By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos for this review.
By John W. Barker
Despite nasty weather and icy conditions, a quite substantial audience turned out for the concert Wednesday night by the Middleton Community Orchestra (below).
There was an unusual element to the program.
The mostly amateur orchestra opened with an exuberant performance of Rossini’s overture to his opera Il turco in Italia (The Turk in Italy).
Then the normal procedures were interrupted by a local writer, Matt Geiger (below), reading two of his short essays from a recently published collection, which was sold in the lobby.
This appearance was based on his long and valiant boosting of the orchestra in his journalism, but it would have been more appropriate at some community festival than in the midst of an orchestra concert. His essays were not without wit, but had absolutely nothing to do with music.
Back to business with guest soloist Andrew Briggs (below), a young cellist who played two miniatures for his instrument, with orchestra, by Antonin Dvorak.
Silent Woods, Op. 68, No. 5, is sometimes heard as a foil or filler for the composer’s great cello concerto, especially in recordings. Still less familiar is a Rondo in G minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 94. It is a work of charm and imagination.
Briggs played both of these with affectionate sensitivity. Currently finishing his doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, he is an artist with an already expanding reputation and a great future.
The second half of the concert was devoted to Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, the “Reformation.” Composed to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, it was offered here as a gesture to this year’s 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s launching of his Reformation movement with the posting of his 95 Theses. This is a score full of Lutheran symbolism, particularly with the prominent use of Luther’s chorale, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (“A Mighty Fortress is our God”).
NOTE: You can hear how Mendelssohn uses the Luther hymn in the symphony’s final movement by listening to the YouTube video at the bottom.
Commentators have sometimes shrugged off this work, and it has been overshadowed in audience favor by the composer’s popular third and fourth symphonies. But it is a well-wrought score, full of fine musical interest. Conductor Steve Kurr (below) led the orchestra through a sturdy and solidly played performance, ending the concert on a triumphant note.
ALERT: Today is ELECTION DAY. Be sure to vote. Then leave a COMMENT and maybe a YouTube link telling The Ear what piece of classical music should be played for the new president-elect — Republican Donald Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has received the following announcement:
This weekend, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below), with music director John DeMain conducting, performs two early 20th-century works. One is neglected and rarely performed while the other one is considered a powerful masterpiece,.
The concert begins with Le Printemps (“Spring”) by Claude Debussy, an Impressionist ode to the living.
The Naughton twins then perform the lyrical Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos, followed by a performance of the Symphony No. 5 by Dmitri Shostakovich. It showcases the composer’s artistic triumph over the forces of Soviet repression. This is also the piece conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) conducted for his impressive audition here over two decades ago.
The concerts are in Overture Hall of the Overture Center, 201 State Street, on Friday night, Nov. 11, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday night, Nov. 12 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 13, at 2:30 p.m.
An early version of Debussy’s Le Printemps was actually lost in a fire. The piece, originally written in Rome in 1886-87, premiered in Paris in 1913. Upon writing the score, Debussy (below) wrote to a friend, “…I’m calling it Printemps, not ‘spring’ from the descriptive point of view but from that of living things.”
The Naughtons will then play Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos. This piece, which is said to have been a favorite of Mozart (below, with his sister), was originally written for himself and his sister Maria Anna, nicknamed “Nannerl,” to perform. (The concerto was featured in the soundtrack to the Academy Award-Winning film “Amadeus” and you can hear the last movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)
This is the first time this piece will be performed by the MSO. The listener will be able to imagine a smile, or at least a sly wink from Mozart to Maria Anna hidden within the harmonic score.
Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 was originally completed in 1937. This will be the third time this piece has been performed by the MSO.
The Soviet Union oddly enough was a major influence for this work. In 1933 a doctrine was released, which was intended to control the content and style of Soviet literature and other various forms of art, including music. Soviet music was hence used to serve the propaganda needs of the state.
Symphony No. 5, which the composer subtitled “The practical answer of a Soviet artist to criticism,” is a composition that was written to save Shostakovich (below) from imprisonment. You can hear the personal anxiety of an artist being controlled by the State in this historic symphony.
One hour before each performance, Anders Yocom (below), Wisconsin Public Radio Host, will lead a 30-minute Prelude Discussion in Overture Hall to enhance concertgoers’ understanding and listening experience.
