The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Prodigy violinist Julian Rhee performs a recital of Bach, Beethoven and others in Spring Green on Monday night

June 24, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from the Rural Musicians Forum:

“His performance knocked our socks off.”

That remark came two years ago from the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra about the competition performance by violinist Julian Rhee (below, at 14) with the orchestra. This February he played the entire Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms with the WCO.

Then in March, Rhee (below at 16) won first place in the Madison Symphony Wisconsin Young Artists Final Forte competition with his brilliant performance of the first movement of Peter Tchaikovsky’s virtuosic Violin Concerto in D Major. And that is just 2017!

Now 16 and a junior at Brookfield East High School, Julian Rhee has been winning violin competitions almost every year since he was 7.

And he has received accolades to match, such as this quote from classical music blog The Well Tempered Ear: “What makes Rhee so outstanding is that the level of his musicality matches his high technical mastery.” (You can hear him talk about himself and his playing in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

His recital on this coming Monday night, June 26, at 7:30 p.m. in Spring Green will feature beautiful works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, Henryk Wieniawski and Eugene Ysaye. (Sorry, no word on specific works.)

He will be performing at Taliesin’s Hillside Theater (below), at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green.

This will be the second concert of the Rural Musicians Forum 2017 Summer Series, “Beautiful Music in a Beautiful Space.”

A free-will donation will be requested.

The Hillside Theater is located at 6604 County Highway 23, in Spring Green.

Don’t miss this concert. You’ll be able to say, “I heard him before he became famous!”

For more information about the Rural Musicians Forum, go to: http://ruralmusiciansforum.org


Classical music: Madison Symphony Orchestra’s music director John DeMain discusses the 2017-18 season with critic John W. Barker

May 11, 2017
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, an interview with the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s music director John DeMain about the next season, conducted and written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog John W. Barker.

Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

Last month, I had a welcome opportunity to sit down with John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, together with his marketing director, Peter Rodgers, to discuss the orchestra’s recently announced 2017-18 concert season. (NOTE: Today is the deadline for current subscribers to renew and keep their seats. You can call 608 257-3734 or go to https://www.madisonsymphony.org/reneworder)

This meeting allowed me new insights into the various factors that go into selecting a season’s repertoire. It also gave me further appreciation of Maestro DeMain’s personality and talents.

It further revealed the unfairness of some criticism made that the coming season is “conservative” and repetitive of familiar works. In fact, his programming involves very thoughtful awareness of the differing expectations of the varied audience.

It has become customary to make the season’s opening concert a showcase for talented members of the orchestra, rather than for guest soloists.

The September program thus offers a masterpiece I particularly relish, Hector Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, a symphony with viola obbligato — featuring the orchestra’s principal violist, Chris Dozoryst (below).

But the inclusion of the neglected Fifth or “Reformation” Symphony by Felix Mendelssohn was decided as a link to this year’s 500th-anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther’s launching of the Lutheran Reformation in 1517. Also on the program is Leopold Stokowski’s orchestral arrangement of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The October program contains a notable example of a familiar and popular “warhorse,” Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” This was indeed performed by the MSO two seasons back as part of the “Beyond the Score” presentations. DeMain indicates that the close repetition is made deliberately to connect with that past event, to expand further the audiences’ understanding of the work.

He is also juxtaposing the symphony with the appearance of the acclaimed Olga Kern (below), playing the Piano Concerto by Samuel Barber and with the “Mother Goose” Suite by Maurice Ravel.

The November soloist is guitarist Sharon Isbin, in two concertos, one new (“Affinity” by Chris Brubeck) and one old (Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo)  She plays with her instrument electronically amplified, something very off-putting in my experience. But DeMain notes that all guitarists do that now in concert work, and he wanted to include the guitar to bring in new and different audience members.

Inclusion of suites by Aaron Copland and Manuel de Falla – “Billy the Kid” and “The Three-Cornered Hat,” respectively — also represent popular appeal.

