The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra and conductor Kyle Knox brightened a soggy spring with early Beethoven and Elgar. On Tuesday night, an organ and cello concert takes place in Overture Hall.

April 15, 2019
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ALERT: On  this Tuesday night, April 16, at 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, organist Greg Zelek and guest cellist Thomas Mesa will close out the season of Concert Organ performances sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The program includes music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy and Charles-Marie Widor. For tickets ($20) and more information about the program with detailed biographies of the performers, go to:  https://madisonsymphony.org/event/thoms-mesa-greg-zelek/

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 veteran and 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.

By John W. Barker

The early spring concert on last Wednesday night by the Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by Brian Ruppert) at the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School was comparatively short – it had no intermission — and was devoted to only two composers.

The first was Edward Elgar (below, in 1910), whose early orchestral works included a good deal of music drawn from his youthful sketchbooks. Notable in that category were two suites, given the joint title of The Wand of Youth.

From the eight sections of the First Suite (1907), six were played, and from the six sections comprising the Second Suite (1908), four were given. All these movements are colorful and evocative little miniatures, reflecting early imagination, often touching, but many quite boisterous.

The other composer was Ludwig van Beethoven (below), as represented by his Symphony No. 2. This shows the young composer moving quite distinctly beyond the stylistic world of Haydn and Mozart into the rambunctious new symphonic idiom he would go on to create. (You can hear Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic play the opening of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The guest conductor this time, Kyle Knox – the recent University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate who is the music director of Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras and the associate conductor of the Madison Symphony Orchestra — chose to give the music a “big orchestra” approach.

For both the suites and the symphony, the lighter and cleaner textures of a chamber orchestra would seem best. But with an orchestra totaling some 91 players, Knox chose to go for volume and sonority.

His tempos, especially in the Beethoven were notably fast. As the largely amateur orchestra followed loyally, there was some raw playing at times.

Still, the MCO asserted strong character, which made a very happy impression on the audience and brightened an evening of soggy weather.


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Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra will open its fifth season on Wednesday with an all-20th century program with guest conductor Kyle Knox and violin soloist Naha Greenholz. Plus, this afternoon is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra and violinist James Ehnes in music by Bruch, Haydn and Rachmaninoff. Read the glowing reviews!

October 18, 2015
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ALERT: This afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall is your last chance to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra and violinist soloist James Ehnes in music by Max Bruch, Franz Joseph Haydn and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Critics were unanimous in their praise of the performance.

Here are links:

Madison Symphony Delivers Again

Greg Hettmansberger // Madison Magazine

Idiomatic Eloquence: MSO and violinist James Ehnes Mix Masterpieces and Novel Choices

John W. Barker // Isthmus

MSO Feels Soul of Russia with Rachmaninoff Program

Jessica Courtier // The Capital Times

By Jacob Stockinger

The Middleton Community Orchestra (below) will give the first concert of its new season – marking MCO’s fifth anniversary – this Wednesday night, Oct. 21.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The concert will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below top and bottom) that is attached to Middleton High School, 2100 Bristol Street.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton PAC1

Opening MCO’s fifth anniversary season is an all-20th century program under the baton of guest conductor  and UW-Madison graduate student Kyle Knox (below top), with Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholz (below bottom), as violin soloist. The MCO is made up of amateur and some professional musicians.

Kyle Knox 2

Naha Greenholtz playing CR Greg Anderson

The program features the catchy “El Salon Mexico” by American composer Aaron Copland; the neo-Classical Violin Concerto by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky; and the lyrical “Mother Goose” Suite and the wildly popular “Bolero,” both by French composer Maurice Ravel. (You can hear Ravel’s “Bolero” performed by Gustavo Dudamel and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the bottom in a YouTube video that has more than 3 million hits.)

A free meet-and-greet reception for the public and the musicians will follow the concert.

Middleton Community Orchestra reception

Tickets are $10 general admission. Students are admitted free of charge.  Tickets are available at Willy St. Coop West and at the door. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. Hall doors open at 7 p.m.

For more information, call 608-212-8690.

To find out about the entire MCO season as well as how to join the orchestra or to support it, visit:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org


Classical music: Dance into 2015 this morning and tonight with waltzes and more from Vienna on public radio and TV.

January 1, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Just a holiday reminder.

Today is New Year’s Day. That brings the annual “Great Performances” presentation of the “New Year’s Day From Vienna” celebration — with waltzes, polkas, gallops and more by the Johann Strauss Family – on PBS and NPR (National Public Radio).

Vienna Philharmonic

It will all be performed in the Golden Hall (below top) by the Vienna Philharmonic with former Los Angeles Philharmonic and New York Philharmonic conductor Zubin Mehta (below middle) this year, along  with the usual help from the Vienna State Ballet and Broadway and Hollywood star host Julie Andrews (below bottom).

Vienna Golden Hall

Zubin Mehta

Julie Andrews 3

And it will be broadcast TWICE today:

ON WISCONSIN PUBLIC RADIO (WPR): THIS MORNING at 10 a.m.  New Year’s Concert from ViennaThe Vienna Philharmonic presents its annual New Year’s celebration.

