The Well-Tempered Ear

Is a lot of ‘woke’ music inferior to the music it replaces?

January 21, 2023
12 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

Is a widespread attempt to explore historically ignored music and overlooked, marginalized composers interfering with the public hearing greater, more important and more beautiful music?

It is a problematic but timely question or issue, especially during an era of political correctness and in our current culture wars.

To be sure, you can hear some memorable music that has unjustifiably been excluded from the so-called canon. The discovery of Florence Price (below) is a prime example. The same can be said for Clara Schumann.

It does seem that a lot of the newly rediscovered pieces and composers — Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, Asian, women, LGBT — deserve an initial hearing, if only out of curiosity and to correct the historical record.

But after being heard for the first time, many of them seem second- or third-rate. They deserve to be shelved for another few decades in favor of restoring greater music and greater composers to the active performing repertory. 

To The Ear, for example, the symphonies by Michael Haydn always sound inferior to those of his famous older brother Joseph. And it doesn’t matter what critics and audiences of the day said, history its often — if not always — the better judge. The symphonies and violin concertos of the impressive and influential Joseph de Boulogne (Chevalier de Saint-Georges, below) are simply not as artistically interesting or engaging as those by his contemporary Mozart.

Anyway, whatever you think, The Ear came across an essay on the internet by George Leef that was published in The National Review — the iconic conservative political magazine founded by William Buckley. It contains background about current nationwide programming guidelines and organizations that you might not know. 

It is an interesting point of view. It often goes over the top and  clearly overstates the case against “woke” repertory by accusing those who support it of being “enemies of classical music” rather than sincere and well-intentioned progressive advocates of artistic justice.

But it deserves a serious reading and a serious answer to the provocative question of balancing the great and the less great. Here is a link:

https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nationalreview.com%2Fcorner%2Fthe-enemies-of-classical-music-open-a-new-front%2F&data=05%7C01%7C%7Cdc78db9851e24c937f3208dafa28c130%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C638097350187750246%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000%7C%7C%7C&sdata=SmHoEA2rkQ53xI6RZvi8o65zJ99IcjYFqXrbJq3DV18%3D&reserved=0

Read it for yourself and make up your own mind.

Then please tell The Ear and other readers what you think in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


One piano lesson made all the difference

January 15, 2023
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By Jacob Stockinger

Not long ago, NPR and Wisconsin Public Radio featured a moving story from the website “Hidden Brain” and its series of profile called “My Unsung Hero.”

It told the simple story of a single piano lesson — and how just one short sentence at this piano lesson proved both ordinary and momentous – and made all the difference, changing the course of a young boy’s life.

The Ear found it inspiring. And it provoked some of his own memories of important music lessons and music teachers as well as other subjects and other influential teachers in school.

He hopes you will also like it and share it, perhaps with a friend who had a similar experience or with a special teacher who influenced you and made an important difference in your life.

Here is a link:

https://www.npr.org/2022/12/05/1140759435/a-few-words-of-encouragement-from-his-music-teacher-changed-karl-goldsteins-life

Did you ever have a similar experience with a music teacher and music lesson?

Or find an “unsung hero” in music or another field of education who made a big difference? 

Please tell us about it.

The Ear wants to hear.


Gramophone Magazine names the Best Classical Recordings of 2022 by each month

January 9, 2023
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By Jacob Stockinger

Maybe you have a holiday gift card to use.

Or maybe you have some leisure time to explore new recordings for your pleasure.

You’re in luck.

Various media have recently named the Best Classical Recordings of 2022. Whether you stream them or use compact discs or listen to vinyl, over the next week or two The Ear will feature some of them.

One of the most prestigious and well respected lists is provided by the British publication and website, Gramophone Magazine (below).

The link below is just to the December 2022 choices. But in it you can find links by the month to other outstanding selections.

Like many other links now, you can also find links to complete reviews of individual albums, and can even listen to excerpts from the named performances.

