The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Should the Madison Symphony Orchestra return to a traditional Opening Gala concert with a guest soloist and big pieces, and move the all-orchestra concert to a later date?

October 28, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

You can’t blame longtime music director and conductor John DeMain (below, in a photo by Peter Rodgers) for wanting to put the spotlight on the players of the Madison Symphony Orchestra that he has built up over nearly 25 years.

After all, the orchestra members play well and respond superbly to DeMain’s direction, no matter what you might think of his programming and interpretations. He is proud of them with good reason.

So The Ear can easily understand why for the past few years DeMain has chosen to use an all-orchestra concert, with its principals taking the place of guest soloists, to open the season.

Yet DeMain also likes to emphasize the challenges he faces in selling tickets, filling seats and keeping the MSO a commercially successful orchestra.

The Ear noticed that this year, the all-orchestra opening concert of works by Bach-Stokowski, Mendelssohn and Berlioz, with principal violist Christopher Dozoryst as soloist, seemed to draw a smaller and less enthusiastic audience than the second concert did last weekend.

That second concert included the “Mother Goose” Suite by Ravel, the surefire “New World” Symphony by Dvorak and the Piano Concerto by Samuel Barber with guest pianist Olga Kern (below). The audience wildly cheered her and her flashy, virtuosic playing until it received an encore (the Prokofiev etude heard in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

So the question came to The Ear:

Should the MSO return to a traditional Gala Opening, with a surefire program and a high-profile guest soloist, and leave the all-orchestra concert until the second concert of the season?

The Ear checked out what other orchestras do.

This year, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra opened with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. The Los Angeles Philharmonic opened with a gala program that featured pianists Yuja Wang and Jean-Yves Thibaudet teaming up in an all-Mozart program. The San Francisco Orchestra featured superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

The Philadelphia Orchestra programmed pianist Emanuel Ax and the music of Beethoven, Brahms and Leonard Bernstein, whose centennial is being celebrated this season. The Boston Symphony Orchestra opened with Frederica von Stade, plus other singers, in an all-Bernstein program.

True, the Sheboygan Symphony also used the all-orchestra opener, and The Ear is sure there are many other orchestras, including some prominent ones, that do the same.

But it got The Ear to wondering. So he asked some other loyal MSO fans what they thought about returning to a traditional Gala Opening – one that announces to potential subscribers that great soloists will be featured during the season – and then moving the all-orchestra concert to a different date.

All the people he spoke to agreed that such a move would probably draw bigger audiences and capture the public’s attention better. One loyal patron even said that by going to the all-orchestra opening, the MSO (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) was “just being cheap.”

Plans are probably already being made for next season, so it is likely too late to make any changes that soon.

But what about the 2018-19 season?

What do you think?

Should the Madison Symphony Orchestra return to a traditional Gala Opening that features big-name soloists and well-known pieces?

Should it move the all-orchestra concert with principal soloists to, say, the second concert of the season?

Or should things stay the way they are?

Which way do you think would be more commercially successful and sell more seats for that concert and for the rest of the season?

And which way would be more artistically satisfying?

The Ear wants to hear.

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Classical music: What composers and what pieces give you shelter and sanctuary during troubled times?

October 1, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

A week ago, The Ear went to the inspired all-Mozart program given by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet with guest cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau (below center) and guest clarinetist Alicia Lee (below right), who was making her debut as a new UW faculty member.

He expected a fine performance and he was not disappointed. Indeed, he shares the same very positive reactions that critic John W. Barker expressed in his review for this blog. Here is a link to that review:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/09/30/classical-music-uws-pro-arte-quartet-and-new-uw-clarinet-professor-alicia-lee-perform-a-sublime-all-mozart-program/

But something else happened too.

The sublime music of Mozart (below) – especially the Larghetto slow second movement of the late Clarinet Quintet, K. 581, but also the other movements and the String Quartet in G Major, K. 387 -– took The Ear into another world, into a parenthesis in time.

(You can hear a live performance in Japan by Yo-Yo Ma and others in the Larghetto movement, plus the rest of the Clarinet Quintet, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

For a brief time – perhaps a total of about 80 or 90 minutes – The Ear was totally transported. He temporarily blocked out the political strife in Washington, D.C. and the Trump White House; the government turmoil here in Madison and around the world; and  the terrible, deadly natural disasters of floods, hurricanes and wildfires in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe.

