The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Does Madison have enough listeners for the city’s many classical music concerts?

January 15, 2016
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Is the problem that Madison has too many concerts by too many musicians?

Or is the problem maybe instead that Madison, a mid-size city, has too few listeners for so many musicians?

PAQ Jalbert audience ovation

Here is what got The Ear wondering about that question.

This coming Sunday afternoon is another “train wreck,” as The Wise Critic likes to describe worthwhile events that conflict.

What’s a listener to do?

At 1:30 p.m., the Oakwood Chamber Players (below) perform an intriguing program of unusual music at Oakwood Village West, on Madison’s far west side.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/classical-music-the-oakwood-chambers-players-will-perform-playful-works-by-elisenda-fabregas-malcolm-arnold-and-robert-schumann-this-saturday-night-and-sunday-afternoon/

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

At 3:30 p.m., Opera Props stages a benefit for the University Opera at the First Unitarian Society of Madison that features talented singers (including soprano Tyana O’Connor, below top) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music joined by UW-Madison alumnus, “Barihunk” baritone and rising Broadway star Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek (below bottom). Lots of famous arias and duets will be sung to piano accompaniment, with a reception following.

Here is a link to details:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/classical-music-broadway-star-and-uw-madison-alumnus-joins-students-for-the-university-opera-benefit-this-sunday-afternoon/

Tyana O'Connor soprano

Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek as barihunk

At 4 p.m., there is a terrific duo-piano recital at Farley’s House of Pianos, on Madison’s far west side, by the husband-and-wife team of Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung (below) featuring the music of Franz Schubert and Francis Poulenc.

Here is more about that concert:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=43117&action=edit

Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax 2015

The Ear has mentioned such conflicts before and knows that there is little point to complaining. Others will chime in and point out how lucky we are to live in a city with so many choices.

Nonetheless, it got The Ear to wondering.

Maybe the problem is not that Madison has so many musicians and music-makers.

Maybe the problem is that Madison doesn’t have enough listeners to go around and reward them all.

The Ear finds it hard to believe that each of the three events being held on Sunday afternoon won’t affect attendance for the other two.

And it will happen again and again later this winter and spring. Even in the summer too, if last summer is any guide.

Take Friday night, Feb. 5 when the St. Lawrence String Quartet plays two quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn and the new String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams at the Wisconsin Union Theater and the Madison Opera also opens its production of Mark Adamo’s opera “Little Women” at the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

Take Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, when the Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform music by Maurice Ravel, Peter Tchaikovsky and the famous Violin Concerto by Ludwig van Beethoven, with Russian-born soloist Alina Ibragimova, that afternoon at 2:30 p.m. and then that same night the winners of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music concerto competition will perform works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev, Richard Strauss and more, including a student work, at 7:30 p.m.

And if you look over the semester, you will find other conflicts.

Are there enough listeners to go around?

So many Madison classical musicians, both individuals and groups, are top quality and deserve big, enthusiastic audiences — and the kind of financial support that comes with good attendance.

But scheduling conflicts, along with a limited number of listeners, might be preventing that. And that doesn’t even include competition from the wealth of non-classical music events in the area!

So: Does Madison just have too many music-makers for the number of listeners?

Please say what you think about the problem of competition and scheduling conflicts in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation


Classical music: Take a FREE choral tour of the past year’s holidays this coming Saturday night at the UW-Madison. Plus, pianist Mark Valenti performs a FREE recital of Milhaud, Schubert and Prokofiev this Friday at noon.

November 18, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features pianist Mark Valenti. He will play Three Pieces from “Le Printemps” (Spring) by Darius Milhaud; the Sonata in A major by Franz Schubert; and the Sonata No. 7 in B-flat major by Sergei Prokofiev.

By Jacob Stockinger

This week brings two FREE concerts by several choral groups at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

UW Madrigal Singers

On Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University Chorus, Women’s Choir and Master Singers will perform a FREE concert. Sorry, no word yet about the program.

Then on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Chorale will perform a FREE concert called “It’s a Jolly Holiday!” Director Bruce Gladstone (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) will conduct.

BruceGladstoneTalbot

NOTE: This concert is NOT to be confused with the usually packed Winter Choral Concert — with its theme of holidays, multiple choirs and several conductors — that will take place on Sunday, Dec. 6, at 2 and 4 p.m. at Luther Memorial Church.

