The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Happy Bastille Day! But instead of militarism, let’s celebrate the holiday with revolutionary French music by a revolutionary French composer. What French music would you choose?

July 14, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is July 14, known in the U.S. as Bastille Day.

That is the day in 1789 when the infamous Bastille Prison in Paris was stormed by the masses and political prisoners were freed – marking the beginning of the French Revolution.

The tradition is to play “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem that grew out of the revolution. Usually there is a military side to the arrangement of the anthem and the performance of it.

After all, it was a Bastille Day parade that even inspired President Trump to stage his egotistical “Salute to America” – satirically dubbed “Tanksgiving” — on the Fourth of July this year in Washington, D.C..

But The Ear has had quite enough of militarism and of the lying draft dodger who became commander-in-chief using patriotism to camouflage his un-American actions and ideas.

With no disrespect to those who served or are serving in the armed forces, there are many ways besides the military to be patriotic and even revolutionary.

So this year The Ear is choosing something subtle and less martial to mark the day.

It is a performance of “Feux d’artifice” (Fireworks), a prelude for solo piano by Claude Debussy (below), who described himself – in an age where German and Italian music ruled – simply as a “French musician.” But make no mistake: Debussy, who was rejected for admission to the Paris Conservatory, was indeed a revolutionary figure in music history for his innovations in harmony and form.

(Perhaps this past season, you heard Marc-André Hamelin give an astoundingly virtuosic performance of “Fireworks” as an encore after his Sunday afternoon concerto performances with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.)

Listen carefully and at the very end you will hear a subtle reference to the Marseillaise that adds the right touch to the pyrotechnical celebration of  “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.”

Added to that, the fiery performance in the YouTube video at the bottom is by Robert Casadesus, a deservedly famous French pianist.

Finally, The Ear thinks you can celebrate Bastille Day with any number of French composers and French works, many of which remain neglected and underperformed. (The Ear is particularly partial to the music of Gabriel Faure, below, who taught Maurice Ravel.)

Who is your favorite French composer?

What is your favorite French piece of classical music?

Leave a comment with, if possible, a YouTube link.

Happy Bastille Day!!


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Classical music: This Saturday the critically acclaimed new production of Francesco Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur” is featured in cinemas in “Live from The Met in HD” satellite broadcasts and on Wisconsin Public Radio. Read a rave review

January 10, 2019
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FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR SHARE IT (not just “Like It IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE”) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday afternoon, Jan. 12, brings the fifth production of this season’s “Live From the Met in HD” series: Francesco Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur.”

This 1902 opera – the only well-known one by this Italian composer (1866-1950) — seeks to capture the Baroque era’s richness of Paris and the French court in 1730. It is based on a real-life French actress who captured the public with her on-stage and off-stage passion.

The Metropolitan Opera’s new production, directed by Sir David McVicar, features superstar soprano Anna Netrebko as Adriana while the acclaimed tenor Piotr Beczala plays Maurizio, who is as smitten with Adriana as she is with him. (You can hear their duet from Act I in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The conductor is the acclaimed and much in-demand Gianandrea Noseda (below), the music director of the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and a frequent conductor at the Met.

Mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili (below) has also received critical acclaim for her powerful singing in the production.

The hi-definition broadcast of the live performance from the Metropolitan Opera (below) in New York City starts at 11:55 a.m. and runs until 4:15 p.m. with two intermissions. (It will also air at noon on Wisconsin Public Radio.)

The encore HD showings are next Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

The opera will be sung in Italian with supertitles in English, German, Spanish and Italian.

Tickets for Saturday broadcasts are $24 for adults and $22 for seniors and children under 13. For encore showings, all tickets are $18.

The cinemas where the opera can be seen are two Marcus Cinemas: the Point Cinema on the west side of Madison (608 833-3980) and the Palace Cinema (608 242-2100) in Sun Prairie.

