ALERTS: The Ear wasn’t able to attend the opening concert last weekend of the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival in the refurbished barn (below). But here are reviews by two local critics who did.
Here is a review by John W. Barker for Isthmus:
Here is a review by Greg Hettmansberger for the Classically Speaking blog of Madison Magazine:
By Jacob Stockinger
As usually happens at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, the concert of the second program on Wednesday night was a collaborative effort in exploration.
In this case, three key players participated: returning guest pianist Judith Gordon, who is now a professor at Smith College; Pulitzer Prize-winner and MacArthur Foundation “genius” award-winning composer, MIT teacher and co-artistic director John Harbison, who never fails to illuminate the music with his insightful brief commentaries; and co-artistic director and violinist Rose Mary Harbison, who programmed part of the concert as well as performed.
Rose Mary Harbison (below) also played the famous “Spring” Sonata for violin and piano, which John Harbison said pointed to how Ludwig van Beethoven — who aimed for the epic rather than the miniature — checked out the achievements of contemporaries and then figured out his own way to enter the mainstream.
Rose Mary Harbison also partnered with Gordon in a theme-and-variations piece by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, a piece The Ear found a little bit charming and a lot underwhelming.
In the very capable hands of Judith Gordon (below), those two composers proved to be the axis of the program and a fascinating coupling.
The two composers, one Baroque and the other Romantic, were chosen because they both focused on smaller-scale works. Exiled from his native Italy and isolated in courts in Portugal and Spain, Scarlatti (below) wrote 550 keyboard sonatas of astonishing variety, color and virtuosity.
Chopin (below), on the other hand, turned inward in the bustling artistic scene and intellectual ferment of Paris, and focused on smaller forms -– none smaller than the Preludes played at Token Creek. They seem a kind of Rosetta Stone for deconstructing and understanding the structure of the rest of Chopin’s output; or perhaps they are like a Table of Contents, abbreviated guides to, or outlines or preparatory sketches of, so many other works.
But in both cases, as John Harbison explained clearly, the two composers narrowed down their ambitions to achieve the kind of unique and idiosyncratic achievements or originality that many other composers can only dream of achieving. They were like poets who find freedom in the formal confines of the sonnet form.
John Harbison picked two pairs of Scarlatti sonatas for Gordon to perform: one early pair in E major (one is the famous calling card of Vladimir Horowitz in a YouTube video at the bottom) to show Scarlatti at his compositional planning phase with pretty regular development; and two late ones in F-Sharp minor to show how later in life Scarlatti increasingly sounded as if he made things up as he went along.
For her part, Rose Mary Harbison selected two sets of six preludes each by Chopin -– he wrote 24 as a set, then added a posthumously published one –- to demonstrate much the same effect: the contrary moods and Chopin’s extraordinary gift for compression and brevity, for his ability to make a 30-second piece sound complete or whole, as if it has a beginning, middle and end. (At the bottom is a YouTube performance of one of the loveliest preludes on the program, the mini-Nocturne in F-Sharp Major, in a live performance by Maurizio Pollini.)
The compare-and-contrast strategy worked very well, as was demonstrated not only in performance but also in a Q&A-type interview (below) that Judith Gordon did with John Harbison.
The Ear will long remember the unusual coupling, which is often the way Token Creek goes about programming unexpected matches, for the insight they shed on both composers, whose works, as it happens, I myself like to play on the piano.
It also tells us what to look for and to value at Token Creek: Unusual and unexpected approaches that yield unforgettable results.
Two more performances remain in this summer’s season, on Saturday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., and they will feature the pianist husband-and-wife team of Harvard Professor Robert Levin and Ya-Fei Chuang performing music by Franz Schubert, C.P.E. Bach and Maurice Ravel as well as Rose Mary Harbison in the knockout Violin Sonata by Claude Debussy, his last work and one of his best.
Here is a link for more information and tickets:
This year the festival is celebrating both its own 25th anniversary and the 300th anniversary of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (below).
To history, the C.P.E. Bach anniversary no doubt matters more.
To my ears, however, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival anniversary matters more.
And despite C.P.E. Bach, whose music will by and large remain on my record shelf and not in my CD player, the night belonged to Domenico Scarlatti and Frederic Chopin.
