By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear has been waiting for this.
And now it is at hand,
Today we are about to turn the corner.
Officially, the Winter Solstice arrives at 5:03 p.m. CST in the Northern Hemisphere.
The Ear has even heard about quite a few parties being held to mark the event.
And parties need music.
Here are a few selections of classical music to get you in the right frame of mind to celebrate the Winter Solstice.
The composers include well-known works and composers like the Baroque violin concertos “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi; the Classical-era oratorios “The Creation” and “The Seasons” by Franz Joseph Haydn; a section of a Romantic symphony by Peter Illich Tchaikovsky, and a piano miniature by the Impressionist Claude Debussy.
But there are unknown ones too.
But perhaps you have other favorites.
If so, please tell The Ear all about the music you listen to when you want to mark the Winter Solstice.
And here, in another version by Roger Norrington with the Handel and Haydn Society, is the “Winter” part of Haydn’s oratorio “The Four Seasons” that looks like it has been blocked from the link because of copyright infringement.
By Jacob Stockinger
This is the last weekend for holiday shipping before Christmas, and retailers expect today to be even bigger and busier than Black Friday.
Plus, whether you are looking for a gift for someone else or for what to buy with that gift card or cash you receive, perhaps you will find the following lists convenient and helpful.
The three lists are compilations of the Best Classical Music Recordings of 2014, even if they appear a bit late. (I seem to recall that these lists appeared closer to Thanksgiving or Black Friday in past years, but I could be wrong.)
The first list, a long one, comes from the various critics at The New York Times:
It covers solo instruments, vocal music, operas, orchestral music, chamber music – you name it.
The second list from a critic for The Boston Globe:
The third list comes from ace music critic and prize-winner Alex Ross (below) of The New Yorker Magazine. He names 20 different recordings along with 10 memorable live events from the concert scene in New York City.
The Ear finds it interesting how many agreements there are about certain composers, works and performers – such as the haunting, 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning work “Become Ocean” by the contemporary American composer John Luther Adams (below top and at the bottom in a YouTube video) and the Schubert recording by British pianist Paul Lewis (below middle) in late music by Franz Schubert or Alan Gilbert conducting the New York Philharmonic in two symphonies by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.
And even happier listening!!
It will be interesting to see what 2015 brings.
By Jacob Stockinger
Thank you, Middleton Community Orchestra.
Surely The Ear can’t be the only person who is starting to feel unpleasantly overwhelmed with holiday music — to say nothing of holiday shopping and holiday cards, with holiday this and holiday that.
Holiday music seems ever-present this time of the year. It is in stores and malls, on the radio and TV, in the churches and even in the many concert halls. And it has been going on for weeks, if not months.
So coming into the home stretch of Christmas Week, The Ear is feeling particularly grateful to the Middleton Community Orchestra (below), a largely amateur group that also includes some very accomplished professionals.
The MCO rarely, if ever, disappoints me. But this upcoming concert, which is NOT billed as a “holiday” concert, seems especially inviting since it promises to offer the gift of music –- not just holiday music, but real music.
Coming into Christmas Week, I find this to be a very welcome offering, a pitch perfect program.
The concert not only features terrific music but also the right length at the right cost, and includes some post-concert meet-and-greet socializing so you can meet the musicians and other audience members.
Here is the announcement from MCO co-founders Mindy Taranto and Larry Bevic:
The Middleton Community Orchestra’s December concert is this coming Monday, Dec. 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the Middleton Performing Arts Center, which is attached to Middleton High School, at 2100 Bristol Street, a simple right turn off University Avenue going west towards the Beltline a few blocks before Parmenter Street.
The MCO is excited to be sharing the stage with Madison Symphony Orchestra principal clarinetist Joe Morris (below top) who will be performing the Concerto for Clarinet and Strings by the 20th-century English composer Gerald Finzi.
You’d be counting down the days if you have heard Joe play (below top, in a photo by Cheryl Savan), and the work by Gerald Finzi (below bottom) is a beautiful piece through which Joe’s amazing clarinet playing soars.
Don’t miss the chance to hear Joe, the MCO and this beautiful concerto. How many 24-year-olds do you know who have won an audition from among 60 other clarinettists vying for the job? Come hear one of our local treasures.
The concert will be conducted by Middleton High School music teacher Steve Kurr (below).
The program starts with the popular and rousing “Academic Festival Overture” by Johannes Brahms (below), which uses tunes from German drinking songs and which Brahms composed to celebrate an honorary degree he received.
Then, after the lovely Finzi concerto, please stay so you can experience the irresistible energy and drive of Symphony No. 7 by Ludwig van Beethoven (below), which concludes the program. It is many people’s favorite Beethoven symphony and was highly thought of by the composer and other famous composers including Richard Wagner who famously called it “the apotheosis of the dance” because of its lively rhythms.