Here is a link to the Marcus website for addresses and more information. You can also use them to purchase tickets:

https://www.movietickets.com/movies

Here is a link to the Metropolitan Opera’s website where you can find the titles, dates, casts, production information and video clips of all 10 productions this season, which includes operas by Bizet, Wagner, Donizetti, Saint-Saens, Puccini, Verdi and Poulenc plus a new work, “Marnie,” by Nico Muhly: https://www.metopera.org/season/in-cinemas/

Here is a rave review of “Adriana Lecouvreur” by senior classical music critic Anthony Tommasini for The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/01/arts/music/review-adriana-lecouvreur-metropolitan-opera.html

Here is a link to a synopsis and cast list: https://www.metopera.org/globalassets/season/in-cinemas/hd-cast-sheets/adriana_usglobal.pdf?performanceNumber=15136

Here is a link to other information about the production of “Adriana Lecouvreur,” including photos and audiovisual clips: https://www.metopera.org/season/2018-19-season/Adriana-Lecouvreur/

And here is a Wikipedia history of the broadcast series that gives you more information about how many cinemas it uses, the enormous size of the worldwide audience – now including Russia, China and Israel — and how much money it makes for The Met.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolitan_Opera_Live_in_HD


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Classical music: What is your favorite Sousa march for the Fourth of July? What other classical music celebrates the holiday?

July 4, 2017
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the Fourth of July, Independence Day, when we mark the day and the Declaration of Independence when the U.S officially separated from Great Britain to become not a colony but its own country.

Over the past decade The Ear has chosen music from many American composers to mark the event – music by Edward MacDowell, Charles Ives, William Grant Still, George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, William Schuman, Joan Tower, John Adams and so many others.

And of course also featured around the nation will be the “1812 Overture” by Peter Tchaikovsky.

You will probably hear a lot of that music today on Wisconsin Public Radio and other stations, including WFMT in Chicago and WQXR in New York City.

Here is a link to nine suggestions with audiovisual performances:

http://www.classical-music.com/article/nine-best-works-independence-day

But The Ear got to thinking.

It is certainly a major achievement when a composer’s name becomes synonymous with a genre of music. Like Strauss waltzes. Bach cantatas and Bach fugues. Chopin mazurkas and Chopin polonaises.

The Ear thinks that John Philip Sousa is to marches what Johann Strauss is to waltzes. Others have done them, but none as well.

So on Independence Day, he asks: Which of Sousa’s many marches is your favorite to mark the occasion?

The “Stars and Stripes Forever” — no officially our national march — seems the most appropriate one, judging by titles. “The Washington Post” March is not far behind.

But lately The Ear has taken to “The Liberty Bell” March.

Here it is a YouTube video with the same Marine Band that Sousa, The March King, once led and composed for:

And if you want music fireworks in the concert hall to match the real thing, you can’t beat the bravura pyrotechnical display concocted and executed by pianist Vladimir Horowitz, a Russian who became an American citizen and contributed mightily to the war effort during World War II.

Horowitz wowed the crowds – including fellow virtuoso pianists – with his transcription of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” in which it sounds like three or four hands are playing. Judge for yourself. Here it is:

Of course, you can also leave the names of other American composers and works to celebrate the Fourth. Just leave a word and a link in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear!


Classical music: Is it piano neglect? The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music should take better care of the piano used for student concerts. Plus, Madison Symphony Orchestra maestro John DeMain gets raves for conducting an opera in Washington, D.C.

February 21, 2016
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ALERT: Did you wonder what Madison Symphony Orchestra maestro John DeMain was up to since the MSO concerts last weekend used a guest conductor?

Well, the hometown maestro was guest conducting a week-long production of Kurt Weill‘s opera “Lost in the Stars” for the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

A number of  critics didn’t particularly like the opera itself, which is based on the famous anti-apartheid novel “Cry, the Beloved County” by Alan Paton, and some criticized the theatrical aspects of the production.

But music director and conductor DeMain received praise for his part.

Here are links to various reviews:

http://dcmetrotheaterarts.com/2016/02/15/review-lost-in-the-stars-at-wno-2/

http://dctheatrescene.com/2016/02/15/lost-in-the-stars-from-washington-national-opera-review/

There is more praise in a mention on Page 2:

http://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwopera/article/BWW-Review-Washington-National-Opera-Takes-On-A-Bit-of-Broadway-With-LOST-IN-THE-STARS-20160215

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/lost-stars-on-stage-for-washington-national-opera/2016/02/13/308dea84-d219-11e5-88cd-753e80cd29ad_story.html?tid=a_inl

By Jacob Stockinger

Calling it piano abuse it would be a stretch. That sounds too accusatory and too sensational.

But calling it piano neglect certainly seems justified and fair.

When The Ear attended some recent student recitals, he noticed the unfortunate treatment of a concert grand piano in Morphy Recital Hall, on which many students perform their degree recitals.

