The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra plus choirs and soloists offer a FREE carol concert this Saturday night at the Orpheum Theater.

December 18, 2014
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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:

Scott Foss

Hi Jake:

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.

Orpheum Theatre Madison EXT

Orpheum Theatre INT

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.

WCO lobby

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.

Kitt Reuter-Foss

J. Adam Shelton 2

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.


Classical music: The Madison Choral Project celebrates the holidays and the Winter Solstice on this Saturday with reading, carols and music.

December 17, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Choral Project’s founder and music director Albert Pinsonneault (below) writes:

Albert Pinsonneault 2

Hi Jake!

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.

Madison Choral Project color

Noah Ovshinsky

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)

mendelssohn_300

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”

INTERMISSION

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”

- “The Long Day Closes” by Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900), which can be heard in a YouTube video at the bottom.

ENCORE

- “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” by Moses Hogan (1957-2003)

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will perform “Welcome Yule,” a concert of six centuries of holiday music, including Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols,” this Friday night.

December 16, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will perform “Welcome Yule,” featuring the well-known “Ceremony of Carols” (at bottom is an excerpt in a YouTube video) by British composer Benjamin Britten.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir with Gehrenbeck RWV

Benjamin Britten

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.

grace episcopal church ext

Grace Episcopal harpsichord

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:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/classical-music-american-composer-stephen-paulus-dies-at-65-the-festival-choir-of-madison-performed-many-world-premieres-by-him-and-will-perform-the-all-night-vigil-by-tchaikovsky-this-coming-saturd/

stephen paulus

herbert howells autograph

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.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

 


Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians successfully mines early music for its latest holiday concert of unusual offerings superbly performed.

December 15, 2014
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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.

John-Barker

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.

MBM holiday 2014 Trevor speaks JWB

MBM holiday 2014 all usicians JWB

This time around — specifically, last Saturday night at the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ — was no exception, and even a step forward.

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).

MBM holiday 2014 Vallon conducting JWB

MBM holiday 2014 Marc Vallon on bassoon JWB

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.

IMG_1307

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.

MBM holiday 2014 singers

Stephenson himself, held much of it together playing on a dandy “orgel positif” or chamber organ, made all of wood.

MBM holiday 2014 pos tive or chamber organ JWB

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.

Orlando di Lasso

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.

MBM holiday 2014 Martha Vallon left and Anna Steinhoff CR JWB

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).

MBM holiday 2014 singers and instrumentalists JWB

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.


Classical music: Need gift suggestions? NPR names its Top 10 classical music albums of 2014. Plus, though Dec. 24 the Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering cut-rate holiday tickets for four spring concerts.

December 14, 2014
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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/

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

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:

http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/classical-music-the-57th-annual-grammy-award-nominations-provide-a-useful-guide-to-holiday-gift-giving/

grammy award BIG

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.

John Adams

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.

Augustin Hadelich 1

The list also shows CD covers and feature sound snippets and samples.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/12/11/370067981/best-classical-albums-of-2014

 


Classical music: See what goes into making a Stradivarius violin great, from the special Italian spruce trees to the master violin-makers who come to Cremona, Italy from around the world. But are the old violins really better than the best new ones?

December 13, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Ever wonder what goes into a great violin made centuries ago by Stradivarius or Guarneri or Amati that makes them the favorite instruments of great performing virtuosos?

Stradivarius violin

(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.

Antonio Stradivari

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.

Serenading spruce trees

One of the stories appeared on NPR (National Public Radio) , specifically on Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/12/05/368718313/in-the-italian-alps-stradivaris-trees-live-on

The other was a great segment on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” It has great visuals and interviews. Here is a link:

http://www.cbs.com/shows/60_minutes/video/FWotANRzsjL84Aj5ziBSdezDN88_Hp3M/the-city-of-music/

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.


Classical music education: Classical music can help students study for final exams. Plus, the WYSO Harp Ensemble and Youth Orchestra perform Saturday afternoon.

December 12, 2014
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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.

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

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.

Final exams 2

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.

It was published in advance of two radio stations’ scheduling of useful classical music in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California and in San Francisco.

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.

Bach1

mozart big

brahms3

Hmmmm.

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.

studying to music CR Holly Wilder.jpeg

And maybe what is good for college students is also good for high school or even middle school or elementary school students.

final exams 1

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:

http://news.usc.edu/71969/studying-for-finals-let-classical-music-help/

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.


