The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Should the Madison Symphony Orchestra program more 20th-century music?

April 14, 2017
21 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

A friend and reviewer for this blog – his specialty is opera but he also is very experienced with the symphonic repertoire — sent in the following opinion piece.

It is being posted in the wake of the announcement by the Madison Symphony Orchestra of its 2017-18 season.

For reference, here is a link to the lineup of the next season’s concerts that was posted yesterday:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/classical-music-the-madison-symphony-orchestra-announces-its-2017-2018-season-of-nine-concerts-of-favorites-combined-with-firsts/

By Larry Wells

I received my subscription renewal package for the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a  photo by Greg Anderson) a couple of weeks ago, and I was struck then by how conservative and prosaic most of the offerings are.

I’ve mentioned my feelings to acquaintances, and one of the prevailing arguments is that they have to fill the seats.

The assumption seems to be that the patrons will only tolerate music written before 1850.

I’m 70 and I grew up with Stravinsky. I can recall the world premieres of Shostakovich’s final three symphonies. I once eagerly awaited recordings of Britten’s latest works. And I heard the first performances of several works by John Adams (below) while living in San Francisco in the 1980s.

If the assumption is that most reliable patrons are in their 70s and 80s, this seems like a dead-end (pardon the pun). There will be no audience in 20 years.

I believe that audiences can tolerate music of the 20th century — look at the glowing reviews of and enthusiastic ovations for last week’s performances of Witold Lutoslawski’s “Concerto for Orchestra’’ — and attracting younger patrons with bolder musical choices seems an economic necessity.

How can the MSO not be commemorating the centenary of Leonard Bernstein (below, in a photo by Jack Mitchell)? The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is performing several of his pieces in its upcoming season.

Why do we have to endure another Brahms symphony when we could hear Dmitri Shostakovich’s 11th or 15th or Jean Sibelius’ Fourth or Fifth or even Anton Bruckner’s 8th?

On a positive note, I was heartened to see that Benjamin Britten’s “Sinfonia da Requiem” is scheduled next season since that has been on my wish list for years. Likewise, Leos Janacek’s “Glagolitic Mass” is a nice surprise.

However, when will we hear Britten’s “War Requiem,” Bernstein’s “Mass” or “‘Songfest,” a symphony by Walter Piston (below top) or William Schuman (below middle) or Alan Hovhannes (below bottom)?

I’m really tired of going to concerts where only one of the works is of interest to me and the others are historic artifacts. I’d like to see a reversal wherein Brahms, Mozart and Beethoven are brought out occasionally, but the bulk of the music performed comes from the rich source of the 20th century.

What do you think?

Leave word in the COMMENT section.


Classical music: Trevor Stephenson explains why Baroque music sounds so good at holiday time. His Madison Bach Musicians will perform their annual Baroque Holiday Concert of Bach, Corelli and Telemann this coming Saturday night. Plus, the Wingra Woodwind Quintet performs a FTREE concert Thursday night at 7:0 p.m. and at noon on Friday you can hear a FREE performance of two sonatas for violin and piano by Beethoven.

December 9, 2015
1 Comment

ALERT: On Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall, the UW -Madison’s Wingra Wind Quintet will perform a FREE concert of 20th-century music by Henry Cowell, Irving Fine, Robert Muczynski, Alan Hovhaness and Elliott Carter. For more information, here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/wingra-woodwind-quintet/

This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held from 12:15 to 1 p.m. at the meeting house of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features violinist Wendy Adams and pianist Ann Aschbacher in two sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven: Op. 30, No. 1, and Op. 96.

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Saturday night, the Madison Bach Musicians and guest soloists will perform their annual Baroque Holiday concert. (Below is a photo by Kent Sweitzer of the 2014 concert in the same venue.)

MBM Baroque Holiday Concert 2014 CR Kent Sweitzer

The concert is at 8 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Ave., near Camp Randall.

Tickets are $23-$28 and can be purchased at the door, with discounts in advance at certain outlets or online.

For more information, visit the MBM website at:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/december-12-2015/

Trevor Stephenson, who is a master explainer and who will give a pre-concert lecture at 7:15 p.m., recently spoke via email to The Ear:

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

This is the fifth annual Baroque Holiday Concert by the Madison Bach Musicians. Generally speaking, what is your goal when you program for it?

The idea of the Baroque Holiday Concert is to present an interesting and varied program of Baroque and Renaissance music, some of which pertains to the holiday season and to winter itself.

More importantly we try to program outstanding pieces that Madison audiences may not have had a chance to hear very often in live performance, particularly, played on period instruments and with historically informed performance practices.

MBM Baroque Holiday Concert 2012

Why is Baroque music so popular at the holidays? What is it about the music itself that makes it feel so appropriate to the occasion?

Baroque music, whether it is written specifically for the holidays or not, does indeed sound terrific this time of year. I think the baroque style really strikes the right balance between energy and form — a perfect marriage of theater and church.

