The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Best Bets for Dec. 9-15: More vocal music to greet the holidays in on tap

December 9, 2009
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By Jacob Stockinger

The usual holiday turn to vocal music, which featured the Madison Symphony Orchestra and various UW groups last week, continues and intensifies this week — though the week will also see some noteworthy instrumental music.

On this FRIDAY, DEC. 11, from 12:15 to 1 p.m., at the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, the Noon Musicale will feature the Brahms’ String Sextet, Op. 18. It’s a gorgeous piece of chamber music and not heard often enough.

The concert is free and free coffee is provided. Bring a quiet lunch to eat or just join the weekly crowd for great music. I find it to be a nice pause or parenthesis in the day.

On THURSDAY, DEC. 10, at 7:30 p.m. and FRIDAY, DEC. 11, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall: The 160-voice UW Choral Union and 35-member UW Chamber Orchestra (see below for a rehearsal shot by Rick Mumford) will perform under the direction of Beverly Taylor (below).

The program includes poignant Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Pslams” (1965, not performed by the Choral Union since 1991); Haydn’s late “Missa Cellensis” (never performed before by the Choral Union); and two Russian a cappella motets, Ave Maria” by Rachmaninoff and “Salvation Is Created” by Chesnokov.

The boy soloist performing in the Bernstein is Chaitannya Agni, a member of the Madison Youth Choirs.

It’s exactly the kind of program, blending old and new music, that I think the Choral Union does such a great job with. (I will long remember its Haydn-Stravinsky pairing.) These are all tuneful works and are well worth attending, even though the performance times are odd and inconvenient (usually they do it Friday and Sunday nights or Saturday and Sunday nights.)

The languages to be sung are Hebrew, Latin and Russian, but programs will provide notes and translations.

Tickets are $15, $8 for seniors and students. They will be available at the door. You can also call the Wisconsin Union Theater box office at 262-2201 or 608 265-ARTS.

PS: Something to look forward to — On May 1 and 2, 2010, the choir will perform  Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” with the UW Symphony Orchestra.

Also on FRIDAY, DEC. 11, at 7 p.m. in cathedral-like acoustics of atrium of the Blackhawk Church in Verona, 9620 Brader Road (just west of the Beltline off Mineral Point Road in Madison’s far west side): The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, under Andrew Sewell (below right), will perform Handel’s “Messiah.” That marks a return of Handel’s holiday masterpiece except that this performance is not a “sing-out.”

Guest soloists include Natalie Fagnan, soprano; Emily Lodine, alto; Robert Bracey, tenor; and Peter Van De Graff, bass.

The chorus has been brought together by Scott Foss, choir director of First United Methodist Church, gathering singers from local choirs and downtown churches for this special performance.

General admission is $30. Call the Overture Center box office at 258-4141 or visit:

On SATURDAY, DEC. 12 at 11:30 a.m., on Wisconsin Public Radio (WERN FM 88.7 in the Madison area) the Metropolitan Opera kicks off a new season of live radio broadcasts with Puccini’s “Il Trittico,” three short operas starring Patricia Racette and Stephanie Blythe.

The Met radio broadcasts — not to be confused with its hi-def live satellite-beamed TV-like broadcasts seen at the Point Cinema and some 900 other movie theaters workld-wide — will run through May 8 and feature a wide range of repertoire with some impressive singers.

Here’s a link to this season’s line-up of 22 broadcasts:

On SUNDAY, DEC. 13, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. the UW Pro Arte String Quartet will perform on “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen.” Catch it live or on the air, but the repertoire is great. You may recall that the Pro Arte had to cancel the second half of its last concert when three of the four players became sick.

Now Beethoven’s “Harp” Quartet, Op. 74 – the work that was cancelled – will be performed. (It may be performed at a regular Pro Arte concert, but cellist Parry Karp says that isn’t certain yet—so this might be your only chance to hear it from the Pro Arte this season.) So will an unfinished second string quartet in F Major of Edvard Grieg plus one of my all-time favorites, the F minor Quartet of the “Op. 20 “Sun” Quartets by Haydn.

Admission is free on a first-come, first-served basis – and the Pro Arte always draws a capacity crowd. If you are a member or friend of WPR or the Chazen, you can reserve tickets by calling 608 263-2246.

On SUNDAY, DEC. 13, at 3 p.m. in the Atrium Auditorium at 900 University Bay Drive, the First Unitarian Society will perform an All-Mozart Sunday that features the “Solemn Vespers for Sunday,” K. 321. The performers include the Society choirs, with guest singers Heather Thorpe, Cheryl Rowe, Paul Rowe (who did a fabulous job with Mahler’s “Ruekert Lieder” last Sunday night for the UW Symphony Orchestra) and Bruce Gladstone. The conductor of the orchestra will be UW violinist Tyrone Greive, who is the concertmaster for the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Also on the program is Mozart’s early String Quartet in G Major, K. 156, with the Ancora String Quartet performing. (The Ancora is in residence at the Society.)

There is no admission, but a free will donation is requested.

For more information, call 608 233-9774 or visit

Posted in Classical music

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