The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: University of Wisconsin-Madison bassoonist Marc Vallon and saxophonist-clarinetist Les Thimmig will revive an homage to French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez in a FREE concert Friday evening that mixes Baroque and and new music.

March 31, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Bassoonist Marc Vallon and saxophonist-clarinetist Les Thimmig, who both teach and perform at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, are emerging as two of the most interesting, eclectic faculty members, who display a variety of gifts and talents, at the UW School of Music.

Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill) not only performs bassoon music from the Baroque and Classical eras, he is also a conductor who will lead two performances later this month of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Mass in B Minor” for the Madison Bach Musicians.

Marc Vallon 2011 James Gill (baroque & modern)[2]

Thimmig plays jazz as well as classics, and recently finished his three-concert exploration of trios by the American composer Morton Feldman.

Les Thimmig color

Here are the details that were sent by Marc Vallon to The Ear:

“Hi Jake,

“I thought I would let you know about my next musical adventure.

“In the 1960s, French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (below) had a group, called Le Domaine Musical, that played contemporary music mixed with early music by Bach, Dufay and Guillaume de Machaut — unusual music for the time.

Pierre Boulez

“As an homage, Les Thimmig and I are reviving the concept in a FREE concert on this coming Friday, April 4, at 6:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall.

“The program will feature music by Alban Berg, Luciano Berio, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Boulez, and includes Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 on period instruments.

The program includes Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op.5 (1920), by Alban Berg (below top); Twelve Notations (1945, in a piano version performed by Maurizio Pollini in a YouTube video at the bottom) by Pierre Boulez (born 1925); “D’un geste apprivoisé” for bassoon and tape (1997) by Jose-Luis Campana  (born 1949); and ) “Sequenza VII” for oboe (1969) by Luciano Berio (below bottom, 1925-2003).

alban berg

Luciano Berio

After intermission, we will perform “Kontra-punkte for 10 instruments” (1953) by Karlheinz Stockhausen (below top, 1928-2007); and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (dedicated in 1721) by Johann Sebastian Bach (below bottom, 1685-1750).

karlheinz stockhausen knobs

 Bach1

There will be a presentation of the pieces and an introduction to “Kontra-Punkte” by Lee Blasius (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), who teaches music theory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Lee Blasius Katrin Talbot

The performers include: Mi-Li Chang, flute; Kirstin Ihde, piano; Sung Yang Sara Giusti, piano; Kai-Ju Ho, clarinet; Les Thimmig, bass clarinet; Mary Perkinson, Baroque and modern violin; Eric Miller, baroque and modern cello; Joe Greer, trombone; Jessica Jensen, trumpet; Rosalie Gilbert, harp; Ross Duncan, bassoon; Kangwon Kim and Nate Giglierano, baroque violin; Sally Chisholm, Ilana Schroeder and Erin Brooks, baroque viola; Martha Vallon, Anton ten Wolde, Baroque cello; John Chappell Stowe; harpsichord; and Marc Vallon, bassoon.

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Classical music: The Carnegie Hall of Madison — the renovated Wisconsin Union Theater on the University of Wisconsin campus — will reopen next fall with a gala concert by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and other classical stars.

March 30, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear likes to call the Wisconsin Union Theater (below) “The Carnegie Hall of Madison.”

The reason is simple. Ever since the historic WUT opened, that is where the really great classical music talents of the 20th century performed, especially long before there was a Madison Civic Center or an Overture Center.

WUT from stage 1

Two seasons ago, the Wisconsin Union Theater closed for repairs and started holding concerts in Mills Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

But the renovations are almost completed. For more information about the two-year renovation, visit:

http://unionreinvestment.wisc.edu

So the Wisconsin Union Theater has announced a gala and celebratory 2014-2015 Concert Series in the renovated theater.

The press release reads: “The Wisconsin Union Theater is proud to announce its 2014-2015 Concert Series. Reopening for its 75th anniversary (and the Concert Series’ 95th anniversary) after a two-year renovation, the theater offers a magnificent series, which includes:

Yo-Yo Ma, cello, with pianist Kathryn Stott, piano on Saturday, October 18, 2014. (At the bottom, you can hear the duo perform the “Meditation” from the opera “Thais” by Jules Massenet in a YouTube video that has more than 1 million hits.)

yo-yo ma and kathryn stott

Valentina Lisitsa, piano, who has been an Internet sensation and procured a contract with Decca Records from her millions of followers on YouTube, on Thursday, November 20, 2014.

Lisitsa_Valentina_2

Chanticleer singers on Saturday, February 21, 2015.

Chanticleer_Formal2

Takacs String Quartet on Saturday, February 28, 2015, for the Fan Taylor Memorial Concert.

takacs quartet

Sharon Isbin, guitar, and Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano, on Saturday, March 21, 2015. Presented with the Madison Opera.

Sharon Isbin

Isabel Leonard mezzo

“As was promised when the theater closed for renovations, past and current subscribers are given first priority to place an order for the series and request their preferred seating area. Others can subscribe later and single tickets will be available in August.

“This is just the beginning, says WUT officials. Details of the theater’s complete season will be released at a later date and will include many additional superb artists and performances.

“The season is presented by Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Performing Arts Committee.

Single ticket prices range from $25 t0 $125 for the Yo-Yo Ma concert. The others generally run from $12 to $45 or $50.

Brochures will be mailed in mid-June.

