The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Turning chaos into order. Conductor Beverly Taylor explains what makes Haydn’s “The Creation” special and fun to listen to. The UW-Madison Choral Union and UW Chamber Orchestra with soloists will perform it on Sunday afternoon.

April 18, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the campus-community UW-Madison Choral Union (below), the UW Chamber Orchestra and soloists will perform the oratorio the “The Creation” by the Classical-era master Franz Joseph Haydn.

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

First, The Ear wants to clear up any confusion about the date of the performance – which is ONE-TIME ONLY. (In the past, the Choral Union usually gave two performances.) The performance was originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Then it was moved to Saturday night and then, after a conflict with the Jewish Passover was seen, moved back to Sunday afternoon.

Tickets are $15 for the general public, $8 for students. For more information about tickets, the work and the performers, here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-choral-union2/

Beverly Taylor, director of choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who will conduct the performance, agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

What is the place of Haydn’s “The Creation” is the choral literature? Was it influential? Popular?

It’s considered wonderful and innovative. Its choruses are magnificent, and the opening depiction of Chaos is unlike anything that had been heard up to that time.

It was written late in Haydn’s career, and showed many aspects of his wonderful talent, including musical depictions of non-musical things—water, birds, dawn — and has terrific pacing of the extended choruses building to majestic climaxes.

The premiere was enthusiastically received. It was indeed popular, although the composer’s late masses also deserve great attention. The other vocal works by Haydn (below), such as “The Seasons,” are more slowly paced, and although they contain great music, they are not often felt to be as compelling as “The Creation” with its easy-to-follow sequence of creative days.

Haydn

Are there special moments or parts of the work you would like to point out to the public? How about special aspects of the performance?

Yes! One thing to do is to listen with an open mind to Chaos. (You can preview “Chaos” in a YouTube video at the bottom as performed by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music.)

When I first heard a dull performance of it years ago, I wondered what the big deal was. Then I took a good look at it: It contains chaotic oddities — a horn suddenly blaring loudly with no reference to other instruments, a trilling flute that never resolves its trill, bassoons and clarinets who play bubbling and pointless arpeggios until it all settles down to begin the first day of the Creation (famously depicted below by the British artist and poet William Blake).

Creation and God William Blake

There are also delightful musical depictions and sound paintings of weather that can be confusing unless you know that the orchestra depicts the weather before the bass tells us about it. That way hail won’t sound like snow! The same holds true for the description of animals — we hear the leaping stags before our singer tells us.

There will be terrific moments in the work — orchestral playing, fabulous choral singing. And there will be wonderful solo work by our experienced alumni and faculty artists soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below top), tenor James Doing (below second), bass-baritone Benjamin Schultz (below third) and baritone Benjamin Li (below bottom). It’s a pleasure to make music with them.

Jamie Rose Guarrine 2016

James Doing color

Benjamin Schultz 2016

Benjamin Li 2016

Composer John Harbison says that Haydn is the most neglected of all the great composers. Why do you think Haydn isn’t thought of more highly and performed more often?

Among musicians, Haydn is certainly thought of highly, and many people enjoy his work, especially the element of surprise in his work — sforzandos, sudden silences, changes of rhythm.

But many of his works are chamber works designed for smaller rooms and audiences. And in our modern life, the size of the orchestra and special instruments and added theatrical elements often attract more people. Haydn’s chamber works are fabulous, but sometimes subtle. However, they repay well those who pay attention to them.

The Creation poster 2016

What else would you like to say about the composer, this particular work or this performance?

Haydn was influenced by and had influence on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, on all the European composers. But what inspires audiences — including, we hope, ours — is the immediacy of the beauty of the music. You don’t need special training to jump right in and listen.


Classical music: The chamber music group Con Vivo opens its new season this Saturday night with a program that spotlights the harp and the organ.

October 30, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

con vivo!…music with life (below) opens its 13th season of chamber music with a concert entitled “63 Strings and 2008 Pipes” on this coming Saturday night, November 1, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, across from Camp Randall.

