By Jacob Stockinger
Last Friday night, The Ear got his first look and listen at the remodeled concert hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater, a wonderful landmark structure that I revere and usually refer to as “the Carnegie Hall of Madison” because of its long and distinguished history of bringing the best performing artists to Madison.
The event on Friday night was the fantastic concert by the Pro Arte Quartet, artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, with guest clarinetist Charles Neidich. It was the first classical music event in the new building.
They all turned in a wonderful finale to the quartet’s six centennial commissions. This final program featured the world premiere of the Clarinet Quintet by American composer Pierre Jalbert, who based the work on the poem “Howl” by the Beat writer Allen Ginsberg. The string quartet also performed the String Quartet No. 2 by Juan Crisostomo Arriaga and the glorious, sublime Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
But I will offer more comments about the concert and the music tomorrow.
Right now, I want to offer my take on the new hall, which was part of a two-year renovation that cost over $50 million, all privately raised. The remodeling project was completed just in time to mark the 75th anniversary of the historical theater, which opened its doors in 1939 and was inaugurated by the original Pro Arte String Quartet.
I will be anxious to hear your own take on the new hall, as well as the music and performance, in the COMMENTS section.
Here is mine:
WHAT I LIKE and WHAT I DISLIKE
I like the generosity and intent of University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni Michael Shannon (Class of 1980) and his wife Mary Sue Shannon (Class of 1981, both below), who donated something like $8 million to restore and remodel the hall, to reconfigure the Langdon Street entrance and provided a “sunset lounge” for receptions, study and relaxing.
So The Ear offers kudos, a big and hearty THANKS to the Shannons.
Why can’t rich people show some respect for the very history they seek to honor and preserve as well as some good taste and modesty?
Do we really need this well-known and historic hall, which is so respected by the world-renowned performers who appear there and are pleased when they see the list of their predecessors, to be renamed?
And do we really need the new name embedded in big metal letters in the handsome terrazzo stone floor of the theater? Wouldn’t a big bronze wall plaque with a bas-relief portrait and some kind words of thanks and praise, perhaps along with a paragraph of background, details and even a quote, have done the job and preserved the continuity of history?
Why can’t we continue to use the names of public buildings and spaces to honor public service rather than money and wealth? Do the arts also have to remind us of the ever-widening wealth gap in the U.S., which already is now the biggest in the world?
Is that the message we want a public building to send?
Could someone rich enough today buy the entire university and rename the UW to the University of Walmart, now that state support has dropped below 20 percent? Could that path to privatizing public education really be the way we want to go?
As I have said in another column: If you can afford to buy naming rights, you aren’t being taxed enough. Governor Walker, are we open for business? Or are we getting the business? What about the importance of tradition, history and public service?
Well, enough of a rant. (Below are the happy Shannons hand-in-hand on the Memorial Union waterfront.)
I like the new bigger and 3-inch wider seats, although they reduce the seating capacity from 1,300 to 1,139. I also like the new upholstery. But I heard someone complain that there was no padding on the armrests. And I still find too little knee room, even though I am only a bit over 6 feet tall. It feels like flying economy class, which, these days, is not good. But that can’t be helped, short of destroying the original concrete raking and seat beds.
I also very much like the acoustics and sound -– try the terrific lower balcony (below) sometime to see that closer isn’t always better — especially with the new shell (below, the on-stage background). But I hear that you can’t do multimedia because the shell simply won’t allow for a screen to drop down for films, videos, slide shows and Power Point presentations. That design mistake should be fixed in view of the importance of high technology.
The wall color (take another look at the first photo above), which was apparently chosen and approved by the Wisconsin Historical Society, is NOT the same as before and I don’t find it attractive except to the degree it is evenly applied and not water-stained.
But it doesn’t feel authentically period or Deco. The color seems darker and shinier than in photos, more dark peach than salmon. Some may find it handsome. I find it awfully close to pukey brown. And I believe the rule of thumb is that paint only darkens with age. Lighter, one suspects, would have been better both now and especially in the long run.