January will bring a triumph for DeMain: the appearance of violinist Gil Shaham (below), after 15 years of efforts to secure him. Shaham will perform the Violin Concerto by Peter Tchaikovsky.

The all-Russian program also allows DeMain to venture for the first time into “The Love for Three Oranges” suite by Sergei Prokofiev and the Third Symphony of Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The issue of “warhorse” repetition is raised by the First Symphony by Johannes Brahms in the February program. But DeMain points out that it has been 10 years since the MSO played the work, a significant one that richly deserves performance by now.

He is also proud to include with it the outstanding Rossini opera overture (Semiramide) and the rarely heard Cello Concerto, with German cellist Alban Gerhardt (below), by the 20th-century British composer William Walton.

DeMain admits to mixed feelings about the “Beyond the Score” presentations of music and background context, but he is confident that the one offered (one night, outside subscriptions) on March 18, about the monumental Enigma Variations, by Sir Edward Elgar, (below) will work well.

The combination in April of Benjamin Britten’s powerful Sinfonia da Requiem and Robert Schumann’s First Symphony (“Spring”) with Antonin Dvorak’s sadly neglected Violin Concerto has special meanings for the maestro. It allows the return of the greatly admired Augustin Hadelich (below) as soloist.

But it also allows DeMain’s return, for his first time since 1974, to the Schumann score, with which he had a crucial encounter in a youthful appearance with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Finally, the May program is an unusually exciting combination of Mozart’s too-little-appreciated Piano Concerto No. 22 with soloist Christopher O’Riley (below) of NPR’s “From the Top” with the roof-raising Glagolitic Mass, featuring the Madison Symphony Chorus, of Leos Janacek.

DeMain has made important commitments to the orchestral music of Janacek (below) before this, and his advance to the composer’s great blockbuster choral work is a landmark.

Amid savoring DeMain’s thoughts on the season – which also includes the MSO’s traditional Christmas concert in early December — and his wonderful recollections of past experiences, I came to recognize more than ever the remarkable combination of talents he brings to his Madison podium.

Beyond so many conductors, DeMain has had deeply engaging phases of his career in orchestral literature (large and small), in opera and musical theater, and in chamber music, while being himself an accomplished pianist.

With the breadth of his range, he brings a particular sensitivity to the contexts and diversities of what he conducts. He has become to his musicians not only a skilled guide, but also a subtle teacher, deepening their understanding without any hint of pedantry.

It cannot be said enough how truly blessed we are to have him with us in Madison.

For more information about the 2017-18 season, including specific dates and times, and about purchasing tickets for new subscribers and renewing subscribers, go to:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/17-18


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Classical music: Are the rules of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Bolz Young Artist Competition fair? Or do they need to be changed?

April 1, 2017
14 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Everyone The Ear has spoken to agrees: The Madison Symphony Orchestra’s concerto competition that took place last Wednesday night — and which was broadcast live over Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) and Wisconsin Public Television (WPT) — was an extraordinary and inspiring artistic event.

All of those people had nothing but the highest praise for all four teenage finalists – (below, from left) violinist Julian Rhee, harpist Naomi Sutherland, pianist Michael Wu and violinist Yaoyao Chen — who performed under the baton of MSO music director John DeMain.

The Ear can only endorse the fantastic review of the event by local music critic Greg Hettmansberger:

https://whatgregsays.wordpress.com

And you can find out more about at the contestants at this past posting, which has links to biographies and biographical YouTube videos about them and also lists the REBROADCAST TIMES ON TODAY AND SUNDAY:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/classical-music-education-watch-it-on-public-television-or-radio-stream-it-live-or-hear-it-in-person-the-final-forte-free-finalists-concert-with-the-madison-symp/

But several people The Ear knows also raised a difficult question that the MSO, WPR, WPT and seems to have avoided:

Is it fair that the impressively talented 16-year-old violinist Julian Rhee, from Brookfield, got to win the first prize for a second time?