Here are some program notes:

“This fall, the UW Chorale gets into the holiday spirit.

“But which one?

“An entire year of them!

“The ensemble starts with New Year’s Day and moves through the calendar year singing choral works to commemorate each festive day.

“They’ll celebrate President’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Earth Day (below) and so on, with a variety of great music that will leave you wondering why you only think about hearing a choir sing at Christmas.

earthdayplanet

“Works include “My Funny Valentine,” “Free at Last,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Regina Coeli,” Howard Hanson’s “Song of Democracy,” Aaron Copland’s “The Promise of Living” and many more.” (You can hear Howard Hanson’s “Song of Democracy,” with words by poet Walt Whitman and with the famous Interlochen theme from his “Romantic” Symphony No. 2, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

“There will be something for everyone as they explore the days we call “holy.””

 


Classical music: Pianists Emanuel Ax and Garrick Ohlsson plus Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 and Carl Orff’s cantata “Carmina Burana” highlight the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s new 2015-16 season.

March 11, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra has just announced its next season for 2015-16. It is the 90th season for the MSO, and marks the 22nd season of music director and conductor John DeMain’s tenure.

Here is the press release that The Ear received.

More news and comments from music director and conductor John DeMain, who will conduct seven of the eight concerts, will follow. 

Concerts are in Overture Hall on Fridays at 7:30 p.m; Saturdays at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m.

Single tickets for the Season 2015-16 will range from $16 to $85. (They are currently $16 to $84.)

Subscriptions to five or more concerts in Season 2015-16 are on sale now at www. madisonsymphony.org or by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734. New subscribers can receive up to 50 percent off.

Single tickets from $16 to $85 will go on sale on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015, at the Overture Center Box Office. You can also call (608) 258-4141 or go to  http://www.madisonsymphony.org 

mso from above

Madison Symphony Orchestra Announces 2015-2016 Season

The incomparable pianist Emanuel Ax and the soul-stirring orchestral/choral music of “Carmina Burana” are just two of the exciting highlights of John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) and the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s (MSO) 2015-2016 Season.

MSO Music Director DeMain said, “We want audiences to be moved with great classical music as we excite their imaginations, lift their spirits, and stir their emotions.”

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Beginning with a September program that focuses on the highly talented musicians in the orchestra, DeMain will lead the audience through an exhilarating variety of themes and cultures throughout the season. France and Scotland are just two of the sound worlds the MSO will explore, while monumental works central to the repertoire, such as Orff’s Carmina Burana and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, will anchor the year.

A world-class roster of guest artists will also join the season’s performances, including pianist Emanuel Ax, violinist James Ehnes, cellist Sara Sant’Ambrogio, violinist Alina Ibragimova, and pianist Garrick Ohlsson.

The MSO’s own Principal Clarinet Joseph Morris will play a pivotal role in the September concert also.

The immeasurable talent set to perform in Overture Hall ensures that the coming season is not to be missed!

(* below denote first-time performances for the MSO under Conductor John DeMain.)

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Sept. 25, 26, 27, 2015: Tchaikovsky’s Fourth. John DeMain, Conductor. Joseph Morris, Clarinet (below)

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN       Leonore Overture No. 3

AARON COPLAND                  Clarinet Concerto*

PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY    Symphony No. 4

  • The most popular of the four overtures Beethoven penned for his opera Fidelio, Leonore Overture No. 3 packs more than its share of heroic energy into 13 minutes.
  • Commissioned by the clarinetist and legendary bandleader Benny Goodman, Copland’s jazz-infused Clarinet Concerto uses slapping basses and thwacking harp sounds to simulate a rhythm section.
  • Tchaikovsky’s monumental Symphony No. 4 unites blazing brass fanfares, dance-like passages, and aching melodies to explore ideas of fate, happiness, and longing.
  • joe morris playing CR Cheryl Savan

Oct. 16, 17, 18, 2015: Scottish Fantasy

John DeMain, Conductor, James Ehnes, Violin (below)

JOSEPH HAYDN                      Symphony No. 85 (La Reine)*

MAX BRUCH                          Scottish Fantasy*

SERGEI RACHMANINOFF        Symphonic Dances

  • Nicknamed “La Reine” because it was the favorite of French Queen Marie Antoinette, Haydn’s spirited Symphony No. 85 is one of six symphonies commissioned by the private concert society Les Concerts de la Loge Olympique in Paris.
  • Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra blends rustic folk tunes and tender themes to convey the stark Scottish landscape. Droning tones imitate bagpipes, while the violins mimic the sound of a country fiddle.
  • Written during World War II, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances features an extended saxophone solo, as well as quotes from Russian Orthodox chant and the Mass of the Dead. The piece was the composer’s final score, and he died believing that it would never be as popular as his earlier music.

