The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What classical music goes best with the NFL’s Super Bowl 48 football championship today? Plus, University of Wisconsin-Madison singers and instrumentalists movingly celebrate Franz Schubert in death as he was in life – with a “Schubertiade” birthday party.

February 2, 2014
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READER POLL: The Ear wants to know what piece of classical music — if any — goes well with today’s NFL Super Bowl 48 national football championship between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks? Maybe Aram Khachaturian‘s “The Gladiators” from “Spartacus”? Leave your suggestions, with a link to a YouTube video if you can, in the COMMENTS section.

Super Bowl 48

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 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

January 31, 1797 was the birthdate of Franz Schubert (below), who died at only 31 on Nov. 19, 1828. So Friday night, January 31, 2014, was the 217th anniversary of his birth.

Franz Schubert writing

With her opportunity of giving a faculty recital, University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist (and singer) Martha Fischer (below, in a photo by Karin Talbot) decided to do a very Schubertian thing to mark the anniversary: Have a party. (Event photos are by The Ear.)

Martha Fischer color Katrin Talbot

In the last years of his short life, Schubert was sustained socially as well as financially by a devoted circle of friends, drawn from the cultural classes of Vienna in his day. Their spontaneous parties, which they came to call “Schubertiades” (depicted below, with Schubert at the piano, in a painting by Julius Schmid) were lively social gatherings with their focus on Schubert’s latest compositions.

Schubertiade in color by Julius Schmid

Accordingly, backed by her pianist husband, Bill Lutes, Fischer invited a number of colleagues from the UW School of Music to pay tribute to the beloved composer with a facsimile of a Schubertiade,

And so, the stage of Mills Hall (below) was fitted out with a large carpet, a standing floor lamp and circles of chairs welcomed members of the audience, to be close presences to the fun. (Alas, though, no free beer was included!)

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

The constantly shifting lineup of singers involved four voice-faculty members (sopranos Mimmi Fulmer and Elizabeth Hagedorn (below top), tenor James Doing, baritone Paul Rowe) and three graduate students in voice (soprano Sarah Richardson, below bottom on the left), tenor Thomas Leighton (below bottom on the right) and baritone Jordan Wilson).

Schubertiade 2014 Elizabeth Hageborn

Schubertiade 2014 Sarah Richardson  soprano and Thomas Leighton tenor

Assuming her mezzo-soprano hat, Fischer sang two items herself, and she and Lutes rotated as piano accompanists, each demonstrating the talent and skill it takes to be a fine collaborative musician. Both of them tightly controlled the balance between voice and modern concert grand piano, never allowing the piano to drown the singers. And both pianists also matched the moods of the songs and the singers. That’s important because this concert had a lot of high-quality vocal talent, and it must be said that the student singers held their own splendidly with their faculty partners.

When one thinks about it, a great proportion of Schubert’s compositions is social music, meant for parlors and domestic music-making rather than concert situations.

That is most particularly true of his songs, and part-songs, with piano. The program offered 14 songs (with each singer having at least two solo assignments), one duet, and two part songs. The program was divided into two halves, with the general themes of “Night and Dreams” and “Love and Death.” While a couple of the songs were among Schubert’s more familiar ones (like the famous  “Die Forelle or The Trout, below as sung by baritone Jordan Wilson and also heard at the bottom in a YouTube video with baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Gerald Moore) most were chosen artfully from among the less often-heard ones.

Schubertiade 2014 barione Jordan Wilson

Fulmer (below top) was particularly expressive in her two solos. She was, in fact, absolutely gripping in Der Zwerg (The Dwarf), a Gothic-horror scene in which a court dwarf, betrayed by his former lover, the queen, kills her and sails into oblivion. (I unashamedly admit this grim masterpiece, so compellingly designed by Schubert, is one of my favorites among his songs.) James Doing (below bottom) had just the right range of gestures and expressions to make Lachen und Weinen (Laughter and Tears) a casual expression of ironic bafflement.

Schubertiade 2014 Mimmi Fulmer BIG

Schubertiade 2014 James Doing

And Paul Rowe (below) gave Totengräbers Heimweh (Grave-Digger’s Longing) a quality of dark probing into the very prospects of human mortality that Schubert himself was learning to fear when he wrote it. But perhaps it is unfair to single out individual performances, since they were all so lovely.

Scubertiade 2014 Paul Rowe baritone BIG

Each of the program’s two halves had its own instrumental intermezzo.

In the first half, it was the simple but moving Notturno (Nocturne) for violin, cello, and piano (below) — a discarded movement from one of Schubert’s piano trios, in which violin student Alice Bartsch and cello professor Parry Karp joined Fischer in a beautiful performance.

Scubertiade 2014 Notturno

For the second half, the dynamic duo of Fischer and Lutes plunged into the ambitious and late Fantasy in F minor for piano-four hands — surely among the supreme masterpieces of all music for piano duet.

Schubertide 2014 Bil Lutes and Martha Fischer

There was one added song, however, as the finale. All the singers gathered together to sing the sublime An die Musik (To Music), but with the audience invited to join in—sustained by a reproduction of the score on the back of the texts handout — and responded with a standing ovation for all the performers (below).