Curiously, there was no mention of his previous win in 2015 – a younger Rhee is seen below — when he played the first movement of the Violin Concerto by Brahms. That win went unspoken during this year’s live broadcast, and even in the pre-event publicity or in the post-event publicity.

It almost seems as if the organizers recognized that pointing it out would sound funny, awkward or questionable.

Also, no mention was made that the gifted Rhee also won a competition with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and then played at Concerts on the Square; or that just a month ago, Rhee appeared on the regular season of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, playing the complete Brahms concerto under WCO music director Andrew Sewell.

Such experience probably qualified Rhee – a maturing prodigy — as a professional or at least a semi-professional, assuming he got paid for the WCO appearance, rather than an amateur.

Let’s be clear: This year, Rhee played the opening movement of the Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky stupendously well. It is hard to argue with the decision of the three judges to award him first prize.

In short, Rhee did nothing wrong and everything right. His winning was not in any way tainted. He won fair and square. He played brilliantly, beautifully and engagingly.

What some people are questioning is not Rhee’s victory, but whether the rules themselves are unfair by allowing a previous first prize-winner to compete a second time. It certainly appears to put the other young competitors with less experience at a disadvantage.

Now, the rules do allow for a performer to win multiple first prizes. Historically, a couple of contestants have indeed won again, performing on different instruments for each appearance.

And no one seems to object that a second-, third- or fourth-prize winner gets a chance to try again to do better and win.

True, the eligibility rules do require that one year passes before a first-prize winner can compete again.

But the question seems to be: Are the rules fair? Or should they be modified, so that the playing field is more even for all the young participants?

Should first-prize winners be excluded from competing again?

That is the question that is being raised, however it is answered.

So The Ear and others want to know:

What do you think?

Are the rules fair or unfair?

Should first-prize winners be allowed to compete again?

Should the rules be changed or stay the same?

Leave your point of view in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Here are the best classical recordings of 2016 as chosen by critics for The New York Times. Plus, take a break from Christmas music when the Middleton Community Orchestra plays music by Dvorak, Mendelssohn and Brahms tomorrow night

December 20, 2016
1 Comment

REMINDER: Had your fill of holiday music yet? The Ear sure has. Listening to too much Christmas music is a little like drinking too much eggnog or eating too much fruitcake.

So he is grateful to the Middleton Community Orchestra, a mostly amateur but very accomplished ensemble that performs tomorrow night, Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School.

Happily, the MCO has a program that features conductor Kyle Knox and Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz. The music runs counter-intuitive to most seasonal programming and offers a break from all things Christmas except for beauty and joy: some Slavonic Dances by Antonin  Dvorak, the terrific Violin Concerto in E minor by Felix Mendelssohn and the sunny Symphony No. 2 by Johannes Brahms.

Admission is $15 (NOT $10 as mistakenly stated earlier); free to students.

For more information, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/classical-music-the-mostly-amateur-middleton-community-orchestra-will-give-its-holiday-concert-of-works-by-mendelssohn-dvorak-and-brahms-on-wednesday-night-dec-21/

By Jacob Stockinger

There is still time for giving and getting this holiday season.

So here are The Best Classical Recordings of 2016, as chosen by critics for The New York Times.

nyt-best-of-2016-1

The Times listing has good discerning commentaries and even some audiovisual excerpts of the recordings named. And at least one of the recordings — a CD of Haydn and Ligeti by pianist Shai Wosner — has connections to Madison and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

One can also use this list as a starting point.

The Ear likes to package a recording with a book and even a ticket to a live performance. And these choices offer much food for thought. For example. the recording of the Symphony No. 1 by Edward Elgar, recorded by conductor Daniel Barenboim, will be performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater this spring by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under its outgoing director Edo de Waart.

nyt-best-of-2016-2

Here is a link:

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/arts/music/best-classical-music-recordings-2016.html?_r=0

And here is a link to two other gift guides.