M~ prv021405 EHNES 01

Nov. 20, 21, 22, 2015: French Fantastique. John DeMain, Conductor. Sara Sant’Ambrogio, Cello (below bottom)

MAURICE RAVEL                    Valses Nobles et Sentimentales*

CAMILLE SAINT-SAËNS            Cello Concerto No.1*

HECTOR BERLIOZ                    Symphonie Fantastique

  • Inspired by Schubert and originally written for piano, Ravel’s sensuous Valses Nobles et Sentimentales combines the classical simplicity of the waltz with the colorful aural array of the sounds of all the instruments in the orchestra.
  • Saint-Saëns eschewed standard concerto form in his Cello Concerto No.1 by interlinking the piece’s three movements into one continuous musical expanse, held together by the rich lyrical power of the cello.
  • Meant to depict the haunted hallucinations of an opium trip, Berlioz’s grand and imaginative Symphonie Fantastique is marked by an obsessive return to a striking theme symbolizing Berlioz’s beloved, Shakespearean actress Harriet Smithson, who did not return his affections.

Sara Sant-Ambrogio

Dec. 4, 5, 6, 2015. A Madison Symphony Christmas. John DeMain (below top), Conductor. Emily Fons, Mezzo-soprano. David Govertsen, Bass-Baritone. Madison Symphony Chorus, Beverly Taylor, Director. Madison Youth Choirs (below middle), Michael Ross, Artistic Director. Mt. Zion Gospel Choir (below bottom), Tamera and Leotha Stanley, Directors.

John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra don their Santa hats for this signature Christmas celebration. This concert is filled with traditions, from caroling in the lobby with the Madison Symphony Chorus to vocal performances by hundreds of members of Madison’s musical community. Christmas classics are interwoven with enchanting new holiday music. The culminating sing-along is Madison’s unofficial start of the holiday season!

MSO John DeMain in Santa Hat

Madison Youth Choirs Scotland Tour CR Jon Harlow

MtZion

Feb. 12, 13, 14, 2016: Music, the food of love…

Daniel Hege, Guest Conductor (below top). Alina Ibragimova, Violin (below bottom)

PETER ILYICH TCHAIKOVSKY    “Romeo and Juliet” Fantasy Overture

MAURICE RAVEL                    “Daphnis and Chloe” Suite No. 2

LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN       Violin Concerto

Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture tells the story of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers through thunderous passages portraying the conflict between the Montagues and the Capulets and a rapturous love theme.

  • With music from a ballet premiered by the Ballet Russes in Paris in 1912, Ravel’s lush Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2 depicts lovers Daphnis and Chloe reuniting at daybreak, followed by a Bacchanalian dance.
  • Beethoven’s technically challenging Violin Concerto premiered in 1806. The composer’s only violin concerto, this work paved the way for the great 19th-century German violin concertos by Mendelssohn, Bruch, and Brahms.

Syracuse Symphony Orchestra

alina ibragimovic

Mar. 11, 12, 13, 2016. John DeMain, Conductor. Emanuel Ax (below top), Piano. Alisa Jordheim, Soprano (below bottom)

DMITRY KABALEVSKY             Colas Breugnon Overture*

CÉSAR FRANCK                     Symphonic Variations*

RICHARD STRAUSS                Burleske

GUSTAV MAHLER                            Symphony No. 4

  • Composed in 1938 in Russia, Dmitry Kabalevsky’s dynamic Colas Breugnon Overture preceded the opera glorifying a working man’s struggle against a corrupt aristocracy—an unsurprising theme in the time of Stalin.
  • Knit together by themes presented in the introduction, Franck’s tightly polished Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra became better known after his death due to the efforts of the composer’s adoring students.
  • Richard Strauss wrote his showy and seductive Burleske for piano and orchestra at the age of 21. When the composer presented it as a thank-you gift to his mentor, Hans von Bülow, the prominent conductor and pianist pronounced the work “unplayable”!
  • Sometimes referred to as Mahler’s pastoral symphony, Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 is light, sunny, and childlike. The finale features a soprano singing a text based on folk poetry.