He just let the transcendent music and the performances wash over him, refreshing him with their beauty before he reemerged onto the street and into the painful reality of current events after the concert ended.

So The Ear offers a deeply felt thank you to the performers for planning and playing such a timely and therapeutic program. He needed that more than he knew. And he hopes more such concerts are in store. The times demand such balm, not as escapism but as a reminder of great good things that endure.

So here is The Ear’s question: What other composers and what other pieces or works do you find offer the same kind of sanctuary or shelter?

Leave a COMMENT with a link to a performance on YouTube if possible.


Classical music: Madison composer Scott Gendel discusses the new piece he wrote to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It receives its world premiere this coming Sunday afternoon and Monday night in Spring Green

August 3, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

As The Ear posted yesterday, this coming Sunday afternoon and Monday night will see a special commemorative concert at the Hillside Theater of the Taliesin compound in Spring Green.

It will mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright (below).

Here is a link to an overview with more details about the concerts and program:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/08/02/classical-music-the-150th-anniversary-of-architect-frank-lloyd-wrights-birth-will-be-celebrated-with-two-concerts-on-this-coming-sunday-afternoon-and-monday-night-in-spring-green-they-featu/

Certainly the standout piece will be the world premiere of a work for chorus, string quartet and piano, commissioned by Taliesin from Scott Gendel, a Madison-based composer who studied at the UW-Madison.

Gendel recently commented on his work:

“When I first heard about this opportunity to write a musical work in honor of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 150th birthday, I had a lot of grandiose ideas about big architectural music, music that would be huge in sound and concept.

“But when Taliesin Director of Music Effi Casey (below top) took me on a tour of the house and the grounds (below bottom), what struck me more than anything else was the beautiful intimacy of the spaces, the way in which every room was designed to draw you in closer.

“And then when I learned of the Taliesin Community Chorus and their love of singing together to create community, I knew “That Which Is Near” was going to take a different direction than I’d originally thought, and really become a piece about intimacy and connections between people.

““Some Flowers For Frank Lloyd Wright” by Hendrik Theodorus Wijdeveld (below) felt like the perfect text to use for such a piece. It’s stunning in its descriptions of Wright’s work, but also has a charming sweetness about it, the way he’s just offering “some flowers” rather than a huge extravagant gift.

“And so “That Which Is Near” is two things at once: First, it’s a celebration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s incredibly masterful work, and how wonderfully persistent and evergreen that work still is, 150 years after his birth.

“But second, it’s a celebration of the community at Taliesin, and the ways in which the place brings people together and fosters human connection.”

ABOUT  SCOTT GENDEL

Here are some impressive biographical details about Gendel (bel0w):

Scott Gendel is a composer, vocal coach, theatrical music director and pianist living in Madison, Wisconsin. As a composer, his music has a wide-ranging scope, but Scott is particularly fond of all things vocal, and of the artistry of the human voice in all its forms. As a performing musician, Scott collaborates on vocal recitals around the country, and is the official pianist and vocal coach for Madison Opera.

Recently, he recorded his piece “At Last” with soprano Camille Zamora and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as part of “An AIDS Quilt Songbook: Sing For Hope,” a recording released on Naxos Records and GPR, benefiting amfAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. (You can hear “At Last” in the YouTube video at there bottom.)

Last year, his song “Advice to Those Like Me, With Hearts Like Kindling” was premiered by soprano Melody Moore in her Carnegie Hall debut recital.

This spring, Gendel’s choral-orchestral oratorio “Barbara Allen,” based on the traditional Appalachian folk song, was premiered by the Santa Clara Chorale and San Jose Chamber Orchestra.

In 2005, the same year he received his doctoral degree from UW-Madison, Gendel was awarded first prize in the ASCAP/Lotte Lehmann Foundation Song Cycle Competition, a juried national award in its inaugural year.

More recently Scott was the second prize winner of the 2016 NATS Art Song Composition Award, and winner of the 2017 Ortus International New Music Competition.

His music is published by Classical Vocal Reprints, ECS Publishing, and the Tuba/Euphonium Press. His art songs have been recorded on Albany Records, GPR Records and Naxos.

