The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: American composer Robert Kyr discusses: What should audiences listen for in this weekend’s two performances by the UW Choral Union of his “Passion According to Four Evangelists”? How does the prolific Kyr describe the sound and style of his music? What does he think of his ties to Madison? Part 2 of 2. Plus. the UW Chorale performs a FREE concert Friday night. | April 24, 2013

ALERT: On this Friday, April 26, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Chorale will perform a FREE and PUBLIC concert under conductor Bruce Gladstone (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) with pianist Martha Fischer and student conductor Luke Hrovat-Staedter. Included on the program are John Rutter‘s “The Falcon” as well as works by Handel, Mathais, Hindemith, Ivor Gurney, UW alumnus Lee Hoiby, La Crosse composer Bob Willoughby, and the world premiere of UW alumnus Scott Gendel’s “The Singing Place.” This high-level group of 60 singers performs a varied repertoire. Most singers in Chorale have significant vocal and choral experience, and many are voice majors.


By Jacob Stockinger

This coming weekend will see two performances of Robert Kyr’s “The Passion According to Four Evangelists” by the campus-community UW Choral Union, the UW Chamber Orchestra and four soloists, all under the baton of UW choral director Beverly Taylor.

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

The soloists are soprano Anna Slate, mezzo-soprano Jennifer D’Agostino, tenor James Doing and baritone Paul Rowe.

The concert are in Mills Hall on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. (NOT at 3:30 p.m. as mistkenly first printed in yesterday’s post.) Tickets are $15 for the General Public and $8 for students and seniors. Call the 
Box Office: (608) 265-2787. Remaining tickets are sold at the door.

Also: The American composer Robert Kyr will do half-hour pre-concert lectures in Mills Hall for TICKETED patrons one hour before each concert. UW students are NOT admitted free to these concerts. Saturday’s lecture 7-7:30 p.m. with the concert at 8 p.m. Sunday’s lecture is 6:30-7 p.m. with the concert at 7:30 p.m.

For background, here is a link to a fascinating NPR story about and interview with Robert Kyr:

The composer — who is personally and artistically committed to social justice  and non-violent activism for peace — graciously agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear. Yesterday’s post offered Part 1; here is Part 2.

Robert Kyr Asian roofs

How would you describe your musical style overall and especially in that work?

My work features what I like to call a “spectrum of harmony” that is primarily consonant, but also dissonant as required for specific expressive purposes.

The engine of my music is counterpoint—the composing of musical line against line. Almost all of my music is an interweaving of melodic lines (in the manner of Bach, for instance), as opposed to the musical currency of our day, which is textural music or homophony (chords, or a melodic line accompanied by chords).

Although I was born in the 20th century, I have always felt (from my teen years onward) that I was a 21st century composer, and I’m more in tune with the eclecticism and vitality of the current 20-something and 30-something composers than my own generation.

In that sense, I am a composer who strives to synthesize many artistic concerns and interests into an organic musical expression. In regard to influences, I am most deeply connected to the music of the medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods (the “contrapuntal periods”), especially the music of Guillaume Dufay (the isorhythmic motets), Josquin (his motets and masses), and above all, J. S. Bach.

You have worked and partnered with Beverly Taylor (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) before. Can you talk about how the two of got to know each other and what you think of her as a performer and interpreter of your works (she has done several, I believe) .

Bev and I met at Harvard University, where she was the director of the Radcliffe Choral Society when I was a doctoral student. She commissioned me to create a work for a cappella women’s chorus for RCS, which was entitled “Toward Eternity.” We became friends through our first collaboration, and shortly thereafter, Bev invited me to create a large-scale work for her Boston community chorus, the Back Bay Chorale.

Together, Bev and I hatched the plan of co-creating The Passion according to Four Evangelists for her ensemble, and she continually inspired me with her insights and wise musical advice. I’m extremely grateful to her for her vision and artistry, and I’m deeply moved by her performances, which convey a profound understanding of the interior life of a musical expression, as well as a complete “living out” of its sonic architecture and emotional depth.

Beverly Taylor Katrin Talbot

 I think you were in Madison for the last performance of this work. Will you be here this time and do you have any impressions of Madison and the UW Choral Union and choral and orchestral programs you would like to share?

Without a doubt, the UW Choral Union is one of the finest choruses in the country and is distinguished by its rich, vibrant, and clear sound, as well as its ability to express the emotional and psychological intricacies of large-scale works. The collaboration of Bev and the chorus is a “marriage made in heaven,” an ideal merging of artistic vision, poetic imagination, and true musical inspiration. (Below is a YouTube video of Kyr discussing his Holocaust Project work “The Unutterable,” which was premiered by Chorus Austin.)

I am thrilled that I’m able to come to Madison — a city that I love —and the University of Wisconsin (my father’s alma mater) for rehearsals and both performances of my Passion. I very much look forward to collaborating again with Bev, the soloists, the Choral Union, and the UW Symphony Orchestra.

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