The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical Music Best Bets Dec. 2-8: Vocal music ushers in the holiday season

December 2, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

Instruments have their role to play, to be sure, and will be heard plenty this week.

But as we head toward the sacred and secular holidays that fall mid-season and at the end of the calendar year, vocal music is the vehicle of choice for making music, for creating that “joyful noise” the Bible encourages.

Perhaps it has to do with the urge to use that oldest and most original of instruments to express the populist part of the holidays. Perhaps singing brings us into closer kinship and deepens social bonds.

However you explain it, the human voice is central and vital to the holidays.

So this week, it will be front and center.

On FRIDAY, SATURDAY AND SUNDAY, DEC. 4-6, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform its annual holiday program – usually the best attended concert of the season – in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

(Tickets are $15 to $75. Call the Overture Center box office at 608 258-4141.)

The holiday fare, ranging from Haydn’s “Te Deum” and Handel’s “Hallelujah” Chorus from “Messiah” to sing-along Christmas carols, surely has a lot to do with the concerts’ appeal.

But music director John DeMain, who will also conduct the three performances, is smart to always spotlight local groups- — including, this year, the Madison Youth Choirs and the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir (below left) – as well as the Madison Symphony Orchestra Chorus and guest soprano soloist Sylvia McNair (below).

If you count just friends and family of the combined performers, you could probably fill the hall at least once. But the appeal goes beyond numbers and speaks to community pride at an appropriate time of the year. Using voices, and local voices at that, is the embodiment of tradition, since the human voice is the melding of the individual and the group. It all comes together, so to speak.

Here is a link to program notes with more details about the program:

Still, instrumentalists will also be well represented this week.

On FRIDAY, DEC. 4, at 8 p.m. American pianist Simone Dinnerstein makes her Madison debut with a recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater. She will perform a program of Schubert’s Four Impromptus, Op. 90, Copland’s Piano Variations, Anton Webern’s variations, Philip Lasser’s “Twelve Variations on a Bach Chorale” and Bach’s French Suite, No. 5. Tickets are  $18, $25 and $30, with $12 for Youth ages 6-18, and $10 for UW-Madison students with a valid ID. Call 262-2201.

(You might to want to check out the two-part e-mail interview Dinnerstein gave to The Ear. It appeared last Friday and Saturday.)

As the semester winds down, the tempo of music-making always picks up at the UW School of Music. All the concerts are free and open to the public.

Here’s a round-up:

On THURSDAY, DEC. 3, from 1 to 3 p.m., MSO guest soloist soprano Sylvia McNair will also offer a free public master class at the UW in the Rennebohm Auditorium of Old Music Hall.

On FRIDAY, DEC 4, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, Scott Teeple will conduct the UW Wind Ensemble will perform “Feierlicher Einzug” by Richard Strauss, with Erik Jester conducting; “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral” by Richard Wagner/Cailliet, with Paul Bhasin conducting; “Konzertmusik,” Op. 41, by Paul Hindemith; Suite from “Three Penny Music” by Kurt Weill, with Matthew Schlomer conducting; and “Tunbridge Fair” by Walter Piston.

On SATURDAY, DEC. 5, at 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, the All-University Strings will perform under Janet Jensen. This collage-style concert will feature a first-time collaboration between the orchestras and the Milwaukee band “Despite the Chaos.” The program includes “Brandenburg Concerto No. 6” by Bach, featuring the combined viola sections; “Double Concerto” for violins by Bach featuring the combined violin sections; other selections include works by Borodin, Mendelssohn, Salieri and Rimsky-Korsakov, the latter featuring student conductor Kirsten Lempp. Also included is the debut of string orchestra accompaniments composed by UW composition major and arranger Peter Mackie for the songs “Downfall” and “Breathing.”

At noon in Morphy Hall, the UW World Percussion Ensemble will perform an unspecified program under Anthony DiSanza.

On SUNDAY, DEC. 6, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra will perform under the baton of Madison native, Memorial High School graduate, Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra alumnus and UW alumnus (Class of  ’93) KENNETH WOODS (below right, in a photo by Chris Stock). The performers include Paul Rowe, UW baritone. Selections will include Overture to “Rienzi” by Richard Wagner; “Ruckert Lieder” by Gustav Mahler; and the Madison premiere performance of Symphony No. 1 by Sir Edward Elgar.

Here’s a link to Kenneth Woods’ website “A View from the Podium” in which he even discusses his two-week UW residency and the rehearsals for the UW concert:

At SUNDAY 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Ave., the Winter Choral Concerts will take place. This program will include five of the seven UW choirs: Concert Choir conducted by Beverly Taylor, Chorale (below in a photo by Jack Burns) and Madrigal Singers conducted by Bruce Gladstone, Women’s Chorus conducted by Kimberly Dunn Adams and University Chorus conducted by Michael Pfitzer. A free will offering will be accepted.

At 3 p.m., a three-hour marathon and drop-in will take place at the UW carillon, on the corner of Charter Street and Observatory Drive. University Carillonneur Lyle Anderson performs his annual holiday program on the 56-bell Memorial Carillon. The recital is extended to three hours to accommodate those attending other holiday programs that afternoon and evening. Visitors are welcome to climb the tower or listen from the grounds nearby.

On MONDAY, DEC. 7, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Master Singers will perform. The program is entitled “There Is Sweet Music Here,” with a repertoire that will include music by Batten, Palestrina, Lauridsen, di Lasso, and Clausen. The Masters Singers are directed by Brian F. Gurley and Michael Pfitzer.

On TUESDAY, DEC. 8, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble will perform under UW composer Laura Schwendinger. The program includes “Masque” by Toru Takemitsu, with Dawn Lawler and Morgann Davis, flutes; “Woven” by Victoria Bond, with Mary Perkinson and Eleanor Bartsch, violins; “Quasi Hoquetus” by Sofia Gubaidulina, with Nicholas Jeffery, viola, Theresa Koenig, bassoon and Kirstin Ihde, piano; and “Chamber Symphony No. 1” by Schoenberg.

Whatever you go to, let us know how you  — and others — liked it.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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