Also like many international lists, this one often reflects a not-so-subtle bias — usual towards the artists in the home nation where the organization is based. So look for a lot of British performers and composers.

https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.gramophone.co.uk%2Ffeatures%2Farticle%2Feditor-s-choice-december-2022-the-best-new-classical-recordings&data=05%7C01%7C%7C9d54288e7aa14aee84e008dad6cf495a%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C638058483012574509%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000%7C%7C%7C&sdata=jQjPYfVgug0bP8RNt8LCpJaWifR5remsfdwHP8zwAW8%3D&reserved=0

Still, you can find many outstanding choices to spend those gift cards on. Or just to explore for pleasure whenever you have the time and desire.

Here is one example.

When he first heard it, The Ear was fascinated by Paul Wee’s outstanding and astounding performance of the virtuosic solo piano transcription by the 19th-century French composer Charles-Valentin Alkan of Mozart’s famously sublime and dramatic Piano Concerto No. 22 in D minor, K. 466 (below in a photo of the album cover and in a YouTube video).

Very handy if you don’t have access to an orchestra! Plus you hear the composition in a new and insightful way — as often happens with transcriptions.

What do you think?

Do you have a favorite new recording from 2022?

The Ear wants to hear.


Here are classical musicians who died in 2022

December 31, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

2022 saw the death of many classical musicians.

A few of the most prominent names have been featured in other year-end lists.

But as far The Ear can tell, the most comprehensive and most international list has been posted on website of The Violin Channel, which is located in New York City.

Kudos to The Violin Channel! The list is terrifically researched, organized and executed. If you want to know more and read a fuller obituary, just click on the name in red and a link will take you to it. Here it is:

https://na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Ftheviolinchannel.com%2Fin-memoriam-remembering-the-remarkable-musicians-we-lost-in-2022%2F&data=05%7C01%7C%7C84e7cdcc27d3458e94f808dae4f027bf%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C638074017362646897%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000%7C%7C%7C&sdata=4oWM3jzNFYCimU5i6%2FTW3b8MSSebSXZNEsGWPihl5Uc%3D&reserved=0

Do you know of other names — including local names — that should be included?

Leave them in the comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

And here is a YouTube video performance of the Pie Jesu movement from the Requiem by Gabriel Faure: 


Should the 1812 Overture be played this Fourth of July?

May 2, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear recently noticed that the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has once again scheduled the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky (below) as part of the finale of its Fourth of July concert on the evening of July 6, 2022.

The performance is part of this summer’s FREE Concerts on the Square (COS) by the WCO that run on six consecutive Wednesday nights from June 29 through Aug. 3. Concerts start at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square in downtown Madison, and will be conducted by Andrew Sewell.

For more information about the series and individual performers and programs, go to: https://wcoconcerts.org/concerts-tickets/concerts-on-the-square

An asterisk says programs are subject to change.

Which got The Ear to thinking: Should Tchaikovsky’s perennial favorite, the flashy and loud  1812 Overture, be played again this year?

It is a tradition that was started on Independence Day in 1974 by Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops, according to reputable sources. 

But this year might be a very different case because of a quandary that might cause organizers, including PBS’ “A Capitol Fourth,” to rethink the program. 

It is a choice that will confront many musical groups across the U.S., given the current unprovoked brutality and and war crimes being committed by Russia against Ukraine.

After all, many music groups, including the Metropolitan Opera, have already banned Russian performers who support Russian President Vladimir Putin and his unjustified war in Ukraine (below).

So here’s the question: Is it appropriate to play a favorite work celebrating a Russian military victory while Ukraine, the United States and Western allies, including NATO, are desperately trying to defeat Russian forces?

As you may recall, the overture was inspired by Russia’s victory over the invading forces of Napoleon who was attempting go conquer Russia. Like Hitler and the Nazis, Napoleon failed and the Russians prevailed. That is why, in the work, you hear the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” overcome by the chimes and cannons of the Russian victory hymn. (There was no Russian national anthem until 1815.)

