The Well-Tempered Ear

This weekend, starting Friday night, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra finishes up its winter season of online chamber music

April 15, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is the time of the year when music groups generally announce their next season while finishing up the current one.

But of course the pandemic continues to shroud plans for the new upcoming season in uncertainty and whether it will be online or in-person.

Meanwhile, groups are in the final stretch of finishing up this season.

This Friday night, April 16, at 7:30 p.m., the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO, below in photo by Mike Gorski) will debut the fourth and last online chamber music concert of its curtailed and substituted winter season.

The varied program includes works, both well-known and neglected, by four composers — from Italy, Russia, France and Austria — who come from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

The concert begins with the complete Concerto for Four Violins in B minor, RV 580, by Antonio Vivaldi (below). The string accompaniment will be scaled down.

Then comes the complete Septet for Winds, Strings and Piano by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (below).

The first and third movements of the Nonet by the rediscovered 19th-century French composer Louise Ferenc come next. (Here is the Wikipedia link to Ferenc (below):

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

The final music will be the first, fourth and fifth movements – including the famous theme-and-variations – of the famously tuneful “Trout” Piano Quintet by Franz Schubert (below).

In the YouTube video at the bottom, you can hear the namesake theme-and-variations movement — based on one of Schubert’s songs — played by Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Daniel Barenboim, Jacqueline du Pre and Zubin Mehta, with a graphical depiction of the score.

The concert lasts 60-75 minutes.

Tickets are $30.

Here is a link to program notes by WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below, in a photo by Alex Cruz) and to purchasing a ticket through the Overture Center box office.

The ticket is good for one viewing between Friday night and Monday night, April 19, at 7:30 p.m.

https://wcoconcerts.org/events/winter-chamber-series-no-iv


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Today’s Just Bach concert starts the 10-day Bach Around the Clock festival that runs through March 26. All events are free and online. Here are the lineups

March 17, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today — Wednesday, March 17 – brings the free monthly Just Bach concert that is online for 30 minutes.

This year that concert will also serve as the opening event of the annual Bach Around the Clock (BATC) festival to celebrate the birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Here is a link to the lineup of the Bach Around the Clock events. As of this writing, many of the special morning and evening guests and events are listed. But the daytime programs and performers are listed only for today, tomorrow and the final concert. The Ear understands the rest of the listings will be up by the end of today: https://bachclock.com/concert-schedule

There might be frequent additions, changes and updates, so it is best to check back often.

The Ear has heard that, as usual, the festival will include students, amateurs and professionals; young people and adults; individuals, smaller chamber music ensembles and larger groups; and many well-known and neglected works from many genres. 

Those genres include vocal and choral music; keyboard music for clavichord, harpsichord, piano and organ; string music for violin, viola and cello; wind and brass music; and much more.

Daily festival concerts will be posted starting at 8 a.m. Central Daylight Time and evening segments will begin at 7 p.m CDT. All events and concerts will be posted and available during the entire festival.

As for today’s Just Bach concert, here is the announcement from Marika Fischer Hoyt (below), the artistic director of Bach Around the Clock and a co-founder and co-director of Just Bach:

Greetings from Just Bach! We hope this finds you well, and ready to experience more of the timeless beauty of Bach, this month in music for organ and strings.

Our concert TODAY opens with a welcome and program overview from me. We figure when Just Bach and Bach Around The Clock join forces, the Master himself (below, in a cutout, in a photo by Barry Lewis) is summoned.

Today’s program opens with organist Mark Brampton Smith (below) playing two Sinfonias from Cantata 35. 

These are arrangements of two dramatic organ concerto movements, and Mark brings off the virtuosic passages with flair, while the strings provide a spirited accompaniment. 

Then the strings take center stage – in arrangements for string quartet — bringing a yearning melancholy to the slow Andante movement of Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, BWV 1047, and energy and excitement to Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, BWV 1048.

