The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Why do an all-Schubert concert? Director Robert Taylor talks about Con Vivo’s concert this Friday night

May 17, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday ay 7:30 p.m., at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave. across from Camp Randall, the Madison-based chamber music group Con Vivo (“With Life,” below) will perform “Eight is Enough,”  a program devoted exclusively to the music by Franz Schubert (1797-1828).

Tickets can be purchased in advance at Orange Tree Imports (1111 Monroe St.) or at the door for $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and students.  The concert will be followed by a reception where audience members and performers can meet and discuss the performance.

Parking is available at the University of Wisconsin Foundation, 1848 University Ave., and in the UW Engineering Lot #17.

The concert will feature three pieces by Schubert that capture the essence of his musical genius.

The program begins with three movements from his “Moments Musicaux” for solo piano.

The concert continues with a beautiful song which Schubert composed for soprano, clarinet and piano entitled “Der Hurt auf dem Felsen” (The Sheppard on the Rock).  This song is based on two different poems written by two different poets. Schubert masterfully combines them into a story of a sheppardess longing for the return of her beloved suitor.  One can hear melodies echo off of the Austrian Alps as the story is told by the soprano and clarinet in an antiphonal style.

To round out the evening Con Vivo! will perform Schubert’s Octet for stings and winds. This large work is one of the pillars of the chamber music repertoire. Melodies abound throughout with musical ideas that make it clear that this is a composer who places the song and its beauty above all else.

Now in its ninth season, con vivo! is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians  assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.

This concert is supported by the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission with additional funds from the Overture Foundation.

Con Vivo’s artistic director Robert Taylor recently gave The Well-Tempered Ear an interview about the  program of Schubert (below).


Why did you choose to do an all-Schubert concert?

Schubert is one of my favorites. His capacity for the musical line and melody are just a constant source of musical enjoyment for me. His Lieder are just one example of his genius. The way that he was able to exemplify the text with the music to tell a story is composition at the highest level.

How do you place the music of Schubert compared to other composers, especially his idol Beethoven, and to the history of music?

I think he is the equal of many great composers of the Romantic era. He established the art song as a compositional form that was taken up later by Schumann, Brahms, Liszt and Hugo Wolf. This is no small accomplishment especially considering his tragically short life and death at 31. (His death mask is below.)

From a compositional point of view, his exploration of new harmonies can be found in his late piano sonatas like the D. 840 and D. 845 works. So where Beethoven can appeal to the intellectual part of us, Schubert appeals to our heart. In that context they complement each other.

Does Schubert’s music have something special to say to us during these times or today?

I think his empathy for the human condition through his writing is timeless. What may be thought of as just overly Romantic musings of that era have stood the test of time since his death. If one ventures beyond the “Unfinished” Symphony into his oeuvre, one can discover a genius with a unique voice.

Can you comment on the various pieces in the program and why you chose them or what the audience should know about them?

We are performing three movements from the “Moments musicaux.” These pieces are just as complex as piano pieces that Beethoven wrote at the same time, but are in Schubert’s own personal music style. In addition, we are performing “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” (The Shepherd on the Rock) on this concert. This song is a personal favorite of mine because of Schubert’s inclusion of the clarinet as a vocal partner with the singer. Schubert is very similar to Mozart in that he can say a great deal with just a handful of notes!

Finally we end with the Octet for strings and winds (manuscript is below), which has elements of his “Great” C Major Symphony and speaks to us just as poignantly today in it’s beauty as it did when it was first composed.

How has Con Vivo done this financially and attendance-wise this past season? Has changing from Thursdays to Fridays helped? Other details?

If you look back over our past nine seasons, one would see that we have strived to find that magic combination that will bring more audience members in the door. We seek out repertoire that is played infrequently in the Madison area. We commissioned a piece from Madison composer David Drexler entitled “Batipalo” as our way of adding to the chamber music landscape.

Along with this, we perform the standard repertoire in what I hope is an enjoyable and relaxed atmosphere for everyone. One of the great achievements of our group was our most recent concert in early March this year.  We performed Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” in concert version with actors from American Players Theatre and we were joined by Maestro John DeMain of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. This brought us our largest audience to date. The outpouring of support from the area both financially and from volunteers was just tremendous.

It is my hope that we can maintain the enthusiasm that was generated by this concert with increased audience sizes for future events.

Do you know what Con Vivo’s next season will be yet?

As hard as it may be to believe, we will be in our 10th season next year! We are in the planning stages right now for performance material. Composers likes Zemlinsky, Brahms, Prokofiev and Mozart will be on the docket. We may even throw in more Schubert.

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

The musical talent in Madison is just tremendous and we are very fortunate to have some of these very talented people in our ensemble. We are a part of this community and enjoy bringing our art to our friends and neighbors in the Madison area.

Posted in Classical music

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