Schubertiade 2014 standing ovation

This kind of sing-along trick could have been cheap, but in fact it worked beautifully, with many in the audience adding their voices, obviously caught up in the spirit of that most social, most lovable and most astounding of great composers, Franz Schubert.

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Classical music: Critic John W. Barker says Eliza’s Toyes impressively surveyed early British music while exploring the religious shift from Latin Catholicism to English Anglicanism. Plus, acclaimed Italian conductor Claudio Abbado dies at 80.

January 21, 2014
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NEWS: As you have probably heard by now, the acclaimed Italian conductor Claudio Abbado (below) has died at 80. Here are links to some stories about this maestro who had such a varied and prolific career:

The New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/arts/music/claudio-abbado-italian-conductor-dies-at-80.html?_r=0

The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/claudio-abbado-age-italian-conductor-who-led-european-orchestras-into-modern-era/2014/01/20/d23c267c-30f7-11e3-8627-c5d7de0a046b_story.html

Claudio Abbado

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 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

It was a great pity that no more than 25 people turned out at the Gates of Heaven on Sunday afternoon for the latest program offered by Jerry Hui’s early-music group, Eliza’s Toyes (below, inside Gates of Heaven).

His program this time was a post-Christmas survey of English sacred music. The range of material ran from late-Medieval three-voice pieces through composers of the early 17th century, adding up to 13 selections in all.

Toyes in Gates - 2

This is the kind of music most regularly performed by a choir of some or another size, sometimes of mixed voices, sometimes in the British-cathedral style of all-male voices, with boys on the upper parts.

Hui (below) fielded a consort of six singers (three female, three male), so that each item was sung one singer per part — with a couple cases of a little doubling, I believe. While the result favored clarity against sonority, it must be said that, in certain full-textured items, some very lovely sonority was achieved.

Jerry Hui

My principal reservation was that the ordering of the program seemed aimed at a smooth variety of sounds, rather than at a demonstration of the momentous changes in English sacred composition. The key to those changes was the liturgical shift in the Anglican Reformation from motets setting traditional Latin texts to the new anthems with English texts.

The shift could be noted in the dominant composer of the program, the great William Byrd (1540-1623, below), represented by two Latin motets, and then an English anthem. “Sing joyfully”, which served as the dazzling finale (see the YouTube video at the bottom).

William Byrd

Byrd’s teacher, and then partner, Thomas Tallis (below), likewise spanned the reforming shifts, but was heard in one Latin motet, “O scrum convivium”, and a gorgeously harmonized Latin hymn, “O nata lux de lumina”. Earliest in the pre-Reformation lineup was Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521), whose five-voice setting of the Magnificat was in the traditional alternatim setting (odd-numbered verses of the canticle sung in chant, the even-numbered ones set polyphonically).

Thomas Tallis

On the other hand, a poignant victim of the Reformation was Peter Philips (1560-1628, below), a staunch Roman Catholic who fled his homeland for a successful career in Catholic music on the Continent. His five-voice “O beatum et sacrosanctum Deum” made a noble closer to the first part of the program.

Peter Philips

As for the Anglican, English-language composers, besides the case of Byrd, and besides the 15th-century para-liturgal songs, we had a rousing anthem by Christopher Tye (1505-1573, below top), “A sound of angels,” and, finally, a six-voice secular piece, “Music divine”, by the last survivor of the great era of Tudor music, Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656, below bottom).

christopher tye bw small

Thomas Tompkins

The six singers who have been making up Eliza’s Toyes have settled into a beautifully balanced and smooth ensemble. They listen to, and sing in sync with, each other. There is nothing else like them, as a continuing performing group for early sacred ensemble music in Madison. Although he is a UW-Madison graduate who now teaches at University of Wisconsin- Stout, Hui has kept up his association with the group, convinced of its need for continuity.

It is one more of those blessings that make Madison’s musical life so wonderfully rich!

 

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Classical music: John W. Barker recounts his Excellent Adventure about Richard Wagner’s stays in Venice during the opera composer’s bicentennial celebration year.

November 14, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger 

Here is a special posting, a commentary (with his own photos except for the Palazzo) 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 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

At the beginning of September, I had the honor of participating in a two-day conference in Venice, Italy, on that city’s image and traditions, on the strength of my two recent books on opera composer Richard Wagner’s connections with that city.  (Among other things, he died there.)

With a little time to myself, I undertook some quick re-visits to favorite sites in this city I love so much.

Wagner 166 Canal view

In particular, I sought Wagner sites. Wagner loved Venice. Taking advantage of new transportation opportunities developed in his lifetime, he travelled widely. Much was for professional reasons, but he came to enjoy travel, and foreign residences, for pleasure and recuperation.

All such travel was to Italy, and Venice emerged as his favorite city there. He visited it six times. During the first stay, in 1858-59, he composed Act II of “Tristan und Isolde” (see the YouTube video at the bottom) and the sixth, in 1882-83, ended with his death there.

In that final stay, Wagner and his family occupied some 27 rooms that he leased in the mezzanine of the Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi on the upper Grand Canal.

Palazzo Vendramin

That majestic building is now the Casino, Venice’s gambling palace.  But the Associazione Richard Wagner di Venezia, Italy’s primary institute for Wagner studies, has taken over several of the rooms that Wagner used and restored them in period style, complete with some displays of Wagneriana. Guided visits are allowed there, by application, on a very limited schedule. I had visited the rooms a few years ago, but the news that two more were added prompted my desire to return, and a visit was arranged for me and a colleague.

The exhibit rooms now consist of a straight-line string of four chambers, plus a small side cabinet. These had all been reserved for Wagner’s personal use. The photo taken on my last visit shows the second room, looking toward the first.

Wagner sofa

From written sources, I had understood that Wagner had used a single large room, with drapery partitions. This represented what he called his “Blue Grotto,” his personal hideaway for purposes of isolation and work, amid the lavish luxury of the precious fabrics and perfumes that he loved. But the surviving rooms–which I am assured have not been structurally altered–indicate they were separable by doors.

So I conclude that the first room was intended for reception of visitors, the second for his personal work, and the third as his bedchamber, where he had a huge ottoman created for his repose. To that his dying body was transferred on Tuesday afternoon, February 13, 1883, after he collapsed on a sofa, a recreation of which can been seen in that photo, or up close here.

Wagner 119 sofa

The original is now in Wahnfried, the Wagner family home in Bayreuth, Germany.

From the bedroom, the view now extends into the first of two added chambers.

Wagner 123 bedroom

The distant room to be seen (with his portrait on the wall) I take to be the location of his enormous wardrobe.

There have been no signs that Wagner’s ghost haunts these rooms, but for those who love his music there is something quite moving about visiting this place where the composer breathed his last. The ARWV deserves great praise for reviving this milieu for us.

Wagner’s death was unexpected. The fact that it happened in Venice served to complete a picture of the composer’s identification with that city. For, in his own way, Wagner now became assimilated into Venice’s rich traditions. As his music proceeded to acceptance in Italy, so his memory was assiduously cultivated by Venice.  Memorial concerts were held, the anniversary of his death commemorated for decades, and monuments and markers set up. No other foreigner has so many of the latter in Venice as does Wagner.

Among those was a marble bust of the composer, mounted in the Giardini Pubblici, or Public Gardens, at the eastern end of the city.  Unveiled on October 8, 1908, in the 25th anniversary year of Wagner’s death, the monument was largely financed by a wealthy Berlin admirer of the composer’s music, and supported by the resident foreign community of Venice.

Then, on April 24, 1908, adjacent to the Wagner bust, a marble counterpart representing Giuseppe Verdi was unveiled. This monument was apparently a civic commission, and presumably represented a nationalist riposte to the previous year’s attention to a foreign artist.

The two busts are located parallel to each other in a little alcove overlooking the waters of the Lagoon.

Wagner 145 Two Busts

They are so positioned that neither man looks at the other, as if to avoid any recognition of a rival.  Verdi’s expression is one of slight puzzlement, while Wagner gazes imperiously out over Venice’s Bacino, as if in command of it.

Whenever I am in Venice I try to visit this complex, but it had special meaning this time.  For I had heard that the two busts — Wagner is below top, Verdi below bottom — had recently been defaced. Sure enough, on each bust the nose has been smashed off.

Wagner 148 bust

Wagner 152 Verdi bust

Clearly, this was not random vandalism, but a deliberate and carefully executed act of parallel animosity. Just when these defacements occurred, and just who was responsible, I have yet to find out. It is not clear if and when the damages will be repaired–things like that take a long time in Italy.

There are ever so many reasons for one to visit Venice. But, for devout Wagnerians, reminders of the Master’s intense associations with that city are very much to be kept in mind.

They certainly are for me.


Classical music: Early music is now mainstream here, thanks in large part to the Madison Bach Musicians, which opened its 10th anniversary season with a first-rate Baroque string program that drew a big and enthusiastic audience, and demonstrated the importance of live performance.

October 7, 2013
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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 every other Sunday morning on WORT  FM 89.9. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Trevor Stephenson’s Madison Bach Musicians (below, in a photo by John W. Barker) opened their 2013-14 season — which marks the 10th anniversary of the local early music group — with a splendid concert of Baroque string music at the First Unitarian Society’s Atrium Auditorium on Saturday night and then repeated it again on Sunday afternoon at the Madison Christian Community Church on Old Sauk Road.

MBM 10th

I went to the Saturday night performance. As always, the proceedings were prefaced by a talk from founder, director and keyboardist Stephenson (below, in a photo by John W. Barker) in his usual witty and informative style.

MBM 10th pre-concert talk

The rich program proved to be a study in string sounds.  Joining harpsichordist Stephenson, along with cellist Anton TenWolde, were five guest players.

Marilyn McDonald (below) is something of the matriarch of Baroque violin playing and teaching, and two of the other players here have been her students: violinist Kangwon Kim and violist Nathan Giglierano. Two others were Brandi Berry and Mary Perkinson, both skilled players known here.

Marilyn McDonald baroque violin

The program was, to a considerable extent a constant switching of these talented violinists.  A Concerto for Four Violins without Bass was one of those endlessly fascinating experiments by Georg Philipp Telemann, complete with a finale of fanfares.

Two chamber works by George Frideric Handel (below top) graced separate parts of the program.  A Sonata for Violin and Continuo featured the amazingly deft McDonald, with the continuo pair.  And a Trio Sonata, Op. 2, No. 9, joined her with the spirited Kim.  A Sonata for Two Violins by Jean-Marie Leclair (below, bottom) brought together Berry and Kim.

Handel etching

Jean-Marie Leclair

The first half concluded with a revitalized warhorse: the notorious Canon in D by Johann Pachelbel, reclaimed from all its stupid arrangements, and restored as a contrapuntal delight for three violins with continuo, as well as reunited with its brief concluding Gigue.  Perkinson joined McDonald and Berry for this.

johann pachelbel

Here, I must say, I found another example of how attending a live performance makes all the difference.  Watching the players in person, I could follow how leading lines were transferred in turn, canonically, from one violin to another, with a clarity that no recorded performance could allow.

MBM 10th 3 before Handel

In the second half, after Handel’s Trio Sonata, Stephenson himself played on the harpsichord the final Contrapunctus or fugue from Johann Sebastian Bach’s “The Art of Fugue.”  Along the way in this, Bach (below) introduced the motto of his own name, made up of the German musical notes of B, A, C, B-flat (“H” in German notation).  And then the piece trails off abruptly where, story has it, Bach dropped his pen forever.

Bach1

The grand finale was a truly exhilarating performance of the Concerto in A minor for Two Violins, Strings, and Continuo, No. 8 by Antonio Vivaldi (below and in a popular YouTube video with over 3 million hits at the bottom) and included in his Op. 3 publication.  (Bach himself so admired this work that he made a keyboard concerto transcription of it.)

vivaldi

Here again, too, I had one of those moments of insight that live performances alone can give.

The players were arrayed, one to a part, with the cello by its harpsichord continuo partner on the far left, the strings then spread out towards the right. The violist Giglierano, in his only appearance, was furthest on the edge.

That isolation from the cello–which really belongs to the continuo, not to the string band–was telling, for it enabled me to appreciate how Vivaldi used the viola as the lowest voice in what is really three-part string writing.  This was notably obvious in the middle movement, which was written almost entirely senza basso (without bass).  Again, such awareness can come only from a live performance, rather than a recorded one.

It goes without saying that all the performers played with the highest level of skill and stylistic sense, joined with infectious enthusiasm.

MBM concerts used to be held in the lovely intimacy of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below top) on Regent Street.  Now, they can virtually fill the First Unitarian Society’s Atrium (below bottom), in a photo by Zane Williams) with an audience close to 200 –and a very enthusiastic bunch, at that.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

Thirty years ago a concert like this would have been inconceivable.  The Madison public was just not as aware and as prepared and as receptive as it has come to be by now.  Stephenson and his colleagues in the Madison Bach Musicians are one of the major forces that have brought about that process.  How much we owe them!


Classical music: Let us now praise University of Wisconsin conductor James Smith and the marvels he achieves with student orchestras. Plus, the UW Chamber Orchestra performs a FREE concert tonight of music by Schumann, Haydn and Wagner.

October 1, 2013
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REMINDER: At 7:30 p.m. tonight in Mills Hall, the UW Chamber Orchestra (below) under conductor James Smith performs a FREE concert. The program features the “Overture, Scherzo, and Finale” by Robert Schumann; the Symphony No. 88 by Franz Joseph Haydn and the “Siegfried Idyll” by Richard Wagner.  

UW Chamber Orchestra low res

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 every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Last weekend witnessed the acclaim justly given to John DeMain for what he has built the Madison Symphony Orchestra into during his 20 years with it.  But on Sunday evening, there was a demonstration of the debt we owe to another conductor and his orchestra.

James Smith (below) has built his orchestral programs for the UW School of Music into something quire remarkable in their own terms.  Evidence of this was on display at Sunday night’s concert in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.  A considerable, if hardly capacity audience, but an enthusiastic one, heard the 2013 season opening event for the UW Symphony Orchestra, in a really meaty program, to say the least.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

To begin, Smith yielded the podium to Kyle Knox (below), a graduate student and conducting assistant, for Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture.  His was a young man’s projection of the familiar piece, not without nuances, but basically a propulsive and dramatic reading.  The orchestra sounded confident and secure under his baton.

Kyle Knox 2

Smith then took over for a work of special appeal for me: the Third Symphony of Jean Sibelius.

For most of the public, it is the First, Second, and Fifth of Sibelius’s seven Symphonies that are likely to be familiar.  Beyond those, some may know the austere Fourth, the enigmatic Sixth and the hyper-concise Seventh.  But the Third has been overlooked consistently, which is a great pity.

The symphonies by Sibelius (below) are each highly individual and different from each other–with the exception of the Third and the Fifth.  They are really two peas from the same pod, and, to be blunt, the Third is the fresher (and less hackneyed) of the two.

Its three-movement structure is for the most part a blueprint Sibelius then used for the Fifth.  But, following the blowsy Second, I find that the Third has the spontaneity of a new and revitalized start in the composer’s self-definition.  Quite frankly, it is my personal favorite among the Seven.

Smith seemed to find exactly that freshness in the work.  His body language showed that he put himself wholly into projecting this inventive and colorful score.  If only other conductors had his courage and gave this work more exposure!

sibelius

The “biggie” of the concert was, of course, what followed the intermission.  We have been rediscovering this year just how provocative and shocking Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps, or “The Rite of Spring,, can still be. When new, the work Stravnsky (below) was regarded by many musicians as unplayable.  Now, any orchestra worth its salt can take it on — even a “student” orchestra.

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

But the UW Orchestra (below in a photo by John W. Barker) is no mere ”student” ensemble. James Smith has worked it up to a level of professionalism matching the standards and capabilities of ever so many big-city orchestras today.  Oh, sure, a few very trifling and inconsequential fluffs at odd instants here and there, what any orchestra might risk. But this group has become an instrument on which Smith could play miracles.  The players were totally with him, while his clear heat and precise cues gave them safe guidance.

UW Symhony Orchestra 2013 CR John W. Barker

Smith seemed to aim at an emphasis on rhythmic power, though he found passages to remind us of the work’s underlying Russian-ness amid all the “primitivism.”  In his careful preparation of the many climaxes, he had his orchestra pour out torrents of sound that were extraordinarily compelling.

There were many individual players one might single out.  For me, though, I found most fascinating the first of the two timpanists, a young woman who threw herself into her work with athletic abandon.

To sum up, this was a simply thrilling performance, within a totally wonderful concert.

It is a crying shame that the tightly limited attention paid by our journalistic establishment to Madison’s musical riches is so particularly restrictive in its recognition of the music-making available on campus. In any other place and circumstance, to have an orchestra and conductor such as the UW School of Music has blessed us with would be celebrated with due pride and attention.

But Madison’s audiences really should pay heed to what is being done on the UW campus.

Above all, it should give proper recognition to the wonderful work of the versatile James Smith (below in a photo by Jack Burns) with his various orchestra ensembles, which include the UW Symphony Orchestra, the UW Chamber Orchestra (which performs a FREE concert of Schumann, Haydn and Wagner tonight at 7:30 in Mills Hall) and the University Opera. (Smith is also the music director of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras.)

James Smith cond Jack Burns

I recall an incident when a local politician sneered: “Why should a university have a symphony orchestra?”  To which the logical rejoinder might be: “Why should a university have a football team?”


Classical music Q&A: University of Wisconsin conductor James Smith discusses the program of Beethoven, Stravinsky and Sibelius that the UW Symphony Orchestra will perform at a FREE concert this Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Also, UW soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn will sing Mahler songs in a FREE concert Thursday afternoon at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, plus a WORT-FM show on Thursday morning highlights the Madison Symphony Orchestra and its music director John DeMain.

September 25, 2013
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TWO ALERTS: On this Thursday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, UW-Madison dramatic soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn (below) —  filling in for soprano Julia Faulkner, who is on a leave-of-absence this academic year — will make her local debut. The FREE concert features her singing Gustav Mahler‘s moving “Rueckert Songs” with UW pianist Martha Fischer. It is part of the Wisconsin Science Festival that combines science lectures and live classical music  in the SoundWaves program that is organized and directed by UW horn professor Daniel Grabois. For more information, visit the outstanding “Fanfare” blog at the UW School of Music: Here is a link:

 http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/soundwaves9-26-2013/

And here are links to more stories about Elizabeth Hagedorn:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/classical-music-wisconsin-born-and-vienna-based-dramatic-soprano-elizabeth-hagedorn-will-replace-julia-faulkner-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-for-the-next-school-year-but-faulkners/

http://uwmadisonschoolofmusic.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/hagedorn/

Elizabeth Hagedorn 1

ALSO: Blog friend and radio host Rich Samuels (below) writes: “On this Thursday morning, Sept. 26, beginning at 7:08 a.m. on my weekly show “Anything Goes” that is broadcast from 5-8 a.m. on WORT 89.9 FM. I’ll be airing an interview I recently recorded with the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s music director John DeMain (the MSO’s 2013-2914 concert season begins, of course, on this Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon.

“Maestro DeMain talks about his transition from the Houston Grand Opera to the Madison Symphony Orchestra and about the artistic state of the orchestra as he begins his 20th season on the podium.

“Music for the segment will include selections from DeMain’s 1996 Grammy award-winning recording the Houston Grand Opera made when its production of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” was playing Broadway.

“Half the segment deals with the upcoming season and some of the younger soloists who will be heard between now and next May. We’ll hear performances by Norwegian trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth, violinist Augustin Hadelich, soprano Emily Birsan and the young Madison pianist Garrick Olsen (not to be confused with pianist Garrick Ohlsson).”

Rich Samuels

By Jacob Stockinger

This is the week of orchestral season debuts. Yesterday, The Ear spotlighted the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s concerts this weekend.

But at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on this Sunday evening — on what The Ear calls “Symphony Sunday” with performances by the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the UW Symphony Orchestra and the Edgewood College Chamber Orchestra — the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform a FREE concert under its longtime director James Smith, who also directs the UW Chamber Orchestra and is the music director of University Opera.

Smith recently granted The Ear an email Q&A about the concert:

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

You programmed “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky (below) because this is the centennial year of its world premiere. How important is that work in the symphonic repertoire and to music history in general?

It is often cited as a landmark work in all respects.  Several faculty members mentioned that we ought to perform it so that the students can appreciate its impact.  At the time, 1913, the harmonies, the savage rhythms and the choreography were all quite jolting to the Paris audiences.

Right from the start, the bassoon explores a new range for the instrument as it sets the stage for the pagan ritual ahead.

Igor Stravinsky young with score 2

How challenging technically is the “Rite of Spring” in general to perform but especially for UW undergraduate students? What makes it such a difficult work?

It is difficult on all levels: rhythmic, technical and tessitura (the comfort range of notes for a specific kind of voice or instrument).. We have performed works by Bohuslav Martinu, Alban Berg, Anton Webern and Gustav Mahler who also posed special difficulties. The students are working very hard outside of the rehearsals so that we can all experience this exciting work. (Below is a photo of the UW Symphony Orchestra performing with the UW Choral Union plus a link to a video by Kathy Esposito, concert manager and public relations director at the UW School of Music, of the UW Symphony Orchestra and conductor James Smith rehearsing “The Rite of Spring” that Esposito posted on Facebook.)

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=632954003411618

UW Symphony w choral-union2

Why did you choose the “Egmont” Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven to go with this program? Are there special thematic or pedagogical reasons?

Simple answer:  It is a great way to start a program, and an opportunity for my graduate assistant to be introduced to the audience.  His name is Kyle Knox (below).  He is also an accomplished clarinetist who is the assistant principal clarinetist of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Kyle Knox

The Third Symphony is not one of the most famous or popular symphonies by Jean Sibelius (below). Why did you choose to program it and what should audience members listen for or pay attention to?

Good question. After the rather romantic and somewhat conventional First and Second Symphonies, the Third Symphony loses much of the bombast and announces a more austere and restless path. As my teacher one commented, Sibelius became more and more “north” in style and mood: austere and quixotic. (The first movement can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom as performed by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic.)

sibelius


Classical music: This Thursday is a good day to hear local musicians Trevor Stephenson, Token Creek Festival participant Robert Levin and members of the Karp Family perform music and do interviews on the radio. Plus, Trevor Stephenson will offer a course this fall at his home studio about the keyboard music of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti.

August 28, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has heard from two loyal readers and friends – period keyboardist Trevor Stephenson and the WORT FM radio host Rich Samuels about events that will take place on the airwaves this Thursday morning and noon.

WORT-FM 89.9

Rich Samuels (below), who hosts the weekly classical radio program “Anything Goes” from 5 to 8 a.m. on WORT FM 89.9 and who records and emphasizes local music and local musicians, writes:

Rich Samuels WORT use this

“This Thursday morning, Aug. 29, starting at 30 seconds past 7:07 to about 7:45 a.m., I’ll be airing (on WORT 89.9) a recut of an interview I recorded last August with Howard, Frances, Parry, Ariana and Isabel Karp in anticipation of the 36th FREE annual Karp Family Labor Day Concert on Monday, Sept. 2, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. (As you recall, that same concert last year was cancelled on account of Illness).

karps 2008 - 13

“Recorded music for this segment includes recordings of Howard and Parry performing the final movement of John Ireland’s Sonata in G minor for Piano and Violin (adapted for violin and cello); Howard and Frances Karp playing Antonin Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance in E minor Op. 72, No. 2, for piano, four hands version; and Joel Hoffman’s “Karptet” (featuring Frances Karp, Howard Karp, Christopher Karp, Parry Karp and Katrin Talbot).”

The program this year includes Pro Arte Quartet violinist Suzanne Beia plus the above Karp family members. The program includes: the Sonata in G minor, Op. 2 No. 8 for Two Cellos and Piano (ca. 1719) by George Frideric Handel (below in a YouTube video); “
November 19, 1828” for Piano and String Trio (1988) by John Harbison
; Sonata in D major for Piano and Cello, Op. 102, No. 2 (1815) by Ludwig van Beethoven
; and music and dramatic excerpts from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Op. 61, with incidental music by Felix Mendelssohn. Notes about the concert will be featured on this blog on Friday. (Below are daughter Ariana Karp and father Parry Karp at the Labor Day family concert in 2011.)

Ariana and Parry Karp 2011

Adds Samuels: The Karp segment runs 37 minutes and 43 second. The show concludes with a recording John Harbison gave me from last year’s Token Creek Chamber Music Festival: the first movement of Mozart’s Concerto in D Major for Piano and Orchestra K. 537 in a chamber arrangement featuring some pretty amazing improvising by Harvard University pianist Robert Levin (below) who will perform some of his Mozart completions this coming weekend at the Token Creek Festival. Other instrumentalists are Heidi Braun-Hill and Rose Mary Harbison (violins), John Harbison (viola) and Rhonda Rider (cello).

Token Creek 2011 Robert Levin

WERN 88.7 FM

Another fan and friend, Trevor Stephenson (below) writes:

On Thursday, August 29, l will be playing fortepiano live on Wisconsin Public Radio’s (88.7 FM) “Midday” program, hosted by Norman Gilliland.

I’ll play selections by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, and Norman will interview me about the all things fortepiano: How and why it came about in the 18th century? How its construction (thinner wire, leather hammers, all wooden frame, etc.) facilitates playing of Classical-era repertoire?

Trevor Stephenson marking scores

I’ll talk about why the fortepiano is particularly theatrical, affectively polarized really — from its giddy, fizzy, articulate highs, to its moody, menacing, growling lows. Wisconsin Public Television will also be filming the broadcast and that will air on WPT later in the year.

HousemusicStephensonfortepianoaction

Also, this Fall — on Monday evenings from October 14 through November 18 — I’m offering a course on the keyboard music of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti. I’ll discuss the stylistic similarities and divergences of these three masters — all born in 1685 — and will also examine how each composer integrated elements of various national styles (French, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Hungarian . . .) to form their own personal compositional voice.

I’ll talk about each composer’s life and personality as well as the social circles within which they moved. I’ll also discuss and demonstrate—at both the harpsichord and piano — approaches to performing their music and we will look into elements of performance such as fingering, tempo, rubato, articulation, voicing, instruments, and the ever-elusive yet oh-so-important Affect, or interpretation, or feeling for the moment at hand!

Here is some of the specific repertoire we’ll look at: 
Johann Sebastian Bach – English Suite in G minor, “Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother,” “Art of Fugue” Contrapunctus XIX (ending with the B-A-C-H fugue), the C major Prelude and Fugue from Book I and Book II of “The Well-Tempered Clavier to compare them; George Frideric Handel – Suite in E major (which concludes with the “Harmonious Blacksmith” variations), Gavotte in G major, Suite in D minor (which includes the famous Sarabande), Impertinence, Allegro in G major; Domenico 
Scarlatti – Sonatas: K. 238 and 239 both in F minor, K. 159 in C major, K. 9 in D minor “Pastorale,” and K. 380 in E major.

The course is geared for those people with a reading knowledge of music. The classes will be given at my home studio from 7-8:30 p.m. on the following Monday evenings: October 14, 21, Nov. 4, 11, 18. My home studio (below during a “house concert”) is at 5729 Forsythia Place, Madison, WI 53705. Enrollment for the course is $180. Please let me know by September 15 if you’d like to attend. Contact me at www.trevorstephenson.com or by calling (608) 238-6092.

Schubert house concert

The Madison Bach Musicians 2013-14 season is now posted and tickets are available! This is our 10th season! Opening concert is October 5.
 See www.madisonbachmusicians.org Sign up and more details will com by email in a couple of days.


Classical music: The last FREE Dane County Farmer’s Market organ concert of this summer – sponsored by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Overture Center — will take place this coming Saturday morning, Aug. 17, at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall. Plus, Black Marigold Quintet will be featured on WORT-FM Thursday morning.

August 14, 2013
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ALERT: Radio programmer and host as well as blog friend Rich Samuels writes: “In anticipation of the upcoming concerts by Black Marigold Woodwind Quintet (below) at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and the Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, I’ll be airing, at 7:28 a.m. this Thursday morning, during my 5- 8 a.m. program “Anything Goes” on WORT-FM 89.9, their April 13 performance at Grace Episcopal Church (recorded by Bruce Kasprzyk) of Robert Muczynski‘s Quintet for Winds. The concerts will include arrangements of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” which is 100 years old this year.” Details of the concerts were included in a blog post here yesterday. 

Black Marigold

By Jacob Stockinger

A FREE performance on the Overture Concert Organ (below) will be co-presented by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Overture Center for the Arts during the Dane County Farmers’ Market on this upcoming Saturday, Aug. 17, at 11 a.m. at Overture Hall, 201 State Street.

Overture Concert Organ overview

No tickets or reservations are needed for the 45-minute concert featuring Sam Hutchison and 14-year-old newcomer Adrian Binkley.

The two will play Johann Sebastian Bach’s Third Movement from the Sonata in E-Flat Major BWV 525 (heard in a YouTube video at the bottom), Sir Edward Elgar’s “Imperial March,” Sir Arthur Sullivan’s “The Lost Chord,” Ennio Morricone’s “Gabriel’s Oboe” and the Prayer to Our Lady and Toccata movements from Leon Boëllmann’s “Gothic Suite.” A complete list of Overture Concert Organ performances is at www.madisonsymphony.org/organperformances .

Audiences will hear the debut of a young rising star from Waunakee, Wisconsin. Fourteen-year-old organist Adrian Binkley (below top) is a student of MSO Principal Organist Samuel Hutchison (below bottom, in a photo by Joe DeMaio). Binkley is already an experienced recital artist and plans to study organ performance at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan this fall. Both Binkley and Samuel Hutchison will perform at this concert.

Adrian Binkley

Samuel Hutchison (c) Joe DeMaio

The Free Farmers’ Market Concerts are generously sponsored by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation and are presented in partnership with 77 Square. Support for all Overture Concert Organ programs is provided by the Diane Endres Ballweg Fund with additional support from Friends of the Overture Concert Organ.

