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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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).
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.
And here is a link to more about the Grammys, including background
By Jacob Stockinger
“Here we go again,” wrote a friend and colleague, referring to the issue of privately funded naming rights of public buildings and the current nationwide penchant for favoring names identified with big money over names identified with history or public service.
He was referring to the long planned new performance and rehearsal space at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music. (Below top is a sign, below middle is an exterior view and below bottom is an interior of a small recital hall, the last two in architectural renderings). It will be built on the corner of University Avenue and Lake Street, next to the new wing of the Chazen Museum of Art.
And the friend was comparing it to my own post, and reader reactions, about renaming the Wisconsin Union Theater as Shannon Hall (below) to honor the wealthy patrons who helped so much with the restoration and renovation of that cultural landmark.
Plans for the new music hall, with construction to begin in 2015, had already been unveiled. Here is a link to that Sept. 29 announcement and the many reader comments:
Now we learn about the major donors. They are George and Pamela Hamel (below), who live in the San Francisco area where he heads a venture capital firm — what else? They come from several generations of UW-Madison alumni and they generously gave $15 million as a lead gift.
All well and good, and a big, hearty thank you from all of us, and especially from music fans, is in order.
But you still have to wonder.
After all, the other major UW-Madison music halls — Mills Hall, Morphy Hall, the Raymond Dvorak lobby – are named after men who served the UW-Madison School of Music.
But of course back then the state was willing to pay for public education and not privatize it out to the wealthy.
And isn’t it nice that we have Overture Hall and the Overture Center instead of Jerry Frautschi Hall and the Jerry Frautschi Arts Center. Frautschi (below) and his wife, fellow philanthropist Pleasant Rowland serve as outstanding role models, and sure know how to show good taste in a civic-minded way. They put the emphasis on help, not ego.
Please, could the other members of the very wealthy class show some sensitivity and taste? And could UW officials and state legislators please do the same? What about a nice big bronze plaque honoring the donors with the names going to the educators and public workers? Would that suffice?
Maybe the faculty, alumni and students could vote on what to name such new buildings. That would be refreshing at a time of the Wealth Gap and Income Inequality.
And The Ear has a question: Are there incentives and major business advantages and tax breaks to giving such a big donation to a non-profit music education institution?
Anyway, here is a link to the official news release about the new hall and its name. It also has details about what performance spaces and other features the hall will contain:
What do you think of the rights issue?
Who would you name the new music hall after?
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: This just in: This afternoon’s performance at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s Christmas concert, with guest soloist and local groups under the baton of John DeMain (below, in a photo by Bob Rashid) is virtually SOLD OUT. But you can call the Overture Center Box Office (608-258-4141) to determine any availability.
By Jacob Stockinger
Sure, you look at the entirety of classical music history and you can name your favorite composers and favorite works: Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Ninth Symphony, right?
But there are surprises awaiting you, if you restrict the choices to the past century.
Looking over the past 100 years — starting Jan, 1, 1914 — who would have guessed, for example, that: Music for 18 Musicians (at bottom, in a complete performance in a YouTube video by the acclaimed and Grammy Award-winning new music group eighth blackbird) by contemporary minimalist composer Steve Reich (below, in a photo by Wonge Bergmann) would pull out ahead of George Gershwin, Dmitri Shostakovich, Bela Bartok, Charles Ives, Alban Berg and all others in last year’s Q2 Music poll?
Anyway, the terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” recently posted a story about the Q2 Music poll.
It included an entry form that will allow readers to pick up to FIVE works and composers as they participate in this year’s poll that dates back to Jan. 1, 1915.
Voting closes on Dec. 20, 2014.
Then, starting on Saturday, Dec. 27, as a way to close out the old year and ring in the new, a marathon countdown will begin and all the works will be played in reverse order of the survey results.
No word if it will be webcast, but The Ear suspects you can easily tune into Q2 Music by going to the website for WQXR.