The program closes with our popular chorale sing-along, “Befiehl du deine Wege” (Commend Your Ways), BWV 271. I will introduce the piece and the text, and my sister, soprano Barbara Fischer, will sing it — with Mark on the organ.

We encourage viewers to sing along by following the chorale sheet music, which will be displayed on the computer screen.

Do you have a question for the performers? Would you like to listen in as they chat about the program? Please join us for a half-hour live Zoom post-concert reception tonight, March 17, at 7 p.m. The link is posted on the Just Bach website: https://justbach.org/concerts/

As regular performers on Luther Memorial Church’s weekly “Music at Midday” concert series, Just Bach presents half-hour programs starting at 8 a.m. on the third Wednesday of each month and then remain posted. Remaining dates this semester: March. 17, April 21, and May 19. Our concerts are posted on the Just Bach and Luther Memorial YouTube Channels: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcyVFEVsJwklHAx9riqSkXQ

Viewing the concerts is free, but we ask those who are able, to help us pay our musicians with a tax-deductible donation at: https://justbach.org/donate/

Today’s performers include members of the Madison-based early music group Sonata à Quattro (below in photo by Barry Lewis) and are: Christine Hauptly Annin and Aaron Yarmel, violin; Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola; Charlie Rasmussen, cello; Mark Brampton Smith, organ; and Barbara Fischer, guest soprano.

Dave Parminter is the videographer and Barry Lewis is the photographer.


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The New York Times music critics pick 10 online concerts and operas to watch through the month of November

October 30, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

Classical music critics for The New York Times have again listed their picks of virtual and online concerts that will be streamed during the month of November, starting this Sunday, Nov. 1, and running right through Nov. 30. In September, they did the same for the month of October.

The list of 10 highlights includes chamber music, orchestral music and operas as well as lots of new music, world premieres of commissions and even the Cliburn International Piano Competition, now known simply as The Cliburn.

Most of the events are posted and available for quite a while.

Note that all times are Eastern and that on this Sunday, Nov. 1, daylight saving ends.

As the critics point out, the list may be especially helpful and enjoyable now that the weather is turning colder, people are isolating at home during the nationwide spikes in coronavirus cases, and concert halls remain closed to the public.

Well-known institutions such as The Metropolitan Opera (below) and the Los Angeles Opera are featured. (You can sample an earlier Met production of Philip Glass’ “Satyagraha” – about the early life of Gandhi — in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So are symphony orchestras from Detroit, Seattle, San Francisco and Cincinnati. 

And pianist Igor Levit (below top), who this past year released the highly praised, award-winning complete cycle of 32 piano sonatas by Beethoven and who was named Artist of the Year by Gramophone magazine, is also featured, as is the outstanding Chicago-based violinist Jennifer Koh (below bottom, in a photo by the Los Angeles Times). 

Here is a link to the story: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/28/arts/music/classical-music-stream.html

What do you think of the choices?

Do you have other concerts or classical music events to add to the list?

The Ear wants to hear.

 


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October’s FREE virtual and online Just Bach concert is this Wednesday at noon. It lasts 30 minutes. Here are details

October 19, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement about the month’s Just Bach virtual concert from co-founder and violist Marika Fischer Hoyt.

The online concert takes place at noon CDT this Wednesday, Oct. 21.

Please join us as Just Bach shares the timeless beauty of music by Johann Sebastian Bach (below) from our home in the nave of Luther Memorial Church (LCM), 1021 University Ave.

We are thrilled to participate in LMC’s weekly “Music at Midday” concert series.

As part of this virtual online series, Just Bach concerts (below) take place at NOON on the third Wednesday of each month: Sept. 16; Oct. 21; Nov. 18; Dec. 16; Jan. 20; Feb. 17; March 17; April 21; and May 19.

The online programs last approximately 30 minutes instead of 60 minutes.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is still too risky to have in-person audiences, so Music at Midday concerts are posted on the Luther Memorial website: https://www.luthermem.org/music-at-midday/

In addition, Just Bach concerts are posted on the Just Bach website, the Just Bach Facebook page, and the Just Bach YouTube Channel, where you can still hear the season’s opening concert in September. Links are below.