Here is a link to more background in Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1812_Overture

Will the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra or other orchestras as well as radio and TV stations around the U.S. find a substitute piece? Perhaps it could be the Ukrainian national anthem that is performed (as in the BBC Proms concert in the YouTube video at the bottom and as many other orchestras around the world, including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and John DeMain, have done).

What else could the WCO and other groups play — especially since Sousa marches are already usually featured on The Fourth?

Do you have a suggestion?

The Ear will be interested to see how the quandary is solved — with explanations and excuses, or with alternative music?

Meanwhile, as comedian Stephen Colbert likes to say: What do you think?

Should the “1812 Overture” be played on this Fourth of July?

Why?

Or why not?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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The famed International Tchaikovsky Competition has been expelled from the World Federation of International Music Competitions

April 25, 2022
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By Jacob Stockinger

One of the granddaddies of all international music competitions — probably the best known and most prestigious — has been disowned.

The International Tchaikovsky Competition — the one that catapulted the young American pianist and first winner Van Cliburn (below, during the competition) to worldwide fame during the height of the Cold War, for which he received the only ticker tape parade in New York City ever given to a musician — has been expelled from the World Federation of International Music Competitions, which was founded in 1957 and represents 110 music competitions and programs to help young musicians build a career.

The move comes in response to recent events in Ukraine — including alleged Russian war crimes during its brutal, deadly and unprovoked invasion.

The famed Tchaikovsky Competition — which started in 1958 and is now for pianists, violinists, cellists, vocalists as well as woodwind and brass players — is held in Moscow and St. Petersburg and is financed and organized by the Russian government. It has launched the careers on many great musicians.

It is co-chaired by the discredited Russian conductor Valery Gergiev  (below right, in 2014), a close friend and avid supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin (below left) and of the conflict in Ukraine.

The expulsion came about because the Tchaikovsky Competition refused to condemn the Russian invasion, as the federation requested.

Here is a link to the story that was published on the website Classical Music, an online publication of the BBC Music Magazine. It contains background on both the competition and the current state of affairs regarding Russian musicians and the Russian conflict in Ukraine. It has a lot of noteworthy links:

https://nam12.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.classical-music.com%2Fnews%2Finternational-tchaikovsky-competition-expelled-from-world-federation-of-international-music-competitions%2F&data=05%7C01%7C%7C6c24b49a0d734e9d8cba08da23b1b885%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C637861543449919994%7CUnknown%7CTWFpbGZsb3d8eyJWIjoiMC4wLjAwMDAiLCJQIjoiV2luMzIiLCJBTiI6Ik1haWwiLCJXVCI6Mn0%3D%7C3000%7C%7C%7C&sdata=RO2i3yy3HKXFxzEBotr4wTvrEONBM0%2FqUjxqt5CPhQc%3D&reserved=0

And here is the response from the organizers of the Russian competition, which takes place every four years. The 16th competition was held in 2019, and the 17th is still scheduled for 2023. (The announcement of the 2019 piano winners — by the Russian former piano winner Denis Matsuev, who has been boycotted because of Ukraine — is in the YouTube-Medici.TV video at the bottom.)

The response — which accuses the federation of “persecuting” Russian musicians and promises that it will be held as usual and remain open to contestants worldwide — is posted on the competition’s website:

https://tchaikovskycompetition.com/en/news/415.htm

It makes one wonder what the effects on the next Tchaikovsky competition will be.

Will potential jurors outside Russia boycott the competition?

Will non-Russian contestants — with the exception perhaps on Chinese and Belarusian performers — avoid participating?

And what will be the effect on the inaugural Rachmaninoff Competition for pianists, composers and conductors that is scheduled to take place this June in Moscow?

What do you think?

Is it the right call by the international federation?

Or the wrong call?