Something unfortunate happened between the idea and the execution. It happens to me too — and to many others — when I tried to match a dry paint chip to a whole wall. But you’d think the experts would have the collective experience to get it right, if only by trial and error.
Overall, the walls and paint remind The Ear of a face with too much heavy foundation makeup on an oily skin. The wall paint -– maybe it’s a semi-gloss? — is just not flat enough and exudes a light sheen in the right lighting. It makes you want to blot the wall with cotton gauze balls.
I like the new carpet color and pattern (below), but I already saw staining — see the one below? — within the first month or two. I wonder: Couldn’t it be easier to clean? How long will it last and wear well?
I like the new sunset lounge, with its airiness and its great view of Lake Mendota. It made for a great post-concert dessert reception.
And I really like the new entrance lobby off Langdon Street. It feels much less like the theater is hidden away. You don’t have to seek it out. That part especially seems more populist and in keeping with The Wisconsin Idea.
The quieter heating and air conditioning system also seem much improved and make for a far more comfortable concert experience.
I like the historical feel fostered by keeping turquoise water fountains (“bubblers”), but I also like the eco-friendly greener restrooms with automatic light switches that save on electricity.
All in all, I give the remodeling a B, though given all the money and know-how I would have thought an A-plus was a certainty.
To help you decide for yourself, you should really attend an event there.
But for more background and details, here are some links:
To a story and photos by Eric Tadsen in Isthmus:
To a story in the UW-Madison student newspaper The Daily Cardinal:
To the official press release from the UW-Madison:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Madison Bach Musicians, perhaps the premier local early music group in Madison that draws bigger audiences and offers terrific education through pre-concert lectures, will open its 11th season this coming weekend.
On this Saturday evening, Oct. 4, at Christ Presbyterian Church, and Sunday afternoon, Oct. 5, at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Monona, the Madison Bach Musicians will perform a program of cantatas and concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Included are two cantatas: Cantata 82, “Ich habe genug” (I Am Content); and Cantata 58, “Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid” (O God, How much Heartache); plus the well-known Harpsichord Concerto in D minor (you can hear the irresistibly energetic first movement played by the Concert des Nations in a YouTube video at the bottom) and the Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C minor.
Featured soloists are bass-baritone Joshua Copeland (below top), who is flying in from England for the performances; and soprano Chelsea Morris (below, bottom) the recent winner of the second annual Handel Aria Competition during the Madison Early Music Festival in July), who has moved from Chicago to Madison; harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson; baroque oboist Luke Conklin; and baroque violinist Kangwon Kim.
The concert will be played entirely on 18th-century period instruments.
Beginning 45 minutes before the concert, MBM founder and director Trevor Stephenson (below) will give a pre-concert lecture about the music and the period instruments. Ticket information can be found at madisonbachmusicians.org or by calling (608) 238-6092.
Here are specifics about the two performances
Saturday, Oct. 4, 7:15 p.m. for the lecture, 8 p.m. for the concert – at Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 E. Gorham St.
Sunday, Oct. 5, 2:45 p.m. for the lecture, 3:30 p.m. for the concert — at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, 5700 Pheasant Hill Rd.
Tickets for Madison Bach Musicians concerts may be purchased in advance or at the door. Advance outlets include the Willy Street Coops east and west; Orange Tree Imports on Monroe Street; Farley’s house of Pianos near West Towne Mall; A Room of One’s Own, downtown; and the Ward Brodt Music Mall, off the West Beltline.
NOTE: Cash or checks only. Please make checks payable to Madison Bach Musicians.
For this weekend, advance ticket prices: $25 general, $20 students and seniors over 65; tickets at the door are $30 general, $25 for students and seniors.
Season tickets are also available.
The Madison Bach Musicians will also perform other concerts this season -– an always reliable holiday program in December at the First Congregational United Church of Christ and a concert “Pygmalion,” an opera-ballet by Jean-Philippe Rameau in April at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. For the lineup and details, go to:
By Jacob Stockinger
Gradually the old sign will turn into a new building.