Emanuel Ax playing LA Times

Alisa Jordheim

Apr. 1, 2, 3, 2016. John DeMain, Conductor. Garrick Ohlsson, Piano (below)

STEVEN STUCKY                     Symphony No. 1*

RICHARD STRAUSS                Don Juan

JOHANNES BRAHMS               Piano Concerto No. 1

  • Described by the composer as “a single expanse of music that travels through a series of emotional landscapes”, Steven Stucky’s Symphony No. 1 is one of the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer’s most recent works.
  • Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Juan recounts the life, and death, of the eponymous fictional character through brazenly virtuosic flair matched by tender romantic melodies.
  • Brahms’ first major orchestral work, Piano Concerto No. 1, casts the piano and orchestra as equal partners working together to develop musical ideas. Written in D minor, this piece captures the composer’s grief over his friend Robert Schumann’s breakdown and eventual death in a mental asylum.

Garrick Ohlsson

Apr. 29, 30, May 1, 2016. John DeMain, Conductor. Jeni Houser, Soprano. Thomas Leighton, Tenor. Keith Phares, Baritone. Madison Symphony Chorus (below), Beverly Taylor, Director.

OTTORINO RESPIGHI               Pines of Rome

CARL ORFF                                     Carmina Burana

Respighi’s moving tone poem Pines of Rome illustrates four distinct scenes through music, and features one of the most stunningly beautiful melodies of the classical repertoire.

  • The epitome of “epic” music, Carl Orff’s spellbinding cantata Carmina Burana unites chorus and orchestra with rhythmic velocity and evocative lyrics. John DeMain calls it a “soul-stirring experience you’ll never forget” and “one of classical music’s most popular treasures.”

MSO Chorus CR Greg Anderson

The Madison Symphony Orchestra starts its 90th season with the 2015-16 concerts. The MSO engages audiences of all ages and backgrounds in live classical music through a full season of concerts with established and emerging soloists of international renown, an organ series that includes free concerts, and widely respected education and community engagement programs. Find more information at www.madisonsymphony.org.

 

 


Classical music: What piece of romantic music would you play for your beloved to mark Valentine’s Day?

February 14, 2015
7 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Valentine’s Day, 2015.

Cupid

Traditionally, a Valentine’s Day tribute is written out and comes in a greeting card or a love letter.

But The Ear has always found music a more suitable vehicle than words to express love.

So I using today’s holiday to post a link to a piece that celebrates love.

And I invite all readers of this blog to do the same.

Just use the Comments section to say what the piece is, who the composer is, and, if possible, what is the link to a YouTube video of the piece.

There are so many choices — with Johann Sebastian BachFranz Schubert, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Frederic ChopinGiacomo Puccini, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Antonin Dvorak and Sergei Rachmaninoff   ranking at the top — that I look forward to hearing what you choose. I am sure some of them will be new to me.

As for myself, an avid amateur pianist, I will include a link from five years ago in which I posted three short solo piano romances by Robert Schumann — who was the most romantic of the Romantics — Johannes Brahms and Gabriel Faure.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2010/02/14/classical-music-survey-what-is-the-best-classical-music-for-valentine’s-day/

For good measure, this year I want to include a lovely violin piece -– “Salut d’amour” or “Love’s Greeting” by Sir Edward Elgar — as played by Sarah Chang in the popular YouTube video below.

That is my choice to mark today.

Now tell me yours.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 


Classical music: Is this the minority report of a dissenter? The Ear offers some thoughts and after-thoughts from recent concerts by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Pro Arte String Quartet, the Middleton Community Orchestra and pianist Christopher Taylor. Plus, here are links to rave reviews of this afternoon’s final all-Beethoven concert by pianist Yefim Bronfman and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

March 9, 2014
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ALERT: Today at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center is the final performance of the all-Beethoven concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain. It features pianist Yefim Bronfman (below) in TWO piano concertos (Nos. 2 and 5 “The Emperor”) plus the Symphony No. 1 and “The Creatures of Prometheus” Overture. Here are links to two rave reviews of the concert by Madison Magazine critic and blogger Greg Hettmansberger and by Isthmus critic John W. Barker, who also guest blogs for The Ear. It sure sounds like a NOT-TO-BE-MISSED concert. See you there!