We hope to see you Monday. Tickets are $10, with students admitted free of charge. Advance tickets are available at Willy Street Coop West or at the door on the night of the show starting at 7 p.m. You can also call (608) 212-8690 to reserve tickets in advance.
There will be a reception (below) for the audience and musicians after the concert.
For information about the Middleton Community Orchestra, including how to support it and how to join it, here is a link to its website:
By Jacob Stockinger
If you are still looking for seasonal and holiday music events to attend, The Ear has received word of a fine one that is SHORT and FREE.
Scott Foss (below) — the accomplished, congenial and generous music director of the First United Methodist Church in Madison who has been a longtime music advocate and participant in Madison — writes:
I am writing in regard to our FREE family-friendly, sacred music holiday concert “Celebration of Carols” by Joseph M. Martin. (You can hear some of the cantata in a YouTube video at the bottom.) It is coming up this Saturday night from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the landmark Orpheum Theater (below are photos of the exterior as well as the stage and interior of the restored historic theater). It is located at 216 State Street, across from the Overture Center.
We had our first rehearsal yesterday with the combined choirs and it really is going to be terrific.
I will conduct the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) — the orchestra for the concert — and it will be fabulous as always.
The choirs sounded awesome. And you know that the two soloists — my wife, mezzo-soprano Kitt Reuter-Foss (below top), who has performed Mozart at the Metropolitan Opera under James Levine, and tenor J. Adam Shelton (below bottom) — will sing beautifully.
I’m really excited to bring this FREE public program to downtown Madison.
As you know, the First United Methodist Church has been a home to countless classical music groups and theater groups — Four Seasons Theatre, Forward Theatre, the Madison Opera, the Madison Symphony Orchestra Chorus, the Festival Choir of Madison, the Wisconsin Chamber Choir, the VSA Choir, the Madison Choral Project, Isthmus Brass, The Kat Trio — all either are currently or have in the past used our space for rehearsals.
And we always give it away for free as part of our ministry to downtown Madison where affordable rehearsal space is very difficult to find.
Plus, an understanding of the arts and how important they are to Madison and Dane County is in our DNA. The Isthmus Brass is giving a free concert in our sanctuary on Thursday night of this week. (I’ll be conducting the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra in Baraboo that night in one of their three performances of “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel, so I won’t be there).
So I had this idea that we should not only present house arts groups but also that we should be able to present art in a way that any and all in Madison could access it — in a beautiful space and beautifully performed.
Our church foundations agreed and they are financing the event — more than $10,000 to make this music available.
We hope you and others can attend.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Madison Choral Project’s founder and music director Albert Pinsonneault (below) writes:
Here is information about the Madison Choral Project’s upcoming concert: “O Day Full of Grace” on this coming Saturday, Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m., First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, Madison.
The concert will feature the 22-voice professional chamber choir the Madison Choral Project (below to), and readings from Noah Ovshinsky (below bottom) of Wisconsin Public Radio, as well as audience sing-along carols.
Tickets are $20 online or $25 at the door.
Here is a link for tickets: http://themcp.org/tickets/
Here is a link to the Madison Choral Project general website: http://themcp.org
And here is the complete program:
- Reading from Ovid’s “Amores”
- Carol with Audience: “Once in Royal David’s City”
SET 1: THERE WILL BE LIGHT
- “Benedictus Dominus” by Ludwig Daser (1525-1589)
- “Die mit Tränen Säen” by Johann Schein (1586-1630)
- “Helig” from “Die Deutche Liturgie” by Felix Mendelssohn (below, 1809-1847)
SET 2: UNDERSTANDING THROUGH LOVE
- “Mary Speaks” by Nathaniel Gawthrop (b. 1949)
- Reading from Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning”
- “The Gallant Weaver” by James MacMillan (b. 1959)
- “Entreat Me Not To Leave You” by Dan Forrest (b. 1978)
- Carol with Audience: “Silent Night”
SET 3: HAVE JOY NOW
- Reading from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”
- “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day,” arr. Dale Grotenhuis (1932-2012)
- “Away in a Manger,” arr. Bradley Ellingboe (b. 1958)
- “Ding Dong! Merrily on High,” arr. Carolyn Jennings (b. 1929)
SET 4: AT THE END OF DAYS, GRACE
- Reading, e.e.cummings’ “i thank you”
- “O Day Full of Grace” by F. Melius Christiansen (1871-1945)
- Reading Ranier Maria Rilke‘s “Sunset”
- Carol with Audience: “Day Is Done”
- “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” by Moses Hogan (1957-2003)
By Jacob Stockinger
The concert is this Friday night, Dec. 19, at 7:30 p.m. in Grace Episcopal Church (below in exterior and interior photos), at the intersection of West Washington Avenue and Carroll Street on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison.
Advance tickets are $15 for the public and $10 for students; at the door, the prices are $20 and $12, respectively.
