By Jacob Stockinger
The major event in the world of classical music for the past several weeks has been the 15th International Tchaikovsky Competition that was held in Moscow and St. Petersburg. (Below is American pianist Van Cliburn, who won the first competition and made history.)
The winners – in the categories of piano, violin, cello and voice — were announced yesterday.
Here they are, along with a link to a way for you to stream the winners’ concerts, under competition head and conductor Valery Gergiev (below), live TONIGHT and Friday and for FREE.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society finished up its three-week, 24th annual season this past weekend.
The populist chamber music group used local and imported artists to perform six programs over three weekends in three different venues -– all based around the theme of “Guilty as Charged,” which meant emphasizing borrowings and similar transgressions. Talk about a hard-working group of performing artists!
Over the next week or two, The Ear wants to share some of the lessons that he learned from attending several of the BDS concerts.
Today is Lesson 1: Chamber music transcriptions, arrangements and reductions of large orchestral works deserve a wider hearing so that more people can enjoy those works more often.
I cite two examples from the “Crooked Business” program that BDDS performed at the Stoughton Opera House (below, where I saw and heard it) and at the Hillside Theatre on the Taliesin compound of architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Spring Green.
First, there was the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. BDDS co-founder, co-artist director and house pianist Jeffrey Sykes led the group of 11 players from the keyboard and played with his back to the audience.
(Believe it or not, if The Ear recalls music history correctly, that was the standard performance practice, as was playing with the score, until the legendary piano virtuoso Franz Liszt turned the piano to the side to highlight his dramatic profile and also memorized the music to astonish his audiences.)
The Mozart piano concerto is a great work — you can hear the whole work in its full orchestral version with pianist Mitsuko Uchida in a YouTube video at the bottom. And the arrangement or reduction they used made it seem even more remarkable. That is because the smaller size of the forces allowed one to hear more clearly the interplay of various parts.
Then on the second half of the program came a second example: The Serenade No. 1 in D Major, Op 11 (1857) by Johannes Brahms. It was performed with nine players in a reduction by Christopher Nex.
The Ear found the work to be a bit too long and repetitive — the structure of its six movements lacked the tightness of a symphony. But then again, a tuneful serenade is by definition supposed to be lighter and have a looser structure, to spur more relaxed and informal listening and to demand less focused attention.
Such reductions originated in the desire of amateurs to make house music at a time when professional orchestras and chamber music groups and commercial concerts did not exist in a widespread way.
It is an approach that can and should be revived. To be fair, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has also done a few of these transcriptions or arrangements, often with the Harvard University Mozart scholar and pianist Robert Levin.
But nonetheless it is largely thanks to the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society that listeners can make their way through the 27 piano concertos by Mozart and the 104 symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn -– to say nothing of the many Baroque, Classical, Romantic and modern works that must already exist in similar arrangements or could be rearranged on demand.
To which The Ear simply says: Bravo! Do more of them!
What do you say?
The Ear -– along with BDDS organizers and performers – wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear’s friends at the Green Lake Festival of Music write to tell us about a program important to music education – which means a program important to the future of classical music:
Here is the press release:
On Sunday, July 5, at the Thrasher Opera House (below bottom) in Green Lake, The Green Lake Chamber Players open the 17th annual Green Lake Music Festival Chamber Music Camp, as string and piano students (below top) from nine states, ages 11 to 20, convene at Ripon College for two weeks of stimulating music-making along with just plain fun.
Part of the fun includes a trip to Larry Miller’s farm and a shopping scavenger hunt at K-Mart.
The daily schedule includes coaching sessions by Thomas Rosenberg (Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition Director, cellist and the Camp’s Artistic Director); Samantha George, Associate Professor of Violin at Lawrence Conservatory of Music; Karen Kim, Grammy Award winning violinist; David Perry, Professor of Violin at the UW-Madison and first violin of the Pro Arte String Quartet; Renee Skerik, Instructor of Viola at Interlochen Arts Academy; Andrew Armstrong from the Amelia Piano Trio; James Howsmon, Professor of Instrumental Accompanying at Oberlin College Conservatory; and guest artists, including Shen Lu, 2014 Hilton Head International Piano Competition Winner, the Jupiter Quartet (below top), and the Bergonzi String Quartet (below bottom).
