The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is Labor Day. Opera San Jose brings classical music into the workplace – can we try that here? Plus, you can take a WQXR poll about what music is best to mark the holiday

September 4, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Labor Day (celebrated below by famed photographer Lewis Hine.).

The holiday probably won’t be celebrated in a big way by the blowhard billionaires and anti-union tycoons who run the government these days.

But workers can be and should be proud of what they do—despite the wealth gap, wage stagnation, unfair taxes, income inequality and a general lack of respect and support.

The Ear, however, has two offerings for the holiday.

The first is a story about how Opera San Jose is bringing classical music into the workplace of high technology companies like Adobe in Silicon Valley.

The opera company has started a program called “Arias in the Office” (below). And it sure sounds like a fine idea that other local groups – especially small chamber music groups – might try doing here in the Madison area.

Talk about taking music to the people if the people aren’t going to the music!

And let’s not forget that composing music, performing music and presenting music are all hard work too. So we should also celebrate the musicians, the administrative and box office staffs, the stagehands, the light and sound engineers,  the sets and costume people, and all the others who toil behind the scenes for our pleasure.

The story was reported by NPR (National Public Radio) and can be found on the radio station’s website and Deceptive Cadence blog:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/08/30/544164183/new-pop-up-series-treats-silicon-valley-workers-to-opera-at-the-office

The second is a listener poll, now three years old, done by the famed classical music radio station WQXR in New York City.

It is a survey of classical music that is appropriate for Labor Day and features three generous examples in YouTube videos — an opera by Giuseppe Verdi, a symphony by Franz Joseph Haydn and a film soundtrack by Virgil Thomson.

But it also has about two dozen other choices– including music by Handel, Schubert, Copland, Joan Tower, Robert Schumann, Gershwin, Shostakovich and others — for the public to select from, and a lot of comments from other respondents that you might want to check out.

Here is a link:

http://www.wqxr.org/story/poll-what-music-best-captures-spirit-labor-day/

Happy Labor Day!

And if you have another piece of music that you think is appropriate, let us know in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: The fifth annual Madison Summer Choir sets its May 16 auditions, weekly rehearsals (starting May 20) and the June 29 concert of Brahms, Thomas Tallis, Vaughan Williams, Virgil Thomson and Gounod.

May 9, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Summer Choir (below) — which is directed by the same talented and busy Ben Luedcke who was featured in the post about the UW Men’s Choir yesterday — begins rehearsing on Monday, May 20, and singers who are not affiliated by audition with another community choir are invited to audition for the Madison Summer Choir on next Thursday, May 16, a week from today in the evening.

For more details, visit madisonsummerchoir.org.

Summer Choir 2011 orchestraI

The Madison Summer Choir is an approximately 80-voice, auditioned choir performing a cappella, piano-accompanied and choral-orchestral works. When the UW-Madison School of Music eliminated UW Summer Choir from its budget in 2008, Ben Luedcke (below) picked up the baton to ensure this student and community singing opportunity and tradition was not lost.  Madison musician and UW-Madison graduate Luedcke also directs the Lake Edge United Church of Christ in Madison, The Crossing and the Choral Arts Society Chorale as well as the Madison Summer Choir.

It are now supported by singers, the larger Madison community, and UW-Madison School of Music. Membership is $50 for community members, $35 for students. This is its fifth year.

Ben Luedcke.1jpg

Auditions and choir membership are open to students and community members (see How to Join). It rehearses Mondays and Tuesdays, 5:15-7:15 pm, May 20 (Wednesday  29 instead of Memorial Day) through the end of June in the UW Humanities Building (choir room, No. 1351).

The program will take place on Saturday, June 29, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall.  Tickets to the concert are $8 for the public, $5 for students. The program includes music by Johannes Brahms, Thomas Tallis, Virgil Thomson, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Charles Gounod‘s “Solemn Mass for St. Cecilia.”


Classical music: The UW Men’s Choir performs a FREE concert of Poulenc, Vaughan Williams, Durufle plus UW-Madison graduate Ty Kroll this Friday night at 7:30 p.m.

May 8, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Although it is a student organization, not an actual University of Wisconsin chorus, the UW Men’s Choir (below) will give a FREE concert with a very appealing program this coming Friday night, May 10, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW campus.

uw men's choir close up

The Men’s Choir will perform under its leader,  Madison musician and UW-Madison graduate Ben Luedcke (below) who also directs the Lake Edge United Church of Christ in Madison, The Crossing and the Choral Arts Society Chorale as well as the Madison Summer Choir.

Ben Luedcke

The program includes Francis Poulenc’s “Four Short Prayers of St. Francis of Assisi”; Josef Rheinberger’s “Johannisnacht”; Ralph Vaughan Williams “The Vagabond”; Marcel Durufle’s “Ubi Caritas”; Ty Kroll’s “A Red, Red Rose” and the traditional song “In This Heart.”

For more information about the group, including how to join it, visit:  http://www.uwmenschoir.org/

Choir member, UW-Madison graduate and composer Ty Kroll (below, in a photo by Marchia Yapp) writes about the program:

ty kroll Marchia Yapp

“The Poulenc (in a YouTube video at bottom) is nuts, actually beautiful, but certainly nuts in some of the voice leading and harmonic changes.

“The piece by Rheinberger (below) has apparently never been recorded, which seems a huge surprise. It’s a fine piece in a Brahmsian style. Possibly there is just no commercially available recording of it? If it’s really as hard to come by as it seems, I think our concert may be a rare opportunity to hear it.