From a distance, and under the glare of stage lighting, the piano (below) seemed more or less OK.

Morphy piano 1

But when he went up close, The Ear saw just how chewed up the wood was in so many places.

Morphy piano 4

Now some wear-and-tear seems normal, especially for a piano that gets so much use for solo recitals and chamber music. And truth be told, it probably plays pretty well and is maintained in good shape internally.

But the outer condition of this piano nonetheless seemed as if it had indeed been neglected over the years — though maybe there are other reasons.

There were eye-catching scrapes and gouges that just look junky.

Now The Ear knows that the talented piano technician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music is very busy. After all, there are a lot of pianos to tune and regulate.

And The Ear also knows that budget cuts are presenting challenges to the School of Music and its staff.

But that seems all the more reason to take care of the pianos the school has. The likelihood of replacing it with a new one seems little to none.

After all, these days a Steinway concert grand Model D sells for pretty close to $125,000.

If you had a car worth that much, you would surely not neglect its maintenance and upkeep. So why would you do it to a piano, especially one that gets so much use and is in the public eye so frequently?

So on the eve of more student degree recitals, which will only increase as the end of the spring semester draws closer, here is The Ear’s plea:

Please use the padded covering that can protect the piano when it gets moved, and try to be careful about bumping or scraping into things that can cause permanent damage.

Also, if there are times that the piano’s finish gets marred, please use that specially made piano dye to restore the ebony finish and please repair any chipped keys, which are plastic not ivory, by the way.

The Ear doubts other instruments — strings, brass, woodwinds — would be allowed by their owners to fall into such a state.

If you doubt all this or think it is overstating the case, here are some close-up photos that The Ear took.

It hurts The Ear to see such a fine instrument neglected and deteriorate. He assumes that the students who use it feel the same way – and he hopes the public does too. Owning such a fine musical instrument imposes a certain responsibility on the owner, and it should be repaired.

Morphy Piano 2

Morphy piano 3

Morphy piano 5

Morphy piano 6

Morphy piano 7

Is The Ear being too hard or fussy?

He would like to know what students who play the piano and what other audience members think.

Use the COMMENT section to let him know.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: This week brings some appealing solo recitals and chamber music performances for piano, violin, cello, guitar and piano trio.

November 8, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming week has some big musical events, including the Madison Opera’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème” on Friday night and Sunday afternoon; and the annual two days of fall concerts by the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras on Saturday and Sunday. Both of those events will be previewed at length later this week.

But there is also some very appealing music on a smaller scale, including a solo piano recital, a violin and piano recital, a guitar recital, and a chamber music concert that features piano trios.

Here are the four stand-out events:

TUESDAY NIGHT

On Tuesday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Canadian-born pianist Joel Hastings will give a FREE guest artist concert.

His program features five transcriptions by Franz Liszt (1811-1886): Il m’aimait tant – Mélodie; Die Gräberinsel der Fürsten zu Gotha – Lied von Herzog Ernst, zu Sachsen-Coburg- Gotha; Spanisches Ständchen – Melodie von Graf Leó Festetic Romance du Comte Mikaïl Wielhorsky; Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth – Elegie/ Also included is piano music by Jean Roger-Ducasse (1873-1954) including Barcarolle No. 1, Chant de l’Aube, Sonorités and Rythmes; and Twelve Etudes, Op. 8, by Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915).

Joel Hastings (below), who teaches at Florida State University in Tallahassee, was the winner of the 2006 Eighth International Web Concert Hall Competition and the 1993 International Bach Competition at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
 After his performance at the 10th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, one reporter designated Hastings the “audience favorite” while another declared, “the kinetic fingers of this young Canadian reminded me strongly of his late countryman, Glenn Gould.”

Hastings will also give a FREE and PUBLIC master class on Wednesday, Nov. 11, from noon to 2 in Morphy Hall.

For more information about events at the UW-Madison including student performances, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/

Joel Hastings

WEDNESDAY 

The UW-Madison Guitar Ensemble (below) will perform a FREE concert at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall under director Javier Calderon. Sorry, The Ear has received nothing specific about the program.