With a gift from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation, the Madison Symphony Orchestra commissioned the Overture Concert Organ, which is the stunning backdrop of all MSO concerts. As curator for the instrument, Samuel Hutchison is responsible for organ programming and education events. In addition to the Free Farmers’ Market Concerts, the instrument is featured in the MSO Christmas and April 2014 concerts along with three Free Community Hymn Sings and a Christmas Carol Sing.

Subscribers to the 2013-14 Overture Concert Organ season receive a 25% discount. To subscribe visit

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/organseason


Classical music: Radio station WORT FM will air music and interviews by local composers Jerry Hui and John Harbison starting this Thursday morning. Plus, tonight at 7 the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra opens its 30th annual Concerts on the Square.

June 26, 2013
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ALERT: Tonight, at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square downtown, is the opening the 30th annual series of Concerts on the Square (below top) by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Although most of the programs for the next  six Wednesdays (rain dates are Thursdays)  feature mostly pop, folk and rock music, tonight’s is an all-classical program with the student violinist David Cao (below bottom), who won this year’s WCO concerto competition for young people. He will solo in the tuneful and irresistible Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (the opening with Janine Jansen is in a YouTube video at the bottom). Also featured are works by Prokofiev (“Peter and the Wolf”), Tchaikovsky (excerpts from “Sleeping Beauty”)  and Respighi. For more information about tonight’s event and all six Concerts on the Square, use this link:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/concerts-on-the-square/

Concerts on Square WCO orchetsra

David Cao WCO

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s good friend Rich Samuels (below), who loves classical music and hosts his weekly radio show “Anything Goes” every Thursday morning from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. on the community-sponsored radio station WORT-FM (89.9) writes:

“I’ll be broadcasting Madison composer Jerry Hui’s Internet opera “Wired for Love” on my show in two segments: Acts I and II (beginning at 7:08 am) on June 27; the final act will begin at 7:08 on July 4. I’m airing the work in two segments on account of its length. I also want it to air during the 7 a.m. hour when more people are able to listen.

Rich Samuels

“Pre-recorded interviews with Jerry  – who wrote and staged the opera (below) as his Doctor of Musical Arts thesis at the UW-Madison School of Music — will be included on both dates.

Wired for Love 1 P1000703

“It will be interesting to see what Jerry Hui — below — comes up with for the next Madison Area Youth Chamber orchestra (MAYCO) concert on Aug. 9.

Jerry Hui

“On July 11, I’ll be airing a pre-recorded interview with the Pulitzer Prize-winning and MacArthur Fellow or “genius” grant-winning composer and Token Creek Chamber Music Festival co-director John Harbison (below).

“I will also play a recording of his “Remembering Gatsby,” a precursor of his opera based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A concert version of “The Great Gatsby,” which was commissioned and premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, will be performed at Tanglewood that same evening.”

“I’ll be programing lots more Harbison in weeks to come. He turns 75 at the end of the year.

JohnHarbisonatpiano


Classical music: If you missed radio host Rich Samuels’ outstanding local tribute to J.S. Bach’s 328th birthday, you can now listen to the Madison performers on his website. Plus, he will record the FREE concert this Saturday at noon by the wind quintet Black Marigold.

April 12, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Some weeks ago, in mid-March, radio host Rich Samuels spent two of the three hours of his 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. Thursday show “Anything Goes” on WORT (89.9 FM) doing a birthday tribute to Johann Sebastian Bach (below). It was broadcast on the air and also streamed via the Internet and WORT’s home website.

Bach1

Samuels, an amiable and discerning transplanted Chicago journalist and broadcaster, went around to various local players and recorded performances of Bach as well as brief interviews that asked the performers to discuss Bach.

Rich Samuels WORT use this

Here is a link to my major mention and preview of it:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/03/19/classical-music-celebrate-the-328th-birthday-of-johann-sebastian-bach-this-thursday-morning-from-5-a-m-to-8-a-m-with-radio-host-rich-samuels-and-many-local-performers-on-wort-89-9-fm-radio/

It was a perfect substitute for the much liked Bach Around the Clock celebration of The Master’s 328th birthday that Wisconsin Public Radio cancelled (a poster for the last one is below) after its music director Cheryl Dring left for Texas.

BATC 3 2012 logo

At the time, Samuels promised that he would work to post the local performances on his website.

And now he has made good on that promise.

Here is a link along with a message from Samuels:

“Audio of the specially recorded Bach birthday segments from my March 21st WORT show are now on my website at

www.richsamuels.com/bach

“Featured in the performances are Rachel Eve Holmes, Kostas Tiliakos, Thomas Kasdorf, Bruce Bengston, Trevor Stephenson (below top), Karlos Moser, Renee Farley, Tim Farley, Shannon Farley, Greg Punswick, Kathy Otterson (below bottom), Cindy Whip, Michael Keller, Tim Adrianson, Dennis Simonson and Pete Ross.

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

Kathleen Otterson 2

“Thanks again for your mentioning this effort, which encouraged the ensuing performances.

“My next recording effort will be of the FREE concert by Black Marigold (below) this Saturday at noon at Grace Episcopal Church on Capital Square. Just to be clear: I’ll be acquiring a recording of Saturday’s Black Marigold concert, not making my own.  I’m not certain when that will air.”

Black Marigold 2


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