Josef Rheinberger bw

“The Vaughan Williams has a piano arrangement, and is not the a cappella version.

“The Duruflé is a new arrangement by Liam Moore, who sings in the group.

“The Kroll is a new composition by me. The text is from the Robert Burns transcription of a traditional folk song “My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose” (which is often credited to Burns himself these days), as well as verse or so borrowed from “The Turtle Dove,” a different folk tune which shares a lot of the same lyrics and possibly some history in the tune as well. The melody is new, but heavily pentatonic and has the “sound” of an English or Irish folk melody. For a bit I think our conductor actually mistook it for an arrangement of mine of a traditional tune, so I know I did my job of trying to make it sound traditional well enough.

“The arrangement is features viola solo and Mikko Utevsky (below) will play the featured viola part. (I’m selling the piece at musicnotes, but you can see the first page for free here: http://www.musicnotes.com/sheetmusic/mtdFPE.asp?ppn=MN0107108&  So far it has sold about 10 copies, so it’s possible this will not be the world premiere, but as far as I know we are premiering the piece.)

Here is a link to Kroll’s own website: http://www.tykroll.com

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

Finally, “In This Heart” is another premiere of a new arrangement of a traditional folk song by the conductor, Ben Luedcke.


Classical music review: University of Wisconsin-Madison composer Jerry Hui’s new chamber opera “Wired for Love” is hardwired for success.

January 23, 2012
3 Comments

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 hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 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

I had to miss the official “world premiere” performance of the new comic opera “Wired for Love” by Jerry Hui (below) on Friday night, but I was able to catch the follow-up performance the next evening at Music Hall.

As readers of The Ear have already been informed, it is a one-act chamber opera, running about 70 minutes and is Hui’s dissertation project for his doctoral degree at the University of Wisconsin School of Music.  It calls for four singers, and a pit orchestra of nine players (a string quartet with flutes, oboe/English horn, clarinets, trombone, percussion and piano).

To recap previous information, it has a libretto written jointly by Hui with Lisa Kundrat (below). In rhymed verse, it traces the confrontation made to a Nigerian scammer, who uses a male alias on the Internet, by a British counter-scammer, who uses a female alias. The two electronic “dummies” begin to take on independent characters of their own, fall genuinely in love, betray their creators, and escape to independent existence.

It is, in a sense, a piece of sci-fi satire. But it did remind me just a little of Menotti’s little comic one-act opera, “The Telephone,” which spoofed the intrusion of a modern gadget into real life circumstances. Menotti (below) also captured a lot of American colloquial English, in the way Hui and Kundrat mocked the pseudo-pigeon-English of those Nigerian scam e-mails we all seem to receive.

I was also alert to possible influences on Hui’s musical style. As he promised, he composes in an eclectic mode, reflecting and synthesizing a number of idioms.

There was jazz, and Broadway, but also conventional opera–complete with a witty quotation of the “Tristan chord.” The instrumentation at times reminded me of the “Histoire du Soldat” by Stravinsky (below top) while the overture carried for me some of the episodic writing techniques of Virgil Thomson (below bottom, with his librettist Gertrude Stein).

But Hui is his own man. His handling of the instruments is thoroughly confident, and I even wonder if he might consider fleshing out the score for a fuller orchestra. Above all, while he certainly does not attempt traditional “bel canto” vocalism, he can write genuinely idiomatic vocal lines.

There are several full-scale arias, amid a lot of “parlando” writing. And the most brilliant touch is an ensemble epilogue, a kind of Baroque operatic “coro,” offering moralizing sentiments in an echoing the final ensemble to Mozart‘s “Don Giovanni,” but cast in the form of a kind of post-Renaissance madrigal.

Hui has admitted, after all, that he is very much influenced by early musical styles. And all the music in this work is sustained in a very accomplished contrapuntal texture.

Hui was fortunate in his performers, certainly so with the instrumentalists.

Of his four singers (below, all from the UW School of Music), undergraduate baritone James Held (below, far left) was solid as the British counter-scammer–bringing a fine touch of humor to his acting. The role of the Nigerian scammer was written for a countertenor, of all things, and the very promising  Peter Gruett (below,  far right) invested his part with an appropriately bizarre quality.

Particularly outstanding, however, were the two avatars. Daniel O’Dea as the imaginary Zimbabwean frontman offered a lovely tenor voice and some quite emotionally moving expressiveness. Soprano Jennifer Sams, a familiar singer to Madison audiences, not only brought off her role as the Britisher’s phony American avatar (can you forget a name like “Ethel Wormvarnish”?) with versatility and flair but also contributed the clever stage direction.

A further plaudit goes to to Chelsie Propst for contributing imaginative surtitles, set in different type-faces to fit different characters, notably helpful in duets and ensembles.

In sum, this is a witty and enjoyable stage piece, and the audience of which I was a member just loved it. It is worth experiencing again, I think, so it is good news that Hui plans to record it soon.

Above all, “Wired for Love” is a demonstration of the very impressive dimension of Jerry Hui as a composer, amid all his other enterprises. I have already compared him to the late Steve Jobs for his boundless energy and diversely imaginative productivity.

But dare we wonder if he is perhaps also another Leonard Bernstein in the making? Time will tell. But this production is certainly a tantalizing hint. Watch for future developments …


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