The Well-Tempered Ear

University Opera’s original online video project celebrates the life and music of American composer Marc Blitzstein. It will be posted for FREE on YouTube this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m.

October 21, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

This fall, University Opera presents its first project of 2020-21 in video format as it turns to the music of the American composer Marc Blitzstein (1905-1964).

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” will be released free of charge on the University of Wisconsin-Madison Mead Witter School of Music’s YouTube channel this Friday night, Oct. 23, at 8 p.m. CDT at the general site www.youtube.com/meadwitterschoolofmusic or the official specific ink: https://youtu.be/77FXFZucrWc.

Director of University Opera David Ronis (below top) is the director of the original production and will give introductory remarks. UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below bottom) is the musical director. The production lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes, and features four singer-actors, a narrator and a piano.

Marc Blitzstein’s life story parallels some of the most important cultural currents in American history of the mid-20th-century.

Known for his musicals — most notably The Cradle Will Rock in 1937 (you can hear Dawn Upshaw sing the lovely song “I Wish It So” from “Juno” in the YouTube video at the bottom) — his opera Regina and his translation of Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, Blitzstein was an outspoken proponent of socially engaged art. Like many artists of his time, he joined the American Communist Party. But he also enthusiastically served in the U.S. Army during World War II (below, in 1943).

Nevertheless, in 1958, long after he had given up his Communist Party membership, Blitzstein (below) was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) where he “named no names.”

An extremely gifted yet underappreciated composer, he was a close friend of and mentor to Leonard Bernstein (below right, with Blitzstein on the left) and traveled in a close circle of American composers including David Diamond and Aaron Copland.

Although openly gay, he married Eva Goldbeck in 1933. Sadly, she died three years later from complications due to anorexia.

Blitzstein’s own death was likewise tragic. In 1964, while in Martinique working on an opera about the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, he was robbed and badly beaten by three Portuguese sailors whom he had picked up at a bar. He died the next day of internal injuries. 

Although throughout his life and afterwards, Blitzstein’s work was championed by Bernstein and others, many claim that neither the composer nor his stunning music and beautiful lyrics ever received the attention they deserved. So University Opera is proud to present this show celebrating his life and his works.

“I Wish It So: Marc Blitzstein – the Man in His Music” is a unique production put together by David Ronis. A biographical pastiche, it tells the story of Blitzstein’s life by recontextualizing 23 songs and ensembles from his shows, juxtaposing them with spoken excerpts from his working notes and letters, and tying it all together with a narration.

The result is a dramatic, evocative and enjoyable portrait of Blitzstein’s life and his art, according to Ronis.

“We’ve discovered a lot of “silver linings” while working on this production,” says Ronis. “We were disappointed at not being able to do a normal staged show. But working with video has had tremendous artistic and educational value.

“Our students are learning on-camera technique, not to mention how to work with a green screen (below, with soprano Sarah Brailey), which allows for post-production editing and digital manipulation of backgrounds. They’re also working with spoken text as well as sung pieces. Mostly, we’re just very grateful to have a creative project to sink our teeth into during the pandemic. 

“And the music of Blitzstein is so fantastic, we’re very happy to be able to share it with our audience. This project is like none other I’ve ever done and we’re thinking that it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Research on the project was completed at the Wisconsin Historical Society, where Blitzstein’s archives are housed. University Opera gratefully acknowledges the help of both Mary Huelsbeck of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Television Research, and the Kurt Weill Foundation for their assistance with this project.

The cast features five UW-Madison graduate students: Sarah Brailey, Kenneth Hoversten, Justin Kroll, Lindsey Meekhof (below) and Steffen Silvis.

The video design was done by Dave Alcorn with costumes by Hyewon Park.

Others on the production staff include Will Preston, rehearsal pianist; Elisheva Pront, research assistant and assistant director; Dylan Thoren, production stage manager; Alec Hansen, assistant stage manager; Teresa Sarkela, storyboard creator; and Greg Silver, technical director.