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/March-2014/A-Piano-Concerto-Doubleheader-and-Beethoven-to-the-Max/

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42237

Yefim Bronfman portrait

By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a very busy time musically in Madison, with a lot of previews to post, which often supplant reviews since The Ear thinks previews are more useful than reviews to most listeners and performers. And this coming week and weekend are even worse. So much music, and so little space!

But here are some “outdated” capsule reviews, impressions really, with accompanying afterthoughts that come to The Ear as he listened and later thought about what he had heard:

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND TRUMPETER TINE THING HELSETH

It seemed a curious, even odd theme for a Valentine’s Day program. But BRASS – not romantic love — marked the Valentine’s Day weekend performances by the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below), although ending with the “Rosenkavalier” suite by Richard Strauss did indeed prove an inspired choice to combine brass and love. Plus by all accounts, the concert sold very well. It sure got standing ovations. In short, it may have seemed odd, but it worked.

MSO playing

The “Doctor Atomic” Symphony by the contemporary American composer John Adams (below), who put the instrumental work together from his own opera score, was powerful, and also fit the brass bill, with great solos by MSO trumpeter John Aley, and was impressive to hear –- though also hardly romantic.

John Adams

Given conductor John DeMain (below) and his stupendous taste and talent for choosing great singers who are also affordable, I kept thinking: How I would like to have heard some great singers perform familiar and unknown love arias from operas by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Saint-Saens, even Wagner. Now those would be symphony tickets to throw in with a box of chocolates and a bouquet of roses. But The Ear has been informed that such concerts often do not sell well and might also be seen as competing with the local opera company.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

All that said, I thought that the guest soloist, Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth (below), proved an inspired, if unexpected, choice. She showed an uncanny power for playing softly. Brass instruments are not easy to control with little breath and with soft tone. But she did both beautifully in two concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn and Alexander Arutiunian. She clearly has the lung power to blow down the Walls of Jericho. But what impressed and seduced me was her quietness, which nonetheless possessed rich tone and unwavering pitch. That is a rare talent, and one to be cherished — and brought back to Madison!

Tine Thing Helseth big profile

WISCONSIN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

Maestro Andrew Sewell (below) has a never-failing knack of finding terrific music that has been overlooked but is actually very good, if not revolutionary or pioneering.

Sure, at his last concert I too, like the rest of the audience, loved what he did with the Jupiter Symphony of Mozart –- not too hectic, clear voicing, propulsive energy even with all the repeats. And the talented and congenial soloist Joshua Roman proved an irresistible highlight in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major.

Andrew Sewell BW

But the real surprise of the night was the 20th-century Concerto Grosso by Vittorio Giannini (below), who taught composition at the Juilliard School and the Manhattan School of Music and then established the North Carolina School of the Arts. What a discovery! I want to hear more by this guy.

Vittorio Giannini

And Sewell will soon unwrap another surprise this week –- and I expect, as usual, that it will be modern music that is accessible and tuneful, not R&D Music (that’s short research and development) that sounds like jet noise or broken plumbing.  Could that help explain why he gets full houses?

Sewell and the WCO will probably do so again THIS COMING FRIDAY NIGHT at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center. That is when he and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra combine the famous famously listenable and lovely Violin Concerto (with guest soloist Karina Canellakis) by Felix Mendelssohn and Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Clock” Symphony (Symphony No. 101 of his 104 symphonies) with “Elements” by American composer Michael McLean (below, and with a sample of  “Elements” in a YouTube video at the bottom). Sounds like another MUST-HEAR concert  to The Ear.

Michael McLean 1 REAL not mormon

PRO ARTE QUARTET

Well, the headlines and chit-chat went rightfully to the world premiere of Belgian composer Benoit Mernier’s commissioned String Quartet No. 3, which sounded fiendishly difficult and seemed based largely on technical stuff like trills, tremolos and glissandos instead of themes and infectious rhythms. And the Pro Arte Quartet, artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music since 1940 and celebration its centennial, played it with impressive aplomb and apparent ease.

Pro Arte Quartet in Haydn at Mernier

“Do you like the music?” someone asked me right after the performance.

I think the better question is: “Does the music like me?”

Think about it: What is the composer’s responsibility to you the listener, and what is your responsibility to the composer (Mernier, below), especially if he seems to ignore you?