For more information visit:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu

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Classical music education: Let us now praise and support student musicians even as we cheer on the University of Wisconsin Badgers basketball team playing against the University of Arizona Wildcats in tonight’s NCAA’s “Elite Eight” game. Here are the winners of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s 2014 Bolz Young Artist Competition and “Final Forte” concert. PLUS, WYSO’s Art of Note fundraiser is tonight.

March 29, 2014
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ALERT: Tonight is the gala Art of Note annual fundraiser for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). It will be held at CUNA Mutual at 5910 Mineral Point Road, on Madison’s far west side,  from 6 to 10 p.m. and features great food and many items for auctions as well as performances by student music groups. For more information, visit:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/support-wyso/art-of-note/

wyso horns

By Jacob Stockinger

Even as many Badger eyes will be turned tonight to the “Elite Eight” round of the NCAA’s annual March Madness “The Big Dance” national college basketball championship in Anaheim. California, tonight at 7:49 p.m. CDT on TBS (Turner Broadcasting System)  with the hopes that the University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers will win over top-seeded University of Arizona Wildcats and go on to advance to the “Final Four” and further — we would do well to remember the students who excel in other fields besides athletics but who receive far less media coverage and much less popular acclaim than they deserve.

Take student classical musicians, for instance.

Chances are you already know the news if you were there in person Wednesday night at  “The Final Forte” in Overture Hall at the Overture Center, or if you heard the performances that were broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio.

But now it is official, complete with the press release from the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) that names the results of the state annual teenage concerto competition called the Bolz Young Artist Competition.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The four instrumentalists performed with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, under guest conductor James Smith of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, who filled in for MSO music director John DeMain.

The four finalists who competed in two preliminary rounds and who are pictured below in a photo by James Gill, were (from the left):

mso final forte 2014 David Cao, Elizabeth Moss, Bobby Levinger, Ephraim Sutherland CR James Gill

Violinist David Cao, 15, who attends James Madison Memorial High School in Madison. He played the first movement of the Violin Concerto in D Minor by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. He took First Prize and $2,000. (you can hear a YouTube video of the first movement of this demanding concerto at the bottom.)

Violinist Bethany Moss, 17, is a senior home-schooled in Appleton, Wisconsin. She performed the third movement of the Violin Concerto in B Minor by French composer Camille Saint-Saens. She received an Honorable Mention.

Pianist Bobby Levinger, 17 is a senior at Central High School in La Crosse. He played the first movement of the Piano Concerto in A Minor by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. He received an Honorable Mention.

Marimba player Ephraim Sutherland, 15, is a sophomore at Viroqua High School. He performed the Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra by French composer Emmanuel Sejourne. He received Second Prize and $2,000.

Cao and Sutherland also performed as soloists with the Madison Symphony Orchestra at the MSO’s Spring Young People’s Concert on Thursday, March 27, which area school children attended. (Below is a photo by Greg Anderson of a previous Young People’s Concert.)

MSO Fall Youth kid greg anderson

Do you agree with the results?

If you have an observation to make about the competition and performances, or wishes to leave the contestants, please use the COMMENTS section of this blog.

Major funding for this concert is provided by Diane Ballweg, Larry and Julie Midtbo, Fred and Mary Mohs, The Berbeewalsh Foundation, and The Boldt Company, with additional funds from the A. Paul Jones Charitable Trust, Stephen D. Morton, Mildred and Marv Conney, James Dahlberg and Elsebet Lund, Kato L. Perlman, Sentry Insurance Foundation, W. Jerome Frautschi, and Friends of Wisconsin Public Television.

 

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Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Choir will perform a concert of Russian and Baltic music this Saturday night — in the shadow of political events and turmoil in Ukraine. Plus, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Wisconsin Brass Quintet also performs a FREE concert of Bach, Gershwin and others on Saturday night.

March 28, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Two fine and FREE concerts are on tap this Saturday night:

WISCONSIN CHAMBER CHOIR

On this Saturday night, March 29, in the critically acclaimed Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below) will perform its spring concert.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir 1

The concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church (below top is the exterior, below bottom the acoustically terrific beautiful interior), located at the corner of West Washington Avenue at Carroll Street, on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison.

grace episcopal church ext

grace episcopal church inter

The concert features Russian music. But it worth noting that even an event this small and this local shows the ripples of the political situation in Ukraine where Russia has illegally annexed Crimea. Tickets are $15 for general admission; $10 for students. “Because of the situation in Ukraine (below), the choir made a decision to change the title of the concert from “Back to the U.S.S.R.” to just “Spring Concert,” the choir says. “We are confident the change will help our audience focus on the beautiful music and not current politics.”

Venezuela protest 2014

The riches of Russian choral music will be represented by selections from the Vespers by Sergei Rachmaninoff (below top) along with ravishingly beautiful works by  Alexander Grechaninov (below middle in 1912) and Pavel Grigorievich Chesnokov (below bottom and at bottom in a YouTube video).

rachmaninoffyoung

Alexander Grechaninov in 1912

Chesnokov mug

The scope widens to include sacred and secular music from various former Soviet Republics. Works by Veljo Tormis (below top) of Estonia), Pēteris Vasks of Latvia (below middle) and Vytautas Miškinis of Lithuania (below n bottom) exemplify the vibrant choral traditions of the Baltic states.