Undergraduates Erik Anderson, left, and Anthony Caulkins perform a duet during a UW Guitar Ensemble music concert in Mills Hall at the Mosse Humanities Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during spring on April 17, 2013. The photograph was created for #UWRightNow, a 24-hour multimedia and social-network project. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Undergraduates Erik Anderson, left, and Anthony Caulkins perform a duet during a UW Guitar Ensemble music concert in Mills Hall at the Mosse Humanities Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during spring on April 17, 2013. The photograph was created for #UWRightNow, a 24-hour multimedia and social-network project. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

FRIDAY

At 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below, in a  photo by Caroline Bittencourt), the new professor of violin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will make her local debut. (She is seen below teaching in a photo by Michael R. Anderson.)

Altino (left), with freshman violinist Lydia Schweitzer, has developed a specialty in addressing overuse injuries.

Altino (left), with freshman violinist Lydia Schweitzer, has developed a specialty in addressing overuse injuries.

Her must-hear program features the Sonata No. 3 in C Major for Solo Violin, BWV 1005, by Johann Sebastian Bach (which you can hear performed by Hilary Hahn in a YouTube video at the bottom); the Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano by Johannes Brahms; the Romance, Op. 23, by American composer Amy Beach; and the Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano by American composer Charles Ives. UW professor of collaborative piano Martha Fischer will perform with her. Admission is $12 for the public; free for all students.

For more information, visit these sites:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/debut-faculty-concert-soh-hyun-park-altino-violin/

For a Q&A:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2015/07/31/welcoming-new-faculty-violinist-prof-soh-hyun-park-altino/

For a fine background story and preview about a “world-class talent” from Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/music/violin-professor-soh-hyun-park-altino/

Soh-Hyun Park Altino CR caroline bittencourt

SATURDAY

This Saturday afternoon, Nov. 14, at 3 p.m., St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below), located at 1833 Regent Street in Madison, will host a performance by participants in The Leonard Sorkin International Institute of Chamber Music.

Parking is on the street and admission is a free-will offering.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

St. Andrew's Church interior

The Leonard Sorkin International Institute of Chamber Music (ICM) offers a concentration in chamber music performance for advanced level graduate students and young professional musicians. The program is based at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is directed by violin professor Bernard Zinck.

Leonard Sorkin Institute logo

The program prepares students for careers in performance with a combination of weekly masterclasses, coaching and private lessons as well as financial and facility support. ICM students enjoy a rehearsal space and office dedicated to their use, mentors on self-management or advice on seeking professional management, and contest travel finances in addition to generous fellowships which pay tuition plus a modest stipend.

Leonard Sorkin Institute class

Typically, individual students form chamber ensembles such as string quartets or piano trios, give one group recital each semester, and use the repertoire from these recitals in outreach presentations, concerts and competitions.

The program to be performed at St. Andrew’s is: Piano Trio, Op. 33, in E-flat major by Louise Farrenc; Sonata for Cello and Violin by Maurice Ravel; and Piano Trio No. 3 in C Major, Op. 87, by Johannes Brahms.

For more information and biographies of the performers, go to an scroll down:

http://www.standrews-madison.org/saint-andrews-concert-series.html


Classical Music Q&A: Bach’s Mass in B Minor is perfect music for Easter. It reconciles Catholicism and Protestantism, and is a distillation of Bach’s own Cantatas and Passions, says Trevor Stephenson, the director of the Madison Bach Musicians who, with the Madison Choral Project, will perform the Mass in B Minor on Friday and Saturday nights.

April 14, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear still remembers fondly the beautiful and moving performance he heard five years ago of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” by the Madison Bach Musicians. 

Since then the MBM has turned in many memorable performances of cantatas and concertos by Bach and other early music on period instruments, including works by Antonio Vivaldi, Arcangelo Corelli and George Frideric Handel.

But this Easter weekend will bring a special treat.

The Madison Bach Musicians, will partner with the Madison Choral Project, under Albert Pinsonneault, to perform Bach’s magnificent and monumental Mass in Minor.

Performances are at on this Friday night at 8 pm. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ. And on Saturday night at 8 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison at 900 University Bay Drive, near UW Hospital.

Advance tickets are $20 for adults; $15 for students and seniors over 65; at the door, $25 and $20, respectively. For more information about how to buy advance tickets, visit:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/tickets/

For more information about the music and the performers, visit:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org

Stephenson (seen below, in a pre-concert lecture in a photo by Kent Sweitzer), who is a knowledgeable, articulate and entertaining speaker about Baroque music, agreed to an email Q&A about the Mass in B Minor.

