By Jacob Stockinger
This coming weekend will bring the opening of the 89th season of the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below), which was founded in 1925 and how has 91 players.
By design, there will be no special guest soloist and no standard masterpiece –- say, a symphony or concerto by Haydn or Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms.
The works, chosen to highlight to Overture Concert Organ, will feature German composer Richard Strauss’ late Romantic tone poem “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” best known for its opening which served as the fanfare for Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Also featured are Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds, which was last performed by the MSO about 30 years ago); and French composer Camille Saint-Saens’ Symphony No. 3 “Organ.”
Wisconsin Public Radio host Anders Yocom (below) will provide a free 30-minutes prelude discussion that starts one hour before the performance.
Season tickets are still on sale with a 50 percent discount for new subscribers. And single tickets are now on sale, while rush tickets will also be available.
Tickets price run $16-$84.
Here is a link to the MSO site about the opening concert, with links to other information and ticket reservations:
You can also call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141 or visit www.overturecenter.com
Here is a link to program notes by MSO trombonist J. Michael Allsen (below), who also teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater:
The performances, under the baton of longtime music director and conductor John DeMain, will take place in Overture Hall on Friday night at 7:30 p.m; Saturday night at 8 p.m.; and Sunday afternoon at 2:30 p.m.
The Juilliard School-trained John DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad), who came to Madison from heading the Houston Grand Opera and is starting his 21st season in Madison, recently granted an interview about the opening concert to The Ear:
What makes this season and especially this first concert special to you?
This 2014-15 season is especially important because it marks the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s 10th anniversary in Overture Hall. Being able to perform in this specially designed hall has been a game changer for the Madison Symphony Orchestra.
I can never adequately thank Jerry Frautschi for his incredible gift of the Overture Center for the Arts, and his spouse, Pleasant Rowland, for her additional endowment support and the gift of the Overture Concert Organ.
I have purposefully chosen a program for our first concert, on Sept. 19, 20 and 21, that is designed to explore the sonic power, as well as the subtlety, of Overture Hall (below).
What would you like to say about the pieces on the program?
I purposefully do not have a guest artist on this first concert program because I like to focus attention on our wonderful orchestra and its principal players.
In Richard Strauss’ magnificent tone poem, Also sprach Zarathustra (used as the iconic music of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey), special focus will go to the violin solos by our Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below), who never fails to move us with her gorgeous playing. (You can hear the irresistible opening fanfare by Richard Strauss at bottom in a popular YouTube video that has almost 3 million hits.)
Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments will shine a spotlight on soloists, many of whom have also taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music: Stephanie Jutt, flute; Marc Fink, oboe; Joseph Morris, clarinet; Cynthia Cameron-Fix, bassoon; Linda Kimball, horn; John Aley, trumpet; and Joyce Messer, trombone.
And last but certainly not least on the program is Camille Saint-Saëns’ magnificent Symphony No. 3, the “Organ Symphony”. Personally, I will never forget the first time we played it at Overture Center’s opening weekend, and we had to encore that incredible last movement! The Overture Concert Organ and its curator and organist, Samuel Hutchison (below, in a photo by Joe DeMaio), have earned a special place in the musical life of our community.
Have you decided on any short-term or long-term plans for your next decade in Madison with the Madison Symphony Orchestra?
Long-term, I hope to revisit the symphonies by Gustav Mahler (below) and continue to expand the overall repertoire of the orchestra and continue to present the best of our living American composers to our audiences.
Working together with the wonderful MSO staff and particularly our violinist and Education Director Michelle Kaebisch (below), I’m hoping we can grow our very unique and broad-based outreach programs to the community.
I’d also love to see us expand the Beyond the Score initiative. That January 2014 multi-media concert of Antonin Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony (below) with actors and videos, and the Symphony met with great success.
Bottom line: I always want, and can envision, the Madison Symphony Orchestra becoming an even more vital presence for ALL the citizens of Madison and the surrounding region as we contribute to our city and the arts.
What out-of-town guest stints will you do this season? Other major plans?
In October 2014, I’m opening the Long Beach (California) Symphony Orchestra season, and then conducting a concert of American composers with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra in Feb 2015. In the 2015-16 season, I’ll return to the Kennedy Center.