Tormis

Vasks

Miskinis portrait

Sacred and secular works from Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus round out this fascinating and varied program. There is also the possibility of something by the Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney (blew left and right, respectively) to bring things to a rousing close.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Advance tickets are available for $15 from www.wisconsinchamberchoir.org, via Brown Paper Tickets, or at Willy Street Coop (East and West locations) and Orange Tree Imports. Student tickets are $10. Founded in 1999, the Madison-based Wisconsin Chamber Choir has established a reputation for excellence in the performance of oratorios by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Franz Joseph Haydn; a cappella masterworks from various centuries; and world-premieres. Robert Gehrenbeck (below) is the Wisconsin Chamber Choir’s artistic director.

Robert Gehrenbeck

WISCONSIN BRASS QUINTET

The Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below, in a 2013 performance photo by Jon Harlow) in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, will perform a FREE concert on Saturday night, March 29,  8 p.m. in Mills Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Maidson campus.

WBQ members include John Aley, trumpet; Jessica Jensen, trumpet; Daniel Grabois, horn; Mark Hetzler, trombone; John Stevens, tuba; and special guest Abby Stevens, soprano, who is the daughter of John Stevens, who is retiring this May.

The program offers “Distant Voices” by David Sampson; “Brass Calendar” by Peter Schickele, aka P.D.Q. Bach); “Contrapunctus” by Johann Sebastian Bach; and a selection of songs by George Gershwin sung by Abby Stevens.

Wisconsin Brass Quintet 2013 CR Jon Harlow

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Classical music Q&A: Founder Kevan Feyzi talks about the new Madison Area Trombone Ensemble (MATE), which will perform its FREE inaugural concert this Sunday in Madison. It features University of Wisconsin-Madison trombone professor Mark Hetzler as guest soloist.

March 27, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Sunday, the Madison Area Trombone Ensemble will makes its official local debut when it performs its inaugural concert, with UW trombone professor and member of the Wisconsin Brass Quintet Mark Hetzler as a special guest soloist.

MATE 6

The FREE concert is 3 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church, 203 Wisconsin Ave., Madison, WI.

A new all-volunteer ensemble, MATE features many of the areas top trombonists, students, as well as members of the community, all of whom share a passion for music-making and trombone.  Members play in a wide variety of groups, such as the Madison Symphony, the WYSO Youth Orchestra, the Madison Jazz Orchestra, the Madison Mellophonium Jazz Orchestra, the Madison Brass Band and Phat Phunktion. (Performance photos below come from MATE when it performed at Barnes and Noble booksellers as part of the Wisconsin School Music Association’s “Music in Our Schools” Month Bookfair on March 13).

Mark Hetzler will be the guest soloist in David P. Jones’ “Bone Moan,” a work for solo trombone and six-part trombone choir. The piece draws on rhythms and harmonies found in not only jazz, but also reggae and Latin popular music. In both the solo and ensemble parts, the piece uses a full range of the trombone’s capabilities through the use of glissandi, mutes, flutter tonguing and other techniques.

MATE will also perform a piece by Madison-area bass trombonist and prolific composer-arranger Rich Woolworth, plus arrangements for trombone choir that span a variety of eras and styles, including works by Luca Marenzio, Franz Joseph Haydn, Randall Thompson and Duke Ellington.

The Ear asked MATE founder and player Kevan Feyzi (below) to talk about MATC and he kindly responded with an email Q&A:

Kevan Feyzi

When, why and how did the Madison Area Trombone Ensemble come into being?

Last summer, I was playing a bit with the Madison Mellophonium Jazz Orchestra (a large jazz band which performs charts from the Stan Kenton library). I looked to my left and right, and noticed that all four other trombonists are some of the finest players in the area and were doing this pro-bono. They each truly love to play, and do so as much as they have the time. In other groups I work with many other fine trombonists who have the same philosophy. All of us seem to get along quite well. So the light bulb then popped into my head: What if we all got together to make some music?

In the fall, I floated the idea around to trombonists around town and received very positive feedback, so I decided to go ahead with it. With some help from Steve Ash, who directs the Glenwood Moravian Trombone Choir, and the generosity of the staff of First United Methodist Church, the group finally got off the ground in January. We’re now 15 strong!

What do you and other members like about the trombone so much as to have created an all-trombone ensemble?

We’re all certainly biased, but consider this: Are any of the other members of the brass family as dynamic and versatile as the trombone? The amount of tone colors we can generate is so vast. I can hardly think of a genre of music where a trombone wouldn’t fit in. So we can play any sort of music, even in a group setting. And when you have a dozen-plus trombones playing together, you get something really remarkable. To me, it’s a collective sound that’s unsurpassed by any other collection of instruments.

I also have a lot of fun arranging for trombone choir — we can cover about the same range as a human, SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) choir. Choral music lends itself quite well to a group of trombones: in fact, on the March 30 concert we’ll be playing my choral arrangement of Randall Thompson’s well-known “Alleluia.” (You can hear a tribune choir perform Morten Lauridsen‘s “O Magnum Mysterium” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Trombone

What kind of repertoire will you favor? Original compositions? New music? Older established repertoire? Transcriptions? Classical music? Jazz and crossover music?

I make a point NOT to favor any one style (jazz versus classical) over another. Trombones sound great in all music, so let’s show off our versatility! For example, we’ll start off with some Renaissance music, some Haydn, and move chronologically forward — more or less — into the 20th century and jazz. There are all kinds of great arrangements and transcriptions for trombone choir—some great ones being done by members of the group in fact — but original repertoire is harder to come by.