Con Vivo core musicians

Joining con vivo! for this concert is guest musician Karen Beth Atz on harp. Atz is principal harp with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Karen Beth Atz with harp

The program includes the Sonata in C Minor for violin and harp by Louis Spohr (below top); the Suite from The Victorian Kitchen Garden for clarinet and harp by Paul Reade; and Ganagobie for solo harp by Bernard Andres (below bottom), featuring Atz as soloist.

Louis Spohr

Bernard Andres

The performance will also feature the outstanding church organ in the Concerto in G Minor for organ and strings, opus 4, no. 1, HMV 298, by George Frideric Handel (below). (You can hear this popular work performed by Richard Egarr and The Academy of Ancient Music in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

handel big 3

Audience members are invited to join con vivo! musicians after the concert for a free reception to discuss this chamber music literature and to hear about their Carnegie Hall debut this past December.

Con Vivo at Carnegie Hall

Tickets can be purchased at the door for $18 for adults, $15 for seniors and students.

Artistic Director Robert Taylor, in remarking about the concert said, “con vivo! is excited to have Karen Beth Atz join us for this concert. We are looking forward to presenting chamber music that includes harp, the most angelic of all instruments, and organ, the ‘King of Instruments!’ It will be a night of new works and wonderful sounds for all.”

con vivo! is a professional chamber music ensemble comprised of Madison area musicians assembled from the ranks of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, and various other performing groups familiar to Madison audiences.

For more information visit, http://www.convivomusicwithlife.org

 

 

 

 

 


Classical music: Christopher Hogwood is dead at 73. But the early music pioneer was no purist.

September 27, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Christopher Hogwood (below, in a photo by the Associated Press), who, along with Trevor Pinnock, Gustav Leonhardt, John Eliot Gardiner  and Frans Bruggen, became synonymous for many us with the movement to promote early music with authentic instruments and historically informed performance practices, has died.

He died Wednesday and was 73, and he had been ill for a brief time. He died at his home in Cambridge, England.

Chrisotpher Hogwood conducting AP

There are many things that The Ear loved about Hogwood, but nothing more than his recordings of string concertos by Antonio Vivaldi for their verve and of symphonies and concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for their sweetness and transparency, energy and clarity. (You can hear Hogwood conducting the Academy of Ancient Music in  2009 in Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Japan. They are playing the spectacular and virtuosically contrapuntal last movement of Mozart’s last symphony — Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter”– at the bottom in a YouTube video. Just listen to the cheers!)

Hogwood’s version of the popular oratorio “Messiah” by George Frideric Handel is still my preferred one. Hogwood always seemed to serve the music first and foremost, and not fall into the kind of goofy or quirky readings that, say, Nikolaus Harnoncourt often did. Everything he did seemed balanced and just plain right, but nonetheless ear-opening in its originality. He made you say: THAT’S the way it should sound. 

But curiously, Hogwood (below, in a photo by Marcus Borggreve) seems to have understood other people and performers who prefer early music played in more modern approaches or idiosyncratic or individualistic manners. The Ear likes that kind of non-purist and tolerant approach to early music, to all music really. He is what Hogwood said in one interview:

‘THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH PLAYING THINGS HISTORICALLY COMPLETELY INCORRECTLY: MUSIC IS NOT A MORAL BUSINESS, SO YOU CAN PLAY ABSOLUTELY IN A STYLE THAT SUITS YOU AND PLEASES YOUR PUBLIC. IT MAY BE COMPLETELY UNRECOGNISABLE TO THE COMPOSER BUT SO WHAT, HE’S DEAD.’

christopher christopher hogwood CR Marcuys Borggreve

Here are some links for you to learn more about the achievements of Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, which he founded and is now directed by Richard Egarr.