For more background on the music, visit the Program Notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen at: http://www.allsenmusic.com/NOTES/1617/3.Nov16.html
Single Tickets are $16 to $87 each, available online at madisonsymphony.org/naughtons, in person at the Overture Center Box Office, 201 State Street, or by calling the Box Office at (608) 258-4141.
Groups of 15 or more can save 25% by calling the MSO office at (608) 257-3734.
For more information visit, madisonsymphony.org/groups
Student rush tickets can be purchased in person on the day of the concert at the Overture Box Office, 201 State Street. Students must show a valid student ID and can receive up to two $12 or $15 tickets. More information is available at: madisonsymphony.org/studentrush.
Seniors age 62 and up receive 20% savings on advance and day-of-concert ticket purchases in select areas of the hall.
Discounted seats are subject to availability, and discounts may not be combined.
By Jacob Stockinger
It will be sung in French with English subtitles and will last about three hours with one intermission.
Tickets are $18-$130.
With soaring arias, impassioned scenes and plenty of sword fights, Gounod’s gorgeous opera brings the famous tragic tale of young love to vivid life.
Set in 14th century Verona, Italy, the opera follows the story of Shakespeare’s legendary star-crossed lovers. The Montague and Capulet families are caught in a centuries-old feud.
One evening, Romeo Montague and his friends attend a Capulet ball in disguise. The moment Romeo spots Juliet Capulet, he falls in love, and she returns his feelings. Believing they are meant for one another, they proclaim their love, setting in motion a chain of events that will change both their families.
“Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous love stories in Western literature,” says Kathryn Smith (below, in a photo by James Gill), the general director of Madison Opera. “Gounod’s operatic version of it is equally beloved, and it’s exciting to present an amazing cast that brings such vocal and dramatic depth to their story.
“I’m also delighted that we are performing the opera the same weekend that Shakespeare’s First Folio goes on display at the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Chazen Museum of Art, enabling our community to enjoy a very Shakespearean weekend.”
Gounod’s operatic adaption of the tragedy of “Romeo & Juliet” premiered in 1867 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris. While Gounod is now better known for “Faust,” “Romeo and Juliet” was a bigger success at its premiere, and has stayed in the repertoire for 150 years due to its beautiful music, genuine passion mingled with wit, and exciting fight scenes.
“Having conducted Gounod’s Faust so often, I’m thrilled to finally have the opportunity to conduct his romantic masterpiece,” says John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), the artistic director of Madison Opera who will conduct the two performances.
“The vocal and orchestral writing is lyrical and downright gorgeous,” DeMain adds. “We have a glorious cast, the Madison Opera Chorus and the Madison Symphony. What more could a conductor ask for!” (You can hear Anna Netrebko sing Juliet’s famous aria “Je veux vivre” — “I want to live” – in the popular YouTube video at the bottom.)
Madison Opera’s cast features both returning artists and debuts.
John Irvin (below top) and Emily Birsan (below bottom) return to sing the title roles of Romeo and Juliet. Irvin sang Count Almaviva in the 2015 production of The Barber of Seville, while Birsan returns from singing at Opera in the Park 2016 and Musetta in last season’s La Bohème.
Sidney Outlaw, who sang at this past summer’s Opera in the Park, makes his mainstage debut as Romeo’s friend, Mercutio. Liam Moran, who sang Colline in last season’s La Bohème, sings Frère Laurent, who unites the two lovers in the hope of uniting their families. Madisonian Allisanne Apple (below) returns as Gertrude, Juliet’s nurse.
Making their debuts are Stephanie Lauricella as Romeo’s page, Stephano; Chris Carr as Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin; Philip Skinner as Lord Capulet; and Benjamin Sieverding as the Duke of Verona. Former Madison Opera Studio Artist Nathaniel Hill returns as Gregorio, while current Studio Artist James Held sings the role of Paris.
Directing this traditional staging is Doug Scholz-Carlson (below), who directed Gioaccchino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” and Benjamin Britten‘s “The Turn of the Screw” for Madison Opera. Scholz-Carlson is the artistic director of the Great River Shakespeare Festival and has directed the original “Romeo and Juliet,” among many Shakespeare plays.
He will discuss the differences between staging “Romeo and Juliet” as a play and as an opera in another posting tomorrow.
