The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Token Creek Chamber Music Festival opens this Wednesday and runs through Sept. 1. It will feature members of Boston’s Open End Ensemble as artists-in-residence; the music of Andrew Waggoner and John Harbison; music about and readings of Shakespeare; and the world premiere of completed versions of unfinished works by Mozart. Plus, retired UW-Madison singer and teacher Ilona Kombrink has died. | August 19, 2013

ALERT: Singer and Edgewood College voice teacher Kathleen Otterson writes: “It is with sadness that I announce the death of Emeritus Professor Ilona Kombrink (below) on Friday, August 9, in Stoughton, Wisconsin.  She passed away after being in poor health for the last several years. There has been no obituary posted yet, and no plans for a service that I am aware of. She was my teacher and one of my primary vocal and musical influences. Ilona was a longtime member of the University of Wisconsin-Madison voice faculty, and counted among her students hundreds of singers and teachers – many of us in Wisconsin — working all over the world today.  A native of St. Louis, Missouri, her natural vocal gifts were evident at an early age, and she entered the Curtis Institute at age 17, where among her classmates were Samuel Barber and Giancarlo Menotti. She loved to retell stories of her arrival in the big city of Phildelphia – “just a country girl from ‘St. Louie‘” – and the establishment there of friendships which would last through her life.  She came to the UW in the late 1960s, seeking a more stable life than that of a touring singer for herself and daughter, Nancy, retiring in 2003. She performed frequently with the Madison Opera, the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and UW ensembles as well as in recital alone or with her UW faculty colleagues. As an artist, she was uncompromising in her search for vocal artistry and honesty. In her teaching, she never stopped encouraging her students to seek and find the same.

Ilona Kombrink

By Jacob Stockinger

The rustic yet sophisticated Token Creek Chamber Festival, which is now about 25 years old, has become the traditional closing of the local summer concert season that offers the last major events before the new fall season gets underway after Labor Day.

The festival -– which is co-directed by the husband-and-wife team of composer-violist John Harbison and violinist Rose Mary Harbison (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) -– features talented local artists and imported guest artists, and the programs are more unusual than the typical concert fare.

John and Rose Mary Harbison Katrin Talbot

This year is no exception.

Here is a list of events. More information can be found by calling (608) 241-2525 or visiting www.tokencreekfestival.org

Program I: Jazz – Music of Harry Warren (below) with the Vocal Jazz Ensemble on Wednesday August 21, at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; Thursday, August 22, at 5 p.m. (sold out) and 8:30 p.m.

This summer the Festival’s jazz program surveys composer Harry Warren, an especially appropriate choice for a 10th anniversary celebration.  The program includes some of his best-known hits (“I Only Have Eyes for You,” “At Last,” “Lulu’s Back In Town”), while also – as always – offering some choice little-known treasures like “I Want to be a Dancing Man,” “You’re Gettin’ to be a Habit” and “This Heart of Mine.”

harry warren

The Vocal Jazz Ensemble (below) was formed at MIT in the spring of 2011, and has been coached since its inception by Institute Professor John Harbison. The 10 singers, each of whom passes a rigorous audition process by peers, have quickly risen to notoriety not only on campus but throughout Boston.

Recent performances include an appearance in May with the Boston Pops at Boston’s Symphony Hall, and a professional recording with the Festival Jazz Ensemble. Five members of the VJE will perform at Token Creek with the house band, made up of John Harbison (piano), John Schaffer (bass), Todd Steward (drums), Tom Artin (trombone), and Rose Mary Harbison (violin).

MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble

Performances take place at the Festival Barn (below), on Highway 19 near the hamlet of Token Creek, with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small, and early reservations are recommended. For the jazz program the barn is transformed into an authentic jazz club, complete with small tables, candles, dim lighting, and refreshments served during sets.

TokenCreekbarn interior

The jazz concert is offered on Wednesday, August 21 at 8:30 p.m. (a waiting list is being compiled for a possible added performance that day at 5 p.m.), and on Thursday August 22 at 5 p.m. (sold-out) and 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $40 for café seating, and $35 for balcony seats. A limited number of student tickets are available for $10.

More information about the Token Creek Festival and this event can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org.  Tickets can be reserved by phone at 608-241-2525, by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org, or by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 55142, Madison WI, 53705.  

TokenCreekentrance

Program II: Open End Ensemble – New Works & Improvisations on Sunday, August 25, at 4 p.m.

“Improvisations on a Theme” is the watchword that shapes the 2013 Token Creek Festival:  in the opening jazz program; in incidental music to accompany Shakespeare scenes; and in the completions of unfinished works of Mozart.

But perhaps nowhere is it more baldly and boldy evident than in the concert presented by guest ensemble from New York, Open End (below and in a YouTube video at the bottom), three of whose members will be in residence for a week at this summer’s Token Creek Festival.

Open End Ensemble BW

Essential to the Open End mission is the reclaiming of improvisation as the birthright of all musicians. Audiences at Open End concerts come to think of spontaneous creation as being part of a natural, ongoing dialogue between performers creating in the moment and a written body of work that continues to expand, to transform. At home in venues from galleries and living rooms to concert halls, Open End seeks nothing less than to engage audiences in an experience that is wonderful, intimate, challenging and beautiful.

