The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: This Thursday morning, WORT-FM 89.9 will air a lengthy tribute to retiring UW-Madison and Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras conductor Jim Smith

May 16, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Rich Samuels hosts the radio show “Anything Goes” every Thursday morning on WORT-FM 89.9.

But Samuels is also a documenter extraordinaire of the local classical music scene. Chances are you have seen him operating his computer and microphones at a recent concert.

Most recently, he brought the revival of Bach Around the Clock to his listeners.

Now he has done it again.

Here is what he wrote to The Ear, who is grateful for his many efforts:

“I just finished editing a 52-minute tribute to Maestro James Smith (below, rehearsing at the UW-Madison) who conducts his final Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra concert this coming Sunday at the Overture Center in a joint appearance, called “Side by Side,” with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

“This segment will air this week at 7:08 a.m. on my Thursday WORT broadcast.

“Listeners will hear Maestro Smith (below, conducting WYSO students) prepare his young musicians for the Sunday event and hear him reflect on his 32 years on the WYSO podium.

“Also contributing to the segment are WYSO alumni violist Vicki Powell (now based in Berlin), violinist David Cao (a joint music and pre-med major at Northwestern University) and Beth Larson (of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Willy Street Chamber Players, to name a few of her many affiliations).”

Smith’s final WYSO concert is in Overture Hall of the Overture Center on Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. The concert is FREE and open to the public. No tickets are required and seating is general admission. Doors open at 3:45 p.m. (You can hear a short sample of a 2015 Side by Side in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The program includes music by Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov, Georges Bizet, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Niccolo Paganini, Ottorino Respighi and Dmitri Shostakovich.

For more information about the Side-by-Side concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and WYSO, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/side-by-side-1/

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Classical music: Native daughter violist Vicki Powell returns from her globe-trotting career to solo this Friday night in music by Vaughan Williams with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra

March 21, 2017
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Madison has produced its share of important classical musicians who have gone on to achieve international reputations.

Among them was the composer Lee Hoiby (1926-2011).

More recently, there are the Naughton Twins, sister-duo pianists Christina and Michelle, who perform around the world.

And there is violist Vicki Powell (below), who was born in Chicago but started music lessons in Madison where she studied with the husband-and-wife team of violinist Eugene Purdue and Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm, both of whom have taught at the UW-Madison.

She then attended the Juilliard School in New York and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. (You can see her typical day at Curtis in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Powell, who recently finished a tour of Asia and whose playing has garnered rave reviews internationally, returns to Madison this Friday night to perform with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO music director Andrew Sewell will conduct. Unlike Sewell’s typical eclectic programming that mixes music from different eras, this concert feature music from a single period – the mid-20th century.

It offers “Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge” by British composer Benjamin Britten, who studied with Bridge. Also included are two other British works: the Suite for Viola and Chamber Orchestra by Ralph Vaughan Williams, with Vicki Powell, and “Benedictus” by Sir Alexander Mackenzie. All three works are rarely performed.

The concluding work, on the other hand, is the popular and well-loved “Appalachian Spring” – a timely work for the coming of spring yesterday morning — by the American composer Aaron Copland.

For more information about the program, about how to get tickets ($10-$80) and about Vicki Powell, go to:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-iv-2/

And here is a link to Vicki Powell’s website with a biography, concert bookings, recordings, reviews and her community outreach projects:

http://www.vickipowellviola.com


Classical music: Concerts on the Square start this Wednesday and feature a lot of classical music. Plus, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra announces its impressive 2016-17 indoors Masterworks season

June 27, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Wednesday night at 7 p.m., on the downtown Capitol Square, marks the opening of what has been billed as “The Biggest Picnic of Summer” — the six annual outdoor summer Concerts on the Square (below) by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and guest soloists.

ConcertsonSquaregroupshot

They are big because each concert, under the baton of WCO artistic director Andrew Sewell, last year averaged a weekly crowd of more than 42,000 people, up from 35,000 the previous year, according to the Capitol Police. (The highest was 50,000; the lowest 28,000.)