Viewing the concerts is FREE, but we ask those who are able to help us pay our musicians with a tax-deductible donation at https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=7A4R7CA8VDRMG&source=url

Just Bach co-founder and graduate student soprano at the UW-Madison Sarah Brailey (below) will provide the opening welcome remarks at this Wednesday’s program.

Our guest artists this month, the Madison-based baroque ensemble Sonata à Quattro (SAQ, below top in a photo by Barry Lewis) will perform the instrumental Sinfonia from Cantata 146, featuring organist Mark Brampton Smith (below bottom). You might recognize this as the first movement of the well-known Harpsichord Concerto in D Minor, BWV 1052.

Members of SAQ, who normally use period instruments and historically informed performance practices, will play modern instruments this time because of the organ pitch. SAQ members will continue the program with movements from the solo Cello Suite in G Major and the solo Violin Sonata in G Minor.

Sarah Brailey returns to lead the final chorale from Cantata 146, which uses the familiar tune from “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” (You can hear “Jesu, Joy” in the YouTube video at the bottom.) 

We encourage viewers to sing along by following the chorale sheet music, which will be displayed on the computer screen, as Mark Brampton Smith accompanies on the organ. 

We need this soul-centering music now more than ever. So we invite the music community to join us at noon this Wednesday, Oct. 21, for a wonderful program of music by J.S. Bach. 

OCT. 21 PROGRAM:

• Cantata 146: Opening Sinfonia

• Solo Cello Suite in G Major, BWV 1007: Menuets I and II, Courante

• Solo Violin Sonata in G Minor, BWV 1001: Adagio, Presto

• Cantata 146: Final chorale: Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele (Rejoice greatly, oh my soul)

Guest Ensemble: Sonata à Quattro, whose members are: Christine Hauptly Annin, violin; Nathan Giglierano, violin; Leanne League, violin; Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola; Charlie Rasmussen, cello; and Mark Brampton Smith, organ.

Sarah Brailey provides the welcome and leads the chorale.

Dave Parminter is the videographer.

Just Bach is also trying something new: a Zoom meeting at 12:30 p.m. to serve as a virtual Meet and Greet with performers and some of the artistic team, to answer questions and chat with interested viewers. Here is the link: 

Here, in order, are links to: the Just Bach webpage; the Just Bach Facebook page; and the Just Bach YouTube channel:

https://justbach.org

facebook.org/JustBachSeries

youtube.com/channel/UCcyVFEVsJwklHAx9riqSkXQ

 


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Classical music: The Salon Piano Series offers pianist Ilya Yakushev playing Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” online for FREE with no deadline

September 8, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following news from the Salon Piano Series to post:

During these uncertain times of the coronavirus pandemic, we appreciate remembering time spent together enjoying music.

Please take a break from the stresses of your day to see and hear George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” performed by Ilya Yakushev (below) at Farley’s House of Pianos as part of the Salon Piano Series on Jan. 11, 2020.

The virtuosic Russian-born and Russian-trained Yakushev is well known to Madison audiences through his appearances with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and his recitals at Farley’s House of Pianos.

His performance of the popular Gershwin piece in a solo arrangement was especially noteworthy. Because of bad weather and a canceled flight, Yakushev drove straight through to get here from New York City, where he lives and teaches, and performed just 1-1/2 hours later. He was up for 27 hours straight.

Here is a link to his website: http://www.ilyayakushev.com/index.html

You can see the LIVE performance in the YouTube video at the bottom.

It is free and there is no deadline for when the video stops being accessible to the public. The Salon Piano Series hopes to offer another unseen video in October.

Over the years, you have supported Salon Piano Series with your attendance, individual sponsorships, and donations. We look forward to bringing you world-class musical performances in our unique salon setting again soon.