Upcoming commissions include the original opera “Super Storm!” for Opera for the Young’s 2018-2019 season, which will be performed in nearly 200 schools around the Midwest; and a song cycle for soprano, cello and piano on the poetry of Emily Dickinson, to be premiered and recorded in her hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts by UW-trained soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below), cellist Karl Knapp and the composer at the piano.

Gendel will also perform some of his art songs with soprano Emily Birsan (below), another UW-Madison graduate who also attended classes and sang at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, at the Friday night concert, Aug. 11, of the Madison New Music Festival.

Go to http://www.scottgendel.com for more information.


Classical music: Starting this Friday, the Madison Early Music Festival will devote a week to exploring familiar and unfamiliar Iberian music during the age of Cervantes. Part 1 of 2

July 2, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Friday, when the Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) starts its week-long exploration of Iberian music during the Renaissance Age of novelist Miguel de Cervantes (below) and his pioneering novel “Don Quixote,” much will be familiar but much will also be new.

To provide a look at what to expect, the longtime co-artistic directors of the festival – wife-and-husband singers soprano Cheryl Bensman Rowe and baritone Paul Rowe (below) – provided the following overview through an email Q&A with The Ear.

All-festival passes are $90 and tickets to individual concerts cost $20, $10 for students.

Click here to buy online, call 608-265-ARTS (2787), or visit the Campus Arts Ticket Box Offices in Memorial Union or Vilas Hall (click here for hours).

(Note: All MEMF Concert Series concerts and lectures are free for participants in the MEMF Workshop. There is a $4 transaction fee per ticket when purchasing online or by phone.)

How successful is this year’s festival compared to others in terms of enrollment, budgets, performers, etc.? How does this program of MEMF’s reach nationally or even internationally compare to previous years?

We will have about 100 students at our workshop this summer, which has been a steady number for the past five years. Our budget increased to cover the big Don Quixote project by Piffaro, which you can read about below.

We continue to attract workshop participants and performers from all over the United States and Canada, and this year our concert series will present Xavier Diaz-Latorre from Spain. For more information, go to: www.xavierdiazlatorre.com

What is new and what is the same in terms of format, students, faculty members and performers?

The following events are new to MEMF this summer:

The Historical Harp Society will be giving a conference before MEMF begins, from Thursday, July 6 through Saturday, July 8, with classes and lectures that will culminate in a concert of Harp Music from the Spanish Golden Age on Friday, July 7, at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, which is FREE and open to the public. Go to www.historicalharpsociety.org

Master teacher and performer Xavier Diaz-Latorre  will be giving a master class in Morphy Recital Hall on Saturday, July 8, from 10 a.m. to noon. It is free and open to the public.

We have a new partnership with the Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies (LACIS) Program at UW-Madison. LACIS has helped us translate materials and supported MEMF with two grants. www.lacis.wisc.edu

A new display in the Memorial Library foyer will celebrate the 2017 Madison Early Music Festival with a special exhibit of Don Quixote Through the Ages, featuring a selection of books, musical scores, and other materials from the UW-Madison Libraries. While viewing the exhibition, patrons can scan a QR code and listen to a Spotify playlist featuring music that will be heard at the MEMF 2017 Concert Series! This is a MEMF first, created by co-artistic director Paul Rowe.

We worked with several librarians to select the materials: Paloma Celis-Carbajal, Ibero-American Studies and Romance Languages Librarian; Jeanette Casey, head of Mills Music Library; and Lisa Wettleson from Special Collections at Memorial Library (below, in a photo by Brent Nicastro).

Dates: June 26 – August 10, 2017

Location: Memorial Library foyer | 728 State Street | Madison

Library Hours: 8 a.m.-9:45 p.m.

We have several new performers this year.

Xavier Diaz-Latorre, a vihuela player from Spain, and the ensemble Sonnambula from New York. Xavier is a world-renowned musician, and plays the vihuela, a Spanish Renaissance type of guitar, and the lute.

Xavier will perform a solo recital featuring music of the vihuela by composers Luis Narváez, Alonso Mudarra, Gaspar Sanz and Santiago de Murcia. The link below will give you more information about the predecessors to the guitar:

http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/~lsa/aboutLute/Vihuela.html

Daphna Mor and Kane Mathis will present a program featuring music from the geographic regions of Andalusia, North Africa, the Ottoman Empire and the Sephardic Diaspora. Based on the monophonic music of modes referred to as the Makam, the audience will be drawn to distinct beauty and great similarities of music from the courts, liturgical forms, dance airs and folk music.

