The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Did she know or didn’t she? Here is the factual background about a flawed diva if you go to see the movies “Florence Foster Jenkins” or “Marguerite”

August 19, 2016
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

This week, The Ear saw the movie “Florence Foster Jenkins,” a story about the amateur singer Florence Foster Jenkins (below, in the 1920s in a photo from Getty Images), who was famous in the early- to mid-20th-century for singing terribly, painfully and laughably off-key but who nonetheless pursued performing in public and sold a lot of records.

Florence Foster Jenkins in the 1920s GETTY IMAGES

During the Wisconsin Film Festival, The Ear also saw a French movie, “Marguerite,” with a similar story line and main character.

Of the two, he much preferred “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Meryl Streep (below) plays the flawed diva with total commitment. The Ear suspects it will garner Streep, who did her own bad singing to perfection, her 20th Academy Award nomination, even if she doesn’t win a fourth Oscar.

British actor Hugh Grant might also be nominated for his supporting role as the British out-of-work actor who becomes her protector, promoter and caring love partner St. Clair Bayfield.

In additon, her piano accompanist Cosmé McMoon, played by Simon Helberg, who could also receive an Oscar nomination, develops into a memorable secondary character.

The English script — directed by the talented Stephen Frears –seemed more tightly written with better characters and dialogue than the French one, which dragged on too long and seemed forced in its ending, although both movies share similarities in their endings.

But to be honest, with both of the films The Ear had a major problem with suspending disbelief.

He just can’t believe that Jenkins didn’t know how badly she sang.

You can hear her butcher the famous and difficult “Queen of the Night” aria from “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Anyway, the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR, or National Public Radio, has provided an excellent background piece, a very factual biography of Jenkins, that also asks famous singers whether it is possible for Jenkins not to have known how flawed her singing was.

All The Ear knows is that if he played the piano that badly, he sure wouldn’t go perform a recital in Carnegie Hall.

Here is a link to the blog piece by Tom Huizenga:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/08/10/488724807/killing-me-sharply-with-her-song-the-improbable-story-of-florence-foster-jenkins

Now if you go to either or both movies, here is what The Ear wants to know:

Which film about Florence Foster Jenkins did you prefer, and why?

And do you think it is possible to sing as badly as Jenkins did without knowing it?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: After hearing a memorably beautiful performance of Verdi’s operatic Requiem, The Ear asks: Why do people enjoy singing and playing instruments together as a group? Let’s hear from the performers themselves.

April 27, 2012
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Friday night, I attended a performance of Verdi’s operatic Requiem given by the University of Wisconsin Choral Union and the UW Symphony Orchestra with four soloists, all under the baton of UW choral director Beverly Taylor.

It was a special event – it always is – because it marked the first time the two large groups got to perform together in Overture Center’s trademark Overture Hall, which is beautifully designed and built, and has terrific acoustics.

It is also a necessary venue for this piece. When all the forces are assembled they are too big for the usual venue, Mills Hall, where the 120-year-old campus and community choir usually performs with the UW Chamber and Symphony Orchestras.

Indeed, when the magnificent Verdi Requiem has been done before, it  was not even in Mills but in the larger Stock Pavilion, the livestock barn or cow palace where the last time at least one soloist had an allergic reactions to the sawdust and straw. And it is not a good thing when a soloist’s throat starts closing up during a performance.

Anyway, there were no problems on that score this time.

It wasn’t a full house of 2,000 but it was close to it — a large audience, especially considering how many other events, including the Wisconsin Film Festival, were going on at the same time.

And I found much I liked about the performance. It was beautiful and moving, in part for personal reasons that many of us have but which I don’t want to write about. Great art should touch you personally. Then it becomes even greater, no?

I loved the way the two massive groups and four soloists were kept in balance, yet dialogued with each other and complemented each other. This memorial is a cathedral of sound that has lasted for good reason.

I especially loved the softer parts and the way conductor Beverly Taylor (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) shaped the sonic texture and quietness at  the comforting opening and in the etherial Lux Aeterna section near the end.

But I also loved the loud and operatically dramatic parts like the “Dies Irae.” I am convinced more than ever than Hell must indeed sound like loud brass and a beaten bass drum (at bottom) – though one can also argue that Verdi, pretty much a non-believer, might have been using that same combination not only to portray the Day of Wrath but also, as a friend remarked, to protest against the whole notion of Death and a Day of Judgment.