In case you missed it – and it was easy to do with all the live events going on this weekend – the University of Wisconsin School of Music announced the long-awaited plans for its new music center with a concert hall and rehearsal space. The Ear is very pleased that acoustics are given a top priority.
Compromises have been made due to funding delays and shortfalls. But even with the scaled-down design, the $22-million building still sounds as if it will be an impressive building, and an impressive addition to the UW-Madison School of Music program.
Here is an architect’s rendering, a drawing of what the building at the corner of Lake Street and University Avenue, next to the new wing of the Chazen Museum of Art, will look like.
It should help maintain or even foster the already high standards of the UW-Madison School of Music, which is nonetheless facing major challenges in student recruitment and staffing. But one wonders: What will music students think about the glass-walled room that will allow passers-by to peer in while they are practicing?
For the full story, including what happens when more money is collected, here is a link to the official announcement.
And here is a link to a story in The Wisconsin State Journal
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: Just a reminder that there is a lot of live music competing for audiences this afternoon. But if you can, be sure to catch the UW-Madison Pro Arte Quartet and guest clarinetist Charles Neidich giving the FREE second world premiere performance of American composer Pierre Jalbert‘s Clarinet Quintet — which is based on Beat poet Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” — at the Chazen Museum of Art at 12:30 p.m. in Brittingham Gallery 3. The new work, which The Ear heard on Friday night, is the real thing: a winning gem of new music. Of course the short-sighted Wisconsin Public Radio is no longer broadcasting local and regional live music from the museum, so forget the radio. But you can stream the concert live from the Internet at the museum’s website www.chazen.wisc.edu.
And here is a link with an overview of all the music concerts available this afternoon:
Well, here is another reason to welcome the end of the work week and the coming of the weekend.
NPR is saying TGIF.
Every Friday afternoon, the Deceptive Cadence blog folks at National Public Radio gather with the public via Twitter to check out issues and performers, performances and recordings — including the new CD “Motherland” by pianist Khatia Buniatishvili (the Sony Classical CD cover with her Frida Kahlo-like portrait is below and a sample is at the bottom in a YouTube video in which she plays an arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach‘s “Sheep May Safely Graze“). You should try checking it out and add your own comments and recommendations.
And that’s just what you can do using the link below:
The Ear thinks you will like it for several reasons.
The discussion keeps you updated on new recordings, new performers and new music. But it also suggests older composers and repertoire to listen to, including recommended interpretations of that repertoire.
It also features some very insightful and some very funny comments from other readers and followers that you can check out.
So don’t be afraid to hop on in – or at least to add to your To Do List checking out Deceptive Cadence at NPR every Friday.
By Jacob Stockinger
Christopher Hogwood (below, in a photo by the Associated Press), who, along with Trevor Pinnock, Gustav Leonhardt, John Eliot Gardiner and Frans Bruggen, became synonymous for many us with the movement to promote early music with authentic instruments and historically informed performance practices, has died.
He died Wednesday and was 73, and he had been ill for a brief time. He died at his home in Cambridge, England.
There are many things that The Ear loved about Hogwood, but nothing more than his recordings of string concertos by Antonio Vivaldi for their verve and of symphonies and concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for their sweetness and transparency, energy and clarity. (You can hear Hogwood conducting the Academy of Ancient Music in 2009 in Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Japan. They are playing the spectacular and virtuosically contrapuntal last movement of Mozart’s last symphony — Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter”– at the bottom in a YouTube video. Just listen to the cheers!)
Hogwood’s version of the popular oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel is still my preferred one. Hogwood always seemed to serve the music first and foremost, and not fall into the kind of goofy or quirky readings that, say, Nikolaus Harnoncourt often did. Everything he did seemed balanced and just plain right, but nonetheless ear-opening in its originality. He made you say: THAT’S the way it should sound.