Trevor Stephenson lecture at FUS October 2012 by Kent Sweitzer

Where do you place the B Minor Mass with Bach’s enormous body of work and choral music? How does it stand or rank in terms of quality and power to, say, the Passions and Cantatas?

Musicians often talk about their “desert island piece”— the work they would most want to have at hand if they were forced to live on a desert island. For me, the B minor Mass has always been my desert island piece. (But if I could sneak in the Well-Tempered Clavier too, that would be great.)

The Passions are incomparable investigations into the relationship between the human embodiment of divine spirit and the dark machinations of this world. The Passions are also Bach’s great statements on the importance of self-sacrifice for the greater good of love. (Jesus gave up his life for love of us, and we should in turn give of ourselves to that which we love.)

The Cantatas are the laboratory where Bach worked out–on a nearly weekly basis–the fusion of musical and textual material toward a spiritual end.

The Mass in B minor focuses more on the relationship between—and really the joining of–the metaphysical and the everyday. Just as an example, as Bach expert John Eliot Gardiner (below) points out in his wonderful new book, “Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven,” look how the opening of the Credo fuses the gravitas, dignity, and mysticism of plainchant (in the voices) with the elegant, bubbling stride of the baroque bass line. And together these elements create a third thing, beyond themselves, a new joy. (At bottom is a YouTube video of the uplifting and joyous “Gloria” movement, performed by Karl Richter leading the Munich Bach Orchestra.)

John Eliot Gardiner

Why did a devout Lutheran like Bach turn to a Roman Catholic musical form? Is it appropriate to the Easter season, like the Passions and certain cantatas? What kind of liberties does Bach take with it? How does he reinvent it, if he does?

In Bach’s family, the work was often referred to as “The great catholic mass”–precisely because it was not usual Lutheran practice to set the entire Latin mass. The first appearance of the Mass in B minor comes in 1733 when Bach and his family copied out a beautiful set of presentation parts for the Dresden court–which had not only one of the greatest orchestras and vocal ensembles in Europe, but was also a Catholic court.

I’ve always felt that Bach’s Mass in B minor is something of a reconciliation with the Catholic church after the spiritual and political upheaval of the 17th century and the devastation of the 30-years War.

The Mass in B minor, though it is certainly Christian, also points toward a more inclusive picture of humanity’s universal — the original meaning of catholic — spiritual quest. It is hard to quantify, but I feel there is something in this music that speaks to—and really helps and inspires–us all.

Bach1

Why will Marc Vallon conduct it rather than you?

Marc and I have been working together for several years now. He has played several bassoon concertos with MBM; also with MBM he has conducted symphonies and concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus, Franz Joseph Haydn and Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach.

Marc, who now teaches and performs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, was principal baroque bassoon—for 20 years—with the internationally acclaimed Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra under Ton Koopman. And during that time Marc performed and recorded many of Bach’s Cantatas, Passions and the B minor Mass.

Marc’s tremendous performance background with the Mass, and his infectious enthusiasm for this timeless masterpiece make him perfectly suited to lead the rehearsals and the concerts. I really can’t wait to hear what happens on Friday and Saturday when these amazing musicians and Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) and a great audience gather for the Mass in B minor.

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

What are the special aspects (one-on-one versus larger chorus, for example, or the Madison Choral Project or the period instruments and practices) that you would like to point out about this performance?

The Madison Choral Project is providing a 17-voice choir for the Mass in B minor concerts. In this work, since Bach usually uses a five-part choral texture (soprano I, soprano II, alto, tenor, bass), this comes to about three voices per part, depending on how things are distributed in a particular moment.

In two movements of the Mass (first Credo and Confiteor), we’ll have the soloists sing one-voice-per-part.

The orchestra will consist of 25 players, all on period instruments: 12 strings, 2 baroque oboes, 2 baroque flutes, 2 baroque bassoons, natural horn, 3 baroque trumpets, timpani, and continuo organ, which I what I will play. The balance between choir, soloists and orchestra should work out beautifully. (Below is the Madison Bach Musicians performing the “St. Matthew Passion” in a photo by Karen Holland.)

MBM in 2009 St. Matthew Passion CR Karen Holland

What should the public listen for in the mass both musically and performance-wise?

I would say notice how Bach contrasts grandeur with intimacy, metaphysical inquiry and prayer with rollicking celebration, and yet makes an exquisitely coherent whole. I think the Mass in B minor is a miracle of form.