Sincerely,

Salon Piano Series


Classical music: Trevor Stephenson announces the new season of the Madison Bach Musicians on YouTube. It features smaller concerts and familiar comfort music

May 15, 2020
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By Jacob Stockinger

At a time when so many concerts are being canceled, it is especially welcome when a local ensemble announces plans for the 2020-21 season.

To announce the 17th season of the Madison Bach Musicians — a period-instrument group that uses historically informed performance practices — the founder and artistic director Trevor Stephenson (below), who also plays the harpsichord, fortepiano and piano, has made and posted a 13-1/2 minute YouTube video.

The season will also be posted on the MBM website in early June, and will also be announced with more details about times and ticket prices via email and postal mailings.

In the video, Stephenson plays the harpsichord. He opens the video with the familiar Aria from the “Goldberg” Variations and closes with two contrasting Gavottes from the English Suite in G minor.

As usual, Stephenson offers insights in the programs that feature some very well-known and appealing works that are sure to attract audiences anxious to once again experience the comfort of hearing familiar music performed live.

One thing Stephenson does not say is that there seems to be fewer ambitious programs and fewer imported guest artists. It’s only a guess, but The Ear suspects that that is because it is less expensive to stage smaller concerts and it also allows for easier cancellation, should that be required by a continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

If the speculation proves true, such an adaptive move is smart and makes great sense artistically, financially and socially given the coronavirus public health crisis.

After all, this past spring the MBM had to cancel a much anticipated, expensive and very ambitious production, with many out-of-town guests artists, of the “Vespers of 1610” by Claudio Monteverdi. Nonetheless, MBM tried to pay as much as it could afford to the musicians, who are unsalaried “gig” workers who usually don’t qualify for unemployment payments.

“Hope and Joy” is a timely, welcome and much-needed theme of the new season.

The new season starts on Saturday night, Oct. 3, at Grace Episcopal Church downtown on the Capitol Square, and then Sunday afternoon, Oct. 4, at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton.

The program is Haydn and Mozart: songs composed in English and German by Haydn plus songs by Mozart; the great violin sonata in E minor by Mozart; and two keyboard trios, one in C major by Haydn and one in G major by Mozart.

Only four players will be required. They include: Stephenson on the fortepiano; concertmaster Kangwon Kim on baroque violin; James Waldo on a Classical-era cello; and soprano Morgan Balfour (below), who won the 2019 Handel Aria Competition in Madison.

On Saturday night, Dec. 12, in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, near Camp Randall Stadium, MBM will perform its 10th annual holiday concert of seasonal music.

The program includes several selections from the “Christmas Oratorio” by Johann Sebastian Bach; a Vivaldi concerto for bassoon with UW-Madison professor Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) as soloist; and the popular “Christmas Concerto” by Arcangelo Corelli.

On Saturday night, April 24, at Grace Episcopal Church and Sunday afternoon, April 25, at Holy Wisdom Monastery, the MBM will perform a concert of German Baroque masterworks with the internationally renowned baroque violinist Marc Destrubé (below).

The program features Handel and Bach but also composers who are not often played today but who were well known to and respected by Bach and his contemporaries.

Specifically, there will be a suite by Christoph Graupner (below top) and a work by Carl Heinrich Graun (below bottom).

There will also be a concerto grosso by George Frideric Handel and two very well-known concertos by Bach – the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and the Concerto for Two Violins.

Here is the complete video:

What do you think of the Madison Bach Musicians’ new season?

The Ear wants to hear.


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Classical music: This Friday brings a FREE concert at noon of cello and violin sonatas by Beethoven. At night, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra explores rarely heard works and composers plus the “Jupiter” Symphony by Mozart

February 19, 2020
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ALERT: This Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features the Mosaic Chamber Players performing a one-hour, all-Beethoven concert in honor of the Beethoven Year, which celebrates the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.