But curiously, Hogwood (below, in a photo by Marcus Borggreve) seems to have understood other people and performers who prefer early music played in more modern approaches or idiosyncratic or individualistic manners. The Ear likes that kind of non-purist and tolerant approach to early music, to all music really. He is what Hogwood said in one interview:
‘THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH PLAYING THINGS HISTORICALLY COMPLETELY INCORRECTLY: MUSIC IS NOT A MORAL BUSINESS, SO YOU CAN PLAY ABSOLUTELY IN A STYLE THAT SUITS YOU AND PLEASES YOUR PUBLIC. IT MAY BE COMPLETELY UNRECOGNISABLE TO THE COMPOSER BUT SO WHAT, HE’S DEAD.’
Here is a fine story from NPR (National Public Radio):
Here is a comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:
Here is a story from The Washington Post:
And here is a small story that appeared in Hogwood’s native Great Britain, even though Hogwood also directed American groups in Boston, St. Paul and elsewhere:
Here is a link to a 70-minute podcast that the magazine Gramophone did to mark Hogwood’s 70th birthday:
By Jacob Stockinger
The following announcement comes from our friends at the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below):
The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Chorus announces auditions for its 2014 performance of George Frideric Handel’s Baroque oratorio “Messiah.” (You can hear the most famous chorus — the Hallelujah Chorus — at the bottom in a popular YouTube video that has almost 3 million hits.)
This year, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Chorus, under the baton of longtime WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell, will perform “Messiah” at the Blackhawk Church in Middleton (below top), the Stoughton Opera House (below middle) and the Al Ringling Theater (below bottom) in Baraboo.
Come be a part of the six-year tradition of “Messiah” with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and guest soloists.
Auditions will be held next Wednesday, October 1. Rehearsals begin October 29. If you are interested, contact email@example.com with your name, phone number and email address to set up an audition time. You can also call (608) 257-0638.
Note: Rehearsals are on Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m. Performances are December 11, 12 and 13.
By Jacob Stockinger
There are “train wrecks,” as the Wise Critic likes to call competing or conflicting music events.
And then there are TRAIN WRECKS!!!!!!!!!
Take the afternoon of this upcoming Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014.
The best The Ear can figure, you have a choice of five trains to ride into the wreck, possibly two if you plan really carefully and everything — including the length of concerts, transportation time and the availability of parking — falls into place.
There are just too many events and too few weekdays to do separate blog posts on all of them. Besides, it will probably be helpful for scheduling –- if discouraging –- to see them all listed together.
Here, in timetable order, we go:
PRO ARTE STRING QUARTET
The Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in photo by Rick Langer), which is wrapping up its centennial anniversary and six centennial commissions with a gala FREE world premiere concert and dessert reception at the Wisconsin Union Theater on this Friday night at 8 p.m., will repeat the program in a FREE concert at the Chazen Museum of Art on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in the Brittingham Gallery No. 3 (below middle). It will be streamed live by Audio for the Arts. Go to www.chazen.wisc.edu on the day of the concert for a link.
The program includes the world premiere of the Clarinet Quintet “Howl” (based on the Beat poem by Allen Ginsberg) by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below bottom) by as well as String Quartet No. 2 in A Major (1824) by Spanish composer Juan Crisostomo Arriaga and the gorgeous Clarinet Quintet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Here is a link: http://proartequartet.org
Originally scheduled for Friday, Sept. 26, the Ancora Quartet (below top, in a photo by Barry Lewis), with guest violinist Wes Luke (below bottom, in a photo by Barry Lewis) filling in for Leanne League. The three regular quartet members are, from left, violinist Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.
They will instead perform the Ancora’s opening concert of the season on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society where the quartet has been artists-in-residence. The program includes the “Sun” Quartet, Op. 20, No. 4, by Franz Joseph Haydn; the one-movement Quartet for Strings by Amy Beach, which uses Inuit tunes; and the final String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80, composed by Felix Mendelssohn in honor of the death of his beloved sister Fanny. A champagne reception is included. Tickets at the door are $15; $12 for seniors; and $6 for children under 12.