The first is the post-Thanksgiving guide, which includes books and DVDs, by The New York Times:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/11/27/classical-music-here-is-the-new-york-times-holiday-gift-guide-of-classical-music-for-2016/

The second is the list of nominations for the 2017 Grammy Awards:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/10/classical-music-here-are-the-classical-music-nominations-for-the-2017-grammy-awards-they-make-a-great-holiday-gift-list-of-gives-and-gets/

Enjoy and leave word of your agreement or disagreement along with other selections in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

nyt-best-of-2016-3


Classical music: The accomplished and mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra will give its holiday concert of works by Mendelssohn, Dvorak and Brahms on Wednesday night, Dec. 21.

December 16, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

The acclaimed and mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below top) will present its holiday concert on next Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below) that is attached to Middleton High School.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

Middleton PAC1

General admission is $15. Students are admitted free of charge. Tickets are available at the door and at Willy St. Coop West. For more information, call (608) 212-8690.

The box office opens at 7 p.m.

The husband-and-wife team of conductor Kyle Knox (below top) and violinist Naha Greenholtz (below bottom), will be the featured performers. Knox is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and Greenholtz is the concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

kyle-knox-2016

naha

The program includes selected “Slavonic Dances” by Antonin Dvorak; the popular Violin Concerto in E minor by Felix Mendelssohn, with soloist Naha Greenholtz; and the Symphony No. 2 by Johannes Brahms. (You can hear the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, with Hilary Hahn, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

A free informal meet-and-greet reception follows the concert.

MCO June 2014 reception

For more information about the Middleton Community Orchestra, including its upcoming concerts and opportunities to join it and support it, go to:

http://www.middletoncommunityorchestra.org


Classical music: Here are the classical music nominations for the 2017 Grammy Awards. They make a great holiday gift list of gives and gets

December 10, 2016
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This posting is both a news story and a holiday gift guide of classical recordings you might like to give or get.

It features the classical music nominations for the 59th annual Grammy Awards that were just announced this past week.

As you can see, several years ago, the recording industry decided that the Grammys should put more emphasis on new music and contemporary composers as well as on less famous performers and smaller labels as well as less well-known artists and works. You don’t see any music by Bach, Beethoven or Brahms this year, although you will find music by Mozart, Handel, Schumann and Dvorak. And clearly this is not a Mahler year

The winners will be announced on a live TV broadcast on Sunday night, Feb. 12, on CBS.

grammy award BIG

BEST ENGINEERED ALBUM, CLASSICAL

“Corigliano: The Ghosts of Versailles” — Mark Donahue & Fred Vogler, engineers (James Conlon, Guanqun Yu, Joshua Guerrero, Patricia Racette, Christopher Maltman, Lucy Schaufer, Lucas Meachem, LA Opera Chorus & Orchestra)

“Dutilleux: Sur Le Même Accord; Les Citations; Mystère De L’Instant & Timbres, Espace, Mouvement” — Alexander Lipay & Dmitriy Lipay, engineers (Ludovic Morlot, Augustin Hadelich & Seattle Symphony)

“Reflections” — Morten Lindberg, engineer (Øyvind Gimse, Geir Inge Lotsberg & Trondheimsolistene)

“Shadow of Sirius” — Silas Brown & David Frost, engineers; Silas Brown, mastering engineer (Jerry F. Junkin & the University Of Texas Wind Ensemble)

“Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow: Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 & 9” — Shawn Murphy & Nick Squire, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer (Andris Nelsons & Boston Symphony Orchestra)

dutilleux-sur-le-meme-accord-cd-cover

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, CLASSICAL

Blanton Alspaugh

David Frost

Marina A. Ledin, Victor Ledin

Judith Sherman (pictured below with the Grammy Award she won last year. She came to Madison to record the double set of new commissions for the centennial of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet)

Robina G. Young

Judith Sherman 57th Grammy 2016

BEST ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE

“Bates: Works for Orchestra” — Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor (San Francisco Symphony). You can hear excerpts in the YouTube video at the bottom.