By Jacob Stockinger
A friend, violinist Kangwon Kim, who plays with the Madison Bach Musicians and the Madison Early Music Festival as well as for other groups and events, writes:
I am having a reunion concert with the quartet members from 13-14 years ago (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who made up the Galena Quartet in 2001. Its members (from the left) included violist Allyson Fleck, violinist Allison Ostrander (Jones), cellist Karl Knapp and violinist Kangwon Kim.
The FREE concert is this coming Monday night, Sept. 15, at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall on the campus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
The program includes string trios by Ludwig van Beethoven and Ernö von Dohnányi as well as the Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, by Johannes Brahms with guest pianist SeungWha Baek (below, in a performance at Northern Illinois University). You can hear the appealing Hungarian Gypsy Rondo finale from the Brahms Piano Quartet at the bottom in a popular YouTube performance with violinist Isaac Stern, violist Jaime Laredo, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax.
Everything in the program, plus background information about the quartet and the players, is on the following website.
The Galena String Quartet was formed in the Fall of 2001 as the graduate string quartet-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Besides performing as the resident quartet for the “Up Close and Musical” program through the Madison Symphony and visiting numerous elementary schools in the Madison area, the quartet performed at the Governor’s mansion, Stoughton Opera House, Fredric March Play Circle at the Memorial Union, and the Colony House in Mountain Lake, Florida. It was also a semi-finalist at the Fischoff chamber music competition.
The members are thrilled to perform this “reunion” concert after pursuing their separate musical careers during the past 10 years, and are grateful to the pianist SeungWha Baek for joining them for this concert. Below are violinist Allyson Fleck (below top) and cellist Karl Knapp (middle) and Kangwon Kim (bottom).
If you could include the announcement sometime in your blog, I would be grateful!!
By Jacob Stockinger
Here is some news that comes in a press release from the Madison Symphony Orchestra about an award made in honor of John DeMain (below bottom, in a photo by Prasad), the longstanding music director and maestro of the MSO who is about to begin his 21st season on the podium:
“The first annual John DeMain Award for Outstanding Commitment to Music will be presented this Friday, Sept. 12, by the Madison Symphony Orchestra League (MSOL) in recognition of an individual or individuals for their longstanding and unwavering support of the League, the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO) and music in the community.
“Shirley and Stan Inhorn (below top) are two such worthy individuals.
“Music has been a central part of every aspect of their lives – from friendships and charitable contributions to volunteering and leisure time – for more than five decades.
“Their involvement with music began young with music lessons and playing as high school and college students, and has continued throughout their lives in Madison.
“Both have been involved in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO), serving in many capacities through the years. They were made life trustees of WYSO in 2012. Shirley has been a member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra League and its predecessor — the Women’s Committee of the Madison Symphony Orchestra – for more than 40 years.
“Stan played in the second violin section of the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) and subsequently joined the MSO Board. He also was one of the first men to join the MSOL.
“The Inhorns have endowed the MSO’s Principal Second Violin Chair and pledged an estate gift to the MSO’s endowment designated for the Up Close & Musical® Education Program.
“They have also been major donors to WYSO and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
“Together and individually, they have made a lasting difference to music in our community.”
This is not the first time the Inhorns (below) have been so honored. Almost three years ago, when they were named Lifetime Trustees of the Wisconsin Symphony Youth Orchestras (WYSO), The Ear interviewed them.
Here is a link to that post:
And here is a statement that Shirley and Stanley Inhorn gave to The Ear on the occasion of receiving the inaugural John DeMain Award:
“Like many other Madisonians, we are lovers of classical music. Our volunteer efforts, therefore, have been directed to local organizations such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (below top), and the Pro Arte Quartet (below bottom). Our many decades of support and involvement in these groups reflect this passion.
“We were surprised and honored to learn that we had been chosen to receive this award from the Madison Symphony Orchestra League. We know that many other people also devote volunteer hours to assure that classical music remains strongly embedded in Madison’s social fabric.
“We are grateful for the abundance of high-quality musical offerings available in Madison. And we are pleased to know that our efforts have contributed to this reality.”
– Shirley and Stan Inhorn
By Jacob Stockinger
The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) marks the start of its 30th anniversary season with two late Romantic compositions — often described as “autumnal” in mood — by Johannes Brahms.