The Bach cantatas, two of which we’ll be playing on this upcoming concert, are perhaps the strongest examples of this fusion. The bearing of these pieces is always devotional, while the compositional technique—the process of invention in them—is always searching, exploratory, even avant-garde.

Look at the opening of Cantata 61, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (Now Come Savior of the Heavens) where Bach (below) begins by firing up a martial-sounding dotted-rhythm French overture and then layers in the voices, one at a time, in long moaning tonally-veering chant lines. And yet, this all seems to operate within a framework that can accommodate it.

Bach1

Briefly and in non-specialist terms, what would you like the public to know about each of the works?

In addition to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata 61, the more grand-scale Advent Cantata discussed above, we’ll also be presenting the more intimate Cantata 151, Süßer trost, mein Jesus kömmt (Sweet Comfort, My Jesus Comes) composed for the third day of Christmas), which opens with an elegant and extended aria for soprano and obbligato baroque flute. We’re thrilled that this will be performed by outstanding soprano Chelsea Morris and baroque flutist extraordinaire Linda Pereksta.

We’ll also perform the rightly beloved “Christmas” Concerto in G minor, Op. 6, No. 8, by Arcangelo Corelli. The melodic material, the sequential dance-movement structure and the unsurpassed beauty of the string writing in this concerto grosso are perfect in the extreme. MBM concertmaster Kangwon Kim will lead this from the first violin.

By the way, if you’re familiar with Peter Weir’s 2003 movie Master and Commander you’ll notice that the Corelli “Christmas” Concerto pops up a couple of times in the movie score. (You can hear the “Christmas” Concerto, conducted by Trevor Pinnock, in the Youtube video at the bottom.)

Also on the program is Telemann’s E minor quartet from Tafelmusik. Tafelmusik, literally “table music” refers to the domestic and unassuming everyday quality of the writing. Chelsea Morris (below) will also perform three movements from George Frideric Handel’s Gloria.

Chelsea Morris soprano

Other musicians featured on the program are alto Margaret Fox, tenor William Ottow, bass Luke MacMillan, violinists Brandi Berry, Nathan Giglierano, and Olivia Cottrell, violists Marika Fischer Hoyt and Micah Behr, cellists Martha Vallon and Andrew Briggs, and (yours truly) harpsichordist Trevor Stephenson.

I’ll also give a pre-concert lecture at 7:15 p.m. about the music, the composers and the period instruments.

Is there something else you would like to say about the works or the performers?

I’d also like to mention that the concert will be given in the wonderful sanctuary of Madison’s First Congregational United Church of Christ. The acoustics there are absolutely terrific. Wisconsin Public Radio will be recording the concert and will broadcast it later in the holiday season, date to be announced.


Classical music: This Thursday night, Con Vivo performs the chamber music program it will take on tour in June to Dane County’s Sister County of Kassel, Germany.

May 26, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Madison-based chamber music group Con Vivo! (Music With Life) write:

SAVE THE DATE! 

The latest concert by Con Vivo’s (below) is this Thursday night, May 28, at 7:30 p.m. at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1609 University Avenue, near the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Camp Randall Stadium.

Con Vivo core musicians

con vivo!…music with life invites you to join us for our chamber music concert, “Bon Voyage: Dane to Kassel!”

Come help send us off as we represent you on our cultural exchange tour June 5-12 to Kassel, Germany, Dane County’s Sister County. Don’t miss the Madison presentation of some favorite pieces from our concerts that we will perform in Germany this June. 

Our program includes diverse chamber music by Lukas Foss, Louis Spohr, Reinhold Gliere, Alan Hovhaness and others. So come join us for truly exciting chamber music!

Con Vivo Octet

Convenient FREE parking is only 2 blocks west at the University Foundation at 1848 University Ave.

Tickets at the door are $20 for adults; $15 for seniors and students.

Listen to con vivo! live on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Midday” show with Norman Gilliland on Wednesday, May 27, at noon, 88.7 FM or at www.wpr.org.

Like con vivo! on Facebook to follow us on our tour to Dane County’s Sister County of Kassel, Germany, June 5-12.

For information, call (6708) 277-8087 or visit our website:

www.convivomusicwithlife.org 

convivo_mwl@convivomusicwithlife.org

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.

This concert is sponsored in part by First Congregational Church and is supported by Dane Arts.

 


Classical music: The Rural Musicians Forum offers two FREE but contrasting modern “Magnificats” — by Jonathan Willcocks and Alan Hovhaness — this coming weekend in Spring Green and Plain.

December 2, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friends at the Rural Musicians Forum — which is directed by Kent Mayfield (below) of Milwaukee and which does such a laudable service by bringing classical music to rural areas in south  central Wisconsin — send us the following word about some remarkable performances this coming weekend:

Kent Mayfield  Rural Musicians Forum

“The Rural Musicians Forum welcomes the holiday season with two Advent concerts in early December. Each concert features the ancient text of the “Magnificat” in two dramatically contrasting modern musical settings for orchestra, chorus and soloists.