The program is: Cello Sonata, Op. 5, No. 1; and two violin sonatas, Op. 12, No. 3, and Op. 30, No. 2. For more information, go to: http://www.mosaicchamberplayers.com

By Jacob Stockinger

Can you tell the difference between the real Mozart and the “Swedish Mozart”?

You’ll have the chance to find out this Friday night, Feb. 21, if you go to the concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below, in a photo by Mike Gorski) at 7:30 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

That is when you can hear the Symphony in C-Sharp Minor, VB 140, by Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-1791, below), an 18th-century German-born, short-lived composer who, as an exact contemporary of Mozart, spent most of his career at the court in Stockholm, Sweden, and became known as the “Swedish Mozart.”

(You can hear the opening movement of the Kraus symphony, played by Concerto Koln, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is more about Kraus (below): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Martin_Kraus

The Kraus symphony opens the WCO concert.

Then for the purpose of comparison, the concert closes with Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551. It is often cited as Mozart’s most accomplished work in the symphonic form, and is renowned for its melodies and harmonies, and for the masterful, even spectacular, counterpoint in the last movement.

But that kind of discovery and approach to programming is not unusual for WCO maestro Andrew Sewell (below, in a photo by Alex Cruz), who has a penchant for exposing audiences to rarely heard works and composers as well as to well-known masterpieces.

For this concert, Sewell will be helped by the return of guest violin virtuoso Giora Schmidt (below in a photo by David Getzschman), who has been acclaimed for his technique, tone, lyricism and riveting interpretations. He played the Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor by Sergei Prokofiev with the WCO in 2018.

Schmidt will solo in two rarely heard works for violin and orchestra: the 16-minute Violin Concerto, Op. 48, by the Russian composer Dmitry Kabalevsky (1904-1987); and the 8-minute Romance by the Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen (1840-1911).

For more about Kabalevsky (below), go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmitry_Kabalevsky

For more about Svendsen (below), who was a conductor and violinist as well as a composer, go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johan_Svendsen

To purchase tickets ($10-$77) and to read a detailed biography of soloist Schmidt and find out more about the concert, go to: https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances/masterworks-ii-5/

 


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Classical music: The Madison Opera performs Verdi’s popular “La Traviata” this Friday night and Sunday afternoon in Overture Hall

October 28, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

This weekend, the Madison Opera opens its 59th season with a traditional production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” (The Lost One), one of the most popular operas in history.

According to the website www.operasense.com — specifically at https://www.operasense.com/most-popular-operas/ — it has been the most performed opera in the world, beating out such perennial favorites as Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Puccini’s “La Boheme” and “Madama Butterfly,” and Bizet’s “Carmen.” (Below are photos by Matthew Staver from the production by Opera Colorado in Denver, which features the same sets and costumes that will be used in the production by Madison Opera.)

Performances in Overture Hall are this Friday night, Nov. 1, at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 3 at 2:30 p.m. The opera will be sung in Italian with projected supertitles in English. The running time, with two intermissions, is 2 hours and 45 minutes.

PRE-OPERA TALKS are on Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Studio of the Overture Center. One hour prior to performances, general director Kathryn Smith will give an entertaining and informative talk about “La Traviata.” The talks are free to ticket holders.

POST-OPERA Q&A’s are on Friday and Sunday and will also take place in the Wisconsin Studio of the Overture Center. Audience members can join general director Kathryn Smith immediately after the performance to ask questions about what they have just seen. The sessions are free to ticket holders.

Tickets are $18-$135 with student and group discounts available. For information about tickets, the production and the cast, go to: https://www.madisonopera.org

Set in mid-19th century Paris, “La Traviata” tells of Violetta, a courtesan who tries to follow her heart. But societal pressures force her to leave the man she loves, and an incurable illness takes care of the rest.

Glittering parties contrast with quiet desperation, and ravishing music underscores all-consuming emotions.

“Only a few operas ever achieve a truly beloved status — and “La Traviata” is one of them,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill). For being over 150 years old, its story is quite modern: a young woman trying to overcome the limitations that society has placed on her because of her class and gender, searching for happiness yet willing to make sacrifices.