Other performances of this program will take place on Saturday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Eaton Chapel on the Beloit College campus, and on Sunday, Oct. 26, at 4 p.m. at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Fort Atkinson. In addition, the quartet has added the following dates: Monday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. at Oakwood Village West on Madison’s far west side at 6902 Mineral point Road, with FREE admission, followed by a Meet & Greet with the musicians; and on Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Loras College Visitation Center: Gallagher Hall, in Dubuque, Iowa.
UW SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND SOPRANO ELIZABETH HAGEDORN
At 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra (below top, in photo by John W. Barker) with guest UW-Madison professor soprano Elizabeth Hagedorn (below middle) and conductor James Smith (below bottom) will perform a FREE concert.
The program includes the “Totenfeier” (Funeral Rites) music (the first draft of the First Movement from the Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”; and the “Rueckert Lieder,” both by Gustav Mahler; and also the Symphony No. 1 “Spring” by Robert Schumann.
EDGEWOOD COLLEGE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA
At 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive, at Edgewood College, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra (below top, in an old poster), conducted by Blake Walter (below bottom, in a photo by John Maniaci), will perform the “Ojai Festival Overture” by Peter Maxwell Davies, “Historic Scenes,” Op. 66, by Jean Sibelius and Symphony No. 53 in D Major “Imperiale” by Franz Joseph Haydn. Tickers are $5 at the door, free with an Edgewood College ID.
SOPRANO CHELSEA MORRIS AND FORTEPIANIST TREVOR STEPHENSON
At 3 p.m. in Christ Presbyterian Church, 944 East Gorham Street, there will be a voice concert and CD-release party with soprano Chelsea Morris and fortepianist Trevor Stephenson (both are below), the founder and leader of the Madison Bach Musicians, to celebrate the release of their new CD of songs by Mozart, Haydn and Franz Schubert. This past summer, Morris won top spot in the second annual Handel Aria Competition during the Madison Early Music Festival.
Trevor Stephenson will bring his 5-octave, 18th-century German fortepiano to accompany Ms. Morris and he also will play solo fortepiano works by Mozart and Beethoven.
He will give a brief talk about the Classical style and discuss how the fortepiano creates a thrilling sense of theatrical immediacy in the music of the 18th-century masters. Selections on the concert from Morris and Stephenson’s new CD: Songs by Mozart, Haydn & Schubert. A CD autograph signing will be held after the concert.
OVERTURE CENTER ANNIVERSARY
At 3:30 p.m. in the Overture Center for the Arts, “American Kaleidoscope,” the second performance of a multi-performing arts celebration of the Overture Center’s 10th anniversary, will take place, continuing from the all-day festival on Saturday.
All the resident performing arts companies — including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society — will do a second performance (the first is Saturday night). Here is a link:
By Jacob Stockinger
Although they are not one of the resident performing arts companies, our friends at the ever-inventive Fresco Opera Theatre will take part — in a figurative sense and as a preview — in the 10th anniversary celebration this weekend of the Overture Center for the Arts.
Here is what the topsy-turvy Fresco folks sent over as a preview:
“What would Bizet sound like with a heavy rock drum beat?
“How about Richard Wagner with electric guitar?
“And what if Giuseppe Verdi’s famous aria “La donna e mobile” (at bottom in a popular YouTube video that has over 6 million hits and is performed by famed tenor Luciano Pavarotti) was sung from the point of view of 3 sopranos instead of 3 tenors?”
Find out at 8 p.m. on this Friday, Sept. 26, in The Playhouse at the Overture Center when Fresco Opera Theatre presents “Opera Unplugged,” the story of the formation, success, breakup and reunion of a fictional band called “The Band Fresco.” Tickets are $20. Visit the Overture Center box office or call (608) 258-4141.
Here is a description from the Overture Center’s website:
“The Band Fresco thrilled audiences with their fresh take on a traditional art form. Through the whirlwind years, there were highs and lows. Virtuosos all of them -– the group soon felt the pressure that comes with skyrocketing fame. Ego. Addiction. Heartbreak. Love.
“Their meteoric rise inevitably crashed before the group could say a proper goodbye.
“Fresco Opera Theatre in association with Eddie Slim Productions is proud to present a once in a lifetime event.