Benoit Mernier 1

I also loved the rarely heard and beautifully performed viola quintet by Anton Bruckner and particularly the contrasts between Sally Chisholm’s viola and Samuel Rhodes’ viola (the two are below side-by-side). If you liked the combination –- and what is not to like with the darker hued voice of the viola –- be sure to try the viola quintets by Mozart and Brahms, which I would also like to hear the Pro Arte do more of.

Sally Chisholm and Samuel Rhodes in Bruckner Quintet

But for old-fashioned me, the star of the evening was the Haydn Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4. It just cleaned out your ears and was proof again that, at its best, the genre is indeed still as it was described by Haydn himself when pretty much invented in the 18th century: A conversation of equals. And did the Pro Arte ever play it with accuracy, clarity and texture. It sparkled like a diamond. The string quartet may have evolved, changed or morphed over the centuries, but it has simply not gotten any better than Haydn.

So: Is there any chance that we night get of a multi-year Haydn cycle by the Pro Arte, which decades ago in another avatar or configuration of players started to record the complete Haydn quartets in the famous Abbey Road studio in London for RCA. They have done Beethoven and Shostakovich cycles. What about Papa Haydn? And if not a complete cycle of the 68 or so quartets, how about a fairly comprehensive survey or at least a very large sampler of Haydn’s early, middle and late styles?

Haydn

PIANIST CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR

What more can you say about the award-winning, audience-approved star talent pianist Christopher Taylor (below) who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and concertizes around the world, and his stunning solo recital this year?

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

I loved the “War” Sonata No. 6 by Sergei Prokofiev, a great piece that he performed greatly with both riveting energy and heartbreaking lyricism. I also loved the encore — Scott Joplin’s “Pineapple Rag” –- as a contrast and change of pace.

But I have to be honest: I have heard enough of the Liszt piano transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies. Trust the genuine original! Accept no substitutes!

The next day I listened to a recording of the same work by a real orchestra — the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig under conductor Riccardo Chailly. What a difference when the “Eroica” is played with real brass countering, with jarring dissonance, real strings; when it is real tympani drumbeats rather than bass tremolos on the piano. Ludwig (below) simply had more of IT – whatever musical genius is — than Franz.

Beethoven big

The real “Eroica” Symphony doesn’t — and shouldn’t — sound so much like a Hungarian Rhapsody or a Transcendental Etude. In their day, these transcriptions served a purpose and they stretched the resources of the piano, or at least, of pianists. Now, they strike The Ear as precious, more of a sideshow of amazing and ingenious pianism and not much little else aside from some strokes of minor genius here and there by the Paganini of the Piano.

Liszt photo by Pierre Petit

From one of those transcriptions I learned something and I enjoyed it. But now that makes three down (symphonies numbers 3, 4 and 5) for Taylor. I, for one, sure hope we don’t have the other six to go. How much more I would have preferred to hear this supremely talented pianist and gifted musician in some serious and original piano repertoire –- maybe a late Schubert sonata, or a Bach partita, or a Chopin ballade, or a Schumann cycle. I want to hear Christopher Taylor in something that puts depth over display, substance over style.

Am I alone in that wish?

MIDDLETON COMMUNITY ORCHESTRA

Guest reviewer John W. Barker covered this recent concert of the mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below), which featured music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Johannes Brahms and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, thoughtfully and thoroughly for this blog.

Middleton Community Orchestra Margaret Barker

All I would add is a lesson that every teacher knows: Students with lesser abilities rise to meet high expectations. That is why symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras should book the best soloists they can get and afford: The Ear is convinced that the level of playing and performing usually rises to match the soloist and fosters cohesion.

With the MCO, it was two lifelong friends and award-winning, UW-Madison trained string players -– violinist Eleanor Bartsch and violist Daniel Kim (below) who soloed and who seemed in complete synch, down to the timing of their trills, during Mozart’s sublime Sinfonia Concertante.

Their playing was superb, and the amateur orchestra rose to meet them and give them the beautiful support they deserved. And with Mozart there is no place to hide, so flaws or mistakes are quickly revealed.

Eleanor Bartsch and Daniel Kim MCO Mozart

Well, now it is on to another busy week of concerts.

Where, I wonder, will the music lead The Ear this time?

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Classical music: Court victories favoring same-sex marriage equality and an extended Valentine’s Day weekend add up to a magical and loving mix for musical partners, including opera star Patricia Racette, who comes out as a lesbian.