Join us for the first of several Green Lake Chamber Players concerts on Sunday, July 5, at 3 p.m. This concert is a “BUY ONE, GET ONE” ticket concert. The Green Lake Chamber Players includes the Green Lake Festival Chamber Music Camp faculty and guest artists who will perform music by Alexander Scriabin, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms. This is also the first concert in a series of matinees that offer a special package for bus pick up and ticket from Appleton, Oshkosh, and Beaver Dam. Call the Festival office for more details on this package.
The 2014 Hilton Head International Piano Competition Winner, Shen Lu (below) will perform Thursday, July 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the Thrasher Opera House, along with teaching a piano master class on Friday, July 10, at 10 a.m. John O’Conor, the Jury Chair from the 2014 Hilton Head International Piano Competition, says, “Shen Lu is a young Chinese pianist with an exciting future. His interpretations have great depth, his technique seems effortless and he communicates wonderfully with his audience.”
Students will attend master classes and five Festival concerts, and perform a variety of community service engagements in such facilities as nursing homes, service clubs, and libraries.
The program includes three public concerts – a Chamber Camp Student Recital on Saturday, July 11, and the popular “Circle of Sound” string orchestra concert at the Boston Barn on Tuesday, July 14, as part of the Boston Barn Concert package that includes appetizers and music by the Bergonzi String Quartet, and the final Chamber Music Celebration at Rodman Center for the Arts, Ripon College, on Saturday, July 18.
Please visit www.greenlakefestival.org for information about these and other artists performing throughout July at the Festival or to purchase tickets. Tickets are also available by calling the office at 920-748-9398. You can also stop by one of the following ticket outlets: Green Lake Bank (Green Lake) and Ripon Drug (Ripon).
The Green Lake Festival of Music is supported in part by the Arts Midwest Touring Arts Fund, a program of Arts Midwest, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional funding from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Crane Group, and General Mills Foundation. Additional support comes from the Horicon Bank, Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, Agnesian Healthcare, Wisconsin Department of Tourism, Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, and private and corporate donations.
Chamber Workshop FREE Public Events
Get the inside story on the rehearsal process as you watch these artists work with talented students. All master classes will be held at the Rodman Center for the Arts at Ripon College.
Chamber Workshop Concerts
By Jacob Stockinger
He was also an avid amateur pianist.
He collected and published his “Notes on Chopin,” which The Ear was reading the other day.
The Ear came across this sentence: “Any good performance should be an explanation of the work.”
Makes a lot of sense as a way to explain memorable performances.
The comment brought to mind conductor (and educator as well as composer) Leonard Bernstein (below) and the Vienna Philharmonic performing the Symphony No. 4 by Johannes Brahms (at the bottom in a YouTube video) and the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” by Ludwig van Beethoven as well as conductor Bruno Walter’s performance of the Symphony No. 1 by Gustav Mahler.
It also brought to mind pianist Arthur Rubinstein performing so much Chopin, but especially the Ballades.
It brought to mind the Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux performing the solo sonatas and suite for violin by Johann Sebastian Bach, and the Hungarian cellist Janos Starker performing the solo cello suites of Bach. Glenn Gould’s keyboard Bach probably also qualifies.
The Ear thinks maybe Gide is right.
What do you think?
And can you name performances and performers that explain the works they play?
Leave a message in the COMMENT section along with a link to a YouTube video, if possible.
By Jacob Stockinger
If you needed more proof about why you should take in one or both of the final two programs – “Crooked Business” and “Highway Robbery” — by the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, you should have been at one or both of the BDDS concerts last weekend.
For this coming weekend of the 24th season: “Crooked Business” features the Sonata for Flute and Keyboard in B Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach; the chamber music reduction of the Piano Concerto in C minor, K. 491, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and a chamber music arrangement version of the Serenade in D Major, Op. 11, by Johannes Brahms.
For more information about programs and performers, venues and tickets, visit: http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org
The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society continues to be incapable of being boring, ordinary or mediocre. It’s just not in their genes or DNA.
Last Saturday night, The Ear took in the “Breaking and Entering” concert in The Playhouse of the Overture Center. The theme was meant to explore how composers broke new ground and violated boundaries.
The theme might seem a bit of a stretch — they often do — and when one of the two fake security guards frisked an audience member for a gun or weapon, it might have struck some audience members as uncomfortable or in questionable taste rather than amusing or funny, given the recent shootings in Charleston, South Carolina.
