The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music:  Two Madison pianists perform four-hand American music Monday night at a concert for the Rural Musicians Forum at Taliesin in Spring Green

July 20, 2019
3 Comments

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By Jacob Stockinger

For the first time ever, the Rural Musicians Forum will present music for piano 4-hands, where two pianists play simultaneously on one piano.

On this coming Monday, July 22, at 7:30 p.m. in the Hillside Theater at architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green, Madison-based pianists Satoko Hayami (below top) and Jason Kutz (below bottom) will showcase four-hand piano music by American composers, spanning from 1864 to 2019.

The concert by the two graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music will present a variety of composers and works created for this ensemble: pre-ragtime composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s virtuosic arrangement of Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell Overture; excerpts from Samuel Barber’s Souvenirs, a ballet suite (heard played tag-team style in the YouTube video below); a lush arrangement of themes from the Wizard of Oz by William Hirtz; and the riveting Gazebo Dances by John Corigliano, a four-movement work that, in his own words, suggests “the pavilions often seen on village greens in towns throughout the countryside, where public band concerts are given on summer evenings.”

Additionally, the audience will hear the world premiere arrangement of Music in 3/4 for Four by Kutz, excerpts from his solo piano suite, Music in 3/4.

Admission is by free will offering, with a suggested donation of $15.

Taliesin’s Hillside Theater (below) is located at 6604 State Highway 23, about five miles south of Spring Green.


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Classical music: Vicki Powell talks about why she took to the viola rather than the violin. She returns to Madison to solo next Wednesday night with the Middleton Community Orchestra. Plus, cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s SOLD-OUT recital Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater will be WEBCAST LIVE and FOR FREE.

October 17, 2014
2 Comments

REMINDER: This Saturday night, superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma (below right) will make his seventh appearance at the Wisconsin Union Theater at 8 p.m. in Shannon Hall. His recital features works by Igor Stravinsky, Johannes Brahms, Olivier Messiaen, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Astor Piazzolla and others with piano accompanist Kathryn Stott (below left). The event is SOLD OUT to the general public, although some student tickets may remain. For more information, here is a link:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/season14-15/yoyoma-kathynstott.html

BUT: If you didn’t get a ticket to the sold-out Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott concert Saturday night, October 18, in Shannon Hall in the Wisconsin Union Theater, don’t fret. The concert will be webcast if you go to the page above at 8 p.m.

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear loves the sound of the viola, with its mellow mediating between the higher violin and the lower cello.

And he will have the chance to hear it in some unusual repertoire this coming Wednesday night, Oct. 22, when  the Madison-born violist Vicki Powell (below top) returns to solo with the Middleton Community Orchestra (below bottom, in a photo by William Ballhorn) under conductor Steve Kurr.

Vicki Powell, Viola

Middleton Community Orchestra by William Ballhorn

The MCO opens its fifth season at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the Middleton Performing Arts Center, 2100 Bristol Street, that is attached to Middleton High School. Tickets are $10 general admission; students get in for FREE. Advance tickets can be bought at the Willy Street Coop West.

Middleton PAC1

The program includes the Overture to “William Tell” (which contains the brass fanfare theme to TV show “The Lone Ranger”) by Gioachino Rossini; the Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra by Johann Nepomuk Hummel; the Romance for Viola and Orchestra by Max Bruch; and the Symphony No. 8 by Antonin Dvorak.

For more information about the amateur but very accomplished ensemble, including how to join it and support it and find out what the coming season will bring, call (608) 212-8690 or visit: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Violist Vicki Powell (below) recently gave an email interview to The Ear:

Vicki Powell 2

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers and tell us a bit about yourself, including when you started music lessons, your early preparation and your life in Madison as well as your personal interests (hobbies, etc.) and professional career plans?

Greetings from New York City, the city that never sleeps and that is certainly never lacking in cultural events. I am a native Wisconsinite, raised in Madison, but for the past eight years I have been living on the East Coast.

After earning my Bachelor’s of Music at the Curtis Institute, where I studied with Roberto Diaz and Misha Amory, I moved to New York City to pursue my Master’s at the Juilliard School, and have lived in the city ever since.