February 16, 2014
3 Comments

ALERT: If you are undecided about going to this afternoon’s concert at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall by the Madison Symphony Orchestra with Norwegian trumpet soloist Tine Thing Helseth (below), here are links to positive reviews by John W. Barker for Isthmus and by Greg Hettmansberger for Madison Magazine’s blog “Classically Speaking”:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42078&sid=4d977189e5be9d039af0d641c547219f

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/February-2014/Madison-Symphony-Gives-the-Large-Variety-Box-for-Valentines-Day/

Tine Thing Helseth big profile

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, when a holiday falls on a Friday – like Valentine’s Day this year — one can be forgiven for prolonging it over the weekend, don’t you think?

But it seems a good chance to blend two recent stories and trend lines that are increasingly coming together.

And coming out.

One is the recent various court victories for marriage equality, or same-sex marriage, or gay marriage. Whatever you want to call it, it seems to becoming more and more a legal and social reality with every week that passes.

gay marriage in suits

And those legal victories lead to more and more gays and lesbians coming out, including the star football player and top NFL draft possibility star Michael Sam (below top) and “Juno” actress Ellen Page (below bottom).

Here is a link to a New York Times story about Michael Sam:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/10/sports/michael-sam-college-football-star-says-he-is-gay-ahead-of-nfl-draft.html?_r=0

Michael Sam in football uniform

And here is a link to a Washington Post story about Ellen Page:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/juno-actress-ellen-page-comes-out-as-gay/2014/02/15/f3327800-9627-11e3-ae45-458927ccedb6_story.html

Ellen Page

As for Valentine’s Day, imagine what how rewarding it could be to work cooperatively in the performing arts with your life partner and love.

That is exactly what was documented in a recent story on NPR’s great blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

NPR highlighted various musical couples in classical music who met in a musical setting and fell in love while working, and who now get to work together.

And for good measure, they included the Metropolitan Opera star soprano Patricia Racette (below top, out of costume, and below bottom in the title role of Puccini’s “Tosca”), who openly talks about what a great marriage she has with her female partner. (You can hear Patricia Racette as the title character Cio-Cio-San sing the finale of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

Patricia Racette soprano

Patricia Racette in Tosca

Of course, most of the couples are heterosexual in the story just as they are in real life. And we have seen some of them – tenor Stephen Costello (below top) at the Madison Opera‘s Opera in the Park as well as cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han (below bottom) at the Wisconsin Union Theater, in Madison.

Fort Worth Opera 2008

Wu Han and David Finckel BIG

But it is both sensitive and brave of NPR, which is always under the gun and budget knife of the self-righteous and nutty right-wing extremists and homophobes, to do the story.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/02/11/273159447/classical-couples-sweethearts-sharing-the-stage

One can only hope and imagine the chain reaction that is to happen as each coming out brings several more, as bravery and tolerance build, and as the visible becomes visible.

Saint Valentine -– at least my Saint Valentine — would be very pleased.

Saint Valentine

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Classical music: Today is Valentine’s Day. What piece of music best celebrates love? Here are Limelight Magazine’s Top 10 Sexiest Moments in Classical Music. Leave some music and words for your Valentine right here. Plus, the University of Wisconsin School of Music has successfully reinvented the annual Concerto Competition Winners’ concert -– to loud approval and multiple standing ovations from a packed house.

February 14, 2014
5 Comments

READER SURVEY: Today is Valentine’s Day. What is the best piece of romantic music you know of to listen to or to send to someone to celebrate this day? You can even leave a link to a YouTube video and a dedication in the COMMENT section. Here is a link to Limelight Magazine’s Top 10 Sexiest Moments in Classical Music:

http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/Article/371934,the-10-sexiest-moments-in-classical-music.aspx

Cupid

By Jacob Stockinger

Little things can add up to a big difference.

Take the annual concert given by the winners (below) of this year’s concerto competition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Here are links to background of the event and the performers in the preview story that was posted  on this blog and and a link to the performers’ biographies that appeared on “Fanfare,” the outstanding bog of the UW School of Music:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/classical-music-education-the-university-of-wisconsin-school-of-music-ramps-up-its-annual-student-concerto-competition-concert-this-saturday-night-with-a-gala-reception/

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/symphony-showcase2013-14/

UW concerto winners 2014 Michael R. Anderson

Someone at the SOM (as the School of Music is referred to by insiders) rightly decided that the event deserved a higher public profile. (Except where noted, performance photos are by The Ear.)