Classical music: Research shows that the brains of musicians work in a different and good way. Plus, the wind quintet Black Marigold performs a FREE concert this Saturday at noon at Grace Episcopal Church.

December 11, 2014
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ALERT: The local wind quintet Black Marigold (below) will give a FREE concert on this Saturday, Dec. 13, from noon to about 1 p.m. downtown at Grace Episcopal Church, 116 West Washington Avenue, on the Capitol Square. The program includes: Overture to “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as arranged by David M. Carp; the Wind Quintet by Paul Taffanel (the opening is at the bottom in a YouTube video); “Eight” by Kenn McSperitt; and “La Nouvelle Orleans” by Lalo Schifrin. The concert is part of the Grace Presents series.

Black Marigold 2

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is something in the way of a holiday gift or bonus from scientific researchers to all kinds of musicians — professional, amateur and students.

It has to do with how the human brain functions while listening and especially while making music. It is not a new topic, as the YouTube video below shows.

Human brain

I won’t say more except to offer a link to the story that appeared on NPR (National Public Radio):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/11/20/365461587/musicians-brains-really-do-work-differently-in-a-good-way


Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians will perform rarely heard vocal and instrumental holiday music from the Renaissance and Baroque eras this Saturday night.

December 10, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you follow this blog, you know the high respect that The Ear has for the Madison Bach Musicians (below) and its founder-director Trevor Stephenson, who is also a first-rate keyboard player and a supremely talented explainer whose talks are unfailingly instructive and entertaining.

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

Stephenson writes to The Ear about this weekend’s upcoming holiday concert, which will feature a lot of vocal music and compositions that are rarely heard in the usual holiday concert programs. Each year, he says, attendance keeps growing steadily for the early holiday music performed on period instruments with historically informed performance practices.

Here is what Trevor Stephenson (below) says:

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

This Saturday evening, Dec. 13, at 8 p.m. the Madison Bach Musicians will present its fourth annual Holiday Concert (below is a photo from the 2012 holiday concert) in the beautiful sanctuary of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, at 1609 University Avenue, near historic Camp Randall stadium.

Madison Bach Musicians in Bach Cantata Dec. 2012

The preconcert lecture is at 7:15 p.m. and the concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 for the public, $20 for students and seniors over 65, and they are available at Orange Tree Imports, Willy Street Co-op (east & west), Farley’s House of Pianos, Room of One’s Own and Ward Brodt. For tickets bought at the door, add $5. Student rush tickets will be available for $10 with a valid student ID. For more information about tickets and about MBM, visit www.madsionbachmusicians.org

This year, MBM has set the “Way-Back” machine for the 16th and 17th centuries.

We’ll open with a set of five masterworks for a capella or unaccompanied vocal quartet by Orlando di Lassus.

In addition to soprano Chelsea Morris (below, who now lives in Madison and who won the second Handel Aria Competition last summer at the Madison Early Music Festival), and alto Sarah Leuwerke (who also lives here in Madison), two outstanding young singers from New York City will be featured. Bass Davone Tines and tenor Kyle Bielfield are both recent graduates in voice from the Juilliard School and both are concertizing extensively throughout the world. Here are their websites. http://www.davonetines.com/ and
http://www.bielfield.com/

Chelsea Morris soprano

Then an instrumental band featuring recorder, dulcian or Renaissance bassoon, two viola da gambas, two baroque violins, and positive organ will present sonatas by Antonio Bertali and Johann Schenk.

Instruments and voices will join in works by Heinrich Schütz, Johann Schelle, Johann Froberger, and two of Johann Sebastian Bach’s amazing uncles Heinrich Bach and Johann Michael Bach.

The 16th and 17th centuries were full of religious upheaval, scientific advancement, global exploration and great advances in the dissemination of knowledge through the publishing revolution. The music printing presses as well really start rolling during these centuries.

The astoundingly beautiful music of Orlando di Lassus (below), which will open our upcoming concert, might have been largely unknown and –- after his death — even completely lost had it not been for the publishing houses (many of them in the Netherlands) that saw a strong market for this work.