This is the story of “The Band Fresco –- Behind The Music,” including a live concert celebrating their legacy, coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the Madison Overture Center for the Arts.
The “band” is made up of three singers, bass, violin, cello, guitars and drums. In between numbers, the story of “The Band Fresco” will be told in the style of VH1’s “Behind The Music.”
The story is very much like that of the popular satirical movie spoof “This Is Spinal Tap.” But instead of heavy metal, the subject matter is opera, and the trials and tribulations that are associated with operatic performers and performances.
By Jacob Stockinger
This coming Friday night will bring the FREE world premiere of the final work of the six commissions to mark the centennial of the Pro Arte String Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
The work is a Clarinet Quintet, written Pierre Jalbert (below), a prize-winning American composer with French-Canadian roots. It will receive its world premiere at 8 p.m. on Friday night in the newly renovated Wisconsin Union Theater. A FREE dessert reception in the Memorial Union follows. There is also a FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC rehearsal, with the composer advising the string quartet, from 9 a.m. to noon on this Thursday morning in Mills Hall.
Here is a link to the Pro Arte Quartet’s website
And here is the official press release about the new work and the upcoming concert. It was researched and written by Mike Muckian (below), who also writes and blogs for Brava Magazine and the Wisconsin Gazette.
MADISON, Wis. – When Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg (below) published “Howl” in 1956, he may have anticipated the obscenity charges he faced because of the work’s highly charged content. Chances are he didn’t foresee his epic poem, now considered a significant work of American literature, as the source of inspiration for a 21st-century chamber music composition.
Pierre Jalbert, an American composer of French-Canadian descent, thought otherwise. When commissioned by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet to compose an original work to help the quartet celebrate its centennial season, Jalbert chose Ginsberg’s poem as his source of inspiration.
Jalbert’s “Howl” for clarinet and string quartet will receive its world premiere by the Pro Arte on Friday, Sept. 26, at the Wisconsin Union Theater in the historic Memorial Union on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.
The event, free and open to the public, will be the first classical music concert to take place in the venerable theater’s newly refurbished Shannon Hall (below top).
The 8 p.m. concert will be preceded by a 7 p.m. concert preview discussion with Pierre Jalbert in Shannon Hall. In addition to Jalbert’s composition, the evening’s program includes the String Quartet No. 2 in A Major (1824) by Juan Crisóstomo Arriaga (below top) -– known as “the Spanish Mozart” — and the gorgeous Clarinet Quintet in A Major (1791) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below bottom).
The Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) includes violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm and cellist Parry Karp.
PLEASE NOTE: The Pro Arte Quartet concert will be repeated Sunday, Sept. 28, at 12:30 p.m. in Gallery III at the Chazen Museum of Art, also on the UW-Madison campus. The concert will be streamed live worldwide on the Internet by the Madison-based Audio for the Arts. Check the Chazen Museum of Art’s website (www.chazen.wisc.edu) on the day of the concert. Details of the Chazen music series for 2015 will be announced on Sunday at the concert. The new series is designed to replace the “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen” series (below) of live chamber music concerts that was abruptly canceled by Wisconsin Public Radio last spring after 36 years. Sunday’s concert is FREE and OPEN to the public; however, Chazen Museum of Art members can call 608-263-2246 to reserve seating.
Joining the Pro Arte for both concerts will be guest clarinetist Charles Neidich (below, in a photo by Sallie Eichson), a regular member of the New York City-based Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and noted guest performer with orchestras and string quartets worldwide. Here is a link to Neidich’s own impressive website:
“The Jalbert quintet is a very exciting composition, often very rhythmic, but with very serenely quiet contrasting sections,” said Neidich. “It is also interesting in that the clarinetist has to switch to bass clarinet, creating a very different sound for the group.” (At bottom is a YouTube interview with Pierre Jalbert, who explains his philosophy of composing and his concern with the audience’s understanding of his work.)
Ginsberg (below, young), who died in 1997, began work on “Howl” as early as 1954. The poem was first published in “Howl and Other Poems” in 1956 as part of the “Pocket Poets” series by fellow beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, also known as founder of City Lights Books in San Francisco.