Also, these concerts will feature an entirely period-instrument orchestra of outstanding baroque performance specialists hailing from throughout the United States — Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

The wonderful thing about playing this incomparable baroque masterwork on instruments that Bach was familiar with, is that the sound becomes fresh and energized in a way that is readily apparent. It really is a way of going Back to the Present!

The 18th-century instruments typically speak faster than their modern descendants — that is, the pitch actually forms more quickly, often by just a fraction of a second. But in music-making—especially very intricate baroque music-making—that fraction of a second can be the critical difference.

Bach’s absolutely amazing counterpoint in the Mass in B minor, which he often weaves effortlessly in 4 and even 5 independent parts is much more transparent when played on period instruments. You can peer more deeply into the infinite world of Bach’s fugues.

Period instruments are also set up to articulate quite deftly, that is, baroque instruments help the players define the shorter musical groupings of connected and non-connected notes. This in turn assists the audience in assimilating the elegant rhetorical shapes of Bach’s lines.

I will also preface both the concerts starting at 6:45 p.m. with a 30-minute lecture on period instruments (below is Stephenson discussing the keyboard action of an 18th-century fortepiano), approaches to singing baroque music, and the structure and history of the Mass in B minor.

HousemusicStephensonfortepianoaction

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

I’d like to say a bit about the two venues where we’ll perform the Mass in B minor. “Where is it?” is one of the first questions most people ask when they hear of an exciting upcoming musical event. Because–particularly for classical music–the acoustics really matter. And the feel of the place, the vibe, needs to be right too.

The sound will be rich and the mood will be spiritually focused on Friday and Saturday as the Madison Bach Musicians and the Madison Choral Project collaborate in two performances of J. S. Bach’s monumental masterpiece the Mass in B minor, BWV 232.

The Friday concert will be given in the magnificent setting of the sanctuary at First Congregational United Church of Christ, at 1609 University Avenue, a landmark building in Madison’s cultural life.

MBM Bach canata 2013 Dec

The Saturday concert will be in the acoustically brilliant Atrium Auditorium (below in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. The performances will feature a 24-piece period-instrument baroque orchestra, 5 outstanding vocal soloists, and a 17-voice professional choir from the Madison Choral Project.

Bach composed the Mass in B minor during the final 18 years of his life; adding, editing, and re-working it into his final year, 1750. The result is about 100 minutes of music that is instantly engaging, highly varied in its variety of ensemble and style, unified to the Nth degree, and structurally perfect. And somehow the Mass in B minor it is at once both magnificent and intimate.

The First Congregational United Church of Christ, with its neo-Georgian design (begun in 1928), captures the 18th-century ideals of dignified ambiance and sonic balance that Bach understood. The sound has tremendous detail, yet everything contributes to the warm cumulative tonal glow.

The much more recent Atrium Auditorium (below), built in 2008, at First Unitarian Society brings out the immediacy of the music-making. The sight lines are direct, and the acoustics brilliant; the audience feels very connected with the performers.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

Both venues are absolutely perfect for period-instrument performance, which emphasizes the detail and vitality of the music rather than sheer decibels.

Seating is limited at both venues, so purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended.

 

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Classical music Q&A: The Ear checks in on the Madison Savoyards about the success of this summer’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Iolanthe” and of the company itself.

July 24, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Starting this Thursday, July 24, the Madison Savoyards will wrap up the final four performances of this summer’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’sIolanthe.”

Iolanthe poster.web

Performances take place in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Music Hall (below) on Bascom Hill — a venue that is more or less historically contemporary with G&S operas — on this Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m.; and on Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.

MusicHall2

For more information, including tickets, here is a link to the Savoyards’ homepage:

http://www.madisonsavoyards.org

I have so far been unable to attend the opera this summer, but here is a link to a very positive review by John W. Barker (below), who often writes for this blog, that appeared in Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=40454

John-Barker

Here is a link to my earlier post for the first week of the production:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/classical-music-the-madison-savoyards-celebrates-50-years-of-staging-gilbert-and-sullivan-with-an-encore-production-of-iolanthe-that-opens-this-friday-and-saturday-nights-at-uw-madi/

And here is a Q&A that Evan Richards (below), the secretary of the Madison Savoyards’ board of directors as well as the videographer and webmaster, did via email for The Ear.  (Richards also took the photos of the production of “Iolanthe” on today’s post.) And at bottom is a YouTube video of Evan Richards talking in 2011 about the Madison Savoyards.