Welcome Yule! traverses six centuries of music in celebration of Christmas.
Benjamin Britten’s cheerful Ceremony of Carols, (accompanied by harp) is paired with Renaissance motets by Giovanni di Palestrina, Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and Raffaella Aleotti, and a set of rousing medieval carols.
After intermission, we pay tribute to the late Stephen Paulus (below top), who died this year, with his bright and uplifting Ship Carol, accompanied by harp, followed by a rarely-heard Magnificat and Nunc dimittis by Herbert Howells (below bottom), originally composed for St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas. Howells’ visionary music is accompanied by organist Mark Brampton Smith.
Here is a link to a post The Ear did about Stephen Paulus,who had many links to Madison. Be sure to read some of the local reader comments:
Also on the program are inspiring works by contemporary composers Jean Belmont Ford and Wayne Oquin; a lush jazz arrangement of Silent Night by Swiss jazz pianist Ivo Antognini; and a Christmas spiritual by Rosephanye Powell.
Advance tickets are available for $15 from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Willy Street Coop (East and West locations) and Orange Tree Imports. Student tickets are $10.
Founded in 1998, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn; a cappella masterworks from various centuries; and world premieres.
Robert Gehrenbeck (below), who directs choral activities at the UW-Whitewater, is artistic director of the Wisconsin Chamber Choir.
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 for 20 years hosted 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 (MEMF) and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. And he also provided the performance photos for this review.
By John W. Barker
Trevor Stephenson (below top) and his Madison Bach Musicians (below bottom) have established a solid tradition of offering a December “holiday” concert as a triumphant antidote to the debasement of musical life that the Christmas season seems to bring inevitably with it.
It was further testimony, also, of Stephenson’s thriving collaboration with Marc Vallon of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music faculty. Vallon chose a good many of the selections, organized the program, conducted (below top) some of it, and played the dulcian (Baroque bassoon, below bottom on the right).
In that last, Vallon was joined by his wife, Martha Vallon, on viola da gamba as well as by Anna Steinhoff on the same instrument, violinists Kangwon Kim and Brandi Berry, plus Linda Pereksta on recorder.
There was also a fine vocal quartet of soprano Chelsea Morris (below, far left), alto Sarah Leuwerke (far right), tenor Kyle Bielfeld (center left) and bass Davonne Tines.
Stephenson himself, held much of it together playing on a dandy “orgel positif” or chamber organ, made all of wood.
The program was a nicely varied mix of vocal and instrumental music, and going back further than the usually featured 18th century.
Of the vocal works, all but one were sacred in character and function, though few were specifically related to the Christmas season.
The 16th century was represented by Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594) in four Latin pieces for the vocal group alone. (One was an extraordinary chromatic study, typical of the composer’s experimentation with tonic bypassing of the old modal system.) The rest of the material was effectively from the 17th century, a time of wide explorations of the new Baroque idiom.
After an organ fugue by Giovanni Gabrieli, the explicitly instrumental pieces came from the pens of Johann Schenck (1660-1716), and Antonio Bertali (1605-1669), with varying instrumentations—the one by Schenck for two gambas (below, with Martha Vallon on the left and Anna Steinhoff) was particularly delicious.
Again in varying combinations, singers and players joined in selections by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1682), Johann Froberger (1616-1692), and Johann Schelle (1648-1701), as well as by two members of the musically prolific Bach family, of generations before Johann Sebastian Bach: Heinrich Bach (1615-1692), and Johann Michael Bach (1648-1694). The latter’s double-choir German motet provided a chance for all 11 performers to come together for a grand finale (singers in one choir, instruments in the other).
German was the predominant language of these vocal works. But an interesting curiosity was an adaptation that Heinrich Schütz made (his SWV 440), fitting a German translation to Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi’s Italian madrigal, “Chiome d’oro” (the Monteverdi version is in a YouTube video at the bottom).
All the performers were expert in their work, though the two gamba players were particularly appealing among the instrumentalists, while — with no disrespect to the others — Morris and Leuwerke were truly wonderful in their singing assignments.
What matters most is that Stephenson and his colleagues have once again demonstrated that the realms of early music have endless treasures to offer — ones most particularly welcome on the parched December scene.
A large and enthusiastic audience testified to public recognition of that fact.
ALERT: The Madison Symphony Orchestra has started its annual holiday cut-rate ticket sale. And you can get some great deals. Between now and Christmas Eve (Dec. 24), you can buy seats for $20 (with a value up to $44) and $45 (valued up to $88). The spring has four concerts, two of which feature piano concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt plus a concert of music by exiles from Nazi Germany in Hollywood during World War II and the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven and a violin concerto by Leonard Bernstein. For more information, visit: http://www.overturecenter.org/events/madison-symphony-orchestra/
By Jacob Stockinger
Well, today is another Shopping Day left before Christmas and other holidays.
