Tom Strini

I’ve been meaning to tell you…

By - Oct 21st, 2011 12:07 am
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Tom Strini, hard at work bringing TCD readers the most insightful arts journalism.

I looked over the list of 40 hopeful singers in the Wisconsin District Metropolitan Opera Auditions, to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday (Oct. 22) at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center. The field appears to strong, with lots of masters’ degress from A-list music schools and professional experience. The Wisconsin District, managed by Kathy Pyeatt (a terrific singer herself), has a reputation for excellent treatment of singers and generous prize money, so they come from all over to compete here. Last year, the judges sent a whopping seven winners on to the regionals. Three of them — Angela Kloc, Rhea Olivacce and Kevin Newell — are back.

The show is a bargain: 40 singers and at least 80 arias. Not to mention the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, the chance to get to know singers before they show up at the Florentine and the Skylight, and door prizes including opera tickets. All for $5. As the marketing-savvy Pyeatt points out, that’s 6.25 cents per aria.

Kevin Stalheim has always been notoriously loose with his season planning for Present Music. Lots of TBDs on a season-subscription brochure give marketing people nightmares. But over the years, Stalheim and his new-music group have somehow leveraged unpredictability into an asset with their adventurous audience. Now, Stalheim has taken it a step further. He’s invited his audience to vote to determine the program of the January concert. Stalheim extends three compositions as candidates in each of four categories.


Kevin Stalheim, Present Music’s founder and artistic director. Dale Reince photo for Present Music.

He calls Category 1 “Popsy, Light, Delightful, Goofy, Clever, Witty, Humorous.” Your choices in that category are Menace, by Nick Brooks; How About Now, by Nico Muhly; and Comin’ Right Atcha, by Matthew Hindson. Voting closes on this category on Sunday, Oct. 23. Click here to listen to all three selections and cast your vote in the for the piece you find most popsy, light, delightful, goofy, clever, witty and humorous.

Categories still to come: (2) Exciting, Wild, Gritty, Strong, Rhythmic, Tough; (3) Interesting Sounds, Contemplative; and (4) Haunting, Beautiful, Mellow.

What? No “excessively brainy, impenetrable, obscure, fingernails-on-the-blackboard?”

The United Performing Arts Fund has ended a four-month search by naming Deanna Tillisch its new president, effective Nov. 14. Tillisch is currently vice president of the Northwestern Mutual Foundation and director of corporate affairs. At UPAF, she replaces Cristy Garcia-Thomas, who left in July to become president of the Aurora Health Care Foundation. Look for an interview with Tillisch in TCD soon.

The Milwaukee Symphony‘s new assistant conductor, Francesco Lecce-Chong, is writing an engaging MSO-centric blog called Finding Exhilaration. You can get to it through the MSO’s website or go directly to it. Lecce-Chong has been busy with student concerts and such, but we won’t see him on the podium in a real public concert until Nov. 9, when he will direct a special, one-night program with pianist Joyce Yang. I’ve only seen Lecce-Chong from afar, across crowded halls and lobbies; now that I’ve read his blog, I’m looking forward to our first interview.

And this week at the MSO: A cleverly conceived travel-themed program, with stops in Romania (Ligeti’s Concert românesc), Prague (Mozart’s Symphony No. 38) and Scotland (Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, “Scottish”). The guest conductor is Julian Kuerti, son of the well-known pianist Anton Kuerti. Julian is a violinist, has toured the world with a world-music band, and holds degrees in engineering and physics. He got serious about conducting in 2000, and by 2005 was a conducting fellow at the Tanglewood Festival. Kuerti has just completed a stint as an assistant conductor at the Boston Symphony and is heavily booked as a guest with major orchestras this season.

Kuerti’s Symphonic Postcards program will begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall. Tickets are $22 and up at the Marcus box office, 414 273-7206.


Harry Van Oudenallen. UWM photo.

At 4 p.m. today (Friday, Oct. 21) UWM’s School of Architecture and Urban Design will hold a memorial service for architect and professor Harry Van Oudenallen, who died June 18 at 67. The school has established a scholarship fund in his memory; make checks to the UWM Foundation/Memorial Scholarship. Today’s service will be held in the school’s main building, at the southeast corner of Maryland and Hartford Avenues.

Just passing along good news/bad news from the Skylight Opera Theatre: “The theater ended the 2010-2011 season with a net increase of $30,000 in total assets, pending final audit results. Total net assets remain at approximately $4.7 million, including $2.5 million in endowment investments. Donors made a significant difference in the fiscal results by meeting a $150,000 challenge and donating at a level that is the second highest in Skylight history. Skylight’s actual operating expenses were nearly $60,000 less than the approved budget and a full $100,000 lower than the prior year. Skylight, however will record a net operating deficit of $163,000 due to lower than expected ticket sales. The net operating result excludes certain non-operating and non-cash items such as investment gains, depreciation and restricted contributions. As a result of this operating loss, the amount outstanding on Skylight’s line of credit increased from $328,000 as of June 30, 2010 to $399,000 as of June 30, 2011.”

The board, led by new president David Harvey, is at work on a strategic plan to make the Skylight more solvent. I hope it works, and that it does so without fundamentally changing the character of the company. The Skylight has had its offstage difficulties, but artistically has been excellent through the whole rocky period going back to the summer of 2009. Speaking of artistic excellence, Bill Theisen announced some time ago that 2011-12 would be his ninth and last season as artistic director. A search is underway; it won’t be easy to replace him.




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