All the soloists — soprano Shannon Prickett, mezzo-soprano Marion Dry, tenor Aldo Perrelli and bass-baritone Tony Dillon — sang with beautiful tone and seemed pretty well matched to my ears.

But occasionally soprano Shannon Prickett (below) really soared above the others. You always felt she had even more volume to draw on, more force to spare; that she never strained or felt stretched to her limit, let alone beyond it. And her tone was consistently lovely.

The 180-voice chorus, mixed and not separated into parts, performed very well and stayed together to full effect, as did the 90-piece student orchestra.

Both helped you to appreciate what absolute mastery Verdi had over how to write effectively both for the human voice, singly or en masse, and for instruments, both alone and in combination.

But truth be told, the part of the performance that I really liked best. with something akin to envy, was watching the various singers and instrumentalists perform and seeing how much enjoyment they took from performing.

More than football, basketball or soccer, singing in a chorus or playing in an orchestra is my kind of team sport. I just don’t play either.

It was clear that everyone was having a terrific time up on the stage in front of family, friends and strangers as they brought to life an indisputably great choral and instrumental masterpiece.

They were having what I like to call “PROFOUND FUN.”

So more than a detailed review, what I really want to use today’s post for is to simply ask: Why do singers and instrumentalists like to perform and make music together as a group?

Is it because it brings you closer to great art and allows you to make great art, which you otherwise couldn’t do on your own?

Is it because you make friends and acquaintances you otherwise wouldn’t meet?

Is it because you feel emotionally and physically better by singing and performing?

Is it because you get a sense of belonging and solidarity?

Is it because the simple act of singing or playing gives you physical pleasure?

I suspect it is all of these and more. Certainly I have heard reviews, writers and analysts explain it in those ways. And I know what makes me feel good os a listener.

But I want to hear more directly, right from the horse’s mouth – from the Requiem’s Mouth, so to speak.

So I am writing and posting this in the hope that some or even many of the performers, vocal and instrumental, will post a comment about what they took out of the rehearsals and performance, and will explain first-hand what they so love about making music together as a group.

It can be a short comment, like a Tweet, or  a longer one – whatever the writer wants to say.

And since I am being deliberately derelict as a reviewer, here are links to other, more in-depth and more opinionated reviews.

Here is the review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=36564

And here is Bill Wineke’s review for WISC-TV’s website Channel3000.com:

http://www.channel3000.com/entertainment/Concert-Review-UW-Symphony-and-Choral-Union-perform-Verdi-masterpiece/-/1628/11415074/-/10tax0hz/-/index.html


Classical music datebook: The busiest week EVER in Madison features the world premiere of John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5; requiems by Verdi and John Rutter; violinist Itzhak Perlman; and much, much more.

April 18, 2012
4 Comments

UPDATE: Here is the review, posted Tuesday morning, by Greg Hettmansberger for Madison Magazine and his blog “Classically Speaking” of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra‘s concert last Friday with the chamber orchestra version of Beethoven’s Ninth: http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/April-2012/Wisconsin-Chamber-Orchestra-Surprises-with-Low-fat-Beethoven/

You can read others’ reviews plus my own review at:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=18657&action=edit

By Jacob Stockinger

This is the busiest week EVER in Madison for classical music I can remember, and I have been living here a long time. So it may well be the busiest week ever in Madison — period.

There are so many good or great choices, that one hardly knows where to begin or end.

And that’s not even counting Earth Day weekend activities or the 2012 Wisconsin Film Festival, which will run from April 18-22 and will screen more than 150 movies in nine cinemas. And I don’t know whether the film festival will draw more audiences to concerts downtown, or whether it will cut into music audiences. (I suspect the latter.)

I may be wrong, but I challenge anyone to think of a busier week, or a week with more difficult choices.

Take a look and tell me.

You should know that I am only listing the events for Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), which wraps up its centennial season. For a fuller description and other information, visit these other links and this earlier post from last week:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/classical-music-news-get-ready-for-john-harbison-week-and-pro-arte-quartet-week-with-free-events-and-concerts-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison/

And here are some other links to the Pro Arte Quartet and John Harbison events:

http://www.news.wisc.edu/20535

http://proartequartet.org/schedule.html

http://www.music.wisc.edu/pro-arte

TODAY, WEDNESDAY

Today from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in Room 1351 of the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St., American composer John Harbison (below) will discuss his recent music and new String Quartet No. 5 in a public composition master class as part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s Centennial. Free.