Here is a link to the NPR story by Anastasia Tsioulcas and to the poll entry form.
And here is a link to WQXR where you can find a way to listen (at the top of the page), to sign up for the Q2 Music Newsletter and also see the results of the Q2 polls for 2011, 2012 and 2013 as well as the upcoming 2014. It makes for some interesting reading and listening.
And here is a link to a Dec. 2 concert, now archived at NPR, in which some of the best new recordings and music from 2014 was performed:
As for the Q2 Music poll, The Ear hopes someone chooses – make that that many people choose – the gorgeous Violin Concerto by the American composer Samuel Barber, who was less hot and controversial but much more gifted as a composer.
But whatever happens, have fun choosing and voting.
Don’t forget to use the COMMENTS section to tell The Ear and his readers what works you entered.
And don’t forget to fill in your date book for some happy listening to new music.
By Jacob Stockinger
This will be brief and is offered in case you haven’t yet heard the news.
Starting tomorrow, Dec. 7, WPR will expand the popular “Sunday Brunch” program -– now about two years old — with creator, programmer and host Anders Yokom (below, in a photo in his radio studio by James Gill) — into a third hour. It will air from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.
It will also spread samples from new releases throughout the entire program, and not just during the last hour.
Then at 1 p.m., WPR will feature “Wisconsin Classical.” It offers recorded music from around the state of Wisconsin, with Lori Skelton serving as host. The Ear doesn’t consider it a good or adequate replacement for the cancellation of “Sunday Afternoon Live from the Chazen” (below), held FREE at the art museum on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Live music can just be so much more exciting than classical music.
Last spring, after 36 years of successful broadcasts and big audiences, WPR abruptly cancelled that program of LIVE chamber music and recitals by musicians from around the state.
That led to a lot of public disapproval and dozens of reader or listener responses, as you can judge from the following link:
But the new format is intended to give listeners the chance to hear some recorded — not LIVE — music from mainstream groups like the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra as well as by smaller groups, chamber music and solo recitals as well as faculty performances from the University of Wisconsin System and other private and public educational institutions in the state.
So tune in and listen and use the COMMENTS section to let us know what you think about the changes.
The Ear wants to hear.
ALERT: Two one-hour performances of the FREE Choral Prism Concert, featuring all of UW-Madison choral choirs, will take place on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church (below), 1021 University Ave. Performing short pieces of seasonal music — winter, Christmas, Hanukkah — under conductor and director Beverly Taylor are the UW Chorale, UW Concert Choir, UW Madrigal Singers, UW Masters Singers and Women’s Chorus Opera and Voice. There is an optional sing-along for the audience. Sorry, The Ear has received no word on specific composers and works.
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 and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.
By John W. Barker
After almost 25 years, as the first and longest-surviving group bringing early music to Madison on a regular basis, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) is still going strong.
And two days after Thanksgiving, on the tail end of a University of Wisconsin-Madison football game, it came up with a remarkably rich and generous program, performed at a familiar venue, the historic Gates of Heaven synagogue (below) in James Madison Park.
Part of the richness was the idea of a partial theme: commemorating the 300th anniversary year of the birth of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (below, 1714-1788).
Of eight program slots, three were devoted to C.P.E.’s music. The opening item was a Trio Sonata in D minor, for two flutes and basso continuo, played by flutists Brett Lipshitz and Monica Steger, with cellist Anton TenWolde cellist (below) and harpsichordist Max Yount. (You can hear the Trio Sonata in D minor at the bottom in a YouTube video.)
Written during C.P.E.’s service to the flute-obsessed Frederick the Great of Prussia, it is a conservative piece that still looks back to the late Baroque styles of the composer’s famous father, Johann Sebastian Bach. On the other hand, three short practice Sonatinas from the very end of C.P.E.’s life (played by Yount) can be related to the piano sonatas that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was writing exactly at the same time.