You might have also heard him last week on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” during his very informative and entertaining interview with hosts Norman Gilliland, so here is a link to that interview:

http://wpr.org/webcasting/asx/listen17.asx

Evan Richards

Why did the Madison Savoyards want to do “Iolanthe” this summer 

2013 marks the beginning of the second 50 years of the Madison Savoyards. The first performance of the Madison Savoyards in 1963 was “Iolanthe,” so we felt it fitting that we begin our second 50 years with the same opera. It was also due to be performed; the last performance was in 2001.

The Savoyards have a plan to produce all the G&S operas at least once between 2007 and 2020.

The more familiar and popular ones tend to be performed more often than the less known ones because it helps keep our bank balance black. But we feel our mission is to perform them all. Sometimes the obscure ones surprise us by drawing a larger audience than we expect, as was the case with

“Utopia Limited” (below)  in 2011, in its second Madison Savoyards production.

Utopia Limited 2

How would you compare “Iolanthe” to other well-known Gilbert and Sullivan operettas such as “The Pirates of Penzance,” H.M.S. Pinafore” and “The Mikado”?

“The Mikado,” “The Pirates of Penzance” and “HMS Pinafore” are the most familiar G&S operas in the USA and receive more performances than the others.

“The Mikado” is the most popular of all, in the US, in the UK, and around the world. The US has had a particular fondness for “The Pirates” since it was first performed here, and that has only increased in recent times with the Joseph Papp production in New York which brought it to the attention of many who were not familiar with G&S. “Iolanthe” came after “Pinafore” and “Pirates” (and “Patience”) and represents a more developed period in the G&S output.

By the time “Iolanthe” came along, both Gilbert and Sullivan (below, with Sullivan on the left)) were rich, having an income over time to rival the Prime Minister’s. Gilbert was building a new mansion with four bathrooms, central heating and a telephone.

The music is more sophisticated, as is the writing. The political satire is particularly sharp and, given the current partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., particularly timely. One can make a case that it represents a peak of their achievement, but I would admit I would make a similar case for several other of their operas.

Gilbert and Sullivan (left)

What can you tell briefly about the plot and roles of “Iolanthe”?

Very briefly, we are dealing with fairyland, lawyers and the House of Lords (below), all of which are not connected with the real world. The plot is really rather dark and could have easily ended very badly, if it were not for the sudden turn at the end.

The roles are recognizable G&S characters, for example, the Lord Chancellor has the patter song, the famous “Nightmare” song, one of the best of all G&S patter songs.

DSC05637

What would you like to say about the cast, sets, costumes and other aspects of the production?

The sets and costumes are wonderful. The cast has some Savoyard veterans and some who are making their debut with us. It has all come together very well.

DSC05666

What kinds of shape in the Savoyards in after The Great Recession now that recovery is underway? What do future plans include?

Our bank balance is in the black, where we like to keep it. We plan multi-year cycles, so the popular show income can compensate for the obscure show losses. We have a wonderful and loyal band of followers who buy tickets and contribute. We have a board of directors that watches the expenses carefully to get the most out of every penny. So we weathered the storm rather well.

Future plans include performing all of the G&S operas between 2007 and 2020, and we are working on a collaboration with the Madison Ballet to mount “Pineapple Poll” in 2015.

Is there more you would like to say or add?

Don’t miss “Iolanthe” because it is a great show and it has not been seen in Madison for a dozen years. The music is Sullivan at his best, the words are Gilbert at his best, and the combination is better than the sum of each. So don’t miss it.


Classical music: Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, or Independence Day in the U.S. So how did Russian music such as the “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky – which will be featured at tonight’s patriotic Concert on the Square by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and at the competing Rhythm and Booms celebration — become such a popular and all-American event?

July 3, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight, Wednesday, July 3, at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the downtown Capitol Square  in Madison, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s second Concert of the Square (below), under conductor Andrew Sewell — a native New Zealander who is now a naturalized American citizen — will celebrate the Fourth of July.

Concerts on Square WCO orchetsra

Also tonight, with fireworks beginning at 9:30 p.m., the radio-broadcast soundtrack for the gigantic regional celebration Rhythm and Booms show (below) in Madison’s Warner Park will no doubt include the same piece, or at least its finale.

