Michael Barndt’s November roundup

By - Dec 2nd, 2010 01:37 am
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Arcas String Quartet – Cafe Sopra Mare Sunday Brunch, Villa Terrace – November 7

Villa Terrace Cafe Sopra logoSmall tables were arranged around the large, but intimate living room overlooking Lake Michigan. Some who attended the Villa Terrace Sunday brunch paid a low admission, bought some coffee and skipped the brunch. They brought crosswords, novels or knitting. A few came with friends. Talking faded as the audience recognized the quality of the day’s performers.

The Arcas String Quartet comprises four of the new, bright young performers in the Milwaukee Symphony: violinists Ilana Setapen and Margo Schwartz, violist Wei-Ting Kuo and cellist Peter J. Thomas. They weren’t sure what to expect from this setting, so they came prepared to mix and match a wide selection of music. The softer stuff, transcriptions of popular tunes, worked less well. Eleanor Rigby’s phrasing did not match the inflection in the original. It’s likely that the transcriber smoothed out the rhythm, but these players may be too young to recognize the original format and they were more likely raised on Mozart. Mozart divertimentos, a Mozart quartet, Copland, Haydn and others filled two full hours of music.

The Arcas played backup for Ilana Setapen and Tod Levy in two concerts earlier this month. This morning was a good opportunity to hear the Quartet as an ensemble. With the classics, the Arcas was comfortable, well balanced and polished. Even the violist Wei-Ting Kuo played a strong role, perhaps because Mozart, as a violist, wrote well for the part.

Milwaukee chamber music fans, add this important new group to your watch list.

The next classical Sunday brunch concert – January 9 with the Muzika Piano Trio.

Daniel Beliavsky – Sunday Fine Arts Series – St John Cathedral – November 7

Daniel Beliavsky, pianist. Photo - The New School

Daniel Beliavsky, pianist. Photo – The New School

Milwaukee native Daniel Beliavsky returned home as an accomplished pianist and champion of modern composition. He selected “first” works by contemporary composers – Donald Harris, Lukas Foss, David Del Tredici and himself. Most works treated the piano as a sharp percussive instrument in atonal style or as tonal with limited melodic line. Often harsh notes echoed in the cathedral.

The concert closed with a very personal interpretation of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Beliavsky’s images are rough-cut, far from the romantic version orchestrated by Ravel. The promenade is less a stroll than a pilgrimage to view the most important image of all – the Great Gates of Kiev. When Beliavsky arrived at this symbol of the religious center of traditional Russia, the piano exploded with a massive celebratory sound. The great pealing bells echo through the cathedral.

See the Cathedral website for future Sunday concerts and free Wednesday noon recitals.

Erica Schuller, Scott Johnson, Matthew Richardson, Julia Elise Hardin. Photo - Florentine Opera Company

Julia Elise Hardin, Scott Johnson, Matthew Richardson, Erica Schuller. Photo – Florentine Opera Company

“The Golden Days” – The Florentine Studio Fellows – St. John’s on the Lake – November 17 – (And other venues)

Attend a Florentine Opera production and your attention will be drawn to the guest artists from out of town. Less visible are the young artists in residence – the Florentine Studio Artists program – a part of an apprenticeship program that develops the next generation.

Four Studio Artists Fellows are selected each year for a critical, but less visible, part of the Florentine – especially their educational program. They perform 75 concerts a year, serving more than 15,000 school children.

This group also performs public recitals and preview concerts at small venues throughout the year.

This fall, their traveling program, Golden Days, highlighted the most romantic of American operettas. I heard the program in the St. John’s on the Lake Chapel. Singers like this acoustically bright room – the equivalent of singing in the shower. The voices sound great until overload sets in – high bravura singing create a high pressure zone in the room.

The team (soprano Erica Schuller, mezzo Julia Elise Hardin, tenor Matthew Richardson, baritone Scott Johnson) are uniformly talented. Hardin stood out. She was entirely comfortable about her voice and totally inhabited her roles.

They didn’t write high opera, but Victor Herbert, Sigmund Romberg, Jerome Kern and other operetta composers created love songs deeply rooted in our memories. These songs are short on diva vocal acrobatics, but they still show off the quality of the trained voice.

Young opera singers fill leading roles while in academic training, then proceed through a series of apprenticeships performing lesser tasks. Some break out of this experience to join the circuit that the Florentine taps for its grand performances. Many do not. It may be easier to train to be a doctor. Even the doctor who graduates last in his/her graduating class becomes a doctor.

For upcoming public events featuring the Studio Artists see the calendar online.


Wisconsin Conservatory of Music - Violin Students

Open house and Performathon – Wisconsin Conservatory of Music – November 21

The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music is one of our local treasures. A broad group of children and adults benefit from exploring their personal musical talents as committed amateurs. A few will become the next generation of professional artists. Once a year, the Conservatory is host to performances by current students on five “stages” over four hours. It’s all free and it’s easy to sample an hour or two. The Conservatory resembles Grand Central Station as children, parents and visitors move through the mansion from one performance venue to another.

This event is not the time to hear classical or jazz music at ethereal levels. Performers of all sizes play instruments of all sizes. Singers are often just beginning to explore their ranges. Very young children at a full-sized Steinway prove that these instruments respond brightly to even the smallest hands. See yourself in the place of these students. If you started violin lessons next week – this may be what you would hope to sound like in 2 to 3 years. Hearing these students helps to further appreciate the skills of those who entertain us professionally.

The Performathon is part of winter fund raising to support the Conservatory’s work, an essential investment in our fine arts future. An online auction begins November 29th and ends December 13th.  Premium choices: Dinner for four cooked by Stefanie Jacob and husband Scott Tisdel at their home or An intimate performance by Frank Almond, followed by an elegant gourmet dinner with excellent select wines for 10 people.

I don’t want to mention the iPad raffle – through Dec. 14. (The odds are better for me if they don’t sell all 200 $5 tickets.)

Ear image by David Benbinnick, via WikiPedia Commons.

0 thoughts on “Michael Barndt’s November roundup”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for these tidbits, Mike. I remember hearing Erica Schuller sing when she was little girl at Elm Creative Arts School concerts when my children were growing up. She had a lovely voice even then.

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