My life consists of a potpourri of musical activities, from performing with the Jupiter Chamber Players, to playing with the New York Philharmonic, to collaborating with ballet companies alongside my new music group Ensemble39. I’ve traveled across the globe and collaborated with many incredible musicians, but my most fond memories are from my time back home, the formative years of my musical being.

I began taking violin lessons with Maria Rosa Germain at the age of four after hearing my brother, Derek, play the violin. I have such a vivid memory of the moment when I decided that I wanted to play the violin: It was dusk, and I was curled up on the green shag carpet of our basement floor, the last bits of daylight leaking in through the windows above. Derek was practicing the Waltz by Johannes Brahms from Suzuki, Book Two a few feet away.

I was exhausted after an afternoon of monkeying around on the jungle gym, and the waltz was the most soothing lullaby to my ears, transporting me to that surreal state of half sleep where time seems to stand still. I felt so peaceful, so warm, so content, the effects combining to make the moment so magical that the only logical thing to me upon waking was that I would some day be able to recapture that sensation and make music as beautiful.

My main violin studies were with Eugene Purdue (below, in a photo by Thomas C. Stringfellow), of the famed “Buddy” Conservatory of Music, with whom I studied for nine years. Mr. Purdue also introduced me to the wonderful world of chamber music, taking on the role of devoted coach to my string quartet, the Élève Arte (wannabes of the Pro Arte String Quartet).

Eugene Purdue 2 by Thomas C. Stringfellow

The challenge to my string quartet was that there were three of us violinists, and no violist to speak of, so we took it upon ourselves to switch around our roles in order for us each to have a turn at playing the viola. As the years rolled on, it became clear to us that in order to compete at competitions, it was not practical for us to be lugging so many instruments onstage (there exists some comical video footage of this phenomenon).

At this point, I decided that my role in life was not that of diva (ahem, First Violin). Although I find the role of Second Violin extremely vital to the ensemble, challenging, thrilling and full of guts, I was drawn to the uniquely dark tone of the Viola.

To me the viola (below) represented the real meat and soul of the string quartet, and the tone of the viola was the perfect vehicle for expressing all of the rage, pain and suffering that I felt (Bela Bartok’s works were the perfect outlet for those emotions).

viola

Most violists also play the violin. What attracted you to the viola? What would you like the public to know about the viola, which seems less well-known and more mysterious than, say, the violin or the cello?

Having now overcome my teenage angst, I still adore the viola and its role in music -– to be entrusted with the core of harmony, the real color within every texture, gives me such a sense of quiet power with which I can subtly control the direction of a phrase and the shape of an entire work.

Mr. Purdue once shared a piece of wisdom relating to his wife, Sally Chisholm (below), who teaches at the UW-Madison School of Music and performs with the Pro Arte Quartet. She was my first formal viola teacher and the person responsible for expanding my creative horizon beyond the physical realm of music-making.

Those words of wisdom were: “People feel at ease when playing with Sally, and they easily credit themselves for sounding so magnificent. However, it is Sally who, through her playing, acts as such a strong guiding force that the flow of musical intention is undeniable.” That is a powerful statement that has stayed with me to this day, and which I strive to achieve every single day.

Sally Chisholm

Was there an Aha! Moment – an individual piece or composer or performance or recording, when you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career and be a violist?

I can’t imagine pursuing a life in anything unrelated to music and the arts, but it was not always that way.

As a teenager, I refused even to dream of becoming a musician –- I’m a very realistic person, and the idea of fighting my way through a world that is so competitive and which is not quite so financially lucrative was not one that appealed to my sensibilities. During my early high school years, I focused my attentions on math and the sciences, preparing myself for a life as a dentist or pathologist.

Then my “Aha!” moment came with my 16th birthday when I gave my debut as a solo violist on the nationally syndicated radio show From the Top on NPR (National Public Radio). It was the first time I had ever played for an audience to which I had no connection — the show was taped in Dallas, Texas — and I suppose the whirlwind story behind my debut as a violist sans string quartet helped to convince me that a life in music would never be boring.

I had such a blast meeting new people, and the thrill that came with being onstage was unforgettable that from that point forward I was hooked.

Benjamin Solomonow playing cello on NPR's %22From the Top%22

How do you think classical music can attract more young people?