Daphna Mor (below top) sings and plays several historical wind instruments, and Kane Mathis (below bottom) plays the oud, a lute type of stringed instrument with 11 or 13 strings grouped in 5 or 6 courses, commonly used in Middle Eastern music.

Percussionist Shane Shanahan (below) will join them. Shane is an original member of the Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma and a Grammy award winner. https://www.stepsnyc.com/faculty/bio/Shane-Shanahan/

And watch Shane play frame drum in the Cave Temples of Dunhuang at the Getty Museum:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQjC3y6CXQ8

Hear and read about Daphna Mor: http://www.daphnamor.com/

You can watch Kane Mathis play the oud at this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tHrxEohai8

Sonnambula (below), an ensemble of violins and viol da gambas, has performed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and have a regular series at the Hispanic Society of America in New York. It played a sold-out program of Spanish Golden Age works drawn from the over 450 pieces in the Cancionero Musical de Palacio, a manuscript at the Royal Palace of Madrid. This same program will be presented at MEMF on Friday, July 14. (You can hear them perform Spanish music in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

www.sonnambula.org

Why was the theme of the Spain’s Golden Age and The Age of Cervantes and Don Quixote chosen for the festival? What composers and works will be highlighted?

We liked the connection with last year’s theme, Shakespeare 400, because, although they never knew one another, Cervantes and Shakespeare (below) were contemporaries and share a “deathaversary,” as they both died on April 23, 1616. They led quite different lives, as Shakespeare was very successful throughout his lifetime and Cervantes wasn’t well known until the end of his life, when Don Quixote was published in 1605.

http://www.dw.com/en/shakespeare-and-cervantes-two-geniuses-and-one-death-date/a-19203237

Also, the Renaissance band Piffaro (below, in a photo by Church Street Studios) — an ensemble from Philadelphia that is well loved by MEMF audiences — suggested we explore this connection to Don Quixote and present their program The Musical World of Don Quixote, a huge project that they have been researching for several years.

They created a musical soundtrack to the novel in chronological order, and their program will open our 2017 concert series. This link from the Early Music America article “Piffaro Tilts At Musical Windmills” will tell you about their project in depth:

https://www.earlymusicamerica.org/web-articles/emag-piffaro-tilts-at-musical-windmills/

www.piffaro.org

The other concerts in the series draw from the music that is mentioned in Don Quixote and from the Spanish Renaissance, known as Siglo de Oro, or the Century of Gold. Many composers from this time period will be represented: Tomás Luis de VictoriaCristóbal de MoralesFrancisco GuerreroLuis de Milán and Alonso Lobo

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

https://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/concerts.htm

Check out our website for the most up-to-date information and how to get tickets:

www.madisonearlymusic.org

Tomorrow: What makes Renaissance music in Spain different? What composers and music will be featured in concerts?


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Classical music: Let us now praise — and program — Lou Harrison, the prophetic American composer who pioneered both personal and professional diversity in music

May 20, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has heard the name of Lou Harrison.

But he doesn’t recall ever actually hearing any music by Lou Harrison (below).

Maybe that will change, now that the centennial of Harrison’s birth is being marked.

Perhaps the UW-Madison or a smaller local group will do something, since neither the Madison Symphony Orchestra nor the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra has programmed anything by Harrison in their next seasons.

The Ear certainly hopes to hear some of Harrison’s intriguing and prophetic music, which seems to be a harbinger of contemporary globalism and world music, performed live. Harrison’s work seems to presage Yo-Yo Ma‘s crossover and cross-cultural Silk Road Ensemble, but was way ahead of its time and without the commercial success.

In any case, it seems very few composers pioneered and championed both personal and professional diversity through Asian sounds and an openly gay identity. Completely genuine, Harrison seemed creative and imaginative in just about everything he touched and did.

If you, like The Ear, know little about the maverick Lou Harrison, an excellent background piece, recently done by Tom Huizinga of National Public Radio (NPR), is a fine introduction.

Here is a link to the story:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2017/05/13/525919082/lou-harrison-the-maverick-composer-with-asia-in-his-ears

Harrison composed a lot of music, including concertos for piano and violin, that shows Asian influences and combines them with traditional Western classical music. Below is a YouTube recording of his Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Javanese Gamelan from 1981-82.