Concerts on the Square crowd

You should also know that this year the Concerts on The Square will include a generous — maybe, The Ear suspects, even an unprecedented — amount of classical music on June 29, July 6, July 17, July 27 and Aug. 3.

On the programs you will find music by Felix Mendelssohn, Joaquin Turina, Aaron Copland and Ottorino Resphighi (this Wednesday); by Leo Delibes, Peter Tchaikovsky (including the annual and traditional Fourth of July or Independence Day performance of his “1812 Overture”) and Jules Massenet (with famed local Metropolitan Opera singer, mezzo-soprano Kitt Reuter-Foss on July 6); by Paul Dukas, Jean Sibelius, Niels Gade and Antonin Dvorak (on July 13); Ludwig van Beethoven (July 27);  Arthur Honegger and Peter Tchaikovsky (Aug. 3).

Here is a link  with more information including links to tickets, rules about behavior and seating, and food options:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performance-listing/category/concerts-on-the-square

Even as it prepares for this summer’s six Concerts on the Square, which start Wednesday night, June 26, and run through August 3, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has announced its 2016-27 indoor Masterworks season of five classical concerts. It is an impressive lineup that features a local violist who has made it big, Vicki Powell, and the very young violin sensation Julian Rhee, who won the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Final Forte with a jaw-dropping reading of the Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, as well as a guitarist and duo-pianists.

Here is a link to more information:

http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performance-listing/category/masterworks

 


Classical music: Charitable giving should be a two-way exchange of money and information, and should be transparent. Arts and music groups should say how gifts will be spent. Plus, a string trio performs Haydn, Beethoven and Dohnanyi on Saturday night.

December 18, 2015
4 Comments

ALERT: Late word comes that on this Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street, violinist Naha Greenholtz (concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra), violist Vicki Powell (a prize-winning alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music) and cellist Madeleine Kabat will perform a concert. The program features the Trio in B-flat Major by Franz Joseph Haydn; the String Trio in G Major by Ludwig van Beethoven and the Serenade by Erno von Dohnanyi. Admission at the door is $15, $7 for students.

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s that time of the year again.

The holidays.

The time for giving gifts.

The End of the Tax Year.

Giving Away Money Time.

money.3

That means all kinds of charities and non-profit organizations are filling The Ear’s snail-mail box and email basket with solicitations for gifts that can still be deducted on this tax year.

I have heard from just about every large and small music organization in the Madison area — including the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top) and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below middle), the Oakwood Chamber Players (below bottom) as well as the University of Wisconsin — and some that are statewide like Wisconsin Public Radio.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

WCO lobby

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

But curiously, not a single one of the pleas has included a pie chart or a bar graph or a listing of how the money that is given will be spent.

It seems to The Ear that charitable giving is a two-way street and should be completely transparent. I give you money because you give me information about why you need it and how it will be used.

That could be done with a simple pie chart (an example is below) or a listing of how many cents of every donated dollar will be spent on, say, percentage of salary increases, administrative salaries and raises, guest artists, resident musicians’ pay, venue rental, advertising and the like.

Budget pie chart

It could be and should be included in the solicitation itself or through a link to a website.

Funny, but arts groups seem especially reluctant to talk about money. They act as if the arts weren’t competitive businesses, or as if they are somehow demeaned or soiled by mentioning money – except, of course, when it comes to asking for it and getting it.

Now it is true that non-profits and charities generally file annual reports, as required by federal tax laws. But that is not enough. You have to do research to find them, and that takes time and know-how.

The public should not be asked to do that. Ethically, it should be the job of the organization asking for money to provide that information with the solicitation for funding.

It is important to avoid scams and nondisclosure.  A recent investigative study found that many of the top scams and cheaters among charities solicit money in the name of children with cancer, first responders like police officers and fight fighters, and veterans.

And in past years, even such well-known and venerable groups as the United Way and the Red Cross have been found to indulge in questionable practices and to cheat or mislead donors.