So I’m particularly excited about a piece contributed by Monticello-based trombonist and composer Rich Woolworth (below top)  called “Octagon,” as well as the piece we’ll feature Mark Hetzler (below bottom, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) in, David P. Jones’ “Bone Moan.”

Rich Woolworth trombone

Mark Hetzler 2011 BIG COLOR Katrin Talbot

Mark Hetzler and David P. Jones (below) are long-time friends, and the two have collaborated on many compositions for trombone. I like to feature a few original trombone choir compositions on any performance, but these two stand out because of the local connections. The more we can play from the output of area composers, arrangers or members of the group, the better.

David P. Jones full face

Bone Moan CD cover

Do you worry about establishing another music group in a city with so many music groups already?

I suppose if money were a concern then I might, but this is a community group. MATE’s mission is one of music-making and camaraderie, while sharing the unique sound of a trombone choir with music lovers. I think that we can achieve that regardless of the amount of other groups in town. For a mid-sized city, we have a notably large music scene in Madison, which means that some very fine players can’t always commit to a series of weekly rehearsals and a performance or two.

About the only thing I’m concerned about is having enough players to make the group viable. But I’m quite satisfied about how the group has grown — 15 is a great number for a trombone choir, and it should only grow from there.

MATE 7 close up

What are your plans for future concerts and events? Is membership open and how does one audition?

I have a summer performance in the works much like what we’re doing this month, but I’d like to introduce the group into other performance settings as well. A group of trombones works just as well at a jazz festival as it does in a concert hall — we just have to play the appropriate repertoire. Membership is open to anyone in the community who plays the trombone solidly, and has a decent amount of experience. Anyone interested in joining is welcome to sit in for a rehearsal to see if they enjoy it.

What kind of support is the group seeking to keep it going?

A good-sized audience at our performances, and lots of positive vibes! I don’t keep a budget for the group: the players are all volunteering their musical talents, and I volunteer my own time outside of rehearsal to promote the group and keep things running smoothly. That being said, donations will be accepted at performances in order to purchase new music.

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

Creating and directing this group has been a real bright spot for me in what’s been one of the worst winters in history. I’m very thankful for all the trombonists who have donated their time and efforts toward getting us off the ground, and I’m excited to keep it going!

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Classical music: The early music group Ensemble Musical Offering of Milwaukee will make its Madison debut this Sunday in an all-Handel program. Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s FREE “Final Forte” concerto competition is tonight at 7 on Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio, and University of Wisconsin-Madison violist Mikko Utevsky performs a FREE recital Thursday night at Capitol Lakes.

March 26, 2014
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ALERTS:  Our good friend and frequent contributor Mikko Utevsky writes: Dear Friends, I am giving a viola recital this Thursday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m. in the Grand Hall of the Capitol Lakes Retirement Community (333 West Main Street, near the Capitol Square). The program includes works by Franz Joseph Haydn, Ernest Bloch (the Suite Hebraïque), and viola sonatas of Johannes Brahms (Op. 120, No. 2) and Darius Milhaud (No. 1). I will be joined by pianists Jeff Gibbens and Adam Kluck. I hope the short notice will not prevent some of you from joining me there. Best, Mikko

Also, The Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s “Final Forte” young artist competition will be broadcast LIVE tonight at 7 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio.

For more details, here is a link to a previous post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/classical-music-education-can-you-pass-nprs-bach-puzzler-also-wednesday-night-is-the-free-concert-and-live-broadcasts-of-the-madison-symphony-orchestras-final-forte-concert-of-high/

MAYCO Mikko Utevsky by Steve Rankin

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker 

Here’s a Handelian heads-up, and with a Madison accent!

The Milwaukee-based Ensemble Musical Offering is to make its first appearance in Madison on this Sunday afternoon, March 30, at 2 p.m., at the First Unitarian Society of Madison’s new and crisply designed Atrium auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) at 900 University Bay Drive.

Tickets are $15, payable at the door, and available in advance from www.ensemblemusicaloffering.org or by calling (414) 258-6133.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

The group, whose supplemental title is the Midwest Bande for Early Music, was founded in 2000 by harpsichordist and director Joan Parsley.  As she herself defines the ensemble: “Its mission is to foster appreciation for early music, circa 1580-1750, through professional performance on period instruments, educational activities, and community outreach.”

Winner of several grants, the ensemble not only performs regularly in its home city, but supports the Greater Milwaukee Baroque Festival, which is a competition for students of string and keyboard instruments, plus a one-week Summer Baroque Institute. 

The instrumental membership of the ensemble (below) consists of about 10 players — divided between strings and winds — including harpsichord.  All play baroque instruments, and use the one player per part approach.

Ensemble Musical Offering

For their Madison appearance, the EMO will present a program aptly titled “Hallmarks of Handel.”  It will contain a balanced survey of the great composer’s instrumental and vocal music. 

The most familiar music will be the G-major Suite, the third and last division of George Frideric Handel’s beloved and popular “Water Music” (at bottom in a YouTube video played on modern instruments by Sir Neville Marriner and the Acadmey of St. Martin in the Fields) — the set that features only woodwinds, without brass, against the strings.

handel big 3

There will also be no less than two of the Op. 3, Concerti Grossi, Nos. 4 and 6, which give strong roles to winds (as well as harpsichord in the latter).  It will be interesting to hear these works, usually treated as “orchestral,” in this more intimate chamber-music character.