It is not easy to shed new light on old masterpieces, but that is exactly what the Harbisons and Judith Gordon managed to do.
What can one say but: Thank You!
By Jacob Stockinger
Every year, it marks the end of the summer classical musical season in Madison.
But this year brings something special.
This year, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
The festival opens this coming Saturday night, Aug. 23, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 31. It features the usual lineup of outstanding imported artists, all assembled by the co-artistic directors, who are the award-winning composer John Harbison (Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”) and his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison (both below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot). This year, there is NO jazz cabaret.
The five performances of three programs -– with two Sunday matinee concerts –- will all take place in the lovely renovated barn (below) in nearby Token Creek. The space is ideal for the intimacy of chamber music, which is important since the festival is more of a niche event for serious music fans than a popular or populist event.
In addition to the playing, John Harbison will provide his always pithy and insightful commentaries on the composers and the works.
The festival will focus not on itself and its own anniversary so much as on the 300th anniversary of the birth of composer Carl Philip Emanuel Bach (below), one of the composer sons of Johann Sebastian Bach.
The acclaimed musicologist and keyboard artist Robert Levin (below top) will return from Harvard University -– John Harbison teaches at nearby MIT –- and will perform with his pianist wife Ya-Fei Chuang (below bottom).
Boston-area pianist Judith Gordon (below) will also return to play works by Scarlatti and Chopin.
But once again, as is customary, fine local talent will also perform, including Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra principal cellist Karl Lavine (below top, in a photo by Brynn Brujinn), Madison Symphony Orchestra violinist Laura Burns (below middle, by Brynn Brujinn) and flutist Dawn Lawler (below bottom).
Rose Mary Harbison will perform Bach and Debussy among other works.
And new music will not be forgotten. There will be a world premiere of a specially commissioned piece by local composer Jeff Stanek (below) and the Midwest premiere of John Harbison’s own “Songs America Loves to Sing.”
Today, The Ear offers an overview of the festival with the artists, programs and concert information. Tomorrow, The Ear will offer two appetite-whetting essays: the first, by Rose Mary Harbison, talks about the festival anniversary; the second, by John Harbison, talks about the achievement and music of C.P.E. Bach.
For more information, including programs, performer biographies and archives, visit: http://tokencreekfestival.org
For tickets ($30 with a limited number of $10 student tickets):
Call (608) 241-2524 or visit http://tokencreekfestival.org/2014-season/tickets/
PROGRAM I: AMERICAN SPRING
Saturday, Aug. 23, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 24, at 4 p.m. (The Sunday performance is SOLD-OUT.)
Works of Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn, John Harbison and Jeffrey Stanek will be featured.
Says John Harbison: “It would be inarticulate to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of C.P.E. Bach without the music of J.S. Bach and Joseph Haydn, both his origins and in some sense his destiny. Let’s not kid ourselves, these anchors have more weight than the ship we are launching.
“But CPE’s virtues are made clearest by juxtaposing his cheeky, mischievous and iconoclastic imagination against the stabilizing, normative and, finally, more clear-minded music of his father precursor and his successor ‘heir.’
“It could be said that CPE’s task was to dismantle some of his father’s synthesis, and Haydn’s was to reassemble, balance and clarify the brilliant musical vistas glimpsed by CPE.”
“Songs America Sings proposes to adapt J.S. Bach’s chorale prelude principle, his inclusion of familiar melodies as tugboats through unfamiliar musical waters, into a modern setting, the tune supposedly widely and currently familiar, the compositional terrain complicated by canons, re-harmonizations and diversions.”
The program includes:
J.S. Bach: Solo Violin Partita in E Major (selections)
Haydn: Trio in D major for violin, cello, and piano, Hob XV:24
Jeffrey Stanek: A WORLD PREMIERE (commissioned for the festival’s 25th anniversary) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano
C.P.E. Bach: Sonata V in E minor for piano, violin, and cello, Wq 89, no. 5
John Harbison: “Songs America Loves to Sing” (Midwest Premiere) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano
Dawn Lawler, flute; Joe Morris, clarinet; Rose Mary Harbison, violin; Karl Lavine, cello; John Harbison, piano ; Jeffrey Stanek, commissioned composer
“What can we say about a composer who winds up composing entirely, or at the least primarily, for one medium? Chopin (below) and Scarlatti both found that restriction to the keyboard, rather than limiting their resources, freed their imaginations. By immersing themselves in the sound and attach of a single instrument they each became more peculiar, un-imitatable, and irresistible. In small forms, they found snowflake variety.
“Anchoring the program, Beethoven, a universal large-scale composer whose Sonata in F somehow acquired the title “Spring.” If spring, it is the changeable, difficult weather, more showers than flowers.”
The program includes:
Scarlatti: Selected keyboard sonatas
Chopin: Selected Preludes for piano
C.P.E. Bach: Arioso with Variations in A, for keyboard and violin, Wq 79
Beethoven: Violin Sonata in F major, Op. 24 (“Spring”)
Judith Gordon, piano; Rose Mary Harbison violin
PROGRAM III: THE PERENNIAL AVANT-GARDE
Saturday, Aug. 30 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 31, at 4 p.m.
“Occasionally, but not always, composers decide to take it further, to write a piece with absurd levels of discontinuity (C.P.E. Bach’s Fantasy), radical conciseness and semaphoric, sketchy formal outline (Debussy’s Sonata), over-the-top nostalgia and apocalyptic prediction (Ravel’s La Valse), and form and scope too big for its medium (Schubert’s Grand Duo, for one piano, two players). A program of extremes: in the service of liberty — no vice.”
The program includes:
C.P.E. Bach: Fantasia in F-sharp minor for Keyboard, Wq 67; Sonata in C Minor for Keyboard and Violin, Wq 78
Debussy: Sonata for Violin and Piano (heard in a performance by James Ehnes in a YouTube video at the bottom)
Ravel: La Valse (arranged for piano by Ya-Fei Chuang)
Schubert: Grand Duo, for one piano-four hands
Robert Levin, piano; Ya-Fei Chuang, piano; Rose Mary Harbison, violin
Tomorrow: Violinist and co-director of Token Creek Festival Rose Mary Harbison writes about 25 years of presenting the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. Composer John Harbison writes about his changed appreciation of C.P.E. Bach.
By Jacob Stockinger
Two of the best sources for reading about classical music are NPR (National Public Radio) with its Deceptive Cadence blog; and The New Yorker magazine, which features Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Alex Ross (below) on its staff.
These days a lot of publications are figuring out how to “monetize” their websites and on-line stories since they are losing readers of printed editions.
Perhaps David Remnick, the reporter-turned-editor of the The New Yorker who has more than doubled the magazine’s circulation and inaugurated a series of best-selling books of story and cartoon collections, may have a new and unorthodox approach. He seems to be thinking “outside the box” and in reverse: Use the web to increase the profile, and profitability of the print edition.
That approach may mean opening up to FREE ACCESS some of the stories that will give people a taste of what they are missing if they do not subscribe to or regularly read the source.
Whatever the reasoning, The New Yorker has opened up its archives to classical music fans with five not-to-miss profiles and stories about high-profile musicians.
They include the Chinese phenomenon and superstar pianist Lang-Lang (below), who is often dismissed by critics as “Bang-Bang” for his Liberace-like flamboyance and unmusicality, but who remains the most sought-after classical pianist in the world. (At bottom, you can see and hear the opening of a BBC documentary about Lang Lang on YouTube.)
Others include the American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is highly articulate about the world of singing and opera; the French woman and highly individualistic pianist Helene Grimaud, who aims for unusual interpretations; the German violinist Christian Tetzlaff, who is renowned for eschewing the customary path of virtuosity; and the famous essay on taking piano lessons “Every Good Boy Does Fine” by American pianist Jeremy Denk (below), who recently won a MacArthur “genius grant”; who has performed recitals twice in Madison at the Wisconsin Union Theater; and who will be releasing a book-length volume of his essays and postings on his acclaimed blog “Think Denk” this fall.
The weekend is a good chance to catch up on such reading. You will learn a lot if you read these stories.
And maybe you, like The Ear, will also become a loyal New Yorker reader. When it calls itself “the best magazine in the world,” it is not kidding.
That goes for politics, social trends, art and culture, and even poetry.
Here is a link, which also features some audio samples:
By Jacob Stockinger
Editor’s note: The Well-Tempered Ear has asked people and participants on the one-week tour in Belgium with the UW Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) to file whatever dispatches and photos they can to keep the fans at home current with what is happening on the concert stage and off.
Here is a link to the dramatic first installment:
And here, below, is the second installment:
After troubles at customs and catching up from jet lag, the Pro Arte Quartet got down to the business of eating and sleeping, rehearsing and performing, of meeting its public and catching up with its history.
The quartet members and their entourage of groupies -– the quartet consists of violinists David Perry and Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm, cellist Parry Karp plus manager Sarah Schaffer — spent time meeting and greeting the descendants of the original quartet members who started the ensemble over a century ago at the Royal Belgian Conservatory of Music in Brussels before it became a Court quartet and then World War II stranded the quartet in Madison.
That’s when, in 1941, the quartet became artists-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, where they have remained ever since.
Here are some updates on Day 2 of the Belgium tour:
Sarah Schaffer writes:
Day 2 — Thursday:
Today’s “crisis” is small compared to yesterday’s:
The quartet needed a place to rehearse.
We’d assumed, incorrectly it turned out, that the hotel would have something like a meeting room that might be used.
They offered instead the BAR! It is not open mornings.
And that is where Michel Arthur Prevost (below left in my photo), the grandnephew of founding violist Germaine Prevost and the impresario of the opening concert at Flagey Hall, first encountered the quartet when he unexpectedly arrived at the hotel this morning. On the right is his brother Jean Marie Prevost.
Acoustics at Flagey were fantastic, as they quartet found out when rehearsing.
The opening concert was much enjoyed by a small but extremely appreciative audience.
Tomorrow we meet King Philippe’s counselor, Herbert Roisin, and offer him our gift of the photos of the old and current quartet members and a letter from our new University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank that we carried with us to Belgium.
Plus, the Pro Arte Quartet has received media attention, the local newspaper running a story (below) in French under a headline in English:
Adds violist Sally Chisholm, who always has an eye for the feature and the fun:
What a fine way to travel!
Here is a very professional taxi driver taking us to Flagey Hall.
Much acceleration, good humor and the local title of Place des Morts (Square of the Dead) for the number of pedestrians crossing the street.
We are now in Studio 1, safe and greeting the grandnephews of Germain Prevost and many Pro Arte friends.
Here is the grandson of cellist Robert Maas, speaking with Anne Van Malderen who is writing a documentary history of the Pro Arte. He speaks no English, but is very easy to understand!
And here is the great-granddaughter of Robert Maas:
What a wonderful hall and appreciative audience.
Here is the stage before I played the Elegy for solo viola that was composed by Igor Stravinsky for one Pro Arte member and dedicated to the passing of another, Germaine Prevost. I performed it after remarks, in French, by Dr. Prevost, grand-nephew of Germain Prevost.
And here is the brief review by Dr. Robert Graebner, a UW-Madison alumnus and retired Madison neurologist who, with his wife Linda Graebner, is following the Pro Arte on its one-week tour and who commissioned for the quartet’s centennial the String Quartet No. 6 by American composer John Harbison — who teaches at MIT and co-directs the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival near Madison each August, and who has won both the Pulitzer Prize and a coveted MacArthur “genius” grant:
We just returned from a private concert at the historic Art Deco Flagey Studio 1. (Below is a photo of the concert posters taken by Sarah Schaffer.)
The Pro Arte was in top form, and attendees included two relatives of Germaine Prevost and two relatives of Robert Maas.
Tomorrow brings a concert at the Royal Library.
So stayed tuned as the Pro Arte performs again (below is the printed program from Sarah Schaffer) and meets The Royals – or at least their reps.
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear’s friends at the Madison-based fun-filled and pun-filled Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society –- which The Ear named as Musician of the Year –- has announced its 23rd annual summer concert series, called “23 Skiddoo.”
The eclectic and unorthodox chamber music series, which will emphasize Latin American music, will take place this summer, from June 13 to June 29, 2014. It will be held over three weekends in three different venues and with 12 concerts offering six different programs. (Below is the official poster logo for 23 SKIDOO.)
Here is the official press release:
Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society (BDDS) presents its 23rd annual summer chamber music festival, “23 SKIDDOO,” from June 13 to June 29, 2014.
This festival features 12 concerts over three weekends, each weekend offers two different programs.
Concerts will be performed in The Playhouse at the Overture Center in Madison (below top); the renovated historic Stoughton Opera House (below middle); and the Hillside Theater at architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green (below bottom).
Combining the best local musicians and top-notch artists from around the country, a varied repertoire and delightful surprises, BDDS presents chamber music as “serious fun” infused with high energy and lots of audience appeal, and makes this art form accessible to diverse audiences.
Led by artistic directors and performers Stephanie Jutt, flute, and Jeffrey Sykes, piano, (below in a photo by C Photography) 15 guest artists will perform in the festival.
“23 Skiddoo” is early 20th century American slang that refers to leaving quickly or taking advantage of an opportunity to leave. Jutt and Sykes have taken some great colloquial expressions and found musical connections for them: sometimes obvious, sometimes oblique — but always leading to thrilling music.
Highlights for this season include Latin American music — especially from Argentina — two pianos on stage in one weekend, a Midwest premiere by Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Aaron Jay Kernis, and a silent film score including a screening of the film, below, by and with Charlie Chaplin.
We have two spectacular programs our first week, “Getta Move On” and “Exit Strategy.”
“Exit Strategy” features music written at the end of composers’ careers. It includes Claude Debussy‘s profound Sonata for Violin, the last work he wrote; Maurice Ravel’s popular “Bolero” in its original two-piano incarnation, almost his last work; Arnold Bax’s beautiful sonata for flute and harp; and the scintillating “Paganini” Variations of Witold Lutoslawski for two pianos.
“Getta Move On” features music inspired by dance, including Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s thrilling “Symphonic Dances” for two pianos, Ravel’s nostalgic “La valse” for two pianos, and the Midwest premiere of Aaron Jay Kernis’ evocative work “The Art of the Dance” for soprano, flute, harp, viola and percussion.
Madison’s piano star Christopher Taylor (below top) will pair up with BDDS artistic director Jeffrey Sykes on the two-piano works. The programs will also showcase the talents of Canadian harp virtuoso Heidi Krutzen and Pro Musicis award winner Yura Lee (below bottom) on violin and viola.
Icelandic soprano Dìsella Làrusdóttir, hailed by Opera News as “a voice of bewitching beauty and presence,” will join in the premiere of the work by Aaron Jay Kernis (below) and other works.
Concerts will be performed at The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts on Friday and Saturday, June 13 and 14, at 7:30 p.m. and Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 15, at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
The second week features “Take a Hike” and “Hasta La Vista, Baby.”
“Take a Hike” includes music inspired by the countryside, from an Amy Beach “Romance,” to Johannes Brahms’ gorgeous Clarinet Trio and Mozart’s pastoral Piano Concerto No. 23, which celebrates the Austrian countryside, to works by Argentinian composer Carlos Guastavino (below).
“Hasta La Vista, Baby” is an extravaganza of Latin American chamber music from the sultry, sensuous, heart-on-the-sleeve tangos of Astor Piazzolla (below) to the mystic profundity of Osvaldo Golijov‘s “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.”
We are thrilled to have clarinetist Alan Kay, principal of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, joining BDDS for the first time.
He will be joined by audience favorites Carmit Zori and Suzanne Beia, violins; David Harding, viola; and Tony Ross and Beth Rapier, cellos.
Finally, we have invited master pianist and arranger Pablo Zinger (below), one of Piazzolla’s champions who played with Piazzolla own’s quintet and is an international authority on Latin music, to give our programs authentic Latin flair. (You can hear Pablo Zinger playing with the composer in a popular YouTube video with over 1 million hits at the bottom in the beautiful bittersweet song “Adios, Nonino” that Piazzolla wrote when his father died. Zinger opens with a long and impressive solo piano riff and at about 1:48 minutes finally breaks into the heartbreaking melody.)
Concerts will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 20, at 7:30 p.m.; at the The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 21, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, on Sunday, June 22, at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
The final week includes “Cut and Run” and “Hightail It.”
“Cut and Run” features music by composers who made well-timed exits or transitions in their lives. Bohuslav Martinu escaped Europe just before the outbreak of World War II; when he arrived in the US, he wrote his jazzy Trio for flute, cello and piano. In Russia, Dmitri Shostakovich (below) responded to the war by writing his very moving piano trio. In this work, he got himself back into the good graces of the Soviet authorities—and yet still managed to sneak into his work an ironic critique of Soviet life.
Darius Milhaud’s great work for piano four hands, “Le boeuf sur le toit,” was originally intended as the score for Charlie Chaplin’s silent movie “The Count,” a movie (below) that culminates in a hilariously well-timed exit. Our program will reunite the movie with its erstwhile score.
“Hightail It” includes music with fast codas. “Coda” is the Italian word for “tail,” and it refers to the final section of a movement or a piece. This program includes William Hirtz’s fun, over-the-top “Fantasy on the Wizard of Oz” for piano four-hands, and the jazzy, rhythmic Sonata, for violin and cello, of Maurice Ravel. The thrilling, symphonic Piano Trio in F minor of Antonín Dvořák brings the season to a close.
The San Francisco Piano Trio (below) — violinist Axel Strauss, cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau and BDDS artistic director pianist Jeffrey Sykes — will be joined by Boston Symphony pianist Randall Hodgkinson and BDDS Artistic Director flutist Stephanie Jutt in these programs.
Concerts will be performed at The Playhouse of the Overture Center for the Arts on Friday, June 27, 7:30 p.m.; at the Stoughton Opera House on Saturday, June 28, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, Sunday, on June 29, at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
FREE FAMILY CONCERT
For the fourth year, BDDS will also perform one FREE family concert, “Getta Move On Kids,” an interactive event that will be great for all ages. Together with the audience, BDDS will explore why dance-like melodies and rhythms can get people on their feet; they’ll listen to and repeat rhythms and move to the music.
This will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 14, in The Playhouse at the Overture Center. This is a performance for families with children ages 6 and up and seating will be first come first served. CUNA Mutual Group, and Overture Center generously underwrite this performance.
University of Wisconsin-Madison artist Carolyn Kallenborn (below top with a set from 2011 below bottom), who works in textiles artist, will create a stage setting for each concert in The Playhouse. All concerts at The Playhouse, the Opera House and Hillside Theater will be followed by a meet-the-artist opportunity.
The addresses of location and venues are: Stoughton Opera House, 381 East Main Street in Stoughton; the Overture Center in Madison at 201 State Street; and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Hillside Theater on County Highway 23 in Spring Green.
Single general admission tickets are $39. Student tickets are only $5. Various ticket packages are also available starting at a series of three for $111. First-time subscriptions are 50 percent off.
For tickets and information, call (608) 255-9866 or visit: www.bachdancinganddynamite.org
Single tickets for Overture Center concerts can also be purchased at the Overture Center for the Arts box office, (608) 258-4141, or at overturecenter.com (additional fees apply). Hillside Theater tickets may be purchased from the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitors Center on County Highway C, (608) 588-7900. Tickets are available at the door at all locations.
By Jacob Stockinger
A frequent critic and gifted guest reviewer on this web site recently referred to Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine as the most exciting violin talent to emerge on the American scene.
Well, Barton Pine is indeed special and very gifted, as she proved earlier this month when she opened the Wisconsin Union Theater season with the magnificent Violin Concerto by Johannes Brahms, performed with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra conducted under the baton of UW alumnus and Madison native Kenneth Woods.
Here is a link to that review:
But The Ear has to respectfully disagree.
For my money, or my taste, or my values — whatever you want to call it — the most exciting violin talent on the American scene is Hilary Hahn (below).
Hahn performs the classics and the great masterworks terrifically, with a great sense of architectural shape and beautiful tone, plus exciting but not exaggerated or distorted interpretations.
She also plays modern works and commissions works, including a Pulitzer Prize-winning Violin Concerto by Jennifer Higdon (below) who teaches composition at the same Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where Hahn trained.
And her two recitals with the then relatively unknown pianist Valentina Lisitsa at the Wisconsin Union Theater were among the best performed and most originally programmed recitals that I have ever heard.
Oh, and Hilary Hahn also blogs, by the way.
And she also did her own interviews, posted on YouTube, with the 27 composers — including Max Richter, Lera Auerbach and Avner Dorfman — who composed the encores.
Check out her website: http://hilaryhahn.com
Now the heirloom record label Deutsche Grammophon has released the “The Hilary Hahn Encores in 27 Pieces,” which features 27 recently composed pieces, all commissioned by Hahn for her use as concert encores. It is a welcome throwback, in a way, to salon music and to composers like virtuoso violinist Fritz Kreisler.
I don’t know how they did it – I suspect it was some kind of swap for advertising space – but NPR has terrific classical music blog “Deceptive Cadence” and a feature called “First Listen” that also allows you to hear some music before it is released commercially. (But, as I understand it, you can’t download it or recorded it from the NPR site.)
NPR did the same for Jeremy Denk’s acclaimed new recording for the Nonesuch label of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations.
Anyway, here is a link to the new Hilary Hahn CD of encores. Enjoy the music and listening to it.
And let us know your Top 5 picks of the 27, or even just your Top Pick.
It will be interesting to see if there is a consensus and what ones are liked the most.
The Ear wants to hear.
By Jacob Stockinger
Is the novel dead yet?
Well, some say yes and some say no. I suppose it depends on what you are looking for.
Lots and lots of novels continue to be written and published, and to sell big.
But then again, one can argue, the novel just doesn’t seem to have the cultural power or sway, or the same serious reader appeal, that it once held in the 19th and 20th centuries.
So can one ask the same thing about the symphony?
Why should one compose today in a musical form or genre that can seem so outdated, according to some who critics who point out that it dates back to at least Franz Joseph Haydn in the 18th century with roots going back even further back than that.
The American composer Kevin Puts (below, in a photo by Andrew Shapter), defends writing symphonies, even as he is doing so. Puts, you may recall, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for his opera “Silent Night,” about the Christmas Truce on the front lines and in the trenches during World War I.
By the way, Kevin Puts’ own 2001 postmodern orchestral piece “Inspiring Beethoven,” which is based on the famous Allegretto movement of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 (below, in a YouTube video with intriguing schematic graphics and over 5 million hits) was performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra two seasons ago. (You can hear “Inspiring Beethoven” performed in a YouTube video at the bottom.)
The Ear finds his case compelling and shares his defense of the symphony. Maybe you will too.
Here is a link to Puts’ essay, which has a lot of specific modern composer names and examples of modern symphonies as well as links:
What do you think? Is the symphony or concerto outdated or dead?
Do you have a favorite modern or contemporary symphony?
What is your favorite symphony of all time?
The Ear wants to hear.
But in the mean time, please excuse me.
I have to get back to working on the pre-deceased novel I am writing.
Maybe I’ll listen to a symphony while I am writing it.
ALERT: Tonight, at 7 p.m. on the King Street corner of the Capitol Square downtown, is the opening the 30th annual series of Concerts on the Square (below top) by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. Although most of the programs for the next six Wednesdays (rain dates are Thursdays) feature mostly pop, folk and rock music, tonight’s is an all-classical program with the student violinist David Cao (below bottom), who won this year’s WCO concerto competition for young people. He will solo in the tuneful and irresistible Mendelssohn Violin Concerto (the opening with Janine Jansen is in a YouTube video at the bottom). Also featured are works by Prokofiev (“Peter and the Wolf”), Tchaikovsky (excerpts from “Sleeping Beauty”) and Respighi. For more information about tonight’s event and all six Concerts on the Square, use this link:
By Jacob Stockinger
The Ear’s good friend Rich Samuels (below), who loves classical music and hosts his weekly radio show “Anything Goes” every Thursday morning from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. on the community-sponsored radio station WORT-FM (89.9) writes:
“I’ll be broadcasting Madison composer Jerry Hui’s Internet opera “Wired for Love” on my show in two segments: Acts I and II (beginning at 7:08 am) on June 27; the final act will begin at 7:08 on July 4. I’m airing the work in two segments on account of its length. I also want it to air during the 7 a.m. hour when more people are able to listen.