Orlando di Lasso

It’s staggering really to think of the dozens, probably hundreds, of musicians pre-dating the advent of broad publication whose works existed only in a few handwritten copies that have not survived. Of course, even after publishing gets going in the latter part of what we now call the Renaissance in the 16th century, only a few composers enjoyed consistent press

What strikes me over and over again me about Lassus’ music is how the incredible complexity of its counterpoint is consistently directed toward a clear spiritual point. Remarkably, this miracle of style is still present 200 years after Lassus in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, where the density of the countrapuntal fabric actually helps keep the emotion centered. Claude Debussy remarked how in Bach’s music “the issue is never lost.”

Also, Lassus treats the human voice so well; all four singers have beautiful, independent lines that weave together into a mesmerizing curtain of sound. Legend has it that Lassus’ voice itself was so compelling that as a young singer he was “absconded with” more than once.

For the second work on the program I’ll play a fugue on the positive organ. This type of organ weighs only about 200 pounds and is relatively portable; MBM borrowed this beautiful instrument, made by the Dutch builder Klop, from Stephen Alltop in Evanston, Illinois.

The fugue I’ll play is by Giovanni Gabrieli, music director at the magisterial St. Mark’s church in Venice, which still stands today. Pieces like this fugue were typically composed in “open score,” simply four independent lines with no instrumental designation — the counterpoint is so great, the music works in any medium. I always imagine what it might have sounded like on four sackbuts (Renaissance trombones) positioned in opposing galleries in a resonant space like St. Marks.

Giovanni Gabrieli

The program also features two viola da gambas, bowed though fretted instrument in roughly the same register as a cello (there are also tenor and treble gambas).

Gambists Martha Vallon and Anna Steinhoff will perform a sonata by Heinrich Schenck based upon the famous Rhinemaidens legend, though this work comes two centuries before Richard Wagner went ballistic on the idea in hid “Ring” cycle.

Johann Schenck

The first half of the program will end with instrumental sonatas by the Italian virtuoso violinist Antonio Bertali (below and in a YouTube video at the bottom), who worked most of his career in Vienna, and was known for importing early Italian opera into the Austrian region. We’ll mix baroque violins, gambas, recorder, dulcian and organ in the Bertali set.

antonio bertali

The second part of the program opens with two pieces by German composer Heinrich Schütz (below).

Heinrich Schutz

The first is a celebratory Christmas piece (Christ the Lord is Born Today) for voices and instruments. That will be followed by a very secular piece, Golden Hair–for soprano, alto, two violins, and continuo—about how “you torture me with your beauty. Why won’t Venus send me some comfort! I languish and die.”

Seventeenth-century or whenever — how some things never change! Schütz worked at the Dresden court during the incredibly turbulent times of the Thirty Years War; some of his music is even designed for reduced ensembles, due to the ravages of the war. As a young man he traveled to Italy and studied with Monteverdi. Some of Schutz’s music is even directly borrowed, or adapted from Monteverdi, as is the case with Golden Hair as Schutz converts it from Italian to German.

Next are two works by Heinrich Bach (below),  Johann Sebastian Bach’s great uncle. First is an instrumental transcription of “Have Mercy Upon Us, O Lord God” for two violins and two gambas. Second is the mezzo-soprano solo, with instrumental accompaniment, “Oh, had I tears enough in my head to wash away my sins.” This unusual work sounds almost like 20th-century expressionism in many places. The harmony is very gnarled, twisted and gothic. To me, Alban Berg’s Wozzeck is just around the corner.

Heinrich Bach

Following this is a rare vocal work by the great 17th-century keyboard composer Johann Froberger (below). The inventive texture mixes three voices and instruments and the text celebrates the vanquishing of death and the ecstatic speaking in tongues by the Apostles when visited by the Holy Spirit. The vocal lines are very nimble and suggest the animation of “speaking in all languages.”

johann froberger

Johann Schelle’s wrote a good deal of seasonal music and this Christmas piece is a prayer to the infant Jesus imploring him to rest in our hearts so that we will never again forget him.

The sentiment is very close to that found in the final aria in J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, “Mache dich mein herze rein,” in which the soul expresses its longing to have the Savior entombed and enshrined within our hearts, so that we may live in grace. Schelle was the Kapellmeister at Leipzig during much of the latter part of the 17th century — two generations before J. S. Bach took the job in the early 1720s.

The final composer featured on this Holiday program, Johann Michael Bach, was the son of Heinrich Bach and was also the father of Johann Sebastian Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara Bach. Put another way, Johann Michael Bach was J. S. Bach’s father-in-law. The text is from the Christmas gospel, where the angels implore the shepherds not to be afraid, but to rejoice, for the Savior has come to earth. J. M. Bach set the text for antiphonal choirs, and MBM will do this by having voices in dialogue with the instrumental band.