But humor and silliness aside, there is no question that the music received the superb performances it deserved.
The San Francisco Trio, veteran BDDS guest artists, delivered two masterful readings of two Romantic masterpieces. The trio opened the concert perfectly with the lovely and short “Notturno” (1827) by Franz Schubert. Then it closed the concert with the revised version of the substantial and even epic Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major (1854, revised in 1889), Op. 8, by Johannes Brahms. The trio is made up of pianist Jeffrey Sykes (a co-founder and co-artistic director of BDDS), violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau.
Then came the somewhat eccentric Sonatina for Trio (1934) by the rarely performed French composer and eccentric music critic Florent Schmitt.
The players were an unusual combination of flutist Stephanie Jutt (the UW-Madison professor is a co-founder and co-artistic director of BDDS as well as principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra); local pianist Thomas Kasdorf, who is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music; and the incredible clarinetist Alan Key from New York City who teaches at the Manhattan School of Music and the Juilliard School, and who plays with the respected Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
Violinist Axel Strauss, who teaches at McGill University in Montreal, sure showed some impressive fiddling skills in two crossover pieces – “Pining for Betsy” and “Who Let the Cat Out Last Night?” — by Paul Schoenfield (b. 1947). It brought audible WOWs and cheers from the audience. (Listen for yourself to the virtuosic “Cat” piece in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
An unusual and rarely heard piece by the Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne (b. 1959) imagines Franz Joseph “Papa” Haydn and a South American composer discussing music at the Esterhazy estate where Haydn worked. The work was delivered with great panache by flutist Stephanie Jutt, clarinetist Alan Kay and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau.
Both the variety of the repertoire and the players and the quality of the performances recommend the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society to any serious classical music fan as well as to beginners. The Ear says: Go have some classical fun!
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker, who also took performance photos. 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 12 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.
By John W. Barker
On Saturday night, in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Mikko Rankin Utevsky led his Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO) in the first of this year’s two summer concerts. More than ever, it showed Utevsky in new degrees of bravery and enterprise.
The program was organized around the idea of the Baroque concerto grosso, in various later transformations.
To begin, there was one of the “Morning, Noon, and Night” trilogy of Haydn’s symphonies, No. 6 in D, Le Matin. Haydn used the first of his symphonies composed for his new Esterhazy employer to show off the solo skills of his players.
The young MAYCO counterparts did themselves proud in both ensemble and solo playing, with particular flair displayed by first violinist Valerie Clare Sanders (below) in her virtuosic solos. And Utevsky’s care in have his string players totally avoid vibrato gave a good demonstration of 18th-century instrumental sound.
The second work, by recent UW-Madison School of Music graduate in composition, Jonathan Posthuma (below), more explicitly recreated the old configuration in his Concerto Grosso No. 1 in E minor.
It presents indeed the proper concertino of two violins and cello, against a ripieno string orchestra. In place of the traditional continuo, however, Posthuma brought in four percussionists and a pianist. The percussionists are members of the local ensemble Clocks in Motion (below), currently making a name for itself as an avant-garde group.
The idea was fascinating, but in two of the three movements the results were confusing. In the first, the string orchestra was overwhelmed by floods of color worthy of a Busby Berkeley Hollywood spectacular, while the second movement was a long procession of pops and moans. All color and hardly any real musical ideas.
The third movement, on the other hand, was a lusty fugue, given forth at first by only the strings, with the percussionists then integrated into a quite well-balanced texture. This is stated as the first in what will be a full set of 12 concertos, to make up a typical Baroque dozen.
It will be interesting to see how such a project unfolds. But one must credit Utevsky (below) for giving this first venture its world premiere performance.
Another premiere followed the intermission. Utevsky was able to secure from the contemporary British composer Cecilia McDowall (below) the rights to the first American performance of her piece for chamber orchestra, Rain, Steam, and Speed, inspired by J.M.W. Turner’s powerful painting of the same title, with its subtitle of The Great Western Railway.
Less literally conceived than Arthur Honegger’s famous railroad evocation, Pacific 231, this piece is an effort to suggest the kaleidoscopic contents of the painting, in what might be called a British neo-Impressionist style. A challenging work for the orchestra, which they brought off very effectively.
Finally came not a concerto grosso, but a Romantic solo concerto, the one for Cello and Orchestra by Robert Schumann. Not as often heard as it should be, it is a handsome and enjoyable work.