“Ibert: Orchestral Works” — Neeme Järvi, conductor (Orchestre De La Suisse Romande)

“Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5 In B-Flat Major, Op. 100” — Mariss Jansons, conductor (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra)

“Rouse: Odna Zhizn; Symphonies 3 & 4; Prospero’s Rooms” — Alan Gilbert, conductor (New York Philharmonic)

“Shostakovich: Under Stalin’s Shadow – Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 & 9” (below) — Andris Nelsons, conductor (Boston Symphony Orchestra)

nelsons-shostakovich-5-cd-cover

BEST OPERA RECORDING

“Corigliano: The Ghosts of Versailles” (below) — James Conlon, conductor; Joshua Guerrero, Christopher Maltman, Lucas Meachem, Patricia Racette, Lucy Schaufer & Guanqun Yu; Blanton Alspaugh, producer (LA Opera Orchestra; LA Opera Chorus)

“Handel: Giulio Cesare” — Giovanni Antonini, conductor; Cecilia Bartoli, Philippe Jaroussky, Andreas Scholl & Anne-Sofie von Otter; Samuel Theis, producer (Il Giardino Armonico)

“Higdon: Cold Mountain” — Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor; Emily Fons, Nathan Gunn, Isabel Leonard & Jay Hunter Morris; Elizabeth Ostrow, producer (The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra; Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program for Singers)

“Mozart: Le Nozze Di Figaro” — Yannick Nézet-Séguin, conductor; Thomas Hampson, Christiane Karg, Luca Pisaroni & Sonya Yoncheva; Daniel Zalay, producer (Chamber Orchestra of Europe; Vocalensemble Rastatt)

“Szymanowski: Król Roger” — Antonio Pappano, conductor; Georgia Jarman, Mariusz Kwiecień & Saimir Pirgu; Jonathan Allen, producer (Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Royal Opera Chorus)

ghosts-of-versailles-cd-cover

BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE

“Himmelrand” — Elisabeth Holte, conductor (Marianne Reidarsdatter Eriksen, Ragnfrid Lie & Matilda Sterby; Inger-Lise Ulsrud; Uranienborg Vokalensemble)

“Janáček: Glagolitic Mass” — Edward Gardner, conductor; Håkon Matti Skrede, chorus master (Susan Bickley, Gábor Bretz, Sara Jakubiak & Stuart Skelton; Thomas Trotter; Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; Bergen Cathedral Choir, Bergen Philharmonic Choir, Choir of Collegium Musicum & Edvard Grieg Kor)

“Lloyd: Bonhoeffer” — Donald Nally, conductor (Malavika Godbole, John Grecia, Rebecca Harris & Thomas Mesa; the Crossing; below)

“Penderecki Conducts Penderecki, Volume 1” — Krzysztof Penderecki, conductor; Henryk Wojnarowski, choir director (Nikolay Didenko, Agnieszka Rehlis & Johanna Rusanen; Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra; Warsaw Philharmonic Choir)

“Steinberg: Passion Week” — Steven Fox, conductor (The Clarion Choir)

lloyd-bonhoefffer-cd-cover

BEST CHAMBER MUSIC/SMALL ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

“Fitelberg: Chamber Works” — ARC Ensemble

“Reflections” — Øyvind Gimse, Geir Inge Lotsberg & Trondheimsolistene

“Serious Business” — Spektral Quartet

Steve Reich” — Third Coast Percussion (below)

“Trios From Our Homelands” — Lincoln Trio

reich-third-coast-percussion-cd-cover

BEST CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO

“Adams, J.: Scheherazade.2” — Leila Josefowicz; David Robertson, conductor (Chester Englander; St. Louis Symphony)

“Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway” — Zuill Bailey; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor (Nashville Symphony)

“Dvořák: Violin Concerto & Romance; Suk: Fantasy” — Christian Tetzlaff; John Storgårds, conductor (Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra)