The composer came out of retirement on hearing inspiring playing by a clarinetist. Brahms then (below) wrote two sonatas – Op. 120, Nos. 1 and 2 — and, after initially envisioning clarinet, added the option of viola to match the rich timbre he had conceived for the piece.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST
The Oakwood Chamber Players will present the first Sonata in F Minor with viola and piano, and the second Sonata in E-Flat Major with clarinet and piano (at bottom in a YouTube video). This provides a delightful and insightful contrast of two solo instruments showcasing compelling melodies and stirring conclusions.
Clarinetist Nancy Mackenzie (below top) and violist Christopher Dozoryst (below middle) will collaborate with pianist Vincent Fuh (below bottom) on these two works.
AN UNKOWN WORK BY AN UNKNOWN COMPOSER
The concerts are on Saturday night, September 13, at 7 p.m. and on Sunday afternoon, September 14, at 1:30 p.m. Both concerts will be held in the auditorium at the Oakwood Center for Arts and Education, 6209 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side.
NOTE: The Oakwood Chamber Players (below) will NO LONGER longer perform at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum Visitor Center because of prohibitive cost, as was explained in a previous post (a link is below) about the chamber music ensemble that is known for both its quality of playing and its creative, unusual programming. Its members perform in many other local groups including the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.
Next weekend’s program is the first concert in their celebratory 30th anniversary season series titled “Reprise! Looking Back Over 30 Years.”
Upcoming concerts include:
The Oakwood Chamber Players is a group of Madison-area professional musicians who have rehearsed and performed at Oakwood Village for 30 years.
Tickets are available at the door: $20 general admission, $15 seniors and $5 students. For more information, visit www.oakwoodchamberplayers.com
The Oakwood Chamber Players are a professional music ensemble proudly supported by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries and the Oakwood Foundation.
By Jacob Stockinger
On Sunday afternoon we gathered to say goodbye to the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp, who died suddenly in June of cardiac arrest at 84 while he was on summer vacation in Colorado.
I don’t think you can have a better send-off.
The day started out sunny and then looked like it would cloud over.
But the sunlight stayed.
Howard Karp (below, in a 2000 photo by Katrin Talbot) would have liked that. There never seemed anything morose about Howard, even when he played music that was introspective and melancholic. And he was such a natural: The piano just seemed to grow out of his long arms and fingers.
Sure, like all people he had his share of sorrows and worries. But on his own scale, the joys always outweighed the sorrows.
I found myself thinking of Howard and recalling philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s dictum that “Without music, life would be a mistake.” And I found myself adding: “Without Howard Karp, music in Madison might not have been a mistake, but it certainly would have been severely diminished.”
But I do not want to use this post for me to talk about Howard Karp and what a wonderful man and musician, family member and teacher, he was.
His own family and friends did that so well — and so eloquently — that all I can do today is to use photos and quick descriptions to tell you what you missed if you weren’t there.
The welcome speaker and comforting guide through the celebration was Bill Lutes (below), a longtime friend and former student of Howard Karp. Bill did an outstanding and dry-eyed job of speaking love to loss, as did the entire family.
The event opened with Howard Karp playing the opening movement of the heroic, life-affirming “Hammerklavier” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven, from a newly released 6-CD recording on Albany Records of Howard’s concert recordings.
That was repeated through the event with music of Robert Schumann, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Frédéric Chopin. And it was moving to hear the audience of maybe a two-thirds house in Mills Hall applaud loudly, as if Howard were playing right there, on stage and in person in front of us.
One of the most moving moments came when Howard’s wife, Frances Karp – whose diminutive and even fragile look hides a tremendous strength of character and forceful pianism — was joined by cellist son Parry Karp, violist daughter-in-law Katrin Talbot and guest violinist Leanne League, who plays with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, in the slow movement from the Piano Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 47, by Robert Schumann. A photo is below.
It is a heart-wrenching piece by the composer who, more than any other, captures love and longing in sound, as you can hear from the opening cello melody in a YouTube video of the Beaux Arts Trio at the bottom.
Granddaughters Isabel Karp (below left) and Natasha Karp (below right), both accomplished actresses, then read passages from William Shakespeare, beautifully appropriate lines from the tragedy “King Lear,” from the Sonnets, from the romance “The Tempest,” from the comedy “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
More recorded Schumann followed, the first movement of the fabulous Fantasy in C Major.