One performance will be at 7 p.m. on this Friday, Dec. 5, at the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church (below), at 253 West Washington Street in Spring Green.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The second is at 3 p.m. on this Sunday, Dec. 7 at the basilica-like St. Luke’s Catholic Church (below), at 1240 Nachreiner Avenue, in Plain.

St Luke's Church in Plain

Both concerts will be directed by Gregory Dennis (below), who is widely appreciated around the state for his able choral direction.

Gregory DennisJPG

The concerts are NOT ticketed. A free-will offering will be received. These concerts are underwritten in part by support from the Spring Green Area Arts Coalition, the Spring Green Arts and Crafts Fair, Kraemer Brothers LLC and generous individual donors.

“The first work is from the British composer, Jonathan Willcocks (below), who is known for a broad range of choral and orchestral music, much of it written for television and film, as well as for King’s College Christmas celebrations.

His “Magnificat” is a melodious, rhythmic and colorful piece, set in five contrasting movements from the Latin with two additional 15th-century texts in praise of the Virgin Mary and interweaves the Latin of the Church with the English of the common people — as if interweaving spiritual and secular themes through the use of two languages.

Jonathan Willcocks 2

“The second setting for the “Magnificat” is strikingly different. Influenced by the sounds and rhythms of the Holy Land, Alan Hovhaness (below) — who is also known as an “American mystic” — captures the mysticism, the beauty and the burning ardor of early Christianity. The result is an experience of intense longing, a declaration of grateful praise and resounding jubilation from voices filled with faith. (You can hear the opening of the Magnificat by Alan Hovhaness in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

alan hovhaness full face

Announcing the concerts, RMF’s Artistic Director Kent Mayfield notes, “In Willcocks, we have vitality and joyful excitement. With Hovhaness, we sense mystery, inspiration and an unforgettable radiant beauty. Each brings an abiding sense of spirituality to an often-secular holiday. Each prompts a stirring emotional response appropriate to the season.”

“‘Two Magnificats: Ancient Texts – Modern Voices’ promises a rich musical experience exploring deeper themes of personal and universal, spiritual and aesthetic meaning in a single holiday celebration.”

“Two performances of “Two Magnificats” are scheduled with full orchestra and featuring soloists soprano Christina Kay (below top), alto Katie Butitta (below second), tenor J. Adam Shelton (below third) and bass Derek Miller (below bottom).

christina kay magnificat

Katie Butitta

J. Adam Shelton

Derek Miller

For more information about the Rural Musicians Forum and its concert series, here is a link:

http://www.ruralmusiciansforum.org

 

 


Classical music: Singers are needed for the Rural Musicians Forum community chorus that will perform two modern Magnificats during the upcoming holiday season.

September 17, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Rural Musicians Forum has announced the formation of a new choral group for two concert performances in early December.

singing hallelujah chorus

The concerts will feature two contrasting settings of the traditional biblical text of the “Magnificat,” both by modern composers Alan Hovhaness (below top and at the bottom in a YouTube video) and Jonathan Willcocks (below bottom).

Alan Hovhaness with scores BIG

Jonathan Willcocks

The chorus begins its rehearsal schedule on October 5. The chorus is open to regional singers without audition. There is no fee for participation in the chorus, although members will purchase some music.

All rehearsals are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sunday evenings weekly at the Christ Lutheran Church in Spring Green (below).

christ Lutheran Church in Spring Green

The concerts are slated for December 5 in Spring Green and December 7 in Plain.

The director for the ensemble is Gregory (Greg) J. Dennis (below), whose reputation as the director of the Mount Horeb Chorale and of the Platteville Chorale is well-established. These groups have not only performed widely in Wisconsin but have traveled abroad during the past summer.

Gregory Dennis

Highly regarded for his extraordinary musicianship, Mr. Dennis recently retired from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville where he conducted two mixed choirs and taught elementary and secondary general music and choral music methods courses in addition to supervising student teachers. He directed RMF’s community “Sing Out Messiah” in 2013.

Drawing upon the enthusiasm and commitment of orchestra, soloists and chorus, Dennis will open doors to the beauty of the music and the season with the sensitivity for which he is known.

In describing his hopes for the performances, RMF Artistic Director Kent Mayfield (below) says: “Our goal is to bring these works of extraordinary beauty and seasonal depth to the greater Southwestern Wisconsin community, engaging as many area singers and musicians to participate as possible. My hope is to inspire the wider community to share in a vibrant and unique musical experience.”

Kent Mayfield  Rural Musicians Forum

For less-experienced singers and performers, the chance to work in the company of trained musicians of acknowledged skill offers the opportunity for skill-building and in-depth musical appreciation.

For many, even those with extensive experience with choral and orchestral music, the works of Alan Hovhaness and Jonathan Willcocks promise to be a challenge and opportunity not often available in the area.

A regional orchestra assembled uniquely for these concerts will be named soon.

For further information on the chorus or the orchestra, contact Kent Mayfield, artistic director of the Rural Musicians Forum. You can call (414) 239-7952 or send an email to ruralmusiciansforum@yahoo.com.

 


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