The soloist was Parry Karp (below), of the UW-Madison School of Music faculty, of the Pro Arte Quartet, and of so much else. He approached the piece not in bravura pretentiousness but with a kind of affectionate warmth that suited it admirably, while also allowing Utevsky the chance to give his players experience in collegial ensemble interaction with a soloist.
What these gifted young players of high school and college ages are able to do is really amazing. Utevsky grows better and better in giving them — and himself — marvellous training opportunity. Watch for the second concert, with music by Ernest Bloch, George Frideric Handel and Haydn (the famed “Surprise” Symphony) with piano soloist Jason Kutz, at 7:30 pm. on Friday, August 21, location to be announced.
You can find more information here: http://www.mayco.org
REMINDER: Wednesday night at 7 p.m. is the opening concert of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra‘s six FREE Concerts on the Square this summer. The program is classical and features Julian Rhee (below), the amazing 14-year-old violinist who has won several major concerto competitions, including those with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Orchestra. The program includes music by Alexander Glazunov, Piotor Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Johannes Brahms. Members of the Madison Ballet will also be featured.
Here is a link to general information about Concerts on the Square:
And here is a link to more information about Wednesday night’s program and soloist:
By Jacob Stockinger
A reader recently wrote in and asked if the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival will take place this year.
The question is understandable. So far, there has been no news.
But the Token Creek Festival will indeed take place this summer.
The Ear just received information about some of the basic events that will happen. More details will follow and fill in the programs.
Here is the official press release:
“With its 2015 season somewhat uncertain after a difficult winter, the Token Creek Festival is pleased to announce this summer’s programs, running August 22-30 this year.
August 22 and 23: “Founders’ Recital — Beginnings Revisited.” The concert centers on works by Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by festival co-founders and co-artistic directors John and Rose Mary Harbison (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot).
August 25: “Paean to Place: Music and Nature and the Poetry of Wisconsin poet Lorine Niedecker.” The concert will feature pianist Ryan McCullough (below top) and soprano Lucy FitzGibbons. The program is done in collaboration with the Friends of Lorine Niedecker, below bottom)
August 29 and 30: Grand Finale featuring orchestral highlights of the high Baroque, including the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 by Johann Sebastian Bach (below). (You can hear the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
More information about the festival will be forthcoming soon.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is a lot of things.
It is the summer solstice — the first day of summer — so a lot of people will be listening to “Summer” section (below in a popular YouTube video with more than 9 million hits) from “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi. Or perhaps they will celebrate the coming of summer with other music and other composers?
It is also the FREE citywide and mostly outdoor festival of Make Music Madison. Here is a link to the website, where you can find a search engine that feature genres and performers as well as locations:
So here it is, for you Dad.
By Jacob Stockinger
The talented Mikko Rankin Utevsky (below) – who is a conductor, a violist and a baritone singer in the UW-Madison School of Music – writes about the concert this Saturday night by the Madison Youth Area Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which he founded in high school, and still directs and conducts:
This week kicks off the fifth season of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO, below), consisting of two concerts loosely organized around the theme “Concerto Grosso.”
We will be presenting three works explicitly in that form this summer — one of them on this week’s concert — and others touching on it in various fashions: the late Cello Concerto by Robert Schumann, which integrates a solo part into the orchestral texture; and a symphony by Franz Joseph Haydn that features soloists drawn from the orchestra, more akin to a “sinfonia concertante.”
The first concert is this Saturday night, June 20, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. Tickets are $7. Students are admitted by donation.
More information about the orchestra can be found on our website: www.mayco.org
On August 21, we will welcome members of the Madison Bach Musicians and UW-Madison faculty for a workshop on historical performance practices. This season also marks the first year of a new conducting program for high school students. (Below is a photo by Steve Rankin of MAYCO rehearsing.)
For those unfamiliar with us, MAYCO is a student-run training orchestra for players ranging in level from middle school and high school through doctoral study. Each summer, the group presents two public concerts, each preceeded by a week of intensive rehearsal.
The program is presented with the support of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO), of which many of our players are members or alumni. The ensemble typically numbers 25-35 players, balanced evenly between high school and university students.
Our program this Saturday night opens with Franz Joseph Haydn’s early Symphony No. 6 “Le Matin” (Morning) — it is the first part of the composer’s triptych “Morning,” “Noon” and “Night” Symphonies. This symphony was his first written for the Esterhazy family that would employ him for most of his career.