Then came words of friendship and admiration from the renowned keyboard artist Malcolm Bilson (below), who taught with Howard at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Now a semi-retired professor at Cornell University, Bilson also played a superbly rendered version of his own reconstruction of the first movement of the Sonata in F-sharp minor by Franz Schubert. (Bilson didn’t announce his reconstruction because, as he later told The Ear, “It bothers and distracts audiences. They keep listening for where Schubert ends and Bilson begins.”)
Fellow Chicagoan and piano student-turned-businessman, Ira Goodkin (below) spoke impressively and engagingly about the lasting effect of having Howard Karp as a lifelong friend and as a personal and professional role model.
Then came more recordings: impressive duo-piano performances by Frances and Howard Karp of music by Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff.
During the Rachmaninoff “Barcarolle,” from his Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos, there was also an extended slide show that featured photos of Howard at various stages of his life, from infancy and childhood (below) through marriage and maturity, many images with his wife, children and grandchildren.
Granddaughter and actress Ariana Karp (below) appeared via video from London and also read Shakespeare and offered moving personal recollections of “grand-père.”
Sons Christopher Karp on piano and Parry Karp on cello (below) teamed up to play Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidre,” in a moving and brotherly demonstration of the family music-making that marked the Karps’ family life, and brought beauty to the rest of us, making us all feel like extended family.
Then came a miraculously humorous and moving eulogy for Howard by cellist son Parry (below), who offered a stirring summing up of his dad’s gifts as a pianist and chamber music partner, as a husband and father, as a baseball fan and an avid amateur expert on trees and plants.
After Parry remark’s about the richness of his father’s life and career, I found myself recalling a saying by the great composer-pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff: “Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.” Still, I think Howard Karp came closer to that impossible goal than anyone I know.
Then, with a stirring performance by Howard Karp of the ferocious and relentless finale from Chopin’s Sonata in B minor, it was over — and we moved outdoors to a packed reception in the courtyard of the UW-Madison’s George Mosse Humanities Building.
The food was ideal and the audience was in the mood to greet each other and reminisce with the kind of good-natured enthusiasm that would have pleased Howard Karp because it made all of us feel like we belonged to one immense family that will long miss a central and irreplaceable figure.
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
The Ear has received a request from the Karp Family.
It seems there is still some ignorance and some confusion about the memorial event -– a life celebration, really –- set for this Sunday afternoon for the late pianist Howard Karp, who died in June at 84 in Colorado and who had taught and performed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music from 1972 to 2000.
The event is FREE and OPEN to the public.
Here are the details:
“I hope all is well.
“Here is the program for Sunday.
“I am still hearing from people who want to go to the celebration, but don’t know when or where it will be.
“My very best to you,
A CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE OF HOWARD KARP (1929-2014, below in a 2000 photo by Katrin Talbot)
The celebration will be held this Sunday, August 31, 2014, at 3 p.m. in Mills Concert Hall (below) in the Mosse Humanitites Building, with a FREE and PUBLIC reception to follow.
FREE parking can be found in nearby Grainger Hall of the University of Wisconsin Business School.
“Performances” by Howard Karp come from recordings issued by Albany Records and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.
Sonata in B-Flat Major, Op. 106 (“Hammerklavier) by Ludwig van Beethoven: Movement I. Allegro, Howard Karp, pianist
Words from Bill Lutes (below, with his wife UW-Madison pianist Martha Fischer, and a former student and friend of Howard Karp)
Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 47, by Robert Schumann, Movement III. Andante cantabile, performed by Frances Karp, pianist (wife of Howard Karp, below top with Howard); Leanne League (violinist, below bottom, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and is the assistant concertmaster of both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra as well as a member of the Ancora String Quartet); Katrin Talbot, violist (daughter-in-law and wife of Parry Karp); Parry Karp, cellist (eldest son of Howard Karp who teaches cello and chamber music at the UW-Madison and is a member of the Pro Arte Quartet.)
Readings from William Shakespeare by granddaughter actresses Isabel Karp (bel0w top) and Natasha Karp (below bottom).
