The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: This afternoon is the last performance by the Madison Symphony Orchestra of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand.” The critics and public agree: “Don’t miss it!”

May 5, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) perform Gustav Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 8, called the “Symphony of a Thousand.”

The big work celebrates a big event: The closing of the 25th anniversary season of music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), who discussed the Mahler symphony and played recorded excerpts with radio host Norman Gilliland on last Thursday’s edition of The Midday on Wisconsin Public Radio:

https://www.wpr.org/shows/symphony-thousand

The critics are unanimous in their praise.

Sure, they voice a few minor quibbles here and there.

But mostly they agree: This is a must-hear performance of an epic and complex 90-minute work by Mahler (below) that is rarely heard live because it requires such massive forces and such accomplished performers. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear Klaus Tennstedt, the London Philharmonic and soloists perform the finale to the rapturous “Symphony of a Thousand.”)

Specifically, that means that if you go, you will hear more than 500 performers who include: the symphony orchestra; the concert organ; eight highly acclaimed guest vocal soloists; and three choirs, including the University of Wisconsin Choral Union.

But you can see and judge for yourself.

Here is a link to a posting last week on this blog with more information about the concert, the performers and other tickets:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2019/04/29/classical-music-this-coming-weekend-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-and-other-individuals-and-groups-join-forces-to-close-john-demains-25th-season-with-mahlers-monumental-s/

Here is a link to the review of the opening night that John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

https://isthmus.com/music/monumental-closer/

Here is a link to the review that Matt Ambrosio wrote for The Capital Times:

https://madison.com/ct/entertainment/arts-and-theatre/madison-symphony-closes-its-season-with-spectacular-symphony-of-a/article_44b26d91-e0f0-5d67-88b9-10cd5e8c5c6d.html

And here are some reviews on Facebook by ordinary listeners and concertgoers:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/MadisonSymphony/posts/

You can also leave your opinion in the comment section of this blog.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: This weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and other individuals and groups join forces to celebrate John DeMain’s 25th season with Mahler’s monumental “Symphony of a Thousand”

April 29, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

By any standard, it is epic music.

The stage in Overture Hall will have more than 500 participants on it this coming weekend when the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) partners with the Madison Symphony Chorus, the Madison Youth Choirs, the UW–Madison Choral Union and eight critically acclaimed vocal soloists to bring a performance of Gustav Mahler’s massive Symphony No. 8 — or “Symphony of a Thousand.”

For the first time since 2005, MSO music director and conductor John DeMain will conduct one of the largest undertakings in the classical music repertoire as the final concert marking his Silver Anniversary Season.

Performances will be held in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State St., on Friday night, May 3, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, May 4, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, May 5, at 2:30 p.m.

Information about tickets ($18-$93) is below.

Says DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson): “I have spent 25 years with this orchestra and chorus. In that time, our collaboration on Gustav Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 8 in 2005 stands out as perhaps the most memorable. I feel a magnetic affinity with Mahler, and began my career 25 years ago with his first symphony. I am honored and moved to conduct this work and feel it is the perfect conclusion to my 25th season.”

Composed in December 1906, Symphony No. 8 is the last work by Mahler (below) to be premiered in his lifetime. It is one of the largest-scale choral works in the classical concert repertoire, and because it requires huge instrumental and vocal forces, it is frequently called the “Symphony of a Thousand.” (Below is a photo of the final rehearsal for the world premiere performance in Munich in 1910.)

The structure of the work is unconventional; instead of the normal framework of several movements, the piece is in two parts.

Part I is based on the Latin text of a 9th-century Christian hymn for Pentecost, and Part II is a setting of the words from the closing scene of Goethe’s Faust.

The two parts are unified by a common idea: redemption through the power of love, a unity conveyed through shared musical themes.

Symphony No. 8 is revered as one of the greatest achievements of classical concert repertoire and expresses the composer’s confidence in the eternal human spirit. (You can hear Sir Simon Rattle conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in the famous finale of the Symphony No. 8 in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

ABOUT THE PERFORMERS

The distinguished solo singers are: soprano Alexandra LoBianco; soprano Emily Birsan (below), who just last weekend sang the title role in the Madison Opera’s production of Antonin Dvorak’s “Rusalka”; soprano Emily Pogorelc; mezzo-soprano Milena Kitic; mezzo-soprano Julie Miller; tenor Clay Hilley; baritone Michael Redding; and bass-baritone Morris Robinson.

For photos and impressive biographical information about the soloists, go to:

https://madisonsymphony.org/event/symphony-of-a-thousand/

The Madison Symphony Chorus (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson) gave its first public performance on Feb. 23, 1928 and has performed regularly with the Madison Symphony Orchestra ever since.

The chorus is comprised of more than 150 volunteer musicians who come from all walks of life and enjoy combining their artistic talent under the direction of Beverly Taylor (below bottom), who is the director of Choral Activities at the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

Inclusive of members of all skill levels, the Madison Youth Choirs (below), Michael Ross director, incorporate singers from ages 7-18 into their orchestration.

The choirs aim to introduce youths interested in musical performance to collaborative forms of self-confidence and responsibility in the atmosphere of musical training. Randal Swiggum is conducting rehearsals preparing members of the choir for the MSO’s May Symphony of a Thousand concerts.

With 150 members, the UW-Madison Choral Union (below) fuses university and non-university members. Under the direction of Beverly Taylor, former associate conductor of the MSO who also teaches at the UW-Madison, the Choral Union is another testament to the musical outreach in the Madison arts.

CONCERT, TICKET and EVENT DETAILS

The lobby opens 90 minutes prior to each concert. One hour before each performance, Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom (below, in a photo by James Gill) will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience. It is free to ticket-holders.

The Symphony recommends concert attendees arrive early for each performance to make sure they have time to pass through Overture Center’s security stations so they can experience the Prelude Discussion.

Program notes for the concerts are available online: http://bit.ly/msomay19programnotes

  • Single Tickets are $18-$93 each and are on sale now at: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/symphony-of-a-thousandthrough the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141. Fees apply to online/phone sales.
  • Groups of 10 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. For more information, visit, https://www.madisonsymphony.org/groups.
  • Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Center Box Office at 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $15 or $20 tickets. More information is at: https://www.madisonsymphony.org/studentrush
  • Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
  • Flex-ticket booklets of 10 vouchers for 19-20 symphony subscription concerts are available. Learn more at: https://madisonsymphony.org/flex
  • Subscriptions for the 2019-2020 season are available now. Learn more at: https://madisonsymphony.org/19-20

Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.

Major funding provided by NBC15, Larry and Jan Phelps, Diane Ballweg, Carla and Fernando Alvarado, Johnson Financial Group, and University Research Park. Additional funding provided by DeWitt LLP, Kennedy Gilchrist and Heidi Wilde, Thomas E. Terry, Fred A. Wileman, Helen L. Wineke, and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.


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Classical music: The UW-Madison Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra perform the Duruflé Requiem and Kodaly “Te Deum” this coming Saturday and Sunday nights

December 5, 2018
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

In Mills Hall this coming Saturday night, Dec. 8, at 8 p.m. and Sunday night, Dec. 9, at 7:30 p.m., the University of Wisconsin-Madison Choral Union (below, in a  photo by John W. Barker) and the UW Symphony Orchestra will perform two works: the Requiem by Maurice Duruflé; and the “Te Deum” by Zoltan Kodaly.

The Choral Union is a campus and community choral group that performs once each semester. This spring, it will take part in three performances of the Symphony No. 8, “The Symphony of a Thousand,” by Gustav Mahler with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, where conductor Beverly Taylor is the choral director.

In addition to the chorus and the orchestra there are student soloists.

In the Duruflé Requiem, the student soloists are: Michael Johnson, baritone; and Chloe Flesch, mezzo-soprano (below).

In the Kodaly “Te Deum,” the student soloists are:  Jing Liu, soprano; Chloe Flesch, mezzo-soprano; Benjamin Hopkins, tenor; and bass Ben Galvin.

Tickets cost $17 for the public, $8 for students.

For more information about the works as well as a YouTube video preview of the Kodaly and information about how to obtain tickets in advance or at the door, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/event/choral-union-the-durufle-requiem/

Beverly Taylor (below), the longtime director of Choral Activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music who will lead the performances, recently spoke to The Ear about the concert:

“I plan to retire in May 2020, so I’m picking some great music for my last few Choral Union concerts!

“I’ve always wanted to do the Duruflé Requiem, which Bruce Gladstone performed in Luther Memorial Church a few years ago in the organ version. But I knew we couldn’t get a good organ on stage in Mills Hall and still have room for the orchestra.

“I hadn’t realized that Duruflé (below) had written a full orchestra version without the organ, which is replaced by the woodwinds. So it seemed a wonderful piece to do. (You can hear the Kyrie movement from the Durufle Requiem in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

“Since I have the symphony orchestra only one semester, I ignore holiday music when it comes to programming for the Choral Union, and try to assemble a wonderful evening.

“The Duruflé piece sounds like music by Gabriel Fauré and other late French church works, with its less dramatic text choices and its warmth, lush color and tide-like swells and diminuendos.

“I’ve done the “Te Deum” by Kolday (below) twice before over my 24 years here. It continues to be a favorite, and I use it because I like it, because it’s about 20 minutes long and a good companion piece, and because it shows off the Choral Union so beautifully.

“It’s a work of great contrasts, from a thrilling opening to a quiet middle based on a Hungarian folksong, to a next-to-final fugato and to a very quiet ending.

“The only problem with this program?  Both pieces end quietly!  Can we still get a burst of applause?”


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Classical music: The UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra deliver outstanding performances of great music by Mozart and Brahms

December 12, 2017
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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. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

The program for the first concert this season by the UW Choral Union (below), mercifully, had nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas, and just offered great music.

There were only two works, one by Brahms and the other by Mozart. Surefire!

Johannes Brahms composed three relatively short works for chorus, without soloists, and orchestra. Of these, I wish conductors would get busy with two of them in particular. The Gesang der Parzen (Song of the Fates) and Nänie are simply superb works by one of the greatest of all choral composers.

The third, the Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), Op. 54, I would rate just a bit lower for musical content, but that is the one of the three that is more frequently performed, and that was the one we heard.

That said, there is much quite beautiful music in the piece, which sets a poem of Friedrich Hölderlin that moves from anxiety to desperation. Brahms (below) preceded the choral setting with a serene introduction that—to satisfy his aesthetics if not the poet’s—he repeats at the end to restore order.

Conductor Beverley Taylor (below) employed rather broad tempos, but this enabled her to bring out some of the melodic material with great beauty.

And, with a chorus of some 124 singers, she was able to give the music tremendous sonority, if a bit at the price of German diction. With the very good UW Symphony Orchestra in fine fettle, too, this was an excellent performance that should alert listeners to neglected treasures.

The main work was the unfinished “Great” Mass in C minor, K. 427, by Mozart (below). This is music inspired by the composer’s marriage and by the new (for him) artistic climate of Vienna. Even incomplete – it has a fragmentary “Credo” and is missing an “Agnus Dei”) — it still stands, with his also uncompleted Requiem, as a towering masterpiece of his sacred choral output.

Taylor displayed a fine feeling for both the overall and individual qualities of the work, projecting them with vigor and discipline.

There were four student soloists (below), with promising young voices.

But eventually the standout proved to be soprano Sarah Richardson (below). The operatic-style aria, “Et incarnatus est” from the “Credo” was apparently sung by Mozart’s wife in its preliminary performance, and is often heard as a separate solo number today. This was sung by Richardson (below) with skill and eloquence. (You can hear the aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

This chorus was really a bit oversized for a work like this, but Taylor made it the real star of the performance, in singing with both power and precision.

A truly rewarding concert!


Classical music: UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra plus soloists will perform Brahms and Mozart this Saturday and Sunday nights. On Friday night, the Choral Arts Society Chorale performs a holiday program.

December 7, 2017
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ALERT: The Choral Arts Society Chorale of Madison, under director Mikko Rankin Utevsky, will perform “Frostiana: Songs for a Winter’s Night” this Friday night at 7 p.m. at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1904 Winnebago St. Admission is $15, students $10. The program is: Brahms, “In stiller Nacht”; Barber, “Sure on this shining night”; Lasso, “Matona mia cara”; Victoria, “O Magnum Mysterium”; Gendel, “It was my father’s custom”; Myers, “The Winter’s Night”; Leontovych, “Shchedryk“; and Thompson, “Frosting.”

For more information, go to www.ChoralArtsMadison.org

By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend the UW-Madison campus and community Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra (below) will perform the rarely heard “Schicksalslied” (Song of Destiny) by Brahms and the “Great” Mass in C Minor, K. 427, by Mozart.

The performances are in Mills Hall on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday night at 7 p.m.

Writes conductor Beverly Taylor (below):

The “Schicksalslied,” Op. 54, by Brahms (below) is a heartfelt, 16-minute work that sets Friedrich Hoelderlin’s poem about the yearning and loss of beauty, and suggestion of hope for the future.

“The work starts with gorgeous, muted harmonies; goes into a passionate whirlwind in the middle; and then ends with an orchestral recollection of the opening themes.

“If the work were longer, it might be performed more often. It is a real jewel of Brahms’s repertoire.” (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Adds Taylor: “The C minor Mass, like the Requiem, was unfinished by Mozart (below) —we are not sure why. It contains vibrant writing for the chorus, including several movements for double chorus, and some of the finest solo music he ever wrote.”

The soloists will be sopranos Sarah Richardson (below top) and Chelsie Propst (below second), tenor Wesley Dunnagan (below third), and baritone Matthew Chastain (below bottom).

Tickets are $15 for the public, $8 for students.

For more information about obtaining tickets and for more about the works and performers, go to; http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/choral-union-symphony-orchestra-2/


Classical music: UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra resurrect Paul Hindemith’s long-neglected 20th-century secular Requiem with fine singing and committed playing

May 2, 2017
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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 photographs below.

By John W. Barker

It is unusual that, within the space of a few days, we have parallel performances of two very untraditional Requiems, ones setting vernacular texts rather than liturgical Latin ones.

The UW Choral Union and UW Symphony(below) performed Paul Hindemith’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d: A Requiem For those we love” last weekend. And the Madison Symphony Chorus and Orchestra will give us Johannes BrahmsEin deutsches Requiem (A German Requiem) this coming weekend, May 5-7.

(NOTE: Here is a link with more information about the three MSO performances this coming weekend:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/05/01/classical-music-madison-symphony-orchestra-closes-its-season-with-the-german-requiem-by-brahms-and-the-american-premiere-of-charles-villiers-stanfords-1921-concert-piece-fo/)

It is hard to resist the temptation to compare them.

They were, of course, composed about a century apart, in the contexts of very different stylistic eras. They reflect very different aesthetics: High Romantic warmth for Brahms, conservative modernism for Hindemith.

The different texts chosen also determine crucial differences. Brahms selected Luther’s German translations of passages from Scripture, as a broad collage of human consolation and solace, whereas the German-born Hindemith, a naturalized American citizen who fled from Hitler’s Nazism, in a patriotic commemoration of the death of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, chose the long poem of grieving that Walt Whitman (below) wrote over the death of President Abraham Lincoln.

The relatively concise Scriptural texts allowed Brahms to develop rich melodic and contrapuntal elaborations. Hindemith’s determination to set Whitman’s complete poem, of 208 verses in altogether irregular free verse, committed him to keep things in constantly moving continuity, with little chance for pausing and elaborating.