THURSDAY

From 9 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. in Mills Hall, Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. there is an open rehearsal by the Pro Arte Quartet (below, rehearsing) with composer John Harbison for the world premiere of his Quartet No. 5 for the quartet’s centennial concert on Saturday night, April 21, at 8 p.m. in the Mills Hall of the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park St. Free.

At 7:30 p.m. in Overture Hall, superstar violinist Itzhak Perlman will perform a recital of Brahms (Sonata Movement, Violin Sonata N.2 and Three Hungarian Dances plus Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 2). Tickets are $40.50-$89.50. For more information visit: 

http://overturecenter.com/production/itzhak-perlman

FRIDAY

Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale, from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium (below) of the First Unitarian Society Meeting House, 900 University Bay Drive features violinist Leanne League and pianist Dan Broner in Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 1. For information, call 608 233-9774 or visit www.fusmadison.org

From 4 to 5:30 p.m. UW School of Music Colloquium in Room 2650 in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. Public lecture-discussion by UK musicologist Tully Potter (below) on early 20th-century European string quartets. Free.

At 8 p.m. in Overture Hall, the UW Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra (both below in Mills Hall), conducted by Beverly Taylor perform Verdi’s  “Requiem” with soloists Shannon Prickett, soprano; Marion Dry, mezzo-soprano; Aldo Perrelli, tenor; and Tony Dillon, bass.

Tickets are  $10, $15, $20 and $25 through Overture Center Box Office, (608) 258-4141 or overturecenter.com.

The UW Choral Union comprises 175 voices and Symphony Orchestra has about 85 members.  Antiphonal trumpets will be positioned in box seats above and in front of the stage. The Requiem will be sung without intermission and lasts approximately 90 minutes.  This concert marks the first time Choral Union has performed the Verdi work since May 1999 at the Stock Pavilion.

For more information, visit: http://www.news.wisc.edu/20498

At 8 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, the Madison Chamber Choir will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a concert of 20th and 21st century works.  Under the sure direction of Anthony Cao, the choir will perform the Frank Martin Mass for Double Choir.  They will also give the world premiere of a piece commissioned especially for the occasion:  “O Setting Sun” by San Francisco composer David Conte (below).  For information, visit: http://www.madisonchamberchoir.com

SATURDAY

From 3 to 5 p.m. in the Chazen Museum of Art, 750 University Ave. UK musicologist Tully Potter will lecture on “Four Famous Belgians: The Quatuor Pro Arte (below, in 1940).” It will be followed by a question-and-answer session. Free. (Pre-concert cocktails and a dinner 5-6:45 with composer John Harbison and UK musicologist Tully Potter in the Chazen Museum of Art, are optional ($35) by calling (608) 265-ARTS or going to www.uniontheater.wisc.edu)

At 3:30 p.m. Morphy Hall this year’s Beethoven Piano Competition Winners will perform a FREE concert with a reception.

Aelin Woo, a senior, will peform the Sonata in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2 “Tempest”; Jonathan Thornton, a first-year doctoral student, will perform Sonata in E Major, Op. 109; and Sung Ho Yang, a second-year doctoral student, will perform the Sonata in B-Flat Major, “Hammerklavier,” Op. 106.  All three are currently studying with professor Christopher Taylor.

The annual competition is sponsored by Chancellor Emeritus Irving Shain. 

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall:  Women’s Chorus (below) and University Chorus, directed by Sarah Riskind and Russell Adrian.  Free admission.

At 8 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall of the Mosse Humanities Building, 750 University Ave. will be the last of the four concerts by the Pro Arte Quartet with the WORLD PREMIERES of commissioned works: The Pro Arte Quartet will perform Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 54, No. 2 (1788); the world premiere of John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5 in 10 short movements (2011); and Cesar Franck’s String Quartet in D Major (1889). (Pre-concert events with introductions to composer John Harbison and British critic Tully Potter and with questions from the audience will be held free from 7-7:30 p.m. There will be a free post-concert dessert reception at the nearby University Club, 803 State St., immediately following the concert.) Free.

At 7 p.m. in the Oakwood Village Auditorium West, 6209 Mineral Point Road, the Oakwood Chamber Players (below, in a photo by Bill Arthur) will close out is season when it performs a special Earth Day concert with a Beethoven trio as well as Dvorak’s “Cypresses,” Franz Schrekers “Der Wind” and Carter Pann’s “Summer Songs.”

THE CONCERT WILL BE REPEATED ON SUNDAY AT 1:30 P.M. AT THE UW ARBORETUM VISITORS CENTER.