Johann Michael Bach

Here is the complete program:

Orlando de Lassus (c. 1532–1594): Ave Regina Coelorum; Adoramus te; Carmina Chromatico; Missa pro defunctis; Introit Jubilate Deo

Giovanni Gabrieli (1557–1612): Fuga del nono tono

Johann Schenck (1660–1716?): Sonata III for two viols from “Le Nymphe di Rheno”

Antonio Bertali (1605–1669): Sonata in A minor for two violins and continuo; Sonata in G major for recorder, violin and dulcian

INTERMISSION

Heinrich Schütz (1585–1682): Heute ist Christus der Herr geboren; Güldne Haare

Heinrich Bach (1615–1692): Erbarm dich ein, O Herre Gott (instrumental version).

Johann Froberger (1616-1667): Ach, dass ich Wassers genug hätte; Alleluia Absorta est mors.

Johann Schelle (1648–1701): Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein

Johann Michael Bach (1648–1694): Fürchtet euch nicht


Classical music: The 57th annual Grammy Award nominations are out — and they provide a useful guide to holiday gift-giving.

December 9, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This year, the holiday gift-giving season went into high gear on Thanksgiving Day, not just Black Friday. That was followed by Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday and on and on.

Doesn’t such commercialism of the holidays just make you want to break into “Joy to the World” or the “Hallelujah” Chorus?

Traditionally, The Ear has offered many lists and compilations for suggested classical recordings for the holidays — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, whatever.

Over this past weekend, the nominations for the 57th annual Grammy Awards were announced.

grammy award BIG

Of course, this event – no matter how hyped and prestigious for helping music  — is an industry honoring and promoting itself. So of course classical music is way down on the list, far behind more money-making and better selling genres.

But over the years The Ear has found that the nominees are actually more useful than the much shorter list of winners, which doesn’t come out anyway until well after the holidays.

So here is a link to the complete list of Grammy nominations. Just go the website, and scroll down to Category 72 though Category 81.

http://www.grammy.com/nominees

Sure, the Big Labels and Gray Ladies – such as Deutsche Grammophon and EMI – are represented.

And so are some pretty big New Names, including the astonishingly gifted prize-winning young pianist Daniil Trifonov (below), who, The Ear thinks, show get a Grammy for his Carnegie Hall recital. (Just listen to the YouTube video, taken from that live recital, at the bottom. It features a difficult Chopin prelude and notice the virtuosic ferocity combined with lyricism, the voicing, and the flexibility of tempo or rubato.)

danill trifonov

But once again The Ear notices how many recordings are being done by labels that have been established by the performing groups themselves or by smaller labels. Decentralization continues. So does the rediscovery of Baroque opera and early music as well as new music.

In addition, there continues to be an emphasis, established in recent years, on newer music and lesser known composers. So specialization also continues.

Notice too that veteran independent record producer Judith Sherman (below, holding the Grammy she won in 2012) is once again up for Producer of The Year – she has won it several times already.

Judith Sherman Grammy 2012

Sherman is the same person who recorded the impressive first double CD of four centennial commissions for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Pro Arte Quartet. That release included string quartets by John Harbison and Walter Mays as well as Piano Quintets by Paul Schoenfield and William Bolcom.

pro arte cd commission cover

This spring Judith Sherman is coming back to the UW-Madison School to record the last two commissions: the terrific Clarinet Quintet based on Allen Ginsberg’s Beat poem “Howl’ by American composer Pierre Jalbert (below top) and for the String Quartet No. 3 by Belgian composer Benoît Mernier (below bottom, in a photo by Lise Mernier).

Pierre Jalbert

Benoit Mernier by Lise Mernier

More such suggestions for classical music gifts are to come.

Usually critics from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal weigh in, as does Alex Ross of The New Yorker magazine and the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR (National Public Radio), and The Ear will include those.

And often The Ear throws in his own idea for gifts, which often involves linking a local live concert with a CD or a book and a CD. Stay tuned.

In addition, other website devoted to classical music – say the BBC and radio stations WQXR in New York City and WMFT in Chicago –- often featured a Best of the Year compilation.

And here is a link to more about the Grammys, including background

http://www.grammy.com

The Grammys will be awarded on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015 and broadcast on CBS-TV from 8 to 11 p.m. LIVE from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.


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