With that in mind, The Ear usually offers lists that other media suggest about the best classical music recordings of 2014.
If you recall, I have already posed a link to the 57th annual Grammy Award nominations, which can be useful when it comes to holiday gift-giving.
Here is a link to that post:
And below is a link to the Top 10 classical albums that appeared on the appeared on the NPR (National Public Radio) blog Deceptive Cadence over the weekend. It is an eclectic list that features early music, well-known classics and new music.
You will find music by composers John Dowland, John Adams (below and at bottom in a YouTube video), John Luther Adams and Thomas Adès as well as Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen.
Performers include violinist Augustin Hadelich (below), who has played twice with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and Leon Fleisher, who performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater; mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato; the New York Philharmonic under music director and conductor Alan Gilbert; and the Danish String Quartet playing works by Danish composers.
The list also shows CD covers and feature sound snippets and samples.
By Jacob Stockinger
(The Ear will forget for a while the stories about how blind hearing tests with professional violinists showed that new or modern instruments outscored the centuries-old masterpieces.)
For whatever reason last weekend brought two terrific stories about what goes into making world-class violins – in specific the violins, worth millions of dollars, by Antonio Stradivari (below) and other master crafters and luthiers in Cremona, Italy.
The stories followed the great violins — and also violas and cellos — from the special Italian spruce trees grown in the dolomite Alps, which are celebrated and serenaded with music, to the actual makers of the instruments and the overall cooperative music culture of Cremona, Italy.
The other was a great segment on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” It has great visuals and interviews. Here is a link:
And at bottom in a YouTube video, is a comparison test of old and new violin sounds. Listen to it, take it and see how you do.
What do you think of the comparison results?
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: Just a reminder that tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 13, at 1:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, on the UW-Madison campus in the George Mosse Humanities Building at 455 North Park Street.
The Youth Orchestra (below) and the Harp Ensemble of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) will perform.
The orchestra’s program includes The Roman Carnival Overture by the French composer Hector Berlioz; three excerpts from Act 3 of “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” by the German Opera composer Richard Wagner; and the first, third and fourth movements from the Symphony No. 1 in D Minor by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.
The Harp Ensemble will perform the traditional tune “Be Thou My Vision” as well as “Grandjany, Eleanor and Marcia”; and a medley of music by the Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini.
Call the WYSO office at (608) 263-3320 for up-to-date concert and ticket information. Or visit http://wyso.music.wisc.edu
Tickets are $10 for adult, $5 for young people 18 and under; and they are available at the door 45 minutes prior to each concert.
By Jacob Stockinger
Today is officially the last day of classes for the first semester at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The next two weeks are devoted to a study period and to final papers and exams.
That means classes are also ending at a lot of other public and private universities and colleges around the nation, The Ear suspects. And elementary schools, middle schools and high schools will not be far behind.
So it is a timely time to post the results of research that shows that classical music -– not just any music, but specifically classical music, which lowers rather raises blood pressure –- can help students study and prepare for final exams.
Apparently, the secret is that it has to do with the embedded structure of the music itself.
The researchers, which range from the cancer center at Duke University and the University of San Diego to the University of Toronto, even mention some specific composers and musical genres or forms that exhibit that sense of structure in outstanding ways.
The composers cited include such Old Masters as Johann Sebastian Bach (below top), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below middle) and Johannes Brahms (below bottom). Richard Strauss and George Frideric Handel also were mentioned. Surprisingly, no mention was made of music by Antonio Vivaldi, Franz Joseph Haydn or Franz Schubert.
But students should avoid loud and more scattered music, the research suggests. No “1812 Overture,” complete with cannons, by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky! Such music is actually disrupting and counterproductive.
Maybe that same sense of structure and regularity — especially noticeable in Baroque music as well as the Classical period and early Romantic music — also explains why those composers have appealed to so many people for so long.
It may also explain why student who study music and go through formal music education often go on to high achievement in other fields.
And the preferred forms include solo music, including the piano and the lute, and string quartets. That makes sense to me since they are more intimate and less overwhelming forms. Solo French piano by Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré and Francis Poulenc come in for special mention. (I would also add the 550 sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.)
The Ear suspects that what works for final exams also works for other studying and homework in general and other intensive intellectual tasks.
And maybe what is good for college students is also good for high school or even middle school or elementary school students.
I do have some questions: Did the researchers take the conflicting evidence about multi-taking into account? But I assume they probably gave that some thought. Still, you have to wonder.
Here is a link to the story:
Do you have favorite music to study by? (One of my favorites is the Waltz in C-Sharo minor by Frederic Chopin as played with great discernible structure, repetition and variation — listen to inner voices — as well as incredible color and nuance by Yuja Wang in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)
Favorite composers, favorite kinds and favorite pieces?
The Ear wants to hear.