For more information about the production, the cast and tickets, go to:
ALERT: University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music 2011 alumnus and violist Elias Goldstein is on his way to Carnegie Hall in New York City to perform all the virtuosic 24 Caprices originally for solo violin by Niccolo Paganini. But first he will perform them here in a FREE concert that also includes other works with pianist Thomas Kasdorf, another UW-Madison alumnus, on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall. (Sorry, no word on the rest of the program.) Goldstein will also give a FREE and PUBLIC master class on Wednesday at 2:25 p.m. in Morphy Hall.
For more information, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
How does a contemporary American composer channel classic composers from more than 200 years ago?
You can find out by going to hear the St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ, below). The critically acclaimed string quartet will perform this Friday night at 8 pm, in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.
Tickets are $27.50 to $42.50.
For more information, including reviews and video samplings, visit:
The program features two quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn, including the popular and famed “Emperor” Quartet and the earlier “Joke” Quartet as well as the Midwest premiere of John Adams; String Quartet No. 2.
NPR, or National Public Radio, recently featured an interview with Adams discussing Beethoven:
But Christopher Costanza, the cellist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, recently gave an enlightening Q&A from the quartet’s point of view to The Ear:
Can you briefly bring the public up to date since your last appearance in Madison, when you performed “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” by Osvaldo Golijov? Major residencies and tours? Major commissions? Major performing and recording projects?
The St. Lawrence String Quartet has been busy with a wide range of projects in the years since our last appearance in Madison.
We’ve had a personnel change – our newest quartet member is Owen Dalby, our second violinist, who joined us in the spring of last year.
We happily continue as Artists-in Residence at Stanford University, where we are involved in a great number of activities, including teaching, performing, and collaborations with a wide range of schools and departments on campus.
And our international touring schedule remains very active, with concerts throughout North America and Europe; our most recent European tour, in late summer of 2015, included concerts in Scotland, Germany, Romania, Hungary and Switzerland, and we will tour Europe twice in 2016.
We’ve performed several pieces commissioned for us, including works by such composers as Osvaldo Golijov, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Samuel Adams, Jonathan Berger, James Matheson and George Tsontakis.
Of particular significance, John Adams has composed three works for us, two string quartets and a quartet concerto, “Absolute Jest,” which was written for the SLSQ, the San Francisco Symphony and the SF Symphony’s music director Michael Tilson Thomas.
We’ve performed “Absolute Jest” on several national and international tours with the San Francisco Symphony, as well as with the London Symphony, the Toronto Symphony, and the New World Symphony. Our recording of the work with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas was released this past summer.
We’ve recently embarked on a recording project of the Opus 20 quartets of Haydn, and other recording projects are in development.
Why did you choose to perform two Haydn string quartets to open and close the program, instead of a work by Beethoven, given the Beethoven influences in the String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams?
We often perform programs that begin and end with a Haydn quartet, with a contemporary work (or works) in between. This showcases the great variety and brilliance of Haydn’s gigantic contribution to the quartet repertoire.
It also provides an interesting contrast between the earliest works for quartet and current compositional offerings, stressing the fact that Haydn (below) essentially invented the string quartet and paving the way for other composers to explore creativity in their compositions for quartet.
In truth, we do often program Beethoven (below) with the Second String Quartet by Adams. For this program, I think the Adams/Haydn juxtaposition will be a meaningful comment on the evolution of quartet writing, from the early years to works of the present.
As an exercise in compare and contrast programming, what would you like the public to know about the “Joke” and “Emperor” Quartets by Haydn? About Haydn’s music in general?
Haydn’s “Joke” Quartet, from his Op. 33 set, is, as you might guess, filled with humor and wit. The quartet is actually quite straightforward structurally, filled with robust and positive energy and simple, appealing melodies. It’s a compact work, inviting and charming.
The “Emperor” Quartet, from the Op. 76 set, comes from a later period of Haydn’s compositions, and it is a work of considerable length and weight. This quartet shows a natural link to Beethoven in its duration, dynamic contrast, emotional range, and overall musical substance. (You can hear Haydn’s “Emperor” Quartet performed, analyzed and discussed by the St. Lawrence Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
Of significant note, the “Emperor” is named thusly for the second movement, a theme and variations based on the tune Haydn (below) originally wrote for the Emperor Francis of Austria as a sort of national anthem.
