Saturday, January 19, 2013

Concert Reviews - January 2013

Part of a series of reviews of concerts I attend. Select "Concert Reviews" from the list of labels in the sidebar to see all of them.


Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Muti Conducts All-Beethoven
Saturday, January 12
Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, Chicago, Illinois

I attended this concert with my good friend from college and fellow music educator, Peter Held. On the program were three Beethoven works: Leonore Overture No. 3, Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, and Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major (Eroica). The original billing for this concert had Riccardo Muti, the CSO’s music director, conducting. Unfortunately, the weekend prior, he fell ill with the flu and withdrew from the five performances of this program.

In his place was Edo de Waart, music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (among other posts). When he first walked on stage, I thought he looked a bit like Bernard Haitink, due to his hair color and haircut. The occupant of the seat in front of me was taller than average, so I was not able to see much of de Waart’s work, though of course I heard the results.

I have heard Leonore in live performance twice, and from the same stage, though with different orchestras and from different perspectives. The first time, in March of 2010, was by the Wheaton College Symphony Orchestra, as part of a larger concert presented by Wheaton Conservatory groups in collaboration with the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. At that time, I was backstage with the other groups on the program. It was enjoyable to hear this familiar work, particularly with its offstage trumpet solo (I had been mere feet from the trumpet soloist the last time, taking pictures).

As for the piano concerto, I must admit I am not too familiar with most major piano repertoire or major professional pianists. That said, I found Radu Lupu’s work in the solo part quite pleasing. From my vantage point in the second row of the upper balcony, he seemed to be tapping rather than pressing the keys, effortlessly producing sounds.

After intermission, it was Eroica. Peter and I had both studied this work for half a semester in our senior year instrumental conducting class, and we were amused to see de Waart using the same edition of the score we had been assigned by our professor. This was just the second time I had heard this symphony performed live (the first time being a February 2011 Wheaton College Artist Series presentation of the Philharmonic of Poland, but I was again backstage for that event).

At the start of the second movement, Peter and I turned to each other with a raised eyebrow. We both knew we were thinking the same thing – de Waart was taking a much faster tempo than we were used to. And the orchestra did not seem to like his choice. Principal oboe Eugene Izotov in particular seemed to be fighting the tempo during his solo early in the movement. But the other three movements were executed to my taste, and I was happy to offer the orchestra and pinch-hitting conductor my applause at its end.

Wheaton College Opera Music Theater
Pirates of Penzance
Thursday, January 17
Pierce Memorial Chapel, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois

Every January, the Conservatory of Music at Wheaton College presents a fully-staged opera production. This year was Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic work, Pirates of Penzance, directed by Andy Mangin. Pirates is the story of a pirate apprentice who wants to marry the daughter of a major-general, but making it happen is not so simple. That straightforward storyline is dressed with dozens of fast, humorous songs. It was a thoroughly entertaining production. The production team made the show even more enjoyable by adding a “Wheaton twist” to some of the humor, keeping the audience fully engaged throughout. Even without the induced laughter, we would have been engaged anyway by the spectacular performances of the student cast. I am at the point where I am far enough removed from my own undergraduate years that I did not recognize all the names of cast members, but it was gratifying to see people I did know when they were underclassmen now in lead roles as upperclassmen.


Did you hear any concerts lately? Share your reactions in the comments section below!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Liberal Arts and Teacher Education

Anyone who knows me even a little bit is aware that I am a great admirer and supporter of Wheaton College, my alma mater. One of the many reasons is the preparation I received there for my current work as a professional educator. Many of the successes I have had to date in that occupation can, I believe, be traced back to the specifically liberal arts context of my teacher education program. I am convinced that such a liberal arts context – whether at Wheaton or some other college or university – is the ideal context for training teachers. There are two chief reasons for my opinion.

First, the liberal arts context ensures that education majors will be required to take courses in a wide variety of disciplines, including the humanities and natural and social sciences. Even at the middle school and high school level, where teachers teach only one subject area, that teacher’s class and subject will be just one among a half dozen or more varied subjects that make up each student’s total curriculum in a given term. Thus, the teacher who understands at least the fundamental principles of the major subject areas is better able to consider the material his or her students are studying in parallel with his or her own subject. That enhanced ability allows for a greater repertoire of instructional strategies, particularly that of helping students master new material by relating it to previously learned material – even material from a different subject. As a music teacher, I have drawn on content from math, history, English, and physical education curricula to help me present musical concepts. Also, needless to say, the vast majority of my students will not grow up to be music teachers – or even professional musicians – like me. Appreciating the other disciplines will allow me to be a more effective “career counselor,” particularly to older students.

Second, the liberal arts context in all likelihood means that the teachers in training will have more interactions – both inside and outside the classroom – with peers who are majoring in other disciplines. While my first point addressed teachers’ effectiveness with the students, this point addresses teachers’ effectiveness with each other. My liberal arts background has, I believe, honed my collaboration skills, as well as my ability to receive advice and correction from different sources and in different ways (my occasional pride notwithstanding). My interactions with peers from other departments in college were excellent preparation for interactions with faculty from other departments in the schools where I serve and have served. There is nothing more beneficial to the effectiveness of a faculty than the ability of its members to work well together, to have a respectful exchange of ideas where different teachers thoughtfully consider the input of their colleagues. In the liberal arts experience, each course is essentially a four-month exercise in just that.

With those reasons in mind, let me encourage any reader who is considering an education major – or knows someone who is – to consider the benefits of preparing to be a teacher via a liberal arts setting. Teaching is all about relationships, particularly the relationship of trust between teacher and student that allows for transfer of knowledge and skills. I firmly believe that liberal arts by its very nature prepares future teachers for success in those relationships.