Have you heard or performed Harrison’s music?

What do you think of it?

Would you like to hear it programmed for live performance more often?

Leave your opinion in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Middleton Community Orchestra and UW-Madison cellist Andrew Briggs perform music by Mendelssohn, Rossini and Dvorak this Wednesday night. Also, University Opera’s David Ronis discusses Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw” at noon on Wisconsin Public Radio

February 27, 2017
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ALERT: Today at noon on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday,” host Norman Gilliland will interview artistic director David Ronis about the University Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw,” which will be performed this Friday night, Sunday afternoon and next Tuesday night.

By Jacob Stockinger

The mostly amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below, in a photo by William Balhorn), under the baton of Steve Kurr, will perform the winter concert of its seventh season on this Wednesday night, March 1, at the Middleton Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m.

Middleton Community Orchestra by William Ballhorn

The Middleton PAC is attached to Middleton High School and is attached to Middleton High School.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton Community Orchestra CR Brian Ruppert

General admission is $15.  Students are admitted free of charge. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m. and the auditorium doors open at 7 p.m.

The program includes the “Turk in Italy” Overture by Gioachino Rossini; “Silent Woods” and Rondo in G minor, two rarely performed cello pieces by Antonin Dvorak; and the Symphony No. 5 (“Reformation”) by Felix Mendelssohn. (You can hear Dvorak’s “Silent Woods,” with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Seiji Ozawa conducting the Boston Symphony, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)  

Cello soloist Andrew Briggs (below), is returning to perform with the MCO for a second time. 

You can hear last season’s performance of the Dvorak cello concerto by Briggs with the MCO here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wc1WLWhtb4

Briggs (below) is completing his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this spring, so this may be your last chance to hear him in Madison.

Andrew Briggs

SOMETHING NEW

This concert will open with a special guest, Middleton Tribune writer, Matt Geiger who will read two short stories from his new book (below).

Here is a sample from the cover of this book collection: “His little sister joins the circus. His parents buy a nerdy horse. He’s surrounded by hundreds of men dressed up as Ernest Hemingway. He tries to order a monkey through the mail. And now his baby is eating dog food.”

GC-BookCoverFinal

Matt Geiger’s award-winning stories reveal the sublime in the mundane and the comical in the banal. There is existential dread. There is festivity amid detritus. There are moments of genuine introspection on what it means to be human. And it’s all laugh-out-loud funny when told by a humorist who is determined to live an examined life, even if he’s not always entirely sure what he’s looking at.

Matt Geiger (below) was born in Brunswick, Maine, in 1979. He studied philosophy and religion at Flagler College and went on to write for newspapers and magazines in Florida, Wisconsin and the United Kingdom. He is the winner of numerous journalism awards. He currently lives in Wisconsin with his wife, his daughter, two dogs, a cat and a flock of chickens.

Matt Geiger oif Middleton

As always, there will be a FREE reception for the musicians and the audience after the concert.

MCO June 2014 reception

For more information about the Middleton Community Orchestra, including its upcoming concerts and review as well as how to join it and support it, go to: http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

mco-march-2017-poster


Classical music: Pianist Gabriela Montero plays music by Schubert and Schumann and then does her own spontaneous improvisations this Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater

February 8, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Pianist Gabriela Montero (below, in a photo by Shelley Mosman) will perform in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater on this Saturday night, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m. Montero last performed in Madison with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and wowed the house at the Overture Center.

On this Friday, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in Mills Hall, Montero will also hold a master class, FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

gabriela-montero-2017-shelley-mosman

Here are ticket prices for her recital: UW-Madison students are $10; Union members and non-UW students are $42, $38 and $25; UW-Madison faculty and staff are $44, $40 and $25; the general public is $46, $42 and $25; and young people 18 and under are $20.

Tickets can be bought online; by phone at 608-265-ARTS (2787); or in person — see locations and hours here.

The first half of Montero’s program features the first set of Four Impromptus, Op. 99, D. 899, by Franz Schubert and the playfully Romantic “Carnival” by Robert Schumann.

After intermission, the former prodigy will perform the spontaneous improvisations – usually on themes suggested by the audience – that she is acclaimed for.