What should readers know about the String Quartet No. 2 by John Adams (below)? How is it similar to or different from his other works that the public knows such as “Nixon in China,” “The Death of Klinghoffer,” “Doctor Atomic” “Harmonielehre” and “On the Transmigration of Souls”? Will this performance be the Midwest premiere? Will you record the quartet?
John Adams’s Second String Quartet is very strongly based on two motivic ideas from Beethoven’s Op. 110 piano sonata, as well as a variation from Beethoven’s “Diabelli” Variations.
The Beethoven elements are clearly presented in clever and skilled ways, and I think many of them will be evident to the astute listener. Most importantly, John is brilliant in his transformation of the Beethoven quotes, and the piece is very clearly an Adams piece, characterized by driving rhythms, great energy, and a true sense of musical intent and balance.
To get a sense of the piece prior to hearing it, I suggest listening to “Absolute Jest” (our recent recording) – another of John’s pieces inspired by Beethoven and filled with late Beethoven quotes – and the Op. 110 Piano Sonata by Beethoven.
We’ve performed the Second Quartet on several occasions since we premiered it at Stanford University about a year ago, but I do think our Madison performance will be a Midwest premiere. We are currently considering the possibility of recording the work, but specific plans have not yet been made.
What else would you like to say?
We’re thrilled to be returning to Madison after a gap of several years. It’s very exciting to be bringing a program of music by two of our favorite composers, Joseph Haydn and John Adams, and we think contrasting the two will be interesting and enlightening to all.
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos, some at the First Congregational United Church of Christ and some at the Capitol Lakes Retirement Center.
By John W. Barker
Last Friday night, the chamber music ensemble Con Vivo (Music With Life) gave its winter concert at the First Congregational United Church of Christ.
It was a large program of nine relatively short pieces, designed to allow eight members of the group to show off their skills in solos, in duets and in trio pairings.
Participants were: Robert Taylor, clarinet; Cynthia Cameron-Fix, bassoon; Olga Pomolova and Kathryn Taylor, violins; Janse Vincent, viola; Derek Handley, cello; Dan Lyons, piano; and Don DeBruin, organ.
The opening and closing items—Mikhail Glinka’s Trio pathétique and Felix Mendelssohn’s Konzertstück No. 2, combined clarinet and bassoon with piano (below).
A corresponding combination of clarinet, viola and piano (below) was mustered for two of Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces, Op. 83.
In string groupings, two violins (below) played one of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Canonic Sonatas (you can hear an example in a YouTube video at the bottom), and, with piano added, Three Duets by Dmitri Shostakovich.
Violin and viola rendered the Little Suite for Autumn by Peter Schickele (the real person behind “P.D.Q. Bach”).
Franz Danzi’s Duet, Op. 9., No. 1, called for viola and cello (below), while George Crumb’s Sonata was for solo cello.
And, for good measure, there was a duet by Clifford Demarest for piano and organ.
The program was certainly varied. It ranged from deeply diluted pseudo-Copland (Schickele) and unabashedly entertaining trivia (Shostakovich) through Telemann’s contrapuntal wit and Danzi’s artful string contrasts (though too deeply caught up in the viola’s upper register), to the varied colors of winds and piano.
Surely the most striking piece was Crumb’s sonata, a tough work that is not easy listening but provocatively interesting, and was dazzlingly played by Handley.
Rather a throwaway, though, was the Demarest duet, in which the powerful organ sound all but totally overwhelmed the piano.
As it happened, this group gave the same program (less the Demarest) at the Grand Hall of the Capitol Lakes Retirement Center the evening before.
I found it a good opportunity to compare the contributions of differing acoustics to chamber music listening. For such experience, I like to sit very close to the players, and I could do this at the Thursday performance, and in a modestly sized hall with fine acoustics for music.
But the First Congregational Church is a long, deep hall, and I sat about halfway back in it. Its reverberations can add a nice bloom to projected sound, but also some blur.
This was certainly the case where the two wind instruments tended to meld. And when the viola was at the piano, at the back of the chancel, it almost disappeared at times, while other two-string combinations were not always crystal clear.
I have had growing concerns about First Congo as a venue for chamber music, and I should think the Con Vivo folks must think about this. And listeners should, also. Clearly, where you sit for intimate music-making has its effects.
For all that, I enjoyed the group’s program in each setting, and renewed my admiration for their artistry and enterprise.