Why do you think so?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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Music con Brio starts an annual Black Composers project with a FREE virtual concert

July 1, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement from Carol Carlson, the co-founder and Executive Director of the Madison-based Music con Brio (below), who is a violinist and holds a doctorate in music from the UW-Madison:

Hello friends,

Happy summer! I hope you are able to enjoy some rest, relaxation and fun in the sun.

I am emailing you because Music con Brio embarked on an exciting new project this year, and I want to share it with you.

In an effort to diversify our repertoire and guest artists, we have launched our new “Music by Black Composers” project. Last winter, our staff chose four pieces of music by Black composers and made student-accessible arrangements of them. 

We then taught these new pieces during our online lessons this spring. On May 8, we gathered together outside at the Goodman Community Center, with four phenomenal local Black guest artists, to professionally record all four pieces.

And now, in lieu of our regular Community Concert Series this year, we are thrilled to present our first-ever Virtual Community Concert!

Click on the link to YouTube video at the bottom to watch and hear the 12-minute performance. Once there, click on Show More to see the composers, pieces and performers.

We are incredibly proud of our students and staff for all their hard work making this so successful. I’m sure you will enjoy their performance!

Please do feel free to pass the video along to anyone else you think might be interested in watching it.

And if you feel so inclined, we would really appreciate a donation in support of this work, which we plan to do every year from now on. To support Music con Brio and our Black Composers project by making a secure, tax-deductible donation, go to: https://www.musicconbrio.org/donate/ 

Thank you so much for your support! We hope to see you at a live concert again sometime soon!

If you wish to know more about Music con Brio, go to: https://www.musicconbrio.org


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Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will build a new $25 million home on East Washington Avenue

June 24, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following major announcement to post:

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) has announced plans to construct a new $25 million-building in the 1100 block of East Washington Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin.

The new home will occupy three lots and will replace the historic Avenue Bar (below)

The new music center will continue WYSO’s vision to expand instrumental music education and performance opportunities for young people of diverse backgrounds and inspire excellence and a lifelong connection to music.

More than 500 young musicians from communities throughout southern Wisconsin currently participate in WYSO’s programs. 

This 500 percent growth in student numbers since the organization’s founding is driving the need for facilities large enough to support both the organization’s programs and its mission of providing transformational musical experiences and opportunities.

For more information about WYSO, go to its home website: https://wysomusic.org

The purchase of the property and the kick-off of WYSO’s capital campaign have been made possible by two lead gifts totaling $18 million from Pleasant Rowland and Jerry Frautschi, who have long been supporters of the organization. 

The planned 40,000 sq. ft- building will provide state-of-the-art rehearsal spaces sized for full orchestras; a room designed for percussion including a world-class array of percussion instruments; rehearsal rooms perfect for ensembles and chamber music; a piano laboratory; and small teaching studios for private lessons.

The building will also hold all of WYSO’s current orchestra and Music Makers programs, administrative offices, a music library— and provide opportunity to grow. 

But the building will NOT contain public performance spaces. WYSO will continue to rent and use venues that already exist.

Since the fall of 2020, the organization – which used to be located in the UW-Madison School of Music — has been without a home base and has pieced out its program in different facilities throughout the Madison area. (In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the WYSO Youth Orchestra give a virtual and socially distanced performance last year of the finale of Rossini’s Overture to “William Tell.”) 

This new building will allow all of WYSO’s programs to thrive under a single roof and provide the space, location, resources and connections necessary for WYSO to become a key collaborator in a growing youth arts community.

WYSO’s new home will be around the corner from the newly constructed Madison Youth Arts (My Arts), creating a vibrant youth arts synergy on the near east side. (An architect’s renderings of the exterior and interior theater are below.)

Located on a major transit corridor for easy access with adequate parking, the building will be in proximity to area performing arts venues, with space for WYSO’s programs and community events. 

Says WYSO’s Executive Director Bridget Fraser: “Thanks to the incredible generosity of Pleasant Rowland and Jerry Frautschi, musicians of all ages will have state-of-the-art rehearsal facilities to call home. It’s a dream come true!”