According to The New York Times, “[Gabriela] Montero’s playing has everything: crackling rhythmic brio, subtle shadings, steely power in climactic moments, soulful lyricism in the ruminative passages and, best of all, unsentimental expressivity.”

Here she is performing the third Schubert impromptu, in G-flat major, in the set of four that she will play here:

Montero was born in Venezuela and gave her first performance to a public audience at the age of five. When she was eight, she made her concerto debut in Caracas, which led to a scholarship for private study in the United States.

Montero played with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman and clarinetist Anthony McGill at Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential Inauguration.

She has been invited to perform with the world’s most respected orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Liverpool Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony and more, performing in the Kennedy Center, Avery Fisher Hall and Wigmore Hall, among others.

Celebrated for her ability to brilliantly improvise, compose and play new works, Montero is an award-winning and best-selling recording artist.

She has received the Bronze Medal at the Chopin Competition, two Echo Klassik Awards in 2006 and 2007, and a Grammy nomination for her Bach and Beyond follow-up Baroque work in 2008.

She participated in the 2013 Women of the World Festival in London and spoke at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. She has also been recognized as a composer for her Piano Concerto No. 1.

In the YouTube video at the bottom you can hear Montero improvise on a famous melody by Sergei Rachmaninoff in the style of Johann Sebastian Bach.

This performance is presented by the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Performing Arts Committee and was supported in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. Media sponsors are WORT 89.9 FM and the UW-Madison student station WSUM 91.7 FM. 


Classical music education: Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras performs “Sounds of the Season” with area high school choirs on TV once again on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Plus, WYSO names Randal Swiggum as its new interim music director

December 23, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras has two pieces of news to report:

As in past years, WYSO will perform its popular one-hour, commercial-free “Sounds of the Season” concerts on TV on NBC 15 this weekend. 

Three WYSO groups will be featured: the Youth Orchestra (below top), the Youth Brass Choir (below middle) and the Percussion Ensemble (below bottom).

WYSO Youth Orchestra James Smith conducting 2015

WYSO Brass Choir

WYSO Percussion Ensemble 2012

There will be one performance on Christmas Eve at 10 p.m., and then two performances on Christmas Day at 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

The orchestra and ensembles will also be joined by choirs from area high schools. Sorry, but The Ear can’t find word of which ones.

You can hear part of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” as performed by WYSO on “Sounds of the Season” in the YouTube video at the bottom.

For more information, photos and audiovisual clips from a last year’s “Sounds of the Season,” go to:

http://www.nbc15.com/content/misc/NBC15-Sounds-Of-The-Season-2016-406076915.html

wyso-sounds-of-the-season-logo

In addition WYSO has named an interim replacement for outgoing music director James Smith (below), who is retiring from WYSO as well as from the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the end of this season.

james smith Jack Burns

Here are details from WYSO’s executive director Bridget Fraser:

“WYSO is very pleased to announce that Randal Swiggum (below) has been appointed WYSO Interim Artistic Director and Youth Orchestra Conductor for the 2017-2018 season.

“Randy is well-known to many WYSO students already, whether through Summer Music Clinic, the recent Wisconsin Middle Level Honors orchestra, or Suzuki Strings of Madison. He prepared the WYSO Youth Orchestra for its 2012 Overture Center performance of “To Be Certain of the Dawn,” and has subbed in with Philharmonia Orchestra and chamber music rehearsals.

Randall Swiggum

“Randy is in his 19th season as Artistic Director of the award-winning Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra, a large program similar to WYSO, which draws students from 70 different communities in suburban Chicago.

“Under his direction, the EYSO has collaborated with renowned artists like Midori, Yo-Yo Ma and Rachel Barton Pine, as well as Grammy-winning chamber ensemble eighth blackbird. The EYSO has appeared on NPR’s “From the Top” and at the Ravinia Festival, where they will return to perform again in 2018.

“The Illinois Council of Orchestras has twice named him Conductor of the Year and awarded its prestigious Programming of the Year Award to the EYSO.

“A frequent guest conductor of orchestral and choral festivals, Randy recently conducted the Scottish National Youth Symphony in Glasgow, All-State Orchestras in Georgia and Illinois, the American Mennonite Schools Orchestra Festival, Northern Arizona Honors Orchestra, the APAC Orchestra Festival in Seoul, and both the Wisconsin Middle Level Honors Choir and Orchestra, among many others.

