The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The FREE one-hour, monthly midday concert series “Just Bach” debuts with excellent playing and outstanding singing as well as practical problems such as downtown parking and timing | October 1, 2018

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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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

Marika Fischer Hoyt is becoming ever more ubiquitous, not only as a performing violist in orchestral, string quartet and period-instrument ensembles, but also as organizer of musical activities, especially as devoted to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (below).

Hoyt (below) has already revived the annual “Bach around the Clock” spectacular each spring to mark Bach’s birthday, but now she has established a monthly series of FREE midday concerts at Luther Memorial Church called “Just Bach.”

The first of this series was held last Thursday afternoon, Sept. 27, at 1 p.m. in the church sanctuary at 1021 University Avenue. Ten musicians participated.

The singers were UW-Madison alumna Sarah Brailey, soprano (below); mezzo-soprano Cheryl Bensman Rowe; tenor Wesley Dunnagan; UW-Madison bass-baritone Paul Rowe.

The players were Kangwon Lee Kim and Leanne League, violins; Fischer Hoyt, viola; James Waldo, cello; and Luke Conklin, oboe. All played on period instruments, with Mark Brampton Smith playing the organ.

The hour-long program offered Bach’s “Little” Organ Fugue in G minor, and two full cantatas: BWV 165, “O heiliges Geist- und Wasserbad” (O Bath of Holy Spirit and Water) for Trinity, and BWV 32, “Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen” (Dearest Jesus, My Desire), a dialogue cantata. (You can hear the opening aria of Cantata BWV 32 in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Both set the type of Pietistic Lutheran German texts standard for such church compositions of the day, and each built around pairs of arias and recitatives for different solo singers.

BWV 32, which adds an oboist (below, second from right) to the string players in some of the movements, is particularly interesting in representing a series of exchanges between the Soul (Seele) and Jesus Himself, culminating in direct duos between them.

Each cantata ends with a harmonization of a traditional Lutheran chorale. In the spirit of the program’s venue, the audience was asked to sing them, in German, from prepared sheets. In these, and in an English hymn from this church’s hymnal, the audience was prepped by Brailey, who served as general hostess.

In purely musical terms, the performances were really excellent, with both vocalists and instrumental players of established talents. And certainly the very atmosphere of a church setting evoked the composer’s original purposes. (The church’s ample acoustics enriched the musical performances, though they badly undermined spoken material on the microphone.)

Previously, the Madison Bach Musicians has been a rare group giving us specimens of the generally neglected cantatas, but now this “Just Bach” series will augment the works’ availability.

Subsequent concerts in this series will be switched to 1 p.m. on WEDNESDAY afternoons on Oct. 31, Nov. 28 and Dec. 12.

For more background, including the addresses of Facebook and Instagram sites of “Just Bach,” go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2018/09/25/classical-music-just-bach-a-monthly-mid-day-free-concert-series-starts-this-thursday-at-1-p-m-in-luther-memorial-church/

But prospective attendees should be warned of practical problems. The early afternoon time is difficult for most people, there is no parking facility, and access to the venue will likely be limited to those already in the vicinity.

For all that, I reckoned some 40 or so people in the audience – with no one eating lunch, even thought that is permitted. So artistic merits might still surmount obstacles.


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6 Comments »

  1. […] attended the concert and wrote a review which was posted on The Well-Tempered Ear.  Click here to read the […]

    Pingback by Inaugural Concert: The Review – Just Bach — October 3, 2018 @ 12:58 am

  2. I parked in the Lake Street ramp and walked the few blocks to the church. In colder months I may take the bus and get off near the church. I realize not everyone lives near a bus but it’s an option if you do. The concert being on campus will (hopefully) attract a new demographic of students and campus employees. I like the 1 pm time – it’s nice to have something that’s not in the evening. An alternative time could be Sunday afternoon.
    The concert was superb and I’m delighted to have more Bach.

    Comment by Elizabeth Conklin — October 2, 2018 @ 7:19 pm

    • Mr. Barker will only use authentic instrument buses powered by cat gut strings. Horses are also acceptable as they were used in Bach’s day.

      Comment by fflambeau — October 3, 2018 @ 8:07 pm

  3. Great article at the NYTimes, in somewhat of the same vein, on Yo Yo Ma bringing Bach to some 36 cities world wide over a 2 year period. From that article:

    “In each city, he will pair a performance of the full cycle [of 6 cello suites]— nearly two and a half hours of labyrinthine music, played with barely a pause — with what he’s calling a “day of action” that brings Bach into the community, as in his trip to Neustadt. It’s a small and glancing, but also deeply felt, attempt to suggest that this music, with its objectivity and empathy, its breathless energy and delicate grace, could, if heard closely by enough people, change the world.”

    I doubt it will have much of an effect but more Bach has to be good for everyone!

    Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/28/arts/music/yo-yo-ma-bach-suites.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage&section=Music

    Comment by fflambeau — October 1, 2018 @ 8:28 pm

  4. From John Barker re: parking at Luther Memorial Church:

    “The early afternoon time is difficult for most people, there is no parking facility, and access to the venue will likely be limited to those already in the vicinity.”

    From Luther Memorial’s website:

    “Parking
    Luther Memorial’s parking garage is beneath the Lutheran Campus Center off Conklin Place. On Sunday morning and during special services, the garage is reserved for those who have difficulty walking, including pregnant women and families with small children.
    UW parking lots: the Grainger Hall parking ramp, accessible from Brooks St., is free on Sundays, except during special events on campus. Parking fees apply Monday-Saturday. UW lots 20, 45, 55, 56, 61 and 86 are free and open to the public after 4:30 on weekdays and all day Saturday and Sunday. Click here to view an interactive map of UW Madison parking lots. Parking availability may be affected by UW football, basketball and hockey events.
    Street parking: Metered street parking is available on Brooks Street, but is free on Sundays and city holidays. Click here to view a map of Madison city-operated parking ramps”

    Source (and more info.): http://www.luthermem.org/location/

    Comment by fflambeau — October 1, 2018 @ 12:11 am


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