To be sure, Hindemith (below) was never a distinguished lyricist, for all his skills, so his writing is endless declamation by the soloists, backed by strongly cast choral statements. (You can hear famed baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and the chorus sing the opening of the Hindemith requiem in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

There are many lovely and powerful moments, but they pass by quickly and leave little of memorable expressiveness. There is much clever music here, but in sum total it is more dutiful than beautiful.

The performance in Mills Hall — I heard the one Sunday night — showed a stage packed with musicians. There were two soloists, a chorus of exactly 100 singers, and an orchestra (the UW Symphony) of 67 players, 46 of them on strings. UW choral director and conductor Beverly Taylor (below) drew from all of them deeply committed musical results.

Of the two soloists, soprano Jennifer D’Agostino (below left) sang with beauty and expression, but it was baritone James Held (below right) who stole the show, with a ringing voice, superb diction, and a genuine eloquence.

The huge chorus was quite magnificent, well unified, fully serious in its enunciation, and capable of some truly musical sound — and Hindemith, though nowhere near Brahms as a choral composer, gave them some serious challenges. The orchestra sounded a bit rough at the very beginning, but settled into participating strongly in the performance.

Whatever reservations one may have about Hindemith’s score, this Whitman Requiem, one of his last important works and premiered in 1946, is a significant piece. It is far less frequently heard than that by Brahms, and so it is very good that UW choral director Beverly Taylor has brought it to our attention.


Classical music: Don’t “monetize” the Pro Arte Quartet, which performs three FREE concerts this week. It embodies the Wisconsin Idea

February 1, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

It’s no secret that the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is strapped for money, especially for hiring staff and funding student scholarships — if less so for the construction of new buildings that are financed by selling naming rights.

Certain events, such as the UW Choral Union, have always charged admission. And most UW-Madison musical events, especially faculty and student performances, remain, thankfully, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

But under increasing financial pressure, a few years ago the UW started charging admission to more events: the UW Brass Festival, the UW Concerto Competition Winners’ Concert and the annual Schubertiade to name a few.

So one can well imagine the temptation to “monetize” — charge admission to – concerts by the popular Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), which typically draws both critical acclaim and large audiences.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

Yet The Ear thinks that would be a mistake, even if the purpose or intent is the best.

The Pro Arte Quartet, which ended up here from its native Belgium when it was exiled here on tour during World War II when Hitler and the Nazis invaded and conquered Belgium, is a primary example of The Wisconsin Idea in action.

The Wisconsin Idea – under siege now by the governor and many legislators — is that the boundaries of the UW are the borders of the state and that the UW should serve the taxpayers who support it.

No single musical group at the UW does that job that better than the hard working Pro Arte Quartet, which has done it for many decades.

The quartet practices for three hours every weekday morning. It tours and performs frequently in Madison and elsewhere in the state, including Door County. It has played in Carnegie Hall in New York City and toured Europe, South America and Asia. It has commissioned and premiered many new works. It has made numerous outstanding recordings. It is a great and revered institution.

The Pro Arte Quartet is, in short, a great ambassador for the state of Wisconsin, the UW-Madison and the UW System. It has given, and will continue to give, countless listeners a start on loving chamber music.

If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Pro Arte Quartet, which is now over 100 years old and is the longest lived active quartet in the history of Western music, go to this link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/pro-arte-quartet/

Pro Arte Haydn Quinten

And you might consider attending or hearing one of the three FREE PUBLIC performances this week in the Madison area:

THURSDAY

From 7 to 9 p.m., the Pro Arte Quartet will perform FREE at Oakwood Village Auditorium, 6209 Mineral Point Road on Madison’s far west side near West Towne. The program is the same as the one listed below on Saturday.

The Oakwood Village concert is OPEN to the public.

