The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: The Madison Summer Choir shows it is good enough to become a summer institution

July 12, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

It will still take a couple more years before the Madison Summer Choir (below, all photos are mine) becomes a regular classical music summer tradition in Madison — much like, say, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society or the Madison Early Music Festival or Opera in the Park or the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, albeit on a much more modest scale.

But if the free concert I heard Friday night is a good way to judge, this unpaid group of community singers is well on its way to becoming a local summer institution. It certainly deserves to be.

The group turned in its second annual performance under founder and director Ben Luedcke,  a UW graduate and local church music director who started the group to make up for a UW School of Music summer choral program the fell victim to budget cuts.

The theme this year was “Light” as symbol of hope and consolation. No work embodied that theme more than Morten Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna,” which uses excerpts from the Latin Mass for the Dead, but without the Day of Wrath (Daes Israe) or anything that would interfere with an overall feeling of comfort and consolation.

The one-hour program — a great length for a summer night — included sacred and secular works by Schubert, Italian Renaissance composer Luca Marenzio, Toivo Kuula and contemporary American composers David Dickau and Lauridsen, whose “Lux Aeterna” was the major work performed.

There was much to praise and very little to criticize.

The audience — maybe 250 to 300 filled UW Mills Hall one-third full or so – was so enthusiastic, receptive and friendly, that it applauded even as the singers – friends and family? – walked onto the stage (below).

The 80 singers performed in German, Italian, Latin and English – and their diction was exemplary at all times. You could actually understand many of the words in the English works without a printed text.

The chorus sang a cappella (without accompaniment) and with an ably performed piano accompaniment by Kirsten Ihde, a UW doctoral student (below with Luedcke and the choir).

The 26-member pick-up orchestra also proved exceptionally tight and well rehearsed in its playing for a volunteer group with maybe six weeks of twice-weekly rehearsals under its belt.

The chorus kept a terrific balance throughout the program, with great shading that pulled out certain parts, especially close harmonies and dissonances as well as spacious Aaron Copland-like chords, and kept repeated stanzas from sounding repetitive.

Luedcke, given to talking about the works, also conducted with a great instinct for dynamics and tempi. In short, the sound was pleasure to be bathed in and the repertoire was good to get to know.

Little wonder the performers — who did everything including bringing treats for a reception and moving chairs and music stands on the stage — got a prolonged standing ovation (below).

The Madison Summer Choir draws from other UW, community and professional choirs in the area, and if this concert is a good way to judge, people who enjoy choral singing would be well advised to think about participating next summer.

That’s when I will certainly be thinking about going to hear the Madison Summer choir again.

And you should too.

Did you go to the concert by the Madison Summer Choir?

You be the critic. What did you think?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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