“Mozart: Keyboard Music, Vols. 8 & 9” – Kristian Bezuidenhout

“1930’s Violin Concertos, Vol. 2” – Gil Shaham; Stéphane Denève, conductor (The Knights & Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra)

john-adams-scheherazade2-cd-cover

BEST CLASSICAL SOLO VOCAL ALBUM

“Monteverdi” — Magdalena Kožená; Andrea Marcon, conductor (David Feldman, Michael Feyfar, Jakob Pilgram & Luca Tittoto; La Cetra Barockorchester Basel)

“Mozart: The Weber Sisters” — Sabine Devieilhe; Raphaël Pichon, conductor (Pygmalion)

“Schumann & Berg” — Dorothea Röschmann; Mitsuko Uchida, accompanist

“Shakespeare Songs” — Ian Bostridge; Antonio Pappano, accompanist (Michael Collins, Elizabeth Kenny, Lawrence Power & Adam Walker)

“Verismo” — Anna Netrebko; Antonio Pappano, conductor (Yusif Eyvazov; Coro Dell’Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia; Orchestra Dell’Accademia Nazionale Di Santa Cecilia)

bostridge-shakespeare-songs-cd-cover

BEST CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM

“Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway; American Gothic; Once Upon A Castle” — Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor; Tim Handley, producer

“Gesualdo” — Tõnu Kaljuste, conductor; Manfred Eicher, producer

“Vaughan Williams: Discoveries” — Martyn Brabbins, conductor; Andrew Walton, producer

“Wolfgang: Passing Through” — Judith Farmer & Gernot Wolfgang, producers; (Various Artists)

“Zappa: 200 Motels – The Suites” — Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor; Frank Filipetti & Gail Zappa, producers

tales-of-hemingway-cd-cover

BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION

“Bates: Anthology of Fantastic Zoology” — Mason Bates, composer (Riccardo Muti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra)

“Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway” — Michael Daugherty, composer (Zuill Bailey, Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony)

“Higdon: Cold Mountain” — Jennifer Higdon, composer; Gene Scheer, librettist (Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Jay Hunter Morris, Emily Fons, Isabel Leonard, Nathan Gunn & the Santa Fe Opera)

“Theofanidis: Bassoon Concerto” — Christopher Theofanidis, composer (Martin Kuuskmann, Barry Jekowsky & Northwest Sinfonia)

“Winger: Conversations With Nijinsky” — C. F. Kip Winger, composer (Martin West & San Francisco Ballet Orchestra)

higdon-cold-mountain-cd-cover


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Classical music: The Ear learns some lessons from violinist Ilya Kaler and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at a terrific opening concert

October 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

By any measure the opening concert last Friday night of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) under music director Andrew Sewell was a complete and compelling success.

WCO lobby

It left The Ear with several big lessons:

  1. The same piece played by a chamber orchestra and a symphony orchestra is not the same piece.

The Ear remembers hearing one of the first Compact Discs commercially available: a recording of the famous “Eroica” Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven performed by the popular chamber orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under its recently deceased founder and longtime conductor Sir Neville Marriner.

Was it going to be Beethoven Lite after all the versions from the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein and the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan?

Not at all.

It turned out that symphony orchestras are about power while chamber orchestras are about subtlety. The same work sounds very different when performed by the two different kinds of ensembles.

So it was with the Violin Concerto by Peter Tchaikovsky with Russian prize-winning soloist Ilya Kaler and conductor Andrew Sewell. The WCO players performed beautifully, and with the chamber orchestra you felt a balance and an intimacy between the soloist, the orchestra and conductor Sewell (below).

You could hear with more clarity or transparency the structure of the concerto and the dialogue of the violin with various orchestral sections – the flutes and clarinet stood out – that often get drowned out by bigger accompanying forces.

So when you see the same work programmed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, do not think of them as duplications you have to choose between. Go hear both. Listen for the differences. You will not be disappointed.

That’s what The Ear did and he came away enthralled and enchanted with this smaller-scale Tchaikovsky.