On Sunday August 25 at 4 p.m. Open End members Andrew Waggoner (violin), Caroline Stinson, (cello) and Molly Morkoski (piano) will present a program of recent works and improvisations in a program including music of Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, Anna Weesner, Andrew Waggoner, and Johann Sebastian Bach, concluding with the premiere of a new work by Waggoner (below).

Waggoner has been characterized by The New Yorker  as “the gifted practitioner of a complex but dramatic and vividly colored style” His new piano quintet, inspired by the acclaimed Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, was written this summer for the 2013 Token Creek Festival and is  dedicated to Artistic Directors John and Rose Mary Harbison.

Andrew Waggoner

Program III: Shakespeare – The Bard in Songs and Scenes will be presented on Tuesday, August 27, at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, August 28, at 8 p.m.

Open End members (see Program 2) participate in one of the Festival’s most unusual programs ever offered: William Shakespeare (below) in scenes and songs. The program opens with the premiere of John Harbison’s “Invention on a Theme of Shakespeare” (solo cello and small ensemble), followed by scenes from Shakespeare plays accompanied by new incidental music, and songs and arias on texts from the same plays set by to music by composers from the Renaissance to the present day. The plays include “As You Like It,” “Hamlet,” “Cymbeline,” “The Merchant of Venice,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “The Tempest.”

shakespeare BW

The two principal performers for the evening both were born and raised in Madison and return for this Token Creek Event: Guthrie Theatre-trained actor, Allison Schaffer (below) will dramatize the play excerpts, and New York soprano Mary Mackenzie (below), together with pianists Molly Morkoski, will offer songs by composers including Morley, Arne, and Purcell; Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Wolf; and Poulenc, Bridge, Tippett and Harbison.

Allison Schaffer

Mackenzie

All performances take place at the Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the village of Token Creek, with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small, and early reservations are recommended.

Concert tickets ($30, and $10 for students) can be reserved by phone at 608-241-2525, by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org, or  by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 55142, Madison WI, 53705.

More information about the Token Creek Festival can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org.

Program IV: Finale – “The Old and Unfamiliar” will be performed on Saturday, August 31, at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, September 1, at 4 p.m.

It’s not a contradiction. In a program titled “The Old and Unfamiliar,” the Token Creek Festival will offer world premieres, both of a new work and of completions of old works never heard before.

What composer is more beloved and performed than Mozart (below)? Yet he was in the habit of leaving pieces unfinished, to be taken up later. He was above all practical and pragmatic — if he was working on a violin sonata when a commission for a wind piece came in, he’d suspend work on the sonata, planning to return to it later.

mozart big

There is now conclusive evidence that some of his pieces lay unfinished for 10 years.  His early death prevented the completion of many of them.  Can they be recovered, “new” Mozart works that add to our sense of his prolific variety?  The Token Creek musicians think so.

Three Mozart completions anchor the last concerts of the Festival:

• The violin sonata in C, K. 403 (1784-85), in which Mozart composed the first two movements and the first 20 measures of the last; the final movement was completed by John Harbison (below) in 1968.

• The Allegro in A major (K. Anh. 48), the opening 35 measures of this violin sonata first movement written by Mozart, the remainder completed in 2012 by Harvard University scholar and classical period keyboard expert and improviser Robert Levin (below), who is a frequent guest at Token Creek.

• The Allegro in G Major (K. Anh. 47), another sonata first movement begun by Mozart (the first 31 measures), also completed by Levin last year.

“Revisiting these pieces I think is interesting,” says Levin. “The idea of course is not to suggest to people whom you’re going to write something which is as audacious, as inspired, as pleasurable to listen to as what Mozart would surely have done had he lived to complete these pieces but it gives you an idea. It’s like an artist’s conception of an idea before the building is actually constructed.”

“And of course there is this combustible attitude of improvisation in which one realizes that no text that Mozart wrote was really sacrosanct,” Levin adds. “He did not write pieces down so that people would play exactly what he wrote and nothing else. This was not the way music was done in the 18th century, and in the early 19th century it wasn’t done that way either. That is, just the way every performance invited improvisation so, in a sense, the score was a blueprint.”

Levin with piano

In addition to the completion premieres, the program also includes the premiere of John Harbison’s Violin Sonata No. 2 (2013), some rare old things — Purcell sonatas for two violins – and Mozart’s infrequently heard and bizarrely scored Horn Quintet (for two violas, one violin, and cello.

All performances take place at the  Festival Barn, on Highway 19 near the town of Token Creek, with ample parking available. The venue, indoors and air-conditioned, is invitingly small, and early reservations are recommended. Arrive early and tour the beautiful setting and farm fields (below in a photo by Jess Anderson).

Token Creek Land 1 Jess Anderson

More information about the  Token Creek Festival can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org.

Concert tickets are $30, and a limited number of student tickets are available for $10. Tickets can be reserved by phone at 608-241-2525, by email at info@tokencreekfestival.org, or by U.S. mail at P.O. Box 55142, Madison WI, 53705.

More information about the Token Creek Festival and all events can be found at the website, www.tokencreekfestival.org or by calling 608-241-2525.


1 Comment »

  1. I will always remember Ilona Kombrink’s thrilling soprano voice soaring over our massive chorus and orchestra in the final “Libera Me” of the Verdi Requiem performed in the Stock Pavilion under Robert Fountain in 1984. She was so pleasant to work with.

    Comment by Ron McCrea — August 19, 2013 @ 1:05 pm


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