The video will be accessible for 23 hours starting at 8 p.m. this Friday, Oct. 23. Although there will be no admission price for access, donations will be gratefully accepted. A link for donations will be posted with the video. 

University Opera, a cultural service of the Mead Witter School of Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides comprehensive operatic training and performance opportunities for students and operatic programming to the community. For more information, email opera@music.wisc.edu or visit music.wisc.edu.

 


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The Madison Symphony Orchestra seeks matching funds as it launches a musicians’ relief fund to reach $355,000 by Nov. 5

October 5, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below in a photo by Peter Rodgers) has announced that a Musicians’ Relief Fund has been established with the goal of securing $355,000 to cover 100% of the orchestra payrolls for the canceled September through December 2020 subscription concerts.

This initiative is in addition to the compensation already provided to its musicians for canceled services from April 2020 to date.

To launch the fund, the MSO Board of Directors has committed current Symphony resources to guarantee 52% of the $355,000 total — $184,000 — and has informed the orchestra that the September and October orchestra payrolls will be paid in full.

MSO is seeking community support to help us raise another $171,000 to assure the orchestra’s compensation for the canceled November and December 2020 subscription concerts. 

All contributions to this effort will directly support the musicians. An Anonymous Donor has launched the appeal with a $50,000 lead gift. The campaign seeks to raise the additional funds by Nov. 5, 2020.

All contributions to the MSO Musicians’ Relief Fund are tax-deductible and will be used for musicians’ compensation.

Donations can be mailed to the Madison Symphony Orchestra, 222 W. Washington Ave., Suite 460, Madison WI, 53703.

An online donation form is found at madisonsymphony.org/relief-gift

To contribute gifts of appreciated stock or to discuss other options, contact Jeff Breisach, Manager of Individual Giving, at jbreisach@madisonsymphony.org.

“The 91 members of the Symphony are a core cultural asset of the greater Madison community,” said MSO Board President Ellsworth Brown (below). “We are committed to doing all we can to assist them through the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.”

“While some MSO musicians have other day jobs, many rely heavily on the wages they earn performing with this Symphony, as well as other orchestras and ensembles in the region,” said MSO Executive Director Rick Mackie (below). “The cancellations of services have caused stress and anxiety for our artists.”

The MSO has demonstrated support of its musicians since April of this year, compensating the orchestra for all canceled rehearsals and performances. 

Generous donors, strong financial management and a federal Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Loan enabled the Symphony to pay 100% of the orchestra payrolls for the April and May subscription concerts, the spring youth education programs, HeartStrings®, Madison Opera and Overture Presents engagements, and Concert on the Green.

These unexpected paychecks provided relief to the MSO staff and to our musicians (below, with music director and conductor John DeMain in a photo by Peter Rodgers) were forthcoming with their individual appreciation.

HERE ARE SAMPLES OF THE MUSICIANS OF THE MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA EXPRESSING THEIR GRATITUDE FOR COMPENSATION RELIEF

“I am very grateful that our organization values the health of its musicians and patrons yet also understands the financial difficulty imposed on musicians by being unable to work due to the pandemic. The MSO is a gem of an organization, and if you haven’t heard it enough lately, please let me reiterate my gratitude.” 

“WOW! I am humbled to be a part of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Thank you so much for valuing the musicians and honoring us with payment for cancelled rehearsals and performances. The news made me cry.” 

“As someone who makes a living totally from teaching and playing, this has been an incredibly difficult time. I lost half of my students, because they do not want to study online, and of course, all gigs were cancelled. I am truly grateful to you for making this possible. You have no idea how much this will help not only financially, but mentally as well. THANK YOU!!!


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Classical music: The Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Opera, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Overture Center cancel their fall seasons. Plus, on Saturday cellist Cole Randolph performs a virtual concert for Grace Presents

June 26, 2020
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ALERT: The Saturday at noon, Grace Presents will offer the first in its series of HD Virtual Concerts online. Future performers include organist Mark Brampton Smith and the Willy Street Chamber Players.