Upon the poem’s release, both Ferlinghetti and City Lights manager Shigeyoshi Murao were arrested and charged with distributing obscene material because of the poem’s profanity, drug references and frank sexual content. Four months later, Judge Clayton Horn ruled that the work was not obscene and charges against Ferlinghetti and his employee were dropped.
Judge Horn deemed “Howl” to have redeeming social content, and over the years it has proved its worth both in terms of social and literary value, according to Dr. Lynn Keller, the Martha Meier Renk Bascom Professor of Poetry in the UW-Madison Department of English.
“’Howl’ stands out stylistically in its compellingly and varied repetition of words beginning successive lines, its near surrealist imagery, and its combination of agonized depictions at once hellish and lofty with a very appealing sense of humor,” Dr. Keller said. “In terms of content, it also stands out in celebrating the down-and-out hipster as spiritual quester and visionary.”
As part of the Beat Generation – as much a social as a literary phenomenon – Ginsberg’s celebration of physical pleasures and suspicions about “the military industrial complex” created a new path that still appeals to younger audiences.
“It is a powerful poem, a howl from the heart of an agonized generation in a repressive era,” Dr. Keller said.
Jalbert was familiar with the poem prior to the Pro Arte commission, but it was only after he started composing the work that he began to realize the influence Ginsberg had on the music. Those similarities had less to do with the poem’s content and more to do with its structure and rhythm, the composer said.
“At the beginning of my piece, the clarinet is basically playing long tones, creating a long line much like the long lines in Ginsberg’s poem, while the strings present the rhythmically pulsating harmonic underpinning,” Jalbert said. “Ginsberg’s poem has been called a ‘litany of praise,’ and the second movement of my work becomes a litany, much like a series of prayers in a liturgy, with the strings creating chant-like lines while the clarinet becomes the vox Dei, or “voice of God,” hovering mysteriously over everything. The third movement returns to the musical materials from the first movement, but now the bass clarinet takes on the virtuosic role.”
In keeping with emotional soundings in parts of “Howl,” Jalbert also has attempted to capture the “shrieks” that were characteristic to the poem alongside the aforementioned litany of praise.
“There are buildups to shrieking moments in my piece as well as a “howl” motive of a low chord slurred up to an immediate high cluster, all played very forcefully,” said Jalbert. “There’s also something very urban about parts of the poem and to me, there’s an urban quality in my first and third movements. There are also many religious allusions and the last words of Christ on the cross, so the second movement uses some of this.”
The Jalbert composition is the final of six commissions for the Pro Arte Centennial seasons, and it has all the earmarks of a contemporary work with staying power, according to clarinetist Neidich.
“Having studied the score, I believe that it will be accessible to listeners and exciting to hear,” said Neidich. “It features the clarinet both in the role of soloist and as contributor to the sonority of the ensemble. It has all the necessary attributes to become a significant work.”
The Jalbert commission also brings to an end the Pro Arte’s seasons of centennial celebration in honor of the quartet’s long and storied history.
The Quatuor Pro Arte of Brussels, first formed in 1911-1912, was performing quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven at the then-new Wisconsin Union Theater on the UW-Madison campus on May 10, 1940, when Belgium was overrun and occupied by Nazi forces, turning three of its original four musicians into war orphans.
By October of that year, the group had officially become the UW Pro Arte Quartet, making it the first artists ensemble-in-residence at any university in the world. At more than 100 years old, Pro Arte also is thought to be the world’s oldest continuously performing string quartet.
The Pro Arte in May traveled back to Belgium to perform the European premiere of its fifth centennial commissioned work, Belgian composer Benoît Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3. The work had received its world premiere on March 1 in Mills Concert Hall in the Mosse Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus with the composer in attendance.
A 2-CD set (below) of the first four commissions was released last year by Albany Records. It includes two string quartets by Walter Mays and John Harbison as well as two piano quintets, one by William Bolcom and the other by Paul Schoenfield.