“Randy also works with a number of professional orchestras, designing and conducting concerts for young people. Last year, he led the Madison Symphony in his original “Symphony Safari: What Nature Teaches Us About the Orchestra,” attended by several thousand middle school students in Overture Hall.

“Next February, he returns for a fourth season with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in its acclaimed “Teen Partner” series, conducting the Gloria by Francis Poulenc.

“He also appears next spring with the Chippewa Valley Symphony, conducting his “Beethoven Superhero” concert, which has been popular with teachers, students and parents alike, with the Elgin Symphony and The Florida Orchestra (Tampa).

“As an author and lecturer, Randy works with teachers around the country and internationally, most recently with international school teachers in Hong Kong and at Carnegie Hall, where last summer he returned for a fourth season teaching its Music Educator Workshops, and leading members of the National Youth Orchestra of the USA.

“Randy is a proud UW-Madison graduate and lives in Madison, where you can find him on Monday nights working with the Madison Boychoir (in the Madison Youth Choirs) alongside colleague Margaret Jenks.

“WYSO is truly fortunate to have such a dedicated and tireless educator guiding its artistic vision next season.”


Classical music: The Ear learns some lessons from violinist Ilya Kaler and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at a terrific opening concert

October 19, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

By any measure the opening concert last Friday night of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) under music director Andrew Sewell was a complete and compelling success.

WCO lobby

It left The Ear with several big lessons:

  1. The same piece played by a chamber orchestra and a symphony orchestra is not the same piece.

The Ear remembers hearing one of the first Compact Discs commercially available: a recording of the famous “Eroica” Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven performed by the popular chamber orchestra, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields under its recently deceased founder and longtime conductor Sir Neville Marriner.

Was it going to be Beethoven Lite after all the versions from the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein and the Berlin Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan?

Not at all.

It turned out that symphony orchestras are about power while chamber orchestras are about subtlety. The same work sounds very different when performed by the two different kinds of ensembles.

So it was with the Violin Concerto by Peter Tchaikovsky with Russian prize-winning soloist Ilya Kaler and conductor Andrew Sewell. The WCO players performed beautifully, and with the chamber orchestra you felt a balance and an intimacy between the soloist, the orchestra and conductor Sewell (below).

You could hear with more clarity or transparency the structure of the concerto and the dialogue of the violin with various orchestral sections – the flutes and clarinet stood out – that often get drowned out by bigger accompanying forces.

So when you see the same work programmed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, do not think of them as duplications you have to choose between. Go hear both. Listen for the differences. You will not be disappointed.

That’s what The Ear did and he came away enthralled and enchanted with this smaller-scale Tchaikovsky.

AndrewSewellnew

  1. There are many great and more affordable soloists whose names we do not recognize. But don’t underestimate them just because you haven’t heard of them.

The world has more first-rate musical talent than ever. Ilya Kaler (below), the only violinist ever to win gold medals at the Tchaikovsky, Paganini and Sibelius competitions, is a case in point. We owe a big thanks to the WCO for finding and booking him. He is right up there with the American violinist Benjamin Beilman, whom the WCO booked last season.

Kaler’s playing was first-rate and world-class: virtuosic, both lyrical and dramatic, but also nuanced. His tone was beautiful and his volume impressive – and all this was done on a contemporary American violin made in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (You can hear Kaler play in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Ear says: Bring Kaler back – the sooner, the better. The Ear wants to hear him in violin concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Georg Philipp Telemann, Antonio Vivaldi and other Italian Baroque masters like Francesco Geminiani and Arcangelo Corelli. Classical-era concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would be wonderful. More Romantic concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven, Felix Mendelssohn, Nicolo Paganini, Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann would also be great. And how about the Violin Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Prokofiev and the neo-Classical Violin Concerto by Igor Stravinsky?

But anything will do. Kaler is a violinist – he records for the Naxos label — we should hear more often. These days, we need fewer big stars and more fine talent that makes attendance affordable. The Ear will take young and talented cellists Alisa Weilerstein and Joshua Roman over such an overpriced celebrity as Yo-Yo Ma, great as he is.

ilya-kaler

  1. Second-tier composers can teach you about great composers.

The WCO opened with a rarely heard eight-minute work, the Symphony No. 5 in D Major, by Baroque English composer William Boyce (below top). It was enjoyable and The Ear is happy he heard it.