In certain cases, only two or three cents of the dollar – only two or three percent, that is — actually went to the recipients while most of the considerable sums of money went to organizers and administration. A good standard is that close to 90 percent should go to the cause and only about 10 percent to administration.

budget money in a jar

So The Ear issues a challenge to arts groups and especially music groups: If you want my money, provide me with information that I should know about how it will be spent.

Otherwise, The Ear suggests that arts consumers – and that is just what they are – start a boycott of giving until such information is made public and made widespread in its availability.

One assumes that legitimate organizations and their requests have nothing to hide. So it really shouldn’t be a problem.

But The Ear could be misguided or wrong-heded about this.

He wonders what the various organizations have to say? And whether they will provide an easy link to their financial reports?

And he wonders what other arts patrons and consumers have to say about this matter?

Leave what you think in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music education: Alumna violist Vicki Powell returns this weekend to perform with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) and kick off WYSO’s 50th anniversary season. Plus, Madison Music Makers gives a free concert at noon on Saturday

November 10, 2015
1 Comment

ALERT: This Saturday, from noon to 1 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church, downtown on the Capitol Square, Madison Music Makers will give a FREE concert in the monthly Grace Presents series of music that includes works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Pachelbel, Antonio Vivaldi and Ludwig van Beethoven  as well as popular music, country music and American, Bolivian, French, German, Jewish, English folksongs. Founded in 2007 by Bonnie Green and sponsored by many individuals and groups, including the Madison public schools, Madison Music Makers is dedicated to giving low-income students in the Madison area high-quality music lessons.

For more information about how to support or participate in the organization, visit: www.MadisonMusicMakers.org

Madison Music Makers

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will present its first concert series of its 50th anniversary season, the Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts, on Saturday, Nov. 14, and Sunday, Nov. 15.

WYSO Logo blue

Nearly 400 young musicians will display their talents to the community during the three concerts, which are dedicated to private and school music teachers.

The Evelyn Steenbock Fall Concerts will be held in Mills Concert Hall in the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s George Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, in Madison.

WYSO concerts are generally about an hour and a half in length, providing a great orchestral concert opportunity for families.

Tickets are available at the door, $10 for adults and $5 for youth 18 and under.

WYSO’s Percussion Ensemble (below), led by director Vicki Jenks will kick off the concert series at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday.

WYSO percussion Ensemble 2013

Immediately following the Percussion Ensemble, the Philharmonia Orchestra (below) and its conductor Michelle Kaebisch will take the stage and perform the Masquerade Suite by Aram Khachaturian; Reigger’s Rhythmic Dances; the Light Calvary Overture by Franz Von Suppe; and the Berceuse (Lullaby) and Finale from the “Firebird Suite” by Igor Stravinsky.

WYSO violins of Philharmonia Orchestra

At 4 p.m. on Saturday, the Concert Orchestra (below) under the direction of conductor Christine Eckel will perform The Quest by Kerr, Romany Dances by DelBorgo and Slane by Douglas Wagner. The Concert Orchestra will also perform two works by John Williams in Star Wars: Episode 2 Attack of the Clones, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, which Williams co-composed with Alexandre Desplat.

wyso concert orchestra brass

Following the Concert Orchestra, WYSO’s string orchestra, Sinfonietta (below), will take the stage. Conductor Mark Leiser will lead the orchestra in seven works including the Adagio movement from the Symphony No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff; Silva’s The Evil Eye and the Hideous Heart; Edward MacDowell’s Alla Tarantella; Shenandoah arranged by Erik Morales, Forever Joyful and Lullaby to the Moon by Balmages; and the Entrance of the Queen of Sheba by George Frideric Handel.

WYSO Sinfonietta

On Sunday, Nov. 15, WYSO’s Harp Ensemble (below), under the direction of Karen Atz, will open the 1:30 p.m. concert.

WYSO Harp Ensemble 2011

Following the Harp Ensemble, the Youth Orchestra (below), under the baton of WYSO music director Maestro James Smith, will perform three pieces.