Here is a fine story from NPR (National Public Radio):

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/09/24/351193303/remembering-christopher-hogwood-an-evangelist-for-early-music

Here is a comprehensive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/26/arts/christopher-hogwood-early-music-devotee-dies-at-73.html

Here is a story from The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/christopher-hogwood-conductor-who-gave-new-drive-to-classical-warhorses-dies-at-73/2014/09/25/a148ff2a-44cb-11e4-b47c-f5889e061e5f_story.html

And here is a small story that appeared in Hogwood’s native Great Britain, even though Hogwood also directed American groups in Boston, St. Paul and elsewhere:

http://www.classicalmusicmagazine.org/2014/09/christopher-hogwood-10-september-1941-24-september-2014/

Here is a link to a 70-minute podcast that the magazine Gramophone did to mark Hogwood’s 70th birthday:

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/remembering-christopher-hogwood

 

 

 

 


Classical music CD review: The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra of San Francisco can stand up to the best of the large European early music, period-instrument ensembles.

October 7, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

For several decades now, the gold standard of early music, period-instrument music has been located in Western Europe, with many groups established in Great Britain and Germany, although France, Italy and the Netherlands have also produced their share.

Just some of the big names that come to mind are the Academy of Ancient Music and the English Concert, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra,  Musica Antiqua Koln, Concentus Musicus of Vienna, La Petite Bande, the English Baroque Soloists and Il Giardino Armonico.

But increasingly America has joined the trend. Major music schools now offer degree programs and majors in early music and period instruments. Early music festivals regularly take place around the country, including here in Madison.

And the U.S. increasingly has some larger early music groups as well as smaller, very accomplished ensembles such as Chicago’s Newberry Consort and Piffaro, which often take part in the Madison Early Music Festival each summer.

There are more, to be sure.

But the one group, now 30 years old, that seems most on the ascendant is the Phiharmonia Baroque Orchestra (below top), which is based in San Francisco and performs around the Bay area. It has been led for 25 years by veteran conductor Nicholas McGegan (below bottom), one of the world acclaimed pioneers of historically informed performances.

As has happened with many famous performing arts organizations large and small, the state of the recording industry has led the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra to produce its own recordings.

The results are very good. They have now released several CDs and I am convinced from listening to them that the group can stand beside the best of their European counterparts. True, the Boston Baroque may also be a competitor. But so far, I give the edge to the Philharmonia Baroque, which recently received rave reviews for its performance of Haydn’s ‘The Creation”in San Francisco and Handel‘s “Messiah” at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.

Take a look at the orchestra’s home website and you will be impressed just by the current season.

You will notice that this season even such a renowned mainstream musician as pianist Emanuel Ax (below top) is scheduled to join them in an all-Beethoven concert, when he will perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 on a fortepiano. The group will also see Japanese scholar and performer Masaaki Suzuki (below bottom), who had recorded a masterful set of Bach cantatas and orchestral works. And the alcclaimed British baroque violinist Rachel Podger will join them.

Here is a link:

http://www.philharmonia.org

I have listened now to several of the more recent CDs, including the one that will be released this week, of Brahms’ two Serenades (below).

That one goes right to the top of the list – right beside the touching CD of the late singer Lorraine Hunt Lieberson doing Handel arias and Berlioz’ “Les Nuits d’Ete” and the great CD that featured three Haydn symphonies, Nos. 88, 101 “The Clock” and 104 “London,” which was nominated for a 2011 Grammy for Best Orchestral Performance. McGegan has a clear affinity for Haydn and it shows in his recordings.

There is also an all-Vivaldi CD with the “The Four Seasons” and several other violin concertos on it. I am less fond of that CD, but it has to do more with the repertoire than with the quality of the performances.

Another recording that is a winner and shows a future path for the group is of the Handel opera “Atalanta.” Vocalists and instrumentalists alike do the ensemble proud in an area — the rediscovery of Handel operas — that has become a major event.

But there are many more if you go to their website and click on SHOP, you will find a complete listing of recordings of Arne, Corelli, Haydn, Handel, Purcell and many other composers – although, surprisingly, no J.S. Bach and just a little Mozart and Beethoven!

Here is a direct link to the catalogue, current and back reissues, of CDs:

http://www.philharmonia.org/shop/recordings-for-purchase/

In any case, I hope the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra one day comes to the Madison area on tour. In the meantime I intend to listen to its recordings and follow its career as it continues to pick up speed and put American early musicians on par reputation-wise with their more famous, but not necessarily better, European counterparts.

 


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