True, it comes off as second-rate Handel (below bottom). Why? Because as composer John Harbison explained so succinctly at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival he co-directs here every summer, the music by George Frideric Handel has a hard-to-explain “heft.” Just a few notes by Handel make memorable music that somehow sticks in your memory.

So The Ear heard the pleasantness of Boyce and ended up appreciating even more the greatness of Handel. What a two-fer!

william-boyce

handel big 2

  1. Concerts should end on a high note, even if they also start on a high note.

The rarely played Symphony No. 4 “Tragic” by Franz Schubert received an outstanding reading. But it ended the concert and left the audience sitting in its seats.

The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, by contrast, got an immediate standing ovation and an encore – a wonderful rendition of an unaccompanied Gavotte by Johann Sebastian Bach — and they ended the first half triumphantly.

Maybe the Schubert and Tchaikovsky should have been reversed in order. Or else, what about programming a really energetic symphony by Mozart or Beethoven to end the concert on an upbeat note. Just a thought.

If you went to the season-opener by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, what thoughts and impressions did you have?

Do you agree or disagree with The Ear?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The amateur and accomplished Middleton Community Orchestra and guest cellist Andrew Briggs perform music by Dvorak and Mendelssohn this Wednesday night.

February 22, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

On this Wednesday night, Feb. 24, the mostly amateur and very accomplished Middleton Community Orchestra (below top) will present the Winter Concert of its fifth anniversary season.

Middleton Community Orchestra press photo1

The concert will feature cellist Andrew Briggs (below) as soloist in the famously tuneful and dramatic Cello Concerto by Antonin Dvorak. (You can hear the opening that hooks you at once, played by superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Andrew Briggs

Also on the program, to be conducted by Steve Kurr (below) are two works by Felix Mendelssohn: the Hebrides Overture and the Symphony No. 3 “Scottish.”

Steve Kurr conducting

The concert is at 7:30 p.m. in the Middleton Performing Arts Center (below) that is attached to Middleton High School, 2100 Bristol Street. General admission is $10. All students are admitted free of charge. The box office and doors open at 7 p.m. For information call 608 212-8690.

Middleton PAC2

Middleton PAC1

A meet-and-greet informal reception (below) for the public and the musicians takes place after the concert.

MCO June 2014 reception

For more information about the Middleton Community Orchestra and its remaining concerts this season as well as how to join it – there are openings now in the string section — and support it, visit:

http://middletoncommunityorchestra.org

Here is some biographical information about the talented local soloist:

Cellist Andrew Briggs performs on an international scale, from giving recitals in his native Colorado to performing concerts in Italy and the UK. His travels have taken him to a growing list of prestigious music festivals, including the International Holland Music Sessions (NL), the Abbey Fontfroide Masterclasses (FR), and as a Fellow of the Aspen Music Festival (US).

Andrew Briggs playing

Recently moving to Madison from New York City, Andrew has performed in venues such as Alice Tully Hall (NY), the Guggenheim Museum, and Macky Auditorium (CO).

Briggs’ 2015-2016 season includes both solo and chamber engagements. Recent recitals include solo programs at the Remonstranse Kerke in Alkmaar, Netherlands; the Abbey Fontfroide in Narbonne, France; Morphy Hall at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and on the Sunday Recital Series at West Middleton Lutheran Church in Wisconsin.

Briggs is also a part of UW-Madison’s Hunt Quartet, a graduate string quartet that will give a recital in early March.

Andrew Briggs on bench in park

A dedicated performer of all eras of music, Briggs plays music from Baroque to contemporary. Studying Baroque cello with Phoebe Carrai at the Juilliard School, Andrew most recently performed with the Madison Bach Musicians and as a continuo cellist for University of Wisconsin-Madison’s opera production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro).

Briggs also enjoys playing music of contemporary composers, most recently playing with New Muse Ensemble and Domaine Musicale of Madison, Wisconsin. At Juilliard, he performed chamber music works of contemporary composers in the FOCUS! Contemporary Music Festival, ChamberFest, and with Axiom Ensemble.

You can learn more by visiting:

http://andrewbriggscello.com


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