One more instrumental work is a composite of music that Handel used in his opera “Ottone.”  Because of the prominence of the bassoon in the scoring, it will be presented in this program as a Sinfonia for Bassoon, Strings and Continuo.

The other side of the program is vocal, and touches upon what was, for Handel, his major areas of composition, his Italian operas and English oratorios.  There will be two arias drawn from Handel’s first London triumph, “Rinaldo,” composed in 1711.

The oratorio realm will be represented indirectly.  The program will allow a rare opportunity to hear examples of some two-dozen chamber duets and trios, with continuo, that Handel composed over the years to Italian texts, following patterns set by role model Agostino Steffani.

Handel seemed to use these brief, three-movement mini-cantatas as tryouts of some vocal ideas, and he then incorporated many of those ideas into larger works. The two to be offered, composed in July 1741, contain musical germs that Handel allowed to blossom as three choral movements in “Messiah,” composed later that year.  Listeners will surely be surprised and delighted to recognize those inimitably Handelian ideas in their first form.

Though headquartered in Milwaukee, the EMO draws upon musicians from beyond their city, as, indeed, so many early music groups do — witness the Madison Bach Musicians.  For EMO, there is a particular reliance on personnel from around our state, and from Madison in particular.

Thus, two admired Madison early music players are involved: Baroque violinist Edith Hines (below top) as leader of the strings, and Teresa Koenig (below bottom), a specialist in Baroque wind instruments.

Edith Hines BW

Theresa Koenig

In addition, this program offers two sopranos for the vocal pieces, each with a Madison connection. Sarah Richardson is currently a doctoral candidate at the UW School of Music, studying with University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music professor and baritone Paul Rowe.  And Chelsea Morris Shephard, who has sung with the Madison Bach Musicians, will be remembered as a finalist in in last summer’s Handel Aria Competition for the Madison Early Musical Festival.

Sarah Richardson

CHELSEA Shephard

Such a rich menu of Handel is bound to appeal to lovers of this fabulous composer’s wonderful music, and attract those who should be such lovers.

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Classical music Q&A: The Annals of Accompanying, Part 2 of 2. The Ear talks with baritone Paul Rowe and pianist Martha Fischer, both of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, about the challenges of accompanying in their joint FREE performance this Wednesday night of Hugo Wolf’s complete “Italian Songbook.”

March 25, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Baritone Paul Rowe and pianist Martha Fischer have been performing songs and song cycles together for almost two decades at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Some performances, like Schubert’s “Winterreise,” have even been published and recorded in book-and-CD format that features moody song-related, black-and-white photographs by the Madison-based photographer and violist Katrin Talbot.

Winterreise UW Press

Fischer, who teaches Collaborative Piano at the UW-Madison, has also accompanied countless instrumentalists.

This Wednesday night, March 26, Rowe and Fischer will give a FREE performance of Hugo Wolf’s complete “Italian Songbook” at 7:3 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

To The Ear, it seemed like the perfect occasion to explore the complexities of accompanying and musical collaboration. The two musicians (below with UW alumna Julia Foster, who teaches voice at Rollins College and who will join in the singing) generously agreed to respond to the same questions. Those questions and their answers have been featured yesterday and today on this blog.

Here is a link to yesterday’s posting of Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/classical-music-qa-the-annals-of-accompanying-part-1-of-2-the-ear-talks-with-baritone-paul-rowe-and-pianist-martha-fischer-both-of-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-school-of-music-about-t/

 

Paul Rowe, Martha Fischer and Julia Foster 2

What qualities make for a great accompanist or collaborator?

PAUL ROWE: The first requirement is to be a great pianist and musician. Then, I think, especially if one is going to work with singers, the pianist needs to be interested in the poetry and the smaller format of the song. It is very important to have a working relationship where the leading role is constantly switching back and forth. To be able to exchange ideas and interpretations is also crucial to a rewarding working arrangement.

MARTHA FISCHER: Great artist-accompanists are able to both be supremely flexible and yet maintain a true artistic profile. Great accompanists bring a point of view to the table and play their parts with the same artistic integrity that one would bring to any solo work. They are able to meld with their partners to create a single artistic statement.  And they usually need to be nice people!

accompanying singer and piano

What are the most rewarding and most challenging parts of working together? Technical matters? Psychological and emotional aspects? How does each of you affect the other one? Does a collaboration develop and deepen over time and as you get to know each other in other collaborative projects?

PR: Martha and I have done many performances together of a variety of different types of music. We have, from the first, been able to hear and see things in similar ways. In many cases, we don’t need much rehearsal at all.

The most challenging thing has been finding time to work on things in a relaxed way, when we have time to discuss the pieces and the best ways to present them. Often, we are both running from lessons or meetings and trying to squeeze in some quality time.

It helps that we share a great love for this repertoire. We even team taught a special literature class a couple of years ago which was lots of fun to share our feelings and knowledge of the music with a group of students.

MF: For me, encountering the vast and amazing art song repertoire is, in itself, the most rewarding part of collaborating with singers.  And then when you are able to create this music with a sympathetic partner who already shares your values, it is one of the greatest experiences a pianist can have.

The challenges these days are mostly logistic — not enough time to practice and prepare on your own as well as together. Paul and I have been working together now for about 17 years. I knew when I first played for him that we were a good musical partnership. We rarely have musical disagreements — we are both flexible and open to each other’s ideas and we both listen to each other — musically and verbally.