WYSO Youth Orchestra

In honor of WYSO’s 50th Anniversary, WYSO welcomes back one of their illustrious alumni, violist Vicki Powell (below). Powell began her vibrant musical career studying with UW-Madison faculty members Eugene Purdue and Sally Chisholm, who plays with the Pro Arte Quartet.

From there, she graduated from the Julliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music. She has performed as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Milwaukee Symphony, and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. For her full bio, please visit our website at http://www.wysomusic.org/evelyn-steenbock-fall-concerts/vicki-powell.

Vicki Powell 2

Vicki Powell, along with the Youth Orchestra will perform the Concerto for Viola and Orchestra by Bela Bartok. (You can hear the rhapsodic slow first movement played by Yuri Bashmet and the Berlin Philharmonic in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Following that performance, the Youth Orchestra will continue the concert with Rainbow Body by Theofanidis and the Symphony No. 9 by Dmitri Shostakovich.

This project is supported by Dane Arts with additional funds from the Evjue Foundation, Inc. charitable arm of The Capital Times. This project is also supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.

For more information about WYSO, visit:

https://www.wysomusic.org


Classical music: You Must Hear This -– the Romance for Viola and Orchestra by Max Bruch.

October 26, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

I saw and heard Madison-born and Madison-raised violist Vicki Powell (below) last Wednesday night. That was when the alumna of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), the UW-Madison School of Music, the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute  who now plays with the New York Philharmonic and other prestigious groups and who has participated in the Marlboro and Aspen festivals, returned from New York City to solo with the Middleton Community Orchestra.

Vicki Powell at MCO

It was a wonderful and thoroughly enjoyable performance as well as very affordable event, as you can read in the review by John W. Barker that was posted yesterday.

Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/classical-music-the-middleton-community-orchestra-opens-its-season-with-polished-viola-playing-from-vicki-powell-and-infectious-enthusiasm-from-the-entire-orchestra-in-a-dvorak-symphony/

After the concert done in the terrific 90-minute, no intermission format that I think attracts many people, there was a meet-and-greet, with cookies and punch, where the public and the musicians could mingle – and did.

MCO June 2014 reception

That’s when I went up to the lovely, gifted and poised Vicki Powell and remarked on how beautiful her playing had been with the MCO under conductor Steve Kurr (below top). I was quite taken with her reading of the rarely heard Fantasy on Themes by Mozart for Viola and Orchestra by Johann Nepomuk Hummel (below bottom).

Hummel remains a much underappeciated composer who was invited by none other than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart himself to live in his house and take free lessons.

Vicki Powell and Steve Kurr MCO finale

Hummelcolor

But what really swept me away was the Romance for Viola and Orchestra by the 19th-century Romantic German composer Max Bruch (below).

max bruch

I have heard Max Bruch’s popular violin concertos – especially No. 1  in G minor — and his Kol Nidre for cello and piano as well as his Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra.

But this work was completely new and unknown to me, but captivated me from the first notes. No 10 listenings or more needed to like and appreciate this work!

“I am amazed it hasn’t yet been used for a movie soundtrack,” I said to Powell.

“Really?” she said. “So am I.”

That is how beautiful and tuneful, how accessible and emotional, it is.

And maybe you will be surprised too.

So here is a YouTube video of the work performed by violist Miles Hoffman, who also comments frequently on classical music for NPR (National Public Radio). It lasts about 9-1/2 minutes and is pure loveliness.

Miles Hoffman NPR

And maybe it has indeed been used in the movies.

If so and you know, please let us know.

And let us know what you think of the piece, which The Ear thinks deserves to be programmed much more often, even though the viola is not often featured as a solo instrument with orchestra. (All the more reason to admire the Middleton Community Orchestra and its mission.)

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra opens its season with polished viola playing from Vicki Powell and infectious enthusiasm from the entire orchestra in a Dvorak symphony.

October 25, 2014
1 Comment

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 20 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 Middleton Community Orchestra (below) opened its fifth season on last Wednesday evening with a mix of novelties and old favorites.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The orchestra’s new concertmaster, Valerie Clare Sanders, a senior at the UW-Madison School of Music  who also plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, also made her debut with the MCO.