Individual ticket prices are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $5 for students. Tickets can be purchased at the door. For any questions about the concerts please visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com or call (608) 230-4316.

The Oakwood Chamber Players is a professional musical ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Village and the Oakwood Foundation in collaboration with Friends of the Arboretum, Inc. All perform actively in the Madison area with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and an eclectic mix of other professional ensembles. The Oakwood Chamber Players have been performing at Oakwood Village since 1984.

At 8 p.m. in the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue, 300 East Gorham Street in James Madison Park, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble presents a concert of vocal and instrumental music.

The program includes J.S. Bach’s “The Art of the Fugue,” Contrapunctus 1-11; plus music by Monteverdi, Abel and Montéclair.

Tickets at the door $15 ($10 students).

Performers includes Edith Hines and Eleanor Bartsch, baroque violin; Marika Fischer Hoyt, baroque viola; Eric Miller, viola da gamba; Consuelo Sañudo, mezzo soprano; Anton TenWolde; baroque cello; and Max Yount, harpsichord.

For more comfort, feel free to bring your own chair or pillow. For more information 238-5126 or visit info@wisconsinbaroque.org, or visit www.wisconsinbaroque.org.

SUNDAY

From 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III of the Chazen Museum of Art, 750 University Ave. “Sunday Live From the Chazen” will feature part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s Saturday night concert, including the second performance of John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5. The event will be broadcast live over Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN 88.7 FM). Call 263-2246. Free.

 

At 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel at Edgewood college, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, mezzo-soprano Kathleen Otterson (below) will sing a program called “Life is a Cabaret.”

Admission is $7 to benefit music scholarships

Among the many works listed are those of Benjamin Britten, Stephen Sondheim, Marc Blitzstein, Johannes Brahms, Kurt Weill, George Gershwin, Christine Lavin, and Cole Porter.  The $7 admission benefits music scholarships at Edgewood College.

At 3 p.m. the new Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society presents, 900 University Bay Drive, an All-Music Sunday will feature “Requiem” by the English composer, John Rutter (b. 1945) with the Society Choir with guest singers and instrumentalists. The program will also include Rutter’s “Suite Antique” for flute, strings and harpsichord.

A Free Will Offering will be accepted.

The Society Choir will be joined by solo soprano Heather Thorpe; Tyrone Greive is the Concertmaster, and Dan Broner, Music Director of First Unitarian Society, will conduct.  Flutist Marilyn Chohaney will be featured soloist in the “Suite Antique.”

For more information call (608) 233-9774.

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Trombone Choir, directed by Mark Hetzler (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) and the UW Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble, directed by Matthew Mireles, will perform.  Free admission.

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University of Iowa Center for New Music, directed by David Gompper (below), will perform s FREE concert.

The program includes “Hiking on the Cascade Creek Trail” (2012) for solo percussion by Zach Zubow, a Ph.D. composition student at the University of Iowa; “Croquis” for string trio (1976-80) by Jeremy Dale Roberts, recently retired as head of composition at the Royal College of Music, London; “Musica segreta” for piano quartet (1996) by David Gompper; the premiere of “Mirage of the Mountains” (2012) for chamber ensemble by Zach Zubow; and “Chamber Symphony No. 1” (1992) by John Adams, one of the best known and most often performed of America’s composers.


Classical music news: Get ready for John Harbison Week and Pro Arte Quartet Week, with FREE events and concerts, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

April 13, 2012
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

There is a lot of classical music going on next week– to say nothing of the annual Wisconsin Film Festival.

But the biggest series of event involves the final of this season’s four concerts and four world premieres, with accompanying lectures and master classes, celebrating the centennial of the University of Wisconsin’s Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer).

The guest lecturer for the week with be the Scotland-based Tully Potter, perhaps the world’s foremost authority on the history of recordings.

So get out your datebooks and pencil in — or, better yet, ink in — various events almost of all of which are free and open to the public.

There are many events to go to, but the centerpiece will be on Saturday, April 21, when the composer John Harbison (below) will be present tp hear the world premiere of his String Quartet No. 5.