And yes, our artistic collaborations (below, in Schubert’s “Winterreise” at the First Unitarian Society of Madison), like many others that I have enjoyed over the years, do develop and deepen over time, just like any important relationship in life. You come to trust one another and we definitely have a special connection.

Winterreise applause

Is it easier to do some kinds of music (vocal versus instrumental) or composers and styles (Baroque versus Romantic or Modern) than others? Which ones?

PR: We have had the easiest time with the famous works of Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler and Hugo Wolf. Some of the more rewarding performances have been of the works of some lesser-known composers or of works by famous people that are not heard as often. Some example are the William Blake songs of Benjamin Britten, the Francois Villon songs of Claude Debussy, some works of Francis Poulenc and Georges Enescu, Ivor Gurney and even Louis Coerne, Louis Spohr, Franz Schreker and Carl Loewe.

MF: There are different challenges in vocal and instrumental accompanying.  In vocal accompanying, you have to deal with and understand the words, poetry, languages, diction and style as well as the technical challenges presented.  The pieces tend to be shorter, but in recital that presents a challenge in itself because each new song is its own universe and there is often no time to gradually arrive there. You will find the same technical and musical challenges that you find in the solo piano repertoire.  Debussy is Debussy.  Brahms is Brahms.

Instrumental music is generally closer to solo piano music in that you don’t have the issues listed above (texts, languages, etc.) and you often have the challenge of playing longer forms such as sonatas — of planning and pacing a performance over a longer trajectory. But again, the challenges depend quite a bit on the composer and the piece and each experience is unique.

piano and violin accompanying

What would you each like to say about what has gone into your upcoming performance of Hugo Wolf’s “Italian Song Book”? What are the challenges for each you in relating to each other and best serving the music?

PR: I think we have had a great time getting to know these songs. The level of detail on which Hugo Wolf (below, in a photograph from 1902) works is astonishing. The quick transitions from humorous to serious moods, the sarcastic, snide commentary that is sometimes explicit and sometimes obscure, the quick dynamic and tempo changes as well as the sometime dicey harmonies are what make these songs such a delight.

The technical demands on both singers and pianist are extreme but they are never random. The “Italienisches Liederbuch” is probably the most entertaining and demanding of all the Wolf collections. Luckily for us, it is also the most rewarding for performers and audience.

Hugo Wolf 1902 photo

MF:  Wolf’s “Italian Songbook” encompasses every aspect of human relationships and emotion. It is so incredibly rich on every level. Pianistically, the intense chromaticism presents its own problems –- it is hard to keep track of what key you are in and which accidentals carry through the measure — and there are very, very wide stretches in both hands that have to be either placed between the hands or played as rolled chords.

Most of the songs are quite short (2-3 pages each) and go by so fast that it can be like an emotional roller coaster. Of course, that’s the fun of it as well. There is a lot of humor and reverence and love in these songs, and they certainly are some of the best that the German Lied, or art song, has to offer. It is a privilege beyond words for me to play these pieces with both Julia and Paul, and it has been a complete joy to do so.

What else would you like to say or add from your specific point of view?

PR: I realize that this is a very specialized repertoire that may be intimidating to many concertgoers. Even the title is somewhat confusing. Why are these Italian songs in German? How can this music be relevant for a modern audience? I would encourage anyone who does not know the music of Hugo Wolf to give this music a chance. There is so much beauty, humor and variety that it is worth the time and effort to experience it. (At bottom is a Hugo Wolf sampler in a YouTube video that includes a dozen songs from the “Italian Songbook” sung by baritone Hermann Prey and accompanied by pianist Daniel Barenboim.) 

MF: For the listeners who might come to hear the “Italian Songbook,” I would urge them to really pay attention to the piano parts. Just about every nuance of emotion in the text is presented in the piano writing through tiny harmonic shifts and stunning, sometimes sudden dynamic changes.

Also, I’m playing every piece on the program -– a total of 46 songs — where Paul and Julia get to share the stage (equally divided between them).  It’s a bigger job for me than anyone else!  And … lucky me!

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Classical music Q&A: The Annals of Accompanying, Part 1 of 2. The Ear talks with baritone Paul Rowe and pianist Martha Fischer, both of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, about the challenges of accompanying in their joint FREE performance this Wednesday night of Hugo Wolf’s complete “Italian Songbook.”

March 24, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Baritone Paul Rowe and pianist Martha Fischer have been performing song and song cycles together for almost two decades at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Some performances, like Schubert’s “Winterreise,” have even been published and recorded in book-and-CD format (bel0w) that also features moody theme-related, black-and-white photographs by the Madison-based photographer and violist Katrin Talbot and a foreword by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Harbison.

Winterreise UW Press

Fischer, who teaches Collaborative Piano at the UW-Madison, has also accompanied countless instrumentalists.

This Wednesday night, March 26, Rowe and Fischer will give a FREE performance of Hugo Wolf’s complete “Italian Songbook” at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

To The Ear, it seemed like the perfect occasion to explore the complexities of accompanying and of musical collaboration. The two musicians (below left and center with UW alumna Julia Foster, right, who teaches voice at Rollins College and will join in the singing of the Wolf songs) generously agreed to respond to the same questions. Those questions and their answers will be featured today and tomorrow on this blog.

Paul Rowe, Martha Fischer and Julia Foster 1

Why is “accompanying” now referred to as “collaboration”? What distinction is one trying to make? What would you like the audience to listen for and hear in an exemplary collaboration?

PAUL ROWE: To me, this is all in the interest of equal billing for equal participation.