It owes its nickname to a majestic Adagio introduction that sounds like a sunrise. (You can hear the opening movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.) Nearly every principal player, all the way down to the principal bassist, has some sort of solo passage -– the way that Haydn (below) signaled to the orchestra at his new post that they were going to like working with him.
The most prominent part is given to the concertmaster, in this case the acclaimed Valerie Sanders, whom you may know as concertmaster of the Middleton Community Orchestra or the violinist of the Perlman Piano Trio at the UW-Madison School of Music. I am particularly delighted to note that we will be performing the work with natural horns, a fascination of mine.
Composer Jonathan Posthuma (below) received his Master’s from the UW-Madison School of Music in 2015, studying with Professors Steve Dembski and Laura Schwendinger. His Concerto Grosso No. 1 in E minor, cast in three movements, is the first of a set of 12, and melds strict Baroque form with minimalist-influenced textures.
It will receive its premiere at this concert, with the percussionists of Clocks in Motion (below, not in order, are members Sean Kleve, Dave Alcorn, James McKenzie, and Michael Koszewski) and pianist Kyle Johnson, a doctoral student of Christopher Taylor. It is tremendously exciting music, with great melodies and complex soundscapes.
British composer Cecilia McDowall (below), winner of the 2014 British Composer Award for choral music, came to the UW-Madison for a residency in February.
I was quite taken with her distinctive style — communicative, cogent and highly expressive. I’m honored to be giving the U.S. premiere of her orchestral work “Rain, Steam and Speed,” named after the J.M.W. Turner painting of the same title.
Finishing our program is an acknowledged masterwork, Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in a minor, Op. 129. Pro Arte Quartet cellist and professor Parry Karp (below) will be joining us for this monumental piece. Its three movements are played without break in a tightly integrated web of melody that is also one of the great orchestral works in Schumann’s body of works.
By Jacob Stockinger
Sunday is the summer solstice, which arrives at 11:39 a.m. CDT.
That means it is also time for the Make Music Madison festival – a day-long, citywide FREE event with live music taking place mostly outdoors.
Here is a link to the event’s website:
The map of events is impressive, which is why Madison’s Make Music event is second in size only to New York City’s.
One thing is the sheer number of events and the number of artists, which is close to 400.
But the website is good too, although it is hard to see programs and specific pieces to be performed.
Use the filter map to see the genre -– classical, pop, folk, jazz, choral, Celtic, whatever – and the location.
For classical fans, I single out a couple of events, although there are many more.
One noteworthy event is that Farley’s House of Pianos will place an upright piano in the Hilldale Mall outside Metcalf’s grocery store from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with chairs available for seating. A full schedule of individuals and groups will perform all kinds of music.
And here is an another unusual event planned and directed by the talented Jerry Hui (below), a UW-Madison graduate who is now a music professor at UW-Stout and who has come up with a project that involves singing choral music on the shore of Lake Mendota.
I will let Jerry Hui describe it:
“The official name of the event is called the Massed Choir, part of Make Music Madison 2015. Make Music Madison is modeled after a similar event in New York City called Make Music New York, which for the last few years have featured flash mob-style music-making — including a choir. Since Madison has a vibrant choral community, I think it’s about time that we come together and have fun making music as one big choir.
“We’ll be performing three pieces on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Edgewater Hotel Plaza. Two of the pieces were voted by the participants: “Dona Nobis Pacem” (in a Youtube video at the bottom) from the Mass in B minor by Johann Sebastian Bach; and the hymn “Joyful, Joyful.”
“The third piece is freshly composed by Scott Gendel (below). Gendel is an award-winning composer and pianist, who has strong ties with Madison and is a graduate of the UW-Madison School of Music.
Gendel has set to music a beautiful poem titled “In Summer” by late 19th-century African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (below).
There is still time to join the Massed Choir!
There’ll be two optional rehearsals, both at Christ Presbyterian Church: Friday, June 19, 7-8:15 p.m.; and Saturday, June 20, noon-1:30 p.m. To help with logistics planning, singers are encouraged to register at http://tinyurl.com/MadisonMassedChoir2015.
NOTE: Back to The Ear, who encourages other classical performers to list their event, time, program and place in the COMMENTS section and who says enjoy whatever you play or listen to!