Here is a link to the detailed story and UW news release about the April 21 Pro Arte Concert, which features works by Haydn, Franck and the world premiere of John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5 (in 10 short movements):

http://www.news.wisc.edu/20535

Or you can visit Pro Arte websites:

http://proartequartet.org/schedule.html

http://www.music.wisc.edu/pro-arte

For background on the composer John Harbison, who in summer co-directs the nearby Token Creek Chamber Music Festival and who has won the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” among many other honors, visit:

http://www.schirmer.com/default.aspx?TabId=2419&State_2872=2&ComposerId_2872=627

http://web.mit.edu/music/facstaff/harbison.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Harbison

This is part of  the season-long celebration of the UW-Madison Pro Arte Quartet’s Centennial, in residence at the UW since 1940, when they were exiled by World War II from their home in Belgium while on tour in the US. The Pro Arte Quartet (below, in 1940) is the first string quartet in history to reach 100 and has commissioned two new string quartets and two new piano quintets to premiere to mark its centennial. ALL EVENTS ARE FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Tuesday, April 17, 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall of the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park St. The UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (below, under the direction of UW composer Laura Schwendinger, performs works by John Harbison and others. Free.

Wednesday, April 18, 4-5:30 p.m. in Room 1351 of the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. American composer John Harbison will discuss his recent music and new String Quartet No. 5 in a public composition master class as part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s Centennial. Free.

Thursday, April 19, 9 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. in Mills Hall, Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. Open rehearsal by the Pro Arte Quartet with composer John Harbison for the world premiere of his Quartet No. 5 for the quartet’s centennial concert on Saturday night, April 21, at 8 p.m. in the Mills Hall of the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park St. Free.

Friday, April 20, 4-5:30 p.m. UW School of Music Colloquium in Room 2650 in the Mosse Humanities Building, 455 N. Park St. Public lecture and discussion by UK musicologist Tully Potter on early 20th-century European string quartets. Free.

Saturday, April 21, 3-5 p.m. in the Chazen Museum of Art (below), 750 University Ave. Lecture by Tully Potter on “Four Famous Belgians: The Quatuor Pro Arte.” It will be followed by a question-and-answer session. Free. (Pre-concert cocktails and a dinner 5-6:45 with composer John Harbison and UK musicologist Tully Potter in the Chazen Museum of Art, are optional ($35 per head, deadlines of making a reservation is Monday) by calling (608) 265-ARTS or going to www.uniontheater.wisc.edu)

Saturday, April 21, at 8 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall of the Mosse Humanities Building, 750 University Ave. Last of the four concerts with the WORLD PREMIERES of commissioned works: The Pro Arte Quartet will perform Franz Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 54, No. 2 (1788); the world premiere of John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5 in 10 short movements (2011); and Belgian composer (below) Cesar Franck’s String Quartet in D Major (1889). (Pre-concert events with introductions to composer John Harbison and British critic Tully Potter and with questions from the audience will be held free from 7-7:30 p.m. There will be a free post-concert dessert reception at the nearby University Club, 803 State St., immediately following the concert.) Free.

Sunday, April 22, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery III of the Chazen Museum of Art, 750 University Ave. “Sunday Live From the Chazen” will feature part of the Pro Arte Quartet’s Saturday night concert, including the second performance of John Harbison’s String Quartet No. 5. The event will be broadcast live over Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN 88.7 FM). Call 263-2246. Free.


Classical music is happening in Africa too.

March 11, 2012
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

What about Africa?

We hear a lot about classical music these days.

But the news and other stories usually comes from North America and South America, from Europe and Asia.

We even hear about classical music in the Middle East, especially about the joint Israeli-Palestinian East-West Divan Orchestra (below) founded by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said.

But we don’t ever hear much about classical music in Africa, which is more in the headlines these days for war and conflict, brutality and corruption.

And that strikes The Ear as too bad, as regrettable, even as reprehensible.

That silence about positive cultural life just ends up adding to the mythical and stereotypical “darkness” of the Dark Continent.

But it turns out that something important from a classical music point of view has indeed happened and is still happening in Africa.

Take a look at the story about the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra (below), now almost 20 years old, in the Democratic Republic of Congo in excerpts from a 2010 German-made documentary called “Kinshasa Symphony’ about the classical orchestra founded in Central Africa:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/03/06/148075689/kinshasa-symphony-an-ode-to-musical-joy-in-central-africa

And here is a link to a review of the documentary, with the inevitable tie-in to Beethoven and his Ninth Symphony:

http://www.nisimazine.eu/Kinshasa-Symphony.html

I sure hope the film comes to my area soon, perhaps in the upcoming Wisconsin Film Festival, or perhaps to the University of Wisconsin Madison campus.

I’ll let you know if I find out more news and features about classical music in Africa, and you please do the same for me.


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