Most fascinating of all, however, was a Sonata for Viola da gamba and Harpsichord obligato, dating from 1759. An intricate and demanding work, it has its own musical substance, the opening of which Eric Miller (below, in photo by Katrin Talbot) brought off brilliantly, with Yount. But clearly as a duet for two equal instruments (abandoning the old keyboard continuo function), it gave hints of Ludwig van Beethoven’s cello sonatas, to come a half-century and more later.
As against the works of the birthday boy, instrumental pieces by three other composers were offered, composers roughly parallel in lifespan to C.P.E., but whose individual differences made nice contrasts to the latter’s style.
Rather conventionally post-Baroque was a sonata for cello and bass by the Dutch composer Pieter Hellendaal (1721-1799). But pre-Classical virtuosity was the hallmark of a Sonata for traverse flute and continuo by Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721-1783), played with wonderful flair by Lipshutz, with Steger shifting to the harpsichord as partner.
Particularly interesting, though, was a chamber work by a dimly remembered French composer of the day, Louis-Gabriel Guillemain (1705-1770). The scoring of this sonata pitted a seemingly unbalanced trio of two flutes and gamba against the basso continuo: the manipulations of color and texture were full of wit and cleverness, especially in the last of its four movements.
There were also two vocal works, for some added contrast. Soprano Consuelo Sañudo (below) sang a cantata, on a text about tempestuous love by slightly earlier Baroque French master Michel Piglet de Montéclair. She displayed in this her usual combination of precision and stylistic flair.
And then, for the program’s closer, she sang a Spanish “villancico” by Juan Hidalgo de Polanco, whose life span (1614-1685) was almost exactly identical with C.P.E. Bach’s, by one century earlier. This was, in fact, composed for four vocal parts with basso continuo, but for this the other three vocal parts were rendered instrumentally, thus bringing the full group of six performers together in a grand finale.
This was, in all, an unusually long program, but one filled with surprises, discoveries and delights. It proved another reminder of the WBE’s endless gifts to Madison’s musical life.
ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the historic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature “Music for Double Reeds and Piano” with Scott Ellington, Ruth Dahlke, Willy Walter, Rozan Anderson and Ann Aschbacher playing music by Johannes Brahms, George Frideric Handel, Alyssa Morris and more. Double reed instruments include the bassoon, the oboe, the oboe d’amore and the English horn.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Edgewood College Music Department will give the 87th annual Christmas concerts (below is a photo from last year’s concert) on this Friday night, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m., and again on this Saturday night, Dec. 6 at 7 p.m., in St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.
Sorry, The Ear has received no word on the program or specific works or composers to be performed.
According to a press release: “This annual Christmas celebration is one of the College’s oldest traditions. A highlight each year is the invitation for audience members to join in singing traditional carols.”
Please visit www.edgewood.edu.
All proceeds for these concerts benefit Edgewood College music students through the Edward Walters Music Scholarship Fund.
By Jacob Stockinger
Was Shinichi Suzuki (seen below teaching British students in 1980) a fraud?
You might recall that he is the man who invented the famous Suzuki Method for learning strings and other kinds of musical instruments, including the piano. Entire schools are based on his method.
O’Connor (below) is the same musician who teaches at the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston and who plays and records best-selling CDs like “Appalachian Journey” with bassist Edgar Meyer and superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Now The Ear suspects there will be millions, probably tens or hundreds of millions, of parents and young people – all Suzuki students at one time – who might wish to disagree with O’Connor.
And it sure seems like the Suzuki has led to a lot of Asian students and others who learned through Suzuki playing in major orchestras and attending major conservatories.
At the bottom is YouTube method by a Dallas-based Suzuki teacher who tries to explain and defend the Suzuki Method as a “natural” method that is based on the idea of a “mother tongue.”
But you should make up you own mind about such matters, which are as ethical as they are pedagogical or musical and which force us to confront the practicality and efficacy of competing teaching methods.
Be sure to read the more than 100 comments from readers.
See what you think and then let us know.
The Ear wants to hear.