AndrewSewellnew

  1. There are many great and more affordable soloists whose names we do not recognize. But don’t underestimate them just because you haven’t heard of them.

The world has more first-rate musical talent than ever. Ilya Kaler (below), the only violinist ever to win gold medals at the Tchaikovsky, Paganini and Sibelius competitions, is a case in point. We owe a big thanks to the WCO for finding and booking him. He is right up there with the American violinist Benjamin Beilman, whom the WCO booked last season.

Kaler’s playing was first-rate and world-class: virtuosic, both lyrical and dramatic, but also nuanced. His tone was beautiful and his volume impressive – and all this was done on a contemporary American violin made in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (You can hear Kaler play in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear says: Bring Kaler back – the sooner, the better. The Ear wants to hear him in violin concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Antonio Vivaldi and other Italian Baroque masters like Francesco Geminiani and Arcangelo Corelli. Classical-era concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would be wonderful. More Romantic concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Nicolo Paganini, Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann would also be great. And how about the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev and the neo-Classical Violin Concerto by Igor Stravinsky?

But anything will do. Kaler is a violinist – he records for the Naxos label — we should hear more often. These days, we need fewer big stars and more fine talent that makes attendance affordable. The Ear will take young and talented cellists Alisa Weilerstein and Joshua Roman over such an overpriced celebrity as Yo-Yo Ma, great as he is.

ilya-kaler

  1. Second-tier composers can teach you about great composers.

The WCO opened with a rarely heard eight-minute work, the Symphony No. 5 in D Major, by Baroque English composer William Boyce (below top). It was enjoyable and The Ear is happy he heard it.

True, it comes off as second-rate Handel (below bottom). Why? Because as composer John Harbison explained so succinctly at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival he co-directs here every summer, the music by George Frideric Handel has a hard-to-explain “heft.” Just a few notes by Handel make memorable music that somehow sticks in your memory.

So The Ear heard the pleasantness of Boyce and ended up appreciating even more the greatness of Handel. What a two-fer!

william-boyce

handel big 2

  1. Concerts should end on a high note, even if they also start on a high note.

The rarely played Symphony No. 4 “Tragic” by Franz Schubert received an outstanding reading. But it ended the concert and left the audience sitting in its seats.

The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, by contrast, got an immediate standing ovation and an encore – a wonderful rendition of an unaccompanied Gavotte by Johann Sebastian Bach — and they ended the first half triumphantly.

Maybe the Schubert and Tchaikovsky should have been reversed in order. Or else, what about programming a really energetic symphony by Mozart or Beethoven to end the concert on an upbeat note. Just a thought.

If you went to the season-opener by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, what thoughts and impressions did you have?

Do you agree or disagree with The Ear?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opens its new season at 7:30 p.m. – NOT 8 — this coming Friday night. The program includes symphonies by William Boyce and Franz Schubert along with the Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky

October 10, 2016
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

One by one, the major groups in town are getting their new concert season under way.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) will take its turn this coming Friday night in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

PLEASE NOTE: The traditional starting time for the WCO Masterworks concerts has been changed from 8 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The Ear isn’t sure whether it is for the convenience of audiences or because of the new security measures at the Overture Center. But he likes the earlier starting time since WCO programs are usually very generous.

WCO lobby

True to his programming philosophy, WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell is mixing the very popular with the rarely heard and the almost completely unknown.

andrewsewell

The most popular and well-known work, the Violin Concerto in D major by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky features Russian violinist Ilya Kaler (below) at the soloist in the surefire work.

Kaler sounds very promising, since he is the only violinist ever to won gold medals at three prestigious competitions — the Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Paganini competitions. In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear him perform a work by Fritz Kreisler at the Heifetz Festival.

ilya-kaler

The Symphony No. 4 in C minor by Franz Schubert (below) is a youthful work, but it possesses a surprisingly mature power deriving from its mood and mystery — perhaps because he composed it in the favorite key of his mentor and idol Ludwig van Beethoven. Hence its nickname, “Tragic.”

It should also be an outstanding performance because Schubert’s music is one of conductor Sewell’s many strengths.

Franz Schubert big

William Boyce (1711-1779) was a Baroque-era English composer, a contemporary of George Frideric Handel, who was more popular in his own day. But who has been making something of a comeback, thanks to the early music movement.

Boyce (below) wrote six symphonies, and No. 5 in D Major on this program promises some pleasant surprises. The Ear doesn’t recall ever hearing Boyce performed live in Madison, though that is hardly the definitive word. Maybe he just missed it.

william-boyce

Single tickets are $10 to $80. For tickets, a sample of Ilya Kaler’s playing and background information, visit:

http://www.wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-i-2/


Classical music: Autumn arrives today. Here is some Vivaldi to help mark the event

September 22, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the autumnal equinox.

Fall arrives at 9:21 a.m. in the Midwest.

autumn-leaves

Here is a something musical to mark it: “Autumn” from the popular Baroque work “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi, who described the seasons sonically, with accompanying sonnets, in a series of four violin concertos.

It features violinist Julia Fischer with members of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra.

And it also features beautiful fall photographs from the National Botanical Garden of Wales.

Sure, some people will complain about another warhorse. But The Ear likes Vivaldi.

And so did Johann Sebastian Bach.

So enjoy!

Are there other pieces of classical music that embody Autumn for you?

Leave the information and a YouTube link, if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

Happy Fall!


Classical music: Which violin concertos have the hardest openings? You may be surprised

September 18, 2016
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Recently The Ear stumbled upon a fascinating story, on a blog by Nathan Cole, about famous violin concertos.

It was NOT about the Top 10 Best Violin Concertos ranked in order.

It was NOT about the Top 10 Most Difficult Violin Concertos.

It was simply about the most difficult openings of violin concertos – about what happens when the violinist walks on stage and starts up along with the orchestra or before it or after it.

It uses the Olympics’ sports competitions as a model and awards degrees of difficulty along with explanations for the scoring.

(For a close to simultaneous start by orchestra and soloist, listen to American violinist Hillary Hahn, who played a recital last spring at the Wisconsin Union Theater, and conductor Paavo Jarvi in the opening of the popular Violin Concerto in E Minor by Felix Mendelssohn in the YouTube video at the bottom. It has over 8 million hits and it is very relevant to the story.)

stradivari-solomon-ex-lambert

The story reminds The Ear of famous literary critic Frank Kermode’s classic book “The Sense of an Ending” — only now it would be “The Sense of a Beginning,” a subject the late literary critic, cultural analyst and Palestinian activist Edward Said wrote about in his book “Beginnings: Intention and Method.”

The musical discussion features accessible and informative analysis by an accomplished violinist as well as terrific audio-visual clips of each concerto and the openings in question.

It’s a long piece – good for weekend reading, perhaps because it can be done in different segments at different times.

But even if you read only a part of it, it certainly imparts a sense of the challenges that a soloist faces. You vicariously experience the thrill and intimidation of walking out on stage and starting to play.

And it enhances your appreciation of some famous violin concertos and of what it takes to pull them off in live performance.

Like The Ear, you will come away with a new appreciation of the challenges that any concerto soloist – violinist, pianist, cellist, brass player, wind player, whatever — faces.

Here is a link:

http://www.violinist.com/blog/ncole78/20169/19726/

The Ear also hopes the website violinist.com follows up with a listing or ranking of the most difficult ENDINGS of violin concertos and a discussion of what makes them so difficult.

In the meantime, The Ears asks:

Do violinists out there agree or disagree with the scoring and reasons?

Do they care to leave a comment one way or the other?

Do they have other candidates – say, Baroque concertos by Antonio Vivaldi or Johann Sebastian Bach — to rank for the difficult of starting?

The Ear wants to hear.


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