In the past the singer was often the “star,” who hired a pianist to play for them. This started to change in some cases as far back as the 1840s when Felix Mendelssohn and then Johannes Brahms played with selected singers in salons and concert halls. They would do what we now call recitals and might feature music by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann or Brahms or Mendelssohn.

The first of the great modern collaborators was Gerald Moore (below in 1967, seated, with baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on the left, and also at the bottom in a 1957 YouTube video that celebrates spring with two songs by Franz Schubert). Moore joined many of the great post World War II recitalists including Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Fritz Wunderlich, Kathleen Ferrier, Janet Baker and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in many performances.

Other great pianists who also collaborated since that time have included Leonard Bernstein, Wolfgang Swallisch, Daniel Barenboim, Benjamin Britten and Mstislav Rostropovich. The next generation included Graham Johnson, Harmut Höll, Jorg Demus and many others. All of these great pianists deserve equal billing with the singers or other musicians.

MARTHA FISCHER: When thinking about the specialty of “pianists-who-prefer-playing-with-others,” Collaborative Piano is a more inclusive term.  It refers to all of the many possibilities of collaboration – duos, trios, larger chamber works, piano-four-hands, two pianos, accompanying choirs, playing as orchestral pianists or with wind ensembles, etc.

This is the explanation from a purely practical standpoint.  But in addition to that, there is the fact that over time “accompanying” had come to have a pejorative connotation — that “those who can’t really play SOLO piano become accompanists.”  In more recent years, I believe that we (including pianists, by the way) have come to understand that it is an art in and of itself that deserves the same respect as any other kind of music-making.

I usually have a whole class in my undergraduate accompanying course where I talk to the students about the importance of approaching their collaborative repertoire with the same kind of integrity that they do their solo repertoire.

If we, as pianists, think of it as “just accompanying” — as a lesser experience — then we are perpetuating the stereotype that accompanists are good sight-readers who should stay in the background and be nothing more than pretty wallpaper to the soloist’s great artistry.

If we as pianists bring all we have to offer to the table and are as prepared (or more so) than our partners, then we play in a way that demands respect.  And that’s where it should all begin.

dietrich fischer- dieskau and gerald moore in 1967

Historically or on the contemporary scene, are there great collaborations that you admire and view as role models?

PR: I would have to rate the Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau/Gerald Moore (below) and Peter Pears/Benjamin Britten duos as among the most influential for me. Also, Pierre Bernac/Francis Poulenc and Gerard Souzay/Dalton Baldwin rank very high.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore 1

MF: Some of the greatest collaborations between singers and pianists?  They include Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears (below), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and the great Gerald Moore (Fischer-Dieskau collaborated with many pianists, among them being Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Sviatoslav Richter and others; and Gerald Moore collaborated with virtually every great singer in the mid-20th century, but Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore’s collaborations are still very special). And then there’s Francis Poulenc and Pierre Bernac!

Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten

Today, I often look to the British pianist, Graham Johnson (below top), who created “The Songmakers’ Almanac,” a group of singers who would do projects of art songs and specially designed programs. (He has done HUGE recording projects for the Hyperion label including the complete Schubert songs, the complete Brahms, Schumann, etc.).

Graham Johnson is also a gifted writer about music and I absolutely love his extensive notes on every song he has recorded. His writing gives us a glimpse into the detailed scholarship, creativity, and imagination that he possesses as an artist (In fact, I have especially enjoyed reading his notes on Wolf’s “Italian Songbook”!) In America, pianist Steven Bleier (below bottom), who teaches at the Julliard School and who played at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival with the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, has put together The New York Festival of Song that does similar song-related concerts on special topics or composers.

Graham Johnson at piano

There are many other great accompanists today, all of whom I see as role models: Malcolm Martineau, Roger Vignoles, Helmut Deutsch, Justus Zehen, Julius Drake, Craig Rutenberg, Warren Jones and Martin Katz, just to name a few.

steven bleier

TOMORROW: What qualities make for a great accompanist or collaborator? What are the most rewarding and most challenging parts of working together? Are some styles of music easier to accompany? And what makes Hugo Wolf’s “Italian Songbook” special?

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Classical music education: Can you pass NPR’s Bach Puzzler? Also Wednesday night is the FREE concert and live broadcasts of the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Final Forte concert of high school students in the teenage concerto competition.

March 23, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

HAPPY BELATED BACH BIRTHDAY

For The Ear, Sunday morning is always Bach Time.

True, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below) is good to listen to anytime of the day or night. And indeed on Friday, which as Bach’s actual birthday in 1685, the commercial station Sirius XM radio played all-Bach while Wisconsin Public Radio played generous helping of Bach.

Bach1

But something about the Baroque style and about Bach’s music in particular, beyond its religious or theological aspects, seems especially suited to morning and especially to Sunday morning. (Am I alone in that feeling?)

That is when I especially love to listen to a cantata, a violin or keyboard concerto, some of the solo suites for violin, cello and piano. It just feels right for Sunday morning.

So, go ahead: Celebrate Bach’s birthday today, even if it is a bit belated. What piece of Bach do you most love to listen to? Tell The Ear in the COMMENT section.

And while you are at it, try taking the Bach Puzzler quiz that appeared on NPR. It asks 10 questions about Bach’s music and life, and teaches you things you might not know. The Ear scored 9 out of 10. He’s betting many of you can do better.