We so often hear that classical music is dying, a sentiment with which I strongly disagree. Times have changed, and the world has turned to an era of short attention spans and an addiction to social media. I myself am victim to a few of these [shortcomings], but because of them, I am also aware of the enormous amount of interest in the classical world.

I believe that in order to attract more young (and old) fans of classical music, we must be conscious of providing inviting points of entry.

I am very fortunate to be privy to several hip events around New York City that target young people looking to be cultured and have a great time doing so. A few examples are: Groupmuse, Wine by the Glass, NYC House Concerts, the Le Poisson Rouge (below) nightclub. They all introduce music in a social setting where it’s cool to explore, and where you don’t feel constrained by rules of concert-watching etiquette.

Le Poisson Rouge

What can you tell us about Hummel’s Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra?

Hummel (below) was a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn, both of whom played the role of mentor for their younger counterpart. Hummel is most well-known for his fantasies, which are said to be “the peak and keystone of virtuosic performance.” The Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra takes on different operatic themes, three of which appear in the version that I will be performing with the Middleton Community Orchestra. (You can hear the Hummel Fantasy for Viola and Orchestra performed in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Hummelcolor

What can you tell us about the Bruch Romance for Viola and Orchestra

The Romance by Max Bruch (below top) holds a very special place in my heart. It was the very last work I performed — with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) — before departing Madison to begin my studies at the Curtis Institute of Music eight years ago! The lush, tonal soundscape will draw in any sucker for Romantic music.

max bruch

WCO lobby

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

I’m very much looking forward to performing at home again, with people that are like family to me. Mindy Taranto, cofounder of the Middleton Community Orchestra, has been such a great friend and supporter to me throughout the years, and I am thrilled to finally have the opportunity to collaborate with her and the orchestra.


Classical music: It’s time to go back to the future. The classical music scene needs more professional groups to act like the Middleton Community Orchestra and break down barriers between performers and listeners.

June 7, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There was a time when no professional symphony orchestras existed, at least outside of royal courts. Even Ludwig van Beethoven had to hire freelance pick-up orchestras to premiere his monumental and iconic symphonies and concertos.

That meant that classical music was much more of a home activity and much more of a community affair that it usually is today.

But there are exceptions.

I was reminded of that on Wednesday night when – in the Middleton Performing Arts Center that is attached to Middleton High School — I attended the concert that closed the fourth season of the Middleton Community Orchestra (below).

MCO June 2014 orchestra

As I sat there, I realized I was simultaneously getting a glimpse of both the past and the future of classical music, which is under siege and needs some new strategies to thrive and prevail if it is to attract new and younger audiences.

I have written before about why I like the Middleton Community Orchestra so much.

Here is a link to a 2012 review with the nine reasons why I like them and think you should too:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/classical-music-review-let-us-now-praise-amateur-music-makers-and-restoring-sociability-to-art-here-are-9-reasons-why-i-liked-and-you-should-attend-the-middleton-community-orchestra/

But this most recent concert only deepened and expanded those convictions.

So here are some of my more recent thoughts, not necessarily deep but perhaps helpful and even insightful:

First and foremost, I liked the way the barriers between the performers and the audience members were broken down. I took some photos of what I saw: brass and string players talking with friends, family members, admirers and strangers both before the concert, during the intermission and then during the social dessert reception after the concert.

It all made the act of music-making seem more humane, more do-able, more central to daily life. Music seemed a cohesive bond for the entire community.

MCO trombonist and public 6-2014

MCO violinist and public 6-2014

I also liked that the community orchestra –- which used some professional members but also many amateur musicians — once again turned in convincing readings of great music.

And they did so by once again spotlighting local talent.

One was pianist and Middleton native, Thomas Kasdorf, who did his undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who returns there in the fall for a graduate degree.

Kasdorf  (below) gave an absolutely thrilling and gorgeous reading of Edvard Grieg’s popular Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16. Here is a link to an interview The Ear did with him:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/classical-music-qa-native-son-pianist-thomas-kasdorf-talks-about-playing-solo-recitals-chamber-music-and-the-grieg-piano-concerto-with-the-middleton-community-orchestra-which-also-closes-out-i/

MCO june 2014 Thomas Kasdorf plays Grieg

Kasdorf played with dynamism and lyricism, drawing a big sound out of the smaller-than-concert grand Steinway. He captured the many moods and beautiful tunes, the infectious rhythms, the long and songful phrases, and the stirring harmonies of Grieg’s evergreen concerto.