The performer this time is the cellist and recent UW-Madison graduate Cole Randolph (below). The program is: the Sonata for Solo Cello by the American composer George Crumb; two of the “Seven Songs Heard in China” by Chinese composer Bright Sheng; and the Suite for Solo Cello No. 3 by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Here is where you can hear the 40-minute concert inside the church on the Capitol Square: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vaOCH53osk

You can also connect with Cole Randolph after the show by joining in a Zoom meet-and-greet immediately following the performance at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88001773181

The meeting ID is: 880 0177 3181

You can hear Randolph (below, in a photo by Michael Anderson) playing in the YouTube video at the bottom.

By Jacob Stockinger

With all the talk of a second wave of coronavirus coming in the fall — complicated by the seasonal flu – concert cancellations don’t come as a surprise, unfortunately.

In fact, The Ear suspects many more cancellations are to come, including those from the UW-Madison, the Wisconsin Union Theater and the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Here is the latest round: the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Overture Center have all canceled their fall seasons, with some qualifications.

The announcements came on Thursday morning in the wake of the Overture Center canceling all performances this summer and fall through Nov. 30.

MADISON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA

The Madison Symphony Orchestra has provided a short statement and a more complete and detailed press release.

Here is the statement:

“The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s 2020-21 “Beethoven and Beyond” season concerts and Overture Concert Organ performances are now canceled from September 2020 through January 2021.

“The move is due to the Overture Center’s decision to suspend events through Nov. 30, 2020, and the requirements of Dane County’s “Forward Dane” Reopening Plan.

“The 2020-21 season performances in February, March, April and May 2021 are scheduled to take place as planned.

“All subscribers will be sent a refund for the value of their tickets for the September 2020 through January 2021 concerts.”

Here is a list on the five MSO concerts – including the Beyond the Score performance of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” on Jan. 25 — that will be canceled and the four that remain scheduled: https://madisonsymphony.org/concerts-events/2020-2021-symphony-season-concerts/

Here is a link to the full press release about the cancellations by the MSO (below, in a  photo by Peter Rodgers): https://madisonsymphony.org/press-release-june-2020-concert-events-update/

MADISON OPERA

The Madison Opera is canceling the two in-person performances of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” (The Troubadour) but is planning on offering some kind of large digital event and smaller live events at its center.

Here is statement from the Madison Opera:

“Although the Overture Center for the Arts is closed until the end of November, we will not be going silent.

“We are creating a fall season that lasts from September through December, and includes both digital content and live performances at the Margaret C. Winston Madison Opera Center, our home in downtown Madison.

“Some of our signature engagement activities — such as Opera Novice and Opera Up Close — will have monthly editions that include artists from around the country.

“The Opera Center itself will be the site of “Live from the Opera Center,” a variety of streamed performances with a small live audience.

“Other performances will be created digitally and made available exclusively to subscribers.

“Artists involved include members of the original “Il Trovatore” cast: soprano Karen Slack, baritone Weston Hurt, bass Kenneth Kellogg, and stage director Fenlon Lamb. Other soloists include Wisconsin-based artists Jeni Houser (below), David Blalock, Emily Fons, Emily Secor and Kirsten Larson.

“We are working with our artists to create programming that is chosen from their passions: music they want to share, ideas they want to explore, and conversations they want to start. The challenges facing us will create new art, and new ways to make sure it is accessible to everyone.”

Marketing director Andrew Rogers told The Ear that the opera company is still deciding whether digital performances will be ticketed or free with suggested donations.

The full schedule will be announced in early August, after the digital online Opera in the Park takes place Saturday, July 25. For details, go to: https://www.madisonopera.org/2020/05/06/opera-in-the-park-is-going-digital/

To stay current about the regular opera season, you can sign up for the Madison Opera’s news updates via email by going to this website: https://www.madisonopera.org/fall2020/

WISCONSIN CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

The Nov. 20 opening concert with pianist John O’Conor of the Masterworks Series has been POSTPONED with no new date set yet.

Music director Andrew Sewell says the Family Concert on is still on for Saturday, Oct. 10, at the Goodman Community Center but the WCO is looking for an alternative venue.