“Plus it is full of very famous music, from the ‘Brindisi’ to ‘Sempre Libera’ and more,” Smith adds. “It’s always a pleasure to have a new generation discover this work, and to share it with opera omnivores who know it well.” (You can hear Renée Fleming sing Violetta’s signature aria “Sempre libera” (Always Free) at the Royal Opera House in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“La Traviata” is based on the play and novel “La Dame aux Camélias” (The Lady of the Camellias) by Alexandre Dumas the son (below top), which were in turn based on his real-life relationship with the courtesan Marie Duplessis (below bottom), who died in 1847 of consumption.

The play was an instant hit when it premiered in Paris in 1852, and Verdi (below) turned it into an opera the following year.

While the first production of the opera was not a success, due to the poor singing of two cast members and the physical unsuitability of one singer, its second production was acclaimed, and the opera swiftly became one of the most performed operas in the world, a status it has not lost.

Both the opera and the play have inspired countless films, including “Camille” (with Greta Garbo), “Pretty Woman” (with Julia Roberts) and “Moulin Rouge” (with Nicole Kidman).

Madison Opera’s artistic director John DeMain (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) says: “”La Traviata” has been a part of my artistic life since the very beginning of my career – it’s one of the reasons I so wanted to conduct opera. The heartfelt and tragic story of a love that was cut short by both health and cultural circumstances is still deeply moving today.

“The role of Violetta is a tour-de-force that ranges from high-flying coloratura to dramatic vocalism, with a strongly-etched character. I love this opera so deeply and look forward to conducting it for our audience.”

Returning to Madison Opera as Violetta is Cecilia Violetta Lopez (she played Carmen in Madison), whom The Washington Post reviewer called “as compelling a Violetta as I’ve seen.”

Mackenzie Whitney  (below, who appeared in “Florencia en el Amazonas” for the Madison Opera) returns as Alfredo, the young man for whom she sacrifices everything.

Weston Hurt (below) debuts with Madison Opera as Alfredo’s father Germont, whose disapproval of his son’s relationship with Violetta has tragic consequences.

Madison Opera’s Studio Artists are featured: Kirsten Larson as Flora, Emily Secor as Annina, Benjamin Hopkins as Gastone, and Stephen Hobe as the Marquis d’Obigny.

Rounding out the cast are Benjamin Sieverding (Romeo and Juliet) as Dr. Grenvil and Benjamin Major in his Madison Opera debut as Baron Douphol.

Fenton Lamb (below) directs this traditional production in her Madison Opera debut.

Maestro John DeMain conducts the singers, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The Madison Opera’s production of “La Traviata” is sponsored by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, Bert and Diane Adams, Carla and Fernando Alvarado, Chun Lin, Patricia and Stephen Lucas, Millie and Marshall Osborn, Kato and David Perlman, the Wallach Family, Helen Wineke, Capitol Lakes, and the Wisconsin Arts Board.


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Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra honors retired music critic John W. Barker with a special performance of Brahms and a season dedication

September 11, 2019
7 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

How does an individual  musician or musical group pay tribute and say thank you to a critic?

By performing, of course.

And that is exactly what 30 members of the Middleton Community Orchestra did, playing under guest conductor Kyle Knox (below top), last Friday night for the veteran music critic John W. Barker (below bottom).

The orchestra performed for him at the downtown Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, near the Capitol Square, where the ailing Barker lives with his wife Margaret.

Because of space limitations, word of the special performance never went public. But the large basement room was packed with affectionate and respectful fans and friends.

The MCO members played the lyrical and sunny Serenade No. 1, Op. 11, of Johannes Brahms. (You can hear the opening movement of the Serenade by Brahms in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The orchestra also announced that it would dedicate its upcoming 10th anniversary season to Barker as a gesture of thanks for all he has done over the past nine years to promote the mostly amateur orchestra — which opens its new season on Wednesday, Oct. 9. 