So they made a few adjustments.

They booked Mills Hall for a Saturday night – last Saturday night, in fact — the best night of the week for entertainment events.

Then they rechristened the event the Symphonic Showcase, since the UW Symphony Orchestra (below with graduate student and assistant conductor Kyle Knox) is the common denominator and accompanies all the concerto winners and also premieres the winning piece by a student composer. The Ear likes that emphasis on collective or collaborative music-making.

They started the concert early, at 7 p.m.

That was because they also added a small and informal dessert reception from 9 to 11 p.m. — with all the proceeds of a $10 ticket going to a student scholarship fund — at the nearby Tripp Commons in the UW Memorial Union.

Kyle Knox and UW Symphony Orchestra

And what were the results?

Nothing short of a spectacular success.

Mills Hall was packed just about full (see the photo below by Michael R. Anderson).

uw concerto winner 2014 big audience Michael R. Anderson

And the big, enthusiastic audience greeted each performer with cheers and a standing ovation. And they deserved that. All of the winners played well and all chose great works to perform.

Here a rundown by contestant.

If you weren’t there -– well, you probably should regret it, You missed out on a lot of fun and a lot of beautiful music-making by a very impressive group of talented students. Maybe some state legislators were in the audience and will stop clowning around trying to micro-manage and ruin the UW while they say they’re really trying to fix it.

The evening started out with an orchestral showpiece, a kind of Romantic tone poem-concerto grosso that highlighted each section. That might be expected since the “Russian Easter” Overture came from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, a master orchestrator who taught Igor Stravinsky the craft of scoring music.

Graduate student Kyle Knox (below) conducted and did a fine job of bouncing the music around to various sections and keeping a clear line.

Kyle Knox 2

Violinist Madlen Breckbill (below) confidently commanded the stage with an appropriately lyrical and heart-breaking reading of the first movement of Samuel Barber’s masterful Violin Concerto. It was a thoroughly convincing rebuff to those people and critics who say you need to hear a new piece of music several times to know it is great. This kind of greatness you get from the first notes.

Madlen Breckbill

Saxophonist Erika Anderson (below left) played and projected with absorbing conviction the new “Poema” (2014) by student composer 24-year-old Russian-born composer Daria Tennikova (below right), who writes in an impressively accessible yet thoroughly modern idiom.

Erika Anderson and Daria Tennikova

Clarinetist Kai-Ju Ho (below top) brought both lyricism and swing to Aaron Copland’s underperformed Clarinet Concerto, pleasing conductor James Smith (below bottom right), himself a very accomplished clarinetist who performed the same concerto five times under the composer.

Kai-Ju Ho

James Smith and UW Symphony Orchestra with clarinet soloist Kai-Ju Ho

SeungWha Baek (below top, playing; below bottom by Michael R. Anderson) brought out the sizzle and virtuosity in the dazzling first movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with its ingenious Hanon-like five-finger exercise motif – except that this is no work for beginners, as you can see and hear at the bottom in a YouTube video with pianist Martha Argerich and conductor Andre Previn.

SeungWha Baek playing

UW concerto winners SeungWha Baek Michael R. Anderson 2014

Flutist Mi-Li Chang brought beautiful tone and playfulness, even Gallic charm, to the Concerto for Flute by Jacques Ibert.

Mi-Li Chang

And pianist Sung-Ho Yang brought the show to a close with a surprising subtle reading of Franz Liszt’s flashy and bombastic Piano Concerto No 1. The whole work is like one long cadenza – not one of the Ear’s favorites — so it was refreshing to hear Yang emphasize the quiet passages and subtlety, all the while bringing out the dialoguing back and forth between the piano and the orchestra.

Sung-Yo Yang playing

And after the music, we went to a quiet but friendly reception that featured coffee and tea as well as chocolate cake and pumpkin bars (below), set out much like a Wayne Thiebaud painting. It was a chance to meet the musicians and thank them for a splendid evening.

Chocolate cake al a Wayne Thiebaud

Pumpkin bars a la Wayne Thiebaud

Bravo to all.

The Ear is betting and hoping that next year will find the new format repeated.

Tinkering with failure is one thing.

But why tinker with success?

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