Not everyone agreed. Here is critic John W. Barker’s dissent for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/music/article.php?article=42912

No less than pianist-composer Sergei Rachmaninoff  (below) told Arthur Rubinstein that the Grieg Piano Concerto was the best and most effective piano concerto ever composed. And Rachmaninoff, who himself used the Grieg as a model, knew a thing or two about composing and performing piano concertos.

Rachmaninoff

Kasdorf wasn’t alone in excelling.

UW-Madison graduate violist Alice Bartsch (below) also turned in a sublime and moving reading of Antonin Dvorak’s soaringly lyrical Romance in F Minor, Op. 11, for Violin and Orchestra. It was all the more moving because it was her last concert as concertmaster of the MCO before she moves on to a professional job. (You can hear Dvorak’s lovely Romance at the bottom in a popular YouTube video. Tell me it doesn’t make you want to hear more of the tuneful Dvorak’s music.)

MCO June 2014 Alice Bartsch plays Dvorak

In fact, conductor Steve Kurr, who teaches at Middleton High School, also recognized other members of the orchestra who were moving on after this valedictory concert and asked them to stand up for applause — which they received:

MCO June 2014 players who will leave

I also loved the audience. I don’t know them by name, but enough people were there that the house seemed plenty full. Moreover, many of the listeners were very young or looked like people you don’t usually see at events like the Madison Symphony Orchestra or the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Well, one reason is that the price is right. WCO admission has two prices: $10 for adults and free for students. At that level, who can’t afford to take a chance? It might be nice if bigger groups tried cutting costs instead of increasing them. Affordability begets accessibility, The Ear suspects.

The orchestra, of course, also played on its own. It gave a respectable and at times moving reading to Sir Edward Elgar’s ambitious musical portraits in the “Enigma” Variations. As happened in also in the Grieg, I found especially the brass and percussion outstanding, though all sections, and especially the strings and winds, also held their own and had much to be proud of.

That’s not to say there weren’t mistakes or lapses or shortcomings. But, hey, this isn’t the Berlin Philharmonic. Besides, imperfection is an inherent part of most performing arts. But the orchestra clearly communicated the music’s emotion to the audience, and that is what matters most.

MCO June 2014 Orchestra stands up

The concert finished with the suite of three dances from Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s ballet score for “The Three-Cornered Hat.”

And there was my one criticism.

I am afraid the MCO has unfortunately expanded to imitate more professional organizations. I prefer the 90-minute, no intermission format. I think that could have been done if they had programmed this way: open with the Dvorak Romance; then do the Grieg Piano Concerto; and then finish with the Elgar Variations. (By my reckoning that would add up to about 85 minutes of music, with time left over for some stage changes.)

This concert was just a bit too long. People were tired, especially on a weekday night. And beside, it is nice to get in The Zone and then leave The Zone –- and not try to renter the Zone after intermission. It is also nice to get back home early when work is facing you the next day.

Then came the FREE desserts and the chat between hungry musicians and hungry audience members.

MCO June 2014 reception

But it seemed everyone left with their appetite for music satisfied.

So congratulations then to the MCO co-founders Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic plus conductor Steve Kurr. Over four seasons, they have grown an experimental project into a new tradition that seems to be attracting more people who appreciate them -– as you could tell from the cheers and hearty applause and prolonged standing ovations.

MCO June 2014 standing ovation

Next season promises very good things: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8; Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances and Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”; the famous “William Tell” Overture (the “Lone Ranger” theme) by Giacchino Rossini and the Academic Festival Overture and Tragic Overture by Johannes Brahms; plus Thomas Kasdorf again in the great Piano Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky (with, three cheers, Thomas Kasdorf as soloist in what The Ear jokingly calls the Van Cliburn Piano Concerto No. 1) and more.

It is something to look forward to.

All that music and all that fun for all that affordability.

See you then, see you there!

 

 

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