Here is a link:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/03/21/291393250/wig-out-with-the-big-bach-puzzler

johann sebastian bach puzzler

THE FINAL FORTE

This coming Wednesday night, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will hold the 2014 edition of the annual Final Forte in Overture Hall at the Overture Center.

The FREE concert, under the baton of University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music guest conductor James Smith (below), who is filling in for John DeMain, features performances by the four finalists (two other rounds have already been completed)  for the Bolz Young Artist Competition -– in other words, a teenage concerto competition.

It will start at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast LIVE over Wisconsin Public Television and Wisconsin Public Radio.

Smith_Jim_conduct07_3130

To add to the excitement, right after the performances are over, and while the orchestra plays on its own, the judges will caucus and vote, and the winners and prize placements will then be determined and announced.

PLEASE NOTE: Those attending the performance in person must be in their seats by 6:45 p.m. And they must make reservations by calling the MSO at (608) 257-3734.

The four young artists competing are (below, from left to right, in photo by James Gill):

mso final forte 2014 David Cao, Elizabeth Moss, Bobby Levinger, Ephraim Sutherland CR James Gill

Violinist David Cao, 15, who attends James Madison Memorial High School in Madison and who will play the first movement of the Violin Concerto in D Minor by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

Violinist Bethany Moss, 17, is a senior home-schooled in Appleton, Wisconsin. He will perform the third movement of the Violin Concerto in B Minor by French composer Camille Saint-Saens.

Pianist Bobby Levinger, 17 is a senior at Central High School in LaCrosse. He will play the first movement of the Piano Concerto in A Minor by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.

Marimba player Ephraim Sutherland, 15, is a sophomore at Viroqua High School. He will perform the Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra by French composer Emmanuel Sejourne.  (You can hear the first movement in a YouTube video at the bottom)

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

In case you have to miss the Final Forte this Wednesday night, you can always record it. But there will also be encore broadcasts of the competition.

For more about these impressive sounding performers, including more complete biographies of them, and for broadcast dates and times, visit these two sites:

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/bolz

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/media/MSO_ScoreAprilMay_Web-1.pdf

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Classical music: Superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel counters pianist Gabriele Montero and defends for art’s sake his remaining distant and quiet about the political and social protests in Venezuela.

March 22, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Perhaps you have been seeing the many news reports about the major student-led political and social protests going on in Venezuela. They concern corruption, poverty, food shortages and the general ineptitude of Nicolas Maduro, the narrowly elected leader who followed the populist and leftist strong man Hugo Chavez after he died a year ago.

Venezuela protest 2014

venezuela mass protests

Then the protests spilled over into the artistic world.

Take the Venezuela-born pianist Gabriele Montero (below). You may recall that not long ago she played the Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15, by Ludwig van Beethoven with the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain. She is also known for her improvisations, once of which she performed as an encore in Madison.

Montero has voiced a strong protest over the deadly upheaval in her native land.

Gabriela Montero

She also called on her colleague, superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel (below), who now leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic as well as the student Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Venezuela, to speak up about what was happening in his homeland. When he didn’t, she took him to task and protested his silence or his tacit endorsement of the failing government.

DudamelChris Christodoulou

Montero compared Dudamel handling of Venezuela to the election endorsements that two well-known Russian musicians with international reputations — conductor Valery Gergiev (below top on the right with Vladimir Putin) and opera diva Anna Netrebko (below bottom on the right with Putin) — gave to Russian President and former KGB agent Vladimir Putin. (Hmm–The Ear wonders how Gergiev and Netrebko stand on Ukraine and the Anschluss or illegal annexation of Crimea.) But that is another issue for another time and another post.

vladimir putin decorates valery gergiev

Anna Netrebko and Vladimir Putin

Here is an open letter that Montero wrote to Dudamel, as it was reprinted in British critic Norman Lebrecht’s blog “Slipped Disc”:

https://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2014/02/an-open-letter-to-gustavo-dudamel-on-the-venezeuala-situation.html

Dudamel has been silent or timid at best, and many have said it is because Hugo Chavez (below top, on the left with Gustavo Dudamel) and his successor Nicolas Maduro (below bottom) have both been generous to “el sistema,” the national music education program out of which Dudamel emerged. Many observers speculated that Dudamel was watching out for the interest of his young followers and successors.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (L) spe

Nicolas Maduro

Here is his letter response to Montero, also as it appear on Lebrecht’s blog:

https://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2014/02/just-in-gustavo-dudamel-replies-to-gabriela-monteros-open-letter.html

But now Dudamel has spoken out forcefully and more at length, defending himself and saying that he intends to keep politics and arts separate.

Except that his removing himself from the controversy is itself political enough, and getting more so. The Ear recalls the saying of the 19-century Romantic French novelist Stendhal that speaking of politics in things of the imagination (like art) is like firing a gun in the middle of a concert.

Anyway, The Ear recently stumbled across a story by The Boston Globe that provided a very good wrap-up of Dudamel’s current position and also included an excellent chronology and summary of the background including Montero’s point of view and accusations.

Here is a link:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/music/2014/03/15/los-angeles-philharmonic-gustavo-dudamel-will-play-music-not-politics/3jz5l0elMa9InVgR4GCZaI/story.html

What do you think?

Should Gustavo Dudamel speak up about the protests and government killings in Venezuela?

Or should art and politics be kept separate?

Does this controversy change what you think of either pianist Gabriele Montero or conductor Gustavo Dudamel?

The Ear wants to hear.

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