ON WISCONSIN PUBLIC TELEVISION (WPT): TONIGHT from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on the main channel Channel 21/Cable 600 the program will also be run, with dancers and scenic landscape shots. (The Wisconsin Channel will run it from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.) It comes, by the way, after an all-day marathon that starts at 9 a.m. and  features all eight episodes of Season Four of “Downton Abbey.” Season Five starts on Sunday night.

And the concert’s typical ending is the poplar clap-along, audience-pleaser: The Radetzky March, heard below in a performance from New York’s Day in Vienna in a popular YouTube video.


Classical music: Maestro John DeMain of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera is The Ear’s “Musician of the Year” for 2013. Plus, “New Year’s Day From Vienna” will be broadcast Wednesday once on Wisconsin Public Radio and twice on Wisconsin Public Television.

December 31, 2013
7 Comments

REMINDER: “New Year’s Day From Vienna,” with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra performing waltzes, polkas and marches under Daniel Barenboim, will be broadcast live on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio, and then air at 1:30-3 p.m. and again at 7-8:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television.

Vienna Philharmonic

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the day last of the old year, New Year’s Eve — which means it is that time of the year again when The Ear looks back over the past year and decides who deserves to be named “Musician of the Year.”

That is never an easy decision, especially in a city with as much fine classical music and as many fine classical musicians as Madison has. There are so many talented individuals and so many outstanding groups or ensembles in the area that any number of them could qualify for the honor.

It was particularly difficult this year because, due to personal circumstances, The Ear didn’t get to attend a lot of live events he wanted to.  Even so, this year the choice seemed somewhat obvious.

For example, here is a link to an insightful overview of the 2013 season offered in Isthmus by critic John W. Barker, who often is a guest writer on this blog. You just have to scroll down through the long story until you find Barker’s spot-on assessments of the year in classical music. It should make any classical music fans envious and proud to be in Madison:

http://www.thedailypage.com/scroll/2013/arts2013/index.html

So on to the man who happens to be the most common denominator among Barker’s Best Picks: John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) is the Musician of the Year for 2013.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

Let’s start at the beginning.

It has been 20 years since maestro John DeMain came to Madison as the Music Director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Artistic Director of the Madison Opera. And he is a supremely articulate — he often does interviews on TV and radio — and cordial advocate of his own causes, as you can hear for yourself in a video at the bottom and in more than a dozen video on YouTube.)

Even before he arrived here, DeMain had a high profile as the artistic director of the Houston Grand Opera, where he commissioned and premiered John Adams’ “Nixon in China” and has a long history with the City Opera, where he conducted while still a student at the Juilliard School. He had also won a prestigious Grammy Award for his landmark recording of George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”

But coming to Madison, DeMain had a chance to show his strength as an organizational  builder and planner -– with results that the Madison public could easily see, hear and be impressed by.

John DeMain inherited a fine organization for an amateur or semi-professional orchestra, one that had been built up especially by Roland Johnson during his long tenure.

But once he took over, DeMain vastly improved the playing and then programmed more ambitious pieces for the players, and developed his approach to them. His Brahms now is tighter and leaner and more exciting than when he arrived. John DeMain (below in a photo by Greg Anderson) is devoted to lifelong learning and improvement, and doesn’t take even the music he already knows and performs for granted.

John DeMain conducting MSO CR Greg Anderson

Over his tenure, DeMain has discovered and booked exciting and affordable young guest soloists – pianist Philippe Bianconi, violinists Augustin Hadelich and Henning Kraggerud, cellist Alisa Weilerstein tenor Stephen Costello — although The Ear would also like to see some big and more expensive figures brought to town to allow us to hear these artists live. Plus, DeMain listens to dozens of auditions each year and unerringly picks great young up-and-coming singers for the Madison Opera’s season including the popular Opera in the Park each summer.

opera in park De Main_001

I also find it noteworthy and important. DeMain is in demand elsewhere and every season has many opportunities to guest conduct out of town — for the now defunct New York City Opera, the San Francisco Opera, the Glimmerglass Opera in upstate New York and many others.

John DeMain conducting 2

No less important is his willing to expand out into the local scene. In addition to the opera, he has conducted the chamber groups Con Vivo the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. He continues to play the piano — he was trained as a pianist before turning to conducting.

As an administrator and organizer, he has demonstrated great skills at putting together a team. True, the orchestra has suffered somewhat during the Great Recession and its aftermath – as did all artistic groups. It had to cut back its season by one concert, which DeMain says he hopes to restore to the subscription season.

But the same labor strife that has led to great damage to the Minnesota Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and so many others has not touched the MSO. DeMain’s contained the damage.

Having inherited double performances, DeMain took the MSO to three performances of each concert, reaching about 5,000 people or so with each “triple” performance. He continues to experiment with programming, and in late January will try out the “Behind the Score” series of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with the “New World” Symphony by Antonin Dvorak (below).

dvorak

And while some listeners might complain about the lack of more adventurous contemporary music, DeMain has seats to fill and still manages to program contemporary works every season, even with many experimental offerings nearby at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.

