The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is Valentine’s Day. What piece of music best celebrates love? Here are Limelight Magazine’s Top 10 Sexiest Moments in Classical Music. Leave some music and words for your Valentine right here. Plus, the University of Wisconsin School of Music has successfully reinvented the annual Concerto Competition Winners’ concert -– to loud approval and multiple standing ovations from a packed house.

February 14, 2014
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READER SURVEY: Today is Valentine’s Day. What is the best piece of romantic music you know of to listen to or to send to someone to celebrate this day? You can even leave a link to a YouTube video and a dedication in the COMMENT section. Here is a link to Limelight Magazine’s Top 10 Sexiest Moments in Classical Music:

http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/Article/371934,the-10-sexiest-moments-in-classical-music.aspx

Cupid

By Jacob Stockinger

Little things can add up to a big difference.

Take the annual concert given by the winners (below) of this year’s concerto competition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Here are links to background of the event and the performers in the preview story that was posted  on this blog and and a link to the performers’ biographies that appeared on “Fanfare,” the outstanding bog of the UW School of Music:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/classical-music-education-the-university-of-wisconsin-school-of-music-ramps-up-its-annual-student-concerto-competition-concert-this-saturday-night-with-a-gala-reception/

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/symphony-showcase2013-14/

UW concerto winners 2014 Michael R. Anderson

Someone at the SOM (as the School of Music is referred to by insiders) rightly decided that the event deserved a higher public profile. (Except where noted, performance photos are by The Ear.)

So they made a few adjustments.

They booked Mills Hall for a Saturday night – last Saturday night, in fact — the best night of the week for entertainment events.

Then they rechristened the event the Symphonic Showcase, since the UW Symphony Orchestra (below with graduate student and assistant conductor Kyle Knox) is the common denominator and accompanies all the concerto winners and also premieres the winning piece by a student composer. The Ear likes that emphasis on collective or collaborative music-making.

They started the concert early, at 7 p.m.

That was because they also added a small and informal dessert reception from 9 to 11 p.m. — with all the proceeds of a $10 ticket going to a student scholarship fund — at the nearby Tripp Commons in the UW Memorial Union.

Kyle Knox and UW Symphony Orchestra

And what were the results?

Nothing short of a spectacular success.

Mills Hall was packed just about full (see the photo below by Michael R. Anderson).

uw concerto winner 2014 big audience Michael R. Anderson

And the big, enthusiastic audience greeted each performer with cheers and a standing ovation. And they deserved that. All of the winners played well and all chose great works to perform.

Here a rundown by contestant.

If you weren’t there -– well, you probably should regret it, You missed out on a lot of fun and a lot of beautiful music-making by a very impressive group of talented students. Maybe some state legislators were in the audience and will stop clowning around trying to micro-manage and ruin the UW while they say they’re really trying to fix it.

The evening started out with an orchestral showpiece, a kind of Romantic tone poem-concerto grosso that highlighted each section. That might be expected since the “Russian Easter” Overture came from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, a master orchestrator who taught Igor Stravinsky the craft of scoring music.

Graduate student Kyle Knox (below) conducted and did a fine job of bouncing the music around to various sections and keeping a clear line.

Kyle Knox 2

Violinist Madlen Breckbill (below) confidently commanded the stage with an appropriately lyrical and heart-breaking reading of the first movement of Samuel Barber’s masterful Violin Concerto. It was a thoroughly convincing rebuff to those people and critics who say you need to hear a new piece of music several times to know it is great. This kind of greatness you get from the first notes.

Madlen Breckbill

Saxophonist Erika Anderson (below left) played and projected with absorbing conviction the new “Poema” (2014) by student composer 24-year-old Russian-born composer Daria Tennikova (below right), who writes in an impressively accessible yet thoroughly modern idiom.

Erika Anderson and Daria Tennikova

Clarinetist Kai-Ju Ho (below top) brought both lyricism and swing to Aaron Copland’s underperformed Clarinet Concerto, pleasing conductor James Smith (below bottom right), himself a very accomplished clarinetist who performed the same concerto five times under the composer.

Kai-Ju Ho

James Smith and UW Symphony Orchestra with clarinet soloist Kai-Ju Ho

SeungWha Baek (below top, playing; below bottom by Michael R. Anderson) brought out the sizzle and virtuosity in the dazzling first movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with its ingenious Hanon-like five-finger exercise motif – except that this is no work for beginners, as you can see and hear at the bottom in a YouTube video with pianist Martha Argerich and conductor Andre Previn.

SeungWha Baek playing

UW concerto winners SeungWha Baek Michael R. Anderson 2014

Flutist Mi-Li Chang brought beautiful tone and playfulness, even Gallic charm, to the Concerto for Flute by Jacques Ibert.

Mi-Li Chang

And pianist Sung-Ho Yang brought the show to a close with a surprising subtle reading of Franz Liszt’s flashy and bombastic Piano Concerto No 1. The whole work is like one long cadenza – not one of the Ear’s favorites — so it was refreshing to hear Yang emphasize the quiet passages and subtlety, all the while bringing out the dialoguing back and forth between the piano and the orchestra.

Sung-Yo Yang playing

And after the music, we went to a quiet but friendly reception that featured coffee and tea as well as chocolate cake and pumpkin bars (below), set out much like a Wayne Thiebaud painting. It was a chance to meet the musicians and thank them for a splendid evening.

Chocolate cake al a Wayne Thiebaud

Pumpkin bars a la Wayne Thiebaud

Bravo to all.

The Ear is betting and hoping that next year will find the new format repeated.

Tinkering with failure is one thing.

But why tinker with success?

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