kyle Knox 2

Smith then took over for a work of special appeal for me: the Third Symphony of Jean Sibelius.

For most of the public, it is the First, Second, and Fifth of Sibelius’s seven Symphonies that are likely to be familiar.  Beyond those, some may know the austere Fourth, the enigmatic Sixth and the hyper-concise Seventh.  But the Third has been overlooked consistently, which is a great pity.

The symphonies by Sibelius (below) are each highly individual and different from each other–with the exception of the Third and the Fifth.  They are really two peas from the same pod, and, to be blunt, the Third is the fresher (and less hackneyed) of the two.

Its three-movement structure is for the most part a blueprint Sibelius then used for the Fifth.  But, following the blowsy Second, I find that the Third has the spontaneity of a new and revitalized start in the composer’s self-definition.  Quite frankly, it is my personal favorite among the Seven.

Smith seemed to find exactly that freshness in the work.  His body language showed that he put himself wholly into projecting this inventive and colorful score.  If only other conductors had his courage and gave this work more exposure!

sibelius

The “biggie” of the concert was, of course, what followed the intermission.  We have been rediscovering this year just how provocative and shocking Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps, or “The Rite of Spring,, can still be. When new, the work Stravnsky (below) was regarded by many musicians as unplayable.  Now, any orchestra worth its salt can take it on — even a “student” orchestra.

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

But the UW Orchestra (below in a photo by John W. Barker) is no mere ”student” ensemble. James Smith has worked it up to a level of professionalism matching the standards and capabilities of ever so many big-city orchestras today.  Oh, sure, a few very trifling and inconsequential fluffs at odd instants here and there, what any orchestra might risk. But this group has become an instrument on which Smith could play miracles.  The players were totally with him, while his clear heat and precise cues gave them safe guidance.

UW Symhony Orchestra 2013 CR John W. Barker

Smith seemed to aim at an emphasis on rhythmic power, though he found passages to remind us of the work’s underlying Russian-ness amid all the “primitivism.”  In his careful preparation of the many climaxes, he had his orchestra pour out torrents of sound that were extraordinarily compelling.

There were many individual players one might single out.  For me, though, I found most fascinating the first of the two timpanists, a young woman who threw herself into her work with athletic abandon.

To sum up, this was a simply thrilling performance, within a totally wonderful concert.

It is a crying shame that the tightly limited attention paid by our journalistic establishment to Madison’s musical riches is so particularly restrictive in its recognition of the music-making available on campus. In any other place and circumstance, to have an orchestra and conductor such as the UW School of Music has blessed us with would be celebrated with due pride and attention.

But Madison’s audiences really should pay heed to what is being done on the UW campus.

Above all, it should give proper recognition to the wonderful work of the versatile James Smith (below in a photo by Jack Burns) with his various orchestra ensembles, which include the UW Symphony Orchestra, the UW Chamber Orchestra (which performs a FREE concert of Schumann, Haydn and Wagner tonight at 7:30 in Mills Hall) and the University Opera. (Smith is also the music director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.)

James Smith cond Jack Burns

I recall an incident when a local politician sneered: “Why should a university have a symphony orchestra?”  To which the logical rejoinder might be: “Why should a university have a football team?”


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