“Fantasie” in C Major, Op. 17, by Robert Schumann, Movement I: Durchaus fantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen, Howard Karp, pianist
Words and music from Malcolm Bilson (below, a well-known teacher and keyboard performer with Howard Karp at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and a retired professor from Cornell University); Sonata in F-sharp Minor, D. 571, by Franz Schubert, Movement I. Allegro moderato
Words from pianist and friend Ira Goodkin
Concerto Per Due Pianoforte Soli by Igor Stravinsky, Movement 1. Con moto; Sergei Rachmaninoff, Fantasy-Tableaux: Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos, Op. 5: 1. Barcarolle: Allegretto; Howard and Frances Karp, duo-pianists
Words from actress granddaughter Ariana Karp (below), via video
“Kol Nidre” by Max Bruch, Parry Karp, cellist (below top), and Christopher Karp (below bottom), pianist and youngest son of Howard Karp who is a medical doctor with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.)
Words from Parry Karp
Sonata in B Minor, Op. 58, Frederic Chopin, Movement IV. Finale: Presto non tanto, Howard Karp, pianist
FREE PUBLIC RECEPTION TO FOLLOW
Here is a link to the posting on the new UW-School of Music blog A Tempo:
And here is a link to another performance by Howard Karp on SoundCloud, a rarely heard work by Johann Sebastian Bach that features a Fugue on a Theme by Tomaso Aliboni as well as works by Chopin and Felix Mendelssohn:
By Jacob Stockinger
On Monday, The Ear offered an overview of the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival that opens this coming Saturday night and runs through Sunday, Aug. 31.
Here is a link to that post:
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/
Today, as promised but postponed by stories about the Metropolitan Opera labor negotiations and about two local concerts this Friday, the blog features two important essays by the two co-artistic directors of the festival.
The first essay is a discussion by violinist Rose Mary Harbison about the 25th anniversary of the festival.
NEW BEGINNINGS AT TOKEN CREEK
By Rose Mary Harbison (below)
When the Token Creek Festival began, 25 years ago, we had many ideas and many ideals, but none of our plans involved growth. The reason for that was at first practical. We wanted to perform in a converted barn, the very space where we already practiced and played.
The space, and its surroundings, is welcoming, but able to seat, optimally, no more than 80 people. We had no stage, no lights and no parking plan. We were our own maintenance and grounds-keeping staff.
We also had ideas about the music we would like to present. We had participated in various summer festivals, and were not too interested in the concept of “summer” music. Along with our founding colleagues, Jorja Fleezanis and Michael Steinberg, we came up with some initial programs — Ludwig van Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, Arnold Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon, recent pieces by Helps and John Harbison, thinking of music we wouldn’t likely be asked to prepare at other festivals, in late August.
In the official re-opening season (1994) there were three concerts: all Bach, all Mozart, all Schoenberg. Single composer concerts have since been rare at Token Creek, but we have instead done series: many Haydn trios, the complete Mozart concertos for which he made chamber music arrangements; the “esoteric” final period of Bach (below), including generous selections from The Art of Fugue, and The Musical Offering in two different orderings and instrumentations.
Our guests have been friends whom we have cone to know in our various travels. We were once told by a possible patron that he would fund the festival for two seasons if we would bring X, a conductor with whom we were in close partnership. But this is not the way we have chosen to construct our seasons — independence in programming and staffing has remained our most precious freedom.
We have presented what interests us, and the varying audience sizes, from sold-out to modest, reflects that determination. Thirty excited, involved listeners provide a sufficient presence, in our small barn, for an unforgettable occasion, like Leonard Stein’s lecture-demonstration on the Hammerklavier sonata (played in live performance by Daniel Barenboim in a YouTube video at bottom) by Ludwig van Beethoven (below).
Ten years ago, we expanded into jazz, eventually composer-focused, with an idea that some of the players would play in both, and we would encourage an audience to embrace the whole series. In the early years we stressed themes and issues shared by both forms. (An audience survey later revealed that, in fact, the crossover audience is very small; we were surprised.) The jazz became popular, and began in certain ways to drive the festival, especially logistically (a night-club set up, an eventual two-concerts-per-day schedule). Part of our effort to recapture the original spirit of the festival involves letting go of the jazz for this year, becoming smaller and more thoughtful again.
