By Jacob Stockinger
Every year, it marks the end of the summer classical musical season in Madison.
But this year brings something special.
This year, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary.
The festival opens this coming Saturday night, Aug. 23, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 31. It features the usual lineup of outstanding imported artists, all assembled by the co-artistic directors, who are the award-winning composer John Harbison (Pulitzer Prize, MacArthur Foundation “genius grant”) and his violinist wife Rose Mary Harbison (both below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot). This year, there is NO jazz cabaret.
The five performances of three programs -– with two Sunday matinee concerts –- will all take place in the lovely renovated barn (below) in nearby Token Creek. The space is ideal for the intimacy of chamber music, which is important since the festival is more of a niche event for serious music fans than a popular or populist event.
In addition to the playing, John Harbison will provide his always pithy and insightful commentaries on the composers and the works.
The festival will focus not on itself and its own anniversary so much as on the 300th anniversary of the birth of composer Carl Philip Emanuel Bach (below), one of the composer sons of Johann Sebastian Bach.
The acclaimed musicologist and keyboard artist Robert Levin (below top) will return from Harvard University -– John Harbison teaches at nearby MIT –- and will perform with his pianist wife Ya-Fei Chuang (below bottom).
Boston-area pianist Judith Gordon (below) will also return to play works by Scarlatti and Chopin.
But once again, as is customary, fine local talent will also perform, including Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra principal cellist Karl Lavine (below top, in a photo by Brynn Brujinn), Madison Symphony Orchestra violinist Laura Burns (below middle, by Brynn Brujinn) and flutist Dawn Lawler (below bottom).
Rose Mary Harbison will perform Bach and Debussy among other works.
And new music will not be forgotten. There will be a world premiere of a specially commissioned piece by local composer Jeff Stanek (below) and the Midwest premiere of John Harbison’s own “Songs America Loves to Sing.”
Today, The Ear offers an overview of the festival with the artists, programs and concert information. Tomorrow, The Ear will offer two appetite-whetting essays: the first, by Rose Mary Harbison, talks about the festival anniversary; the second, by John Harbison, talks about the achievement and music of C.P.E. Bach.
For more information, including programs, performer biographies and archives, visit: http://tokencreekfestival.org
For tickets ($30 with a limited number of $10 student tickets):
Call (608) 241-2524 or visit http://tokencreekfestival.org/2014-season/tickets/
PROGRAM I: AMERICAN SPRING
Saturday, Aug. 23, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Aug. 24, at 4 p.m. (The Sunday performance is SOLD-OUT.)
Works of Johann Sebastian Bach, Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn, John Harbison and Jeffrey Stanek will be featured.
Says John Harbison: “It would be inarticulate to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of C.P.E. Bach without the music of J.S. Bach and Joseph Haydn, both his origins and in some sense his destiny. Let’s not kid ourselves, these anchors have more weight than the ship we are launching.
“But CPE’s virtues are made clearest by juxtaposing his cheeky, mischievous and iconoclastic imagination against the stabilizing, normative and, finally, more clear-minded music of his father precursor and his successor ‘heir.’
“It could be said that CPE’s task was to dismantle some of his father’s synthesis, and Haydn’s was to reassemble, balance and clarify the brilliant musical vistas glimpsed by CPE.”
“Songs America Sings proposes to adapt J.S. Bach’s chorale prelude principle, his inclusion of familiar melodies as tugboats through unfamiliar musical waters, into a modern setting, the tune supposedly widely and currently familiar, the compositional terrain complicated by canons, re-harmonizations and diversions.”
The program includes:
J.S. Bach: Solo Violin Partita in E Major (selections)
Haydn: Trio in D major for violin, cello, and piano, Hob XV:24
Jeffrey Stanek: A WORLD PREMIERE (commissioned for the festival’s 25th anniversary) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano
C.P.E. Bach: Sonata V in E minor for piano, violin, and cello, Wq 89, no. 5
John Harbison: “Songs America Loves to Sing” (Midwest Premiere) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano
Dawn Lawler, flute; Joe Morris, clarinet; Rose Mary Harbison, violin; Karl Lavine, cello; John Harbison, piano ; Jeffrey Stanek, commissioned composer
“What can we say about a composer who winds up composing entirely, or at the least primarily, for one medium? Chopin (below) and Scarlatti both found that restriction to the keyboard, rather than limiting their resources, freed their imaginations. By immersing themselves in the sound and attach of a single instrument they each became more peculiar, un-imitatable, and irresistible. In small forms, they found snowflake variety.
“Anchoring the program, Beethoven, a universal large-scale composer whose Sonata in F somehow acquired the title “Spring.” If spring, it is the changeable, difficult weather, more showers than flowers.”
The program includes:
Scarlatti: Selected keyboard sonatas
Chopin: Selected Preludes for piano
C.P.E. Bach: Arioso with Variations in A, for keyboard and violin, Wq 79
Beethoven: Violin Sonata in F major, Op. 24 (“Spring”)
Judith Gordon, piano; Rose Mary Harbison violin
PROGRAM III: THE PERENNIAL AVANT-GARDE
Saturday, Aug. 30 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 31, at 4 p.m.
“Occasionally, but not always, composers decide to take it further, to write a piece with absurd levels of discontinuity (C.P.E. Bach’s Fantasy), radical conciseness and semaphoric, sketchy formal outline (Debussy’s Sonata), over-the-top nostalgia and apocalyptic prediction (Ravel’s La Valse), and form and scope too big for its medium (Schubert’s Grand Duo, for one piano, two players). A program of extremes: in the service of liberty — no vice.”
The program includes:
C.P.E. Bach: Fantasia in F-sharp minor for Keyboard, Wq 67; Sonata in C Minor for Keyboard and Violin, Wq 78
Debussy: Sonata for Violin and Piano (heard in a performance by James Ehnes in a YouTube video at the bottom)
Ravel: La Valse (arranged for piano by Ya-Fei Chuang)
Schubert: Grand Duo, for one piano-four hands
Robert Levin, piano; Ya-Fei Chuang, piano; Rose Mary Harbison, violin
Tomorrow: Violinist and co-director of Token Creek Festival Rose Mary Harbison writes about 25 years of presenting the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival. Composer John Harbison writes about his changed appreciation of C.P.E. Bach.