WYSO has partnered with Urban Assets, city planners with experience in real estate development; Strang, an integrated architecture, engineering, interior design and planning firm with a history of designing for the civic and cultural sectors; Talaske Sound, experts in architectural acoustics; and J.H. Findorff & Son, a local construction firm passionate about youth education and the arts. 


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Just Bach free concert series seeks Interim Co-Artistic Director. Apply by July 5

June 23, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post about an interim job at Just Bach:

Do you love the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below)? 

Would you love to perform it every month in one of the most beautiful churches (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) in Madison?

Are you a professional instrumentalist with training and experience in period performance practice?

Do you have strong organizational skills?

If the answer to all these questions is yes, then Just Bach needs you!

Because Co-Artistic Director Marika Fischer Hoyt (below) will leave on a sabbatical starting in November, Just Bach is looking for an instrumentalist to join the Artistic Team. (You can check out the typical format by using the search engine on this blog or going to Just Bach’s Facebook page or YouTube Channel.)

 

The popular monthly concert series, which made it to the final round of the 2021 “Best of Madison” awards, seeks an Interim Artistic Co-Director for its upcoming fourth season.

POSITION SUMMARY

The Interim Artistic Co-Director works with the Just Bach team and the staff at Luther Memorial Church to program, produce, promote and perform monthly Bach concerts (below) from September through May.

The Interim Co-Artistic Director helps finalize the programming, contract any remaining needed players, schedule rehearsals and performances, perform in the concerts as needed, and upload the concert video to the Just Bach YouTube channel.

The Co-Artistic Director devotes about 4 hours per month to administrative tasks, on a volunteer basis.

The Co-Artistic Director rehearses and performs as needed in the monthly concerts — and is paid $100 per concert. (You can hear and see the closing concert of this past season in the YouTube video at the bottom. Click on Show More to see other instruments, players, singers and the program.)

The current Artistic Team will provide training for this position, and will be available for assistance once the season begins.

A detailed job description is available at:: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1CDis-RSY5FUnfUGCBvYunWZ1fR4EtyfzSo3xYiMyjUs/edit#

For more information, please contact and apply to Just Bach at: justbachseries@gmail.com

APPLICATION ARE DUE BY JULY 5.


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Middleton Community Orchestra performs the second of four FREE outdoor summer concerts at Firemen’s Park this Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

June 19, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Firemen’s Park, the mostly amateur but critically acclaimed Middleton Community Orchestra (MCO) will give the second of its FREE four summer outdoors concerts.

Besides the fact that the day is Father’s Day holiday, weather predictions also call for a good chance of rain or even thunderstorms.

Updates on whether the concert will take place, be cancelled or postponed to a later date, can be found by checking the MCO’s website at 10 a.m.: https://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Meanwhile, here are the programs, conductors and soloists for the remaining three concerts. All concerts take place in Firemen’s Park in Middleton close to Middleton High School:

CONCERT – SUNDAY, JUNE 20, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. (revised program)

Sergei Pavlov (below), conductor and professor at Edgewood College

George Walker – “Lyric for Strings”

Ralph Vaughan Williams – “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis” (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom)

Giacomo Puccini – Lauretta’s aria from “Gianni Schicchi”; Mimi’s aria in Act 3 and Musetta’s aria in Act 2 from “La Boheme” with soprano Yanzel Rivera (below).

Selections from the Pixar movie COCO (piano and strings)

 

CONCERT – SUNDAY, JULY 25, 11:30 – a.m.-1 p.m.

Chris Ramaekers  (below),  conductor and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky – “March Slav”

Carl Maria von Weber — Clarinet Concerto No. 2 with soloist and Madison Symphony Orchestra principal clarinetist JJ Koh (below)

Tchaikovsky — Symphony No. 2  “Little Russian”          

CONCERT 4 – SUNDAY, AUG. 15, 11:30-1 p.m.

Sergei Pavlov, conductor 

Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with soloist and UW-Madison graduate Thomas Kasdorf (below)


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