For more information about that event, including the official traffic plans,  here is a link: http://www.rhythmandbooms.com

Rhythm and Booms

And tomorrow night, Thursday, July 4, at 7 p.m., Wisconsin Public Television will also broadcast PBS’ live coverage of “A Capitol Fourth,” the Fourth of July concert from Capitol Hill and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Here is a link with information about the event and the performers, who include singers Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow and Jackie Evancho as well as composer John Williams conducting the National Symphony Orchestra.

http://www.pbs.org/capitolfourth/bios.html

And like Fourth of July concerts all over the country, all of those concerts or musical celebrations  will likely once again end with a rousing version of the “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky (below) with cannon shots booming and church bells ringing – perhaps with a Sousa march for an encore. (At bottom is the most popular YouTube video of The 1812 Overture that has more than 1.5 million hits.)

Tchaikovsky 1

The rest of tonight’s Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s “Red, White and Blue” program features piano soloist Michael Mizrahi (below) playing what The Ear calls The Gershwin Card. (Next spring, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will also play The Gershwin Card to close its upcoming season that will mark the 20th anniversary of maestro John DeMain‘s tenure.)

Michael Mizrahi

I use the term The Gershwin Card to mean a kind of appealing crossover programming of the tuneful  and jazzy music by George Gershwin (below) that draws big audiences like pops and is easy to digest like pops, but also has a more serious side and is closer to having a classical pedigree than being pops.

gershwin with pipe

In particular, the WCO concert features Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and “I Got Rhythm” Variations as well as Robert Lowden’s “Armed Forces Salute.”

So far, so American!

But how did music celebrating a Russian victory over Napoleon (below, seen in painting retreating in defeat from Moscow) and the French army in 1812 become so emblematic of the Fourth of July and American independence?

Napoleon's retreat from Moscow

Well, like the American Revolution itself, the musical tradition started in Boston.

Only much, much later.

Care to take a guess?

Here is a link to the story as told to NPR’s Scott Simon on last Saturday morning’s “Weekend Edition”:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/06/29/196682351/why-tchaikovskys-bells-and-cannons-sound-every-july-4

For more information about this second Concert on the Square go to this page, which also has information about the entire series and the remaining four concerts:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square/59/event-info/


Classical music news: Former Vice-President Dick Cheney might want to listen to classical music – especially Verdi or Mozart — after his recent heart transplant, according to Japanese researchers.

March 27, 2012
9 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

As you have no doubt heard, former Vice President Dick Cheney (below) had a heart transplant over the weekend.

The operation was not unexpected, given Cheney’s very long history of cardiac problems. Apparently, he had been on the waiting list for 20 months, while the average waiting time in Washington, D.C., is nine months.

Perhaps the transplant was less expected, given Cheney age. He is 71, after all, and many guidelines suggest that older people over 65 don’t weather either the surgery or the recovery as well as younger people do. They also have a less successful with the powerful drugs that prevent rejection. But Cheney (below) has the reputation of being a Tough Guy.

Do you think being a former Vice-President had anything to do with it? Or maybe being immensely rich, as the former head of the oil company Halliburton?

One suspects not and hopes not. One suspects that it really was a decision left to medical authorities relying on science and not politics on money. At least, one hopes that is the case — and news stories suggest that it is. As the Baby Boomers age, more will have organ transplants later in life.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57404411-10391704/dick-cheneys-heart-transplant-at-71-special-treatment/

Still, Cheney might want to listen to some of his favorite classical music, according to new research from Japanese scientists. That research suggests listening to classical music betters that chances of recovering from a heart transplant — at least in mice, if not in men.

Here are links to a couple of stories:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/blogs/wqxr-blog/2012/mar/26/classical-music-helps-mice-recover-heart-transplants/

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21622-classical-music-affects-heart-transplants.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news

http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=classical-music-slows-mice-transpla-12-03-23

http://www.miller-mccune.com/health/classical-music-boosts-heart-transplant-survival-in-mice-40561/

The research suggests that the music of Verdi (below) and Mozart – but probably NOT their Requiems — had the best results, perhaps because of the harmonies.

What pieces of classical music — by Verdi, Mozart or anyone else since I myself find Faure’s music especially restorative and calming — do you think the recuperating Cheney should listen to?

The Ear wants to hear.


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