One of our best colleagues, a performer, has a brother, a violinist, who started a European festival. It grew and it added things on, his responsibilities changed. Is he happy with the growth? we asked. “Well of course, it’s a success, but he is pretty sad. … he no longer plays the violin.”
Every musician is challenged, at every point in their development, to try to remember why they went into music, to recapture the basic impulse. Sometimes that requires going back to a starting point, and either starting over, or summarizing what has happened.
Institutions, like individuals, are always challenged to grow, to go forward, to move on, and must occasionally reconstruct themselves, at the risk of not fitting expectations, dreams, or the economic model.
I write with the hope of encountering their best instincts and reconnecting with like souls, the natural constituency.
CARL PHILIP EMMANUEL BACH (1714-1799), AN ANNIVERSARY
By John Harbison (below)
One of the many privileges of co-directing a music festival is study, a chance to pause over music that might go by too fast; a chance, even, to make a connection with music that has remained alien too long. For many years I cherished a suspicion of, close to an aversion to, CPE Bach’s music. This was based on a large number of keyboard pieces I heard in the ‘60s played by the eminent harpsichordist Louis Bagger. The pieces had a pronounced WOW factor, they were calculated to immediate effect, they asked provocative questions, then shirked answering. The non-sequiturs, as in many of today’s novelties, seemed mere posturing, the work of a gadfly without a message.
Tied to this was an impression that CPE was an ingenious person. In spite of his good stewardship of the materials left to him from his father, he seemed self-servingly willing to promote J.S. Bach’s teacher reputation, a prescription that stemmed from the competition between them.
I now believe many of these impressions were wrong, or at best uninformed. CPE Bach is a complicated case, and needs a much more attentive examination.
He was J.S. Bach’s second son. The first, Wilhelm Friedemann, was more talented, but less industrious. Friedmann’s best pieces seem to have a naturalness and pure musicality unavailable to CPE, but they lack a strategy to fully separate from his father.
Such a strategy does CPE deploy, with a vengeance. This took courage and an investigative mind. It seems clear that the son’s valuation of his father’s music grew during the course of his career. Together with his vast experience as a composer came an appreciation of the foundation he had received from his only teacher, together with a perception of the enormity of that teacher’s artistic achievement.
Carl Philip Emmanuel (below, in a 1733 portrait by a relative Gottfried Friedrich Bach) was too good a musician not to notice something: In spite of being the most famous and highly regarded composer in the world by the 1740s (J.S. Bach was still alive), he was not in the same league with the old man. He becomes, instead, an avatar of the new, often at his best while disturbing the logic, proportion and density that were his father’s hallmark.
Much has been said about the manner, the tone of much of his music, which says: This need not always be so serious, this need not be so responsible, this is apprehendable right away. These are things worth stating, periodically, and can be expressed, as in CPE’s music, by a kind of nervousness, hurry, irresponsibility — winning qualities in his best pieces.
But the main agent of change in CPE can be very simply described: He dismantles his father’s bass-line—radically clears it out, reduces it much of the time to skeletal support, thus placing new emphasis on the charm, buoyancy and unpredictability of the melodies.
J.S. Bach’s music, in asserting that the bass possesses a profile very like the upper parts in activity and articulateness (and often surpasses them in importance) draws on very old principles carried forward from Renaissance polyphony. In reducing and domesticating the bass, CPE achieves a new intelligibility and friendliness of texture, and cuts his hereditary umbilical cord.
Still he retains a lot of J.S. in his ability, when he chooses, to develop and vary motives, to spin out large phrases, and to create drama and propulsion.
In this 300th anniversary year there is an added fascination: A scholarly filling out of his canon. A great proportion of his output is being made available for the first time in published form. There are many surprises, especially in the form of vocal and instrumental chamber music.
“Premieres” are being offered, around the world, and the music, which has always been valued as a necessary historical moment, is now being valued for itself.
We can hear not only the way he both holds and breaks with his father, we can also hear why Joseph Haydn (below and at the bottom in a YouTube video of the famed Beaux Arts Trio playing the same Haydn piano trio that will be played during this year’s festival) was so taken with this music. It has its own surprises, quirks, and above all a burning energy, singular, bold, drawing our attention, chastening our misconceptions.
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: