The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Choral Project adds a second performance in late May with famed guest conductor Dale Warland. Plus, you can hear J.S. Bach’s famous “Goldberg” Variations arranged for string trio in a FREE concert on Friday at noon.

April 30, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison Meeting House at 900 University Bay Drive, will offer a transcription of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations, originally composed for solo harpsichord, arranged for string trio by Russian violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky. Performers are Kangwon Kim, violin (below); Micah Behr, viola; and Mark Bridges, cello. (You can hear the opening of this transcription, with the arranger who was inspired by Glenn Gould, in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Kangwon Kim

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Madison Choral Project (below) write:

Madison Choral Project color

Dear Friends of Great Choral Music,

Due to high interest, we are pleased to announce we have added a second concert with guest conductor Dale Warland (below).

Maestro Warland’s program is titled: “Music of Our Time,” and features a wonderful array of music including Morten Lauridsen, Arvo Part, Ola Gjeilo, Carol Barnett, and even a work by Warland himself.

Dale Warland

We will now offer two concerts on the last weekend of May, both at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave, Madison:

Friday May 29th, at 7:30pm (Tickets are still available)

OR

Sunday May 31st, at 2:30pm

You can get your tickets by clicking on the links above, or going through our website: www.themcp.org/tickets 

Join us for this memorable evening of music-making!

A reception at the church to follow each concert.

The distinguished career of choral composer and conductor, Dale Warland, spans more than six decades and has made a profound contribution to the music of our time.

As founder and music director of The Dale Warland Singers, he commissioned over 270 new choral works and fostered the careers of an entire generation of composers.

This program, “Music of our Time,” features compositions by 20th and 21st century composers such as Ola Gjeilo, Arvo Pärt, Dominick Argento and Morten Lauridsen, as well as several others. With just over an hour of music, the concert will be divided into six thematic sets: 1- American Voices; 2- From the Balkans; 3- From Belgium; 4- Traditional Texts: International Voices; 5- Classic American Folk and a Madrigal; and 6- From Minnesota.

All musical selections were chosen by Dale Warland, specifically for this collaboration with the Madison Choral Project.

If you would like to change your tickets from Friday to Sunday, please reply to this email and we can assist you.

 


Classical music: Why is Beethoven so popular? And why do all-Beethoven concerts work so well? Pianist Bryan Wallick answers these questions even as he prepares to play the “Emperor” Concerto this Friday night in the all-Beethoven concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

April 29, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

This Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) and pianist Bryan Wallick, who won the Vladimir Horowitz Prize and is returning to Madison, will perform under longtime WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell an all-Beethoven concert to end the WCO’s indoors Masterworks season.

WCO lobby

The program includes the “Leonore” Overture No. 1, the Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor” and the Symphony No. 7.

Tickets are $15-$62.

For more information, visit: http://www.wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks-v

The Ear asked Bryan Wallick to explain why all-Beethoven concerts work so well and why Beethoven remains so popular with the general public. (The Madison Symphony Orchestra will also close its season with Beethoven, specifically the Symphony No. 9 (“Choral” or “Ode to Joy”) on May 8, 9 and 10.)

Wallick (below) kindly responded to an email Q&A:

Bryan Wallick mug

Beethoven, along with a handful of other composers, including Mozart and Tchaikovsky, is one of the few composers who can make up a single-composer concert that also attracts the public. What accounts for that?

Beethoven had the luxury of living a longer life than many of the famous composers, so his compositional output is larger than that of many other composers.

His compositional style also changed dramatically over the course of his life, and there aren’t too many composers whose music is so categorically defined as early, middle and late works.

At the Juilliard School, the famous Beethoven class taught by the late Jacob Lateiner (below) described five different categories of musical progression in Beethoven’s career. This diversity gives many different variations and possibilities of programmatic combinations that are stimulating and exciting.

However most all-Beethoven programs often program works from his middle or late period, and the music is just that good that we are happy to only hear Beethoven. He was perhaps the greatest genius to ever put his pen to music, in a different capacity than Mozart.

Jacob Lateiner

What role has Beethoven played in your career? Are there works in particular that you were drawn to as a student or a performing professional?

Beethoven has been a huge influence in my career, and probably most any pianist’s career as he wrote so much music for the piano.  His 32 sonatas are one of the greatest musical achievements ever produced, so there is always an unending supply of great piano music that most pianists never even get to in their careers unless they become Beethoven specialists.

As a student, I remember a general rule that I was given that I should always be learning some Beethoven sonata while learning everything else that I was working on. As a child, I often listened to Beethoven sonatas before I went to bed, and this music was very motivational in driving me to develop my technique to the level where I could perform these pieces.

Bryan Wallick at piano

Beethoven (below) consistently ranks as the general public’s favorite classical composer. Why is that, do you think?

As I said earlier, the diversity of works is enormous, but I think the general public isn’t that aware of the huge diversity of works. Those are mostly precious gems for musicians to savor, but the tonal language is very acceptable to a wide audience. Plus, the stories of his fiery temper and his deafness add a certain mystery to his genius that can interest a wide audience.

In the work which I will play, the “Emperor” Piano Concerto, it is harmonically very simple, he often just moves between a I chord and a V chord, but how he does it is so interesting and the emotional depths which he contemplates with these very simple chords is astounding. How he is able to encapsulate his struggles and personal hardship in his music is perhaps the reason why his genius could exceed that of Mozart.

Beethoven big

Is there an aspect of Beethoven that you think the public needs to pay more attention to and that you intend to emphasize in your interpretations?

I wish the public had the time and opportunity to become more familiar with a broader range of Beethoven’s music. They often get to hear the famous works, but when one understands and sees the connections between the famous pieces and the ones written in between, the appreciation for what he does in the famous works only becomes greater.

One can always strive to hear more things in the music, and the great experience of performing these works is that even though we’ve played this music many, many times, we as musicians still keep finding new things in this music, and the experience always keeps growing and changing.

Is there anything you would like to say or add?

I love this concerto for many reasons, but one of the most interesting aspects of this piece is how simple it is, and I believe it is a struggle for many pianists to leave this piece alone and not to do too much with it. (Below is the notebook manuscript of the opening of the “Emperor” Concerto from measure 3 until the second theme enters.)

emperor concerto ms from measure 3

The phrasing is very logical, well written, and if a pianist tries to do too much with it, somehow the music doesn’t work.  For example, I feel there is a lot of room for a pianist to manipulate and turn phrases 1,000 different ways in the fourth piano concerto.

But this piece has a structure, logic and direction that I feel a pianist must just accept, appreciate, respect; and they must find a simple way to bring this to an audience. (You can hear the acclaimed Beethoven interpreter and pianist Rudolf Serkin and conductor Eugene Ormandy with the Philadelphia Orchestra perform the “Emperor” Concerto in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

I’ve heard many performances of this piece where pianists try to over-interpret things, so my goal is to just let this great music speak on its own with just little “comments” here and there from myself.


Classical music: University of Wisconsin-Madison and Edgewood College finish up their seasons this weekend with major choral and instrumental concerts.

April 28, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Edgewood College finish up their seasons this weekend with major choral and instrumental concerts.

Here are details: 

UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON

This Saturday night, May 2, at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Choral Union, UW Symphony Orchestra and soloists Mimmi Fulmer (below top), Elizabeth Hagedorn (below middle) and Thomas Leighton (below bottom), all under the baton of conductor James Smith, will perform.

mimmi fulmer COLOR

Elizabeth Hagedorn singing 2

Thomas Leighton

They will give ONE PERFORMANCE ONLY of the Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major (“Lobegesang” or Hymn of Praise) by Felix Mendelssohn (below). You can hear it in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Admission is $15 for the general public, $8 for students and senior.

For more information, here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/choral-union-with-uw-symphony-orchestra-3/

For program notes, here is another link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Lobesang-notes.pdf

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

EDGEWOOD COLLEGE

Edgewood College (below) will host two concerts this weekend.

Edgewood College 1000

On FRIDAY NIGHT, May 1, at 7 p.m. will be a choral concert that features several groups.

For the Friday night concert, choral groups will perform, including the Women’s Choir, Chamber Singers (below), and Campus-Community Choir.

Edgewood Chamber Singers

Conductors include Kathleen Otterson (below top), Albert Pinsonneault (below bottom) and Sergei Pavlov.

Kathleen Otterson 2

Albert Pinsonneault 2

On SUNDAY AFTERNOON, May 3, at 2:30 p.m. is an instrumental concert.

Sunday afternoon’s concert features several instrumental ensembles, including the Saxophone Quartet, Guitar Ensemble, Concert Band (below top in a poster form a past concert), and Jazz Ensemble. Conductors include Daniel Wallach, Nathan Wysock (below bottom) and Walter Rich.

Walter Rich  Edgewood Concert Band 2013-3-22-Band

NathanWysock

Sorry, The Ear has received no word about the specific program for either concert.

Both concerts will take place in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Admission to each concert is $7, and will benefit music scholarships. Tickets will be available at the door.


Classical music: The Mosaic Chamber Players end the season with memorable performances of piano quintets by Faure and Brahms.

April 27, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker, who also provided performance photos. 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 for 12 years hosted 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

For its final concert of the season, the Mosaic Chamber Players (below) gave a program Saturday night at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. It combined two of the great quintets for piano and strings: the second of that type, in C minor, Op. 115, by Gabriel Fauré (1847-1924); and the only one if its kind, in F minor, Op. 34, by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).

Mosaic Chamber Players  Quintets 1 JWB

So close together, one would think, and yet, so far apart. Contrasts result from distinct differences between the two composers in both nationality and personality — between Gallic eloquence and German burliness.

The work by Fauré (below) was completed in 1921, by which time Debussy was dead and Ravel, who was Faure’s student, was in his prime. It  is one of a half-dozen chamber pieces with which the composer rounded out his final years — almost, one might think, as an extension of his long output of piano writing.

Its expansive four-movement format is conventional in scope and with a range of expression. But its heart is a long and rapturous slow movement that flows with the unfolding elegance of one of Fauré’s piano nocturnes. (You can hear the slow movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

faure

By contrast, the quintet by Brahms (below) is one of the masterpieces of his early chamber-music writing. It dates from 1862, when Richard Wagner was between the composition of “Tristan und Isolde” and “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.”

Starting as some ideas for a symphony, it exists also in Brahms’s own adaptation of it as a sonata for two pianos. Its four movements are more conventionally conceived than Fauré’s, combining masterful Classical craftsmanship with powerful Romantic urgency.

brahms3

The performances involved five players from the group. The two violinists alternated in the first chair: Laura Burns for the Fauré, Wes Luke for the Brahms. Micah Behr and Michael Allen played viola and cello, respectively, while pianist Jess Salek (below) was the anchor as pianist, just as he is as the group’s guiding spirit.

Jess Salek JWB

These players have worked together before, but not as a consistent ensemble, although they suggested a close collegiality that more established groups might envy. They fully captured the moods, nuances and strengths of the two works.

If there were problems, it had to do with some balances, above all disadvantaging the viola. Some of the explanation could be in the choice of the cavernous Atrium Hall (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) as performing venue, rather then the more intimate Landmark auditorium, the original meeting house of the First Unitarian Society, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Atrium’s highly reverberant acoustics overwhelmed the players’ sound, and, at the same time, prompted over-exertions in volume output, to the detriment of carefully calculated ensemble.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

The size of the hall also pointed up the painfully small size of the audience. There are always weekend competitions for attention, especially in the spring. Still, the Mosaic group is only beginning to develop sufficient promotion and publicity for its activities. Potential audience members need to be made aware of what the group offers.

Mosaic Chamber Players bow at Quintets JWB

What it does offer is one of the high-quality sources of chamber music performance in Madison’s very rich spectrum of events in that category.

The next Mosaic season should win the wider attention it greatly deserves.


Classical music: Madison Opera brings singing, acting and sets together to stage a memorably fun production of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” You can hear the last performance this afternoon at 2:30 p.m.

April 26, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Loyal readers of this blog know very well the name of Mikko Rankin Utevsky. The young violist, singer and conductor is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin School of Music, where he studies with Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm and plays in the UW Symphony Orchestra.

Utevsky, who has won awards and impressive reviews for his work in music education since his days at Madison’s East High School, is the founder and conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra  (MAYCO), which will perform its fourth season this summer. He has been named the new Music Director of a local community orchestra, The Studio Orchestra. The ensemble has an out-of-date website here (www.disso.org).

You can check out his many honors and projects by typing his name into the search engine on this blog site.

Utevsky offered The Ear a review of this weekend’s two performances of Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” by the Madison Opera in Overture Hall at the Overture Center.

The Ear immediately took him up on the offer. After all, he is a fine and perceptive writer who, you may recall, blogged for this post when he was on tour three summers ago with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) tour to Vienna, Prague and Budapest.

Here is the review, with performance photo by James Gill, by Mikko Utevsky (below):

new Mikko Utevsky baton profile USE

By Mikko Rankin Utevsky

Madison Opera’s production of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” this Friday evening was delightful, entertaining, and well-sung throughout. The cast — mostly young — excelled in both their comic acting and singing, making for a performance that the company can be proud of.

Madison Opera barber of seville 2015 cast

As Count Almaviva (below top right and below bottom disguised as Don Basilio at the keyboard), John Irvin’s lush and youthful tenor shone throughout the evening, growing if anything more secure as the night went on. Emily Fons played a girlish and coy Rosina (below left) with impressive vocal flexibility and pure high notes.

Madison Opera barber of seville Ronsiina and Almaviva

Madison Opera barber of seville music lesson

Alan Dunbar was delightful as the imperious Doctor Bartolo; his aria “Un dottor della mia sorte” was both solidly sung and absolutely hilarious.

Soprano Chelsea Morris, a Madison Opera Studio Artist, made her company debut as the maid Berta. Her clear and focused tone rang effortlessly atop the ensemble writing, and her lone aria was morbidly funny.

Chelsea Morris soprano

Thomas Forde made for a hysterical Don Basilio from beginning to end, while Bryan Royston did the unbelievable — he stood out in a silent role as the servant Ambrogio with deft physical comedy throughout the night.

The star of the evening was the young baritone Will Liverman (below) in the title role of the barber Figaro. His voice has power and beauty throughout its impressive compass, including a ringing upper register to rival a tenor’s. Coupled with comic sensitivity and delightful physicality, Liverman must certainly be a singer to watch, and it is our fortune to hear him here. (You can hear his famous “Largo al factotum” aria sung by Thomas Hampson in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Will Liverman as Figaro, the title role

Perhaps above all, director Doug Scholz-Carlson should be commended for an absolutely hilarious staging that managed to balance the schticky and slapstick with some truly clever opera in-jokes.

The fourth wall is occasionally shattered to tremendous effect, and every singer is in full command of their comic timing and physicality.

This staging does not put Rossini on a pedestal — it acknowledges that this music is, above all, riotously funny stuff, and it makes full use of the modern stage’s arsenal of gags and tricks to remind the audience of this fact. Judging by the response in the hall, most in attendance agreed.

Madison Opera barber of seville cast action

John DeMain led members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a clean and capable pit ensemble, with pacing and ensemble mostly tight (though the first act Finale lacked momentum — difficult to bring to so much static music). Scott Gendel provided imaginative accompaniment from the harpsichord, including a few clever musical jokes.

A lovely and versatile set — created by Peter Dean Beck for Opera Carolina — provided an evocative setting, with lighting by Marcus Dilliard including a very nice storm.

Madison Opera barber of seville set 2015

You can see it for yourself this afternoon at 2:30 in Overture Hall — and you should, if only to hear Will Liverman before the big houses snap him up for good. It is a thoroughly entertaining way to pass a Sunday afternoon.

 


Classical music: Music festivals, with premieres of new operas and chamber music, might fit into your summer travel plans. Check them out here.

April 25, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Many people are starting to make their summer travel plans.

Those plans could include music festivals, many of which will include the American premiere or even world premiere of a new opera or new chamber music. (Below is Marin Alsop conducting the Cabrillo Festival in Santa Cruz, California, which champions new music.)

Cabrillo Festival and Marin Alsop

Many are well known, such as the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York City, the Bard Music Festival in the Hudson River Valley and the Aspen Festival in Colorado as well as the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina and the Wolf Trap Festival in Virginia, not far from Washington, D.C.

But there are many, many others you may not know.

Here is a line-up as it appeared on the Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/04/22/399609489/get-out-and-hear-some-new-music-this-summer

 


Classical music: Meet composer Julia Wolfe, who won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in music for her oratorio about Coal Country.

April 24, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

On Monday, the winners of the 2015 Pulitzer Prizes were announced.

You will hear a lot about the journalism recipients.

You will hear much, much less about the arts recipients.

So meet American composer Julia Wolfe (below).

Julia Wolfe full face

Wolfe, who is associated with the group Bang on a Can!, won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in music for “Anthracite Fields,” her oratorio for chorus and sextet about families living in coal mining country.

Coal Miners

Wolfe (below, at the piano in her home in a photo by Richard Perry of The New York Times) did a fine interview with the outstanding Deceptive Cadence blog for NPR or National Public Radio.

julia Wolfe with piano CR Richard Perry NYT

Here is a link to that interview:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2015/04/20/401010330/julia-wolfe-wins-music-pulitzer-for-anthracite-fields

And here is a link to her own website:

http://juliawolfemusic.com

Finally, here is a haunting documentary video with excerpts from “Anthracite Fields” in a YouTube video. A recording of the complete work is scheduled to be released in September.


Classical music: Even as the school year winds down, there are several noteworthy events and concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music this weekend.

April 23, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

Even as the school year winds down, there are several noteworthy events and concerts at the University of Wisconsin this weekend.

FRIDAY

At 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Wind Ensemble will perform a FREE concert under director Scott Teeple.

The Wind Ensemble is the premier wind/percussion ensemble in the UW-Madison School of Music. Repertoire varies from classical wind compositions to contemporary works.

The Wind Ensemble actively commissions new works from world-renowned composers, often performing with internationally acclaimed soloists and guest conductors.

Jacob Klingbeil will assist as graduate student guest conductor.

YOUniversity Band will be side-by-side with community musicians

The program includes:

Gvorkna Fanfare by Jack Stamp

Baron Cimetieres Mambo by Donald Grantham

Irish Tune from County Derry by Percy Grainger

Starwars Trilogy, by John Williams/arr. Donald Hunsberger

UW Wind Ensemble performance

SATURDAY

At 1:30 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, a FREE Doctoral Recital: Russian Literature and the Music Salon. It is a multimedia concert with narration.

This doctoral project, organized by pianist Oxana Khramova, involves several students and faculty members from various departments.

It will be devoted to writers and composers who were connected to St. Petersburg in their lives and works: Nikolai V. Gogol, Anna A. Akhmatova, Joseph A. Brodsky, Sergei Prokofiev and Alfred Schnittke.

Listeners will experience their masterpieces through the prism of Russian music, language and visual images. By attempting to combine literature, music and art. participants hope to recreate the atmosphere of St. Petersburg’s culture (as recreated in the museum photo below).

Participants include:

Oxana Khramova, piano, DMA candidate, School of Music, where she is a student of Christopher Taylor

with

Yana Groves, piano, DMA candidate, School of Music

Nicole Heinen, soprano, MM candidate, School of Music

Ilona Sotnikova, visual images and literature, PhD candidate, Department of Slavic Languages and Literature

Conor Ryan, narrator, Undergraduate Student, Department of Slavic Languages and Literature

Russia salon in Saint Petersburg

At 4 p.m., in Mills Hall, the All-University String Orchestra will give a FREE concert under the baton of director Janet Jensen (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot). Sorry, no word on the program.

Janet Jensen Katrin Talbot

From 4 to 6 p.m. the Wingra Woodwind Quintet will hold its 50th Anniversary Party at the University Club (below), 803 State St., next to the Humanities Building.

university club uw in winter

Embodying the Wisconsin Idea and serving as role models to our students, the Wingra Quintet has a rich tradition and will honor current and former members.

Former members who plan to attend are Robert Cole, flute, Marc Fink, oboe, Glenn Bowen, clarinet, Richard Lottridge, bassoon, Douglas Hill, horn, and Nancy Becknell, horn. (Below are photos from 1990 and 2010.)

A short program of 20 minutes is planned and then we will celebrate with hors d’oeuvres and beverages catered by the University Club. Everyone is invited to enjoy the food, music, and good company of current and former members of the Wingra Quintet.

Please RSVP to news@music.wisc.edu

Learn about the rich history of the WWQ here: http://www.music.wisc.edu/wingra-woodwind-quintet/

Wingra 1990 2010

SUNDAY

At 1 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW Women’s Chorus (below) and University Chorus will give a FREE concert. Anna Volodarskaya and Sarah Guttenberg will conduct.

This event is FREE.  Registration is encouraged, but not required.

No program has been announced.

UW Women's Chorus


Classical music education: Music con Brio gives a FREE concert this Thursday night with a world premiere and the acclaimed percussion group Clocks in Motion. Plus, two guitarists give a FREE recital on Friday at noon.

April 22, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, to be held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meeting House of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, features guitarists Jaime Guiscafre (below) and Christopher Murray in music by Johann Sebastian Bach,  Moreno, Paul Hindemith, Fernando Sor, Toru Takemitsu and Heitor Villa-Lobos.

Jaime Guiscafre

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following word from Music con Brio, a local group that specializes in music education:

Greetings!

You are cordially invited to a concert featuring Music con Brio (below top) and the acclaimed Madison-based percussion ensemble Clocks in Motion this Thursday, April 23, at 6 p.m. in Music Hall (below bottom) 925 Bascom Mall, Madison WI 53606 — NOT the Humanities building) on the UW-Madison campus at the foot of Bascom Hill.

Music con Brio 1

MusicHall2

We are proud to present the world premiere of “Illusions” by Madison composer Brad Fowler, which was commissioned specifically for this concert.

The concert is FREE and UNTICKETED.

However, parking on the UW-Madison campus can be a challenge. The UW-Madison website offers the following information: “The closest public parking to Music Hall is the Helen C. White Parking Garage at the end of Park Street.  You may also want to check the Memorial Union Lot or the Lake Street Ramp.  Please plan accordingly as parking can be challenging in this area.  There is no free parking anywhere close to Music Hall as all of the lots surrounding the building are controlled 24/7.  You can follow this link to check out the real-time parking availability in the Helen C White Garage.” http://transportation.wisc.edu/parking/lotinfo_occupancy.aspx

For more information about the various groups here are links:

For Music con Brio (below):

http://www.musicconbrio.org

Music con Brio 2

For Clocks in Motion (below):

http://clocksinmotionpercussion.com

Clocks in Motion group collage

For Sound Cloud samples of works by Brad Fowler (below):

https://soundcloud.com/composer-brad

SAMSUNG


Classical music: John W. Barker finds the Wisconsin Chamber Choir “moving” and “overwhelming” in its performance of the “German” Requiem by Johannes Brahms.

April 21, 2015
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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 for 12 years hosted 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. He also provided the performance photos for this review.

John Barker

By John W. Barker

Having already established an enviable level of achievement with his Wisconsin Chamber Choir (below), conductor Robert Gehrenbeck led it to new heights with the concert on Saturday night at Luther Memorial Church.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir with conductor Brahms 2015 JWB

The program opened with two examples of Gehrenbeck’s interest in promoting new choral works through commissions.

The first, sung by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Chamber Singers at his academic base, was by American composer Christian Ellenwood (below).

Entitled “Prairie Spring,” it set a poem by Willa Cather, celebrating the Nebraska landscape, scored for choir and string orchestra. This is a gentle piece, full of lyric grace, in a neo-Romantic style, and reflecting a confident command of choral texture. It made me think a little of the music of British composer Gerald Finzi. The words were somewhat obscured, but that may partly have been a function of the church’s spacious acoustics.

Christian Ellenwood copy

The second new work was by the older British composer Giles Swayne (below) that sets selected lines from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, under the title of “Our Orphan Souls.” Solo baritone Gregory Berg (below) delivered reflections of Captain Ahab, with chorus, alto saxophone, harp, double bass and percussion.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Ahab JWB (1)

The solo writing has strength, and might have been built into a more extended soliloquy—and baritone Gregory Berg delivered it with strength. But the choral writing — sung by the Wisconsin Chamber Choir itself — was unsettled and unidiomatic, running from word to word without much continuity of lines.

Giles Swayne

Ah, but the main event! Nothing less than the “German” Requiem (Ein deutsches Requiem), one of the greatest of choral works, by one of the greatest of choral composers, Johannes Brahms (below). Setting passages from Scripture in the Martin Luther translation, Brahms made this a big work, both in length and in performing demands.

brahms3

The chancel of Luther Memorial has only so much space, forcing a lot of crowding. The orchestra—37 players, familiar local performers—was arrayed through the center, while the two blended choirs were stationed on risers to either side: sopranos and tenors on the left, altos and basses on the right (below).

Wisconsin Chamber Choir, Brahms altos, basses JWB (1)

Such an arrangement could have strained ensemble coordination, but in fact it worked quite well. Indeed, it actually made it possible to follow the interaction of voice parts better than when the whole choir is in a single clump. German diction was a bit blurred, but, again, acoustics must take some blame. (I should note that I sat close and up front, so that what and how I heard may have been somewhat different from those in seating further back.)

The two soloists were both engaging. A last-minute replacement, soprano Catherine Henry (below left), was deeply expressive, a rich-voiced exemplar of the comforting mother we would all want to have.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Brahms Catherine Henry soprano JWB (1)

The baritone, Brian Leaper, was a deft guide to the mysteries of mortality.

Wisconsin Chamber Choir Brahms Brian Leaper JWB (1)

The orchestra took on its large assignment with skill, and the choral singers were simply magnificent. But the highest praise must go to Gehrenbeck himself. His tempos were flexible, his balances neatly coordinated, and his sense of what each of the seven movements had to say was perfect. This is not only a superb choral conductor, but a musician of true artistry.

I write as someone for whom the Brahms Requiem has profound meaning. I have known and loved it since student days. I have sung in it several times, and listened to it in many recordings and performances. It is one of the musical threads of my life.

But I think I can honestly say that this was the most meaningful performance of the work that I have ever experienced. I often felt moved to tears by the beautiful, truthful messages that Robert Gehrenbeck (below) — who heads the choral program at UW-Whitewater — brought to realization out of it.

Robert Gehrenbeck new headshot 2013 USE

There is a small lifetime list I keep of concerts and performances that I forever cherish, and this one is a rare addition—a presentation I will remember for the rest of my days.

One more reminder, then, of the riches Madison offers in choral music alone!


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