Here is a link to more information:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-at-oakwood-village/

Oakwood Village Auditorium and Stage

SATURDAY

At 8 p.m., in Mills Hall, the Pro Arte Quartet, joined by University of Maryland guest pianist Rita Sloan (below top), will perform a FREE program that features the Fuga in E-flat Major, (1827) by Felix Mendelssohn; the String Quartet No. 20 in F major, Op. 46, No. 2 (1832-33) by the prolific but neglected 19th-century French composer George Onslow (below bottom); and the rarely heard Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 84, (1919) by Sir Edward Elgar. (You hear the lovely slow movement from the Elgar Piano Quintet in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For information, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/pro-arte-quartet-6/

rita-sloan

george-onslow

SUNDAY

At 12:30 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery III (below) of the Chazen Museum of Art, the Pro Arte Quartet will perform for “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen,” where over the years it has become the chamber music ensemble in residence.

The program is the same as the one on Saturday night.

Here is information about reserving seats and also a link for streaming the concert live via the Internet:

https://www.chazen.wisc.edu/index.php?/events-calendar-demo/event/sunday-afternoon-live-at-the-chazen-2-5-17/

SALProArteMay2010

Do you have an opinion about the Pro Arte Quartet?

Should admission to Pro Arte concerts be started? Or should the quartet’s performances remain free?

Leave a COMMENT below with the why and your reasoning.

The Ear wants to hear.


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
3 Comments

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 are the winners of last night’s Final Forte competition of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Plus, the new student opera group at UW-Madison gets off to a promising start with an all-Mozart program. And the UW Choral Union changes its performance date of Haydn’s “The Creation.”

January 30, 2016
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ALERT 1: Here are the results from last night of the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s Final Forte competition of teenage concerto performers: The two Honorable Mentions go to pianists Liam Mayo and Audrianna Wu; the second prize goes to violinist Tabby Rhee; and the winner’s prize goes to marimbist Robert Rockman.

For more information about the competition, the contestants and the rebroadcasts on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television, visit:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/01/25/classical-music-the-madison-symphony-orchestras-10th-anniversary-free-final-forte-concert-of-young-concerto-winners-is-this-friday-at-7-p-m-in-overture-hall-it-will-also/ 

ALERT 2: The UW-Madison Choral Union has moved its one-time only performance of the oratorio “The Creation” by Franz Joseph Haydn from Sunday, April 24, to 8 p.m. on the previous night, Saturday, April 23. At the same time, the separate concert by the UW Chamber Orchestra that was scheduled for Saturday, April 23, has been CANCELLED because it will instead accompany the Choral Union that same night.

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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The infinitely versatile and irrepressibly enterprising Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below) has come up with another project to pursue: the Impresario Student Opera.

Mikko Utevsky with baton

Impresario Student Opera made its debut in Mills Hall last Sunday night.

The program was all-Mozart.

It began with an orchestral work, the Symphony No. 35, the “Haffner.” There was a 24-player orchestra, which did commendable work, though the strings were really rather thin. But Utevsky again proved himself a savvy conductor.

Impresario Student Opera JWB

The rest was Mozart opera.

A recitative and duet from Act II of Così fan tutte, “Il coro vi dono,” has Guglielmo (Gavin Waid) scoring success in wooing his comrade’s sweetheart, Dorabella (Meghan Hilker). For these, co-director Dennis Gotkowski conducted. (You can hear the scene in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Impresario Studen Opera The Impresario JWB

After the intermission came the main event — appropriately, the eponymous comedy Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario). This was very freely adapted by turning the title character into a woman — by no means what Mozart expected.

Five singers (below top) were mustered: Waid and Hilker, with Anna Polum and Nicole Heinen as the dueling sopranos (below bottom), and Jiabao Zhang as the sugar daddy of one of them.

Impresario Student Opera 5 singers JWB

Impresario Student Opera two sopranos

The dialogue was rewritten and given in English, the musical numbers sung in what purported to be German — but diction lessons are badly in order.

In their star roles, Polum was powerful, if a little unsteady at moments, while Heinen was a quite sprightly soubrette. Utevsky conducted, but had some parts in the comedy too. Stage director Alannah Spencer showed imagination in her staging.

There were a lot of in-group jokes, aimed at a rather rowdy claque of voice students.

All in all, though, despite a bumpy start, this project bodes well as expanded opportunity for the splendid vocal talent that the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music attracts.


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