Valerie Clare Sanders MCO 2014

The starter was the ever-popular, ever-rousing Overture to the opera “William Tell” by Rossini. The playing seemed a little less fully digested, but the piece still came off with spirit.

The unfamiliar elements were two display pieces for the young but highly gifted, Madison-born violist, Vicki Powell (below). She offered a superbly warm, rich, clearly projected tone, presented in a thoroughly professional manner— reminding us, too, how underappreciated the viola is as a solo instrument.

Vicki Powell at MCO

Her first selection was a Fantasia on themes of Mozart, by Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837), a protégé of Mozart and rival to Beethoven. Originally a solo piano piece of 1833, if I am not mistaken, it was arranged for solo viola and chamber orchestra by the French musician Fernand Oubradous. It proved to be charming music, beautifully played.

The second piece was a Romance, Op. 85, of 1911, for viola and orchestra. Composed in lush late-Romantic style, it could have been a movement of a concerto, and was a handsome dialogue between soloist and orchestra, realized with particularly gorgeous tone by Powell. She is a musician to watch for.

Vicki Powell and Steve Kurr MCO finale

The grand finale was the Symphony No. 8 in G major by Antonin Dvorak.

Here I must ask the reader’s patience if I indulge in a strong personal memory about this work — and a very pertinent one.

When I was a graduate student in the late 1950s at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick N.J., I attended a concert by the New Brunswick Community Philharmonic (if I remember its name correctly). It consisted of semi-professionals and amateurs of the area, under the baton of the local high-school bandmaster, one Max Pecker. This has proven to be one of the most memorable concerts of my musical lifetime, and I still recall the program vividly.

Franz Schubert’s bouncy Overture to his opera “Alfonso und Estrella” immediately revealed that this orchestra was a pretty scrappy affair in terms of discipline. BUT: the players were having so much fun in their work that it was impossible not to share their enthusiasm.

The second work was the Piano Concerto No. 2 of Camille Saint-Saëns, featuring a local keyboard whiz just back from the Paris Conservatory. For him the orchestra had made its most careful preparation, and their playing came off as quite credible.

But the final work was this very same G major Symphony by Dvorak (below). Now, the orchestra’s concertmaster was also the local newspaper’s music critic (!), and in her review of the concert she revealed the profundity of her knowledge by observing that, though this symphony was not as well-known as Dvorak’s Symphony No 9 “The New World,” it was, she insisted, “not without moments of interest” (! again). (You can hear the entrancing and beautiful symphony in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

dvorak

The important thing was that, even though the work was rough going for this ensemble, the sheer joy of the players was simply contagious. The most honest kind of musical pleasure filled the hall. As I said, this is a concert I have never forgotten, always remembered affectionately.

I had that concert very much in mind in listening to the MCO performance.

Oh yes, there were some passing fluffs here and there. But this was an orchestra that could play with discipline and coherent unity of purpose, far beyond the New Brunswickers’ capacities. The parallel was, however, that the players seemed clearly to have caught the enthusiasm for the score conveyed to them by conductor Steve Kurr (below).

Steve Kurr and MCO 2014

Better than most performances I have heard, Kurr projected an intensity and even dramatic emphases that the orchestra took up and gave back to him gloriously.

One member told me afterwards: “We enjoyed playing it.” And I found myself at times transported with delight at how this magnificent score once again came alive for me, thanks to music-making that was more than just a matter of artistic efficiency.

My point is not just a matter of nostalgia revived. It is a reminder that one does not have to have a performance by one of the super-polished orchestras of our Big Cities, or of the international world, in order to have a memorable listening experience.

A deeply committed orchestra under inspired and inspiring leadership can offer as satisfying a musical experience as can be found anywhere.

Madison audiences should therefore listen up and pay attention to Middleton’s really splendid community orchestra, taking advantage of its offerings to discover the genuine rewards.

 

 

 

 

 


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