DeMain attends concerts at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, and is a tireless promoter of music education from the televised “Final Forte” Bolz concerto competition to the matinée Young People’s concerts (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson).

MSO Fall Youth kid greg anderson

And let’s not forget that DeMain was instrumental in getting the impressive Overture Center built and then programming concerts for the orchestra’s and opera’s home in Overture Hall (below).

Overture Hall

I am sure there is more I am overlooking.

Do I have some disappointments? Sure.

I thought his 20th anniversary season would be a bit more ambitious and adventurous, and feature some big works by Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner. I would like to see few more big-name and hot young soloists, including pianists Joyce Yang, Daniil Trifonov and Jeremy Denk (below), who has done two recitals at the Wisconsin Union Theater but has yet to perform a concerto. And there are so many young talented soloists out there today, we should be hearing more of them live and while they are still affordable in our market.

Jeremy Denk playing 2

I also get impatient with what I call “playing the Gershwin card” too often -– including again for this year’s season finale -– because the important and identifiable George Gershwin (bel0w) had such an easy-listening and crossover pop-like musical style that it unfailingly draws so many listeners. I loved DeMain’s last concert version of “Porgy and Bess,” but there must be other solutions.

gershwin with pipe

But in the end I have to defer to his judgment. The excellence that John DeMain has brought to the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Opera has extended to the entire city and to other groups. The rising tide he brought has lifted all boats.

If any one individual can take credit for the ever-increasing quality of the classical music that wehear in Madison, that person is John DeMain (below in a photo by Katrin Talbot).

DeMainOpera

Little wonder, then, that on this 20th anniversary of his arrival in Madison, maestro John DeMain is the Musician of the Year for 2013.

Thank you, John DeMain. We all – listeners and performers alike — are in your debt.

Cheers and good luck in the coming years!


Classical music: Want to hear great live music during your summer travels and vacations? Here are links to the Minnesota Beethoven Festival in Winona; and to the Green Lake Festival and Door County’s Peninsula Music Festival in Wisconsin. Also, Wisconsin Public Radio starts weekly broadcasts of concerts by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra this afternoon at 2 p.m.

July 7, 2013
4 Comments

TWO REMINDERS: The 14th Madison Early Music Festival, with the theme “Renaissance Germany,”   tonight features a performance by the viola consort Parthenia (below) at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus. It will be preceded at 6:30 p.m. by a FREE lecture by Madison Symphony Orchestra trombonist and program note writer as well as UW-Whitewater music professor J. Michael Allsen on “More Than a ‘Theater of Instruments’: The Syntagma Musicum of Michael Praetorius.”  The FREE and public lecture is in basement Room L-160 of the Elvehjem Building of the nearby Chazen Museum of Art. For more information, visit: http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/lsa/memf/index.html

Parthenia viol consort

ALSO: Wisconsin Public Radio recently announced programming changes. One of them is that WPR will begin broadcasting concerts by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra today and every Sunday at 2 p.m. The MSO has always been terrific, but its current music director Edo de Waart (below) has taken the orchestra to new heights. In the Madison area, tune in to WERN 88.7 FM.

edo de waart conducting

By Jacob Stockinger

It is high summer and that means traveling and festivals.

Should you be on the way from Madison, Wisconsin, to the Twin Cities, or vice-versa, you might want to take in something at the seventh Minnesota Beethoven Festival (below), which got started with a free concert by the Empire Brass on July 4 and runs through July 23.

Others artists in the impressive lineup include the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, pianists Garrick Ohlsson and Mischa Dichter; the American String Quartet, the Shanghai String Quartet and the Ariel String Quartet; guitarist Sharon Isbin; the Russian National Orchestra; and Dale Warland and the Festival Chorale.

Minnesota Beethoven Festival 7 2013

Here is a link, with information about artist, tickets, concerts and background, to the seventh Minnesota Beethoven Festival under the direction of pianist Ned Kirk:

http://www.mnbeethovenfestival.org/2013-festival-schedule/

Beethoven big

Also the Green Lake Festival in Green Lake, Wisconsin is fully under way and runs until Aug. 31. Here is a link to concert and events:

http://www.greenlakefestival.org

Green Lake Festival of Music logo

Then there are festivals in Door County including the 61st Peninsula Music Festival, under the direction of conductor Victor Yampolsky (below) and featuring a lot of great orchestral programs, which gets started on Aug. 6 with Beethoven’s  famed Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” (the irresistibly dramatic opening is in a YouTube video at the bottom with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra) and “Creatures of Prometheus” Overture (which shares a theme with the Eroica) and Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto No. 1.

victor yampolsky and Peninsula Music Festival

A lot of Bach, Handel, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Mahler and Shostakovich will also be featured on the programs. Take a look.

Here is a link:

http://www.musicfestival.com/newsite/


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