The concert on Nov. 7 at the Verona Area Performing Arts Center has been CANCELED.

Both performances of Handel’s “Messiah” — on Dec. 9 and Dec. 12 at the Blackhawk Church in Middleton and the UW’s Hamel Music Center on Dec. 12 – have also been CANCELED.

And this season the WCO will not play Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” from Dec. 17-27 because the Madison Ballet has canceled those performances.

For more information about the WCO (below, in photo by Mike Gorski), go to: https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/calendar

What do you think?

Do you think the cancellations are warranted?

Do you want to leave a message or comment encouraging and supporting the various groups and their many musicians?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: This summer’s Handel Aria Competition is postponed again — until next summer. But a Virtual Gala with new performances will be held online on Sept. 10

May 20, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post:

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 8th Annual Handel Aria Competition (below) has been postponed for a second time — until 2021 — for the safety of our singers, musicians and audience members.

The upper age limit for the competition will be extended when the competition resumes, so that all singers eligible this year can still participate.

We are introducing a new initiative to support the finalists from the past seasons of the competition – all of whom have had their opportunities to perform severely curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic. Your assistance in spreading the word would be much appreciated!

Originating in Madison, the Handel Aria Competition Virtual Gala will take place online and worldwide on Thursday, Sept. 10, at 7:30 p.m.

While the gala will not actually be live, since it requires editing together many separate elements of video, it will be shared via Facebook Live and also be available on YouTube and our website (see below).

It is our plan to feature professionally recorded Baroque arias specially performed for the occasion by past finalists and winners, as well as some of the videos recorded during the competition itself. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear bass-baritone Jonathan Woody singing an aria from the oratorio “Belshazzar” in 2019.)

We are also going to ask the finalists to record short video quotes about how the Handel Aria Competition has helped their careers, and why they love singing Handel.

Our host will be the Handel Aria Competition’s artistic director — and first prize-winner in 2015 — Sarah Brailey (below), who is also pursuing her doctorate at the UW-Madison.

Thanks to individual donations and foundation grants, all of the funds raised during the gala will be shared among the participating singers.

We hope you will join us in showing that we value their talent, and want to help them get through this difficult time.

For news updates and details, go to: https://handelariacompetition.com

 


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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra cancels and postpones its last two Masterworks concerts of the season in April and May. Here is information about ticket exchanges and refunds

April 2, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO, below in a photo by Mike Gorski) about canceling the rest of its Masterworks season due to the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19.

Dear Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Concert Ticket Holders:

We continue to remain committed to serving you and keeping you safe during the current health crisis.

Given the Overture Center’s closing, we have postponed two concerts: Masterworks IV, scheduled for April 24; and Masterworks V, scheduled for May 8.

We thank you for your patience as we work through the details to reschedule these fantastic performances featuring our guest artists, violinist Eric Silberger (Masterworks IV, below) and trumpeter and Madison native Andrew Balio (Masterworks V in Madison and Brookfield, below).

(Editor’s Note: The WCO has also said that the cancelled Masterworks III performance in late March by harpist Yolanda Kondonassis (below) will probably be rescheduled for next season, which will be announced later this month.)

We hope you will consider exchanging or donating the cost of your ticket back to the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

As an arts nonprofit, the WCO sees your support as vital to our organization during this challenging time as we navigate the significant ongoing economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are deeply grateful for your generosity and continued support.

The following ticket options are available for you:

  • Exchange your ticket(s) for a future Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performance. All exchange fees will be waived in this situation. You can also apply the value of the cancelled ticket to a subscription ticket for next season.
  • Donate your ticket(s) and receive a tax deduction for the total ticket value.
  • Receive a refund for the value of the ticket(s).

Please respond by email, letting us know your ticket decision, along with your full name, to wco@wcoconcerts.org.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call us at (608) 257-0638 or email us at wco@wcoconcerts.org.

We will continue to keep you informed of the status of all our upcoming performances as we continue to monitor the situation closely over the coming days and weeks.

We look forward to continuing to enrich your life through music.

Thank you,

Joe Loehnis, CEO


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