“I’ve known this piece most of my life,” said Barker, who soon turns 86 and who started reviewing in his teens. “It’s lots of fun.”

And so was the unusual honor.

“An orchestra paying tribute to a critic? It’s unprecedented,” Barker quipped, as both he and the audience laughed. Barker also quoted the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius who once said, “A statue has never been erected in honor of a critic.”

After the 40-minute performance, Barker spoke briefly to the players and audience.

“The job of the critic,” he said, “is to stimulate performers to play up to their best standards and to give readers some background and context. Being critical doesn’t mean being negative, although at times I have made some negative comments. But you never have to be nasty. I guess I’ve succeeded,” he said looking around at the players and the public, both of whom generously applauded his remarks.

Barker’s list of personal accomplishments is impressive. He has written local music reviews for The Capital Times, Isthmus and this blog.

But he is a participant as well as a critic. He has sung in many choirs, including 47 years in the one at the local Greek Orthodox Church, and has performed with the Madison Opera. He directed Gilbert and Sullivan productions for the Madison Savoyards.

Barker is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which may help to explain his general taste for the traditional. He also is a well-known classical music critic, with a national reputation, who has written for 63 years for the American Record Guide. For many years, he hosted an early music radio show on Sunday mornings for WORT-FM 89.9.

He also worked with Opera Props, the support group for University Opera, and was a member of the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival. And he frequently gave pre-concert lectures in Madison. He has published two books on Wagner and written a definitive history of the Pro Arte Quartet.

But this time even the voluble Barker had to admit, “I am grateful and thankful. I am very moved, even floored. But I’m afraid I’m finally at a loss for words.”

You can leave your own words of tribute in the Comment section.

To see the full “Barker season” schedule for the Middleton Community Orchestra and to read many of Barker’s past reviews of the MCO, go to: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Thank you, John, for all you have done to enrich the cultural and musical life of Madison!


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Classical music: Today is the Fourth of July. Here is patriotic music to help celebrate, including a portrait of a truly presidential president for the purpose of comparison

July 4, 2019
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the Fourth of July – a celebration of Independence Day when the United States officially declared its separation from Great Britain in 1776.

The day will be marked by picnics and barbecues, by local parades and spectacular fireworks – and this year by armored tanks and fighter jets in yet another expensive display of military power by You Know Who: that loudmouth man who overcompensates for dodging the draft by acting more like King George than George Washington.

The “Salute to America” sure looks like it is really going to be a “Salute to Trump.”

But whatever your politics, your preferences in presidents or the festive activities you have planned for today, there is classical music to help you mark and celebrate the occasion. Just go to Google and search for “classical music for the Fourth of July.”

Better yet, tune into Wisconsin Public Radio, which will be featuring American classical music all day long.

In addition, though, here are some oddities and well-known works that The Ear particularly likes and wants to share.

The first is the Russian immigrant composer and virtuoso pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff playing his own version of our national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” something he apparently did out of respect for his adopted country before each recital he played in the U.S.:

And the second is by another Russian immigrant and piano virtuoso, Vladimir Horowitz, who was a friend and colleague of Rachmaninoff. Here he is playing his piano arrangement, full of keyboard fireworks that sound much like a third hand playing, of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” by American march king John Philip Sousa. Horowitz used the patriotic march to raise money and sell war bonds during World War II, then later used as an encore, which never failed to wow the audience:

For purposes of artistic and political comparisons of presidents, you will also find Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait” – with famous actor and movie star Henry Fonda as the narrator of Honest Abe’s own extraordinary oratory and understated writing — in the YouTube video at the bottom.

And in a ironic twist The Ear can’t resist, here are nine pieces — many orchestral and some choral –chosen by the official website of the BBC Music Magazine in the United Kingdom to mark and honor American Independence Day. It has some surprises and is worth checking out:

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

If you like or favor other works appropriate to the Fourth of July or have comments, just leave word and a YouTube link if possible, in the Comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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