“It will be interesting to see what Jerry Hui — below — comes up with for the next Madison Area Youth Chamber orchestra (MAYCO) concert on Aug. 9.
“On July 11, I’ll be airing a pre-recorded interview with the Pulitzer Prize-winning and MacArthur Fellow or “genius” grant-winning composer and Token Creek Chamber Music Festival co-director John Harbison (below).
“I will also play a recording of his “Remembering Gatsby,” a precursor of his opera based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A concert version of “The Great Gatsby,” which was commissioned and premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, will be performed at Tanglewood that same evening.”
“I’ll be programing lots more Harbison in weeks to come. He turns 75 at the end of the year.
ALERT: This Friday at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW conductor James Smith (below) will lead the UW Symphony Orchestra in the annual FREE concert by the student concerto competition winners and the student composition winner. This year’s program includes: Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s “Capriccio Espagnol”; soprano Shannon Prickett singing the aria “Pace, pace mio Dio” from Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino“; percussionist Jacob Wolbert in the third movement of Joseph Schwantner’s Concerto for Percussion; cellist Philip Bergman in Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto, Op. 129; violinist Nathaniel Wolkstein in the first movement of Camille Saint-Saens‘ Violin Concerto No. 3; pianist Yusuke Komura is the first movement of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor; and “Whispering Seraphim” by student Joshua Hintze, conducted by David Grandis.
By Jacob Stockinger
For The Ear, one of the MUST-HEAR concerts will take place this coming Saturday night, Feb. 16, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
That is when the Pro Arte String Quartet (below in a photo by Rick Langer) -– now in its record-breaking 101st season after last year’s commission-filled Centennial -– will perform a very appealing program that is FREE and open to the public.
The first half of the chamber music concert is devoted to quartets based on the theme–and-variations format.
The concert opens with the last unfinished quartet, Op. 81, from 1847 by Felix Mendelssohn (below), who died at 36 that same year. The work has two movements that Mendelssohn supposedly wrote in overwhelming grief at the death of his sister-composer Fanny Mendelssohn.
Then comes the world premiere of a string quartet from 2012 with 14 short movements by the American composer Joel Hoffman (below) of Cincinatti, whose work is often featured in Madison by members of the Karp family at their Labor Day concerts.
As The Ear understands the story, Hoffman wrote the work for the Pro Arte on the occasion of its centennial last season. (The Pro Arte Quartet has a long history, right from its founding, of playing and championing new music, starting from Schoenberg, Webern, Berg and Bartok right through today.)
But the Arte had already commissioned several new works (string quartets and piano quintets) for the centennial — including one quartet by well-known American composer John Harbison, who has won the Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” that also features many small or short movements. So this “volunteer” commission by Hoffman was not included in the official centennial, but will finally get a hearing.
I have found Hoffman’s work – a couple of piano trios and a cello sonata, I seem to recall – modern but accessible, interesting and engaging. Se will see how the strong quartet stacks up.
Then the concert will conclude with one of the great all-time masterpieces of chamber music: Mozart’s String Quartet in G Major, K. 387, from 1782, one of the six great “Haydn” quartets that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below) composed to honor his older mentor Franz Joseph Haydn, who had basically invented and perfected the string quartet as a genre and whom Mozart admired and loved.
In fact the two geniuses played string quartets together, with Mozart (below right) on viola and Haydn (below left) on violin.
In related news, The Ear has also learned that the Pro Arte Quartet has signed on to do a European tour in the first half of January 2014. The exact itinerary, details and length are still being worked out, but the tour will include at least one stop in Belgium.
Belgium is where the Pro Arte was founded at the Brussels Conservatory in 1911-12 and eventually became the royal court quartet before being exiled in Madison by World War II and accepting an artist-in-residence post at the UW-Madison in 1940, where it has remained ever since.
In addition, a quartet by a contemporary Belgian composer, Benoit Mernier (below), whose work has been commissioned as part of the continuing centennial celebration and will be premiered next season.